Not Just a Woman’s Issue: Men in Uganda Tackle Violence

In Uganda, gender-based violence is largely considered a private matter and stigma prevents many victims from reporting. As a result, data are difficult to gather. However, we know that millions of girls and young women face violence across the country and around the world.

The 16 Days of Activism against Gender-Based Violence campaign gives Uganda the chance to evaluate our efforts towards ending all forms of gender-based violence. These efforts must consist of unique interventions and strategies to position men and women as equals in society.

In 2018, Peer to Peer Uganda wrote about the importance of empowering male champions for gender equality. This year, we are asking two questions. First, what challenges remain in 2019? And second, how are men and boys contributing to the fight against gender-based violence in Uganda?

We believe that men must be oriented regularly to outgrow the social norms that leave women on the periphery of social benefits and opportunities. But as well as social values, discriminatory laws and policies continue to prevent progress.

Ineffective laws pose a major challenge in the fight against gender-based violence.

Many of Uganda’s laws do not address key aspects of violence against women. None criminalise marital rape, for instance. The 2010 Domestic Violence Act does not protect those in cohabiting partnerships. A 2004 amendment to the Land Act of 1998 fails to recognise coownership of land between spouses.

The Land Act also fails to permit women to act as coowners or managers of land, and creates weak protections for widows who seek to inherit their husband’s land. Another example is the 2006 Employment Act. This legislation restricts punitive action against an employer in workplace sexual harassment cases. It doesn’t even acknowledge the potential for abuse by coworkers.

Poor funding for violence against women and girls programmes also remains a huge challenge.

The budgets of sectors mandated to address GBV are worrying. While activities are listed in the budgets, there are no monetary allocations. Most of the work on gender-based violence in Uganda is donor funded and concentrated in project areas. Greater efforts to identify domestic funding sources are urgently required.

Rates of gender-based violence continue to increase despite the presence of laws and policies to protect victims and survivors.

For me, the situation became impossible to ignore the day I saw a man attack his wife when she delayed to serve him dinner.

That very day, I decided to start an Annual Youth Mentorship Program through Peer To Peer Uganda. The program targets boys and girls 14 – 25 years of age. Now in its second year of implementation, it has facilitated mentorship training to over 176 young women and men from across Uganda – targeting both rural and urban communities. Young people are supported to provide psychosocial and moral support and assistance to survivors of violence.

We have also created a network of male volunteers. These men and boys raise awareness of the need to end violence and act as role models in their communities.

“As a male champion, I have learnt how to intervene and support my female peers by not feeling threatened by their ambitions but instead feeling inspired to forge a partnership with them.” – Peer to Peer Youth Mentorship Residential Camp mentee

There are also collaborative awareness-raising sessions for male and female peer mentees. These sessions, along with community outreach, have played a significant role in contributing to the realization of a gender equal, violence-free country.

There’s a Feminist Revolution on the Rise in Mexico

Last year, I wrote an article called Are Victims Ever to Blame? I talked about how I have been raised in a society that perpetrates ‘rape culture’. Women are taught to avoid getting raped instead of men being taught not to rape. Victims are routinely blamed for sexual violence.

It feels like the perfect time to write a new post on this topic. For those of you who don’t know, Mexico is experiencing a feminist revolution. On this year’s International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women, thousand marched in Mexico City demanding justice and a safer country.

Mexican women are fed up with the fact that 9 of us are killed every day.

We are also fed up with the fact that at least 6 out of 10 women have faced a violent encounter. Of these, 41.3% were of sexual nature. And because it’s the only thing we can do, we protest.

The media is encouraging victim blaming. There has been a total lack of empathy shown towards these anti-violence protests. Graffiti art painted on city monuments by protestors has received far greater indignation than the gender-based violence we are fighting against. In fact, to correct myself, there has actually been indignation about the grafitti. The vast majority of the population doesn’t seem to care about the violence their wives, daughters, sisters and mothers face every single day.

