The Ugandan government's failure to protect women from domestic violence and discrimination increases women's risk of contracting HIV, Human Rights Watch said in a new report released today.
The 77-page report, "Just Die Quietly: Domestic Violence and Women's Vulnerability to HIV in Uganda," documents widespread rape and brutal attacks on women by their husbands in Uganda, where a specific domestic violence law has not been enacted and where spousal rape is not criminalized.
"The Ugandan government's failure to address domestic violence is costing women their lives," said LaShawn R. Jefferson, executive director of the Women's Rights Division of Human Rights Watch. "Any success Uganda has experienced in its fight against HIV/AIDS will be short-lived if the government does not address this urgent problem."
Many women told Human Rights Watch that a fear of violent repercussions impeded their access to HIV/AIDS information, HIV testing, and HIV/AIDS treatment and counseling.
Lydia Mpachibi (not her real name), a thirty-five-year old, HIV-positive widow living in Tororo, in eastern Uganda told Human Rights Watch that while her husband was alive she avoided HIV/AIDS testing or information because she was afraid that he would evict her. "I wouldn't dare because if I was HIV-positive he would say I brought the virus into the home," Mpachibi said. "I have seen very many women being chased away by their husbands...I was scared of being thrown out."
The Human Rights Watch report says that HIV/AIDS programs focusing on fidelity, abstinence, and condom use do not account for the ways in which domestic violence inhibits women's control over sexual matters in marriage. The U.S. government has proposed a dramatic increase in such programs as a way of combating AIDS in Africa.
Programs focusing on fidelity, abstinence, and condom use minimize the complex causes of violence, and incorrectly assume that women have equal decision-making power and status within the family.
"Being married should not be a death sentence for Ugandan women," said Jefferson. "Women should not have to give up their rights to physical security and sexual autonomy just because they get married."
Human Rights Watch urged the Ugandan government to enact domestic violence legislation, and to make women's health, physical integrity, and equal rights in marriage a central focus of AIDS programming.
For more than a decade, Ugandan women's rights advocates have urged Uganda to enact legislation addressing domestic relations and the rape and battery of women by their intimate partners. Yet for years, the bills have languished in parliament.
Donor assistance to Uganda for HIV/AIDS continues to be considerable. Uganda is included among fourteen countries slated to receive five years of AIDS program support from the United States. The exact amount of U.S. aid that Uganda will ultimately receive remains unclear.
In February, the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria signed a grant worth over U.S.$36 million to support Uganda's ongoing fight against HIV/AIDS. Human Rights Watch urged the Global Fund, the U.S. government, the World Bank, and other donors to ensure that AIDS-prevention programs specifically target domestic violence, including sexual violence in marriage, as core components of their strategies.
Cases of Ugandan Women Featured in the report: (Pseudonyms are used to protect privacy)
Hadija Namaganda's HIV-positive husband raped and beat her viciously. During one brutal attack, he even bit off her ear. When he lay dying of AIDS and was too weak to beat her anymore, he ordered his younger brother to continue beating her. Namaganda, now HIV-positive, told Human Rights Watch: "He used to force me to have sex with him after he became ill. If he wanted to, he would force me and accuse me of having other men. He said he would cut me up and throw me out. I didn't know about condoms. We didn't use them."
Harriet Abwoli, thirty, found out that she was HIV-positive when she became pregnant with her second husband's child. She told Human Rights Watch, "When I gave birth and the child had passed away they told me I was HIV-positive. I cried. The doctor told me, 'wipe your tears, the whole world is sick.' The very first time I asked my second husband to use a condom because I didn't want to give birth he said no. He used force and I got pregnant. That's the child that died. That was when we first met. I'm with him because I don't have a cent. He at least pays the rent."