Single Mothers Increasing: Mak Researchers Call for Friendly Policies on Parenting to Improve Children Welfare


                                                      Participants pose for a group photo after the closing ceremony at Fairway hotel in Kampala

Researchers from Makerere University’s African Research Universities Alliance  Centre of Excellence in Notions of Identity in Africa (ARUA CoE) have found that single motherhood is a phenomenon that has been documented since the colonial era but, it is  increasing in Uganda. Research indicates that neoliberal and capitalist ideals, indigenous and western cultures have exacerbated the problem. Researchers are now calling on government to enact friendly policies on parenting to improve children welfare in Uganda. Makerere dons also want government to address issues of unpaid care economy. On the other hand, stakeholders have asked the university to introduce a graduate program on parenting to address capacity gaps in dealing with issues relating to parenting and childrens’ welfare.

The call was made during the policy dialogue organized by the ARUA CoE aimed at providing a platform for Early and Senior Careers researchers to share their research findings with policy makers and stakeholders and be able to obtain feedback. The workshop was also to create synergies between the different implementing institutions driving advocacy and policy change at national and local levels as well as identifying key policy and regulatory frameworks for improved parenting.

The Centre Director, Assoc. Prof. Sarah Ssali said, the centre  was established to deepen scholarship on identities in Africa, how they change and how the changes are impacting on life and development in Africa. As first phase Prof. Ssali said, Uganda, Kenya, South Africa, Nigeria and Rwanda got a capacity building grant financed by the United Kingdom Research and Innovations (UKRI) and focused on how parenting identity is changing.

“And in particular, we wanted to find out how is fatherhood and motherhood changing, why  is it changing and how these changes impact on childrens welfare. So the whole aspect of capacity building grant was to strengthen the capacity to research and engage policy makers in studying parenting, fatherhood and motherhood and  childrens wellbeing  on the African continent”, The Director said

“We have studied for three years, involved 21 early career researchers, given out 18 small grants, engaged 9 senior scholars and today, we are having a segment of disseminating the Uganda research findings to the policy makers.” Prof. Ssali added.


                                              Centre Director Associate Prof. Sarah Ssali giving an overview of the project

The Senior and Early Career  researchers  presented  their research findings to obtain feedback from the policy makers and stakeholders in dialogue that was held at Fairway Hotel on 25th March 2024. The policy dialogue brought together participants from academia, government ministries, agencies, private sector and civil society organizations. These included, Ministry of Agriculture, Ministry of Gender, the media, Uganda Police, Uganda Prisons, Uganda Women Parliamentary Association, Makerere and Kyambogo University, Young Child Uganda, Uganda National Association of the deaf and Mothers Heart Uganda and Kampala City Capital Authority among others.

The function was officially opened by the Principal College of Humanities and Social Sciences represented by the Deputy Assoc.  Prof. Eric Awich Ochen and closed by the Deputy Vice Chancellor in charge of Academic Affairs represented by the Academic Registrar Prof. Buyinza Mukadasi. The Director, Directorate of Graduate Research and Training Prof. Edward Bbaale also graced the occasion.


                                                         Deputy Principal, Assoc. Prof. Eric Awich Ochen officially opened the workshop

The workshop was characterized by speeches, presentation of research findings and panel discussions. Prof. Sarah Ssali presented on the systematic review on the changing notion of motherhood and fatherhood in Uganda; Dr. Zaid Sekito focused on the historicisation of   the concept of motherhood in Buganda from 1840 – 2021;  Mr. Howard Tugume  analysed ways in which pigeon pea production shapes  parenthood among climate smart agricultural farmers  of Lira and Alebtong while Ms. Proscovia Nalwadda assessed the changing notion of motherhood and fatherhood amidst COVID 19 family-based  challenges in Mukono district.

“From all the four research plus what we did in foregrounding of the systematic literature review by senior researchers shows that the family structure has been constantly changing initially impacted by colonialism but later impacted on by other things today such as CoVID 19, neoliberalism, job losses, HIV and wars and all these are changing how traditionally we conceptualized  fathers and mothers”.

