Women’s rights in Uganda: gaps between policy and practice


While there have been some positive recent steps to fight violence against women in Uganda, in particular the adoption of laws criminalising female genital mutilation and sanctioning domestic violence, measures necessary to ensure the implementation of these measures are lacking, whilst other much needed reforms of discriminatory laws have stalled, underline FIDH, FIDA-U and FHRI in a report published today.

Women’s rights in Uganda: gaps between policy and practice

The report, based on findings of an investigation mission conducted in December 2011, highlights that the adoption of legislation to regulate marriage and divorce has been pending for over 14 years and that, in the absence of such a law, protection is piecemeal and fractured and significant gaps exist. The Marriage and Divorce Bill, which is pending before Parliament, fixes the minimum legal age for marriage for both sexes at 18, grants women the right to choose their spouse and the right to divorce spouses for cruelty and prohibits the customary practice of “widow inheritance” (allowing men to “inherit” the widows of their deceased brothers (levirat)). It also defines matrimonial property, provides for equitable distribution of property in case of divorce and recognises some property rights for partners that cohabit. However, the Bill does not apply to Muslim marriages, nor does it prohibit polygamy or payment of the “bride price”.

Ugandan women have been waiting too long for a law that would protect their basic rights. We call upon the new parliament to adopt the Marriage and Divorce Bill without further delay. Parliament must also act to ensure that muslim women receive full protection of their rights, in accordance with Uganda’s international obligations and the Constitution. We will continue to fight discrimination against all women in Uganda,” said Sheila Nabachwa, FHRI Deputy Director of Programmes.

Violence against women in Uganda remains widespread. Although, two major pieces of legislation came into force in 2010, the Domestic Violence Act and the Prohibition of Female Genital Mutilation Act, implementation of these laws remains limited.

The Domestic Violence Act does not address some major obstacles preventing access to justice for victims, including the costs of the complaint process. Furthermore, the law was adopted without a dedicated budget so full implementation is impossible. We call upon the government to urgently provide all necessary means to implement the law,” said Maria Nassali, CEO, FIDA Uganda.

Since the entry into force of the Prohibition of Female Genital Mutilation Act, de-localization of the practice across the Kenyan border has developed, while other harmful traditional practices in Uganda remain prevalent, including early and forced marriage, abduction of girls, “widow inheritance” and “wife sharing”. A concerted strategy involving all key stakeholders towards eliminating harmful traditional practices is required.

Continuing violations of women’s rights in Uganda is also linked to women’s lack of economic empowerment. Women hardly own any land and the law prevents them from inheriting property. If the government is serious about tackling discrimination and violence, these issues must be addressed as a matter of priority,” concluded Sophie Bessis, FIDH Deputy Secretary General.

Read more