Gender and Land Rights Database


Women's property and use rights in personal laws

  • Women’s land rights are dependent on their relationship to a male, usually a father, husband, brother or son. It is mainly through marriage that women acquire user’s rights on land as their husbands allocate plots of land for cultivation to produce mainly food for home consumption (3).
  • Five types of marriages are recognized: civil, Christian, Hindu, Muslim and customary. Different laws apply to marriage between persons of specific religions:
    - The Marriage Act, Cap. 251 (1904)
    - The Marriage of Africans Act, Cap. 253 (1904)
    - The Marriage and Divorce of Mohammedans Act, Cap. 252 (1906)
    - The Hindu Marriage and Divorce Act, Cap. 250 (1961)
  • Marriage must be monogamous if contracted under the Marriage Act of 1904, the African Marriage Act of 1904 or the Hindu Marriage and Divorce Act of 1961. Both the Customary Marriages Decree of 1972 and Islamic law allow polygamous marriages (11).
  • Customary marriages are most common and are based on the payment of a dowry or “bride price”, a tradition that contributes to the view held by many men that “women are their property” and which is often carried out without the consent of the girl. Since the girl’s parents receive the bride price, cases of girls being sold by the parents are frequent. If a woman under a customary marriage wants divorce, she will need to pay back the dowry (11).
  • While both men and women can apply for divorce, women may apply for divorce only if the husband is adulterous and abandons her for more than two years or commits other specified acts. Men, however, need only to accuse the woman of adultery in order to file for divorce. The ease with which a man can divorce his wife results in less tenure security. 
  • The Domestic Relations Bill – introduced more than 10 years ago – should rectify marital inequalities, but to date it has not been passed (3).
  • Ten percent of the population is Muslim. One of the provisions in the Marriage and Divorce of Mohammedans Act of 1964 states that the Sharia Law shall govern all marriages and divorces between Muslims (11).
  • The Marriage and Divorce Bill, 2009:
    - The main purpose of the Bill is to bring the legislation into compliance with Article 31(1) of the Constitution which provides that men and women are entitled to equal rights in matters relating to marriage and its dissolution, and with Uganda’s international obligations (20)
    - Article 12: the Act governs:
    - monogamous marriages, including: Christian, Civil, Hindu and Bahai marriages
    - polygamous marriages (customary marriages)
    - The Act does not apply to Muslim marriages.
    - Article 12: prohibits the customary practice of widow inheritance unless both the man and the widow give their free consent.
    - Article 15: the legal age for marriage is eighteen for both men and women.
    - Article 18: specifically prohibits same-sex marriage.
    - Article 123: recognises the capacity of a spouse to acquire his or her own separate property in any form of marriage under the Act.
    - Art 124: spouses have equal access to matrimonial property including the right to the use, to benefit from and to enter the property and, when both spouses agree, to dispose of the property.
    - Article 128: in polygamous marriages, matrimonial property acquired by the husband and the first wife are owned in common by the husband and the first wife but all subsequent wives take interest only in the husband’s share of property.
    - Article 140: spouses are not allowed to petition for divorce before the expiry of two years from the date of the marriage.
    - The Act aims to provide some legal protection to couples who cohabit without being married, which represent the majority of couples in Uganda.

Sources: numbers in brackets (*) refer to sources displayed in the Bibliography