Sexual & gender-based violence in greater northern Uganda

“When her husband died, my great grandma was pushed off family land and she lost all her cattle when she refused to marry her brother-in-law. Her father welcomed her back to his home and gave her a small piece of land and one cow to start the process of raising her boys.”

Testimony recently shared on Twitter by a female Ugandan media personality

CPAR Uganda would love to say that the case of the media personality’s grandma was a long time ago and such sexual and gender-based violence no longer happen in Uganda. Sadly, we cannot.

In 2020, the Uganda Bureau of Statistics (UBOS) conducted a national survey on violence in Uganda and among its survey reports (2021) is the “Uganda Violence Against Women and Girls Survey 2020,” based on data it collected from 2,683 women aged 15-59, who it interviewed from all regions of Uganda; and of whom 34 percent were aged 15-24 years. Included in the report are the following relevant findings, among others:

  • 640 women and girls (97 percent of those UBOS surveyed) of greater northern Uganda confirmed that they had experienced physical or sexual violence from a partner or a non-partner or both, since age 15. The highest prevalence being in Bukedi and West Nile sub-regions, where 100 percent of the women and girls interviewed confirmed being victims.
  • 34.7 percent of women and girl victims of greater northern Uganda told no one of their experiences with sexual and gender-based violence. The highest proportion of women and girl victims of the region who stayed silent were in Teso Sub-Region, where the majority, 58 percent told no one; followed by Karamoja Sub-Region, where 42.7 percent told no one. In Acholi sub-region women and girl victims spoke out the most; with only 6.8 percent staying silent.
  • Of the women and girl victims of greater northern Uganda who spoke out about their experiences with sexual and gender-based violence, only 17.4 percent told “service authorities”. The majority of them, 41.1 percent, notified and sought help from local leaders. Others, 22.9 percent notified and sought help from a health facility; 14.5 percent notified and sought help from the police; while eight percent notified and sought help from religious leaders; and 1.6 percent notified and sought help from a women’s organisation.
  • For the women and girl victims of sexual and gender-based violence of greater northern Uganda who sought help, in 85.3 percent of the instances, someone offered to help.

UBOS survey findings indicate the likelihood of a significant proportion of women and girls of greater northern Uganda who are victims of sexual and gender-based violence.

Occurrences such as “17,000 girls in Northern Uganda got pregnant during the Covid-19 lockdown (NTV Uganda , 2021)”; and the recent “directive issued by traders’ associations in Lira District that bars female traders from taking front seats while transporting goods in trucks on grounds that the women entice truck drivers who in turn fail to concentrate, leading to accidents (Nafula, 2022),” support UBOS survey findings of prevalence of sexual and gender-based violence in greater northern Uganda.

A ray of hope can be deduced from UBOS survey findings that the likelihood is high of someone offering to help women and girl victims of sexual and gender-based violence in greater northern Uganda if the victims spoke out, spoke up and sought help.

Sadly, according to the UBOS survey, a large proportion of women and girl victims in greater northern Uganda are muzzled, tell no one, and are likely quietly living a poor quality of life as a result of the physical and psychological impact of the sexual and gender-based violence meted out against them in their homes, places of work, places of study, houses of worship, and other spaces.

In an interview on gender-based violence in Uganda (Musoke, 2021), Ms. Susan Achen, a Programme Coordinator of Uganda Women’s Network, indeed, confirmed prevalence of gender-based violence; asserted that “the culture of silence around gender-based violence allows it to thrive”; and she urged that “we all need to break the silence.” Other Ugandan women leaders who have spoken out about the scourge, have expressed similar views. 

Ms. Ruth Ojambo Ochieng, the executive director of Issis-WICCE, at the time, for example, observed (Namirimu, 2012): “women who report cases of gender-based violence do not follow them up because they fear reprisals at home”; and she advocated that “communities need to drop patriarchal ways that position women as subjects to men. This should be a collective movement that respects the bodily integrity of women. This will eventually help reduce violence.”

There is a valid need to find out why a significant proportion of women and girl victims of sexual and gender-based violence in greater northern Uganda stay silent about their horrid and traumatising experiences. Knowing why they do not tell may help to ensure that the reasons why they stay silent are eliminated and or managed in a way that enables women and girls to feel safe to tell someone; and consequently, enabling victims to get the appropriate help that they need. 

The UBOS survey, in fact, found and recommended that: “while qualitative data are available to support the interpretation of the survey quantitative findings, these data are limited. Some issues would benefit from further exploration with qualitative studies (Uganda Bureau of Statistics, 2021).”

Featured photo @ The Independent

2 thoughts on “Sexual & gender-based violence in greater northern Uganda”

  1. […] The UBOS findings, include the chilling finding that 640 women and girls (97 percent of those UBOS surveyed) of greater northern Uganda confirmed that they had experienced physical or sexual violence from a partner or a non-partner or both, since age 15. The highest prevalence being in Bukedi and West Nile sub-regions, where 100 percent of the women and girls interviewed confirmed being victims. Read the other relevant UBOS findings and the full problem statement here. […]

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