Committee on Elimination of Discrimination against Women 13 October 2010
The Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women has considered the combined fourth through seventh periodic reports of Uganda on how that country implements the provisions of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women.
Introducing the report, Rukia Isanga Nakadama, Minister of State for Gender and Cultural Affairs of Uganda, said that a number of legislative measures had been undertaken to eliminate discrimination, including Article 32 of the constitution, which provided for the establishment of the Equal Opportunities Commission to provide equal treatment of women and men to challenge laws, policies, customs and traditions that discriminated against women. In 2007, the Equal Opportunities Act was enacted and in 2009 the Commission was set up and the President appointed five members to the commission, three of whom were women. In addition, the Government had undertaken law reform initiatives to address discrimination in existing laws, for example: the Land Act Amendment of 2004 prohibited the sale, transfer, exchange, pledge, mortgage and lease of family land without the spouse’s consent and Section 39 provided security of occupancy on family land while Section 17 protected the rights of women to use customary lands.
Questions and issues raised by Experts during the discussion included the status of rural women, women with disabilities and lesbian women. Committee Experts also asked how customary laws or traditional practices affected the rights of women, including the right to divorce, property rights, land rights and inheritance rights. Numerous questions were raised about violence against women and girls and how these crimes were prosecuted, what services were available to victims and penalties faced by perpetrators. The delegation was also asked about the difficulties the Government had faced in passing a marriage law that would respect the rights of women before, during and after marriage. Several Committee members voiced concerns about the treatment of sex workers as a group vulnerable to HIV/AIDS transmission and what was being done to combat this problem. The delegation was also asked about reports of sexual violence against female refugees and asylum seekers.
In concluding remarks, Ms. Nakdama thanked the Committee for its contribution. The delegation was very grateful for the Experts’ questions and they were looking forward to their recommendations. They appreciated the members’ encouragement and acknowledgement of the progress they had made.
Also in concluding observations, Silvia Pimentel, Acting Committee Chairperson, congratulated Uganda on the progress it had achieved since its last periodic report and on the various plans, projects and programmes that had been put in place, but Ms. Pimentel urged Uganda to address several concerns including discriminatory laws and practices in several spheres of life including marriage, inheritance and land ownership.
The delegation of Uganda included representatives from the Ministry of Gender and Cultural Affairs, the Ugandan Parliament, the Ministry of Gender, Labour and Social Development, the Ministry of Education and Sport, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the Ministry of Health, the Law Reform Commission and the Permanent Mission of Uganda to the United Nations Office at Geneva.
The next public meeting of the Committee will be on Thursday, 14 October at 10 a.m., when the Committee will begin consideration of the combined fourth and fifth periodic reports of the Czech Republic (CEDAW/C/CZE/5).
Report of Uganda
The combined fourth through seventh periodic report of Uganda (CEDAW/C/UGA/7) states that a Gender in Education Policy is being formulated by the Ministry of Education and Sports to address gender concerns in the education sector. The overall goal of the Policy is to achieve gender parity at all levels of education and aims at gender equality in terms of opportunities, benefits and outcomes in the education and sports sectors. Envisaged strategies to address gender stereotyping in the learning environment include engendering the education curricula and operationalising the Guidelines for mainstreaming gender in education. Proposed activities to be implemented include: designing gender responsive teaching, learning materials, methods and facilities, sensitization of publishers on gender, development of gender sensitive language, rules and practices and ensuring equity in the classroom.
The increasing focus on female prostitutes has come about as a result of the HIV/AIDS pandemic. The National HIV and AIDS Strategic Plan 2007/8 – 2011/12 recognizes female prostitutes as one category of the most at risk groups which are extremely vulnerable to HIV/AIDS. The National HIV and AIDS Strategic Plan recognises that by the nature of their work, female prostitutes have numerous sexual partners which places them at high risk of contracting HIV/AIDS and other sexually transmitted infections. Two surveys conducted over a two year period (2001–2003) showed a 75 per cent increase in HIV prevalence among this category of women. Another survey showed an STD prevalence rate of 59.6 per cent and hence the need for urgent and specific interventions.
