By Francis Kagolo
President Yoweri Museveni has cautioned Parliament against rushing the Marriage and Divorce Bill, saying the country risks getting into problems, if the Bill is carelessly passed.
Museveni said the Bill ought to be handled with extra care and discussed fully, before it is passed into law. He promised to convene an NRM Parliament caucus on Monday to examine some of the contentious clauses in the Bill.
“The Bill was there in the previous Parliament, but because we had not caucused on it, we postponed it. Now, it is being discussed in Parliament without a caucus scrutinising it first,” he said.
The President was addressing thousands of people, who turned up for the International Women’s Day celebrations at Wabinyonyi Sports Grounds in Nakasongola district yesterday.
During the ceremony, over 100 people, mostly women, were recognised with the 50th Uganda Independence Medal for their “outstanding service and loyalty to the nation”
These included First Lady Janet Museveni, Speaker Rebecca Kadaga, former vice-president
Specioza Wandira Kazibwe and state minister for water Betty Bigombe.
Others are state minister for fisheries Ruth Nankabirwa, Margaret Baba Diri (Woman MP Koboko), as well as former ministers Rhoda Kalema, Grace Akello, Joyce Mpanga and Victoria Sebagereka.
The Opposition MPs, who included Uganda Parliamentary Women Association chairperson, Betty Amongi, Katakwi Woman MP Alice Alaso, FDC party vice-president Salaamu Musumba, and Nabillah Ssempala, the Woman MP for Kampala, were also honoured.
Also recognised were former Prime Minister Prof. Apollo Nsibambi and Isabaruli Mwogeza Butamanya.
This year’s celebrations ran under the theme, The Gender Agenda; Connecting grassroots women to Development.
In line with the theme, the President said it was crucial to empower, especially rural women to spur economic development, both financially and legally, but warned that the proposed marriage law should be without a loophole when it is passed.
The Bill, which has attracted immense public reaction, has been on the shelves of Parliament for over 40 years. It was split into two, after the first such Bill was opposed by religious leaders.
Initially, it was presented to Parliament as the Domestic Relations Bill, but stalled for many years because it was widely contested by different interest groups. It was split into separate groups, namely, the Marriage and Divorce Bill, and the Muslim Personal Bill.
One of the contentious clauses is the proposal to recognise cohabitation after 10 years as being equal to a marriage, while others argue that it is immoral and sinful.
The other issue is the abolition of payment of bride price. While some MPs are bitterly opposed to the abolition of payment of bride price, others want it abolished, arguing that it reduces women to “sellable objects”.
The Bill makes it an offence to demand the return of marriage gifts. Clause 14 of the Bill says marriage gifts are not an essential requirement for any marriage under the law, but adds that where a marriage gift is given, a person who demands for a refund is liable to a fine not exceeding sh480,000 or imprisonment not exceeding one year or both.
Women rights’ activists supporting the tabled law have asked that Parliament passes it quickly to stem the rampant cases of violence against women. But the President said this would be detrimental.
“The issues in this Bill are important and strategic; they need to be discussed thoroughly because some of them can lead to serious problems in society, if you handle them carelessly,” Museveni warned.
The President also spoke at length against domestic violence, saying men and women are equal and there was no reason for them to batter each other.
He said the NRM government had made it clear right from the bush war that men and women should be demonstrated in the ‘eyes of society’ as it is in the ‘eyes of God.’
“From the NRM point of view, if you treat your wife or daughters as being inferior, that is not correct,” he said.
“If my brain has the same capacity like that of Janet (the First Lady) and my daughters, then how can you say they are inferior to me? Beating a woman because you think she is weaker than you is bankruptcy.”
The ceremony was coloured by hundreds of female army and Police officers who mounted a guard of honour and marched with vigour, to the excitement of the audience. Museveni also used the opportunity to remind the rural folk to work hard to boost food production and fight household poverty.
He said the Government needed about sh850b to supply high quality agricultural inputs to farmers countrywide next financial year.
He identified growing of fruits like pineapples, mangoes, oranges and diary production as some of the economic ventures suitable for residents of Nakasongola and nearby districts.
Pauline Kirasha, the chairperson of the National Women’s Council, said most women had not benefited from the Government poverty eradication programmes. She said there was need to create a women’s fund to support their income-generating activities.
The celebrations were attended by dozens of ministers, foreign envoys