On May 8th Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni rejected the Bahati Bill, also known as the anti-homosexuality bill.
The legislation sought to “prohibit and penalize homosexual behavior,” and in some cases, by executing homosexuals, extraditing others, and mandating that people report homosexual acts within 24 hours.
When the Bill was defeated, I heard from Ugandan activists rejoicing in victory. So many mobilized against the proposed legislation. Sweden threatened to pull its aid money, and US Secretary of State Clinton made a lengthy phone call to Museveni. I was moved to see how people could mobilize to protect the rights of sexual minorities. But it made me wonder—how can this global movement support the sexual rights of all women?
Today, the majority of Ugandan women and girls live under stifling norms and practices that violate their sexual rights every day. This has led to astonishingly high rates of HIV among girls ages 15 to 24—in fact four times the rate of boys of the same age, which researchers attribute to the “Sugar-Daddy” complex. Furthermore, the 22-year conflict in Northern Uganda has increased the risk of rape, sexual abuse, abduction, and exploitation of women and girls by soldiers of the Lord’s Resistance Army, as well as government soldiers, security officials, neighbors, family members, and young males. The 2006 Demographic and Household Survey found that 60% of women in Uganda have experienced physical violence since the age of 15. Uganda has one of the highest birth rates in the world, and birth control still remains a taboo subject. Abortion is illegal in Uganda, and the Ministry of Health estimates that over 1,000 women die from unsafe abortions annually. Sex work is illegal and condemned, which means women sex workers face legal enforcement and social stigma, while male clients are often left alone.
Has the control of women and girls’ sexuality and their bodies become so normalized that it does not make the evening news, does not spark the same controversy and concern? In the US, we do not have to look far to see how women and girl’s do not have full control over their bodies and sexual decisions – like in Oklahoma where recent anti-abortion laws curb a woman’s constitutional right to equal protection and privacy.
Why is there not the same concern and outrage for protecting women’s human rights? Petitions, letters, statements against Uganda’s anti-homosexuality bill resounded from US human rights communities and elected officials. But where is this urgent attention when it comes to women’s human rights? Where is the fury at the number of human rights violations experienced by women, girls on a daily basis?