UN Working Group on discrimination against women asked to investigate disparities in Uganda’s family law

Press release

Today, FIDH and its member organisation in Uganda, FHRI, referred discriminatory provisions in Uganda’s marriage and divorce law to the United Nations Working Group on discrimination against women, in law and in practice. The information submitted emphasized the need for Uganda to consolidate existing laws and provide for more equal rights between women and men, in line with the Ugandan constitution and the State’s international and regional human rights obligations.

In many areas related to marriage and divorce, Ugandan law discriminates against women or does not provide for any guarantee to ensure their protection. Different religious communities are governed by different laws. Applicable law is in contradiction with the Constitution which provides that “men and women are entitled to equal rights in matters relating to marriage and its dissolution”. Reform of the Ugandan law on marriage and divorce has been on the table for 50 years. The latest draft proposed, the Marriage and Divorce Bill, has its flaws, but it provides for minimum guarantees with regard to age of marriage and spouses’ consent. It also provides for equal rights regarding matrimonial property and divorce and outlaws the practice of levirat. The Bill came before Parliament for the last time in July 2013 but the session was suspended to allow for further consultations to take place.

Alerted by its member organisation in Uganda, the Foundation for Human Rights Initiative (FHRI), FIDH decided to send an international fact-finding / advocacy mission to Uganda in January and February 2014. During the mission, FIDH and FHRI, documented and analysed the obstacles to the adoption of the Bill. It is clear that the main obstacle to the adoption of the Bill is a lack of political will. The Bill has been an initiative of the Law Reform Commission. It has had the support of the Speaker of the House and some women MP’s, especially from the Uganda Women Parliamentary Association. But the Bill has not had the support of the executive and in particular that of the President.

« We hope that the Working Group will establish a dialogue with the Government of Uganda and that it will help to clarify the position of the executive on the matter. We trust this process will encourage the State to take all necessary steps to address the issue of discrimination against women in family law », stated Sheila Nabachwa Muwanga, FIDH Vice-president and FHRI Deputy Executive Director.

« The Marriage and Divorce Bill is not perfect but it provides women with a minimum standard of rights in several areas, rights women don’t have so far. We hope this submission will help to mobilise the Government and push him to face the issue », added Karim Lahidji, FIDH President.

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