Monday, October 11, 2010

Women's Agenda, Pillar No. 3: Human Rights and the Law

Background to the Thematic Pillar: Women, Human Rights and the Law

Uganda is a State Party to various international and regional instruments that guarantee the rights of women. Progress has also been made in designing and implementing measures to eliminate discrimination against women through the legal and policy framework.

However despite this progress women in Uganda still continue to be victims of discrimination and harmful practices. Several other challenges also remain such as the: existence of cultural and traditional practices that discriminate against women and the girl child, persistence of patriarchal patterns of behaviour, low literacy levels among women that impede their access to social services and their participation in economic activities, a high prevalence of poverty, a very slow law reform process, and ineffective mechanisms for the enforcement of women's rights.

These challenges are compounded by the lack of awareness amongst women of key conventions on the rights of women ratified by Government, making it difficult for the citizens to demand and exercise their rights, even in situations where an enabling legal and policy environment is in place.

While it is appreciated that women have made achievements in public spaces, there still is immense oppression in the private spaces and at the personal level. This translates into women not having control over their bodies, as well as other productive resources. Equality and decision making in the home eludes women across all social classes. Due to normalised discrimination and violence there are increasing cases of Sexual and Gender Based Violence (SGBV) targeted at women and girls, yet victim reporting is highly unlikely in family settings and private spaces where the majority of abuse takes place unchecked. Further violence takes place in the form of: sexual slavery, violence meted on women in armed conflict, wife beating, as well as sexual and psychological abuse and ensures that perpetrators of such violence are prosecuted and held accountable for their actions.

Patriarchal ideology enables and legitimizes the structuring of every aspect of women’s lives including the law by establishing frameworks within which society defines and views men and women and constructs male supremacy and other entrenched practices such as polygamy and bride price. Thus civil society and the women’s movement have continuously challenged the constitutionality of some laws such as: The Penal Code Act, The Succession Act, the Divorce Act; Constitutional petition on FGM among others.

Despite the progress made to date, major structural and systemic challenges still remain in pursuit of a life of dignity and women’s enjoyment of human rights in all spheres economic, social, legal and cultural. Women are firmly convinced that any law, policy, programme, and practice in Uganda that hinders or endangers the physical and psychological development of women and girls, should be condemned and outlawed.

3.2 Key Priority Areas Within the Thematic Pillar: Human Rights and the Law

Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) of Women

Uganda has the 3rd highest population growth rate in the world estimated at 3.2 percent. It also has one of the highest fertility rates with an average of 7 children per woman. The high population growth rate is attributed to existing imbalances in gender relations in families that narrow the range of choices for women regarding their sexual and reproductive rights and foster women’s vulnerability to sexual abuse. High fertility rates have been linked to insecurity of land tenure for many married women, lack of access to family planning services and a social security system for the elderly that promotes security in increasing child births. The frequency of child births impedes women’s personal development, affects their health and that of their children and increases demand on their unseen and unremunerated labor: raising children and providing for large families.

The high fertility rates are also impacted by a number of sexual violations that Uganda’s adolescent female’s experience. These include: early/forced marriages; low status of the girl child; the highest teenage pregnancy rate in the world standing at 25% and limited access to contraceptives. There are also several other health concerns that affect women’s sexual and reproductive rights that arise from: obstructed labour, vesicle vaginal fistula, high maternal mortality rates; unsafe abortion, violence against women and lack of gender-sensitive sanitary facilities in schools

The status of SRHR is closely linked to poverty reduction and economic empowerment at household level. While the unwarranted suffering and death of a woman while giving birth is deplorable, there are also other significant social and economic challenges resulting from the death of a mother. These include: loss of the mother’s contribution to household management and child and family care; economic loss to the workforce and the loss of the unpaid labour that is often central to community life. Furthermore high infant mortality rates IMR are linked to the deaths of mothers.

Harmful Cultural Practices

Various traditions and cultural practices continue to undermine the dignity of women and to perpetuate the violation of their rights. There can be no meaningful development if women continue to be subjected to harmful cultural practices that undermine girls and women, the payment of bride price, widow inheritance, child marriages, polygamy, and female genital mutilation (FGM). Women are not protected from these practices and they continue to bear the distress of patriarchal oppression in the name of preserving culture, traditions and value systems.

Access to Justice

Women in Uganda continue to face several barriers that limit their access to justice. Whereas there are laws courts and police stations mandated to protect the rights of women, the culture of impunity, still makes it difficult for women to access justice. The justice and security sectors lack the requisite skills, knowledge and competences needed to address the unique violations that women face.

Unequal power relations and a patriarchal legal regime has resulted in the denial of basic rights for millions of women in the country. Many laws and policies, themselves rooted in patriarchy, are grossly inadequate in addressing gender based human rights violations. Women are faced with problems of accessibility, associated with poverty, lack of awareness, and the slow pace of the justice systems in terms of investigation and court proceedings. Many affected women are not supported to overcome the cultural and institutional challenges in their quest for justice.

Government needs to reform the justice institutions and the legal regime in order to enhance women’s access to justice.

The Change We Want to See

1. Expeditious enactment of gender legislation and development of policy with special focus on the Marriage and Divorce Bill, the Muslim’s Personal Administration Bill, the Sexual Offences Bill and the National Sexual Harassment Policy

2. Amendment and repealing of the laws declared null and void by the Constitutional Court in the recent past namely: the Penal Code Act, the Succession Act and the Divorce Act

3. Implementation of the: Domestic Violence Act; Trafficking in Persons Act and the Female Genital Mutilation Act

4. Establishment of a policy on women’s shelters and provision of 5 shelters nationally, (at least 1 per region) to help women in distress

5. Capacity building and training in ethical and professional conduct, for law enforcement agencies and officers, so as to uphold justice and safe guard the dignity of victims of sexual offences

6. All the laws of Uganda reviewed in line with the Constitution, with regards to the affirmative action policy and gender equality and equity, for marginalized groups

7. Registration of Births and Deaths systems reinforced and updated, to enhance the provision of reliable information on the age of girls, thus protecting their Sexual Reproductive and Health Rights

8. Development of a comprehensive civic education program, with particular focus on human rights and the rights of women, children, workers and persons with disabilities

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