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12 March 2015

Survivor from Uganda: “Now I know again why I get up in the morning. I am no longer alone!”

Many Ugandan women and girls survived wartime rape, sexual slavery or other violence without completely breaking down because of it. However, when their communities threw them out or their families committed domestic violence against them because of their experience, this then robbed them of their last ounces of strength. Our partner organisation of many years FOWAC (Foundation of Women Affected by Conflict) supports these women and helps to educate their communities and families. Ara Stielau, Head of the International Projects Department at medica mondiale, visited FOWAC a few weeks ago and spoke to counsellors and survivors.

“The group feeling is very tangible.”

“Sometimes all the women in a solidarity group come together for a ‘work party’: they all help one woman on her land. The group feeling is very tangible,” reports Ara Stielau after her visit to the savings and solidarity group in the community Ayu Alali. Since 2009, FOWAC has established solidarity groups for over 560 women in northern Uganda, with the aim of combating poverty, stigmatisation of survivors and violence against women.

The visitor from Cologne was made to feel very welcome, with some of the women and girls preparing dances and their own songs for the occasion. They are relieved to experience the improvements in their lives from  trauma-sensitive counselling sessions, a newly-won secure livelihood and solidarity with the other women. One survivor explains: “In our saving group we managed to save 1,000 euros last year. I used my share to buy three goats. Soon I will have more and I can sell the milk. My man supports this. Now we can send our son to school!”

“If a man helps himself to his wife’s income, he is breaking the newly passed bylaw.”

The income generated helps the women to reintegrate into family and community life. Yet it is the group feeling, the chance to share their experiences of violence and their new joint ambitions which have more of an effect. “Now I know again why I get up in the morning. Together we have achieved so much already and we still want to achieve much more. Now we can meet openly without feeling the all-pervasive disdain we felt before. I am no longer alone!” With the aim of protecting and securing their achievements so far, FOWAC worked towards the passing of a bylaw to protect the women from unauthorised seizure of the money they had earned for themselves. Ara Stielau: “Now, if a man helps himself to his wife’s income, he is breaking the newly passed bylaw and can be arrested.”

This year should see the establishment of more savings and solidarity groups, with existing ones being continued. Together with survivors, the volunteers and paid staff at FOWAC tackle problems which they have recognised: “During harvest season, the women hardly have time to take care of business. And there is also a lack of storage rooms for the food,” explains Grace Arach, Managing Director of FOWAC. Together the women are sure to find a solution for this, too!