I listen to a lot of women discrediting the movement taking place in Mexico and it makes my skin crawl. Victim blaming hasn’t changed one bit since I wrote that post last year. We are going to be fighting this battle for many years to come.

The government is not paying attention to one of the biggest security threats faced by our country. If this is the only way to get their attention, then so be it. I also listen to men dismissing the protests and think how I would love to be in their shoes for just one second. I would love to know how it feels not to be scared of being raped, burned, kidnapped or murdered because of my gender.

We need to join together and demand that this ends now. All of us. Privilege must not make you immune to empathy.

I support my feminist sisters because I am terrified to go out on the street alone. I support them because I fear taking a cab by myself and because every time I go out I experience sexual harassment. And I support the feminist revolution in Mexico because paint comes off monuments and statues, but the 3,578 women brutally murdered since 2015 alone are never coming back.

Will We End Child Marriage By 2030?

In 2015, I attended the first ever Girls’ Summit on Ending Child Marriage in Africa. Soon after, I wrote about my experience for Girls’ Globe.

The event was inspiring and highlighted 4 key areas of action: education, economic empowerment, involving traditional leaders, and valuing the girl child. For this year’s 16 Days of Activism Against Gender-Based Violence, I would like to reflect on lessons learned in 2015. How has advocacy surrounding child marriage progressed over the past 4 years?

Child marriage robs girls of their futures, violates their rights and impedes on the development of their countries. It is a form of gender-based violence rooted in inequality.

The number of child brides around the world is estimated at 650 million. This includes girls already married and women who were married in childhood. South Asia has the highest number of child brides, followed by sub-Saharan Africa. Although the practice of child marriage has declined around the world, no region is currently on track to eliminate child marriage by 2030 as outlined by Sustainable Development Goal 5.

However, through multi-sector partnerships, significant strides have been made. In 2016, UNICEF and UNFPA launched a global program to tackle child marriage in 12 countries. The Global Program to Accelerate Action to End Child Marriage supports nations in providing life skills, education, community awareness, and national plans of action to prevent child marriage.

Reflecting on the lessons learned from the summit, it is clear that there are many contributing factors that influence child marriage. Education, economic empowerment, and community involvement remain key to ending the practice. But efforts cannot remain independent.

Single-sector interventions have proven insuccessful in the past. For instance, many countries have yet to outlaw child marriage by setting the legal age for marriage at 18 (or above) for both girls and boys. Even in countries that do have legislation, additional policies and interventions are required to enforce the law and ensure compliance.

Moving forward, in order to end child marriage by 2030, global progress needs to occur at a rate 12 times faster than that of the past decade.

To achieve this, countries must commit to increased financial and legislative support as well as prioritize strengthened partnerships across all sectors. Child marriage is a form of violence which disproportionally affects girls and puts them at huge risk of future violence throughout their lives. To eliminate gender-based violence, we have to end child marriage.

South Africa, Now is not the Time to Lose Momentum

On 2 September, South Africa exploded. She cried out in outrage. The bombardment of kidnap, rape and murder headlines in the last months escalated with the rape and death of Uyinene Mrwetyana. The news left our country both angry and heartbroken.

Since then, the heaviness in the hearts of many women (and men) has been tangible. The horrendous rape and murder of this young woman sparked a nationwide movement of solidarity and commitment to ending gender-based violence.

Uyinene had been missing for a number of days. On 2 September, it was discovered that she had been brutally raped and murdered while collecting a package from the post office in the middle of the afternoon in broad daylight. The story was reported alongside headlines filled with women and children who had been taken, killed, and raped. It sent a surge of sadness and anger throughout our beloved country. This is not okay.

Enough is enough.

It is not okay that a visit to the post office ends in the loss of an innocent life.

It’s not ok that women live in constant fear when going through the ordinary tasks of daily life.

It is not okay that this has been happening for so long without enough coverage because it has become so normalised.

