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.

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.   

Mexico’s ‘Gender Alert’ is Failing to Keep Women Safe

Mexico is among the 20 worst countries in the world to be a woman, according to the 2019 US News & World Report.

This says a lot about the country’s social dynamic. There’s a lack of justice, human rights, safety and equality. Truly, there’s a lot of work to do.

Most recent estimates warn that up to 9 women in Mexico are killed every day and many more suffer violence. The data is scary. What’s even scarier is that the Mexican justice system allows impunity. Safety and security in the country is not good enough for anyone, and for women it is particularly bad.

The Mexican government ‘try’ not to ignore this issue. Thanks to international attention and efforts, Mexico has shown growing commitment to preventing violence against women. We do have some laws in place, such as Ley General de Acceso de las Mujeres a una Vida Libre de Violencia (General Law on Women’s Access to a Life Free of Violence). This law includes an interesting and unique mechanism – referred to as the ‘gender alert’.

What is Mexico’s gender alert?

In the translated words of the Mexican government:

“The gender alert is a mechanism for the protection of women’s human rights, unique in the world (…) It consists in a set of emergency governmental actions to confront and eradicate feminicide violence and / or the existence of a comparative grievance that limits the full exercise of the human rights of women, in a given territory.”

The goal is to guarantee safety for women in areas where violence is particularly pervasive. The problem? It’s not a preventive policy. There are multiple risks facing women and girls every day and yet our authorities wait until things are out of control to activate the alert.

The ‘gender alert’ could do so much more if it were used differently.

Things are not getting better. Femicides continue. Violence continues. Women and society at large are begging authorities to take real action.

There is no way to pretend the ‘gender alert’ is effective. It has now been activated in more than 13 states. We continue to activate this policy in more and more states, while ignoring the causes and reasons. We must innovate and commit to finding solutions to gender violence in Mexico.

The risk and fear must stop.

We have to address the roots of the problem. Even thought Mexico’s gender alert mechanism is not enough to eliminate violence against women, it is a foundation to build on.

The Mexican government need to look beyond ‘covering up’ the situation and truly put in the hard work required to stop violence. It’s never too late.

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.

Are Victims Ever to Blame?

The answer is absolutely not.

The other day, a group of friends and I were discussing a rape situation and one of them used the phrase: “well, she is so stupid, why did she go out to dinner with him?” I sat there, completely stunned by her words.

After her statement, I started wondering why a privileged, educated, well-traveled 27-year-old female would instantly blame the victim and justify an act of rape?

I realized that maybe it is not entirely her fault. We have been raised in a culture where sexual violence is frequent and rape excused and normalized by society and media. Our society perpetrates a ‘rape culture’ within which women are taught to avoid getting raped instead of men being taught not to rape. This is outrageous and we all should be scandalized by it.

Victims are often seen as just as guilty as – or even more guilty than – abusers. I acknowledge here that men are also vulnerable to sexual abuse, but in this particular moment I am focusing on sexual violence against women.

FACT: Sexual assault is NEVER the victim’s fault.

Sexual assault is a violent attack on an individual, not a spontaneous crime of sexual passion. No one ‘asks for’ or deserves this type of attack.

Apart from the social and mental implications of victim blaming on an individual, it also makes it harder for other victims to come forward and report their assaults.

This is a huge issue, and a great deal of victim blaming comes from friends and family. I urge you to think again before you contribute to one of the biggest challenges we face as women: justice for perpetrators.

Many of the things we hear or read about rape involves a stranger or a family member assaulting their victim. But what about when your partner is the one assaulting you? Rape within relationships and marriages is extremely common and victim blaming is even more prevalent – there’s a thought that ‘she must have done something wrong for him to act like that’. Between 10 and 14% of married women will be raped at some point during their marriages. 

We are used to living in a society where a husband or boyfriend has the right to do anything. So why does society still blame victims? Maia Szalavitz explains a psychological reason: “The “just-world bias” happens because our brains crave predictability, and as such, we tend to blame victims of unfairness rather than reject the comforting worldview suggesting that good will be rewarded and evil punished.” 

Personally, I am curious as to how most research seems to prefer the word “assault” or “violence” to “rape”. This is such an important issue, and it should be called by its name. A non-consensual sexual relation is rape, and I think that switching the words only makes the problem seem less prevalent, or less valid, than it is.

How can we all help to end ‘rape culture’? 

  • Always take a rape or sexual assault accusation seriously
  • Never make assumptions
  • If someone talks to you, support them to come forward
  • Speak up when women’s bodies are objectified
  • Speak your mind when someone jokes about touching or sex without consent
  • Stop asking what the victim was wearing or whether she’d been drinking alcohol
  • Bring this conversation to the table with the women and men in your lives

We need to help eliminate the belief that these conversations are too uncomfortable. Start speaking up.