Women in Uganda face systemic gender discrimination and moral bias. But through innovative initiatives like a sex tax, some wives are able to gain consistent financial support for themselves and their children.
What began as one woman’s last-ditch effort to entice her cheating husband to support their family has turned into a nationwide women’s rights effort in Uganda. More than 30,000 Ugandan wives have reported exacting a sex tax on their irresponsible spouses.
A School teacher Annet Nanozi was mad at her husband, vehicle mechanic, as he was refusing to help raise their four children. She realised he was instead spending his paycheck on alcohol and his time sleeping with barmaids.
The 34-year-old decided to teach her husband a lesson. Now, when he comes home and wants sex, he needs to pay her first.
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 a country such as Uganda, where systemic gender discrimination and moral bias are baked into the social structure, many feel a sex tax is the only way for some women to get what they need to support their families.
Both legislation and cultural laws deny women the right to own, inherit, and control the use of land and property, according to Women’s Advancement Deeply. Some don’t even have keys to their own houses.
Yet, these same women are often expected to take on the brunt of childrearing and housework without consistent access to money to pay for basic needs, food, or health care.
Fewer than half of Ugandan women made at least four visits — the minimum number recommended by the World Health Organization — to antenatal care centers, according to UNICEF.
Uganda’s Minister of Ethics and Integrity, Reverend Father Simon Lokodo, is against the growing practice. “Sex with 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.
Some husbands have even responded to requests for money with domestic abuse. But while not all government officials agree on how to handle the unofficial levy on lovemaking, most agree that physical abuse as retaliation is inexcusable.
“Men who beat women are foolish and cowardly,”said Uganda’s President Yoweri Museveni, according to Ugandan Christian News.
And women’s right activists like Musuya understand that until Ugandan women can expect equal rights in their country, they will continue to find ways to reclaim their dignities, such as the sex tax.
“It was because of the unity of all persuasions of people that we were able to end apartheid,” said Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, executive director of UN Women, at the launch of Global Citizen’s #SheIsEqual campaign in June. “We are not at that point yet for gender equality. It is about drawing a line, and everyone being on the same side of the line.”