By Nasser Kasozi Akandwanaho
Uganda remains a breed of perpetrators of Sexual and Gender-Based Violence even after the Government’s efforts to establishment of a gender-sensitive legal and policy framework against the vice.
On Saturday, the country joined the rest of the global community to end the 16 Days of Activism Against Gender-Based Violence under the theme “UNiTE! Activism to end violence against women and girls”.
This international campaign focuses on the call for the elimination of all forms of Gender-Based Violence.
According to the Police Crime Report for 2021, a total of 17,533 Domestic Violence cases; 1,486 cases of rape; 14,570 cases of Defilement, and 16,373 sex-related crimes were registered last year.
It is also noted that many cases remain unreported.
Despite the high numbers, prosecution rates remain low which is a direct indicator of the low access to justice for survivors of GBV. For instance, in 2021, only 1,640 (9.3%) of Domestic Violence cases were taken to court and only 464 (2.6%) cases secured convictions. Only 667 rape suspects (44.8%) of the total cases) were charged in court with a mere 25 (1.7%) convictions secured. Similarly, only 42% of the registered defilement cases ended up in court with only 939 cases securing convictions.
Speaking at the commemoration held at Sheraton Hotel on Friday, Ms. Susan Namondo – UN Resident Coordinator noted that violence is denying women and girls their basic rights and freedoms, which limits their participation in all areas of life.
She commended Uganda’s leaders for using the platform of 16 days to amplify the voices of women and girls across the country calling for change.
“The speaker of parliament and other members of the Ugandan women’s parliamentary associations have already Shree Parliament as we heard earlier, both literally and in leading the members of parliament in a high-level dialogue on ending GBV. We have seen church leaders including the Church of Uganda holding services and prayers for solidarity, to end GBV and calling on faith leaders and all key stakeholders to renew their commitment to ending violence against women and girls.”
Namondo noted that the country has to focus more on the behavior change aspects of violence, teaching all the citizens how to choose better options.
“There is a growing body of rigorously tested interventions that demonstrate that violence against women and girls can be prevented but of course, it requires commitment. From all of us and self-reflection on how individually and societally we can undertake actions to change this habit,” she said.
On the factor of evidence, Namondo says there are several methodologies that can be employed like the SASA methodology which seeks to change community attitudes, norms, and behaviors around gender, violence, and the risk of and vulnerability to HIV infection among women.
Mr. Julien Attakla-Ayinon – Country Representative – Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights noted that violations of women’s rights especially issues of sexual and gender-based violence remain, and is everyone’s responsibility to act.
He noted that sexual and gender-based violence occurs both online and offline and inflicts harm on women and girls, as well as men and boys.
“Its disproportionate impact on women and girls is a serious human rights concern and comes at a steep cost which cannot be overemphasized.”
Mr. Julien commended the efforts made by the government of Uganda to adopt laws and policies which also integrate human rights standards and seek to address issues of women’s rights but also sexual and gender-based violence.
“These two are signals of the commitment of the government to ensuring the promotion and protection of the rights of women and girls, as the Constitution of Uganda provides for equality and freedom from discrimination.”
He, however, decried that despite the human rights enforcement act of 2019, the prevention of Trafficking in Persons Act 2009, and the Public Finance Management Act 2015, which also provides for gender-responsive budgeting, the challenge to advancing women’s rights and ending SGBV still abound.
Hon Jacklet Atuhaire – Commissioner – of Uganda Human Rights Commission says that violence against women is not just criminal but also has long-lasting effects on the physical, mental, sexual, and reproductive health of women.
“We need to strengthen advocacy on SGBV, creating awareness on its dangers and hoping this symposium is used as a stepping stone to benchmark commitments on ending violence against women and girls.”
Seasoned Human rights activist Dr. Miria Matembe decried the missing gaps in the judiciary to address issues of SGBV.
“We need to invest more efforts in efficient implementation of the laws and policies which address gender-based violence that Uganda has in place. This will propel our efforts to end SGBV.”
Mr. Julius Mukunda, Executive Director – Civil Society Budget Advocacy Group (CSBAG), a coalition that brings together CSOs and individuals in Uganda to engage in influencing the budget processes said “Government should include GBV among its priorities because if it has funds for emergency activities, then it should definitely include fighting GBV.”
Ms. Rachel Ogolla – Programme Specialist Gender and Human Rights at UNFPA highlighted the increased vulnerabilities of women and girls amidst issues like COVID-19, Ebola, conflicts, and climate change.
“When issues like conflict occur, social protection initiatives are weakened and women are exposed to higher risks of gender-based violence in their communities. The same applies to climate change where women face a burden of domestic care work.”
She also emphasized the need to localize the conversations of human rights protection and interventions to end SGBV in various communities in their diversities, noting that it will go a long way to create a lasting change.