News / Africa

Ugandan Marriage Bill Pits Women’s Rights Against Tradition

Ugandan women carry luggage on their heads during the busy hours in the street of Kampala (2007 file photo).
Ugandan women carry luggage on their heads during the busy hours in the street of Kampala (2007 file photo).
The Ugandan parliament is haggling over a controversial marriage and divorce bill supported by women's rights groups.  The bill is causing an uproar in Ugandan society.

The Marriage and Divorce Bill outlaws a number of traditional practices, makes asset sharing mandatory in a divorce, gives cohabiting partners property rights and makes marital rape illegal.

Women’s rights groups have embraced it, saying these measures will curb domestic violence and give women more power over their lives.  But in Uganda, where the church is powerful and cultural traditions run deep, the bill makes some people very angry.

Parliament is deeply divided, and some MPs have walked out of heated debates.  The church has come out against cohabitation and divorce legislation, and defenders of tradition are up in arms.

One clause of the bill would make it illegal, in case of divorce, to demand a refund of the so-called “bride price,” the sum traditionally paid by the groom’s family to the bride’s. 

Betty Kasiko of the Uganda Women’s Network explains that many women get stuck in bad marriages when their families cannot afford the refund.

"Once they move away, their families are pushing them back, telling them ‘You have to stay in that marriage because you know we cannot refund that bride price that was given,'"  she said.

Another clause states that unmarried couples living together for ten years or more must split their assets if they break up.

Many Ugandans see this as legalizing a situation that should have been avoided to begin with. According to this man in Kampala, such a law would be an affront to tradition.

"Traditionally, people have to get married," he said.  "You have to introduce me to your parents.  Formal introduction to both parents, that is the kind of marriage that has to happen first, then you call someone your wife, then you can have the sharing when you are divorcing.”

But, says Kasiko, cohabitation is a reality for 60 percent of Ugandan couples.  Many women do not have a choice in the matter, she says, and when the couple splits up it is often the woman who leaves empty-handed.

"We know many times as women, they cannot negotiate for the formal marriages," she said. "They are less empowered, they are less propertied, they are less financed, so they really wait upon the man. The property rights of these people should be protected."

Peter Atekyereza, sociologist at Kampala’s Makarere University, says it is difficult to legislate on matters of tradition and culture.  He does not think the law should be judging men for following the value systems in which they were raised.

"Any law should be building on the cultural value systems, not the value systems building on the law," he said. "You cannot wake up one time and say, ‘I have put up a law, it is going to wipe out the value systems.’  Because these value systems, we acquire them unconsciously.  Some of the things done by men, which are bad, to women, it’s not that they consciously know that they are doing them.  So why are you criminalizing him now?"

But, says Kasiko, culture should not be an excuse for injustice.

"They are injustices happening within society, but which people cherish as culture, which people cherish as ‘It’s our religion, it’s our faith, so it cannot be challenged,'" she said.

Ugandan society has always been patriarchal, she adds, and its cultural beliefs were shaped by men.

"Our clan heads, our elders, all of them are male," said Kasiko. "They’ve done things unconsciously, but because it is only men, who represents the issues of women in these clan meetings?  So it’s really been bent and biased towards uplifting men over women.”

Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni has urged caution on the bill, and planned to discuss it Friday at the ruling party caucus.  The party’s position could well determine the bill’s fate.

You May Like

Karzai's Legacy: Missed Opportunities?

Afghanistan's president leaves behind a much different nation than the one he inherited, yet his legacy from 13 years in power is getting mixed reviews More

Frustrated, Liberian Students Want Ebola Fight Role

Thousands have volunteered to go to counties, rural villages to talk to people in their language about deadly virus More

Secret Service Head to be Questioned Over White House Intruder

Julia Pierson will be questioned about the latest break-in well as several other embarrassing incidents involving the agency More

This forum has been closed.
Comment Sorting
Comments
     
by: Greg from: Kampala
April 12, 2013 2:14 PM
Where is the bill itself? I don't think many people have got the opportunity to read it themselves. Where can I find it so I can read it myself for better appreciation of the issues at stake? Everybody or MP comments about sections of it that they feel are more interesting to them!

