For Uganda, this year, by any standards, stands out as one with the most ‘morally-dominated’ discussions by some distance. They almost did not spare anyone; from the corridors of Parliament to the air-conditioned plush offices sprawled across the capital. The ‘wananchi’ on the streets had their say too and so did the occupant of Plot 1, Entebbe.
We were hardly a month into the year when the Hon. Asuman Basalirwa fired the first howitzer. We blinked twice and the next time we opened our eyes, Parliament had exercised its constitutional duty of law-making, by passing the Anti-Homosexuality Act, of 2023. The President was sucked in, this time requiring him to assent to the law, but he held back, momentarily. He argued that we must not criminalize the act of being a homosexual but rather the engagement in activities of that nature. You-are-allowed-to-be-a-witchdoctor-provided-you-do-not-practice-witchcraft kind of logic. The President did not think that consenting adults should be allowed the freedom to do what they want with their sexual lives, there ought to be certain limitations, in his wisdom. The Executive and Legislature have had their say, it is now the Judiciary’s turn and we will hear from them very soon.
This year was also when Parliament exposed its double standards on the moral high ground that they had set themselves. Whereas Parliament was a choir during the passing of the Anti-Homosexuality Act, they looked away when the Uganda Law Society proposed that a provision barring sexual exploitation of athletes and players be inserted in the National Sports Bill, 2021, which was passed in March this year. We are aware of the need to protect athletes and players, especially those who compete in the female category, because time and again the stories of sexual harassment during camps, tours, and games have left a muted response from the authorities in charge. Our legislators fell short when they were called upon.
Then came the storm that was contraceptives which were proposed by the Ministry of Health to deal with the ever-present threat of teenage pregnancies. The Deputy Speaker of Parliament called it the devil trying to find its way into the minds of our people as this was a way of formalizing defilement. But to relegate this matter to spirituality would be to evade a proper discussion on the growing number of teenage pregnancies and the ripple effect it has on society. Unfortunately, the pattern whenever issues of sexual reproductive health and rights have arisen has been to box the discussion in a religious conclave and try to guilt trip everyone with unhelpful religious dogma. The fact that we have relegated science to the sidelines and allowed religiosity to dictate public policy is regrettable.
We thought we had seen it all until we heard the Chairperson of the Uganda Women’s Parliamentary Association (UWOPA) was bringing back the Marriage Bill. That was not the surprising part, what was shocking were her revelations that there would be no clause on marital rape in the bill. She reasoned that “what happens in people’s bedrooms isn’t her business,” an excuse that seemed conveniently absent during the discussion on the highly contentious Anti-Homosexuality Act, of 2023.
There is so much that can be said about sexual and reproductive health and rights this year but what has come out clearly is that this government has been found wanting when it comes to offering protection to women and girls who face the ever-present threat of sexual violence. They must stop playing to the gallery and face, head-on, the sexual predators that threaten our country’s morals.
Murungi Patrick Ngasirwa,
Legal Officer–Women’s Probono Initiative