Government Measures In Response To Covid-19 Lead To Increased Gender Based Violence In Mayuge District

By Collins Muzaale

In February 2020, the government of Uganda under the Ministry of Health announced the outbreak of  COVID-19 s. The state under the directives of  His Excellency President Yoweri Kaguta Museveni enforced measures to curb the spread of  COVID-19, which is reported to be airborne, contagious and easy to spread. 

Unfortunately some of the state  measures have hindered young people, women and men’s  access to health services & rights, living,  and finances. Most notable of these measures are the ban on public and private transport, and the ban on the majority of business, as long as they don’t provide essential services.

The above means that everyone who operates  different types of business such as taxi drivers, conductors, tailors, bar attendants, shopkeepers are not working but instead staying at home, idle. As a result of this idleness, we have seen an increase in reports of gender based violence (GBV) among men and women and alcoholism. Gender based violence refers to the violence directly against a person because of their gender. While both women and men experience GBV, the majority of victims are women and girls.

In the sub-counties of Mayuge District such as Wairasa and Magamaga, local leaders such as the LC1, LC II and the police agree that there has been an increase in cases reported ever since the President  issued the different directives  to prevent COVID-19. As Community Health Advocates, one of  our objectives is to stop family conflicts and gender based violence in our societies. Therefore, when we  heard of these violations happening in our communities, we reached out to the local leaders to identify the likely causes. Some chairpersons at local council level believe that all these violations are as a result of people being idle as they stay at home.                                                                                                         

The LC1 chairperson of Kawudu Zone Village, Magamaga town council in Mayuge District, Mr Mohammad Waibi said, “A big number (60 per cent) of men from his village were not staying at home [for this long] but due to the presidential directives, they have been  forced to stay at home. These are the very people fighting with their wives and mistreating them.” He further stated that during the COVID-19 lockdown, he has received at least one case every three days, which was uncommon in the past.

Mr Waibi added, “Recently, I received a case of a pregnant woman who was beaten by the husband accusing her of asking him for money for food. I called the husband and he told me his wife knows very well that he had to stop working due to the COVID-19 directives but  still insists on asking for money.” The LC1 therefore calls upon the government to  lift some of these measures to enable some men go back to their jobs in order for these cases related to gender based violence to decrease.  He  was grateful  to the Center for Health, Human Rights and Development (CEHURD) in collaboration with Community Health Advocates for supporting  communities in matters of  health, gender based violence and human rights through sensitisation, raising awareness and dialogues.

As Community Health Advocates trained by CEHURD to fight against such human rights violations in our societies, we appeal to the government of Uganda to hear the outcry of the people and adopt a human rights based approach in minimising the spread of COVID-19. This will save lives of people, especially women who are at a high risk of experiencing gender based violence. Failure to do this may unfortunately negatively impact  the most vulnerable in the communitings (women/girls) resulting into death due to poor medical health care and increased rape, sexual harassment, poverty due to lack of jobs, family neglect, high health violations, teenage pregnancy, early child marriages, unintended pregnancies due to lack of access to family planning, and discrimination among other issues.   

The writer is one of CEHURD’s Community health advocates in Mayuge District.

Standing in Solidarity to stop Fistula in the face of COVID-19 in Uganda

Earlier this week, the world marked International Day to End Fistula. Edith Sifuna , a programme officer in the CPN Programme discusses the condition and how the response to COVID-19 is an opportunity to create awareness about obstetric  fistula.

In May 2020, the World Health Organisation (WHO) declared Obstetric fistula as preventable and can largely be avoided by delaying the age of first pregnancy; the cessation of harmful traditional practices; and timely access to obstetric care. The fight to end fistula, one of the most serious and tragic injuries that can occur during childbirth, could be threatened by the current COVID-19 pandemic. Due to the pandemic, it is expected that 13 million more child marriages could take place by 2030 that would have otherwise as a result of economic pressure. As we marked this year’s International Day to End Fistula under the theme; “End gender inequality! End health Inequalities! End Fistula Now!” it is important that the international community comes up significantly to raise awareness and intensify actions towards ending Obstetric Fistula.

