Why is domestic violence legislation falling short in Uganda?
25 November 2015
By Josephine Ahikire and Amon Mwiine
In the current discourse on women and policymaking, there seems to be waning optimism, especially around an apparent paradox: on the one hand, women have made inroads into important political and policymaking spaces, whereas on the other, they are seen to have decreasing levels of autonomy and influence over the promotion of women’s rights and gender equality.
The focus on individuals as representatives, however, tends to overlook the gender politics of policy- making, hence glossing over the real incentives for, and obstacles in the way of, generating support for gender-inclusive development.
In our latest working paper, Josephine Ahikire and Amon Mwiine, Effective States researchers from Makerere University, look at the ways in which power and politics shape the realisation of women’s rights and gender equity in Ugandan state policy. The key question they explore is the nature of political power and its influence on gender policy adoption and implementation.
The argument is around what is made possible in terms of gender-sensitive policy outcomes, the incentives for the different courses of action, and what influences the ability of the political system to channel women’s interests and representation into effective policy formulation and implementation. The question is explored by investigating the progress of two policy agendas, the Domestic Violence Act of 2010 and the promotion of girls’ education within the Universal Primary Education (UPE) policy instituted in 1997. Taken together, they reveal a good deal about the politics of promoting gender equity in contemporary Uganda.
Ultimately, the context of political power and the nature and interests of the ruling coalition have a lot to tell us about state capacity for gender-inclusive development.
The domestic violence law originated and was fully anchored in the struggles of the women’s movement. Feminist activists, together with the women in parliament and government bureacracy, went to great lengths to campaign for the Domestic Violence Act. They both formed a coalition that was capable of securing the legislation and reframed the issue of domestic violence as non-threatening to male interests. Universal Primary Education (UPE), on the other hand, originated from the executive with the full blessing of other powerful players.
The fact that girls’ basic education, as located within the broader UPE initiative, has progressed much further than the Domestic Violence Act in terms of implementation directly reflects the extent to which UPE was closely aligned with the dominant interests and ideas of powerful players within the ruling coalition, most notably the president, voters and donors. This is in the context of a political settlement characterised both by presidential dominance and increased susceptibility to patronage-powered demands from lower level factions.
By contrast, the Domestic Violence Act emerges as a more tokenistic form of legislation that has barely moved from the statute books and was perhaps offered more as a means to appease a more marginal constituency upset by the loss of more radical legislative reforms, than through any genuine commitment.
The campaigning activists have achieved a great deal. The fact that domestic violence is now ruled illegal has increasingly taken hold in Uganda, as evidenced by the large and growing number of cases brought forward under the legislation. This could over time lead to a shift in norms concerning men’s treatment of women.
Ahikire and Mwiine argue, however, that there is limited capacity and commitment shown by government to ensuring the implementation of even this relatively diluted law and there is a resistance to any more radical advances for women’s rights in relation to domestic relations. Taken together, these policies suggest that the dynamics of Uganda’s political settlement are detrimental to the promotion of policies genuinely aimed at substantive gender equality in the long term.