For example the role of providing is under threat, fathers move on, and abandon, and single mothers are increasing in numbers and they have to continue providing for these children and sometimes we see pressure manifesting as street children but also consequently creates a scenario where children who never saw fathers in homes choosing singlehood, children who never saw fathers in their homes not knowing what to do when they impregnate girls, and just keep on the run”, Centre Director and Senior Researcher who is also Dean School of Women and Gender Studies Sarah Ssali explained.

Ssali said, the meeting was to share with policy makers, activists, civil society organizations and the press what researchers have discovered and implore them to consider these changes and findings in the work they do so as to have more responsive policies that put family and children in the center and support parents to do their work .

 “The key point here is that family structures are changing. What sense do we make of it and how do we work and support what remains? The way forward is to have policies that support families because families will always continue to be with us but we need family friendly policies”. She stressed.


Center Director Assoc. Prof. Sarah Ssali, Academic Registrar Prof. Mukadasi Buyinza and Director DGRT Prof. Edward Bbaale  interacting during a break session

Single mothers on the rise

In his presentation, Dr. Zaid Sekito said, the increase in single mothers is a phenomenon that has been documented for long since the colonial era. In traditional family settings in Africa, Sekito said, single parents were rare or unheard of  because families lived in a community and  extended families. A semblance of single parenting was seen with colonization and movements and that time, they were talking about defacto single parents because although the fathers were there, they were never present. They would move to plantation farms and mines and would be away for even three years and the mothers who looked at the families became defacto.

With time, especially in Uganda, Dr. Sekito narrated,  many wars of the 1970s took away most men and many women started looking after children as single mothers because fathers had died. Then, the phenomenon of single mothers  reproduced itself, not just created by war but also created by economic conditions when fathers have to travel far to work but also some when they realize that they have fathered a child and  they are not ready, they get on to the run.

“So single motherhood is increasing because, while fathers can walk away, mothers are stuck with the children. So economic changes, wars have been some of the primary drivers.

But also now, we are beginning to see a phenomenon where also mothers walk away. Children are being abandoned at the garbage sites and streets and sometimes mothers go to work and live children with house helps or grandparents. Sometimes both parents go away or die and children have to look after themselves”. Sekito observed.


                                                                 Dr. Zaid Sekito presenting his study findings

Sekito also reported that many of the Ugandan families that are not earning much are under stress and as they try to cope with long distance work, the children are left behind.

“It is important that concerned authorities, probation and welfare office, ministry of Gender, Uganda Government come in to support families so that they are held together. They can also explore other forms of families such as adoptive parenting, foster parenting but whether people foster or adopt, or whether children are in extended families, families need support. Most families are not rich and are coping with a lot of pressure as we transition from the rural peasant agrarian families into the modern capitalistic families”. Dr. Sekito recommended.

Dr. Sekito’s research  examined the meaning and implication behind the concept of motherhood from 1840 - 2021, when Buganda became into contact with external forces and also covering the precolonial space. He said, the concept motherhood, in the 1840s conceived mothers as being caretakers and everything in the social aspect and that time, even fathers had great responsibility ranging from moral upbringing of children and bread winners.

 Men, according to Dr. Sekito have changed and ceased being men, when they got exposed to western capitalist forces, when the labour market became monetized and that is when fathers became more inclined to bread winning activities and the rest of the roles relegated to the mothers. Children henceforth, became inclined to their mothers so much that the attachment had to continue and as the neoliberal era set in, most fathers focused on  the bread winning role but even some lost and abandoned the roles altogether.

“As we speak now, the number of single mothers is on the increase. According to the UBOS 2024 report, the number has increased from 20 -30%. This is for women having children but are single mothers. This statistics have a lot of implications on the role that culture plays”. Sekito said.

Cultures according to Sekito have been responsible for the increasing number of single motherhood as they promote habits such as overdrinking.

“A parent who goes out to drink a lot has nothing to do with valuing what parenting is, so that moral fabric is always lost. We are seeing cultures permitting polygamy without due consideration of the man’s ability to take care of the wives and children” Sekito stated.


