Despite Laws And Policies Violence Against Women Unabated In Uganda

By Stephen Ssenkaaba

Violence against women is on the increase in Uganda – even in the halls of power – despite the presence of laws and policies to protect victims of abuse.

Take the case Anna Abeja Adeke. The female youth MP had always dreamed of becoming a powerful politician. On her first day at the august House, she was full of hope. Hope of changing her constituency for the better.

But the MP, who represents youth in parliament, has become the target of sexual harassment by senior male colleagues. “I once had my breasts squeezed by a male colleague old enough to be my father. Another one hounded me during an MPs trip abroad. He kept knocking at my door in the night. I had to lock myself in,” said Ms. Adeke.

One year later, the youthful MP feels frustrated. “I love my job, but sometimes I wonder if I am in the right place,” she said. Harassment is commonplace in parliament, she adds, but is rarely reported “because we fear the consequences.”

Elsewhere, in Mukono, east of Uganda’s capital Kampala, Grace Ozitya, a mother of five, battled with her in-laws for years to regain her deceased husband’s possessions in a case known as “property grabbing.”

“When he died, they forced me out of our home and destroyed our garden,” says Ms. Ozitya.

Injured woman leaning sadly on wooden wall, concept for domestic violence
Police did not help her because Ms. Ozitya could not raise the $3 needed to facilitate the investigation. At the administrator-general’s office, a file was opened but later disappeared. She gave up until staff from International Justice Mission, a US-based international NGO focusing on human rights, law and law enforcement, intervened.

According to the annual crime report of the Uganda Police Force, the cases of Gender Based Violence that were reported and investigated in 2016 grew by 4% from 38,651 to 40,258 cases between 2015 and 2016.

The 2016 Uganda Demographic and Health Survey (UDHS) revealed that up to 22% of women aged 15-49 years in the country had experienced some form of sexual violence at some point in time. Thirteen percent of women aged 15-49 years report experiencing sexual violence in the year preceding the survey. This translates to more than one million women exposed to sexual violence every year in Uganda.

Today, violence against women has taken new, more sophisticated forms such as cyber-bullying and abuse through social media and smart phones.

“I recently received a WhatsApp video call from a strange number. When I picked up the call, the guy on the other side started groping his genitals as he spoke to me. I blocked him,” Monica Amoding, a politician said.

In other unfortunate cases, jilted lovers expose nude pictures of their ex-girlfriends on social media platforms in what is called “revenge porn”.

In 2014, Desire Luzinda, a celebrated Ugandan musician, made a public apology when her ex- boyfriend leaked nude pictures of her on social media

“I want to apologise to my mother, daughter, family, friends, fans and any other people who have been offended by these images… this was a breach of trust by someone I loved… This person has not only abused that trust but now seeks to drag me down,” Ms. Luzinda said. But ironically it was Ms. Luzinda who faced charges under the 2014 Anti-Pornographic Act.

Since Ms. Luzinda’s incident, over 10 women have had nude pictures of themselves leaked on social media by ex-boyfriends, resulting in public shaming and ridicule.

“In all the revenge porn cases, women have been singled out for criticism while the offending men are never followed up,” says Eunice Musiime, the executive director of Akina Mama Wa Africa, a pan-African women’s organization.

This form of abuse thrives on an absence of adequate legislation and investigative expertise by Ugandan law enforcement officers.

“Unless we put in place effective laws and equip law enforcement organs with modern technology and skills to handle these cases, the situation will only worsen,” Anna Mutavati, the Deputy Country Representative for UN Women Uganda says.

“Corrective rape” is also rife as a new form of VAW. “We have received many complaints from lesbian women who claim they were forced into heterosexual sex by their families as a way to correct their sexual orientation,” Eunice Musiime says. Because of the negative attitudes about lesbianism in Ugandan society, victims find it difficult to file complaints.

“‘Concerned’ relatives hand you over to a man to have sex with you to stop you from being a lesbian,” one young woman who requested anonymity said. For several years, this woman was submitted to corrective rape. Today, she is working to rehabilitate fellow women who have gone through the same experience.

The government remains largely unprepared to handle these new forms of VAW, especially cyber abuse.

“We are aware of the cyber forms of VAW like revenge porn, but that is an area for the Uganda Communications Commission to handle. We are also waiting to hear from the pornographic control committee to advise on the way forward,” Maggie Kyomukama, the assistant Commissioner for Gender and Women Affairs in the Ministry of Gender, Labour and Social Development (MGLSD) said.

Challenges Abound

Ineffective laws pose a major challenge to the fight against VAW. Laws such as the Penal Code Act 2007, the Domestic Violence Act 2010, the Sexual Offences Bill and the Marriage and Divorce bills do not address key aspects of VAW. None of these laws criminalise marital rape for instance.