At the beginning of 2020, the World Health Organisation (WHO) confirmed COVID-19 as a public health emergency of international concern. The virus has put a strain on health systems worldwide. Countries including Uganda have put guidelines and directives in place to curb its spread. While these have indeed worked to stop the spread of the virus, they have adverse effects on  public health systems, particularly maternal health.

In the midst of all these efforts, there is a danger that may take many women’s lives or inflict permanent physical and social injury. This seldom talked about danger is obstetric fistula. Obstetric Fistula has been placed among the most neglected components of maternal health during COVID-19 yet it is likely to have a devastating impact on the wellbeing of both women and girls of ages 15 to 49 years. Obstetric Fistula occurs as a result of prolonged obstructed labour, which is usually associated with delays in seeking and receiving appropriate emergency obstetric care. This leads to a hole developing  either between the rectum and vagina or bladder and vagina leading to odour, infertility and chronic infection.

In Uganda, apart from the low quality health care, fistula cases have been on the increase due to different cultural practices such as child marriages for economic gains by the parents/guardians, child prostitution resulting into early unplanned pregnancies, and traditional practices like female genital mutilation. These have highly exposed women within the reproductive age to complications at delivery as their bodies are not biologically ready to support a pregnancy, increasing chances of complicated child deliveries. This has been coupled with high poverty rates, especially among women, which deters access to quality health care services.  

According to a Uganda Demographic and Health Survey (UDHS) report, a reduction in fistula prevalence from three per cent in 2006 to two per cent in 2011 was reported. Notably, 62 per cent of the affected women received treatment. Despite the treatment and efforts to curb the disease, it still affects the health, social, economic and psychological wellbeing of women, gradually affecting their productivity as individuals and the family.

In addition to the effects already mentioned, fistula also leads to inability to hold urine for a long time, persistent abdominal pains, failure to give birth again, low sex drive and discrimination from family, society and premployment.

Despite the fact that Fistula can be prevented and treated, the survivors continue to suffer from shame, rejection, isolation, trauma and stigma from partners and communities even after treatment and recovery. Gender based violence has also been noted to increase as men opt to find other women who are free from fistula. Domestic violence also stems from the economic strain on the family in the form of costs for surgeries to repair the damage, and purchase of recovery materials and equipment like adult pampers and medicines. With this, most Fistula cases go untreated as women are afraid to admit to the condition or too poor to afford the treatment. As women continue staying safe at home, they are likely to give birth at home assisted by traditional birth attendants or while they are trying to access healthcare facilities. These circumstances can lead to obstructed labour.

“COVID19 has increased the effects of fistula due to restricted movement, patients with fistula repairs were not able to access hospitals to have their repairs done as only emergency cases were being handled while others were stranded as they could not go back home after treatment. Fistula cases have increased due to failure to access hospitals early for delivery or antenatal care resulting in obstructed labour complications such as bladder injuries, fistula and morbidity. It was really absurd that a lady lost her baby as she could not reach the nearby health facility in Bussi and receive treatment as a result of restricted movement and she is now suffering from effects of birth complications and fistula. If this woman had accessed healthcare services on time, her baby would have been saved and complications avoided. With the current trend, there will be many cases of women suffering from fistula, childbirth complications and morbidity. It is therefore important that women are given easy access to hospitals despite COVID-19 and the restrictions. Proper structures for management of complications due to obstructed labour should also be put in place. It is important to strengthen community structures to identify, monitor and refer women for treatment.” A Fistula Surgeon!

With all efforts geared towards COVID-19, it is easy to overlook conditions such as fistula. It is therefore necessary that a comprehensive and holistic fistula care and prevention approach is put in place to restore and preserve the confidence and dignity of victims. This can only be realised if the Government and different stakeholders create awareness about prevention and treatment of obstetric fistula in this era, integrating this into the current guidelines. As women continue staying safe at home, they are likely to give birth at home, from Traditional Birth Attendants or along the way while trying to access health care facilities and may be faced with obstructed labour. Health services have become overloaded and maternal health care services somehow neglected as all efforts are geared towards COVID-19.