Women’s health continues to be an area of concern and particularly the issues related to women’s sexual and reproductive rights which have been aggravated by the HIV/AIDS pandemic. According to the Uganda Health Survey 2006, the number of women in Uganda who die due to pregnancy complications has declined slightly from 505 in 2001 to 435 per 100,000 in 2006; while the number of children who die before their first birthday has decreased from 88 to 75 per 1000 live births during the same period. Yet while the statistics indicate some improvement, it is almost insignificant in relation to the Millennium Development Goal targets of reducing maternal mortality to 131 deaths per 100,000 live births by 2015.
Presentation of Report
RUKIA ISANGA NAKADAMA, Minister of State for Gender and Cultural Affairs of Uganda, presenting the combined fourth through seventh periodic report of Uganda, noted that since the last presentation of a periodic report in 2002, Uganda’s population had grown to approximately 30.6 million people with a growth rate of 3.2 per annum. Women made up 51 per cent of the population and over 80 per cent of the population lived in rural areas. Uganda’s Poverty Eradication Action Plan had led to a reduction in poverty from 56 per cent to 31 per cent in 2006. During the Poverty Eradication Action Plan period gross domestic product grew by 2.7 per cent on average, led by the agricultural sector where women contributed over 80 per cent. The Poverty Eradication Action Plan had been replaced by the National Development Plan and gross domestic product was projected at 7.2 per cent per annum.
Ms. Nakadama said the compilation of this report was highly consultative, involving consultations with the line ministries, including Justice and Constitutional Affairs, Health, Education and Sports, Finance, Planning and Economic Development, Agriculture, Local Government, members of Parliament, civil society organizations and women organizations.
In terms of measures taken to eliminate discrimination, Ms. Nakadama said that Article 32 of the constitution provided for the establishment of the Equal Opportunities Commission to provide equal treatment of women and men to challenge laws, policies, customs and traditions that discriminated against women. In 2007, the Equal Opportunities Act was enacted and in 2009 the Commission was set up and the President appointed five members to the Commission, three of whom were women. Currently, the Commission was undergoing the initial process of recruiting and preparing its strategic plan.
In addition, the Government had undertaken law reform initiatives to address discrimination in existing laws, for example: the Land Act Amendment of 2004 prohibited the sell, transfer, exchange, pledge, mortgage and lease of family land without the spouse’s consent and Section 39 provided security of occupancy on family land while Section 17 protected the rights of women to use customary lands.
In terms of violence against women, Ms. Nakadama said the Domestic Violence Act defined domestic violence, provided for protection and relief of victims of domestic violence, stipulated punishment for perpetrators, provided for different jurisdictions of courts and prescribed procedures and guidelines to be followed by courts in handling cases of domestic violence, from the local council courts to the High Court. It also created duties and obligations on police officers and medical personnel to offer support to victims. The Female Genital Mutilation Act of 2010 defined female genital mutilation and criminalized acts of female genital mutilation. The Marriage and Divorce Bill sought to put into effect Article 31 of the constitution which provided for equal rights during marriage and at its dissolution. At present, the bill had been presented for the first reading in Parliament. The Government was also currently undertaking the reform of the law on succession and inheritance. Among the issues being addressed were inheritance rights of women and widows and the discrimination in the law stemming from patriarchal traditions and customs.
Ms. Nakadama said that progress had been registered in mainstreaming gender at the national and local levels in the agriculture, education, justice, law and order and the health sectors. For example, the Government had been training technical staff at the national and local levels in gender and equity budgeting to ensure equitable resource allocation for gender promotion and women’s development. There had also been progress toward gender parity in education, with current enrolment percentage on par for both boys and girls. The Plan for the Modernization of Agriculture sought to increase incomes and improve the quality of life for subsistence farmers, and highlighted the importance of reaching women farmers.
The Government had initiated affirmative action programmes in the areas of education, political representation, participation in local governance, employment opportunities in constitutional commissions and autonomous bodies. In an effort to combat sex roles and stereotyping, the Government had reviewed the education curricula and developed a gender responsive handbook to support teacher capacity to develop initiatives that focused on changing attitudes and stereotypes in education.
Ms. Nakadama informed the Committee that there had been a modest improvement in women’s participation in public and political life in Uganda. Women were visible in formal decision-making institutions and a 30 per cent minimum had been achieved in the legislature. In the 2006 elections, there was a 35 per cent increase in the number of women parliamentarians from 75 members in 2001 to 100 members in 2006. There had also been capacity building activities for women leaders aimed at increasing their effective participation and capacity to influence the inclusion of women’s concerns in policy frameworks at the national and local levels.
