The World

Ugandan Adultery Law Curbs Effects of Polygamy

Sunday, June 24, 2007

Uganda's Constitutional Court recently nullified a law that made adultery criminal for women, but not men. The case also strengthened women's rights on divorce and inheritance. First in a series on women and the rule of law in Africa.

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Divorce for Women Eased

The demise of the criminal adultery law will also make divorces easier to obtain. Now, wives wishing to divorce their husbands will no longerface the threat of criminal prosecution upon divorce if they have taken another man during their estrangement.

"There are implications here for HIV-AIDS," says Mulyagonja. "Before, a wife could not divorce her husband solely on the grounds of adultery. She was forced to endure whatever diseases he brought home. Now she is empowered to leave him when he sleeps around."

Embedded in the adultery ruling were a number of other decisions pertaining to inheritance. Laws that gave widowers the right to 100 percent of deceased wives' property and widows only 15 percent were also nullified, as were laws that gave a deceased husband's family full rights to a widow's children. As of yet, no new succession laws have been drafted to replace them.

While these rulings failed to generate the popular uproar faced by the adultery ruling, they all speak to a similar trend.

Despite a culture of inequity, women's rights are slowly but surely being protected by the law. "Our constitution is very good," says Mulyagonja. "It gives us a very strong base from which to advocate for our rights. That's why I have hope that in my children's lifetime, maybe, polygamy too will be outlawed."

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Anna S. Sussman is a print and radio journalist. She currently lives in Uganda.

This series is supported by the Carnegie Corporation of New York.

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