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Are Ugandan men violent or are the women provocative?

By Rukiya Makuma

On March 24, the Minister of State for Gender and Cultural Affairs Rukia Isanga Nakadama presided over the launch of a campaign by We Can partners at Imperial Royal Hotel in Kampala.

The five-year campaign aims at changing peoples attitudes and practices that perpetuate violence against women.

The launch of the campaign appears timely given the growing incidence of domestic violence in Uganda. In 2009, there were 165 deaths related to domestic violence compared to 137 of 2008, according to the annual police crime report 2009.

Domestic violence is not selective. It can happen to anyone irrespective of age, gender and status from the ordinary rural woman or man to one who holds the highest office in the land. Regina Bafaaki, the Executive Director of a women activists organisation ACFODE, says: We are all potential victims of domestic violence irrespective of our social standing. Its for this reason that behaviours and causes that escalate into domestic violence should be checked. Specioza Wandera Kazibwe, Uganda’s first female Vice President who reigned from 1994 to 2003, acclaimed artistes like Rihanna and Judith Babirye have all suffered domestic violence under the hand of their partners.

Although violence is across-gender, women are the most affected. The Uganda Demographic and Health Survey of 2006 corroborates this hypothesis. According to the survey, more than 60 percent of women aged 15-49 experienced physical violence, 39 percent suffered sexual violence and 16 percent experienced violence during pregnancy. The survey also indicated that 77 percent of the women who experience violence believe their husbands’ beating them is acceptable.This attitude is reflected in a 2008 UNICEF report, which indicates that 77 percent of women aged 15-49 feel that spousal violence is justified for a variety of reasons, such as when the woman serves burnt food to the husband or denies him sex.

The 1995 Uganda Constitution article 33 accords women full and equal dignity of the person with men and prohibits all laws, cultures, customs or traditions that undermine their welfare, dignity or status.

On November 11th 2009 Parliament passed the Domestic Violence Bill into law. The law provides for protection of victims of domestic violence and punishes the perpetrators. It is yet to be assented to by the President.

David Batema, the Deputy Registrar of the High Courts Family Division, said violence against women is often institutionalised in patriarchal society which looks at men as superior to women.

Cultural and traditional beliefs, the community and family play a critical role in perpetuating gender inequality and violence against women, says Alyssa Boulares, the Oxfam Country Director in Uganda.

Batema said courts are ready to dissolve abusive marriages as part of the efforts to fight violence against women. Where there is violence we shall grant divorce and wont listen to the misinterpretation that what God has put together no man shall put asunder.

Julius Zaake, the Domestic Violence Prevention Project officer of Kyetume in Mukono, says; Women in violent relationships are powerless to resist sex with their husbands or to insist that unfaithful partners stop having extramarital affairs or use condoms.

Nakadama said that domestic violence is increasing the risk of HIV infection by inhibiting the ABC method (abstinence, be faithful and condom use) of HIV prevention. Without a change in the social and cultural perception of gender-based violence, we believe state-level action will remain limited in form and reach, Nakadama contended.

Atuki Turner, the Executive Director of Mifumi, another women rights organisation,  welcomes other organisations in the struggle to eliminate violence. The campaign against domestic violence has to be sustained and repeated over and over if peoples attitudes are to be changed, she says.

ACFODEs Bafaaki concurs that for such campaigns to succeed, custodians of culture such as the religious and opinion leaders and elders in society must encourage people to speak out.

Hope Turyasingura of the Centre for Domestic Violence Prevention (CEDOVIP) says:Before lifting your hand or leg to slap or kick your spouse, you should think how you would feel if the same was done to you.

Atuki called on the We Can partners to penetrate the rural areas and build a base and capacity since its where most of the domestic violence occurs.

Setting up offices in Kampala will not have a big impact on the campaign, she says.

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