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Women’s Movement in Uganda
The women’s movement in Uganda has fought for women’s rights for nearly two decades. In 2021, it has reason to celebrate as two bills passed through Parliament that significantly improve the rights of Ugandan women. Even with this recent example of progress, the women’s movement in Uganda continues to strive for further rights.

Discrimination against Women in Uganda

Until 2021, women in Uganda faced discrimination in cases of inheritance and land ownership. The previous law granted preference to male children. Families of widows would often force them to leave their homes. Women could not possess land or income, leaving many women in Uganda poor and vulnerable to violence. More than a fifth of women aged 15 to 49 in Uganda experienced some form of sexual violence, according to the 2016 Uganda Demographic and Health Survey. Furthermore, 13% of women in the same age group experience sexual violence annually.

In 2012, a policy to regulate marriage and divorce continued to make little headway; it was pending for more than 14 years. Without this law, there was little protection for women in marriage. Although the Ugandan Constitution “provides that the minimum legal age for marriage for both men and women is fixed at 18 years,” customary laws in rural areas allow early marriages for minors. As a result, girls have higher drop-out rates because of early marriage and pregnancy. In addition, these customary laws allowed polygamy, but women in polygamous relationships had no protection in the case of divorce.

History of Women’s Rights in Uganda

Despite historical discrimination against women in Uganda, significant progress has occurred for women’s rights and empowerment in Uganda. This year, women make up 34.9% of the Ugandan parliament. In addition, 75% of legal frameworks “promote[s], enforce[s] and monitor[s] gender equality, with a focus on violence against women.” Over the last 15 years specifically, legislation has passed to protect women from both gender discrimination and violence.

In terms of violence against women, Uganda has passed multiple laws. Uganda passed the Prevention of Trafficking in Persons Act in 2009, which works to eliminate human trafficking and contains multiple actions related to the issue. Meanwhile, in 2010, the country passed the Domestic Violence Act and the Prohibition of Female Genital Mutilation Act. The Domestic Violence Act provides protection and relief services for victims of domestic violence and punishes the culprit.

The Prohibition of Female Genital Mutilation prohibits female genital mutilation and girls and women who are at threat of female genital mutilation. Additionally, Uganda passed the Equal Opportunities Act in 2007. The policy gives the government the power to punish discrimination against any individual or group including on the basis of gender. It further allows the state to take affirmative action in favor of marginalized groups in order to readdress the imbalances already held against them.

Women’s Movement in Uganda

After decades of lobbying for women’s rights, the women’s movement in Uganda has seen the passage of two bills that address better women’s rights and discrimination this year. In March, the passage of the Succession Bill addressed women facing discrimination in terms of inheritance and land ownership. The previous law had gaps and ownership of property was given through inheritance to the male child. The gaps are now addressed, and children, regardless of sex, receive the property. In April, the passage of the Employment Bill seeks to prohibit sexual harassment in workplaces.

The bill states that “all employers are now required to put in place measures to prevent sexual harassment in the workplace, and to prohibit abuse, harassment or violence against employees.” The bill also provides support for unpaid domestic workers as their work is now acknowledged as formal. In addition, these workers are to receive pay and the tools to report abuse.

Looking Ahead

While the women’s movement in Uganda has made significant strides in improving women’s rights and gender discrimination in the country, the movement will continue to strive for further rights and address the issue of gender-based violence. Furthermore, with recent momentum, there is a reason for the hope that the women’s movement in Uganda will continue to make a difference in the country.

– Kyle Har
Photo: Flickr

Human Trafficking in Pakistan
Every year, the U.S. State Department publishes a report on the status of human trafficking around the globe. It ranks countries using a tier system from one to three. A score of one signifies that a country is combating human trafficking at a highly proficient level. A score of three signifies that there is ample room for improvement. In 2020, Pakistan received a Tier 2 Watch List rating for its handling of human trafficking in Pakistan.

The biggest obstacle standing between Pakistan and a Tier 1 rating is the prominence of bonded labor. Bonded labor is when a person, whether a man, woman or child, must work in order to pay off a debt. This labor is intense and usually takes place on farms or in brick kilns. The amount of debt is often ambiguous and laborers do not receive clear contracts. On some occasions, human traffickers force entire families into bonded labor under unclear terms for open-ended spans of time. While there is still work to do, Pakistan has made major strides in the right direction.

Starting the Conversation

In order to resolve any crisis, the first step is effectively communicating that a problem exists. The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) has successfully pinpointed hotspots where human trafficking in Pakistan is most prevalent. These hotspots are the primary targets of hundreds of thousands of posters and flyers informing the general population of the human trafficking problem. The posters and flyers display a message that is loud and clear. “Stand up against human trafficking and migrant smuggling, it is illegal, unethical and un-Islamic.” That phrase is especially powerful, as more than 95% of Pakistanis are believers in the Islamic faith.

Cracking Down

Pakistan first took measures to combat human trafficking at the national level back in 2002. Since then, the Pakistani government has been working to pass more legislation to effectively resolve the problem.

In 2018, Pakistan passed the Prevention of Trafficking in Persons Act (PTPA). The PTPA calls for prison sentences ranging from two to 10 years for labor and sex trafficking violations as well as fines of up to $6,460. Prison terms are steepest when the victim is a child.

Under the new PTPA and existing Pakistani laws, more than 1,000 human trafficking investigations took place in 2019, according to the most recent State Department report. As a result, the country made 161 convictions and there was a specific uptick in convictions related to bonded labor in comparison to the previous year.

Uncovering New Networks

Human trafficking in Pakistan is not limited to its borders. Elaborate trafficking networks between Pakistan and China have recently come to light.

A growing problem is the arrangement of fraudulent marriages between young Pakistani women and Chinese nationals. The Chinese nationals lead the Pakistani women to believe they are law-abiding, financially well-off citizens. However, upon arrival in China, several women have reported that the men do not fit the profile the women initially received. Instead, many women discover that their “husbands” have bought them in order to use and sell them as sex slaves. Fortunately, some Pakistani women have escaped these situations and are fighting back.

Activists Emerge

Survivors are drawing more attention to the trafficking of women between Pakistan and China. Women who have escaped provide valuable intel. Their knowledge is critical to breaking the cycle of human trafficking between the two countries.

Saleem Iqbal is a Pakistani gentleman devoted to providing safety and security (which his name literally means in Arabic) to victims. He has been working diligently to aid in the escapes of young Pakistani women from China and gain a deeper look into how these trafficking rings operate. Iqbal ensures that the women receive care and that others listen to them upon their return to Pakistan. While it is difficult at times for survivors to talk about the horrendous conditions they faced in China, the information is invaluable. With survivors and people like Iqbal working together, police can gain a much better picture of who to investigate and where.

Moving Forward

Human trafficking in Pakistan remains a high priority issue and the country can certainly take more steps to combat it. The silver lining is that there is a solid foundation to build on. That foundation includes the U.N. working to raise awareness, government officials passing new legislation and survivors providing intel to law enforcement. With all of these parts working in tandem, Pakistan is one step closer to attaining a Tier 1 rating.

– Jake Hill
Photo: Wikipedia Commons