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Many women and men across Uganda, including those who have attained higher education from prestigious and reputable education institutions, suffer from domestic violence in their marriages. While this comes as a shock, statistics show that out of 10 (ten) people, at least7(seven) of them suffer a form of domestic violence every day. Out of these numbers, at least 3(three) out of 7 (seven) victims are aware that they can seek help from the legal system, NGOs, or a friend. However, these victims choose to suffer in silence till they probably cannot keep up with the abuse and either opt for divorce or murder in the worst-case scenario. Others do not opt for any of the alternatives mentioned earlier but choose to live and die sad, depressed, and frustrated for the rest of their lives.
The rather shocking status quo raises an interesting debate about whether domestic violence victims are ignorant of the laws or suffer from misconceived society beliefs. Therefore, I conducted a face-to-face interview about this exciting issue.
Mr.Okot is one of the people I interviewed. He opined that domestic violence victims generally endure it because of fear of injuring, tarnishing, or tainting their public reputation, many of whom have built it from scratch. For instance, a man, who his wife beats up, feels ashamed to report such an incident to police because of social standards. Biologically, men are physically stronger than women. Therefore, they are told that men do not show weakness as they are brought up. Additionally, such a man has children, some of whom are boys, and every day he tells them to be strong and brave like a man. Thus, it can be a shame or even confusing if, at any point, these young children see their strong and masculine father confessing or seeking help that his wife beat him.
Mr. Okot added that parents and caregivers teach and sing to girl children growing up. They tell them that women must grow to get married, stay there, give birth to children, and live happily ever after. Well, that turns out to be a fairy tale and a fallacy. Reality has proved that when these women go into marriage and unfortunately face domestic violence, they keep silent to protect and pass on what they were told as young girls.
Additionally, women believe that a man should beat her as a sign of his sincere love for her. Therefore, women who think like that do not see this as domestic violence but as building blocks to their miserable, frustrating, and painful marriage.
In conclusion, Mr.Okot stated that Uganda has well-drafted domestic laws on marriage and ratified several international treaties and Conventions on protecting fundamental human rights. Yet, despite this fact, many domestic violence victims choose to endure it without even a second thought of seeking the deserved help.
Kembabazi Julie is a beautiful friend of mine from childhood. Growing up, she worked so hard at every assigned task and effectively and efficiently executed such tasks. Julie always dreamt about one day finding a prince charming, getting married, and living happily ever after in a mansion with her husband and four children.
Fortunately, Julie lived to realize her dream. However, after a couple of years, her marriage took a bitter direction as her husband became a drunkard. As a result, he started cheating and beating her. She became very frustrated, suffered from depression, and ended up in a psychiatry hospital. Of recent, I had an opportunity to talk with her over a cup of tea. I was shocked when I learned about the disastrous events that unfolded in her life, yet what shocked me more was why she had decided to suffer in silence.
By the end of our discussion, I learned that my friend, just like many other women out there, felt embarrassed to come out and seek help. In her words, she said, “how could I tell my family that a man who had paid millions of money as braid price was battering me? How could I tell my friends who fancied our couple that my husband cheated and I was aware? At that point, the silence seemed to be the best option to keep up with the reputation I had worked so hard to achieve”.
Marriage in Uganda is governed by The 1995 Constitution as amended, the customary marriage Act, The Marriage Act, Islamic and Hindu laws, and case law. These laws provide procedures to contract a legally binding marriage, the rights and obligations arising from such a contract, and the process and conditions to terminate such a marriage.
Furthermore, there are several non-Governmental organizations (NGO’s) that are well situated to help men and women who are victims of domestic violence. These include FIDA- Uganda Association of Women Lawyers, which works tirelessly to bring awareness to the general public about human rights and laws governing marriage. On the other hand, the judiciary is doing tremendous work of prosecuting and punishing perpetrators of domestic violence. Additionally, in this era of technology, blogs and social media platforms like Facebook, Twitter, Tiktok, WhatsApp, and Instagram are trendy; they are commonly used to disperse information about anything, including laws on human rights and marriage.
It is time for victims of domestic violence to leave their shells and face the music. Society will have opinions as they always do, but it will pass just like a storm. This is your life now, and you have a right to enjoy it. Do not allow yourself to live a miserable life because of societal standards and expectations. Instead, seek the help that you deserve.