Judge, MPs Clash Over Women’s Rights

The blame game over protection and promotion of women rights continued last week, with MPs accusing the government of leaving this task to donors and civil society.

In opening remarks at a consultative meeting for MPs on the UN Convention on the Elimination of all forms of Discrimination against Women (Cedaw), Speaker Rebecca Kadaga castigated government for not developing the capacity of the line ministry.

“The ministry of Gender, Labour and Social Development [MGLSD] almost deals with everybody… Why should it be begging from donors?”Kadaga said at Speke Resort Munyonyo on Friday. “You have a gender unit in the Gender ministry but I don’t think they are doing anything good… [because] they are not trained in gender issues. They should be trained in gender issues if they are to deliver.”

Maggie Kyomugisha, the assistant commissioner for gender and women affairs in the MGLSD, admitted that the unit mostly relied on consultants from international organisations who execute their programmes through MGLSD. She, however, said the country had no shortage of gender experts.

“There are people trained in gender issues Makerere [University] has a school of Gender and Women Studies. The only problem is lack of policy or a decree to absorb these experts,” she said, adding that once government formulated a policy, it would be incumbent upon the Public Service ministry to recruit the right people.

Whereas a number of legislations, such as the Domestic Violence Act (2010) and the Prohibition of Female Genital Mutilation (2010) have been enacted since Uganda ratified Cedaw in 1985, Plan Uganda’s deputy country director, Issa Kipera, said the problem remained implementation.

“I know good progress has been made on formulating the laws what we need is to emphasise implementation and enforcement,” he said.

Indeed, there have been delays by the MGLSD to submit its eighth report on previous recommendations on Cedaw because of lack of funds.

“Due to limited resources, the process of compiling the report [eighth report] started late. We have just mobilized resources from our partners and work has start,” Gender Minister Mary Karooro Okurut admitted, before announcing that the report would be completed in December 2014.

Before the dust could settle, Margaret Komuhangi, the chairperson of the parliamentary committee on Gender, Labour and Social Development, accused the Finance ministry of neglecting implementation in the budget process. “Members, we know that for every law passed, there is a certificate of finance for [facilitating] its implementation [but] they never put the budget to implement these laws,” said Komuhangi, the Nakasongola Woman MP.

Enter judiciary

However, High court judge David Batema Ndikabona, based in Fort Portal, accused MPs of politicising legislation. He argued that legislators were afraid of enacting legislations such as that on marital rape because they were not sure “whether the marital rape being discussed will not ‘disturb’ the 2016 election.

While the speaker decried lack of gender experts, President Museveni recently claimed that such courses were irrelevant and should only be taught as course units. Without saying much, the judge appeared to overrule the president, quipping: “And now we are hearing that courses like women’s law, gender issues and conflict resolution are useless.”

Not unexpectedly, there was disagreement on the relationship between religion and culture on the one hand, and rights and the law on the other. “I believe your [Justice Batema’s] approach is radical we need to take a progressive approach because we still have a patriarchal system. These are progressive rights when we are talking about substantive rights, a woman can kneel, she can cook and still remain with gender equality,” remarked William Kwemara Ngabu (Kyaka).

Justice Batema sided with progressiveness, retorting: “Is it in our national interest that we should remain with our backward cultures which hurt people, whether they are men or women? If you have got a custom, if you are practising a religion, and it infringes on women’s rights… and you don’t believe in the Constitution [to address the violation of such rights], then get out of Parliament… because I saw you swearing to protect the Constitution.”

Source : The Observer

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