In terms of education, the Universal Primary Education Policy had improved enrolment of girls from 44.2 per cent in 1990 to 49.8 per cent in 2006 and 49.9 per cent in 2008. Free secondary education was provided to both boys and girls. In addition, Ms. Nakadama said the Government had introduced the National Strategy for Girls Education, which addressed the gender issues identified as major reasons for girls dropping out of school. It addressed the issues of access, quality improvement and gender equity. The Government was required to provide alternative approaches to providing education for children who dropped out of school, and teenage girls who became pregnant were allowed to sit for examinations and continue their education before and after delivery.
On the matter of employment, the Employment Act of 2006 provided for the labour rights of women and contained a number of provisions that protected the rights of women in employment by providing maternity leave of 60 working days, an increase from 45 days. The Employment Act also defined sexual harassment in employment and required employers to put in place measures to prevent such harassment. Complaints of sexual harassment could be lodged with the labour officer who was required to take the necessary action. As for women in the informal sector, the Government appreciated the need for their social protection and it was currently in the process of appointing a new minimum wage advisory board which would undertake a general study to determine the minimum wage in consultation with stakeholders. Domestic workers and other unskilled workers in the informal sector had been identified as a special category that would be addressed.
The Government recognized that maternal and child health was a high priority, and to this effect a maternal health road map was developed to address issues of maternal morbidity and mortality. This included health, education, nutrition, vaccinations, reproductive health issues including family planning services and HIV/AIDS prevention. Although the law prohibited abortions, adolescents who appeared in healthcare facilities were offered medical assistance irrespective of the cause of the abortion and treated with dignity and empathy. The Government had a strategy on adolescent friendly services which recognized the vulnerability of adolescents. In rural areas in particular, the President launched the community mobilization system strategy called the Village Health Team Strategy, which empowered the community at household levels to take charge of their own health issues and to link with the health care delivery system.
Ms. Nakadama then addressed the status of rural women, elderly women and women with disabilities. The interventions for rural women focused on increasing the capacity of female farmers, increasing literacy rates among rural women, increasing access to healthcare for rural women, addressing negative traditional customs and practices, and increasing access to justice. In terms of elderly women, the Government recognized the role of older persons in promoting social cohesion, conflict resolution and as the custodians of cultural values. As a result, the Government had formulated a National Policy for Older Persons which spelled out priority action areas for older people, including older women. Elderly people were also given the opportunity to participate in leadership at the local level to ensure their views were considered. Turning to women with disabilities, Ms. Nakadama said that the National Policy on disability was formulated in 2008 to promote equal opportunities for empowerment, participation and protection of the rights of disabled persons irrespective of gender, age, and type of disability.
Ms. Nakadama said that the delegation recognized that challenges remained to the full attainment of gender equality and women’s empowerment; nonetheless they were committed to continued cooperation with various stakeholders to realize the standards of equality as set out in the Convention.
Questions by Experts
Among questions and issues raised by Committee Experts, the delegation was asked about multiple discrimination facing women, particularly women with disabilities and elderly women. What measures had the Government taken to address this issue, both by private actors and in Government policy?
When would the Refugee Act become fully operational? The Committee had received information that refugee women and asylum seekers had been the victims of sexual harassment or violence and there were also reports that women were discriminated against because of their sexual orientation. Could the delegation provide more information on the status of these women and what was being done to address these issues?
Another Expert congratulated the delegation on Uganda’s having overcome the Lord’s Resistance Army and restoring some order in the north. Were women included in the decision-making process regarding post-conflict reconstruction?
A Committee member noted that there was discrimination in some statutory laws, such as laws against homosexuality. How did the delegation explain the provisions of the constitution with some of these laws? There also was an inability to pass marriage laws. There were ways and means to harmonize customary laws with the Convention. Land laws also had discriminatory facets, such as not allowing women to stop the sale of family lands. Could the delegation please comment further on this?
How was the implementation of the CEDAW Convention handled and by whom? How was the Convention disseminated in society?
Were there policies in place to help people remain in rural areas, rather than moving to the cities where they often faced hardship and situations of vulnerability?
