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30 December 2012

FOWAC in Uganda: Reintegrating enslaved and sexually exploited women into their families

Project sponsorship in Kitgum, North of UgandaAfter nearly 20 years of civil war in Uganda, women and girls are in great need of support. They suffered most of all from the fighting: many were kidnapped, raped and sexually enslaved during the armed conflict between rebel groups and the government in Uganda. There has been a certain degree of peace and stability in Northern Uganda since the armed rebel groups retreated to the Democratic Republic of Congo, Southern Sudan and the Central African Republic in 2008. However, hundreds of thousands of people are still living in refugee camps in the northern regions of the nation. It can be particularly difficult for women and girls to return to their villages: during the conflict the camps offered them protection from attacks to a certain extent and they had access to aid. Back in their communities, they are frequently subjected to renewed violence and discrimination in inheritance disputes – regarding land for example. And they are confronted with the lack of medical and psychosocial support.

Reintegrating enslaved and sexually exploited women into their families

Since the beginning of the military conflicts in the early 1980s, many young women and girls in Uganda have been kidnapped, raped and sexually enslaved. For months, in some cases years, they were held prisoner by the rebels and forced to both serve them sexually and to kill. In 2007, medica mondiale and its partner organisation Caritas Kitgum started helping women and girls to return to their villages. This work is now being continued by the Ugandan organisation FOWAC (Foundation of Women Affected by Conflict). With medica mondiale’s help, so far some 100 survivors of sexualised wartime violence, kidnapping and slavery have been provided with support and accompaniment in the difficult process of reintegration into their families and village communities.

Education and mediation

Because the girls and young women were repeatedly raped, they are seen by their families as "unclean" and are often ostracised. In addition, many of the young women in the rebel camps gave birth to children as a consequence of repeated rape. These children often experience both a difficult and traumatic relationship with their mother and rejection by their wider families and communities. The only chance that these mothers and their children have for a new beginning is if families and communities are truly willing to accept them back into their midst.

Workshops are held to make villagers and families aware of the special problems and needs of traumatised girls and young women. Problems that may be linked to the acceptance of the women back in their families are openly addressed in group discussions. Particular emphasis is also placed on cooperation with traditional authority figures such as clan chiefs, as their approval is decisive for the long-term success of a return.

New beginning for women

To enable them to feed themselves and their children, women are trained in sustainable agriculture and receive start-up aid in the form of seed. Courses teach them agricultural production techniques and the fundamentals of marketing for agricultural products.

By making a contribution to the family income, the women find increasing acceptance in their families and communities. Experiencing recognition and independence then gives the women renewed strength to deal with their traumatic experiences and to view the beginning of a new life with confidence.

FOWAC staff workers make regularly scheduled visits to continue looking after the girls and young women after their return home.In some cases they have spent several years in the rebel camps and therefore need time to readjust to village life and feel at home.

medica mondiale supports FOWAC's activities since its foundation in 2006. In 2013 FOWAC receives up to 30.000 Euro.