Uganda: Violence against women in Northern Uganda

July 16, 2005

Uganda: Violence against women in Northern Uganda

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Hunger and sheer desperation leave women vulnerable to exploitation. An increasing numbers of young girls are turning to prostitution -- comparatively wealthy mobile army units are their best paying customers. Impoverished parents now marry off their daughters as soon as they reach their early teens, desperate to raise money to buy food and pay school fees.

Archbishop John Baptist Odama, head of the Catholic diocese in Gulu, calls it ""loose living"". Women, he says, in their state of hopelessness are falling prey to sexual immorality. An estimated 12% of the north's population is HIV positive -- twice the national average -- but many suspect the true figure to be far higher.

In 2003, a Human Rights Watch report stated that a growing number of Ugandan women were dying from AIDS related deaths because ""the (Ugandan) state is failing to protect them from domestic violence."" For many women, domestic violence is not an isolated act. Sister Margaret, who heads Caritas' trauma counseling service, says that wives are especially vulnerable because husbands regard them as "property".

"Women, especially in rural areas, think it is acceptable for a man to be violent against her. Some even feel that if their husbands do not beat them then it means they no longer want them. They think beating is a sign of love. Because there is normally a dowry, husbands believe they own their wives. But you can not buy a human being. You can not compare her to a piece of cloth."

Survivors of domestic violence often do not come forward and their suffering goes unnoticed. Uganda lacks specific laws that provide women with any meaningful protection from domestic violence.

The Ugandan government is currently considering a draft Domestic Relations Bill. As it stands, the new legislation would outlaw polygamy and payment of a ""bride-price"". Human rights groups believe that this would go some way to rectifying the imbalance.

Editor's Note: Since this article was written, parliament has asked for more work on the Bill and it is not expected to be passed before elections in March 2006.

This article was written by an outside contributor and does not necessarily reflect Amnesty International policy. ********