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Beyond Rhetoric: Let Us Address the Root Causes of Gender-Based Violence in Uganda

By Grace Awilli

In a parliamentary plenary session on November 23, 2022, the Minister of Gender, Labour, and Social Development passionately addressed the floor, commemorating the 16 days of activism against Gender-Based Violence (GBV). Despite the minister’s optimistic portrayal of government actions against GBV, the stark reality, as revealed by the National Survey on Violence Against Women (2021) and the Uganda Police Annual Crime Report for 2021, painted a distressing picture. An alarming 95% of respondents reported experiencing physical or sexual violence, and 16,242 cases of GBV were reported in the same year.

This fragility in GBV prevention and response efforts, showed an escalation in cases, particularly of teenage pregnancies and child marriages.

During parliamentary debates, Members of Parliament demonstrate fervent commitment by passionately voicing their concerns and the pressing need for the passage of pivotal bills, such as the Sexual Offences Bill, emphasizing their profound potential to address the pervasive issue of gender-based violence (GBV). The recognition of the bills’ significance in the fight against GBV reflects a collective acknowledgment of the legislative tools required to combat this societal challenge.

The importance of awareness creation regarding GBV emerges as a recurring theme, resonating with various stakeholders. Their collective emphasis underscores a shared understanding of the role education and advocacy play in fostering a culture of intolerance towards GBV. This recognition suggests a united front in promoting societal consciousness as an integral component of a comprehensive strategy to eradicate gender-based violence.

While the Ministry of Gender has championed laws such as the Domestic Violence Act and male engagement strategies, implementation remains a significant hurdle. The legal and policy framework aligns with international standards, but the non-implementation of these laws, policies, and strategies is the primary challenge. Government institutions tasked with GBV prevention lack resources, hindering their effectiveness.

The Child and Family Protection Unit of the Uganda Police Force, for instance, operates without a dedicated budget line, relying on district police leadership and partners for support. At the local government level, the under funding of the community services department, responsible for GBV data collection and non-state actor coordination, further impedes progress.

Critical to the resolution of the GBV challenge is a gender-sensitive justice system, essential for victim protection and holding abusers accountable. Unfortunately, Government institutions that are at the forefront of GBV prevention and response are constrained by limited resources and as a result, GBV prevention and response has substantially been left to Non-Governmental Organisations, which poses significant dangers.

It is crucial for the government to allocate adequate financial resources to ensure the effective implementation of existing legal and policy frameworks. As evidenced by the ownership and management of GBV shelters predominantly by civil society organizations, NGOs play a vital role in providing comprehensive care and support to victims.

Measures such as promotion of a gender-sensitive justice system, coupled with the passage of Witness Protection and Legal Aid laws, will protect vulnerable survivors during trials and ensure access to free legal support. The Parliament, in its legislative and appropriation function, can be the driving force behind these changes, ultimately improving GBV prevention and response in Uganda.

Concerted efforts to address the root causes of gender-based violence for a safer and more equitable society will go a long way in addressing GBV in our communities.

The writer is a lawyer at the Center for Health, Human Rights, and Development.

A Silent Cry of the Majority

By Clifton Irahuka – Health Service Provider

In Uganda’s heart, where cultures intertwine,

A tale of resilience, against a patriarchal design.

Gender-based violence, a shadow so deep,

Infringing on rights, where women should sleep.

From child marriages at 34%, where innocence fades, 

To teenage pregnancies at 25%, where hope evades.

Female Genital Mutilation at 0.3%, a scar on the soul,

Robbing women of choice, taking away their control.

Physical violence at 56%, a silent, hidden cry,

Shattered dreams, where hope should lie.

Intimidation, threats, and fear’s embrace,

Silence imposed, leaving no trace.

Sexual violence at 27%, a violation so deep,

Leaving scars unseen, where secrets they keep.

Victims stigmatized, their voices unheard,

In a society where silence is preferred.

Yet amidst the darkness, a flicker of light,

Women united, their spirits ignite.

Fighting for justice, their voices so strong,

Demanding safety and choice, where they belong.

Sexual and reproductive health advocacy, a beacon, a guiding star,

Empowering women, reaching afar.

Access to knowledge, their choices to make,

Their bodies, their lives, for their own sake.


Education and research, a shield, a weapon so keen,

Dispelling the myths, the harmful traditions unseen.

Empowering girls, their voices to rise,

Challenging norms, beneath open skies.


Laws and policies, a framework to stand,

Protecting women, across the Pearl.

Enforcement and justice, a hand in hand,

Eradicating violence, taking a stand.

Community engagement, a bridge to unite,

Breaking the silence, shedding the light.

Changing values and attitudes, transforming the norm,

Creating a society where women are warm.

In Uganda’s journey, a path to unfold,

Where gender-based violence no longer holds.

SRH empowered, where women can thrive,

In a world where equality and equity truly survives.


The writer is a Midwife and Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights Advocate.

