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

Ebola Death Toll Nears 5,000 as Virus Advances

West Africa bears heaviest burden; Mali toddler’s death raises new fears More

Jordan’s Battle With Islamic State Militants Carries Domestic Risks

Despite Western concerns that IS militants are preparing a Jordanian offensive, analysts call the kingdom's solid intel a strong deterrent More

Asian-Americans Assume Office in Record Numbers

Steadily deepening engagement in local politics pays off for politicians like Chinese-American Judy Chu 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.
Talks to Resume on Winter Gas for Ukrainei
X
Al Pessin
October 25, 2014 4:21 PM
Ukrainian and Russian officials will meet again next week in an effort to settle their dispute over natural gas supplies that threatens to leave Ukraine short of heating fuel for the coming winter. VOA’s Al Pessin reports from London the dispute is complex, and has both economic and geopolitical dimensions.
Video

Video Talks to Resume on Winter Gas for Ukraine

Ukrainian and Russian officials will meet again next week in an effort to settle their dispute over natural gas supplies that threatens to leave Ukraine short of heating fuel for the coming winter. VOA’s Al Pessin reports from London the dispute is complex, and has both economic and geopolitical dimensions.
Video

Video Smugglers Offer Cheap Passage From Turkey to Syria

Smugglers in Turkey offer a relatively cheap passage across the border into Syria. Ankara has stepped up efforts to stem the flow of foreign fighters who want to join Islamic State militants fighting for control of the Syrian border city of Kobani. But porous borders and border guards who can be bribed make illegal border crossings quite easy. Zlatica Hoke has more.
Video

Video Comanche Chief Quanah Parker’s Century-Old House Falling Apart

One of the most fascinating people in U.S. history was Quanah Parker, the last chief of the American Indian tribe, the Comanche. He was the son of a Comanche warrior and a white woman who had been captured by the Indians. Parker was a fierce warrior until 1875 when he led his people to Fort Sill, Oklahoma, and took on a new, peaceful life. As VOA’s Greg Flakus reports from Cache, Oklahoma, Quanah’s image remains strong among his people, but part of his heritage is in danger of disappearing.
Video

Video China Political Meeting Seeks to Improve Rule of Law

China’s communist leaders will host a top level political meeting this week, called the Fourth Plenum, and for the first time in the party’s history, rule of law will be a key item on the agenda. Analysts and Chinese media reports say the meetings could see the approval of long-awaited measures aimed at giving courts more independence and include steps to enhance an already aggressive and high-reaching anti-corruption drive. VOA’s Bill Ide has more from Beijing.
Video

Video After Decades of Pressure, Luxembourg Drops Bank Secrecy Rules

European Union finance ministers have reached a breakthrough agreement that will make it more difficult for tax cheats to hide their money. The new legislation, which had been blocked for years by countries with a reputation as tax havens, was approved last week after Luxembourg and Austria agreed to lift their vetoes. But as Mil Arcega reports, it doesn’t mean tax cheats have run out of places to keep their money hidden.
Video

Video Kobani Refugees Welcome, Turkey Criticizes, US Airdrop

Residents of Kobani in northern Syria have welcomed the airdrop of weapons, ammunition and medicine to Kurdish militia who are resisting the seizure of their city by Islamic State militants. The Turkish government, however, has criticized the operation. VOA’s Scott Bobb reports from southeastern Turkey, across the border from Kobani.
Video

Video US ‘Death Cafes’ Put Focus on the Finale

In contemporary America, death usually is a topic to be avoided. But the growing “death café” movement encourages people to discuss their fears and desires about their final moments. VOA’s Jerome Socolovsky reports.
Video

Video Ebola Orphanage Opens in Sierra Leone

Sierra Leone's first Ebola orphanage has opened in the Kailahun district. Hundreds of children orphaned since the beginning of the Ebola outbreak face stigma and rejection with nobody to care for them. Adam Bailes reports for VOA about a new interim care center that's aimed at helping the growing number of children affected by Ebola.

All About America

AppleAndroid