The Speaker of Parliament Rebecca Kadaga has directed Prime Minister Dr Ruhakana Rugunda and the Leader of Opposition Wafula Oguttu to table reports of their consultative meetings with the electorate on the Marriage and Divorce Bill.
She advised the two offices to liaise with various party whips in Parliament to present comprehensive reports that will guide the House on a course of action in regard to the bill, whose various versions have awaited parliamentary approval for over 40 years.
The bill was designed in part to improve women’s rights in marriage and to reform and consolidate the laws relating to marriage, separation and divorce.
It also seeks to prohibit widow inheritance, grants certain rights to cohabiting couples, and equalizes prejudiced divorce provisions which granted absolute rights to men.
It however has met a lot of resistance from political, religious and gender campaigners over the years.
For instance; in 2003, while packaged as the Domestic Relations Bill, the draft was rejected by Muslim groups opposed to the provisions banning polygamy.
After being rejected by Parliament in 2006, the bill was split into a Muslim Personal Bill, which covers Muslim marriages, and the Marriage and Divorce Bill.
Controversial provisions in the current bill are those that relate to bride price. The Bill states that bride price cannot be treated as a prerequisite for marriage, and makes criminal the act of demanding repayment of bride price.
On the basis of such controversies, Kadaga in April 2014 directed legislators to conduct consultations with the electorate and stakeholders on the bill, a process which would not last more than 3 months.
She however says the delay was unavoidable owing to a number of pressing national demands.
“While the delay was not ideal, it has given us more time to interact with, and consult our electorate on the bill, the Country as well has long been eagerly waiting to hear our findings and pronouncements on the same”, Kadaga said.
Early December 2014, the feminist movement in Uganda petitioned parliament to pass the Marriage and Divorce bill before the end of its fourth session in the next few months.