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Women’s Day: Activists say it’s not yet party time

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By Evelyn Lirri

Posted  Monday, March 8   2010 at  00:00
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Kampala

Women activists will be marking the International Women’s Day today with a call to the government to do much more to improve their lives and status. The international theme for the day set up by the United Nations is “Equal rights, equal opportunity, progress for all,” while the national theme is “Consolidating equal opportunities for women: A path to prosperity for all”.

Although the day is supposed to mark the economic, social and political achievements women have registered over the years, activists yesterday said they would instead use the day to remind the government of its unfulfilled promises on power, equal rights and empowering women. “We appreciate the affirmative action that has made women access education and hold political positions. But just the numbers alone is not enough. We want impact,” said Kitgum Woman MP Beatrice Anywar.

“The government will say we have done a lot to have many women holding positions right from the local governments, but almost all these women do not wield any power or influence. They are just there in numbers,” she added.

Activists say while some progress and action has been made over the years, Parliament is yet to pass crucial laws like the Marriage and Divorce Bill, and this has become a source of worry. The Bill seeks to reform and consolidate the law relating to all types of marriage recognised in Uganda: civil, Christian, Hindu, Bahai and customary marriages.

The Bill states that partners are entitled to equal rights during either co-habitation or marriage, and that matrimonial property shall be equally accessed and owned in common. All property and assets of both partners automatically become their joint property.

Ntungamo Woman MP Beatrice Rwakimari believes women are faring well on equal rights and opportunities but lagging behind on progress. “Maternal mortality is still a big challenge because women’s health has not been much of a priority. We cannot continue seeing women dying in large numbers just because they are giving birth. Government can and should do much more to improve women’s health,” she said. She said inequality is also still visible in employment, where most top jobs are still held by men.

Ms Rwakimari argued that Uganda cannot improve its development indices if women continue to die of preventable causes and when domestic violence is still rampant.

Epidemic levels
In Uganda, the issue of domestic violence was swept out of the bedroom in 2002 when the former vice president, Dr Specioza Wandira Kazibwe, openly admitted to being a victim and subsequently sought divorce in courts. But many more women are silently suffering serious injuries and sometimes death as a result of domestic violence.

In an earlier interview, Ms Rita Aciro, the coordinator of the Uganda Women’s Network, the organisation that brings together women’s groups in the country, said women have not yet achieved equal rights with men as domestic violence against women and girls have grown to “epidemic levels”.

Ms Aciro said various studies in Uganda have shown that at least 60 per cent of women in Uganda have been a victim of some form of domestic violence. “You cannot afford to have a population that is permanently stressed. Women cannot be productive when they are being battered every day and night,” she said. Ms Aciro is hoping the recently-passed domestic violence law will offer more protection to victims and also punish the perpetrators.