Uganda: Is Domestic Violence a Part of Life?

It is a few hours into the night. A young girl's wail pierces through the dark, silent and scary night.

On her return from the market, the 10-year-old girl has just stumbled into a pool of blood, oozing out of her mother, who was hacked a few minutes back, by her own father.

Samson Musana of Nakibora in Mukono, hid near a path, pounced on his wife Nayiga and hacked her to death. He accused her of selling his bicycle and mattress. This is just one of the thousands of domestic violence cases, where women suffer physical, sexual and psychological coercion by their intimate partner.

According to the Human Rights Watch, domestic violence is a global phenomenon and one of the leading causes of female injuries in almost every country in the world.

For many women in Uganda, as in many other countries, domestic violence is not an isolated and abnormal act, but arises from and forms part of the context of their lives.


According to the Uganda Demographic and Health Survey 2006, more than two thirds of Ugandan women experience violence from their partners. Sixty eight percent had been harassed or beaten by their partners during the 12 months preceding the survey. Methods used included beating, pushing, dragging, forced sex, arm twisting, threatening, insulting and choking. Rural women suffered more violence than urban women. Likewise, uneducated women suffered more than their educated colleagues.

The survey also shows that seven in 10 women agreed that it was justified for women to be beaten.

This indicates that women in Uganda generally accept violence as part of male-female relationships, which is not surprising because traditional norms teach women to accept, tolerate and even rationalise battery.

The most accepted reasons for wife beating, according to the report, are neglecting children (56%) and going out without informing the husband (52%). Four in 10 women think that arguing with a husband justifies wife beating and 31% and 23% of women, respectively, feel that denying a husband sex and burning food are justifications for wife beating.

Acceptance of wife beating is generally lower among women in urban areas, those residing in Kampala, those in highest wealth bracket, women with higher or secondary education and women who are employed.

On the other hand, women in rural areas, those living in eastern and West Nile regions, less educated and the employed but with no cash payment are more likely to agree to being beaten.

Why it persists

Dr. Lydia Mungherera, the founder of Mama's Club, says as long as women are poor and uneducated, it will be hard for them to resist domestic violence.

She says: "If girls are not educated, there is likely to be more domestic violence, which is dangerous to our community."

Most women are dependent on the spouse for economic well being. Having children to take care of, should she leave the marriage, it will increase the financial burden and make it difficult for her to resort to divorce.

Dependency means that women have fewer options and few resources to help them.

Wife harassment is also associated with both alcohol consumption, according to a study conducted in Rakai district by researchers from the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. They surveyed 5,109 women and 3,881 men living in Rakai.

They were asked detailed questions about their experiences and attitudes to domestic violence and sexual relationships.

A separate study conducted by the Ministry of Health in northern Uganda last month established that drunkenness accounted for more than 80% of domestic violence.

Other causes were disagreements over money, unfaithfulness, leaving children to cry and denying him sex.

A respondent in Arute camp, Lira, said: "My husband sometimes insults me for not working hard enough to look for food for the family. At one time he lamented, 'I'm tired of feeding you and your children'. This usually happens when he returns from my co-wife's place, who at times gives him money, which I cannot afford."

Another one said: "He likes sex when I do not feel like, he forces me. He reasons that I might be seeing someone else" However, most of the affected women did not report cases of domestic violence. Most of them feared reprisals from their men. Others feared embarrassment. Other reasons for not reporting were poverty, ignorance of the law and not knowing where to report.


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