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.

Motherhood in Conflict: Colleen’s Story

In northern Uganda, many mothers have lived through armed conflict. Some gave birth in a time when murder, abduction, mutilation and rape were common practices. It was a time when child soldiers were forced to kill loved ones. What would it be like to become and be a mother in this context?

Colleen* is one of the women I grew very close to during my time volunteering in a counselling centre in Northern Uganda. Like Achola, she told me about her experiences of motherhood during and after the war.

Becoming a Mother in a Conflict Zone

I visited Colleen at her home in rural Ngetta, close to the city of Lira in the northern part of Uganda. The region has been badly affected by the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) insurgency. There were great consequences for all, and especially for pregnant women and mothers.

Colleen told me that she was abducted by rebels from the LRA when she was only 15. She escaped them by hiding in the open stem of a bush. Colleen told me that she became a mother at the same time as losing both of her parents, who were killed by the rebels. She spoke about how hard it was to flee from the rebels night after night, while ensuring the safety of her siblings and her baby.

Colleen’s experiences of the war have been debilitating, and she is still recovering. Though the war ended more than a decade ago, Colleen continues to be in emotional and physical pain. She tells me:

“When I was with my baby hiding in the bush, somebody stepped on my waist. It affected my waist so much up to date. Whenever I laugh, I could just fall unconscious for some minutes. It is still painful.”

What is very striking about Colleen’s story is that it demonstrates that life after war can still be filled with terror. For Colleen, the days of violence are not over.

‘Post-Conflict’ Motherhood

Just after Colleen had been abducted by the rebels, she was married at 16 to her current husband. The day I spoke with her, he was out working on nearby land. Colleen leaned towards me and whispered in my ear:

“I never wanted to marry him, my brothers forced me to marry him cause they needed money and animals [bride price] so that they can marry their wives.”

The practice of bride price is one of many practices that highlight the negative effects of poverty and patriarchy on women’s wellbeing.

The women I worked with told me that in their communities, girls are usually seen as a commodity by both their natal family and their new husband. As soon as a girl is born, she is a source of income for her family. This puts girls and young women at great risk of being forced into early or childhood marriage. This is exactly what happened to Colleen.

Colleen is now in an unhappy and abusive marriage. The years of grabbing her children and running into the bush have not been forgotten. These days, however, when she runs with her children it is not to escape the rebels, but the violence of her husband.

For Colleen, instead of a safe place, her home is a place of terror.

The end of the conflict with the Lord’s Resistance Army was supposedly meant to be time of peace. For many women, however, peace-time violence continues to disrupt and negatively influence their well-being.

Colleen’s Way Forward

Though Colleen’s daily life is characterized by the violent relationship with her husband, it does not define her. Colleen experiences a lot of joy in the relationship with her children, and with her female friends who she meets in her neighbourhood and in the local counselling centre. The women often sing and dance together:

“During the rebel time there was no music, now there is music and we can dance and feel better. I dance! … I always dance and listen [to music] because it is telling me about peace, if it is gospel it is counselling me also. There are songs which you listen to and it teaches you about peace.”

Community groups, the church, gospel songs and the local counselling centre are all crucial for Colleen’s recovery. We need to acknowledge the importance of creativity and body work in psycho-social and mental health support. For Colleen, dancing and singing is not only simply enjoyable, it also offers a way of healing.  

*Colleen is a pseudonym. The image accompanying this article does not depict the woman who told this story.

The Pattern of Domestic Violence

Like every tsunami, it starts small. A slap here, a hit there. Nothing to worry about. He apologizes, says it will never happen again.

But it does.

It happens again. Harder this time, perhaps a punch or two. It becomes a pattern.

Beat, repent, repeat.

The physical abuse.

The pattern.

OR

It is completely inconspicuous. Almost invisible to the outside world and sometimes, to the victim, too. Charming dominance turns into irrational jealousy and possessiveness. Endearing neediness becomes suffocating. You find yourself trying to stay out for as long as you can. You know it’s coming.

The emotional abuse.

The pattern.

According to the World Health Organization, almost one third of women who have been in a relationship report that they have experienced some form of physical and/or sexual violence by their intimate partner in their lifetime.

