Many women and girls in Uganda suffer from sexual and gender- based violence committed by various actors within the family and the community. The persistence of patriarchal patterns of behavior and the existence of stereotypes relating to the role of women perpetuate the discrimination of women within Uganda society. The difficulties women face are not only due to intimidation, hostility and ridicule from the community, but also due to the states inaction in ensuring redress.
Research by the Coalition Against Gender Violence (CAGV) was done within two of Uganda’s major districts and it was found that domestic violence was the most common form of violence in the community (67 percent) and wife beating was considered normal practice in accordance with cultural beliefs (26 percent).
According to the research, some ethnic groups believe that the practice of beating expresses physical affection and commitment to the relationship as well as instilling discipline. Domestically abused women are often encouraged by clan leaders to report the matter clan courts, even if the case is capital or criminal, while cases of sexual violence such as rape and indecent assault are settled informally.
In one cultural practice, if a man has sex with a virgin girl he must pay a fine, which often develops into a marriage proposal, and consequently a formal marriage.
Imagine the humiliation of a woman living with a life- time partner met through an illegality of forced sex? The prevalence of culture- driven forms of gender violence can be seen in traditional practices such as forced marriages, widow inheritance, polygamy and traditional rituals that include ‘stripping’ and forced circumcision. The Coalition Against Gender Violence survey found that 11 percent of women are forced into marriage; within marriages, 31 percent of all marriages are customary and 42 percent are polygamous.
Community members still associate polygamy with wealth and believe that men with many wives can pay high bride prices. Women are bought, kept and controlled like property. It is so absurd.
And that is where the government must come and take action. It is difficult to believe that a woman with means to live on her own can accept to marry a man with already two or three wives. Clearly, the decision to accept such polygamous relationships is a result of controlling nature of man as a provider in the home, where other women are just property.
It is a result of lack of financial empowerment for women as a result of failure to access basic human rights like quality education and employment, among others.
It is inconceivable for financially independent woman to accept a relationship where they know they will share man for the rest of their lives. And that is how you have things like inheriting a wife! Is that really genuine love?
Widow inheritance is common in Ugandan communities and is encouraged primarily to guard against the refunding of the bride. Widows that reject remarriages within the clan can be punished by confiscation of land, children, shelter and household property.
The Coalition Against Gender Violence survey explored the perceptions of communities with regards to institutions and their handling of cases of gender violence. Results indicated that community members perceived the police as the most effective institution in tackling cases of child abuse, sex deprivation and defilement, while the clan is the most effective in tackling cases of incest.
Another problem that has been experienced in Uganda is that of gender- based violence in armed conflict situations. The conflict has been characterized by gender- based violence where mass rapes are common and women and girls are used as tools against the opposition. During the LRA war, many children were abducted to be used as child combatants and sex slaves. Women, who are usually restricted to the home, are susceptible to rape, defilement and other sexual abuses.
Human rights institutions and women advocacy groups have played an important role in advocating for enactment of gender related bills such as Marriage and Divorce Bill, Domestic Violence Bill, Trafficking in Persons Bill and the Bill on Prohibition of Female Genital Mutilation.
The Uganda Police established the Family Protection Unit and there are selected officers who have been trained to handle cases of child and sexual abuse.
However, the cases rely heavily on physical and documented evidence, which is hard to produce especially by those from the rural areas. This discourages victims to report cases. Moreover, the FPU is not widespread and where they do exist they are grossly understaffed. The Federation of Uganda Women Lawyers Association (FIDA) provides legal assistance to both victims of gender violence. FIDA claims that men’s attitudes inhibit the effective implementation of legal services because many deter their wives from reporting domestic violence cases.
SOURCE: SUMMIT BUSINESS MAGAZINE VOL. 08/ISSUE 09 JANUARY 2016.