The NRM caucus which controls parliament by virtue of its numbers last week threw out the contentious marriage & divorce bill.
Separation of property at the time of divorce, the rights of cohabiting couples and the issue of marital rape were the most controversial clauses in the bill – and not necessarily in that order.
The family is a key building block of society and how it is run has a knock on effect on how the rest of society operates.
They are many ways to look at marriage, but if we use property relations as a measure of the strength of the relationship or its future potential what the marriage bill attempted to do may become clear.
At the beginning of time one acquired property by marking off a piece of land and securing it against others. For this muscle was required. So inevitably men became the owners of property. And this was extended to clans, tribes and eventually nations --- the group with the strongest men retained their land and even won land from other tribes with weaker men.
In addition property was only inherited by the male offspring.
Relations between men and women then reflected this reality and dictated how things happened.
As long as physical might decided who was on top or not this formula worked fine.
So whereas it is still necessary to use muscle to acquire and retain land one need not be muscular to do so. One can now use financial and legal muscle to do the same job.
As women went to school, joined the workplace and started their own businesses this formula started to run into trouble.
To begin with the importance of the man as a source of financial security begun to diminish. Secondly the man’s uncontested position as the head of the family was proving untenable because the woman as an earner in her own right now demanded a part in the decision making of the family.
In Uganda this progression has been happening for the last half century and accelerating in the last two decades.
The reported increase in marital casualty has its roots in this dilemma. On the men trying to hang on to their past exalted position and the women and not often in an adversarial way, exercising their recently acquired powers of independence.
The traditional patriarchal hierarchies have taken a dim view of this development and are not averse to trying to wind back the clock whenever they can. By the way this is not an African or even Ugandan male peculiarity. All over the world when women have attempted to win some space from themselves they have come up against the inertia of culture.
Hillary Clinton is supposed to have lamented when Barack Obama pipped her to the White House, that once again the black man has beaten women to the privilege previously reserved for the white man. The Black won the right to vote In the US before women did.
Enter the Marriage & Divorce Bill.
At the bottom of it the bill aimed to institutionalize this creeping reality into law.
Women account for slightly more than half the population to leave that proportion of your population with unclear property rights means not everyone is fully engaged in the economy.
“Women are the most underutilized economic asset in the world’s economy,” said Angel Gurría, the secretary-general of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) recently.
A recent Harvard Business Review article argued that if women in the United States, Japan, and Egypt were employed at the same rates as men, the GDPs of those countries would be higher by 5%, 9%, and 34%, respectively.
The Marriage & Divorce bill may have come before its time but the reality of clarifying the property rights of women in marriages is important because without clarity on this issue their economic contribution will not be 100%.