By David Labeja
As the rest of Ugandans braced themselves for the harsh realities brought by new taxes in the new financial year, women in Abim district in north eastern Uganda were adjusting to the realitiy that there would be no alcoholic beverages in their menu for six months.
This, after traditional authorities there banned women from consuming any alcoholic beverages including locally made potent gin and liquor transported especially from neighboring Lira district.
On July 31, 2014, the elders of Ethur, the predominant tribe that lives in the hilly Labwor County met to discuss matters affecting social lives of the Ethur, and the reckless manner in which women behaved when drunk was a major topic of discussion.
“We got several reports that when women got drunk, they always lured younger boys to sleep with them, a practice against the culture of the Ethur,” said Jackson Ayen, 74, the secretary of elders’ forum.
Ayen added that it was a common practice among women that when they got drunk, they disrespected themselves and exhibited high sexual urges.
“They provoke their husbands into arguments so that they can fight. This is leading to high cases of domestic violence in the community,” Ayen said.
In 2005, Ayen added, women were first banned from taking any alcohol for six months.
One violates, all will pay
“If one of the women violate this ban, all the women will pay, because they failed to guide their member. That woman will kill a bull for the elders, and each of the women will be required to brew a certain quantity of local beer (Kwete) for the elders,” Ayen said.
The traditional justice system of the Ethur people demand that when one commits a felony, his or her mates take part of the blame because they failed in their duty to correct their peer.
“That is why even during annual ceremonies, punishments are general. Much as the offender will be given the heavier punishment, all his or her peers will still be punished in one way or another,” said Angel Ongombi, the station Manager of Karibu FM in Abim.
These punishments vary from heavy fines to corporal punishments
Human rights concerns
While the Police say the elders have good intentions for impossing the ban on consumption of alcohol among women, there is fear that punishments arising from a violation of these bans will contravene national laws and violate basic human rights.
James Okello Okabo, the district police commander (DPC) of Abim says the force was invited to attend the July 31st meeting.
“True, the elders are concerned about the increasing cases of domestic violence in the region, that is why they came up with the ban. My only worry is that if they choose to cane offenders, it ill contravene our national laws. Corporal punishment is illegal,” says Okello.
All however is not lost for those craving alcohol, as the elders are willing to reconsider their position if the women appeal.
“If the women organise themselves and come to us with the promise not to drink recklessly and avoid indulgence in immoral behaviour with younger people, we shall pardon them and lift the ban,” said Ayen.
Untill then, women in Abim will just smell alcohol, never mind that more than 90 percent of alcohol vendors in the town are women.
What do residents say?
Luke Ocheng Mawa, 34.
“When women are drunk, they lose control of themselves. Besides it is not culturally good for women to drink. When she gets drunk, she will be venerabl to rape.”
Joyce Nakia, 26.
“It is selfish interest of the men. If there must be a ban, it should be for both sexes. We the women are the ones who brew, how can’t we drink?”
Proscovia Awor, 24.
“It is good because as a mother, you have children and if you spend your time in the bar drinking, you go back home late and the children cannot eat. You will have failed in your duties a a mother.”
Jospeh Nakasamba, 25
“Alcohol is bad for all but worse for women. My only concern is it is harsh. Six months is too long.”