KAMPALA, Uganda – The UNHCR defines Gender based violence GBV as, any act that perpetrated against a person’s will and is based on gender norms and unequal power relationships. Countries, Uganda inclusive have for decades battled against this monster that is still crippling thousands of women and girls. Indeed, GBV remains one of the biggest vices that not only affects the victims’ development but also has effects on the countries’ development in general.
Many have experienced violence in various forms even before the Coronavirus pandemic hit the world. But now, with the pandemic at hand, there has been a significant increase in the cases of sexual and gender based violence in Uganda.
As a result of COVID-19, several measures were put in place including lockdown of several institutions, shutting down of businesses and public transport and other entities which meant that several people were to stay home for an indefinite period of time.
The lockdown was issued on 18th March 2020 in solidarity with the rest of the world to combat the spread of the deadly pandemic. Sadly, according to the Ministry of Gender in Uganda, between 30th March and 28th May 2020, a total of 3,280 cases of gender based violence were reported to the police.
Uganda Network on Law, Ethics and HIV/AIDS (UGANET) as an organization rose to the occasion and set up a call centre through which victims and witnesses of violence would reach out and seek aid. The organization also set up the Rising Woman Shelter Home and Wellness Centre to provide temporary refuge for the survivors of such horrid acts.
“Gender based violence manifests in various forms like psychological, emotional, physical, verbal or sexual abuse. Individuals can experience violence in one of its forms or experience more than one form at ago. Though there is evidence that gender based violence is experienced by both men and women, women and girls face greater risk and are way too vulnerable to fight off or escape the abuse or their abuser,” said Rhonah Babweteera, Head, Violence Against Women Prevention, UGANET.
For females, violence starts at an earlier time of life as evidenced in the reports by police and media outlets. Girls under the age of 15 years are more prone to experience sexual and other forms of gender based violence.
The livelihood insecurities as a result of COVID-19 could have caused the increase in social tension among people living together and therefore higher cases of gender based violence.
There are also many widely spread systemic gender inequalities that disempower mostly women, girls and minority groups. In addition, a number of beliefs among Ugandan cultures that put men in higher positions than women for example patriarchal norms also contribute to this.
Survivors of gender based violence, especially those that experience sexual abuse, suffer sexual and reproductive health consequences because some of them end up with unwanted pregnancies while others attempt unsafe abortions.
Besides the unwanted pregnancies and unsafe abortions, victims of gender based violence most of the times contract sexually transmitted diseases such as HIV, traumatic fistula or even die.
UGANET therefore, stands by the fact that the involvement of men and boys in gender based violence prevention programs is crucial and imperative. Also, stakeholders and duty bearers should create favorable conditions that enable survivors of gender based violence to confidently report incidents in order to enable timely access to medical or psychological support and justice.