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Half a Century of the Domestic Relations Bill on the Shelf of Parliament: Uganda Women Call for Equitable Access to Justice

http://tonyalatorre.files.wordpress.com/2011/05/mg_6925.jpg

“I am afraid of losing my 15 years of marriage because I will be sent away empty handed. I have toiled to acquire land and livestock in this home. Whenever I take a complaint of abuse to the police and village Council, they refer me back to my abusive husband. My relatives can not refund the dowry.” Tukei, a peasant in Nyero, expressed a sense of no belonging. Tukei once tried to return to her father but was sent back because he could not refund the dowry. Many women in Uganda (like Tukei) have sought justice from police but because of deep-rooted cultural practices are referred back to their husbands.

The Domestic Relations Bill has been awaiting approval in the House of the Parliament of Uganda for the last 47 years, and enacting it would improve the women status. It seeks to reform and consolidate the marriage and divorce law. It would also clarify article 33(1) of the constitution that accords women full and equal dignity of the person with men. This Bill spells out the rights protected during the duration and dissolution of marriage which include the right to marry, consent, marriage gifts, marital conjugal and property rights.

The Bill grants women the right to divorce spouses for cruelty, to choose their spouse and prohibits widow inheritance. It provides for equal division of property in the event of divorce. Under current law, a husband can seek divorce if the wife is adulterous whereas the wife can only be granted on the basis of aggravated adultery plus another offense (cruelty, incest and desertion). Thank-God, this law was declared unconstitutional in 2004.

Although Uganda has enacted several laws to improve the women situation, implementation is hindered by traditions and deeply entrenched patriarchal attitudes, especially in rural areas. Violence against women is common and perpetrators benefit from impunity, partly due to social attitudes condoning such violence. Law enforcement officials seldom intervene in domestic violence cases and wife beating is seen as a husband’s right. Statistically, 68 percent of women ever-married suffer domestic violence (UDHS, 2006).

In light of this, the Domestic Violence Act passed in 2009 is a law in name only. Domestic violence arises out of conflicts relating to rights and responsibilities in the home. Therefore, failure to pass the Domestic Relations Bill will affect the realization of the Domestic Violence Act thus rendering it redundant. Ugandan women do not have adequate access to justice, due to insufficient information on their rights and laws protecting them, social pressure, cost of legal procedures and inadequate law enforcement on women’s rights. The million dollar question is: why has the review of this Bill stalled and why has it received stiff resistance?

A contentious issue is property rights. No laws prevent women from owning land in Uganda, but the custom of male inheritance the majority of women are excluded from land ownership. While 80 percent of agricultural production is done by women, only 7 percent own agricultural land. Co-ownership of property by spouses will protect wives from being thrown out of homes they contributed to setting up and enable women to become economically empowered. In case of divorce, the Bill provides for family wealth sharing between husband and wife.

Other controversial concerns are polygamy and dowry. The Domestic Relations Bill does not prohibit polygamy nor payment dowry but provides for it to be non-refundable. The payment of bride price subjects women to slavery since their families cannot afford to refund the dowry. It devalues and reduces women to trade objects. “It is commercialized, highly exploitative and humiliating to women. This violates the constitutional provision that protect women’s rights.” wrote Judge Amos Twinomujuni in support of a Court Petition abolishing bride price in Uganda. The cultural practice of Banyankole, demands that a wife has penetrative sex 4 days after child-birth irrespective of the health risks involved. This Bill challenges such harmful and archaic culture.

Hon. Dora Byamukama, Legal expert and women activist, argues that the content of the law is not the source of controversy but that there are still myths and misconceptions about it. Therefore the role culture plays in attitude change and acceptability to change is significant. My work with the Sexual-Health-Improvement-Project (SHIP) is evidence that adolescent education on gender stereotypes and self esteem facilitates change in attitudes and traditions that discriminate and perpetuate violence against women.

Passing this Bill will create sustainable gender equality and enjoyment of full rights by all Ugandans, but will yield success only through strong political commitment to pass the Bill and educate communities about women’s rights. Until then can Uganda boast of having one of the best gender-sensitive constitutions in the world!

This article is part of a writing assignment for Voices of Our Future a program of World Pulse that provides rigorous new media and citizen journalism training for grassroots women leaders. World Pulse lifts and unites the voices of women from some of the most unheard regions of the world.






Group of maids and bride presenting themselves before the groom (http://www.ugpulse.com/heritage/traditional-marriages-in-uganda-okuzaaliibwa-mumaka-in-busoga/763/ug.aspx)
Maids and bride presenting themselves to the groom

Comments

Stella Paul's picture

Well said!

Dear Grace

Your writing is easy to grasp, your reasons are strong and the pictures you depict is clear. I really enjoyed reading this article and felt enlightened about women's position in Uganda. Thanks very much for this and congrats on completing your assignment so well!

Love

Stella Paul
Twitter: @stellasglobe

ikirimat's picture

The Mantle is now on the Leadership

Thank you Stella,
I can always count on you to read and comment on my writing.