Response by Delegation
Responding to questions, the delegation said, with regard to persons with disabilities in the north, because of the violence there many people had experienced lack of water, food and sanitation, not just people with disabilities. But things were taking a turn for the better now that the violence had subsided and programmes designed to eradicate poverty and deliver water were in place. Disease resistant crops had been planted, so in the future there would be more food security. There were also people with disabilities who served in parliament and if these people in northern Uganda were suffering they would have known because they had representation in parliament.
Concerning lesbians, the delegation said that an individual member of the parliament had proposed a bill to make homosexuality punishable by death. This was not a Government initiative and had nothing to do with the Government so that was all the information the delegation could provide on that proposed law. In terms of the difficulty in enacting a marriage law, this had to be done after various consultations with various ethnic and religious communities if there was any hope of it being successful. The draft law was in its first reading in parliament.
On the issue of land laws, the delegation said there were certain challenges posed by the fact of Uganda’s history and patriarchal traditions that recognized landholding based on the male line. However, the constitution recognized the right of everyone to own land and there were economic programs in place to help women obtain land so this was gradually changing. In addition to economic assistance, legislative changes were also being enacted such as the Succession Act, which worked to eliminate the cultural traditions and practices that discriminated against women’s holding and inheritance of land.
The delegation said that their understanding of homosexuality in Uganda did not have the same appearance as it did in other countries. They found that homosexuality was practiced in prisons, so that appeared to be more of a choice of sexual orientation, among young people where poverty was a driving factor and same sex relationships within families. There was still a great deal of research that needed to be done in terms of homosexuality in Uganda because this had policy implications in terms of HIV/AIDS programmes and other outreach initiatives. Homosexuals were not legally recognized in Uganda so they were mobilized like other people when it came to programmes and policies.
The delegation then turned to questions regarding refugees and internally displaced persons. The State worked with various officials and organizations to track, prevent and address sexual violence against these women in vulnerable situations.
Questions by Experts
In a second round of questions and comments, Experts said that reports indicated that there were several barriers to the prosecution of rape cases such as official corruption and the need to have the accuser, the accused and witnesses all present in order for a trial to proceed. Was this in fact the case? There were communications which the Committee had ruled on that could be helpful for Uganda in designing a more gender sensitive policy. Also, the Committee member wanted to know how victims of war crimes could file claims with the victims’ fund.
There had been reports that the media played a role in perpetuating negative gender stereotypes, portraying negative images of women and engendering sexual exploitation. How was the media regulated in Uganda and did the Government have any power to regulate these messages? Also, was it true that there was a proposed ban on mini-skirts because they caused traffic accidents?
A Committee member noted that the periodic report stated that a national action plan against child sacrifice had been developed. What was the status of this bill? Had it been passed and if so how was implementation going? In terms of the individual member’s bill making homosexuality punishable by death, a Committee member said that under the rules of parliamentary procedure, a bill introduced by an individual member could be discussed in parliament and adopted as law so the Government could not say that it was a private matter and wash its hands of it. What was the Government doing to combat the incitement to violence against homosexuals seen in the media?
An Expert applauded the various measures taken to combat domestic violence, but it was reported that this was a wide ranging issue that had permeated every facet of society. Could the delegation provide more information on the police family units that had been created to address domestic violence? Were police adequately trained in handling sexually based violence and dealing with victims? The Committee had information that police reports from 2007 to 2008 showed that sexual violence against women and girls topped the list of crimes in the country. A comprehensive sexual violence bill would provide better protection for victims and adequate punishment for perpetrators. Were there any steps to enact such a law?
Turning to the prevention of human trafficking, a Committee member commended Uganda’s law against trafficking for sexual exploitation. But did this law address trafficking for other purposes such as labour exploitation, begging or other reasons? The periodic report of Uganda stated that prostitution was criminalized in the country and as such sex workers were prosecuted. How successful was the Government then in reaching out to them for HIV/AIDS prevention? Were these women open to abuse by police? As many as 12,000 children were affected by commercial sexual exploitation. What was being done to prevent this and how was the demand side being addressed?
Response by Delegation
Responding to those questions, the delegation said that the police had to handle incitement to violence cases. When papers printed things that could incite violence in the public against homosexuals or others, there was no way the Government could stop them from publishing what they wanted. There was freedom of the press in Uganda. In terms of the individual member’s bill regarding the death penalty for homosexuals, it had not come up for debate yet so the delegation said there was nothing to discuss at this point.
