By Ronald Musoke
Attempts to reform Uganda’s marriage laws have been contentious and on and off for more than half a century.
On April 4, when the Speaker of Parliament, Rebecca Kadaga halted debate and temporarily shelved the current Marriage and Divorce Bill for at least three months to allow for more consultations across Uganda, her decision sounded ominous.
Advocates of the Bill say Uganda’s cultural and religious diversity coupled with an uncompromising patriarchy explain why this Bill has stayed longest in Parliament—49 years. This Bill was first tabled in 1964 to cure perceived oppression of women. It failed and several versions of it have appeared over time.
The Bill’s current form was first tabled in December 2009. It too sought to consolidate the laws on marriage, separation and divorce and prescribe marital rights and duties, recognise unique relations like cohabitation, and spell out property rights, upon dissolution of the relationships.
Empowerment of women to achieve gender equality has always been at the centre of the Bill. Centuries old customs, beliefs, and perception of male-female relationships have ensured heated debate, especially on views on marital rape, cohabitation, property rights, and divorce.
Compiled by Ronald Musoke