The Marriage and Divorce Bill, 2009 has been demonized and so brutally bashed by some of our respectable civic, religious and traditional leaders. Those calling for its demise are not willing to face the blunt reality that the institution of the family is under threat and needs to be legally protected by the State and religious institutions.
We all need to sober up and debate the Bill objectively and from an informed point of view. For the past 18 years, I have worked with various stakeholders during the drafting of this Bill, some of whom are now feigning ignorance of its content and are asking the public how it has got to the floor of Parliament for debate. I’m totally disappointed with the deliberate public distortion of the Bill.
This Bill dates back to 1957 as a human rights concern and not a women only affair. While both men and women are abused in many marriages, the reality is that women take a bigger portion of abuse. The on-going consultations on the Bill have exposed the true colours of some of our leaders who despise and continue to exploit women. I will restrict myself to the issue of property rights in marriage, which seems to be the biggest scare to those opposed to the Bill.
There is ample evidence that President Museveni has been at the forefront of bashing the Bill since it was first brought by the Ministry of Gender, Labour and Social Development, during Mr Museveni’s first term 1996 – 2001, second term 2001 -2006, third term 2006 -2011 and now in his fourth term 2011 – 2016. Each time the Bill comes up on the floor of Parliament, Mr Museveni is very quick to disown it, defend the property rights of his family and call for further public consultations and yet he chairs the Cabinet and sanctions all the government Bills that are tabled before Parliament.
So, Mr President, as your voter and since I do not have ‘an appropriate forum’ to ask: “Who is in charge of your government?” I get confused when the NRM government brings a Bill to Parliament and then disowns it. Is the President being honest with Ugandans whose interest he is purporting to represent and consult them on a marriage law and not on the oil and gas debate, the Finance Bill, Public Order Management Bill or even the re-instatement of the presidential term limits in the Constitution?
I have my reservations about the government’s commitment to defend the rights of women. In the NRM’s 10 Point Programme, there is no single mention of women and this is further amplified in the President’s recent address to the NRM Caucus on March 15, where he said “nationally, the NRM has pushed a minimum programme of emancipating women”. This NRM “minimum programme” is in no way intended to pull women from their traditional submissive positions lest they rock the cultural boat.
I know there are many men who would wish to hail Museveni for such a “manly” stand, not knowing that he has abundantly catered for his wife and daughters. In a recent speech to his cheering NRM Caucus, he said he helped his three daughters into marriage after educating them. Museveni disclosed that he was never given bride price, but “on the contrary, we gave them (read daughters) scores of cattle to go with as well as means of wealth we were able to afford.
Besides, they all retained shares in our family properties…Fortunately, also my wife has got her own property. It would be despicable on my part to impose myself on her properties just because we are married.”
Now, that is Museveni the wonderful father and husband that has so abundantly provided for his daughters and wife, Ms Janet Museveni, a Cabinet minister and parliamentarian. What actually perturbs me is why President Museveni, who has provided property for his family, finds it unacceptable that Ugandan women and men who have struggled to get some property, should not be given an opportunity to empower their wives and daughters.
Mr Museveni claims those pushing for the Bill are trying to “impose middle class values on a traditional society”. Would I be correct to assert that he is applying double standards? Is it fair for Museveni to ensure that his wife and daughters are secure in their marriages and have got even a fallback position and the rest of our children and mothers are denied the right to property, even the one that they have struggled to work for with their husbands.
When such views are expressed by a highly exposed personality like Mr Museveni, I wonder what our less exposed brothers are going to do while debating the Marriage and Divorce Bill. The President should be called to order.
With all due respect to our leaders, let us come to a consensus that we all need a consolidated Marriage and Divorce law. A State without a law governing the family institution is creating anarchy in that very delicate arena. I’m very sure if President Museveni is comfortable with securing his family relations then all Ugandans have a similar desire, which the Marriage and Divorce law intends to do.
Ms Sheila Kawamara-Mishambi
Chairperson, Uganda Women’s Network
Former member, East African Parliament