By Esther Namirimu
THE UN Women country representative, Hodan Addou has said that Uganda is to be commended for setting the policy frameworks and structures for gender based violence (GBV) prevention and response which includes the Domestic Violence Act of 2010, the prevention of Trafficking in Person Act (2009), and the Prohibition of Female Genital Mutilation Act (2010).
She also added that the National Development Plan seeks to address GBV as a core strategy for achieving the goal of promoting gender equality and women’s empowerment.
The amendment of the Police Form 3 (PF3) also allows other medical workers to treat survivors of GBV, thus increasing access to justice for the affected.
Addou note that GBV is still a challenge. According to the Uganda Demographic Health Survey of 2011, 56% of women in Uganda have experienced physical violence at some point since the age of 15 years.
28% of women aged 15-49 have experienced sexual violence and 16 % have experienced violence during pregnancy.
“Police records show high numbers of defilement and rape which make girls vulnerable to physical and sexual violence, sexually transmitted infection including HIV. Harmful cultural practices like early marriage and Female Genital Mutilation are serious GBV issues in Uganda (UDHS 2011),” she added.
According to the recent study by the Economic Commission for Africa and UN Women, domestic violence imposes significant costs to the victims, communities and to countries in Africa.
This includes cost to survivors for medical fees, transport and fees for legal and other support services provided by the government and non-governmental organizations, as well as costs related to high absentee rates of girls and women in education, absence in the labour market and productive economic activities as a result of gender based violence.
Although the date for Uganda is still preliminary, it was estimated that the direct costs (out of pocket expenses) of VAW in Uganda was at $6.3million or 0.03% of GDP as per 2012.
UNFPA Executive director, Dr. Babatunde Osotimehin, said that violence against women and girls is a violation of their fundamental human rights, an affront to human dignity and serious threat to their health and well-being which impedes their civic engagement and role in development and generates instability making peace harder to achieve.
Osotimehin said; “we will continue to engage men and boys to help change social and cultural norms so that gender equality is upheld, the status of women and girls elevated, and violence rendered socially unacceptable.”
“We will not stop until the world upholds the inherent dignity and rights of every woman and girl,” he added.
According to Gender and Women Affairs Commissioner, Elizabeth Kyasiimire, Ugandans had been living in violent families until 2006 when the Ministry of Health had to come out and out a module that put out statistics and extent of violence against women.
“That demographic survey gave us a baseline for addressing gender based violence” she added.
Article 33 is about rights of women and Article 34 of the Uganda constitution is about rights of children. We also have also that prevents human trafficking.
Kyasiimire also noted that Uganda has a national gender policy which guides stakeholders in promotion of gender protection services.
“This policy is going to be the minister’s first activity and we need to support her, if we disseminate this policy it will help in the prevention of GBV,” she said.
Commissioner of Ministry of Health, James Mugisha, says that GBV remains a public health problem and 59% of GBV is physical violence and has had physical consequences on the victims; some have lost arms, legs, others are burnt with acid and this also causes psychological trauma while the economy loses manpower.
“Equally when violence takes place, victims eventually end up in our hands (medical officers). We have the role to take forensic evidence, give it to police or courts of law and also give comfort through counselling,” he added.
Mugisha says that filling the police forms is free of charge, so one should be forced to pay for the service. Sometimes staffs ask for money under pretext that they will use it as transport to go to court to give evidence but this is illegal because the court is supposed to refund this money.
Assistant Commissioner of Uganda Police, Christine Alalo said that, “in 2008 the Children and Women's Protection Unit was elevated to full department with structures up district level. Despite very little resources we have managed to handle GBV cases.”
The department handles cases on sexual offences like rape and defilement. In a day, a police station addresses about 10 case of GBV.
Alalo says that, “as police they have some achievement to celebrate in the fight against GBV; we have police ambulances and also conduct medical examinations for free. Even though some people in villages still complain about being charged a fee, we are going to work on that issue.”
A modern forensic laboratory is being put in place; before we had so many issues about paternity, but now we can help solve them before they become violent.
Alalo said that the police is still facing some challenges.
“Many times people report cases but later get afraid and are not willing to continue with the cases. Attitude is also a major concern. For example Karamoja region has the highest number of rape and defilement cases but girls only report such cases if they are forced to marry an old man they do not like.”
“Since we do not have shelter or social centres, it becomes hard for us to protect the victims so their lives are in danger when they are left to continue staying in their homes where the crime took place.
Head the political Commissar desk in the UPDF, Colonel Felix Kulaigye, said that it makes him so sad when the state laments.
“I remember when Hon. Miria Matembe said that rapists should be castrated and everyone was against her but now I support her,” he added.
Kulaigye said that in the UPDF, if you are guilty of rape, the penalty is death.
“If the government hangs about three or four rapists in public, something will change. We cannot afford to continue massaging these guys. Rape my child and I will personally hang you,” he warned.
Kulaigye added that next to battering wives, are the children being mistreated by step-mothers and no one cares to protect those children.
“Men are not always at home and will always protect their wives from the hands of the law and the children will continue to suffer.
He also added that men who beat wives do have low self-esteem.
“We use the scripture to prevent Gender Based Violence; by talking to people during marriage ceremonies, burials and religious gatherings,” Carol Idembe the Program officer at the inter-religious council said.
Idembe added that when good people do not talk, evil increases.
“We want to have peace from a home then to the nation. As many people are rushing into marriages, others are afraid because of GBV,” she noted.
According to a survey conducted by the Inter-religious Council, the major causes of GBV include increased cases of drug abuse while poverty leads to economic violence which ends up in homes.