Uganda, a country that has been rife with coups and counter-coups since it achieved its independence from the British in 1962, had now had relative peace in most parts since 1986 when the current NRM government came into power. However, this peace has been elusive to a majority of Ugandan women. In Luwero district where the NRM guerilla war was waged for more than 5 years, a 1991 Physicians For Human Rights study found that 70% of women in Luwero reported being raped by soldiers and sometimes gang raped by more than ten at a time.
They are still trying to recover from those scars.
In Northern Uganda, the LRA and Joseph Kony waged a guerilla war against the government from 1986 – 2006, which displaced almost 1.7 million people and in which rape was used a weapon of war against women and girls. The girls not only suffered as abductees forced into being sex slaves and given to rebel commanders but over 90% of the girls abducted were forced into marriage with their abductors and 94% of the girls sexually abused, violated and entered into forced marriage (World Vision Mother Daughter Project and the Agency for Cooperation and Research in Development-May 2007). They were also subjected to the same in the camps for the Internally Displaced People(IDP) in which they were forced to live.
According to a 2004 UNICEF study on sexual and gender based violence at a Northern Uganda IDP camp, the most common forms of violence were rape, child sexual abuse, and physical assault. Teenage girls and young women were the most common victims of gender based violence. Today, most, if not all of the IDP camps have been closed and the people resettled back into their homes, but the healing process is a long one, one that involves bringing to justice the perpetrators of this violence, an almost herculean task considering the fear of reprisals from the offenders; the reason why counseling and rehabilitation of these victims is very important.
The Uganda Constitution does provide for gender equality and affirmative action for women and girls and outlaws discrimination based on sex. But enacting laws is slow and implementation moves at a snail’s pace! A case in point is the Domestic Relations Bill which has been shelved in Parliament since 2000 and the law makers cannot seem to agree on it, due to its “sensitive” cultural issues it address like bride price, widow inheritance, domestic violence, female genital mutilation…The Land Amendment Act of 2004 which provides for women’s proprietary rights especially in case of death of spouse is still lacking enforcement and implementation. Cultural practices like female genital mutilation, early marriage, widow inheritance, forceful property grabbing from widows and orphans are some of the issues that have to be contended with. Domestic violence is estimated at 57% and sexual violence at 61%, which are alarming figures.
These issues have resulted in urban displacement, which also results in more sexual violence against the women and girls as they are vulnerable and often have to exchange sexual favors for food and shelter. They have no protection and thus prone to rape and hence sexually transmitted diseases like HIV, unwanted pregnancies…
It is however, important to note that advocacy for women’s rights has grown over the past 20 years in Uganda. Organizations like ACFODE, FIDA, FEMNET, to name but a few are working tirelessly in highlighting women’s rights, spreading awareness of sexual and gender-based violence and pushing law makers to amend the laws already in existence like the land Act and to pass those have are on their shelves like the Domestic Relations Bill which would greatly protect women’s rights. The current speaker of parliament Ms Kadaga, a lawyer and long time advocate of women’s rights is the epitome of hope for Uganda women. Am hopeful that during her tenure as speaker, the Domestic Relations Bill can actually be tabled and passed into law!!! The 16 Days of Activism Against Gender violence are the best time to reflect on this and actually work on making it a reality for all Ugandan women.
By Patience Tusingwire
Patience holds a Masters in Law (LL.M) from the University of San Francisco, School of Law,California, and a Bachelors in Law (LL.B) (Hons) from Makerere University, Kampala Uganda. She has done work in international human rights law specializing in women, peace and security with Human Rights Advocates,CA and the NGO Working Group on Women, Peace and Security,New York. Patience is a strong advocate of the rights of the African Women, particularly in regards to Governance and Legal Protection.