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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.


Developing a New Instinct during my Internship Placement at CEHURD

By Chlöe Shahinian

Within ten minutes of my arrival at the Center for Health, Human Rights and Development (CEHURD), I was partaking in the traditional Monday morning reflections and update meeting for all staff. I tried to keep up with the various staff updates and absorb all of the acronyms being used and the names of the projects being referenced. Later in the day, when the Strategic Litigation (SL) team met separately for a program meeting, I got to learn more about the ongoing work of the team with which I would be interning for the next two months,I knew that the Summer was guaranteed to be filled with new and exciting opportunities.

I found out on my second day that a supervising lawyer would be taking me to the Magistrate’s Court in Entebbe the following day. Having never been to court in Uganda, or Canada for that matter, I was grateful to have such an interesting learning experience so early in my internship. CEHURD, as part of its legal aid clinic services, was attending court to watch brief on a criminal case where a woman had been raped by a healthcare worker while seeking emergency medical care at a hospital. CEHURD’s mandate to attend court in the case was derived from instructions given to them by the survivor. Upon arrival at court, my supervising lawyer guided me to the Registry Office where we handed over various photocopies of the prepared Notice to Watch Brief. These were then each stamped and quickly slipped back into our case file. Next, we exited the grounds of the Court to visit the Office of the Resident State Attorney, where our documents needed to be stamped once again. I sat precisely where my supervising lawyer pointed to and watched in rapt interest as discussions in Luganda (a local language spoken in central Buganda, Kampala) took place around me.

Upon the arrival of the State Attorney, our documents received their final necessary stamp, and we were off to the courthouse again, this time walking and talking with the State Attorney as we made our way. Once we arrived in the courtroom, my supervising lawyer and I slotted into two available spots in the front row of the public seating, and we waited as the accused in the day’s cases were guided into the room by prison warders. When our case name was called, we rushed to leave the courtroom and enter the Magistrate’s chambers, where sexual offense cases are typically heard for reasons relating to the privacy of survivors, and where we finally submitted our paperwork. What seemed like two minutes later, before I could even process what had happened, my supervising lawyer gestured for me to exit, and I realized that we were done at court for the day. “What happened?” I asked my supervising lawyer, “are we done?” I was told that we had adjourned, on the request of the State Prosecutor, to another day as the necessary Committal paperwork had not yet been completed for referral to the High Court which is clothed with the jurisdiction to try offenses of that magnitude. In the moment, it felt like we had spent half a day of work driving to and attending court, only to be returning to the office empty-handed. However, this experience early in my internship has become an example of a quality I have come to see defines CEHURD as an organization: resilience.

In full transparency, I can’t take credit for the word resilience. I first thought about it as a potential guiding theme for this blog post during CEHURD’s whole-organization Project Review Meeting, which took place in the second week of my internship. At the conclusion of the meeting, CEHURD’s Executive Director, Fatia Kiyange, speaking about the implementation of one of the organization’s largest projects, highlighted the resilience of the project’s implementers in the face of various challenges. It occurred to me that resilience was a fruitful lens through which to consider much of the organization’s work, especially in my position as an intern with the Strategic litigation team (SL). The importance of resilience in human rights work became especially apparent to me in the first weeks of my internship when I was tasked with working on an organizational report that would analyze cases in which CEHURD had received a negative judgment and lessons learned from the litigation strategies adopted in those cases. Working on the report allowed me to familiarize myself with CEHURD’s past litigation and helped me to better understand how the SL team has modified its litigation strategy, specifically in cases on appeal, when faced with a negative judgment at a lower court. The report, I realized, was in effect an analysis of CEHURD’s resilience.

As time went by,  I had the privilege to go into the field and see how the SL team manages its ongoing litigation. I learned that working as a member of the team is a lesson in resilience. For instance, at the High Court in Mukono, a case in which CEHURD is a co-applicant was adjourned  because two Respondents had not yet submitted their written submissions despite having previously been ordered by the Court to do so. This case relates to a clean and healthy environment which was filed by CEHURD and Others, National Environment Management Authority (NEMA) and Mukono District Local Government, Civil Application No.1 of 2023. As an intern being newly introduced to this system, it was easy for my first reaction to be frustration. However, in observing my colleagues, I came to see how their experiences navigating Uganda’s justice system have made them incredibly resilient. Each appearance at Court, even if it is only to be informed of an adjournment, is an opportunity to speak with relevant State actors to learn more information, to organize possible mobilization efforts with co-applicants, or even to demonstrate CEHURD’s commitment to the case. Importantly, one of the SL team’s lawyers emphasized to me the impact of showing persistence in always showing up. She highlighted that when State actors, such as the Chief Magistrate, see CEHURD appearing time after time in the interest of their clients, it signals that CEHURD is dedicated to following the case through no matter the difficulty of navigating the obstacles posed. The significance of this follow-through for CEHURD’s vulnerable clients cannot be overstated.

Human rights work is incredibly hard, and as a newcomer in the space, it was easy to lean into instinctual feelings of frustration, impatience, or even resignation when it felt as if we were not progressing quickly enough towards the justice the client rightly deserves. This is an impulse which I fought since the beginning of my internship with CEHURD. However, watching the SL team, and seeing their perseverance in the face of adverse outcomes as well as their unrelenting efforts in defending the rights of their clients, helped me to develop a new instinct: trying to always ask “what can I do next?” as a first reaction, instead of lingering on factors beyond my control. Having completed my internship with CEHURD, I feel that I have strengthened this new instinct in such a way that will assist me in human rights work moving forward.

The writer was a CEHURD intern from McGill University Canada.

Call for Expression of Interest to Conduct an Assessment on the Implementation of the Universal Periodic Review Recommendation on GBV and Health as Made to Uganda During the Review of Uganda’s Human Rights Record

CEHURD wishes to engage a consultant to conduct an assessment on the implementation of the recommendations that were made to and accepted by Uganda.

CEHURD has been involved in the Universal Periodic Review, through which the country’s human rights record is reviewed by other peers.
During the review process, Uganda accepted a number of recommendations aimed at improving Uganda Human Rights record.

Close to two years down the road it is important to asses the progress made in the implementation of recommendations received by the country.

Download Details here; UPR process review – Call for Expression of Interest

Moot Problem and Instructions for the 10th National Inter-University Constitutional Law Moot Court Competition

The Center for Health, Human Rights, and Development (CEHURD) expresses its gratitude to Universities that registered for the 10th National Inter-University Constitutional Law Moot Court Competition. The theme for this year’s competition is “Advancing Reproductive Health and Gender Justice in Uganda”

We are delighted to announce that the Moot problem and Instructions for the 10th Annual CEHURD Moot Court Competition are now available for download.

We extend our best wishes to all participants, wishing you the very best of luck in the competition.