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Women’s Divorce Rights: Progress in Uganda

skd284550sdcAlthough there are many circulating opinions regarding divorce in the U.S., we are lucky enough to have fair divorce laws in this country, whether you’re a man or woman. Until about a decade ago in Uganda, their law made it unfairly difficult and rare for a wife to initiate divorcing her husband, while letting husbands divorce wives quite easily. Now that Ugandan laws are changing, and representatives are standing up for the rights of women, the oppression of women in divorce is finally lifting.

Change of Law, Change of Heart

Cases of women initiating divorce in Uganda have been on the rise ever since 2004, when a court got rid of a sexist divorce law. The law allowed a man to swiftly divorce his wife merely upon proof of adultery, while a woman only had a case if she could prove her husband had committed sodomy, desertion, or bestiality.

Now women can file for divorce on account of abuse, adultery, or for any other matter in the marriage that lowers their quality of life. As a result, legal officials and activists report, the number of divorce cases overall has multiplied, showing how needful the unfair law repeal actually was.

Thanks to sympathetic Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni, even more progressive changes may take effect within the year. Lawmakers are working to pass a law that would solidify men and women as equals within marriage, including making marital rape an offense, and securing equal distribution of property upon divorce.

Taking a Stand

Referring to how he likes to turn his courtroom into a classroom, Ugandan court magistrate David Batema pronounces,“[t]he major aim of the lesson should be to point out to the man that marriage, as of now, is a partnership of equals.”

Batema is a forward-thinking man who, among other activists and legal authorities, is admirably standing up for women, thereby helping to create a better, more egalitarian future. Many times during feminist revolutions like this one, oppressed women are the ones leading the way. It’s refreshing to see males stepping up to the plate, defending and empowering women.

Batema believes in protecting women’s freedom of choice, saying “that’s why in my career I have never refused to grant a divorce where one partner wants it,” he said. “Marriage is supposed to be voluntary.”

Confronting Stigma

Still lingering among traditionalist and church official thinking in the conservative, East African country is that the rise in divorce is shameful. What this kind of opinion disregards as unimportant is the overwhelming instances and likelihood of abuse from which these women are rightfully escaping.

As Maria Nassali, a family law teacher and activist, emphasizes, “[w]e need to kill the stigma associated with divorce. She’s not being selfish when she gets a divorce. She’s not being immoral. She just wants to be a human being.”

When a culture teaches and expects women to be submissive to their husbands, and disables them from making choices about their own well-being, the women are deprived of human rights. Thankfully, voices like Batema and Nassali’s are being heard, and the culture of female submission in Uganda is changing for the better.

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