I feel that Uganda has lost its way. Sometimes you need the people to come together to move a country forward, we have moved backwards due to the selfishness of men who only look at how a Bill will affect them personally. Our Parliament did not look at the hundreds of ordinary women whom the Marriage and Divorce Bill was meant to protect.
Instead of supporting them, they used the very people the Bill is meant to protect, to argue in their favour by invoking culture and religion. So they call us educated women and “those women are Bazungu”. So are they saying education is a bad thing?
Culture must only be cherished in so far as it does not injure. Bride price refund injures mostly poor people who see daughters as a source of income and force them into early marriages; it injures poor women who are subjected to violence because bride price was paid for them. It injures poor men who have to refund their daughters’ bride price or risk being jailed. MPs rejecting reform do so in the name of culture, without pausing to look objectively at the fact that bride price injures mostly the people who most cherish it.
Most of the so-called elite women are hardly affected by culture, religion or the State. When they get married, bride price is in the form of gifts and no one expects it back. When they divorce, their property remains with them because they were smart enough to have registered it in their names. The same happens when they cohabit.
A policeman once told me he would be grateful to see the Marriage and Divorce Bill passed.
Why, I asked?
“Because a woman comes to the police station asking you for help. Her partner has beaten her and chased her with nothing. She wants you to help her get her property. The first thing I ask her is are you married? Show me your marriage certificate? If she is not married, there is nothing we can do.”
And that sums up the need to pass a law on cohabitation. Marriage, it must be remembered, is not a given. There are many women and men who would like to get married but it eludes them. It is not something many women choose to be, circumstances just force you into that position.
Living with the man you love may be the next best option even if he won’t marry you for whatever reason.
Such women should be protected just as much as married women if they have property that is rightfully theirs. The Church does not send away cohabitees from church, it just asks them not to receive Holy Communion.
In the same way, the law should not deny cohabitees justice. And yet they say women will strip if the Bill is passed. Such women are only doing what their leaders tell them is right. In their hearts they know that the law is not fair to women. It is the leaders that should be indicted for misleading the people for their own selfish ends.
As for rape in marriage, I have supported many women in my line of work but one of the stories that sticks in my mind is of a woman who wanted to leave her husband. He locked her up in the room and would come back each day and rape – yes, rape her! Each time he would ask her if she still wanted to leave and then rape her.
After a week he asked her to get dressed and he drove her to the probation office.
Loudly, in front of the officers he said – “This woman is my wife, she has come to report me.” Then he turned to her and said, “Now you report me. Tell them what I have done to you!”
The woman remained silent. Now tell this story to the women in your constituents and ask them who they would strip for, the man who raped the woman or the woman who was raped?