Ending violence against Uganda women must be a top national priority

December 4, 1950, the United Nations General Assembly adopted resolution 423
(V) and invited all states and interested groups to observe December 10 of each
year as Human Rights Day – the day when the Universal Declaration of Human
Rights was adopted by the United Nations General Assembly in 1948. As the world
prepares to commemorate the 60th anniversary of the Universal
Declaration on
December 10, 2008, this occasion provides an opportunity to review the
status of women’s rights in
Uganda. We shall focus on violence against women in large
part because early this year the Secretary-General of the United Nations led
the international community in launching a campaign regarding violence against
women and the girl child.

the United Nations Charter (1945) the founders asserted that they were
determined to reaffirm faith in fundamental human rights, in the dignity and
worth of the human person and in the equal rights of men and women. Article 3
of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (1948) proclaims the right to
life, liberty, and security of person. And article 3 also repeated in article 7
of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, affirms the right
not to be subjected to torture or to cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or
punishment. Article 3 common to the Geneva conventions (1949) provides that
‘persons taking no part in the hostilities…shall in all circumstances be
treated humanely, without any adverse distinction founded on race, color,
religion or faith, sex, birth or wealth, or any other similar criteria …
violence to life and person…, in particular humiliating and degrading
treatment’ are prohibited. Article 76 of the 1977 First Protocol Additional to
the Geneva Conventions (Additional Protocol 1) specifically provides that ‘women
shall be the object of special respect and shall be protected in particular
against rape, forced prostitution and any other form of indecent assault’.

Vienna World Conference on Human Rights of 1993 marked an important step
towards the advancement of women. Under the slogan ‘women’s rights are human
rights’, a commitment was made to address the challenges of inequality,
discrimination, and violence against the world’s women. After that conference,
the United Nations General Assembly adopted a Declaration on
December 20,
on the Elimination of
All Forms of Violence against Women. In article 1 of the Declaration the term
‘violence against women’ means any act of gender-based violence that results
in, or is likely to result in, physical, sexual or psychological harm or
suffering to women, including threats of such acts, coercion or arbitrary
deprivation of liberty, whether
occurring in public or in private life. Article 3 adds that women are entitled
to the equal enjoyment and protection of all human rights and fundamental
freedoms in the political, economic, social, cultural, civil, or any other
field. These rights include, inter alia,:
The right to life; the right to equality; the right to liberty and security of
person; the right to equal protection under the law; the right to be free from
all forms of discrimination; the right to the highest standard attainable of
physical and mental health; the right to just and favorable conditions of work;
the right not to be subjected to torture, or other cruel, inhuman or degrading
treatment or punishment.

rights and gender concerns have since become an integral part of the human
rights agenda at national and international levels.

the 1995
Summit the African Heads of State and Government adopted
the Addis Ababa Declaration on the Dakar African Platform for Action for women
noting their commitment to other instruments including the United Nations
Charter, the Vienna Declaration on Human Rights and the Declaration on the
Elimination of Violence against Women.

33 of the Uganda Constitution of 1995 states: Women shall be accorded full and
equal dignity of the person with men; the State shall provide the facilities and
opportunities necessary to enhance the welfare of women to enable them realize
their full potential and advancement; the State shall protect women and their rights, taking into account
their unique status and natural maternal functions in society; women shall have
the right to equal treatment with men and that right shall include equal
opportunities in political, economic and social activities; without prejudice
to article 32 of this constitution, women shall have the right to affirmative
action for the purpose of redressing the imbalances created by history,
tradition or custom; laws, cultures, customs or traditions which are against
the dignity, welfare or interest of women or which undermine their status, are
prohibited by this constitution.