It is imperative that there is timely access to comprehensive safe delivery services and emergency obstetric care through bridging the unmet need for maternal health care to prevent women from suffering as they perform their natural maternal function. Maternal mortality is a major challenge in Uganda and any set back in the health system will increase the rate at which women die hence the need to come up with quick and effective medical interventions and guidelines for women to easily access health care services to minimize preventable complications due to delay to access health services and information.

In the current COVID-19 situation, it is important that sexual and reproductive health services such as timely obstetric care and treatment for fistula patients are easily accessible. Information on the same should also be available, not to mention the need to strengthen patient referral and follow up mechanisms.

We must therefore stand together to prevent childbirth complications such as Obstetric Fistula. We can do this by providing comprehensive and universal quality maternal health care services and information, and prioritising women with existing fistula conditions in the face of COVID-19. This is because Obstetric Fistula is a serious and potentially tragic condition. A multi-sectoral approach to raising awareness and intensifying actions towards ending it would therefore restore hope, joy and self-esteem among women as they continue performing their maternal right during the COVID-19 pandemic.

GENDER BASED VIOLENCE AND IT’S LINKAGE TO SEXUAL REPRODUCTIVE HEALTH OF WOMEN AND YOUNG GIRLS IN UGANDA

Gender-based violence is defined as ‘any harmful act that is perpetrated against a person’s will، and that is based on socially-ascribed (i.e. gender) differences between males and females. Gender based violence manifests in form of Sexual violence (rape، sexual assault، sexual harassment), Physical violence (hitting، slapping، beating), Emotional violence (psychological abuse), Economic violence (denial of resources) and Harmful traditional practices (forced marriages، female genital mutilation).[1]

Gender based violence is  one of the most severe forms of gender inequality and discrimination in Uganda and remains a critical Public health global health problem and one of the most pervasive human rights violations of modern time. It is an issue that affects women disproportionately, as it is directly connected with the unequal distribution of power between women and men thus, it has a profound effect on families, communities, and societies as a whole[2]. These Gender inequalities limit the ability of women and girls to fully participate in, and benefit from development programmes while formal and informal institutions, such as religion, family, marriage as well as social and cultural practices play a major role in perpetuating gender inequalities in Uganda.[3]

Gender based violence undermines the health, dignity, security and autonomy of its victims, yet it remains shrouded in a culture of silence. Violence often remains hidden, as survivors fear for their safety or are stigmatized. Victims of violence can suffer sexual and reproductive health consequences, including forced and unwanted pregnancies, unsafe abortions and miscarriages, traumatic fistula, sexually transmitted infections (STIs), preterm birth and stillbirth. [4] It is also associated with mental health outcomes, including posttraumatic stress disorder, anxiety and depression, and an increased risk of ideated or attempted suicide, or suffer other health consequences.

Physical, sexual, or psychological harm by a spouse or partner is a major factor in maternal and reproductive health[5]. Women suffering from intimate partner violence are less likely to adopt contraception and are 46 to 69 percent more likely to have an unintended pregnancy. Abusive partners are 83 percent more likely to coerce a pregnancy, through forced intercourse or birth-control sabotage, and women in abusive relationships are 2.7 times more likely to seek an abortion.[6] Women suffering from abuse are twice as likely to have a miscarriage and their children are 3.9 times more likely to have a low birth weight, while infant diarrheal diseases are 38 to 65 percent more common in children born to mothers suffering from abuse.[7] As CEHURD, we believe that Improving the equity and value of women and girls is a very important means of improving population health.

According to the UDHS for 2011 and 2016, the trends show that sexual violence is higher among the women. While Current husbands were found to be the leading perpetrators of both physical and sexual violence. Major improvements in GBV are attributed to increased awareness campaigns by both state and non-state actors in enforcement of the GBV policy. However, more needs to be done to further fight both sexual and physical violence (DFID, 2016).[8]

STATE PROGRESS

Uganda is a state party to nearly all international human rights conventions as well as relevant regional protocols with explicit provisions for gender equality and recognize Gender based violence as a form of discrimination. The 1995 constitution and broader normative and legal and policy frameworks reflect global standards, are strongly supportive of Gender Equality (GE) and, within recent policy documents, address gender-based violence (GBV) explicitly.

