In Uganda, violence against women in the home is still a major problem. Despite the fact that an important law against domestic violence came into force in 2010, there is a lack of both resources and knowledge to implement it. The fight for women's rights is instead led by civil society organizations.
Next to the informal residential area of Bwaise, in one of Kampala's busiest areas, is the office of Muslim Center for Justice and Law. It's a hot day and the sound of Kampala's residents is constantly present as a welcoming murmur as I look for a telephone shop. Behind the building, downstairs, is the entrance to the office. Here I meet Sulaiman Kafeero, he warmly welcomes me and shows me around before we sit down and he starts explaining:
- Many women are financially dependent on their husbands or male family members, which makes them vulnerable in a situation where domestic violence occurs. The women then have nowhere to turn for financial support for the expensive and protracted legal proceedings.
Gender-based violence is widespread in Uganda. The most common types of violence are domestic violence and violence perpetrated by a partner. According to the report "Women's rights in Uganda: Gaps between policy and practice" More than two-thirds of women who have been married have experienced some form of violence from a partner. According to Ugandan Women's Network (UWONE) 50 percent of women abusers are either a husband or a male family member. Another survey conducted by Uganda Law Reform Commission found that half of the women who participated in the survey had experienced violence daily or weekly.
The responsibility is often placed on the victim
Sulaiman Kafeero develops this and says that a large part of the responsibility is placed on the victim. The woman must, for example, fill in the correct form, get a doctor's appointment to gather physical evidence and in some cases even pay the police petrol money to go and arrest the suspect. This is a big problem, he explains.
Uganda ratified Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Womenr (CEDAW) in 1985. Despite this, it took until 2010 before Uganda introduced its own law on domestic violence. The Domestic Violence Act, which became operational only in 2011, will protect victims of domestic violence, and bring the perpetrators to justice. The implementation of the law was put on hold until one national policy on the elimination of gender-based violence adopted in 2016.
To date, activities to prevent gender-based violence in Uganda have been limited. The Ugandan Association of Women Lawyers (FIDA), an organization that targets women and works to strengthen the role of women in society and the home. In a statement, the organization writes that the Domestic Violence Act does not address any of the major barriers to justice for the victims or the costs of the various trials. In addition, the law was adopted without a special budget, so it is in principle impossible to fully implement it. Because of this, FIDA therefore calls on the government to quickly develop the funds needed to implement the law.
Economic barriers to justice
At present, victims often receive insufficient or dismissive responses from the police, healthcare professionals and the judiciary. In a report from Amnesty International mentions several obstacles that women face in the legal process when they have been subjected to domestic violence. Among other things, many women do not report crimes due to stigma, especially when it comes to sexual violence. Another factor is that legal proceedings are often costly. Many victims who cannot afford such a process choose not to report.
Legal institutions in Uganda are flooded with cases related to gender-based violence and domestic violence. At present, there is no uniform system that refers victims to various bodies such as healthcare facilities and legal aid centers. Many also have a lack of knowledge about the law on domestic violence and what rights they have. This leads to many women staying in vulnerable and violent situations.
Civil society is taking the fight
The fight for women's rights is led by civil society organizations. Voluntary organizations such as UWONET, CEDOVIP, FIDA, Actionaid Uganda and the Muslim Center for Justice and Law all work with women's rights and to implement better ways of dealing with violent crime and its victims. Among other things, they offer free legal representation for women in court cases, counseling and participation in other legal processes such as mediation. In addition, they offer support to victims, disseminate knowledge about women's rights and inform about where there are sheltered housing.
Organizations in Uganda also place great value on educating the public on issues to change attitudes and norms. It is an important step in the prevention of gender-based violence.
- Much is based on religious and cultural structures where women and their rights are suppressed and considered to be subordinate to men. For the work with women's rights to be sustainable, these structural differences must also be worked on at both individual and institutional level, says Sulaiman Kafeero.