1998, the National Resistance Movement (NRM) expanded its ten-point program to
fifteen. Program number 14: Consolidation of programs which are responsible to
gender and marginalized groups states in part that the Movement is committed to
the empowerment of women, youth, persons with disabilities and the workers. The
Movement shall ensure, inter alia, that
the oppressed groups shall participate actively in the political, social and
economic activities.

in other fields such as the Right of the Child, the record shows that
implementation has lagged behind commitment towards ending violence against
women. Evidence from researchers, the media and the author’s knowledge from
south west
Uganda shows that there is a high incidence of violence against
women and that there are no specific laws that provide women with any
meaningful protection.

the start of the 21st century, reports from various sources reveal that
in 2000, 41 percent of
Uganda women had suffered domestic violence. Information collected
Mulago Hospital shows that 41 percent of women had been physically assaulted in the
year before conceiving. Further, cases of violence reported at Nsambya police
station in
Kampala had increased from 495 in 2001 to 1009 in 2002. It
is important to underscore at this juncture that because of shame and stigma
associated with domestic violence many cases are never reported.

author’s enquiries have revealed that women are violated largely for economic
reasons. There are cases where women have been assaulted by their husbands
because they objected to selling land or food as such actions would jeopardize
the family’s future. There was one case where the husband and spouse had agreed
to sell part of the land and share the income. But when the transaction was
completed, the husband refused to share and when his wife insisted on her
share, she was assaulted. Many other cases of violence take place when the men
are drunk and frustrated in part because they are unemployed. As many families are
facing economic hard times and the rising food prices is making it impossible for
many to put food on the table, domestic violence is likely to increase.

the author’s findings are that women tolerate violence because if they run away,
the husband may demand return of the dowry – a demand that may complicate the
wife’s situation as her parents or relatives may not be in a position to do so.

high incidence of Violence against women including rape has also been reported
in areas of conflict. The definition of rape varies from place to place. In the
Trial Chamber of the International Criminal Tribunal for
Rwanda rape was defined as “physical invasion of a sexual
nature, committed on a person under circumstances which are coercive”. The
Trial Chamber also reasoned that sexual violence is not limited to the physical
invasion of the human body but may also include acts not involving penetration
or even physical contact (a student was ordered to undress and forced her to do
gymnastics naked before a crowd in the public court yard). And article 7 (g) of
the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court stipulates that ‘rape, sexual slavery,
enforced prostitution, forced pregnancy, enforced sterilization, or any other
form of sexual violence of comparable gravity’, may constitute crimes against

In Uganda, Human Rights Watch and other reports reveal that some
rebels and some soldiers have raped helpless women in northern
Uganda. Poverty has also contributed to a breakdown in
social and cultural norms forcing women to take risks and have sex for money.
Soldiers are considered the ones with some money which they use in many ways to
violate the rights of women and very young girls. Overcrowding in camps has
also been mentioned as a cause of more sexual violence against women than in
rural areas.

by non-state actors calling on the government to enact laws against violence have
so far not succeeded. In many communities wife battery that does not result in
serious injury is tolerated as a normal part of marriage. In 2002, a UN
Committee on the Elimination of Violence against Women expressed concern at the
high incidence of violence against women in

the absence of a domestic violence law, police and courts rely on non-specific
provisions in the Penal Code that cover assault and homicide. Further, reporting
domestic violence still faces stiff social stigmatization as it is treated as a
private matter that has no place in the public arena.

break the impasse, the author offers the following recommendations for serious
consideration and quick action by the legislative and executive branches of

  1. In the long-term
    girls and women should be empowered through education and remunerative
    employment to reduce dependence on their spouses. School feeding programs
    should be an integral part of these efforts as there is indisputable
    evidence that school meals keep girls at school and improve their
    performance. In the meantime:
  2. Women should be
    assisted to understand their human rights and to overcome stigma so that
    they report all cases of violence against them.
  3. A law against
    violence should be enacted and enforced without delay – possibly before
    the 60th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human
    Rights on
    December 10, 2008. Sufficient capacities should be developed at
    local and central levels to handle in an efficient and effective manner
    all cases of violence and those found guilty should be punished to the
    maximum of the law.
  4. Dowry which turns
    women into personal property of their husbands needs to be reviewed so
    that an alternative arrangement is worked out that sets the woman free to
    leave the violent husband.
  5. Local communities and
    other non-state actors such as religious or faith groups should step up
    their efforts in collaboration with authorities to eliminate violence
    against women and girl child.