                    A commissioner from Uganda police speaking during the dialogue

The other issue according to Dr. Sekito is the lack of moral guidance and cognitive  behavioral direction where men abandon their families because their women have produced girls or boys only or a child with  disability. In this case, as a man moves out, a woman is stuck to single handedly take care of children.

Consequently Sekito  said, women have lost trust in men and decided to concentrate on bringing up  their children and  are labelled all sorts of names. Dr. Sekito reported that Since 1980s there has been that aspect of marginalization and social exclusion of women by men and sometimes taking advantage of those with disabilities.

Because many men are lacking guidance which is embed within culture, a Muganda man will describe a woman who give birth to  a lame child as woman with bad omen which is rooted in culture and socially constructed. This is carried on by boys who marry and this culture does not defend the women using prevailing circumstances or biological science.

There are instances where men take advantage of the physically impared girls and women, use them and abandon them. There are disabled women having four children but you can hardly point out their fathers, but, high class citizens are prime suspected fathers” said Sekito

Sekito also associated the rising number of single mothers to the western ideals. The don cited a common practice and space of having sex for pleasure, the old and rich men having women but not wives and single motherhood by choice.


                                                    A jouranlist contributes during the dialogue

The study also associated the rising number of single mothers to  the rising education, political, social and economic statuses.  A significant number of single mothers with low educational levels reported that their husbands had abandoned then in favor of highly educated partners to march their social, political and economic status. These women according to Dr. Sekito begun humbly with their men when they had nothing, but when they advanced, they dropped them on grounds that they are a shame in public.

Dr. Sekito proposed a form of cultural re-orientation to challenge both indigenous and western cultures to improve parenting; formulating policies that support cognitive behavioral therapies where people can be spoken to, and, revising some of the colonial legislation like one on alcohol consumption.

Stakeholders ask Makerere to introduce a Graduate program on parenting

During the panel discussion, stakeholders decried the capacity gaps in dealing with issues of parenting in the different public, private and civil society organization asking Makerere university to leverage on the partnership and research to  build human capacity to address the gaps.


                                               Early Career researchers responding to questions after their presentations

The Director, Directorate of Graduate Research and Training at Makerere University Prof. Edward Bbaale welcomed the move and the possibility to develop an interdisciplinary graduate program  in the School of Women and Gender Studies  to address the capacity gaps.

Prof. Bbaale expressed gratitude to ARUA center for the work well done saying, its rightly within the strategic direction and priorities of the university. As a Directorate, Bbaale said, it gives him  a lot of hope that the university has units  building the research led aspect .

Bbaale said, one way of building a research mantra is through building partnerships and collaborations as well as internationalization, and, ARUA Center comes in handy to advance the agenda adding that collaborations that have been built in this endeavor were heartwarming.

“I enjoyed the panel discussion seeing the academia, the researchers and the policy makers come in with different perspectives; and there has been a point of convergence on a number of issues and one of it, is to deepen research on un-answered questions with evidence” said Bbaale


                                                                 Prof. Edward Bbaale making his remarks

Addressing issues of unpaid care economy can have positive implications

On a personal note, Prof. Bbaale expressed the need to reignite the debate on unpaid care economy. Unpaid economy, he said, refers to the work done within the household, community that is not recognized or renumerated such as child care, elder care and domestic chores. This work is often performed by family members particularly women without financial compensation.

From  the  gender perspective  Bbaale  said, there is much more that academia  and policy makers and stakeholders can do to recognize and compensate  caring hands that make  what people  are.

“In terms of parenting, unpaid economy can significantly impact parents particularly mothers as they bear the primary care responsibility and domestic duties. This can lead to dire consequences such as limited career opportunities and increased stress affecting the overall wellbeing and ability to participate fully in the work force”, said Bbaale

From the economic stand point , the unpaid care economy according to the professor has both direct and indirect costs on the Gross National Product. Directly, he said, it contributes to the economy by enabling other members to participate in the paid work or other productive work.

 But indirectly, Bbaale said, the lack of recognition and support for unpaid care work leads to economic loss by perpetrating economic inequalities, limiting women participation in the labor force and constraining their overall productivity.

