RECENTLY, a registrar of the High Court (Family Division), delivered a speech at the launch of the â€˜We Canâ€™ campaign at Imperial Royale Hotel. Below are the excerpts;
By David Batema
A night watchman patrols the village to minimise crime and accidents. He walks through the streets and village roads directing his torch light at the front. No rays of light fall on the person who carries the torch. To see the watchmen, we need to ask him to turn the torch into his own face.
We are like the watch person. Our eyes, ears and tongue are all facing outward, looking at and comprehending the world around us. Yet, if we wish to seek the eternal truth, the cosmic wisdom, it is necessary to turn the torch back on ourselves, look within and find the source of the light within us. This is a story from the Upanishads.
There are personal belief systems that hinder access to equality, especially in the context of violence faced by women and children.
We should understand that myths and stereotypes result in the denial of justice to women. It must be remembered that myths are not based on facts and, therefore, they ought not to play a part in the decision making process. We cannot enforce laws, customs and traditions that discriminate against women because they are based on myths and stereotypes, and because they deny women justice.
Violence against women is often institutionalised discrimination in a patriarchal society which looks at men as superior and women as inferior. It is gender-based violence directed at women simply because they are women. So we must begin with men when we are talking about domestic violence.
Men should give girls and wives a share of the property and should treat their wives as equal partners in marriage.
We should boldly condemn violence against women and stop treating domestic violence as a private matter. Abused women must wash their dirty linen in public, speak out and break the culture of silence. We should not believe in sayings such as â€˜Ebyomunju tebitotolwaâ€™ (home issues stay in the house) when somebody is in an abusive marriage.
Where there is violence we (the courts ), acting in the name of God, shall grant divorce and will not listen to the misinterpretation of â€˜what God has put together no man shall put asunderâ€™. Marriage should not be a road of potholes. Why should it not be a tarmac road? Under the Anti Domestic Violence Act we will begin giving violent men â€˜red cardsâ€™. They will be ordered to get out of their homes until they are deemed to no longer be violent.
Whereas we have constitutional guarantees of womenâ€™s equal rights with men, like article 20, 21, 31, 33 and 32, all these need a paradigm shift in our attitudes. Parliament has played its role; the President must assent to the law.
The Uganda Constitution under Article 33 provides for womenâ€™s rights. This article bans discrimination against women and provides that women should be treated in an equal manner with men.
Article 32 of the Constitution also calls for affirmative action for women. Additionally, according to Article 31 of the Constitution, there should be equality between partners during marriage and at the dissolution of marriage.
In spite of these constitutional and legal provisions, the practice is different.
There are aspects of religion and culture that perpetuate discrimination against women and which in a way contribute to violence against them. Some cultures insist on refund of bride price upon divorce even when it is the husband who is abusive. The Catholic Church is outright against divorce, whatever the circumstances. This, in effect, keeps many wives and sometimes husbands imprisoned in violent marriages. Religious institutions need to give women a choice out of abusive marriages.
But it will not be possible to change cultures and attitudes on violence towards women if we do not get judges, the Police officers, probation officers, teachers and others to change first. I encourage Oxfam to work with community-based organisations and non- governmental organisations, the Police, LCs and the judiciary to implement the new Anti-Domestic Violence Act.
Question norms and all practices that discriminate against women
Uganda ratified the Convention on the Elimination of all forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW). That convention has several good provisions, such as articles 1, 2, 5, and 16, for ending violence against women if interpreted and enforced in the right manner.
The language of the law should shift from strict interpretation to purposive interpretation. For purposes of affirmative action, new legislation should focus on addressing equality principles in the social context.
We need social justice, give voices to the less abled, serve public interest and eliminate absurdity, injustice and amend the domestic laws. We must shift and change from condoning to condemning all forms of violence against women.
This is the time to use our vote power, religious power, intellectual power, conjugal power, judicial power, military power, financial power and diplomatic and donor power to cause a fundamental change. Do what you can within your power.
The writer is the deputy registrar of the High Court
Registrar tells women to speak out on violence