In regard to the Domestic Realtions Bill, the mantle is now more on the leadership of this country to see that the Bill is passed and seen to live. The women activists and stakeholders have done reasonable work in consultations with various sections of the country. The proponents (who include women) of this Bill are just selfish to the majority of this country (women).

The women will not give up. Its time up for the Old and archaic cultures and traditions.

Grace Ikirimat

"It takes the hammer of persistence to drive the nail of success."


Thank you so much for you described so much with simple words.
even with all these happenings, a person can only be free if he makes up his mind for every society s filled with so much disheartening laws and traditions. Even in the mist of despair, we are not alone

ikirimat's picture

Everywhere

You have said it. Women have the same challenges everywhere but its up to us (women) to change the world. With over 100 women legislators in the 9th Parliament of Uganda we still cant have the DRB passed. However, we want this law passed.Like you have said everyone needs to make up his/her mind.

You are great

Grace Ikirimat

"It takes the hammer of persistence to drive the nail of success."


CHINYERE MMA OKOH's picture

well done

hello,
thank you for your approach.
Well done for the great work. I really admire your passion.

Celine's picture

Dear Grace, Thank you for us

Dear Grace,
Thank you for us educating us on the Domestic Relations Bill of Uganda. Your writing is so enlightening.

Hugs,
Celine

ikirimat's picture

Thanks

Thank you Celine for your appreciation and together we can make this world a better place for women

Grace Ikirimat

"It takes the hammer of persistence to drive the nail of success."


Cher Grace,

Please read Beatrice's article from last year on World Pulse. She tells a powerful tale also of land and the liberation available when right transfer supports women and children in being free and independent. You can read more about the compelling outcome of her World Pulse experience on her Facebook page. Also this year
https://www.facebook.com/groups/rgcm.uganda/?notif_t=group_activity

Also this year from Gambia by amiesissoho, "One Square Metre of Land."
http://worldpulse.com/node/48531

This brings me to realize that there are many women in Africa writing of land not transfering or being owned by them, but rather by their tribes, villages, or men. I wonder if there is a way to search on World Pulse for articles written on similar challenges. I wonder how then solutions could be crafted in a common visual language like infographics.

Thanks for triggering a broader understanding of an old paradigm that stands between 21st African women from being free to fully express their energies in loving ways.

Naturally grateful,
Kat Haber

"Know thyself." ~ Plato

ikirimat's picture

In touch

Thank you Kat,
In fact I have read these great women's work (Beatrice and Amiessoho) and they have spoken out on sensitive issues that affect women. I have learnt so much and appreciated that women need a lot more to change the old traitions and norms.
The idea of having solutions crafted for similar challenges is a brilliant.

Grace Ikirimat

"It takes the hammer of persistence to drive the nail of success."


AmyM's picture

Bravo!

Grace,
You did an excellent job distilling a complex situation into a compelling and distinct explanation. You described the problem and its historical roots, you explained clearly what this bill would accomplish, and you included every key element that was important to voice. I am so impressed with your work here! Thank you for everything you are doing for Ugandan women.

Amy

ikirimat's picture

Appreciation

Hi Amy,
Your comments strike me and make me learn to appreciate myself more and more. In a way my confidence is growing. Again thanks for your support and guidance in WP.

You are a friend indeed

Grace Ikirimat

"It takes the hammer of persistence to drive the nail of success."


Dear ikirimat,

Thank you for the light you have cast on the crucial cause of equal justice for the women of Uganda. Your article is strong, informative and eye-opening. Although I knew facets of the oppression Ugandan women face, your writing has opened my eyes to many details about which I knew nothing.

Your journalistic contribution and your voice are valuable indeed!

With Respect,

Sarah Whitten-Grigsby

ikirimat's picture

Thx

Thanks Sarah for your positive comments. It is the hope of Uganda women that with a woman Speaker of Parliament in the 9th Parliament , the DRB will be passed. We are watching!!!!

Grace Ikirimat

"It takes the hammer of persistence to drive the nail of success."


usha kc's picture

Grace sista,, It's so

Grace sista,, It's so interesting to read dear. Your voice is strong and important to address.

go ahead dear.
hugs

ikirimat's picture

Yeah Sister Usha

Usha you give me great courage. Again thank you so much.

Grace Ikirimat

"It takes the hammer of persistence to drive the nail of success."


vivian's picture

impacting

Dear Grace,

Am very glad to read yoùr article which is so educative and interest tp read. Domestic violence is a scourge to the society and together we have to fight it not minding the obstacles on the way. Am so glad to learn of the number of women in your legislative, but yet it is still difficult for the bill to be pass. Maybe a new strategic should be adopted. Women will continue to advocate for women until a change is achieved.

Great piece, keep the ball rolling on world pulse.

Vivian

''Every woman have a story at every stage of Life''

ikirimat's picture

Appreciation

Hello Vivian, It is nice to read strong comments coming from you again. Like you put is very rightly, we need a new approach/strategy to have the Bill passed.