Uganda was active in the post 2015 development process; it was one of first countries to integrate the principles and goals of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) into its National Development Plan (NDP) even before the global documents had been finalized. Both gender equality and GBV are featured in Uganda’s second NDP and evident in diverse sectoral plans. The government signed onto, endorsed and ratified principles which are enshrined in the UN convention on elimination of all forms of discrimination of women (CEDAW), The Beijing platform for action, Global Agenda 2030 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). The women’s access to SRHR is integrated in Uganda’s vision 2040, and it adopted the National GBV policy and Action plan 2016, and the national male engagement strategy in 2017.

The National Health Sector Plan reflects a rights-based approach and acknowledges international conventions. The National Action Plan on Elimination of Gender Based Violence in Uganda (2016-2020) frames the issue of GBV as an urgent development priority and factor to address in achieving Uganda’s development goals for 2020. Similarly, the interconnected work on ending child marriage and teenage pregnancy is framed by the new dialogue on leveraging for development the demographic dividend of a large, youthful population.[9]

The government of Uganda has developed   the National SRHR/HIV/GBV Integration and Linkages Strategy to guide integrated programming and resource mobilization. The strategy highlights opportunities and entry points for SRH/HIV/GBV integration. An Assessment and studies on integration including the National SRHR/HIV/GBV Linkages and Integration Rapid Assessment; a facility assessment on SRHR/HIV /GBV integration and an assessment on SRHR/HIV/GBV integration in Global Fund programming. Results of these assessments are being used to inform resource mobilization efforts, revision of the national SRHR/HIV/GBV Integration and Linkages Strategy and development of standard tools and job aides to support service delivery.

 GAPS IN INTERLINKING GBV AND SRHR

However, despite the strong normative framework on Gender inequality, including regulations, guidelines, protocols and even district level laws and ordinances, actual implementation of the policies has been challenging. The SDGs can only be achieved if Uganda as a state understands and accepts their ultimate responsibilities to fulfil obligations to international treaties and agreements and must performs them in good faith, state obligations entails compliance by government units across different sectors. Eliminating gender based violence requires the obligation of states on the principles to Respect rights of women, Protect rights of women, Promote rights of women, Fulfil rights of women and  Obligation of means and results.

There is a challenge in implementation of existing laws and policies, several laws remain pending while others require amendment and other development of comprehensive implementing policies and regulations. To more effectively protect the rights of women and girls, address discriminatory implementation of laws and ensure effective SGBV /SRHR integration.

  1. Marital rape is not criminalized under the laws of Uganda due to delays in passing the marriage bill 2017 which bill was initially the marriage and divorce bill 2009.
  2. The laws of evidence and penal code provide that for any allegation of sexual assault there must be corroboration by the third party making it very hard for women to prove husbands assault of his wife in the private space like bed rooms. 
  3. The HIV prevention and control act requires all victims of sexual violence, pregnant women and the partner of a pregnant woman to undergo routine HIV testing, which is a barrier to many women accessing SGBV and SRHR services and can expose women to increased violence particularly intimate violence.

Allocation of resources to implement laws policies and regulations, institutional and staff capacity and accountability mechanisms remain weak. The development of the social development sector plan (SDSP) provided a framework or all ministries, departments and agencies including health, justice, police among others to priorities integration of gender equality issues in their annual plans and budget reinforced by gender and equality certificate. However ministries departments and agencies and the decentralized structure [10]do not adequately priorities financial resources for GBV SRHR integration and there is a gap in the budget allocations for gender equality.  

The national SRHR guidelines and service standards were revised but were recalled at ministerial level. While the national sexuality Education framework does not cater for girls outside of formal education and resources for its implementation have not yet been secured.

There is a Gap in the legal literacy capacity of ministries, departments and agencies and the sub national governments to engage in participatory –planning and gender – responsive budgeting and to implement GBV legislation and services. The lack of multi –sectorial mechanisms, with linkages to civil society, to oversee financing and accountability for GBV /SRHR programming hinders implementation.

