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

UN: 1 Million Somalis at Risk of Hunger

Group warns region is in dire need of humanitarian aid, with at least 200,000 children under age of five acutely malnourished as drought hits southern, central part of nation More

Human Rights Groups Allege Supression of Freedoms in Thailand

Thailand’s military, police have suppressed release of independent report assessing human rights in kingdom during first 100 days of latest coup More

Jennifer Lawrence Contacts FBI After Nude Photos Hacked

'Silver Linings Playbook' actress' photos were posted on image-sharing forum 4chan; Federal Bureau of Investigations is looking into matter 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.
Larger Than Life Chinese Lanterns Make Southern California Appearancei
X
Elizabeth Lee
September 02, 2014 8:57 PM
Chinese lanterns with a long history are lighting up in 21st century style at the Los Angeles County Fair in southern California. Visitors can see traditional lanterns that hang, but also lanterns in the shape of animals, iconic landmarks and many other objects, all created by artisans from a place in China known for its lanterns. Elizabeth Lee has the details from the fair in the city of Pomona.
Video

Video Larger Than Life Chinese Lanterns Make Southern California Appearance

Chinese lanterns with a long history are lighting up in 21st century style at the Los Angeles County Fair in southern California. Visitors can see traditional lanterns that hang, but also lanterns in the shape of animals, iconic landmarks and many other objects, all created by artisans from a place in China known for its lanterns. Elizabeth Lee has the details from the fair in the city of Pomona.
Video

Video Experts See Rise of ISIS as Significant Development

The Islamic State’s rise seems sudden. It caught the U.S. by surprise this summer when it captured large portions of northern Iraq and spread its wings in neighboring Syria. But many analysts contend that the group - which grew out of al-Qaida in Iraq - has been rebuilding for years. VOA's Jela de Franceschi takes a closer look at the rise of ISIS and its implications for the Middle East and beyond.
Video

Video Israel Concerned Over Syrian Rebels in Golan

Israeli officials are following with concern the recent fighting between Syrian rebels and government forces near the contested Golan Heights. Forty-four U.N. peacekeepers from Fiji have been seized by Syrian Islamist rebels and the clashes occasionally have spilled into Israel. VOA’s Scott Bobb reports from Jerusalem.
Video

Video Ukraine Schools Resume Classes, Donate to Government Forces

A new school year has started in Ukraine but thousands of children in the war-torn east are unable to attend because of ongoing clashes with pro-Russia rebels. In Ukraine's capital, patriotic education has become the norm along with donations to support injured security forces fighting to take back rebel-held areas. VOA's Daniel Schearf reports from Kyiv.
Video

Video US Detainees Want Negotiators for Freedom in North Korea

The three U.S. detainees held in North Korea were permitted to speak with foreign media Monday. The government of Kim Jong Un restricted the topics of the questions, and the interviews in Pyongyang were limited to five minutes. Each of the men asked Washington to send a representative to Pyongyang to secure his release. VOA’s Carolyn Presutti has our story.
Video

Video Turkmen From Amerli Describe Survival of IS Siege

Over the past few weeks, hundreds of Shi'ite Turkmen have fled the town of Amerli seeking refuge in the northern city of Kirkuk. Despite recent military gains after U.S. airstrikes that were coordinated with Iraqi and Kurdish forces, the situation remains dire for Amerli’s residents. Sebastian Meyer went to Kirkuk for VOA to speak to those who managed to escape.
Video

Video West Africa Ebola Vaccine Trials Possible by Early 2015

A U.S. health agency is speeding up clinical trials of a possible vaccine against the deadly Ebola virus that so far has killed more than 1,500 people in West Africa. If successful, the next step would be a larger trial in countries where the outbreak is occurring. VOA's Carol Pearson has more.
Video

Video Survivors Commemorate 70th Anniversary of Nazi Liquidation of Jewish Ghetto

When the German Nazi army occupied the Polish city of Lodz in 1939, it marked the beginning of a long nightmare for the Jewish community that once made up one third of the population. Roughly 200,000 people were forced into the Lodz Ghetto. Less than 7,000 survived. As VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, some survivors gathered at the Union League Club in Chicago on the 70th anniversary of the liquidation of the Lodz Ghetto to remember those who suffered at the hands of the Nazi regime.

AppleAndroid