When people do not want to address something, they assign it to the “not important.” But I have been wondering, who assigns a thing important or not? And when something is important to me, but not to you, who gives you the right to label it unimportant? Just because you have the voice, and the power and the access to the air waves, you are then able to assign the thing that is important to me with one sweep of unimportance.
But allow me space to also talk about what is important to me. Allow me space to tell you why I have been behind the scenes, lobbying for the Marriage and Divorce Bill for more than half my working life.
My passion and journey started as a young lawyer, fresh out of law school, working in the FIDA legal aid clinic, where I spent my days listening to story after story of woman after woman explaining this and that difficulty in her marriage. Most times the marriages had gone sour. And for a long time, I felt confused. I had watched my parents have a wonderful relationship – they still do, but hearing these stories, hugging women who were crying, mediating sessions between men and women, that sometimes degenerated into fights, I grew disillusioned not just with the law, but with marriage. I struggled to find any one that showed an iota of happiness in their relationship. And I struggled with the fact that the law did not always have all the answers.
But I also knew that if we were able to fix some aspects of the law, some of the people would be saved some of the pain – some of the girls who were being married under age, some of the women who had poured their all into cohabiting relationships, only to come out at the other end – homeless and destitute, I knew we had to face it and fix it. For them and for me – that was important.
And it still is. Even though I long left FIDA as my first employee, I still get men and women calling me up, asking me to help them with the legal challenges they are facing. Because marriage is about life, it drives our everything. We can avoid it, but we have to face it, and correct those things we can – not in the hope that the law is the panacea but in the knowledge that the law contributes something, however small, in making the picture whole and complete.
We will not always agree on the fine points – but we must face the fact that having promulgated a new Constitution, our laws have to be brought into alignment – and among those laws are the ones on marriage and divorce. We have to contend with the fact that we need to standardize our marriage age, so that we stop the practice of marrying off our girls young. We have to contend with the fact that while the Constitution gives us the broad rights of equality at marriage, in and during marriage and at its dissolution – Parliament cannot run away from its role of giving flesh and content to this Constitutional right. And we have to contend with the fact that, even though we don’t like it, or wish it – sometimes marriages don’t last and when that point comes, we need some rules about how people exit – having tried all they can to save their marriages. To quote Justice Kisakye who was hearing an appeal of a divorce petition – judges need guiding principles to go by, when addressing separation of property upon divorce – and that the law must do.
Whether we do it now, or twenty years from now, we have to address this all important subject of marriage and divorce. Calling it unimportant does not mean that we won’t have to face it. We have to. And I pray that we will have the back bone to do so -for the sake of men and women in Uganda, for present families and those to come.
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