There is a weak implementation of the right based approaches and insufficiencies in programming and implementation of gender responsive interventions for access to justice.  Health and police personnel at sub national level are still not aware of the changes to the PF3 form, and lack training in filling of the form  yet in many service points, the police forms 3A and 24  are not available

State actors working around GBV prevention and response remains under funded, with further work needed to build capacities of institutions to deliver GBV response and prevention programmes and integrate SRHR services. This lack of capacity continues to hamper efforts to implement legislation and policy. Funding is often allocated at the national level and does not trickle down to sub national levels. This has been evidenced by police officers being constrained with fuel to facilitate arrest or investigate GBV cases. Health workers running out of emergency contraceptives and cotton swabs to facilitate examination of SGBV survivors   yet still the long distance from communities to courts of law is often prohibitive to the optimal access to these services.

While coordination and referral mechanisms exist, they are often in operative and unfunded at sub national level and ineffective in ensuring continuum of support for survivors of Gender based violence. The district chain- linked committees (DCC) coordinate action within the JLOS sector, including cases of Gender based violence, but are often in active at the district level due to insufficient funding.

Stock out of SRHR commodities and Lack of access to SRHR services and essential medical services for survivors of Gender based violence. Most up country health facilities across the country lack necessary medical supplies and capacity to treat survivors of violence, particularly sexual violence. This includes shortage of rape kits, PEP, emergency contraception and pregnancy kits, and medication for treatment for STI.  Yet  girls and Women and girls usually lack access to information and experiences on the barriers and stigmas which exclude the from receiving essential services which leaves them and adolescent girls vulnerable to unwanted pregnancies, unsafe abortions and exposure to other sexually transmitted infections.

Structural weaknesses within the health sector and lack of human resources make it difficult for it to fulfil the requirement under the law. Few licensed medical practitioners are willing to appear in court as expert witnesses yet still they are a rarity in rural and urban Uganda and they have so far generally been unprepared and unforthcoming to fulfil their new additional duties as expert witnesses before the Courts. There is a lot of bureaucracy in terms of facilitating the health workers to court to testify and the burden is shifted to the poor survivors who cannot afford such charges leading to frustration of cases.

The country has few operational GBV shelter homes for rehabilitating victims of gender-based violence (GBV).and worse still those available are facing financial constraints and closing temporary.  In the shelters, survivors get legal aid, psychosocial services, temporary accommodation and referral to GBV survivors’ services. Government through the MGLSD should recommend for should CFPU reception centers to upgrade to shelters and allocate budget for the same to have them furnish and offers services to GBV survivors.

Recommendations

  • Ensure the implementation of the various legislation and policies on GBV and SRH at the national and sub national levels. This requires joint actions between non-state actors addressing the links between gender-based violence and SRH working together with state institutions to advocate for the implementation of the same all levels.
  •  Social, economic and legal gender inequalities in Uganda need to be addressed in line with the Bill of Rights as provided for the constitution of the republic of Uganda. Doing so would reduce the disproportionately high levels of GBV affecting the reproductive health of women in Uganda.
  •  Government response should be more strategic and holistic in order to safeguard the lives of Ugandans with effective early warning systems. The mitigation strategies should include the health sector and provision of psychosocial support to the survivors. Mechanisms to rehabilitate the perpetrators of violence should be defined, tested and evaluated for feasibility and sustainability. The government should take the lead in implementing these measures.
  • Safe houses for GBV survivors to recover or as transitional stops have been reported to respond to the immediate needs of survivors. One-Stop-Centers such as those found in Rwanda, Malawi and South Africa which include a police station, hospital and a safe house for survivors all under one roof should be emulated.
  • Incorporate a health sector response within the inter – sectorial response to gender-based violence. A health sector response that is comprehensive and based on women`s rights is an essential and strategic delivery point to respond to gender based violence. This will enable early screening and detection of gender based violence and quicker intervention.
  • Provide treatment and care for victim- survivors who are at the crisis point and reduce maternal deaths and the burden of disease caused by gender based violence. Health sector responses to gender based violence can be systematic within health facilities. Every health service provider should under g a regular and consistent gender sensitization to appreciate issues of gender based violence
  • The government should ensure universal access to family planning information and services and invest in a country wide sensitization program on reproductive information.
  • The state should remove all legislative barriers that prohibit young people especially unmarried young women from accessing sexual and reproductive health services and family planning.
  • The state should come up with concrete plans for training health service providers and implementing the Standards and Guidelines for the Reduction of Maternal Morbidity and Mortality from Unsafe Abortion in Uganda

