helping women succeed: the legalization of prostitution in Uganda

Following Ugandan Parliament Deputy Speaker Rebecca Kadaga’s announcement in August that Uganda is considering legalizing prostitution, last week a group of sex workers increased the pressure on Parliament by petitioning to have their profession legally recognized. Students at Makerere University immediately responded with a counter-petition opposing the legalization of prostitution on the grounds that it would “corrupt moral and cultural values.”

Writing for the Rwandan New Times, Henry Lule claims that in addition to corrupting Ugandan society, the legalization of prostitution would encourage homosexuality, discourage population growth and lead to the legalization of “sex no matter what age.”

Those advocating for the legalization of prostitution argue that current laws do little to prevent prostitution and that establishing a system of regulation would serve to protect both sex workers and their clients. Legally recognizing prostitution would give sex workers who currently lack legal protections a recourse in case of rape or abuse (1) and pave the way for increased social services for these women; mandated health checkups and condom use would help prevent the spread of HIV and other STDs.

Though many women are forced into prostitution by extreme poverty (often caused by violent conflict and/or displacement), the truth is that for many women sex work is simply the most economically and socially viable career choice. Compared to most other jobs available to women, prostitution is lucrative, and working hours are conducive to caring for children.

Legalizing sex work does not equate to legalizing the exploitation of children or to expressing approval of unprotected sex or the spread of STDs. Rather, making prostitution a legal career would improve the status of sex workers in Uganda and help prevent disease. Instead of punishing women who often have few other economic options, the Government of Uganda should establish protections for them and enable them to live as securely and healthily as possible while working towards a future that provides more career choices for women.

(1) Institute for Humane Studies at George Mason University. “Prostitution.”

traditional justice

BBC’s Barney Afako published an article in last Friday’s Focus on Africa about traditional Acholi reconciliation rituals, acknowledging the potential of these ceremonies to help restore peace in northern Uganda. Acholi culture shuns revenge in favor of problem-solving and peace-making, and many reconciliation rituals exist to help restore harmony in the community. The most well-known of these is mato oput, which involves sharing a bitter drink made from the leaves of the oput tree with your former enemy and pledging to leave all bitterness in the past. Afako ends the article with the hope that mato oput and other rituals can be used to create peace in northern Uganda.

What BBC neglects to mention is that other communities and cultures besides the Acholi have been destroyed by the decades-long conflict between the Government of Uganda and the Lord’s Resistance Army. As Katy Glassborow points out in her SperoNews article, “Peace versus justice in Uganda”, the Lango, Teso and Madi communities have also experienced a horrifying range of atrocities over the last 20 years. These cultures treat justice much differently from the Acholi, with punishment for wrongdoings ranging from exile to death.

A comprehensive peace proposal for Uganda must take all those affected by the war into account, paying attention to the wide variety of cultures in northern Uganda. More work should be done on traditional justice in the Lango, Teso and Madi communities in order to develop a viable plan for national reconciliation.

three months, 79 words

So it’s been a while. The peace talks in Juba are in process, and a cessation of hostilities was successfully negotiated in late August. LRA fighters have been assembling in safe zones, IDPs are going home, and Museveni is behind the talks, to the tune of his (pledged) physical participation and $1 million. It’s not all smooth sailing — both the LRA and the Government of Uganda have threatened to pull out several times — but it looks like things are headed in the right direction.

Other important updates: if you know of a male virgin in Uganda, please inform BBC blogger Akii-Bua Denise as soon as possible.

lessons in negotiation

I think I’m starting to get the hang of this conflict resolution thing. The trick is to commit yourself, resolutely, in one direction, and then change your mind just as resolutely. Repeat:

Museveni/Ugandan government
May 4, 2006: no peace talks
May 17, 2006: peace talks
May 25, 2006: no peace talks
June 14, 2006: peace talks
June 14, 2006: no peace talks
June 17, 2006: peace talks
June 17, 2006: no peace talks
July 3, 2006: peace talks

U.S. government
May 16, 2006: kill Kony
June 21, 2006: work with Kony
June 22, 2006: kill Kony
June 26, 2006: work with Kony

July 7, 2006: reject amnesty
July 8, 2006: accept amnesty

uganda changing mind on peace talks

Museveni said he would give Kony until August to work for peace, but it appears that pressure from the ICC has gotten to him. The Ugandan government refused to meet with LRA leadership today in Juba, Sudan, the site of the peace talks arranged by the southern Sudanese government.

Okello Oryem, Uganda’s junior foreign minister, passed the conflict and the LRA off as a “regional problem now – not a Uganda problem” and called for southern Sudan, the DRC and UN forces in Sudan to arrest Kony.