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19 September 2016

Uganda: “Young couples should be able to live a peaceful life – otherwise their grandchildren will suffer!”

According to a government study in 2011, 56 per cent of female Ugandans between 15 and 49 experience physical, sexualised, economic and/or emotional violence. In 2010 the Ugandan government passed the Domestic Violence Act (DVA) but in general there has been little impact or enforcement of this law. For this reason, medica mondiale supported a one-year project at our partner organisation Action For Development (ACFODE). The aim of the project was to carry out a study to determine the reasons behind the failure to enforce and apply the law.

In northern Uganda people are particularly suffering under the consequences of the prolonged civil war (1986-2006). Destroyed infrastructure, a lack of accommodation and a population suffering from wartime traumatisation with one third living below the poverty line – all of these factors tend to increase violence. In the last five years, ACFODE has worked in numerous village communities in this region, training around 60 volunteers to act as role-models and women’s representatives. They educate the population about sexualised violence and are the local experts on the law against domestic violence.

No Peace - as long as there is violence against women

“One day a woman asked me for help because her man kept beating her,” explains Jenty Mukasa, a women’s representative. “I accompanied her home and showed her husband a copy of the law against domestic violence. I made sure he understood that he would be taken to court if he didn’t stop!” Traditional concepts in pre-war Ugandan society saw men as the protectors, breadwinners and undisputed heads of their families, but during the war many could not protect their families and often women took on the role of breadwinner. For many men, violence is a legitimate way of asserting their authority within the family. Mukasa is convinced that people in her country will never find peace as long as violence against women is still tolerated: “Young couples should be able to live a peaceful life – otherwise their grandchildren will suffer!”

Reasons for the failed enforcement of DVA-Law

  • In the funded project period ending in March 2016, ACFODE were able to benefit from the groundwork already performed by these women’s representatives in the communities and gain many valuable insights into the obstacles preventing enforcement of the DVA. 
  • One factor is that police and courts at local level often decide in favour of the accused perpetrator of sexualised violence simply because he is a relation.  Corruption and delays in processing accusations often hinder the process of justice.
  • Medical examinations needed to document cases of violence in a legally sound way are expensive, as are court cases themselves. This is often a significant obstacle to survivors.
  • There is no special safe accommodation for survivors, so they often have to return to their homes while the legal processes are carried out – meaning they are forced to live with or close to the perpetrator.

Insights and consequences sourced from the project

These insights and others help the women’s representatives at local level since they provide powerful facts to justify and shape women’s rights work. Additionally, ACFODE was able to use the insights to formulate demands at national and local government level. For example, they called for the law to be translated into local languages and for sufficient copies to be made available in police stations, courts and village communities. The women’s rights organisation also recommended local governments to pass supplementary ordinances which would waive court costs for survivors. Further, figures of respect in the religious communities and community elders need to be educated regarding the DVA and its correct implementation. The study also revealed the necessity for the government to organise public awareness campaigns across the country and training programs on the issue of sexualised violence for its representatives. These are essential if existing violence is to be reduced and future violence prevented.