By Chris Kiwawulo
THE courts of law will dissolve abusive marriages regardless of the biblical undertaking that â€˜what God has put together no man shall put asunderâ€™.
Speaking during the launch of a campaign to stop domestic violence, David Batema, the deputy registrar of the High Courtâ€™s family division, said court would not enforce laws, customs and traditions which base on myths and stereotypes to discriminate against women and deny them justice.
The campaign dubbed â€˜We Can End Violence Against Womenâ€™ was launched in Kampala last week. The global drive that aims at changing attitudes and practices that perpetuate domestic violence, specifically against women, is implemented by various organisations whose objective is to ensure that womenâ€™s rights are respected.
â€œWhere there is violence we shall grant divorce and we wonâ€™t listen to the misinterpretation,â€ Batema said.
He noted that violence against women was institutionalised in patriarchal society which looks at men as superior to women.
The campaign will work through change makers, both men and women. The change makers will undertake a personal change of attitude and behaviour, and then work towards influencing at least 10 other people within their scope.
Rukia Isanga Nakadama, the gender and cultural affairs state minister, said although Ugandaâ€™s Constitution entitles women and men to equal rights, womenâ€™s status remains very low with most violence directed at them.
â€œAlthough both men and women experience gender-based violence, the incidence among women is higher,â€ she said.
Statistics from the Uganda Law Reform Commission 2007 report reveal that 78% of women continue to experience domestic violence annually.
Quoting the Uganda Demographic and Health Survey (UDHS) of 2006, Nakadama said over 60% of women aged 15-49 years experienced physical violence; 39%, sexual violence; and 16% violence during pregnancy.
She noted that domestic violence was increasing the risk of HIV infection by inhibiting the ABC (Abstinence, Being faithful, and Condom use) strategy of HIV prevention.
Nakadama says women in violent relationships are too powerless to resist sex with their husbands or to insist that unfaithful husbands stop having extra-marital affairs or use condoms.
She says women living with HIV were blamed and sometimes beaten by their husbands for having the infection while HIV-positive men still thought it a right to have sex with their wives without a condom.
â€œDomestic violence also poses devastating effects on the individual, family and society. It creates an unpredictable and frightening environment as children start fearing their fathers and worry about their mothers,â€ Nakadama said.
She observed that such a campaign that rejects domestic violence at a personal and community level, and makes it unacceptable both culturally and socially should be scaled up.
â€œWithout a change in the social and cultural perception of gender-based violence, we believe state-level action will remain limited in form and reach. In line with this, the campaign will provide additional support towards a reduction in the magnitude of violence against women in Uganda,â€ she said.
Nakadama, who launched the campaign in Kampala on Wednesday, regretted that perpetrators of domestic violence often go unpunished.
Batema was the keynote speaker at the launch workshop for the campaign at Imperial Royale Hotel in Kampala.
The launch activities included a march from the city centre to Kololo Airstrip, where change makers exhibited music and dance performances with a message of changing attitudes and practices on violence against women.
Hundreds of change makers from several districts, university representatives, non-Government Organisations, and cultural institutions attended.
Oxfam Uganda country director Alyssa Boulares said the campaign would engage at least 10,000 change makers to spread the message against violence against women.
â€œChange makers will spread the message that equal relationships are violent-free. Every one has the responsibility to prevent domestic violence because we are all at risk,â€ Boulares explained.
He said Oxfam recognises gender violence as a violation of womenâ€™s basic rights and one of the significant mechanisms by which individuals and society retain power over womenâ€™s lives and choices.
Oxfamâ€™s interventions seek to contribute to gender equality by transforming the balance of power between men and women and campaigning against gender violence.
Violence against women is a critical health, human rights and socio-economic problem in Uganda. According to the UDHS of 2006, 68% of ever-married women in Uganda have experienced domestic violence.
Boulares says studies show that 70% of violence faced by women is within their homes yet the same homes are also where future cycles of violent attitudes and behaviour are developed.
It is also proven that as many as 77% of women in Uganda believe that being beaten by their husbands is acceptable, according to the Uganda Household Survey 2000-2001.
While some forms of violence against women easily get noticed and addressed, the more insidious forms still remain within the confines of â€œprivateâ€ concerns, notes Boulares.
Oxfam acknowledges the role of civil society organisations and other actors in the fight against domestic violence including lobbying the Government to pass the Domestic Violence Bill.
It was noted that culture, traditional beliefs, the community; family and the individual are key in perpetuating gender inequality and domestic violence.