Let us join forces to eliminate violence against women and girls in Uganda

By Namakula Ritah

Globally, violence against women and girls specifically intimate partner violence and sexual violence remains a major public and clinical health problem and a violation of women’s human rights which is rooted in and perpetuates gender inequalities. The higher prevalence of violence against women and girls occurs most in low developed  countries such as Uganda. Worldwide, 1 in 3 women experience physical and/or sexual violence in their lifetime, mostly by an intimate partner or someone close to them. In 2021, nearly 1 in 5 women aged 20-24 years were married before turning 18 years. Also, more than 5 women or girls are killed every hour by someone in their family. All this is a stark reminder of the scale of gender inequality and discrimination against women and girls.

In Uganda, there is a concerning normalization of harmful behaviors within intimate relationships, such as women enduring physical abuse and engaging in non-consensual acts under the guise of expressing love. Worse still, it’s almost a taboo for any woman to come up and say they were raped. This leaves many Ugandan women and girls suffering in silence. The Uganda 2016 Demographic and Health Survey (UDHS) found that 58.4% of married women reported ever having experienced emotional, physical, or sexual violence from a spouse, and 39.6% had experienced it within the past year. These findings are not any far different from the 2022 UDHS findings about violence against women and girls. 

According to the United Nations, violence against women and girls is defined as “any act of gender-based violence that results in, or is likely to result in, physical, sexual, or mental harm or suffering to women, including threats of such acts, coercion or arbitrary deprivation of liberty, whether occurring in public or in private life.” In-order to prevent and eliminate violence against women and girls around the world, there is a UNITE to End Violence against Women initiative which occurs annually. This initiative was created to support the civil society led campaign around the world. The global theme of this year’s 16 Days of Activism against Gender-based Violence, which runs from 25 November to 10 December 2023, lets “Unite! Invest to prevent violence against women and girls”.

In Uganda, various organizations are contributing to this campaign differently through among others engagement of media on issues of violence against women and girls, supporting the GBV survivors, advocating for SRHR movements, community sensitization and more. The question I pause to ask you is “How are you contributing to this year’s global theme of; Unite! Invest to prevent violence against women and girls?” 

I suggest adopting a collaborative multisectoral strategy to effectively eradicate violence against women and girls.

The author is a Registered Midwife and BSc trained midwife working with Mulago Specialised Women and Neonatal Hospital, Kampala

No Woman is a punching bag: Gender Based Violence remains a big threat to Ugandan women and girls

By Lilian Nuwabaine

Recently, while interacting with one of the survivors of Gender Based Violence (GBV), she said “Musawo, as woman, it’s okay for my husband to beat me whenever things go wrong at home, even with my swollen eyes after being beaten hard by my husband, I cannot deny him intimacy at any time, whether I am menstruating or not.” She went on to say “In our culture, being subjected to physical discipline by one’s spouse is viewed as a demonstration of care and a form of necessary discipline. Denying my partner intimacy might jeopardize the well-being of my family, I feel compelled to fulfill my marital duties.”

Such statements from a GBV survivor hit me hard as a Midwife and Women’s Health Specialist. I asked myself, “Does she know that as a woman, she has  rights that need to be respected?.”

The above scenario isn’t any different from the recent research findings from one of the studies which showed that GBV ranks at the top of Ugandans’ priorities among women’s-rights issues that need vital government and societal attention. Whereas most Ugandan citizens detest a husband’s use of physical force to discipline his wife, half report that violence against women and girls is a common occurrence in their communities, both urban and rural. In Uganda, while some of us are confident and know that the police takes GBV cases seriously, the majority still think that women and girls reporting violence will be criticised and that domestic violence is a private matter to be handled within the family. In fact, others say, reporting such GBV cases is a taboo and one can instead be disowned by their own communities.

Worse still, according to the Police crime report of 2016-2021, over 272,737 GBV cases of GBV were recorded including 2,278 homicides cases attributed to intimate partners. The report adds that domestic violence cases accounted for 33% of the female homicide caseload. This automatically shows that government initiatives like community policing programmes and public awareness campaigns about violence against women and girls still have huge gaps as they do not appear to have reduced the number of GBV cases over the six-year period. Amidst all this, the Government of Uganda has stated its commitment to ending GBV as part of the Sustainable Development Goal 5 and integrated its targets into its National Development Plan.

The Sustainable Development Goal 5 (SDG 5) recognizes the importance of addressing violence against women and girls to achieve gender equality and the empowerment of women and girls. Specifically, target 5.2 says “To eliminate all forms of violence against women and girls in the public and private spheres, including trafficking and sexual and other types of exploitation.” This implies we should be moving towards seeing a country like Uganda with zero incidents of violence against women and girls. Honestly, violence against women and girls is preventable.

I therefore recommend that the government of Uganda through its relevant line Ministries and partners intensifies and strengthens the measures put in place to curb down incidents of GBV such as improving the reporting and handling of GBV crimes and training devoted to child and family protection and sexual offences. More efforts should be put in media engagements to promote community sensitization about violence against women and girls, without forgetting to debunk the already existing myths in this area. Everyone needs to know that “No woman is your punching bag.”  

The author is a BSc Nurse and MSN-Midwife and Women’s Health Specialist. She is also a Heroes in Health Award Winner-Midwife of the Year 2021.