Every year Uganda joins the rest of the world to mark 16 Days of Activism against Gender-Based Violence. The activity runs from 25th November to 10th December. The 16 days of activism campaign on Violence against Women and Girls (VAW/G) is an annual global event that calls for collective action worldwide to prevent VAW/G. It spans significant dates including the international Day for the Elimination of VAW/G (25th November), World AIDS Day (1st December), and Human Rights Day (10th December). These dates were selected to symbolically link violence against women to escalating HIV infection rates and human rights abuses. This year, the campaign will focus on asking community members, parents, institutions and policy makers to make access to education safer for girls and women under the theme: Every girl counts! What actions will you take to keep girls in school?
As one of the activities organized to mark the 16 days of activism campaign, the School of Women and Gender Studies at Makerere University in collaboration with the Centre for Domestic Violence Prevention (CEDOVIP) and the 83rd Guild Council held a public dialogue with students of Makerere University to among other things raise awareness about the violence that young women and girls experience in and around campus. The activity was also intended to inspire the University community to prevent and respond to violence against women and girls at University. The event held in the Tele-Conference Hall of the Directorate of Quality Assurance in Senate Building was supported by UN Women and the Swedish Embassy in Uganda. It was presided over by the US Ambassador in Uganda, H.E Deborah Malac, and attended by among others the representative of the Vice Chancellor, Makerere University, Dr Eria Hisali, the Dean, School of Women and Gender Studies, Dr Sarah Ssali, the Guild President, Mr Kato Paul, and representatives of partner institutions including CEDOVIP and Oxfam Uganda.
In her keynote address, H.E Deborah Malac called for renewed commitment to end acts of gender-based violence. “Gender-Based Violence affects everyone regardless of their status. Worldwide, an estimated one in three women will experience gender-based violence in her lifetime. People continue to engage in acts of gender-based violence with impunity. There is need to break the silence. In America, women are making important strides in minimizing acts of gender-based violence. Many are reporting such acts through social media. We all need to be activists in our communities. Men should be active partners in the fight against acts of gender-based violence because they are part of the problem,” she said. The Ambassador appreciated the organizers of the event for providing a platform for raising more awareness about the vice.
In Uganda, violence against women and girls is prevalent and widespread, reaching women and girls in all geographic and socio-economic sectors. The 2011 Ugandan Demographic and Health Survey (DHS) found that 56 percent of women aged 15-49 had experienced physical violence at least once and 28 percent of women had experienced sexual violence at least once in their lifetime. Similarly, Sexual violence is also higher at 33.4% among women (15-49) and 22.8% among girls (15-24 years) than among men (13%) and boys (8.8%). The most common form of violence experienced by women and adolescent girls is intimate partner violence, with one in six ever-married women having experienced emotional, physical, or sexual violence from a spouse. Due to stigma, fear of repercussions, attitudes that view violence as acceptable, and lack of services, few women and girls seek support; only four in ten women who have experienced physical or sexual violence sought help from a source to stop the violence. While many organizations are working to change the acceptance of violence in Uganda, in 2011, 58 percent of women 15-49 thought that a man was justified in beating his wife/partner in certain circumstances.
At Universities, acts of gender-based violence are so rampant. There is a lot of impunity in and around Universities and hostels. For example sex for marks continues unabated, Intimate Partner Violence such as control and extensive jealousy from male partners, battering, rape and sexual harassment are very common. More recently, the media has reported crimes related to domestic violence and sexual violence that have happened around different universities leading to death, body injuries among others. Some of the recent case is that of a girl that jumped out of the window at Mitchell Hall to escape rape (Red Pepper; April 22nd 2017 page 21) and Enid Twijukye, a University student who was strangled to death by her lover( The New Vision: February 2nd 2017 page 2) among many others.
In other cases students in institutions of higher learning have interfaced with GBV either by witnessing others or experiencing it by themselves. However, students luck adequate information on GBV i.e. what it is, its dangers, root cause, other contributing factors and how to support those experiencing violence among others.
Although the University has put in place structures and policies like the Anti-Sexual Harassment Policy to avert the problem, a lot more needs to be done. Addressing participants at the public dialogue, the representative of the Vice Chancellor, Dr. Eria Hisali, said plans were underway to popularize the Anti-Sexual Harassment Policy and other related policies. We are in the process of streamlining actions that will support the creation of a conducive environment for everyone at the University. A desk has been established in the Vice Chancellor’s office to deal with acts of gender-based violence and other forms of indiscipline. We are now taking firm action against the perpetrators and in this regard, we have suspended three members of staff in the last one year implicated in acts of sexual harassment,” he said.
Dr Hisali informed participants that the University had set up a Disciplinary Committee to handle issues of indiscipline amongst students. Inaugurated by the Chairperson of Council, Eng. Dr. Charles Wana-Etyem on 1st November 2017, the Makerere University Students Disciplinary Committee is headed by Mr. Ngabirano Precious a former Chief Magistrate and a Senior practicing advocate at Pearl Advocates and Solicitors. According to the Acting Director of Legal Affairs at Makerere University, Mr. Goddy Muhumuza, the committee will among other issues handle disciplinary cases directly brought to it; cases referred to it by the Hall Disciplinary Committee; and appeals from parties dissatisfied with the ruling by the Hall Disciplinary Committee; and any other functions assigned by the University Council.
Dr Hisali also said the University Management was in the process of mainstreaming mentoring programmes for students. He appreciated CEDOVIP for expanding its catchment area to include Makerere University and expressed commitment by the University Management to continuously work with partners in the struggle to wipe out acts of gender-based violence.
CEDOVIP is a Civil Society Organization that works with communities, institutions, civil society and the government, to promote the rights of women and girls so as to create safer, healthier, and happier relationships, homes and communities in Kampala, Tororo, Apac, Lira, Aleptong, Kumi, Nakapiripirit, Moroto, Kween, and in eight districts in Busoga namely; Kamuli, Jinja, Buyende, Kaliro, Namutumba, Mayuge, Iganga and Bugiri.
In her remarks, Dr Sarah Ssali said the University was committed to stamping out acts of gender-based violence. She however expressed dismay about the silence around acts of gender-based violence. “Despite the structures put in place to deal with acts of gender-based violence, many students never report. Due to our cultural norms and the institutionalized nature of the vice, some people have been made to believe that violence against women is a sign of love. All students report is missing marks yet many are experiencing acts of gender-based violence,” she said. She cautioned students against condoning acts of gender-based violence noting that their current investments will largely determine their future. “You are not going to remain young forever. The investments you make today will determine who you become in future. You should therefore not let your significant others restrict your ability to perform,” she advised.