Basing on what had taken place in the discourse, Bbaale expressed optimism  of a bright future in coming up with an interdisciplinary  program and research that can address many of the issues raised.


                                                     A representative from NUDIPU contributing to the discussion through sign language interpreters

ARUA taking the university to the community- Prof. Buyinza Mukadasi

While closing the workshop, the Academic Registrar Makerere University Prof. Makadasi Buyinza commended the centre leadership and team for building strategic partnerships and taking the university to the communities.

“I feel too good to see that Makerere has come of age, we had the police officers, listened to submissions in a low tone to influence policy. I listened to the Principal Agricultural Officer, and it means that this has been a historic event atleast in our lifetime as a university”, Said Buyinza.

He appreciated Prof Sarah Ssali for the initiative to write the grant winning proposal that brought resources helping to engage and meet partners in the business and community service.

He commended the Centre for strengthening capacity on active research and policy engagement in notions of identity saying, the stakeholders have been able to see how the notion and narrative of fatherhood and motherhood is changing and the need to strategize how to improve childrens’ wellbeing through research.


                                                 Prof. Buyinza Mukadasi making his closing remarks

Buyinza implored the center to deepen the partnership and build the forum of exchange so that periodically, they come together for updates on emerging issues on parenting. He said, a forum like this, helps coordinate and get feedback on a number of policies.

“There was a discussion about curricular. Time is now. Makerere is looking for innovative ways of transforming society. If we can do that through curricular please present to us, we shall support you in Senate”, Buyinza pledged to support implementation of a new program in parenting.

On behalf of the university, Prof. Byinza expressed commitment to conduct research and have the evidence-based policy.

Participants speak out

A representative from the Ministry of Agriculture, Animal Industry and Fisheries Eunice Alloo  expressed the need to ensure that interventions go beyond gender issues to address issues of parenting, integrate issues of motherhood and fatherhood to improve the welfare of children.

“In my department and division of home economics that deals with family life, we need to go further and introduce issues of motherhood and fatherhood in our home economics training and welfare” Alloo said.


                                               Ms. Zaina Nakubulwa from KCCA  making her submission during the policy dialogue

Besides handling people with disabilities, Ester Adeke from the Child and Family Protection Unit in the Uganda Police Force appreciated researchers for unearthing issues on parenting saying, it creates a basis and work for Uganda police.

“The insight given  brings forth the need for us to do more of the proactive positive parenting especially for mothers and fathers to provide safer solutions to manage the hate or love situations; to build self esteem in the mothers and fathers; and transfer to the child, then responsible parenting and accountability for each as a child and parent. Let us appreciate co-parenting not existing in marriage but core parenting is your mandate and role even when the marriage has failed to work”, Adeke said      

The Principal Social Development Officer Ministry of Gender and Social Development Lucy Otto said, besides  advocating  for evidence policy making, there is need to work in partnership to agree on the research agenda.

“Let three core institutions namely Africhild, Makerre University Child development center and ARUA sit together and agree on the research agenda to fill identified gaps, equip parents with necessary information and support to step up parenting and reduce gender based violence”. Said Otto.


                                    UMSC representative and Lucy Otto from the Ministry of Gender were on panel of discussions

Appreciating the role of religious leaders in building families through marriage ceremonies and counselling, the representative from the Uganda Muslim Supreme Council asked Makerere to continue inviting religious leader in such dialogues.

She expressed the need for researchers and policy makers to streamline data from of all religious sects. She said, Islam teaching preaches care of children but there is need for mindest change program on polygamy, regulate and  set the minimum standards for men to marry many wives.

“… the muslim community may you please demand the Uganda Muslim Supreme Council to regulate polygamy because in my office these are common cases. Cases of child neglect and child abuse come due to polygamy. You can suggest that the minimum standard of a man  getting another wife,  is the status of the existing wife. Is she having the basics such as shelter, education and food so that people do not do it un- quranic way because it is an attack on the institution. It is alarming having irresponsible fathers just marrying and producing children for the community to suffer…” she implored the moslem community.

Please find power point presentations of the reserach findings herewith attached.

By Jane Anyango

Principal Communication Officer, CHUSS

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