Not everyone has the courage to fight back against abuse and violence. It’s not simply about being ‘brave’ – it becomes almost impossible to have courage if you don’t have a voice. Sometimes, even those who do are stifled by the fear of humiliation and social stigma surrounding gender-based violence.

Not everyone has a loving family or friends to fall back on. Not everyone can simply wake up one day, decide they have had enough, and leave. It’s not that easy, oh how I wish it was, but it isn’t.

Although, it’s also not impossible.

You might wonder, why must they stay? Is it the children? Or the familiarity? Or worst of all, the tainted love? It’s generally an amalgamation of all of these reasons along with many more. Of course, none of them can ever justify the destruction of lives, hearts, and a place that now detestably resembles home but is far, far from it.

The more you take, the less you can give to yourself or those you love. You deserve a safe environment. Children deserve a safe environment.

Make a safety plan. You can break the pattern and protect yourself and others. It will be hard, but it will be worth it.

“Break the pattern before it breaks you.” – Colleen Hoover, It Ends With Us

Read more on Girls’ Globe

16Days: The Male Champion in Me

When we talk about gender-based violence, people still think that it’s a woman’s responsibility to spearhead advocacy movements. Men are often the perpetrators of GBV, and so it’s very important that men stand up as advocates.

Today, we reach the end of the 2018 16 Days of Activism Against Gender Based Violence.

Violence against women has recently taken on new, more sophisticated forms. An increasing number of women are, for instance, reporting cyber-bullying and abuse through social media and smartphones.
We need to have ‘male action groups’ consisting of young men and boys from all walks of life – rich, poor, from urban or rural communities, black and white. Groups must be formed or strengthened to raise awareness of positive fatherhood, and to educate community members about healthier and more equitable behaviors for men and women.
Investing in empowering male peer educators and male champions of change to prevent GBV can go a long way in communities that are deeply influenced by cultural and traditional norms.

There is urgent need for community members to hold each other accountable with women and men working together for greater gender equality.

During one of the community dialogues conducted by Peer To Peer Uganda in Buyende District, Uganda, one of the male champions explained how cultural norms, myths and misconceptions discourage gender equality and equity in his community.

To tackle this, male champions are empowered and equipped with information, so that they in turn can sensitize communities about sexual and reproductive health issues.
Today in Uganda, alcohol and drug substance abuse are among the leading cause of domestic violence in homes. Ineffective laws also pose a big challenge to the fight against gender-based violence. Laws such as the Penal Code (Amendment) Act 2007, the Domestic Violence Act 2010, the Sexual Offences Bill and the Marriage Bill do not address key aspects of gender-based violence. For example, none of these laws criminalize marital rape.
Men and women – including boys and girls both in and out of school – must be reached with knowledge and information on gender-based violence. Health facilities, local leaders, police, policy makers and government need to work together to put an end to GBV, and creating male champions will play a critical role in stamping out GBV in our communities.

The Sneakers Inspiring & Empowering Women

Just as clothing must be looked after and cared for, it seems increasingly essential that human beings come with a ‘how-to-care-for’ label, so that they are not destroyed by another person.

Josefinas is the only shoe brand born with the purpose to inspire and empower women through flat shoes.

Based on our passion for creating meaningful pieces, we conceived the You Can Leave special edition, which aims to alert to the growing and expanding plight that is gender-based violence and contribute to its eradication.

There are more and more cases of violence, happening earlier and earlier, leading to more and more deaths. The main victims? Women and children.

We created three pairs of sneakers and a pair of shoelaces, all with five common symbols that show ‘how-to-care-for’. They are printed so that no one forgets that a relationship should be based on love, mutual care and respect, and there is no place for violence, guilt, shame, intimidation, or control.

One of each pair of sneakers has a hidden QR Code; it symbolizes a relationship where domestic violence exists and proliferates in silence and shame. This QR Code comes with a message: You Can Leave. A victim may not be able to leave an abuser the first time, but eventually they will be able to leave, for good.

Did you know it often takes between five and seven attempts for a victim to abandon an abuser once and for all?

