On 30th March 2020, the Government of Uganda announced a country-wide lockdown, including several restrictive measures. Consequently, the Uganda Police Force registered a sharp rise in the cases related to domestic violence and family misunderstandings during the prevailing COVID-19 lockdown. This is because many women are being trapped with abusive partners, isolated from their support networks, and many unable to access essential services. Therefore, while the measures have served to curb the spread of the virus, it is important to recognize the concurrent upsurge of violence against women in both public and private spaces.
In Uganda, 46% of women, even before the lockdown, have experienced physical violence and live in fear of their current or most recent partner. These figures are likely to increase during lockdown and confinement, as security, health, and income worries, heighten tensions in homes. Credible reports indicate that there has been a surge in sexual gender-based violence, including five fatalities since the lock-down was introduced.
The 2019 Uganda Police Crime Report shows evidence that women and girls in Uganda are in urgent need of specialized protective measures;
• 13,682 children were defiled in 2019, of whom, 13,441 were female
• Of the 1,528 cases of rape reported to police 1,531 of the victims were women.
• 14,232 people were victims of Domestic Violence, of whom 2,908 were male adults, 9,978 were female adults
• 384 were victims of transnational trafficking (42 female minors, 02 male minors, 314 female adults and 26 male adults)
And now, the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic and the necessary social distancing measures and restrictions have exposed women and girls to increased emotional, physical and sexual abuse which are aggravated by increased economic, security and health constraints.
Within the first week of lockdown, the Uganda Police reported five murders related to domestic violence. Two weeks later, a total of 328 cases of violence against women had been recorded. These figures can only be an estimate of the reality for silence, misplaced victim shame, and a culture of victim blaming. The existing institutional and structural inequalities mean an unknown number of cases are not reported and the victims who never receive justice are left to suffer the health and social implications of their ordeals. In extreme cases, victims will suffer further violence, staying in reach of their tormentors and in some communities, suffer ‘secondary GBV’ where their ‘mitigation’ results in the victim’s forced marriage to their perpetrator
Police Spokesperson Fred Enanga says the authorities in Kampala Metropolitan area have for the past one week registered 297 cases of domestic violence, 35 of whom are women whose husbands have since abandoned their families for failure to provide food during the ongoing COVID-19 lockdown.
He reported that the police have continued to register a rise in cases of domestic violence since the lockdown went into effect, also noting that, “out of the 297 cases, 225 are from Kampala. Among these, 11 are of children who have been assaulted by their parents or guardians, seven of children who have been neglected, one of an abandoned child and 17 of missing children.”
Violence against women and girls seriously impacts survivors’ immediate sexual, physical and psychological health, and contributes to greater risk of future health complications. Survivors of this violence may suffer further because of the stigma especially in cases of Sexual Violence. Community and family ostracism places these women and girls at greater social and economic disadvantage.
In response to this Uganda Network for Law, Ethics, and HIV/AIDS (UGANET), with support from the European Union and the German Cooperation, is launching their Raising Women Wellness Centre on Saturday 2nd May 2020. The centre will provide temporary refuge and basic necessities for women survivors of domestic violence, and to reduce stigma and protect survivors from further harm as they embark on their physical and emotional journey of healing. This safe space will also avail psychological counselling, emergency medical and legal aid amidst recovery, and also create awareness on domestic violence for the purpose of effecting prevention and redress.