Sunday, 30 November 2014

Men in Uganda: Unappreciated, endangered but surviving

It is the end of an interesting month. No, it is not a paycheck, which is probably what you are thinking. Interesting, in that, this is the month of the man. November is when there is International Men’s Day, which is celebrated on 19th and the whole month dedicated to Movember. The latter being a charity drive to raise awareness of men's health issues, such as prostate cancer and other male cancers, and promote healthier lifestyles.

Movember is a blend of “moustache” and “November” because of encouraging men to grow a moustache or not shave it as a way to highlight the cause. But the back story of how this came about is interesting. What eventually became Movember was conceived during a boys’ night out in a pub, how typically male.

In 1999, group of young men in Adelaide, Australia, coined the term with the idea of growing moustaches—“Growing whiskers for whiskers”—to raise money for Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals through selling T-shirts. Five years later, another group in another Australian city, Melbourne, held an event where 30 men grew moustaches for 30 days to highlight prostate cancer and depression in men. This would eventually become the Movember Foundation charity. The initiative spread to other countries and continents. In 2012, perhaps for the first time, there was a Movember campaign in Uganda spearheaded by Victoria University Health Centre.

Now talking of prostrate cancer, which Movember especially focuses on, the figures for Uganda are scary. A study done by Uganda Cancer Institute shows that eight out of every 10 men diagnosed with prostate cancer die within a year. On top of that, at least five to 10 new cases are registered at the institute monthly. The twist is that these cases are mostly in advanced stages, partly explaining why death comes closely after that.

A clearer picture is in these figures from International Agency for Research on Cancer. Estimated number of new cases per year is 1,547 while estimated number of deaths per year is 1,314. So, the 223 who do not die this year may die the next year. It is therefore not surprising that prostate cancer is the most common cancer among Ugandan men and the rate one of the highest recorded in Africa.

The other issue in focus is male depression. Yes, men get depressed too…but it is masked in plethora of coping behaviour. On this, Mayo Clinic website elaborates thus: “But other behaviours in men that could be signs of depression—but not recognised as such—include: Escapist behaviour, such as spending a lot of time at work or on sports; alcohol or substance abuse; controlling, violent or abusive behaviour; irritability or inappropriate anger; risky behaviour, such as reckless driving.” Looking closely, is this not the profile of a typical Ugandan man?

Though there are a variety of factors that lead to male depression, feeling unappreciated can be one of them. And being a man in Uganda is “a hard paper”. You have to work twice as hard under twice as much pressure as the other sex to be this or that, to take care of this or that, be responsible for this or that, be this or that. Men are husbands, brothers, fathers, leaders or other thankless roles but when the songs are sung, they are curiously left out of the equation.

This is the essence of International Men’s Day. While not a UN-sanctioned day, its origins can be traced to Trinidad and Tobago and now marked in more than 60 countries across different continents. The theme is men’s and boys’ health, gender relations, gender equality, and positive role models. “Men make sacrifices every day in their place of work, in their role as husbands and fathers, for their families, for their friends, for their communities and for their nation.”

Incidentally, it was on International Men’s Day, November 19, when results of the recent census were released. As they say, men lie, women lie, numbers don’t: On top of being unappreciated, Ugandan men are an endangered species. The sex ratio, men to women, is 94.5 males to 100 females down from 101.9 in 1969. The number of men is declining: At 16.9 million men compared to 17.9 million women, it boils to 985,901 less men than women. Somehow, we survive as there will always be a baby boy born. Maybe things will be better. OK bye, I’m gone till November.

A version of this was also published in Daily Monitor