It’s not okay that we are rendered powerless and voiceless.

I am angry. I am tired. But most of all, I am hurting.

I am hurting for all the women, and I am hurting for my country. I am hurting for the inherent hate and disregard for fellow humans.

Photo by Kyle Kingsley

We need change.

The rate of gender-based violence (which includes domestic violence) in South Africa is said to be one of the highest in the world. This alone should alert us to the necessity and urgency of action. Action by government, by men, by us; action by the people. I believe that policy change, stricter law enforcement, government reform and community intervention are all required. There is no question about this.

But in the same breath, I believe that it is ultimately up to us, the people of South Africa, to educate ourselves, change our behaviour and shift our mindsets. Then, and only then, will real lasting change be possible. Education, awareness and intervention need to be available and accessible for everyone. Privileged or not.

This is not a problem for any one class, gender or social group. This is a human problem.

Reform is needed. Change in behaviour backed up by actionable steps is needed. But for lasting change, minds and hearts need to be affected and moved. We should not lower ourselves to perpetuating the same shame cycle that is intended to bind us by staying silent. When we stand united and raise our voices, we are stronger.

Men need to be better. Men CAN be better. Overwhelmingly, men are the perpetrators of gender-based violence. It is time to put aside shaming and call men to join us in action. Justice needs to be served, and that means expecting more from the men of our country and holding them accountable.

Photo by Kyle Kingsley

We can’t lose momentum.

I choose to believe in the restoration of our country. And we are our country. All of us, the people. Women and men. And that means I choose to believe in the restoration of the people of South Africa.

This will not be a battle easily won, yet to bring peace and relief to the women of South Africa who are hurting and dying, we will have to come together. Now is not the time to be divided. It is the time to stand in unity. Publicly, privately, in our homes, in our friendship circles, in our relationships.

We are still blaming and shaming. Yes, we are angry. I am furious. But we must take action. I intend to. This is mourning and grief, but breakthrough comes from laying down oppressive and hateful mindsets. It will be uncomfortable; growth always is.

We must choose to look forward and to see that men can be a restorative power instead of a problem.

The pain brought upon women by gender-based violence has had a devastating effect on South Africa. There is no excuse for this behaviour. I am appealing to us, my bruised self included, to take our hurt, anger and frustration and put it into action. Let us not grow weary; let us not forget.

Our anger at these injustices is only as good as the action birthed from it. Hate and animosity cannot fix the problems and injustices that are at the root of gender-based violence. But unrelentless hope and belief, along with intentional action, can.

Grassroots Voices: End Violence Against Women in Sweden

1 in 3 women and girls worldwide experience violence in their lifetime. 

On the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women local women’s organizations gathered in central Malmö for a light manifestation. We were there on the cold November night, lighting candles to bring attention to violence against women in Sweden. Girls’ Globe asked these organizations about their priorities to end violence against women, here’s what they had to say.

The International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women is a day to raise awareness of women being subjected to violence. A horrific reality many of us know exist. Still we choose to close their eyes to it, which is exactly why this day is needed. No matter how horrible it is, people need to know it is reality for many women around the world. Women who can’t close their eyes to it. 

One of the organizations present was Malmö Kvinnojour. They work to help women exposed to domestic violence by offering, for example, shelter and helplines. The purpose of their organization is to give women the strength and confidence to take control of their own situations. FemCenter is another organization in Malmö that offers protected residences and support. They work to highlight the problem of violence against women by holding lectures in schools and work to break the circle before it has begun. 

”We usually say there are push and pull factors. What pushes a person into prostitution or human trafficking and what pulls them? The push factor would be poverty and pull factor would be demand. So we try to spread awareness about demand and target that.” 
– Tabitha Small, Noomi

Noomi were also present to light candles and show their existence. Noomi is an organisation that supports abused women with a focus on prostitution and human trafficking. They offer guidance, support and shelter. Through lectures and advocacy they work to bring awareness to the problem and help break the spiral of exploitation and helplessness that women find themselves in by giving them a belief in their own value and tools to change their life situation. 