Turning to the sexual offences bill, the delegation noted that only a few aspects of defilement issues were addressed in the penal code, but in future reforms it was hoped that other aspects would be included in the penal code. In terms of barriers to prosecution of domestic violence cases, huge strides had been made in the latest Domestic Violence Act to circumvent the police by allowing women to bypass the police and report directly to a magistrate court. The Act also proscribed specific duties and procedures for the police to follow and they had to inform victims of their rights to report directly to the criminal courts and women could specifically ask for a female officer to take over their case if they felt the male officer was not providing them with appropriate assistance. Marital rape could be prosecuted under the Domestic Violence Act and this could be used until the marriage and divorce bill was enacted at some point in the future. The marriage and divorce bill would also address the issue of bride price, by calling them marriage gifts, and it would create an offence for someone who asked for marriage gifts to be returned upon divorce.
The delegation said parliament had two committees that had been working very closely with non-governmental organizations to address child sacrifice. In Uganda, the biggest problem with child trafficking was for child labour, with children as young as two or three years old being forced to beg on the street. They were working to come up with a report to parliament on various ways to improve the strategies in place to combat child sacrifice and child abuse. The Ministry of Gender was responsible for addressing these issues. Police had received capacity building in these areas. The laws were in place as were the funds and units, so it was just a matter of implementation.
A Committee Expert had asked about sex workers and HIV/AIDS, and the delegation said that a lot of transmission was occurring among most vulnerable persons, including sex workers. HIV prevalence among female sex workers was found to be 58 per cent. Even though prostitution was illegal in Uganda, this did not stop the State from providing care such as condom distribution, treatment for sexually transmitted diseases, health education and anti-retroviral drugs.
Questions by Experts
In a series of follow-up questions and comments, Experts asked, among other things, whether the new human trafficking law provided a definition of human trafficking and whether the act covered trafficking for things other than sexual exploitation. The delegation was also asked to clarify whether the local councils had the mandate to look at domestic violence cases and how did this work? How many people had been brought to trial and how many had been convicted of domestic violence?
Since there was a law against homosexuality, there was huge impunity for those who mistreated or bullied homosexuals and the implication that homosexuality was tied to poverty was surprising. Was there any sort of registry about hate crimes perpetrated against gays?
A Committee member said the question on the role of the media in inciting violence against gays and the portrayal of women in the media had not been answered.
Response by the Delegation
The delegation responded that the media were private enterprises and so they had to find a way to work with them to portray more positive images of women and homosexuals and as a private business they had to make money and the Government could not dictate to them what to print or broadcast. There were several initiatives to train media on positive reporting and work was underway with non-governmental organizations and members of parliament to increase positive reporting.
The delegation said they would answer questions in the afternoon that needed statistics because they needed time to gather that information.
In terms of domestic violence, local councils were employed to prosecute domestic violence cases as a way to increase women’s access to justice, deal with issues of language, and address the cultural underpinnings that often kept people from filing complaints. The most serious of these cases were often forwarded to magistrate courts or the high court. By accessing this grassroots level of justice, it increased the number of cases that were filed and these councils often handed down family friendly resolutions.
The delegation said that the State had undertaken a number of measures to address the inheritance rights of women and would continue to work on reforming laws that were discriminatory.
The definition of trafficking in the anti-trafficking law was broad and took into consideration the Palermo Convention. The definition included sexual exploitation, forced labour, forced marriage, child marriage, use in armed conflict, debt bondage, slavery or similar practices, removal of organs, and harmful rituals or practices among other things.
The delegation said the Optional Protocol to the CEDAW Convention would be ratified in the coming months.
Questions by Experts
In additional questions and comments, Experts commented that it might be helpful for African Union countries to work together to exchange best practices to finding solutions for the well-being of women. Uganda was one of the few countries that had ratified the Convention without reservations, which meant the State had to shoulder the responsibility for doing all it could to implement the provisions of the Convention. Substantial progress had been made, but there was still much to accomplish.