The Domestic Violence Act does not cover cohabiting partners, while the 2004 amendment to the Land Act of 1998 provides for spousal consent, but does not recognise co-ownership of land between spouses.

The land law also fails to require customary land tenure systems to permit women to act as co-owners/managers of customary land, and creates weak protections for widows who seek to inherit their husband’s land, says Ms. Musiime. She also faults the Employment Act which may impose punitive action in sexual harassment cases at the work place on an employer or his representative while saying nothing of physical, sexual and verbal abuse by co-workers.

Inadequate funding for VAW programmes also remains a huge stumbling block.

“A look at the budgets for the sectors mandated to address violence against women and girls is worrying. While activities are listed in the budgets, there are no monetary allocations. Most of the work on VAWG is donor-funded and concentrated in project areas,” says Diana Kagere Mugerwa, the national program officer for Communication and Advocacy at the Center for Domestic Violence Prevention (CEDOVIP) – a local civil society organization.

In 2016-17 the Ministry of Gender, Labour and Social Development set aside some budget for VAW programmes, a great deal of which comes from Irish Aid and the United Nations Population Fund, among others. This, according to Anna Mutavati, is not sustainable.

“Dependency on external financing does not create sustainable ground sectors to mainstream this work. What happens if the donors pull out?” she asks.

Limited capacity on the part of the gender ministry also cripples VAW activities. According to the Gender, Labor and Social Ministry Policy Statement, in 2016-17, the Directorate of Gender and Women Affairs had only 10 staff members, a fraction of the workforce required. The child and family protection unit (CFPU) of the Uganda Police Force has only 645 police officers to cover 112 districts. This makes it hard to respond to the numerous reported cases.

Police also lack the requisite skills and financial support to investigate VAW cases. Absent critical facilities such as shelters to house and counsel VAW victims before returning home as well-specialised courts which are safe for women to report their cases, justice is frustrated for all women.

“While there are specialized courts on corruption, environment, terrorism and other cases, there are no such courts for VAW cases. That is telling,” says Mutavati.

There are 13 shelters in the country where VAW victims can be temporarily housed. Four of these are donor funded.


Last year the government launched a National Gender Based Violence (GBV) policy, specifying the roles each sector is supposed to undertake to ensure prevention and response to VAW. Assistant commissioner Kyomukama says the Government’s National Development Plan 1 and 2 have included comprehensive frameworks to address VAW.

In a bid to address poverty which usually fuels VAW, the government though MGLSD last year launched the Ugandan Women Entrepreneurship Programme (UWEP) to improve access to financial services for women and equip them with entrepreneurial skills.

According to Brenda Kifuko Malinga, the UWEP national programme coordinator, so far, has launched 3,416 projects and reached 43,602 women throughout the country.

Ms. Mutavati says that the UN and its partners have registered some improvement on the reduction of sexual violence in the worst-hit Eastern regions of Busoga and Karamoja through the Joint Programme on GBV funded by the Norwegian Embassy and the government programme on GBV supported by Irish aid.

Despite the success, a lot more work remains to be done to ensure a violence free country for Ugandan women.

VAW in Uganda: The figures tell it all

The 2016 police crime report indicates that defilement (sex with minors) cases alone rose by 34 percent from 13,118 in 2015 to 17,567 in 2016. Rape cases reported, according to the report, also increased from 1,419 to 1,572 between 2015 and 2016.

A report released last month by researchers from Makerere University College of Health Sciences indicated that one out of five women with hearing impairments in the country have been a victim of rape in the last 12 months.

A 2015 report by the International Justice Mission indicates that 40% of widows faced attempted or successful property grabbing in their lifetime. In many cases, the widows told of perpetrators (usually relatives of their deceased husband) threatening or physically assaulting them and sometimes making attempts on their lives and their children.

The 2011-2017 police crime report also indicates that death resulting from domestic violence reduced significantly by 54% from 358 in 2015 to 163 in 2016.

According to statistics from the Office of the Director of Public Prosecution (ODPP), out of 1,594 new rape and 7,618 defilement (sex with minors) cases reported in 2015/16, only 57 percent were punished. Such low levels of perpetrator punishment encourage impunity, and in so doing exacerbating VAW.

Over the 2012/13-2016/17 period, about 5 percent of all sexual violence cases handled in a year by the ODPP have been closed due to lack of evidence – (a CEDOVIP) study.)

The police and Ministry of Health (MoH)–the two leading public institutions in GBV response– spend an estimated UGX 37.7 billion annually dealing with GBV.


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