This cause means so much to us at Josefinas, which is why 30% of the sale of any one of these three pairs of sneakers or shoelaces goes to associations that help and support women victims of domestic violence, namely APAV and She is Rising.

Two pairs of the You Can Leave sneakers not only have the ‘how-to-care-for’ label, but also meaningful numbers:

  • 7 in 10 women experience physical or sexual violence at least once in their lifetime

  • 603 000 000 women live in countries where domestic violence is not considered a crime

  • 15 – 44 is the most common age range for domestic violence to occur

It’s our mission to raise awareness. We want to talk about domestic violence. We want you to talk about it! Don’t judge, don’t turn a blind eye.

It is only when we are in someone else’s shoes that we can truly understand how pain and suffering, covered by shame, leaves us incapacitated and feeling like a victim with no way out.

But there is always a way out and it’s very important to know that there is a path that comes after all this.

Domestic violence isn’t a couple’s problem; it’s yours, it’s all of ours. It’s is highly likely that we all know someone who is suffering or has suffered from domestic violence. Domestic violence doesn’t choose age, religion, or social status, so never assume it won’t happen to you or to someone you know. Talk about it! Let’s keep the conversation going.

#ProudToBeAWoman

About Josefinas: Josefinas is the only shoe brand born with the purpose to inspire and empower women through flat shoes. In 2013, three women started Josefinas with the dream of inspiring other women to follow their own paths. Now Josefinas is taking it even further, helping other female leaders grow their businesses and supporting individual women in Rwanda. Josefinas has become a favorite among celebrities, has won the award for Best E-commerce Brand and has become a much-loved brand on social media. @josefinasportugal.

This Silence Must be Broken

“May we teach our children that speaking out without the fear of retribution is our culture’s new North Star.” – Laura Dern

It is absurd that in the 21st century, a culture of silence leaves women and girls without certain rights. Some call it tradition, but I shall call it by its name – oppression.

I grew up in a conservative community in Zimbabwe where we were not allowed to discuss other people’s lives. Women were butchered in their own homes. They would yell for help, but their neighbors would shut the doors and mind their own business. Girls were forced to leave school and work as domestic helpers, or worse, be married to older men. These violations of rights have been going on for too long, and what upsets me the most is our collective inability to break the silence. People might say it’s ‘culture’, but what they don’t realise is that this is oppression and it has to stop.

I remember vividly the time in high school when I stood up to a boy who had been forcibly taking my food and making jokes about me.  Everyone revered him as a super hero – girls like myself would suffer in silence and allow him to torment them. One day, I chose to be different and shook off the dust of fear. Since that moment, I assured myself that I would use my voice and stand up for justice whenever I could.

I have younger sisters and when I look at them and the society they are growing up in, my heart bleeds. I sometimes wonder if I am influential enough to effect meaningful change, but still I choose to break the silence by raising my voice. As the old adage goes, ‘it always seem impossible until it’s done’. I hope that one day everyone who is being silenced will be able to speak out loudly and freely.

Oppressed people are silenced through being denied a platform to voice their experiences. They may fear being ostracised if they do speak up. Those who experience suffering usually have difficulty in communicating what they are going through, and this is made worse if people exist within a system that does not allow them space to express themselves. Such is the scenario in many parts of my country.

The most common problem in my community is domestic violence. Far too many women are physically abused by their partners on a daily basis. Sadly, only a handful are able to report their cases, reveal the truth and follow the procedure to attain justice. This is mostly due to the fact that many women are not financially independent and so fear being stranded – sometimes with children to care for – if they put their abusive partner behind bars. As an result, women are suffering in silence.

The absence of space for cases of abuse against women and girls to be articulated means that abusers continue to have the upper hand. Recently, in my community, there has been a case of a young girl – aged 15 – who was impregnated by her stepfather’s son. The girl became terrified after being threatened at home, and so she told members of the community who were quizzing her that it was actually her boyfriend who impregnated her. To see such a lack of justice is heartbreaking, and I’m so tired of it.

It is my desire that one day, those who are being silenced will be able to speak up. As it stands, oppressors are benefiting from the fact that victims have no space or support to stand up for themselves. We have to ensure that the oppressed are heard, in Zimbabwe and all over the world.