A Committee Expert said they were pleased to note the changes in the nationality act whereby Ugandans could obtain dual citizenship, Ugandan women could transmit nationality to their children and they no longer had to get their husband’s permission to obtain a passport. However, the Expert noted that the citizenship act had not been changed in accordance with the constitution, so did that mean that a Ugandan woman could not transmit nationality to her spouse or that she lost her citizenship when she married a non-Ugandan? Also, could the delegation provide a timeline as to when the bill amending the citizenship act would be passed?
Response by the Delegation
The delegation said that the constitution had been translated into various languages and distributed across the country. The Domestic Violence Act was also being translated into local languages and disseminated throughout the country. Regarding inheritance laws, the State had tried to reform these laws including the right of girl children to inherit.
The delegation said it was not aware of any cases tried under the Domestic Violence Act, but the bill had only been enacted in April 2010. Training of judges and others responsible for implementing the law was also taking place so that they were aware of the law and their obligations under it. In the meantime, domestic violence was still being tried under the criminal code under assault, battery, rape and defilement among others. Because of patriarchal traditions, many cases of domestic violence went unreported, but the State had statistics on those cases that had been reported to police.
When a Ugandan woman married a non-Ugandan, she retained her citizenship.
Regarding the question pertaining to rural population growth, the delegation said the Government had a roadmap on population growth, which worked in tandem with free, universal education. By enrolling more girls in school, this would help to delay marriage and childbearing. The social protection programme also targeted families that would normally marry their daughters off at an early age in order to obtain dowries. The State had also set aside more than $ 100 million to help promote maternal health.
Questions by Experts
In a further round of questions concerning education, employment and health, Committee members asked what proportion of girls aged 6 to 11 were actually enrolled in school. Also, why was the drop out rate for girls higher than boys, and given this how could the State party say there was parity in school enrolments? It was noted that drop out rates also seemed to be tied to poverty and while school was free, there were fees for uniforms and auxiliary fees that were a barrier to accessing education and parents with large families which could not afford such fees often sent boys to school and not girls. Sexual harassment also seemed to be a problem in schools, by both male teachers and male students toward female students. Was there any plan to address this? How many cases of sexual harassment had been brought, prosecuted and punished? How were the needs of girls with disabilities handled?
Were there any programmes dealing with sexual education in school, including the human rights of women to health and physical and mental integrity?
On employment, an Expert noted that there was a huge pay gap between men and women and other problems facing women in employment. Was there any data on the employment of women in the public sector? What measures were taken to ensure that women could actually take their maternity leave, because although women were entitled to 60 days, the delegation said that private sector firms did not comply with the Employment Act in this regard? The delegation was asked what was being done to fight child labour and to provide basic security for domestic workers. In terms of sexual harassment in the workplace, a Committee member said the law seemed to focus solely on the employer and there was little or no protection to stop sexual harassment between co-workers.
A Committee Expert said that the fact remained that homosexuality remained illegal in Uganda, and there seemed to be a disconnect between the treatment of HIV/AIDS because on the one hand the delegation said there were harm reduction policies that were provided to everyone, no questions asked. On the other hand, if homosexuality was criminal then how did they expect people to come out of the shadows for treatment when they were considered criminals?
How was the State ensuring that women as well as men understood what healthy, pleasurable responsible sex was between two consenting adults where a woman had the ability to negotiate and could choose to do so on her own terms? Also, were sufficient resources devoted to sexual education for both men and women? Were there special programmes targeting the health of women who were older than the reproductive age?
Another Expert asked about the availability of loans to women and what was being done to facilitate their economic empowerment and encourage entrepreneurship among women?
The next speaker thanked the delegation for the section devoted to older women in the State party report, and asked for further details about a study that had been done on elderly women in the country.
Turning to the issue of local council courts to facilitate access to justice for women, an Expert asked which domestic violence cases were considered “minor”, were these courts part of the regular judicial system or were they separate and what mechanisms were in place to ensure these courts employed human rights standards in the adjudication of cases? In some cases, these courts ended up discriminating more against women because of customary practices and patriarchal attitudes.
Response by the Delegation
Responding to these questions and issues, the delegation said a number of mechanisms had been put into place to minimize sexual harassment in schools. Awareness-raising campaigns had been carried out; clubs had been formed to empower girls with life skills and leadership skills that would help children report incidents of sexual harassment, and the school management had been strengthened as well.
