Domestic Violence Contributes to Spread of HIV in Uganda, Human Rights Watch Report Says
The failure of the Ugandan government to address domestic violence has contributed to the spread of HIV, according to a report released yesterday by Human Rights Watch, the AP/Las Vegas Sun reports (Wasswa, AP/Las Vegas Sun, 8/13). The report, titled "Just Die Quietly: Domestic Violence and Women's Vulnerability to HIV in Uganda," documents widespread abuse and rape of women by their husbands. The report says that Uganda has no laws against domestic violence or rape within marriage. The report highlights data from 2001 showing that 41% of Ugandan women had experienced domestic abuse (Agence France-Presse, 8/13). Thirty-four of the 50 women interviewed for the report said they had been physically forced to have sex with their husbands and other women said they had received verbal threats from their husbands if they did not have sex. The report says that some women are not able to negotiate the use of condoms, may be forced into sex as a marital obligation, may experience marital rape and may be beaten or kicked out of their homes for refusing to have sex with their husbands or for getting tested for HIV (AP/Las Vegas Sun, 8/13). The report says that the country's AIDS programs, which focus on monogamy, abstinence and condom use, "incorrectly assume that women have equal decision-making power and status within the family," according to an HRW release (HRW release, 8/13). The report calls on the government to enact and enforce laws prohibiting domestic violence and marital rape and to change laws relating to marriage and property rights, according to Reuters (Reuters, 8/13).
"The Ugandan government's failure to address domestic violence is costing women their lives," LaShawn Jefferson, executive director of the Women's Rights Division of Human Rights Watch, said, adding, "Any success Uganda has experienced in its fight against HIV/AIDS will be short-lived if the government does not address this urgent problem" (HRW release, 8/13). Dr. Elizabeth Madra, manager of the Ugandan health ministry's AIDS control program, disputed the group's claims, saying, "Domestic violence exists but it should not be taken as the cause for the spread of AIDS; it should be viewed as a risk factor but not the major factor." Kagole Kivumbi, spokesperson for Uganda's parliament, said that the government had not passed specific legislation on domestic violence because women are protected under existing laws against violence in general (AP/Las Vegas Sun, 8/13). However, Zoe Bakoko-Bakoru, the country's minister of gender, labor and social services, said that the legislation the group suggests in the report has already been approved by the Ugandan government and will be enacted by the end of the year, according to VOA News (Majtenyi, VOA News, 8/13).