Violence Against girls on the rise as Uganda Celebrates 16 days of Activism

The 19th day of May 2020, is a day Specioza Nagujja (her name has been altered), a single mother of 3 residing in the Entebbe periphery prefers to forget.

Like any other parent trying to make ends meet for her children, Nagujja recounts rushing to the Kigungu landing site in the wee hours of the morning on Tuesday as usual, leaving her children(two girls, 1boy) in the care of her neighbors.

A few hours into her day’s work, she received a phone call asking her to rush back home hastily, to which she did oblige. Her youngest daughter, aged 5 had been raped and left for dead, in a nearby shack supposedly by a neighbor who has since fled the area without a trace.

As tears rolled down her cheeks, she described the events that ensued after the incident, how she rushed the young one to a health center and later made it to the area Police Post to report the matter.

“They told me to pay UGX 30,000 for a police medical form,” she said in a squeaky voice, Nagujja didn’t have this money, but tried to raise the amount to file her complaint all in vain. Nagujja has since given up on the pursuit of Justice and hopes one day “God rewards” the perpetrator.

Nagujja’s story is not unique to several other claims by women and girls that have been impeded by uncertainty, lack of police assistance, ignorance. Many have decided to keep hush. Reports from local NGOs indicate that 1 out of 3 females in the country has been subjected to Gender-Based Violence (GBV).

Amid the Corona Virus Disease (COVID-19) induced lockdown of 2020, a record high of 3000 GBV related cases were reported to the police in Central Uganda alone, the victims were mostly minors.

As the country joins the globe to celebrate the 16 days of Activism against GBV campaign, activists agree that a lot more needs to be accomplished to remedy the soaring numbers of GBV related cases.

Robinah Babirye who is an advocate for persons living with HIV, argues that single parenthood and poverty have heightened the GBV problem especially during the COVID-19 induced Lockdown. Babirye urges key players to empower girls and boys if GBV is to end.

Robinah Babirye

“Violence against women and girls has been a generational problem, and a many times been embedded in culture. Times have now changed and its wrath has been unleashed. Poverty is a key factor causing teenage pregnancies, forced marriages especially in villages and island communities. Adolescents have been targeted in these areas,” Babirye said

“Girls living with HIV are already suffering stigma, therefore they need to be accepted, appreciated and loved the way they’re and in turn they will be able accept themselves. They need to be equipped with the same tools and information like any other girl out there. This can help them set realistic goals and develop a positive mindset. Parents need to play a pivotal role in supporting adolescents living with HIV, and help them realise their goals” Babirye said

Vocal Human Rights expert and feminist, Lucky Kobugabe in an interview with Gateway News warns against the danger that comes with “downplaying” GBV in all its forms. Kobugabe urges key players such as the government and political leaders to heed the example of NGOs.

Lucky Kobugabe

“We have to move away from performative commitments. Every time this year, different actors promise to do this and that, and year in, year out, violence against women and girls stays an issue that the government and main actors barely pay attention to. Now is the time for the government to start to actively work with women’s rights organizations to put in place structures to prevent and respond to violence against women and girls, build shelters for survivors of violence, strengthen police reporting mechanisms, fund feminist organizing that seeks to prevent violence before it happens.” Kobugabe said

“Women’s rights organizations and feminists have been for a long time telling us that the issue of violence against women is urgent and it has been out of control for a long time now. But now with how covid-19 has exacerbated the violence, we should be up in arms and treating it as a matter of emergency as it is. Instead, we have the president saying that teenage pregnancy doesn’t kill anyone, which is untrue,” Kobugabe said

“Most importantly, deal away with bracket solutions! To understand that women and girls are diverse and therefore experience violence differently, women and girls with disabilities are more likely to experience all kinds of violence; sexual, economic, physical, among others, than women without disabilities.” Kobugabe added

Stuart Lubwama, who is the Chairman of the Initiative for Teachers Advocacy, blames the soaring trends of GBV on the emergence of COVID-19 that saw the indefinite closure of schools. He argues that this placed the girl child at the epicenter of victimization by their parents, guardians, relatives, and neighbors.

Stuart Lubwama

“Opening schools and institutions of learning, and ensuring increased funding in the same institution to increase access to education by all people regardless of their social-economic status. The Covid experiences have shown us that there are no safer spaces for children especially the girls than schools. It speaks a lot about the parenting and family-related challenges we are facing.”Lubwama said

“I’m worried that such a great human-related life threat can just be addressed in 16 days of activism, if activism is a means to the end then that’s great, but there is a lot that needs to be done, we need to take it more serious, a lot of awareness, resources and time ought to be invested. We need leaders, parents, and citizens to be sensitized about this predicament. It’s multisectoral and across the board which needs everyone’s involvement.” Lubwama added

A report by UN Women indicates even before the COVID-19 pandemic hit, globally, 243 million women and girls were abused by their intimate partners in 2019. Since the pandemic, with lockdown measures, countries around the world saw an alarming rise in reporting on violence against women, especially domestic violence. As COVID-19 continues to strain health services and compromise our economies and essential services, In Uganda alone, at least 6 cases of violence against women and girls are reported every day.

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