Women rights infringement continues to stall

Womanhood | By Doreen Anyijukire, Accountant | 02 October 2015

“I think God made a woman to be strong and not to be trampled under the feet of men. This however contrasts with some of the verses in the bible which claim that Eve was created second to Adam and was responsible for original sin that women must be “subservient” to their husbands and prohibited from serving as deacons, pastors or chaplains. Richard Little” - American scholar.

Women’s rights are privileges and entitlements claimed for women and girls of many societies worldwide. They promote a position of legal and social equality of women with men. In some places the rights are institutionalised or supported by law, local custom and behaviour whereas in others they may be ignored or suppressed. Women’s rights have varied through time and across cultures, even though today there’s still some disagreements about what really constitutes women’s rights. However, rights can be guaranteed under specific situations which are usually determined by whether women have equality with the rights of men where women and men’s capacities are the same.

Does a woman have a right to control family size, right to equality of treatment at the workplace, and right to equality of access to military assignments? This view that women are somehow inferior to men is not restricted to one religion or belief. Women are prevented from playing a full and equal role in many faiths. Nor, tragically, does its influence stop at the walls of the church or mosque; this discrimination, is unjustifiably attributed to a Higher Authority which has provided an excuse for the deprivation of women’s equal rights across the world for centuries.

Similarly to the majority of countries around the world, the traditional gender roles of women in Uganda are often considered subordinate to those of men. However, women in Uganda have substantial economic and social responsibilities throughout a range of economic and educational backgrounds. Despite the economic and social change throughout the country, domestic violence and sexual assault remain prevalent issues in Uganda. These issues affect women all around the world and do not discriminate on the basis of race or class. However, poverty is also correlated with an influx of domestic violence. Government reports suggest rising levels of domestic violence toward women are directly attributable to poverty.

During the 1970s and early 1980s, the violence that swept Uganda inflicted a particularly heavy toll on women. Economic hardships were felt first in the home, where women and children lacked economic choices available to most men. Some Ugandan women believed that the war years strengthened their independence. However, as the disruption of normal family life opened new avenues for acquiring economic independence, and government reports suggested that the number of women employed in commerce increased in the late 1970s and early 1980s.

The Ugandan government of the late 1980s pledged to eliminate discrimination against women in official policy and practice, eliminating prejudice in public education, full political rights to vote and run for political positions, reproductive, sex, and domestic rights. Women were active in the National Resistance Army (NRA), and were subjected to special circumstances such as maternity leave for child bearing and less susceptible to mistreatment like trafficking and rape. Joyce Mpanga was appointed Minister for Women and Development in 1987, and proclaimed the government’s intention to raise women’s wages, increase women’s credit and employment opportunities, and improve the lives of women in general.

In relation to social dynamics, gender roles in Uganda are influenced by tradition. Traditional roles of women in Uganda are similar to those of women around the world. These roles are largely domestic including housekeeping, child bearing, and fetching water, cooking and tending to community needs. However despite of the above hardships, in many respects Ugandan women hold and still enjoy rights that exceed those of their western counterparts. Many Ugandans recognise women as important religious and community leaders. Women have held rights to own land, influence crucial political decisions made by men, and cultivate crops for their own profit. However, some marriage practices in polygamous states, which permit a man to marry more than one woman, have reinforced some aspects of male dominance. Conversely, they have also given women an arena for cooperating to oppose male dominance.

Women began to organise to exercise their political power before independence. In 1960 the Uganda Council of Women passed a resolution urging that laws regarding marriage, divorce, and inheritance should be recorded and publicized nationwide as a first step towards codifying customary and modern practices. The Uganda Association of Women Lawyers, which was founded in 1976, established a legal-aid clinic in early 1988 to defend women who faced the loss of property or children because of divorce, separation, or widowhood. The association also sought to expand educational opportunities for women, increase child support payments, cases of divorce, establish common legal grounds for divorce for both men and women, establish common criminal codes for men and women, assist women and children who were victims of AIDS, and implement nationwide education programs to inform women of their legal rights.

According to the report conducted by Human Rights commission in 2014, while there have been some positive steps to promote women’s rights in Uganda, in particular the adoption of laws criminalising female genital mutilation (FGM) and sanctioning domestic violence; measures necessary to ensure their implementation are lacking, while other much needed reforms of discriminatory laws have stalled. The quest for women’s rights has led to legal challenges in the areas of employment, domestic relations, reproductive rights, education and criminal law. However, several offices have been established to handle matters concerning women, for example MIFUMI a community based NGO, HEPS Uganda, Child and Family Protection Unit at every Police station which receives at least 10 cases of women rights violation.