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Why single mothers are on the rise

A happy couple shopping with their child

A happy couple shopping with their child

MAKERERE – The increasing prevalence of single motherhood in Uganda has been linked to varying social, academic, and economic factors, as revealed in a historic 2022 study on motherhood and fatherhood.

Dr Zaid Sekito of Makerere University, who spearheaded this significant research, offers insights into the underlying causes of this trend.

“Many uneducated women are complaining that their husbands have abandoned them, seeking relationships with educated women instead. The men justify this by claiming that uneducated women do not match their status, which has, in turn, contributed to the rise in single motherhood in the country,” explains Dr Sekito.

Sekito’s comprehensive study delves into the history of motherhood in Uganda, tracing back to 1840 and examining the major trends up until 2021. His research sheds light on the evolving dynamics of family structures and the challenges faced by women in different socio-economic brackets.

This historic analysis provides a deeper understanding of the factors influencing the increasing number of single mothers in Uganda, highlighting the intersection of education, social status, and economic conditions in shaping family life.

During a workshop on the African Research Universities Alliance (ARUA) hosted by Makerere University at the Fairway hotel in Kampala, Dr Zaid Sekito shared his insights into the changing landscape of motherhood and fatherhood. The workshop aimed to explore the reasons and impacts of these changing dynamics in parenting on children’s well-being.

Sekito explained that, according to his study, many women reported starting their marriages under economically humble conditions or when their husbands had lower levels of education. However, as their husbands advanced academically and economically, these women found themselves being abandoned. The men justified this by claiming that their wives, with lower educational statuses, brought them public shame.

“We have substantial evidence of women who have children with professors, ministers, members of parliament and tycoons, but are abandoned and barred from visiting their offices due to their lower educational status,” Sekito revealed.

This commentary sheds light on the societal pressures and challenges faced by women in marriages where there is a disparity in academic and economic advancements. It highlights a concerning trend where educational and economic growth in one partner can lead to marital discord and family disintegration, impacting the well-being of children involved.

Sekito, in his study, focused on exploring the various roles of a mother as a caretaker, biological parent and nurse. This study, funded by United Kingdom Research Innovations (UKRI), was aimed at encouraging fathers to take responsibility for their families and discourage the abandonment of women. It also sought to promote improved paternal involvement in parenting.

Sekito’s research revealed that in the 1840s, fathers were actively engaged in their family roles, balancing work and family responsibilities, unlike many contemporary fathers who tend to focus primarily on their careers. The study underscores the shift in paternal roles and responsibilities over time.

Additionally, the Uganda Bureau of Statistics’ 2024 report on motherhood indicated a significant rise in single motherhood in the country, with the percentage of single mothers increasing from 20 to 30 per cent. This increase points to a growing trend of women raising children independently.

Sekito highlighted several cultural and social factors contributing to the rise in single motherhood. These include excessive powers granted to men, cultural norms like excessive drinking, adultery, fornication, and restricted freedom for women.

“Lack of moral guidance leads to men abandoning their families in various situations, such as when a child is born with disabilities or if a woman only bears daughters, prompting men to seek sons or heirs elsewhere. This irresponsibility exacerbates the problem,” Sekito explained.

He further commented on the erosion of trust between men and women due to issues like polygamy. When women, disillusioned by such behavior, focus on their children, some men react with jealousy, resorting to derogatory labeling like ‘nakyeyombekedde’ (meaning single) or cursed, to diminish these women.

Moreover, many women, according to Sekito, opt to leave their marriages and become single mothers to escape abusive relationships characterized by domestic violence. This factor contributes significantly to the growing number of single mothers in Uganda. Sekito’s study thus sheds light on the complex interplay of cultural, social, and familial dynamics influencing motherhood and fatherhood in the country.

Sekito, speaking on the influences impacting single motherhood in Uganda, noted the introduction of Western ideals such as engaging in sex for pleasure. This shift in societal norms, he explained, has led to situations where men engage in sexual relationships without the intention of marriage or starting a family, thereby contributing to an increase in single motherhood.

“The Western ideals such as sex for pleasure have also increased single motherhood, where men only get women to sleep with but not marry or give birth to children,” he said.

Adding to the discussion, Dr Joshua Mugambwa of Makerere University referenced a study conducted in Wakiso district, which revealed that both mothers and fathers are increasingly focusing on their work, consequently spending less time on parental guidance. This lack of attention has been linked to adverse outcomes for children, including aggression, loneliness, and indiscipline.

“Parents are prioritizing work and financial gains over the care of their children,” Mugambwa observed.

Professor Sarah Ssali, also from Makerere University, highlighted that the abandonment of familial responsibilities by many fathers has been a contributing factor to the rise in single motherhood. This trend has had significant social repercussions, including an increase in the number of street children and child abandonment.

“The study of motherhood and fatherhood was conducted in Uganda by local researchers, focusing on the history of motherhood in the Buganda culture and the changes in parental roles brought about by Covid-19,” Ssali explained.

She elaborated that the family structure and the role of parenting in Uganda have been continuously evolving, influenced by various factors including colonialism, the Covid-19 pandemic, job losses, HIV/AIDS, and wars.

Ssali stressed the importance of public education on biological realities, emphasizing that it is not a woman’s fault if she only gives birth to daughters. She also advocated for the recognition of girls as potential heirs in families, challenging traditional gender biases in inheritance.

WHAT CAN BE DONE?

Prof Buyinza Mukadasi, the academic registrar of Makerere University, stated that the study was conducted with the objective of enhancing the capacity of the ARUA project. This initiative involves collaboration with various universities in research aimed at improving the status of motherhood and the welfare of children in Uganda.

“The way forward for Uganda involves a cultural reorientation to curtail the excessive powers of men in marriage. This includes addressing practices such as excessive drinking, adultery, and fornication, which often restrict women’s freedom. By tackling these issues, we can foster better parenting throughout the country,” he explained.

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