KAMPALA — At the start of the global 16 Days of Activism against Gender-Based Violence, civil society organizations are calling for a redoubling of efforts to prevent and address violence against women and girls.
GBV is a serious violation of human rights and a life-threatening health and protection issue. It refers to harmful acts directed at an individual based on their gender, and is rooted in gender inequality, the abuse of power and harmful norms.
This can take several forms such as intimate partner violence, sexual violence, child marriage among others.
“When we are discussing the challenges that girls and women face, some may ask “What about the boy child?”. Do not change the narrative. There’s an ongoing pandemic that is teenage pregnancies and child marriages. Let’s address that because it is on the rise,” ActionAid International Uganda (AAIU) Country Director Xavier Ejoyi told stakeholders at the National Symposium on the Welfare and wellbeing of a girl child.
Ejoyi, was speaking during a one-day symposium themed “Protect the Girl: Protect the Nation” held in Kampala.
The symposium was organized by the Ministry of Gender, Labour and Social Development (MGLSD) together with ActionAid International Uganda (AAIU) as part of the activities to mark the 16 days of activism against GBV.
Quoting statistics, the ActionAid International Uganda Country Director said an average of 1,000 teenage pregnancies are reported per day in Uganda— calling for sector players to pay attention to such figures including prioritizing the girl child programming to curb the rising vice.
“This is a significant issue that we are talking about. For example, the first antenatal visits from district information systems indicate that there were 354,736 teenage pregnancies in 2020 alone, he said.
“We are having too many girls dropping out of school. Can we commit to keeping these girls in school? We need to reverse the trend of teenage pregnancy,” added Ejoyi, telling stakeholders that what happened during Covid-19 induced lockdown was alarming and that the country can’t afford a repeat of such a disgraceful period.
Ejoyi said the girl children must be protected because they represent the highest population structure of the nation as young people.
“We need to get reliable statistics of girl children which can be used in planning and improving upon the standards,” he added.
Uganda ranks in 16th position globally in the child marriage & has the 10th highest absolute number of child brides totalling to 5Million.
— JONAM’S PRINCESS?? (@AtimCharlotte) November 18, 2022
The annual 16 Days of Activism against Gender-Based Violence campaign, which runs from 25 November, the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women, to 10 December, Human Rights Day, is a reminder of the unfinished work to realize gender equality, peace, and security for all, in every sphere of life, including in public and political spheres.
When adolescents are empowered to lead the walk and talk into their future, the community and leaders play their supportive role, and effective laws in place, there will not be a place for teenage pregnancy in Uganda. Invest in adolescents! #ProtectTheGirlChild #EndChildMarriage pic.twitter.com/b4vstEgWL8
— ActionAid International Uganda (@actionaiduganda) November 19, 2022
On her part, State Minister for Gender and Culture, Peace Mutuuzo attributed the mounting GBV cases of women and girls to barberic cultural practices including greed of some parents who have turned their daughters into cash cows in the name of marriage.
Mutuuzo told reporters that some cultural practices like paying dowry need to be banished because they keep girls in abusive marriages, as they are portrayed like commodities in homes by their men.
“For instance, when has a vehicle from Germany or Japan ever been part of the items, we need during introductions to marry off our daughters? Asking for such items plus many cows is like selling off your daughters and I think this should stop. When some men pay for such expensive items, they assume they have bought these women and can do anything to them as they wish,” the minister said, noting that the act continues to encourage domestic violence and child marriages.
She also stressed that the high demand for items discourages many people from going into official marriages fearing the items which they might be asked to pay for.
The practice, he said, is rampant in Uganda’s pastoral communities, citing examples in Sembabule, Acholi and Karamoja.
In Uganda, customs require a groom’s family to pay the bride’s family a “bride price” to compensate them for the loss of a woman’s labor around the house.
Payment comes in the form of gifts, money or a combination of both; and the marriage isn’t valid until a bride price is paid.
Depending on many factors, including the family’s tribe, financial situation and the bride’s age, common bride prices range from 2 million Ugandan shillings to 50 million shillings.
Ugandan courts have, for the most part, upheld the custom when challenged.
In 2015, the country’s highest court banned the practice of husbands asking for a refund of the bride price when the marriage ends. Delivery of the original payment is legal – but the refund was deemed unconstitutional as it would deny a woman her equal rights. As opponents argued, the practice “leads [men] to treat their wives as mere possessions.”
But the ruling is rarely enforced.
In 2017, the controversial Marriage and Divorce Bill proposed punishment of up to a year in prison for any man who demands a bride price refund. The bill has yet to be passed by parliament.
According to the latest figures, bride prices for girls as young as 15 are on the rise, though the legal marriage age is 18.
Lawyers and activists are fighting the trend, but say they don’t have much hope.
“If a parent can say that a woman is worthless because of her age, we still have a tough journey ahead for equality,” says Flavia Zalwango, a programs director at the Human Rights Awareness and Promotion Forum.
She says the only way forward is to eliminate the bride price tradition altogether.