28 November 2012

Uganda: Domestic Violence, Why the Vice Keeps Rearing Its Head

In November last year, Jennifer Nabugabo's husband hacked her with a machete as she took a shower at their home in Kamuli district.

The man had wanted to sell the family land, but the buyer insisted on her signature too. She refused to sign insisting that the land had to be preserved for the children.

Similarly, in Kiboga, a man beat his wife into a coma after she lent a video CD to the neighbours. He said he had borrowed it and therefore, did not expect her to lend it out.

In another incident, Police in Busia district arrested a fish monger who cut his wife on the head and shoulders with a panga, accusing her of promiscuity.

This week, as Uganda joins the rest of the world to mark 16 days of activism against gender-based violence, many victims, especially women wallow in pain caused by this vice, highlighting that gender-based violence is still alive.

With all the efforts, awareness and empowerment, why is gender-based violence still persisting? Statistics from Centre for Domestic Violence Prevention (CEDOVIP) show that at least 27% of women in Uganda report gender-based violence every year. Worse still, the Police annual report indicates a rise in the cases of domestic violence from 159 in 2010 to 181 in 2011.

On the positive side, however, gender-based violence-related deaths reduced from 276 in 2010 to 251 in 2011.

According to Diana Mugerwa, the CEDOVIP advocacy manager, explains that more needs to be done as only a third of gender-based violence victims seek help, while a big number suffer silently for fear of public ridicule.

Activists point at various forms of violence namely physical, mental, emotional and sexual, which they say have persisted because of lack of economic empowerment, ignorance, culture and religion.

The Domestic Violence Act 2010 defines violence as any act which harms, injures or endangers the health, safety, mental of physical well-being of the victim. This includes physical, sexual, emotional, verbal or economic abuse.

According to Carol Bankusha, a former district probation officer, many times when women reported their husbands and the men were tasked to explain why they beat their wives, many gave indiscipline as the reason.

Condoned by culture, religion?

A recent survey by CEDOVIP showed the vice is more prevalent in eastern Uganda. Mugerwa explained that women are brought up to accept violence as normal.

Women activists blame some cultures which compel women to stay in abusive marriages by emphasising silence, even in cases of abuse telling them and preaching that it is wrong to walk out of a marriage.

Feminists lash out at cultural practices

"We believe in the marriage institution, but we do not condone wife battering," says Faith Namirimu, one of the young women being mentored by MEMPROW, a woman empowerment organisation.

Bride price and violence

Namirimu explains that parents who make unrealistic demands such as bride price perpetrate domestic violence.

Men who pay high bride price feel justified to treat their wives as property. "Bride price should be a token of appreciation and not payment," she says.

According to Mugerwa, high bride price has been cited as a major cause of violence in regions like Teso.

"We have women dying in labour because men have decided that they have to repay the bride price by having as many children as possible. Bride price is not bad as long as it is not misused," she argues.

Some fathers also tell their daughters on their wedding days that they have no more space in their parents' home so should not come back home even when things do not work out. "This gives an impression that the women have nowhere else to go even if they are battered," explains Mugerwa.

Some modern practices also alienate women. For example, the requirement by some financial institutions that to acquire a loan, a married woman must have her husband as a signatory, while the men are allowed to use their houses as collateral to acquire loans without the consent from their wives.

"The woman only gets to know about the loan when the house is being auctioned off after the husband has failed to pay," laments Mugerwa.

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