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13 December 2017
Changing family structures- defining Uganda’s social crisis context Print
Wednesday, 30 April 2014 17:10
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Following on from her ‘PLATFORM2013’ article on ‘Land inequality and family planning’ Dr. Viola Nilah Nyakato discusses recent property-related family conflicts in Uganda that she believes highlight the nature of gendered property inequality in Uganda, and the country’s need to implement a legal framework to protect women’s property rights.

 

I am concerned that Uganda still lacks a contextualized framework within which woman’s property rights are recognized, enhanced and protected. Historically, Uganda’s efforts to legislate such rights have been dominated by debates where the dominant opinion is that granting Ugandan women property rights is an attack on traditional family and cultural values. Most recently, the ‘marriage and divorce’ bill proposed in Uganda in March 2013 lead to widespread resistance by religious, cultural and political bodies. Amongst other issues, this bill was meant to provide a legal framework for a way to share family property in a more gender-fair manner.

“A legal framework to protect women’s property rights in Uganda is urgent”

Context
In my view, a legal framework to protect women’s property rights in Uganda is urgent, both for traditional Ugandan family structures, and as these family structures and values change and weaken, for women who can potentially become even more vulnerable to property rights insecurity. Two family-related property conflicts that highlight the issue hit the Ugandan media recently. On 15 February 2014the New Vision, a Ugandan national newspaper, published a report on land disputes between the two widows of the late Prime Minister, Hon. Eriya Kategaya On 1 March 2014, less than a month later, another dispute ‘Women fight over tycoon Mbirizi’s Estate’, featured as local headlines, following the billionaire’s sudden death. While these are extraordinary cases that have caught the attention of the media, such disputes are commonplace in the lives of ordinary Ugandan women. The dominant patriarchal family structures coupled with a lack of a legalized land-rights framework that allows for gender equality, impacts dramatically on the lives of Ugandan women.

 

Social Crisis
In traditional African/Ugandan circumstances, the first wife, elder son and senior patriarchal relatives are expected to resolve family land-rights cases in an impartial manner. In reality, this process does not realistically allow for an objective and unprejudiced land rights outcome.

My 2010 study on women’s land rights in Mbarara District Southwestern Uganda took the form of a situational analysis that sought to explain the links between gender divisions in land ownership and rights, and how this inequality shapes decision-making dynamics in rural homes in Mbarara’s district. It’s useful to reflect on the findings of this study when considering the extent (or rather, lack) of protection in the form of a legalized framework, afforded to Ugandan women in times of relationship crisis.

The study indicated that men claim the symbolic role of head-of-household in 95% of homes. Low uptake of family planning in a situation where there is a need for family planning practices (Uganda’s fertility rate of 6.9 children per women is at the highest end of global fertility rates) indicate that women have limited bargaining power within their own homes and restricted influence over important family resources and assets. While seven in ten women in the region felt insecure on their family land, only two in every ten men shared such fears. In 93% of cases where land was purchased, the decision to do so was made by a man, and in 78% of cases where land was sold, a man was, again, the decision maker.

Taking these results into consideration highlights the improbability of Ugandan women ‘naturally’ getting a fair land-rights deal in the context of a family crisis. A woman’s property rights very much depend on the quality of her relationship with the husband. In the event of the death of a husband, or where there is a divorce, separation, or an extra-marital relationship, a woman’s status in her home and, in particular, her rights to the land she lives on is at stake. In light of this, a legal framework to protect women’s property rights in Uganda is an urgent human rights issue.

“Ugandan institutions deal with cases that are often directly related to gender inequality, and yet they lack a specific legal framework to fairly address these social problems”

Conclusion
While it’s important to safeguard family values, we need to remember that the Ugandan family structure is actually changing due to social, economic, political and environmental factors beyond our control. For example, there are increasing cases of female and child-headed households. These days young people are moving to town for educational and work opportunities and this is where they are meeting their partners without the traditional approval processes, and without any attachment to their extended family. Many young people in urban areas are living together/cohabiting ‘as married’ without the knowledge of their family. High domestic violence statistics and the increasing level of activity among institutions such as the Family Protection unit in Ugandan Police and the Probation Office in local government indicate family instability is on the rise. These institutions deal with cases that are often directly related to gender inequality, and yet they lack a specific legal framework to fairly address these social problems. 

My view is that given this state of affairs in Uganda, and taking human rights considerations into account, both women and men need equal and secure property rights enshrined in constitutionally accepted family property law. I shall continue my campaign to promote this.

 

* At the time this blog was submitted, Dr. Viola N Nyakato had meetings scheduled with district leadership to make arrangements for a public dialogue on her article on ‘Land Inequality and Family Planning’ featured in PLATFORM2013'  (Download the Platform 2013 Publication)

 

Dr. Viola N Nyakato is Director of the Institute of Interdisciplinary Training and Research (IITR),
at Mbarara University of Science and Technology (MUST)
http://www.must.ac.ug
vnyakato@must.ac.ug

 

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