"Human rights instruments have come a long way in the protection of women generally. This is evident in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR), the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR) and more specifically, the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW). At the regional level, the African Charter on Human and Peoples' Rights (the African Charter) and the Protocol to the African Charter on Human and Peoples' Rights on the Rights of Women (The Women's Protocol to the African Charter), have made commendable strides in protecting the rights of women in Africa. In all of these instruments, however, not much attention is devoted to certain specific categories of women. This generalization of the law has created a situation in which certain groups of women, such as widows, are not adequately protected from abuse. This unfortunate observation is further buttressed by the fact that issues concerning widows are rarely on the agenda of most international conferences.
Interestingly, domestic legislation in many African countries, such as Uganda, have drawn inspiration from international human rigths instruments in protecting the rights of women. In many instances even widows seem adequately protected by national legislation. Ironically, the situation on the ground in most African countries will reveal that notwithstanding all these developments, the rights of widows are actually being violated with impunity. This is attributable to the fact that most African countries have multiple legal systems where there is an interplay of national statutory law, common law and customary law. The customary law recognizes traditional and cultural practices, which discriminate against women, and which in the final analysis negates all attempts by international, regional and national legislation that are geared towards the protection of the rights of women. This is evident from such practices as the customary inheritance practices and rites which widows are subjected to across the entire continent. This situation is further aggravated by the fact that most widows who bear the brunt of these discriminatory practices are those found in rural societies, where illiteracy is high and ignorance of law (particularly written law) is rife.
Uganda, like most African states, has an impressive number of legislation that seeks to protect widows. However, empirical evidence as to what actually happens in reality proves that these laws are but mere words on paper that have no practical effect.
The problem that this paper seeks to address is whether international, regional and indeed Ugandan domestic law have proven adequate in protecting widows in Uganda against derogatory, dehumanizing and discriminatory customary widowhood practices or rites." -- Introduction.
Thesis (LLM (Human Rights and Democratisation in Africa)) -- University of Pretoria, 2003.
Prepared under the supervision of Dr. Henry Onoria, Faculty of Law, Makerere University, Kampala, Uganda