When we spread awareness together we can help end the global epidemic of violence against women.

Talking with these amazing women and seeing their drive to help other women to take control of their own lives was extremely inspiring. It was a really cold evening and still they were there for more than an hour, spreading information. They did it because it meant something, if not everything, to them. This is what they dedicate their time to and it truly is amazing to see women lifting other women and helping them through hard times. Many people walked past and wondered what was going on and many people left having gained knowledge about violence against women. They were also given orange flowers and got the chance to light candles.

If you or anyone you know might need help with regaining control of their own lives, don’t hesitate – reach out. There are several organizations ready to give a helping hand.  

Turning the Tide on Sexual Violence

In 2017, I wrote a Girls’ Globe blog on how we can change a culture that normalizes and accepts sexual violence. Two years later, has anything changed?

We still live in a society that acknowledges violence against women as wrong, and yet accepts it as inevitable and therefore normalOur patriarchal culture has created a tense and treacherous space where no girl and no woman is truly safe. And out-creating the patriarchy is no small task.

Violence against women and girls continues to be accepted at the highest levels of our institutions, with an insidious trickling down to every echelon of society.

Perpetrators are emboldened. Laws are loosened. Misogynists have heroes in the most prestigious global offices, like the White House and US Supreme Court. And women and girls suffer.  

When I began this work, I felt that I was part of global progress toward ending violence against women and girls. Recently, I have felt more like I am part of global pushback against a powerful, misogynistic force. I feel as though I am one of many feebly standing against a tide that keeps rising and rising and rising.  

The statistics make it seem as if that tide is about to destroy us:  

  • Globally, an estimated 35% of women have experienced intimate partner physical and/or sexual violence. Some national studies show that number up to 70%.
  • The global number of women murdered has increased since 2012. Globally, 47% of women victims of homicide were killed by partners or family members. 
  • 40-60% of women in the Middle East and North African experience street harassment. When I worked in Egypt, I encountered girls who stopped going to school because of the threats they faced on their way there. 
  • One in five women living in the United States will be raped in her lifetime. Nine out of ten rape survivors are female whereas as over nine out of ten perpetrators are male

Behind these statistics are women and girls – individuals who could be you or me. As I move forward in the fight for the health, rights and dignity of all of us, I collect more and more memories of my time with survivors. The more memories I gather, the more often they crawl out from the corners of my mind when I’m least expecting them.

Blue tights drying on a space heater in Jordan, chipped pink nail polish on a woman in the DR Congo, the sound of a girl’s voice cracking.

Although I didn’t realize it at the time, these moments crystalized into isolated memories and became a part of me. More and more the memories came back, and behind the isolated moments the faces of human beings appear.  

And that must be our focus: the human beings. That is where I am putting my focus as I increase my efforts to hold back the tide and eventually outcreate the culture of violence.  

In May, I became an online hotline volunteer for RAINN, the largest anti-sexual violence organization in the US. RAINN created and operates the National Sexual Assault Hotline (800.656.HOPE, online.rainn.org or in Spanish rain.org/es). Supporting this organization, with either time or financially, matters. 

I have vamped up Enhance Worldwide, a nonprofit organization I co-founded to protect, engage and empower adolescent girls in Ethiopia. Two girls recently joined our program. They are 11 years old and survivors of child marriage. Engaging in work with organizations like RAINN and Enhance Worldwide creates an impact.  

I continue to write for Girls’ Globe. I continue to find circles of women – and men – doing this work. We can all speak out in support of survivors and against violence. We can all unite in a desire for justice. 

I’ve come to terms with the fact that we live in a global society that normalizes violence against women. And I’ve come to terms with the fact that my ability to stop sexual violence is minimal. I know this. I do. But I also know that individual impact matters.

Together, we can keep pushing back the tide until we’re strong enough to turn it.