|Posted on April 8, 2013 at 8:50 AM|
There is an ever-growing debate within Uganda concerning the proposed Marriage and Divorce Bill currently before Parliament. For a last couple of months, various religious and activist groups have publically chimed in their opinion on the legislation. Currently, Uganda has no legislation regarding marriage and divorce.
In Uganda’s past, marital customs have been closely linked with tribal laws and traditions. The Introduction Ceremony (like public Engagement Ceremony) is the format for publically negotiating dowry, living arrangements, and religious practices, thus allowing family elders (or tribal leaders) to give their consent upon the impending marriage. Likewise, divorce or separations are an internal family or tribal matter. In most tribes, it is only the man whom can terminate a marriage. In some situations (like abuse or infidelity) women can end the marriage with the provision that she can return her in-law’s paid dowry. But universally it is the woman who leaves the family home with NOTHING, not even her children, if the marriage fails. The properties (including the children) are solely within the man’s name and authority.
Now Uganda’s Parliament wants legal legislation to assist with advocacy and enforcements of marital rights and responsibilities. The legislation would define marriage in the various religious denominations (like Christian and Muslim), marital rights and duties, provide recognized reasons for divorce, and resolve issues regarding property settlements and custody arrangements.
Most traditionalists and tribal leaders are opposed to this legislation, as they continue to hold the belief that marital affairs are private and thus should be kept within the smaller family or tribal units. In addition, the passing of any national laws would trump any tribal tradition.
Most religious leaders are opposed to this legislation, as there are some protective components about cohabitation. Both cohabitation and birth of illegitimate children are on the rise, which is displeasing to the church. Also, none of the religious leaders approve of the broad language written to accommodate/generalize different religious denominations.
Women’s right groups are advocating for this legislation, as it provides a voice to women within a marriage. With past ‘traditional’ marriages, the man is the undisputed head of the household. In unhealthy marriages, spousal abuse and marital rape are crimes that go unreported. If marriage would fail, women would have the chance to negotiate either property or child custody.
Children’s rights groups are advocating for this legislation, as it provides provision for children. If marriages or cohabitating situations fail, children are either ripped away from their mothers or poverty-stricken with a single mother. No child support is enforced in Uganda.
It has been interesting to follow the opinions in the newspaper, as both sides have some real merits. The Marriage and Divorce Bill if/when passed will be a significant declaration for the nation. But for now, it is the traditionalists versus the progressives. The traditionalists do not want Uganda to follow westernized influences. They do not want to open the potential possibility in the future for gender equality, approved cohabitations/illegitimate children, and homosexual unions. On the other hands, the progressive would like to see Uganda advance itself past the strict tribal traditions of their ancestors. The family practices of this generation are more difficult to practice while assimilating into a modern culture, particularly where women have a work place outside of the home. Since Uganda’s debate has been going on for years, it will likely continue for more extended time.
Personally, as a single woman living here in Uganda, marital practices have continually given me pause. (Calm down, Dad…not making any announcements!) But being American, marriages are more of an equal partnership. I can actually think of very few America marriages that are strictly traditional (men and women have prescribed duties). I LOVE that my Grandad is the dishwasher and helps my Grandma with the cooking. I LOVE that my Brother helps with the laundry when asked. Now I am NOT generalizing all Ugandan marriages, but you would honestly be very hard-pressed to find a married man cooking for his family, doing dishes, mopping the floors, washing his own laundry within his household. Honestly, I have not met one such man yet (and I have met a lot of married men). All of above are traditional wifely duties that the woman either does herself or hires someone to complete in her absence. While I don’t believe that the Marriage and Divorce Bill would change the standard overnight here in Uganda, the Parliament’s vote either for or against will set a tone for the next generation of Uganda…of that I am sure.
Will continue to keep you posted…