4 December 2017

Uganda: When Women in Power Are Battered

High profile women too suffer gender-based violence. The majority, however, remain mute because of their position in society. Some, however, have gotten the courage to break the silence and are now points of reference to other women facing similar ordeals.

One of such women is Judith Babirye, the Buikwe Woman MP who is also a gospel singer. The lawmaker has never been shy to speak about how she suffered domestic violence in her previous marriage.

"Yes, I was once a victim and was able to pick myself up and move on with my life. I am now strong," Babirye said in a recent phone interview.

The mother of one says she picked up the pieces by seeking counselling from different people.

"They guided and gave me wise counsel but emphasised that the final decision had to come from me and not anyone else," she says.

Babirye, who is known for her strong Christian faith also prayed, fasted and sought divine intervention.

"It is on my knees that God gave me strength to stand and hold my head high," she says.

At one point, she had to cease focusing on herself and make her daughter a priority.

"I did not want the violence to compromise my little girl's future, therefore, I shifted my energy to raising her," she says. Babirye married Samuel Niiwo in 2005, and filed for divorce years later.

Another notable woman is Beatrice Kiraso, the former Woman MP for Kabarole who wrote the book, Making a Difference which casts a light on her past life as a victim of domestic violence abuse by her husband who she later divorced.

Beaten because of work

A female MP who preferred to speak on condition of anonymity says she previously faced the wrath of her husband because of the nature of her work.

"One night, he slapped me and spat on my face because of going back home late, yet, my work at times does not permit me to go home early. Then he called me an adulterous woman after accusing me of sleeping with male colleagues at work," the MP says.

Another time, her husband called her useless and stupid right in front of their three children.

After sensing that her husband's violence was escalating, the violated MP confided in her elder sister who intervened in the situation.

"My sister came home and warned him never to beat or insult me again otherwise she would file a case with police. After she left, he complained that I did not have to discuss our home affairs with other people but deep down, I was happy that someone had stood up for me," she says.

Today, the MP says her husband is a non-violent man and she believes involving a third party helped change him.

The fear of walking out

Esther Anyakun, the Nakapiripirit Woman representative says female MPs fear walking out of violent marriages because of the different assumptions people will make.

"They will say that she had suddenly grown wings because she is now at Parliament or they will conclude that she is ending her marriage after because of having an affair with a male colleague," Anyakun says.

The legislator says for such reasons, some female MPs stay in violent marriages. Rather than suffer silently, she advises those facing this to always confide in trusted friends and ask elders to intervene in the situation before it is rather too late.

Why do corporate women stay silent?

Tina Musuya, the executive director, Centre for Domestic Violence Prevention (CEDOVIP) says gender-based violence is as well rampant among high profile women.

"The problem with many of these women is that they prefer keeping quiet out of fear that members of society will judge and blame them for the issues manifesting in their relationship or marriage," Musuya says.

Every month, CEDOVIP receives at least three cases of violence from women in the corporate world. These range from politicians, lawyers to bankers, among others.

Violence corporate women face

Musuya says high profile women mainly face sexual, economic and emotional violence.

"Some examples of sexual violence include inserting objects inside a woman's vagina, unwanted touching and engaging one into forced sex. On the other hand, economic violence includes circumstances such as coercing women to pay for the bride price, taking away their salary and using it to serve selfish interests or even letting them to solely attend to the home needs."

Meanwhile, emotional violence (mainly verbal abuse intended to harm mental health) includes cheating, demeaning, insulting, intimidating, name calling and manipulating women.

Musuya encourages high profile women to open up to someone or seek help from organisations that handle domestic violence matters.

Signs of an abusive relationship

David Kavuma, a counselling psychologist at Mildmay Uganda, points them out as the following:-

- When a person beats, hits and pushes their partner and goes to extremes of issuing death threats.

- Taking control of finances as a way of preventing the other person from leaving.

- Using abusive language as way of showing dominance over the other party.

- Humiliating one's partner in front of other people. This belittles and affects one's self-esteem.

- Constantly acting jealous and limiting one's interaction with other people.

- Having a quick uncontrollable temper.

- Exhibiting bossy tendencies as way of scaring and controlling the other person.

- Making forceful sexual advances to the other uninterested person.

History

Tabling of Bill: Kumi Woman MP Monica Amoding, who was the National Female Youth MP then, tabled the Sexual Offences Bill 2015 before Parliament. The association was advised and agreed to harmonise its position with that of government instead of pushing for a parallel arrangement.

During a telephone interview, Amoding said the Bill is currently under consideration by the Legal and Parliamentary Affairs Committee.

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