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Treasure Hunters Seek 'Hidden Treasure' in Central Kenyai
X
Gabe Joselow
September 29, 2014 6:20 PM
Could a cave in a small village in central Kenya be the site of buried treasure? A rumor of riches, left behind by colonialists, has some residents dreaming of wealth, while others see it as a dangerous hoax. VOA's Gabe Joselow has the story.
Video

Video Treasure Hunters Seek 'Hidden Treasure' in Central Kenya

Could a cave in a small village in central Kenya be the site of buried treasure? A rumor of riches, left behind by colonialists, has some residents dreaming of wealth, while others see it as a dangerous hoax. VOA's Gabe Joselow has the story.
Video

Video Iran's Rouhani Skeptical on Syria Strikes

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani expressed skepticism Friday that U.S.-led airstrikes in Iraq and Syria could crush Islamic State militants. From New York, VOA’s Margaret Besheer reports the president was also hopeful that questions about Iran’s nuclear program could be resolved soon.
Video

Video US House Speaker: Congress Should Debate Authorization Against IS

As wave after wave of U.S. airstrikes target Islamic State militants, the speaker of the Republican-controlled House of Representatives says he would be willing to call Congress back into session to debate a formal, broad authorization for the use of military force. VOA’s Michael Bowman reports from Washington, where legislators left town 10 days ago for a seven-week recess.
Video

Video Ebola Patients Find No Treatment at Sierra Leone Holding Center

At a holding facility in Makeni, central Sierra Leone, dozens of sick people sit on the floor in an empty university building. They wait in filthy conditions. It's a 16-hour drive by ambulance to Kailahun Ebola treatment center. Adam Bailes was there and reports on what he says are some of the worst situations he has seen since the beginning of this Ebola outbreak. And he says it appears case numbers may already be far worse than authorities acknowledge.
Video

Video Identifying Bodies Found in Texas Border Region

Thousands of immigrants have died after crossing the border from Mexico into remote areas of the southwestern United States in recent years. Local officials in south Texas alone have found hundreds of unidentified bodies and buried them in mass graves in local cemeteries. Now an anthropologist and her students at Baylor University have been exhuming bodies and looking for clues to identify them. VOA’s Greg Flakus has more from Waco, Texas.
Video

Video Ebola Robs Liberians of Chance to Say Good-Bye to Loved Ones

In Liberia, where Ebola has killed more than 1,500 people, authorities have worked hard to convince people to allow specialized burial teams to take away dead bodies. But these safety measures, while necessary, make it hard for people to say good bye to their loved ones. VOA's Anne Look reports on the tragedy from Liberia.
Video

Video Reconstruction? What Reconstruction? Life After War in Gaza

It’s been a month since Israel and the Palestinians agreed to a ceasefire to end 52 days of an air and tank war that left 60,000 homes in Gaza damaged or destroyed and 110,000 homeless. Sharon Behn reports that lack of reconstruction is leading to despair.
Video

Video US, Saudi Arabia and UAE Hit Islamic State's Oil Revenue

The United States, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates have bombed oil facilities operated by Islamic State militants in Syria. It was a truly collaborative effort, with the two Arab countries dropping the majority of the bombs. The 12 refineries targeted were estimated to generate as much as $2 million per day for the terrorist group. VOA Pentagon correspondent Carla Babb has the story.
Video

Video Russia's Food Sanctions Raise Price Worries, Hopes for Domestic Production

Russia retaliated against Western sanctions imposed for its actions in Ukraine by halting food imports from the West. The temporary import ban on food from Australia, the European Union, Norway and North America has Russian consumers concerned that they could face a sharp increase in food prices. But in an ironic twist, the restrictions aimed at the Kremlin have made Russia's domestic food producers hopeful this can boost their business. VOA's Daniel Schearf reports from Moscow.
Video

Video Washington to Pyongyang: 'Shut This Evil System Down'

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry is calling on North Korea to shut down prison camps and other human rights abuses following a United Nations Commission of Inquiry into "widespread and systematic human rights violations." VOA State Department Correspondent Scott Stearns reports from the United Nations.
Colonel Steve ‘Spiros’ Pisanos left Greece and came to the U.S. to learn to fly. He flew fighters for the Allies in World War II, narrowly escaping death multiple times.Colonel Steve ‘Spiros’ Pisanos left Greece and came to the U.S. to learn to fly. He flew fighters for the Allies in World War II, narrowly escaping death multiple times.

AppleAndroid