It’s a controversial strategy, but it’s picking up across Uganda, as increasingly emboldened women — backed by rights organisations — battle a patriarchal society where responsibilities and moral norms are both skewed against them.
What started out with isolated instances in the capital, Kampala, has exploded into a tactic more and more Ugandan women are employing to get their husbands to pay up for household expenses and atone for refusing to take on home chores.
Three years ago, 150 women first reported demanding money from their husbands for sex to the Mothers Union, an Anglican organisation that has been in Uganda for more than a century, says the body’s secretary, Ruth Nalugwa.
That number increased to 5,000 by 2016, and now more than 30,000 women have reported employing the strategy, she says.
The actual number of wives charging their husbands for sex may be greater, says Stella Muyana, the chairperson of Bakazibano, a Ugandan women’s rights organisation. But her organisation has recorded more than 31,000 cases, she says.
In May, Uganda’s government-owned newspaper, The New Vision, reported on how what “started as a joke” is now “a reality.”
The spread of this practice is dividing Ugandan society. Some husbands have agreed to pay up, and a few have turned more responsible toward their families. Others have refused to pay for sex, and in some instances, demands from wives have spiraled into domestic violence — and even occasional deaths.
Some religious leaders and government ministers have weighed in against the practice, calling it “immoral” and “irreligious.”
But most women and rights organisations are supporting the strategy, arguing that any approach that gets irresponsible husbands to contribute toward the welfare of their families is justified. After all, it took hunger strikes and arson attacks from the suffragettes in the United Kingdom to drive a national conversation about voting rights for women.
“If the men are irresponsible and it is the only way their wives can get money from them to run the homes, let them go ahead and tax sex,” says Tina Musuya, a leading women’s rights activist and executive director of the nonprofit Centre for Domestic Violence Prevention.
In his reaction, Uganda’s Minister of Ethics and Integrity, Reverend Father Simon Lokodo, is against the growing practice. “Sex with his wife is a man’s right,” he argues.
“Denying a husband sex is unfair. Why should wives charge for sex in order to get economic gains?” he asks. To him, the practice shows “that moral fibers have gone so low.”
Rights activists are, however, clear that if anything, it’s unfair to expect a woman to enjoy sex with a man who doesn’t pay the family’s bills.
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