However, I want to commend the effort of the UWOPA (Uganda WOmen Parliamentarians Association) who have done a lot of advocacy and lobbying. The challenge is power being in a few people who can determine whether the Bill should be discussed or not (Speaker of Parliament).

Last year UWOPA made a stance decision that if part of the grant from World Bank was not going into addressing Maternal Health, then they were not going to pass it. Indeed, this happened, part of the WB grant was given for maternal health. This are some of the strong actions the women parliamentarians have made. So in the same vain, we have a lot of hope in this 9th Parliament, more so with a woman Speaker.

Grace Ikirimat

"It takes the hammer of persistence to drive the nail of success."


Okeny-Lucia's picture

It can be done!

Thank you Ikirimat.This issue of access of landownership and other property can be done.
If it happened to Kenya in the New Constitution,I believe Uganda is not far away from achieving it.
Congratulations once again.

Lucia Buyanza
Reproductive Health

ikirimat's picture

Positive

Thank you for your positive comment Lucia.
Yes women in Uganda is positive about this laws. Some positives are beginning to be realized , since culture is dynamic, its our hope that gender equality issues will one day be part of our cultures.

Otherwise thanks for reading my Op-Ed

Grace Ikirimat

"It takes the hammer of persistence to drive the nail of success."


Jensine's picture

A strong voice

Dear sister,
You have "hit the nail on the head" as they say by selecting and elevating this incredibly important issue to light. Thank you for using your voice to rally for the rights of women in Uganda. With support from sisters around the world and the unstoppable determination of the women of Uganda, this important law will be passed, and from mouth to ear from the cities to the villages, women like you will stand for the implementation of their rights!

Jensine Larsen
World Pulse

ikirimat's picture

Thank you Jensine for

Thank you Jensine for standing with the Uganda women in fighting for their justice. Indeed our efforts are unstoppable.

Kind regards

Grace Ikirimat

"It takes the hammer of persistence to drive the nail of success."


amykessel's picture

It's time

Dear Grace,
You have made it very clear that the time has come for women in Uganda to be granted equal rights in terms of marriage customs, land ownership and "full and equal dignity". Your article highlights the many ways gender disparity is sanctioned in Uganda, both culturally and politically. This makes it challenging, but certainly not impossible, to dismantle. Sustainable change for women will only come when there is support both in the cultural and in the political arenas.

Thank you for bringing your wisdom and your strength to this ongoing struggle for justice and equality. I have no doubt that your granddaughters will sing your praises, even as they enjoy a very different set of rights and responsibilities.

Warmly,
Amy Kessel

Hello Amy, Thank you so much for the spot on comments on the Op-Ed. You have rightly said it, the women (and the men) of Uganda owe it to the next generations that should be better than the present one.This is what keeps this struggle for equality strong.

Again you support and guidance is very much appreciated.

Regards

Grace Ikirimat

"It takes the hammer of persistence to drive the nail of success."


Thank you for this article Irikimat. I did not realize the situation in Uganda is so dire for women in Uganda, and that a bill to help better the situation has been stalled for 47 years! How can we help? Other women in the rest of the world must take an active role. Part of helping to change this is through your writing and letting those of us in other countries know the truth. Stay strong, my sister. And keep writing. Best and warmest regards.

ikirimat's picture

Hello Marta, Thank you for

Hello Marta,

Thank you for taking time to read my Op-Ed, and thank you for being part of the women struggle for justice. Indeed, making others know of what is happening in this part of the world can serve as a learning point and help others work towards addressing the injustices prevailing against women. For that, I will continue voicing the plight of the women in Uganda.

Your encouragement is well appreciated

Grace Ikirimat

"It takes the hammer of persistence to drive the nail of success."


Greengirl's picture

Until then, can Uganda boast

Until then, can Uganda boast of having one of the best gender-sensitive constitutions in the world?

You sure saved the greatest and best question for the last. My response is that gender sensitive constitutions can only result from gender friendly policy and or decision makers. For such a life saving and giving Bill to have been awaiting approval for up to 47 years, makes me want to conclude that Ugandan House of Parliament has been playing host to male diehards. The story, though is not any different, in many parts of the world, particularly Africa.

Equal representation of women and men in all spheres of decision-making is undeniably essential to women becoming empowered. This, you have rightly pointed out. With the efforts of someone like you, I hope someday, that our culture,institutions and leaders will come to terms with the fact that what is good for the male goose is equally good for the female gander. Can a line of distinction ever be drawn between a goose and a gander? A question for our men!

Keep speaking!

ikirimat's picture

Goose and Gander !!

Dear Olanike, Thank you for taking time to read this Op-Ed. The way you have analyzed the issue is so brilliant and indeed the each of the groups (men, women, religious and cultural leaders.....) should be targeted specifically and sometimes individually.

Indeed it is high time society realizes, that what is good for the male goose is equally good for the female gander!!!

Grace Ikirimat

"It takes the hammer of persistence to drive the nail of success."


Tash's picture

what a good read!

what a good read!

Kind Regards,
Patsy.

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