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Rights Group Calls on Uganda to Crackdown on Domestic Violence - 2003-08-13

The group Human Rights Watch is calling on the Ugandan government to crack down on domestic violence. The organization says domestic violence is directly linked to the spread of HIV/AIDS in the country. The New York-based Human Rights Watch said women who are abused by their partners are at high risk of contracting the AIDS-causing virus HIV. Lisa Karanja, who compiled the group's latest study on domestic violence, explains abused women are often too scared to ask their partners to use a condom during sexual intercourse.

"A typical reaction was, get out of the house. You're my wife, why should I use condoms with you? If you want to use condoms, maybe you're doing strange things. Are you having an affair? Are you ill? Get out of my house then," she said.

The report notes women faced similar negative reactions if they tried to seek information and services concerning HIV/AIDS.

Ms. Karanja said women with little or no income of their own often stay with their abusive partners because they have nowhere else to go or no way to support themselves.

Human Rights Watch urges the Ugandan government to push for a new law that would, among other things, require police to treat domestic violence as a serious crime. It also calls for legislation that would outlaw marital rape.

Uganda's Minister of Gender, Labor and Social Services Zoe Bakoko-Bakoru challenges the report's findings that many Ugandan women are unable to stand up to their partners in sexual matters. "In Uganda, we have fought this through education and sensitization of the women. That way, a woman is able to stand up and say no to sex, and her no means no, not yes, which is the usual, interpretation by the opposite sex," she said.

She said HIV/AIDS has plummeted over the last decade and women have benefited greatly from the decline.

But she said the two measures Human Rights Watch is seeking have been approved by the government of Uganda and are expected to become law by the end of the year.