CONCLUSION

Prevention campaigns on GBV/SRHR conducted in Uganda often do not adequately consider the reality of the daily lives of Ugandan women and the difficulties they face in gaining control over their own sexual lives. The rampant spread of HIV/AIDS and the high prevalence of GBV can only be stemmed if the subordinate position of women is acknowledged and addressed. The study results indicate that adolescents and women, among other sub-groups are more vulnerable to GBV.  Inefficiencies within the supply chain system which limit effective delivery of both GBV and SRH commodities, with frequent stock outs of commodities experienced across health facilities, Inadequate training of health workers and Community Health Extension workers in integrated SRHR/ GBV services delivery, Socio-cultural barriers including harmful cultural practices and value systems which over look violence against women and girls, limited coordination and effort by health workers to offer services beyond what clients seek for at health facilities and inadequate referrals, Inadequate Human resource to support GBV/SRHR integration should be addressed to effectively integrate GBV and SRHR

The relation between Sexual reproductive health and GBV is mainly through intimate relations that are influenced by socio-cultural factors including gender power imbalances. It is evident that social factors such as the unfavorable economic position of women, and the inability to insist on condom use make Ugandan women unable to negotiate the timing of sex and the conditions under which it occurs. Thus, they are rendered powerless to protect themselves against HIV infection and other sexually transmitted infection, unwanted pregnancies.

 REFERENCES

  1. The national male involvement strategy for the prevention and response to gender based violence in Uganda. https://uganda.unfpa.org/sites/default/files/pub-pdf/15_03_18_%20MALE%20INVOLVEMENT%20STRATEGY%2024%20JULY%202017.pdf
  2. Understanding the critical linkages between Gender based violence and sexual reproductive health rights. www.arrow.org.my .
  3. The World Bank. Pp 219-244. 3. Amuyunzu-Nyamongo, M. & Kiragu, K. (2005) Gender roles and sexual behavior in Africa. AIDS in Africa: Scenarios for the Future, UNAIDS.
  4. Bourdieu, P. (1998). La domination masculine. Paris: Editions du Seuil.
  5.  Cornell, R. W. (1995). Masculinities. Cambridge: Polity Press.
  6.  Cornwall, A. & Lindisfarne, N. (1994). Dislocating masculinity: gender, power and anthropology. In A. Cornwall, & Lindisfarne (Eds.), Dislocating masculinity. Comparative ethnographies (pp. 11-47). London and New York: Routledge.
  7. Spotlight initiative to eliminate violence against women and girls. country programme document.
  8. WHO/UNAIDS/UNICEF (2010) ‘Towards universal access: Scaling up priority HIV/AIDS interventions in the health sector the country- Progress Report 2010.
  9.  WHO/UNAIDS/UNICEF (2011) ‘Global HIV/AIDS Response: Epidemic update and health sector progress towards Universal Access 2011.
  10. The state of sexual reproductive health and rights in Uganda emerging issues JS8_UPR26_UGA_E_Main.pdf.

Compiled by Nakalembe Judith Suzan

Community Empowerment Programme

CEHURD.


[1] https://www.unfpa.org/sites/default/files/pub-pdf/-Facilitator1s_Guide_English_InDesign_Version.pdf

[2] ASIAN PAIFIC RESOURCE AND RESEARCH CENTER FOR WOMEN .WWW.ARROW.ORG

[3] (World Health Organization، Global and Regional Estimates of Violence against Women، 2013، http://bit.ly/1oTfGVG ).

[4] Ibid

[5] https://www.wilsoncenter.org/event/the-impact-violence-against-women-maternal-health

[6] Ibid

[7] Ibid

[8] https://www.ubos.org/wp-content/uploads/publications/03_2019UBOS_Gender_Issues_Report_2019.pdf

[9]

[10] The government decentralized policy and local government act (1997) transfers responsibility and authority for delivery of many public services to the district local government including health.

By Judith Nakalembe – Programme officer and Lawyer at Center for Health, Human Rights and Development (CEHURD).