Regarding the questions surrounding employment, the delegation said in terms of dealing with discrimination in the private sector there were labour officers from the Ministry of Labour to handle cases of discrimination in the private sector and they used various mechanisms to follow-up on these complaints, whether that be legal mechanisms or mediation. The Employment Act also covered issues of people with disabilities, and encouraged employers to take on workers with disabilities. There was also a programme and policy in child labour which had been disseminated. Issues pertaining to domestic workers were handled like other cases.
In terms of implementing maternal and child healthcare given the poverty of the country and the challenges it faced, the delegation said that the mortality rate had decreased to 432 per 100,000 births although the Millennium Development Goals target was 130. There was a delay in improving health indicators, in part because of the population explosion, a breakdown in the health system, high unemployment and too many health epidemics in the country including HIV and malaria. The issues of people with disabilities had been streamlined, even in the health sector, and in terms of mental health services for women this was a relatively new area. In the past five to eight years the State had been rehabilitating mental health facilities but women who had experienced trauma represented a fairly new area for them, but they were trying to work on it.
The delegation then turned to questions surrounding the economic status of women. A Committee member had asked why it was so difficult for women to access credit and the delegation said micro-finance was for the active poor and this did not require collateral and friends could act as references and guarantee one another. There were also village banks in which groups of women could save money and there was an arrangement where women saved money in a group and each month a different woman would receive the money. There was also the Uganda Women’s Finance Trust and Women Entrepreneurs that trained women in entrepreneurship and on how to access loans.
On the questions relating to the functioning of the local councils, the delegation said the law required these courts to be guided by principles of natural justice and they were required to keep records of proceedings. Training designed by civil society and the Government to train these local council executives had been carried out, but their terms expired and new executives took their place so they had to be trained as well so it was a continuous process and a work in progress. In terms of the justice they could mete out, these councils could reconcile family members, determine compensation and restitution or order apologies.
The delegation said that children were expected to help out with household chores, but there were laws defining what was hazardous work and child labour based on International Labour Organization definitions and standards and children could not be kept out of school.
Questions by Experts
In additional questions and comments, Experts asked the delegation what happened after the High Court invalidated certain aspects of the current marriage and divorce act? How were these rulings implemented? Were there women judges in local council courts or family courts? In the proposed bill would there be female judges in the various courts that dealt with Muslim, Christian, Hindu and Baha’i marriages? Would polygamy be retained under the new marriage and divorce act? Could the delegation provide more information on how the law dealt with cohabitation or de facto unions? What were the property rights of women when a relationship was dissolved?
Response by the Delegation
The delegation said there was a provision in the proposed marriage and divorce act that would allow for non-fault based divorce based on irreconcilable differences. There was also a division in the High Court that dealt with family matters and judgeships were not awarded according to sex, but the delegation was happy to report that gender training had resulted in male judges being more sensitive and proactive when it came to women’s rights. The delegation said it had worked to ensure equality within polygamous marriages and to make sure that the provision of resources was there for all partners and that people had the option to opt out of such unions. On the issue of property rights distribution in the event of the divorce, there was a provision in the proposed law that would take into account a spouse’s non-monetary contribution to a household when determining property distribution.
The delegation offered a clarification on secondary education in Uganda. Primary education was free in the country and currently there were 231 secondary schools that offered free education, while the rest of the secondary schools in the country still charged fees, but ever year more and more schools were phasing out their fees.
In concluding remarks, RUKIA ISANGA NAKADAMA, Minister of State for Gender and Cultural Affairs of Uganda, thanked the Committee for its contribution. The delegation was very grateful for the Experts’ questions and they were looking forward to their recommendations. They appreciated the members’ encouragement and acknowledgement of the progress they had made.
Also in concluding observations, SILVIA PIMENTEL, Acting Committee Chairperson, congratulated Uganda on the progress it had achieved since its last periodic report and on the various plans, projects and programmes that had been put in place, but Ms. Pimentel urged Uganda to address several concerns including discriminatory laws and practices in several spheres of life including marriage, inheritance and land ownership. The Committee was very concerned about the treatment of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered women and that homosexuality was a criminal offence in Uganda, as well as the high rate of gender based violence in the country. Ms. Pimentel closed by urging Uganda to provide more sexual health education to prevent unwanted pregnancies and the transmission of sexually transmitted diseases.
For use of the information media; not an official record