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

    Vietnam Mulls Tough Measures for ‘Misbehaving’ Chinese Tourists

    Move comes after footage surfaced online of Chinese travelers harassing a banana hawker in Da Nang

    Pakistan Social Media Star's Honor Killing Fuels Debate

    Qandeel Baloch's murder puts spotlight on deadly tradition and other mistreatment of women

    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!

    By the Numbers

    Featured Videos

    Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
    Wall Already Runs Along Parts of US-Mexico Borderi
    X
    July 22, 2016 12:30 AM
    The Republican Party’s presidential nominee, Donald Trump, gained the support of many voters by saying he would build a wall to keep undocumented immigrants and drugs from coming across the border from Mexico. Critics have called his idea impractical and offensive to Mexico, while supporters say such a bold approach is needed to control the border. VOA’s Greg Flakus has more from the border town of Nogales, Arizona.
    Video

    Video Wall Already Runs Along Parts of US-Mexico Border

    The Republican Party’s presidential nominee, Donald Trump, gained the support of many voters by saying he would build a wall to keep undocumented immigrants and drugs from coming across the border from Mexico. Critics have called his idea impractical and offensive to Mexico, while supporters say such a bold approach is needed to control the border. VOA’s Greg Flakus has more from the border town of Nogales, Arizona.
    Video

    Video New HIV Tests Emphasize Rapid Results

    As the global fight against AIDS intensifies, activists have placed increasing importance on getting people to know their HIV status. Some companies are developing new HIV testing methods designed to be quick, easy and accurate. Thuso Khumalo looks at the latest methods, presented at the International AIDS conference in Durban, South Africa.
    Video

    Video African Youth with HIV Urge More Support

    HIV, the virus that causes AIDS, is the top killer of teens in sub-Saharan Africa. But many youths say their experience with the virus is unique and needs to be addressed differently than the adult epidemic. VOA South African Correspondent Anita Powell reports.
    Video

    Video Poor Residents in Cleveland Not Feeling High Hopes of Republican Convention

    With the Republican Party's National Convention underway in Cleveland, Ohio, delegates and visitors are gathered in the host city's downtown - waiting to hear from the party's presidential candidate, Donald Trump. But a few kilometers from the convention's venue, Cleveland's poorest residents are not convinced Trump or his policies will make a difference in their lives. VOA's Ramon Taylor spoke with some of these residents as well as some of the Republican delegates and filed this report.
    Video

    Video Pop-Up Art Comes to Your Living Room, Backyard and Elsewhere

    Around the world, independent artists and musicians wrestle with a common problem: where to exhibit or perform? Traditional spaces such as museums and galleries are reserved for bigger names, and renting a space is not feasible for many. Enter ArtsUp, which connects artists with venue owners. Whether it’s a living room, restaurant, office or even a boat, pop-up events are bringing music and art to unexpected places. Tina Trinh has more.
    Video

    Video With Yosemite as Backdrop, Obama Praises National Parks

    Last month, President Barack Obama and his family visited some of the most beautiful national parks in the U.S. Using the majestic backdrop of a towering waterfall in California's Yosemite National Park, Obama praised the national park system which celebrates its 100th anniversary this year. He talked about the importance of America’s “national treasures” and the need to protect them from climate change and other threats. VOA’s Julie Taboh reports.
    Video

    Video Counter-Islamic State Coalition Plots Next Steps

    As momentum shifts against Islamic State in Iraq, discussions are taking place about the next steps for driving the terrorist group from its final strongholds. Secretary of State John Kerry is hosting a counter-IS meeting at the State Department, a day after defense ministers from more than 30 countries reviewed and agreed upon a course of action. VOA Pentagon correspondent Carla Babb reports.
    Video

    Video Russia's Participation at Brazil Olympic Games Still In Question

    The International Olympic Committee has delayed a decision on whether to ban all Russian teams from competing in next month's Olympic Games in Brazil over allegations of an elaborate doping scheme. The World Anti-Doping Agency recently released an independent report alleging widespread doping by Russian athletes at the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi. So far, only Russian track and field athletes have been barred from the Summer Games in Brazil. VOA's Zlatica Hoke has more.
    Video

    Video Scotland’s Booming Whisky Industry Fears Brexit Hangover

    After Britain’s vote to leave the European Union, Scotland’s government wants to break away from the United Kingdom – fearing the nation’s exports are at risk. Among the biggest of these is whisky. Henry Ridgwell reports on a time of turmoil for those involved in the ancient art of distilling Scotland’s most famous product.
    Video

    Video Millennials Could Determine Who Wins Race to White House

    With only four months to go until Americans elect a new president, one group of voters is getting a lot more attention these days: those ages 18 to 35, a generation known as millennials. It’s a demographic that some analysts say could have the power to decide the 2016 election. But a lot depends on whether they actually turn out to vote. VOA’s Alexa Lamanna reports.
    Video

    Video Number of Syrian Refugees Arriving in US Jumps

    The United States is committed to resettling 85,000 refugees from around the world by October. Of that number, 10,000 will come from Syria and already some 4,000 Syrian refugees have arrived in the United States, many of them settling in the state of Illinois. As VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports from Chicago, their arrival is not the end of a difficult journey to find peace and stability.
    Video

    Video Rio’s Trams Await Olympic Tourists

    Over the past century, many cities around the world replaced electric trams, prone to breakdowns and backups, with faster and more spacious buses. But for some reason restored antique trams are a huge tourist attraction. So it’s no wonder the authorities in Rio de Janeiro are busy restoring their city’s old tram line ahead of the Summer Olympic Games. VOA’ George Putic reports.

    Special Report

    Adrift The Invisible African Diaspora