Our Story: Why Domestic Violence and Bride Price?

Domestic Violence

Violence against women and girls is a world-wide problem which undermines the health, well-being and development of survivors. It is a violation of women’s human rights, stunts individual and societal development and seriously scars future generations. According to the World Health Organisation, 35% of women across the world have experienced either physical and/or sexual intimate partner violence or non-partner sexual violence. It is concerning that almost one third (30%) of all women who have been in a relationship have experienced physical and/or sexual violence by their intimate partner, with this standing at 36% in Africa. Moreover, 38% of all murders of women, globally, are committed by intimate partners and women are 1.5 times more likely to acquire HIV.

Violence and abuse is still common and widespread in Uganda and above the world average. The 2016 Demographic and Health survey reported that 1 in 5 women had experienced sexual violence in their lifetime compared to 1 in 8 men; also, that annually more than 13% of women. 15-49 (more than 1 million) reported experiencing sexual violence.

Laws and policies on domestic violence exist but implementation is limited. Most common today are spousal violence and child abuse including: Physical harm of women and children, Use of threats,  intimidation, humiliation, assaults, parental neglect, defilement, sexual exploitation of minors, sexual harassment of women in public spaces, land rights violations such as grabbing and deprivation of access and use.

Poverty and COVID-19 makes it harder for survivors to exercise choice

In Africa, the institution of bride price, a form of violence against women, has far reaching health, economic, social, human rights and legal implications in the countries where it is practised. Bride price as an institution has particular negative implications for the rights and status of women. Uganda is one of the countries where the practice of bride price is the norm. Bride price is currently actively practised throughout the country. The institution of bride price is a gross violation of women’s human rights.

It is recognised that gendered norms and values about women and men uphold violence against women. Violence against women in Uganda, as in other contexts, is commonly viewed as a normal aspect of relations between women and men. Whilst physical forms of violence can often remain hidden, economic abuse is especially prevalent and men have authority over women’s income.  Cultural customs and traditional practices, such as bride price, polygamy and female genital cutting, are strongly embedded in society and within rural communities and hinder equality. Such cultural practices also underpin entrenched myths/beliefs about the role and behaviour of women whereby women are expected to be submissive and unquestioning of male authority. Sayings such as ‘women cannot own property as they are themselves property’ and ‘children do not belong to the woman’ are common and serve to keep women oppressed. Women in power often reinforce male authority and the negation of women’s rights as well as religious and cultural beliefs about the ‘ideal woman’ and ideals of womanhood.

Rural contexts are marked by high poverty levels and dependence where abandoned families also face violence from the extended family and where women’s status and rights are denied. Where women are abandoned by their partners, they are left with male relatives and have little protection. In such situations, women are denied land, choice over children, expected to endure extreme labour and subjected to violence and abuse. There are high numbers of female headed households which result either from polygamy or when men leave and start another relationship whilst working away from home because of poverty.

Why we fight for women

Women and girls are disproportionately affected by gender based violence 
Violence against women and girls is a gendered issue and extensive research shows that women and girls are disproportionately affected. This disproportionality requires a gendered response to tackling violence, where women and girls are placed at the centre of interventions. Social norms, culture and tradition are used to uphold and justify VAWG and have to be challenged to bring about change.

Safety of women and girls has to take priority
The safety of women and girls/children has to remain central to any responses addressing violence against women and girls. When women report to our Advice Centers we believe their experiences of violence and we are non-judgemental. This is the beginning of the healing process for many women and their children. Through counselling support, women are empowered and supported to make informed choices through a range of options about their future and long term security.

Holistic and co-ordinated approach
Rooted in gender inequality, violence against women and girls cannot be ended overnight. An integrated and holistic response to violence requires effective collaboration and partnership across sectors and among multiple actors.

Long term change
To effectively tackle violence against women and girls, long term change in the ways in which we view women and men and gender roles and relations is required. Change and action is needed at multiple levels.

There also exist some positive developments and attitudes which challenge violence against women. Overall, there is an awareness that violence against women, and especially domestic violence, exists. Domestic violence as a term has become commonplace – it did not exist as a lingua franca when MIFUMI first set up services. At the time gender issues were rarely discussed in Uganda, especially in rural areas. The concept of domestic violence as a serious matter let alone a crime was virtually unknown but MIFUMI took domestic violence out of the private sphere and put it into the public domain. Now the term domestic violence commonly used by everyone in villages, by duty bearers, in talk shows, and the wider media. There is greater coverage of domestic violence issues in the media.

Among women who used to accept violence, there is increasing recognition  that violence against women is a crime. Many duty bearers also now acknowledge that it is a crime punishable by law even if they are not committed to using the law to punish abusive men. Some families assume responsibility for the extended family, including women who are abused. Some religious leaders preach against violence even though some tell women to be submissive to restore the order of male-female relations.  There is a growing group of ‘gender sensitive’ men who are saying no to violence against women and civil society organisations are spear-heading this challenge.

Disrupting the ‘gender order’ also has some unintended consequences. In the MIFUMI context, many men have abrogated their responsibilities and let women assume the responsibility for running the home as they see a lot of resources being given to women. Men reportedly feel left out and the boy child is seen to be ignored. As part of the backlash, as women have become empowered this has triggered greater violence against women. There is a general conservative shift in society away from women’s rights. National legislation has been passed against mini-skirts, seen to be anti-religious and anti-African; the Marriage Bill has been stalled; the promotion of women’s rights has been labelled as westernised alien culture being imposed on African society; and there is increased homophobia. Conservative elements are increasingly using religion and culture to attack women in order to reassert control over them. On the other hand, however, there is an increasing group of gender sensitive men, albeit small, who are supporting the call for women’s human rights.

In order to tackle gender based violence, global, national and local context specific responses are necessary. Based on 15 years of work in Uganda, MIFUMI has developed a Theory of Change which it views as an effective response to tackling gender-based violence, with a special focus on Bride Price.