KAMPALA, Uganda – Governments relentlessly adopted almost universally similar measures to limit the spread of the Coronavirus. While health and social systems struggled to cope with rising caseloads, supply chain bottlenecks, movement restrictions and economic setbacks have been inevitable.
According to the findings from a study conducted by United Nations in 49 countries Uganda inclusive, in 5 regions, there was an increase of vulnerability and risk factors of violence for women and girls during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Uganda network on law, ethics and HIV/Aids, UGANET, together with its partners due to the effects of COVID-19 took it upon themselves to support survivors of violence in different ways. Hundreds to persons living with HIV who failed to access centers for their drug refills were relieved when the organization made offers to deliver drugs at their homes with the use of mobile Boda bodas.
In addition, some women who were trapped with their abusers due to movement restrictions were able to find freedom when they called the UGANET toll free line and were evacuated to shelter home, many of them, together with their children.
By the end of June 2020, Uganda had registered over 21,260 cases of child neglect, sexual and physical abuse.
The COVID-19 lockdown subjected men, women and children to various forms of domestic violence. These include:
This was tremendously reported by almost all media platforms during the COVID-19 lockdown. It involved the use of force against victims, causing injury (a punch or a kick, stabbing, shooting, choking, slapping, forced use of drugs, etc.) Almost every day a case could be reported of a man being battered by the wife or the reverse; or even children beating their parents.
Emotional abuse. Several families suffered destruction of their self-worth especially among men- the primary bread winners in homes which led to persistent insults, humiliation and criticism.
“Emotional abuse can be a difficult form of violence to notice since it is common in unhealthy relationships but the general public cannot easily identify victims unless they speak out,” says Rhonah Babweteera, Head, Violence Against Women Prevention, UGANET.
Sexual abuse. This includes not only sexual assaults and rape, but also harassment such as unwelcome touches and other demeaning behaviors. Many victims don’t realize how broadly sexual abuse is interpreted. For example, if you have ever been coerced into not using contraception (the pill, a condom, an Intra Uterine Device, etc.) or having an abortion a habit that was common during the lock down, then you may have actually been sexually abused. This form of abuse is known as reproductive coercion.
Financial abuse. That is denial of access to finance. It may take many forms such as a husband preventing his wife from obtaining education or a job outside the home. Financial abuse is extremely common, particularly when families have pooled their money into joint accounts (with the husband being the principal signatory) and where there’s little or no family support system to help. Many families in the working class have been victims of this. It is another form of control, even though usually less obvious than physical or sexual abuse and widely manifested itself during the COVID-19 lockdown period. Often, the victim is completely dependent on their partner for money. With no access to money except through the abusive partner, this was a very big outcry by a number of women during the lock down period. Women as victims are always completely at the abusive partner’s mercy. The abusive partner may withhold money for food, clothing, and other basic needs. If children are involved, this can overlap with neglect.
Domestic violence during the COVID-19 period and other unprecedented pandemics can be curbed down. It should be emphatically put that domestic violence is a reality. However, with the emergence of COVID-19 with all its attached restrictions, domestic violence was exacerbated.
Whether it is COVID-19 or any other unprecedented pandemic or emergency, there is need for all stakeholders to be sensitive to all forms of domestic violence and to take the necessary measures to combat it.