Prevention and response to gender-based violence (GBV) during novel Covid-19 lock-down in Uganda

Madinah Nabukeera (Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences, Kyambogo University, Kampala, Uganda)

The Journal of Adult Protection

ISSN: 1466-8203

Article publication date: 28 December 2020

Issue publication date: 24 May 2021

1887

Abstract

Purpose

The purpose of this paper is to understand the challenges related to fighting gender-based violence (GBV) victims during the lockdown in Uganda and suggest prevention and response to GBV and domestic violence victims and stakeholders amidst the deadly novel coronavirus Covid-19 pandemic.

Design/methodology/approach

Content analysis was used to collect data to answer the objective of the study. Relevant documents that related to prevention and response to GBV amidst the deadly novel coronavirus Covid-19 pandemic were reviewed i.e. both print ((inter)-national newspapers i.e. monitor and newspaper), electronic (television and radio) and social media (Facebook and Twitter) and presidential addresses on Covid-19.

Findings

The usual mechanisms that victims go through to report are curtailed and the lockdown and quarantine presented the perpetrators the perfect environment to continue disrespecting victims, as everyone was required to respect the stay at home orders, hence it gave fertile ground for isolation and control of the victims.

Originality/value

Proposing prevention and response to GBV during the coronavirus novel Covid-19 pandemic lockdown in Uganda.

Keywords

Citation

Nabukeera, M. (2021), "Prevention and response to gender-based violence (GBV) during novel Covid-19 lock-down in Uganda", The Journal of Adult Protection, Vol. 23 No. 2, pp. 116-133. https://doi.org/10.1108/JAP-08-2020-0032

Publisher

:

Emerald Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2020, Emerald Publishing Limited


Background

The novel Coronavirus Covid-19 pandemic is a global catastrophe and an invisible enemy that risks aggravating gender discrepancies, as well as violence against women (VAW). Literature indicates that in the previous pandemics, women continued to tolerate the impact of upcoming hazards to human rights, safety and public health. In Uganda, women are stuck in their houses with insulting partners, no support networks and no essential services following several restrictive measures imposed by the government on 20th March to control the transmission of the virus and subsequently been extended three times. In Uganda, 46% of women experienced physical violence when in fear of an upsurge of Covid-19, lockdown and quarantines came into effect as a single internationally supported move to avert the transmission of the coronavirus to alleviate its effects on public health (Farise, 2020). However, this has heightened tensions in homes due to increased sexual gender-violence including fatalities (Lindgärde, 2020) and acts such as unprincipled pollution, booming in the circumstances shaped by the disease and governments should be reminded to put women’s safety first in the fight against the pandemic (Taub, 2020).

In the move to stop its spread, the coronavirus has made violence in homes more frequent globally, for example, UK, China, Spain, France, Asia, Europe, America and Africa. The Covid-19 is a global pandemic that has not spared Uganda and government efforts to curb its spread has resulted in 15 million young Ugandans staying at home through the closure of all education institutions, the majority of which are in rural settings. Women and girls experience the peak of socio-economic downgrading and it is worse during this pandemic. Covid-19 required women to stay at home with their abusers hence, intensifying VAW and girls. This is the most ancient, extensive and overwhelming human rights violation in Uganda (Donovan, 2020; Kato, 2020) during lockdown and quarantines have been referred to as the intimidating methods domestic abusers are using to govern their families in a resemblance to gain control (Herman, 1992) and there is worry that gender gaps will widen during and after the pandemic (WB, 2020).

Men are alleged to have deserted their responsibilities and this has scaled up gender-based violence (GBV). As the Covid-19 lockdown and quarantine, people lived a compelled hard life among many Ugandan communities, family heads abandoned their homes and responsibilities while others engaged in fights, for example, Amuru district. Since the lockdown on 20th March, 2020, businesses came to a standstill and women’s business capital is used to buy household items and this might explain why many women might not continue with their business when the lockdown is lifted. In Amuru district Lamogi sub-county Pagoro village, a husband abandoned his family with three children for another wife yet the woman was unemployed due to the lockdown and life became very difficult and due to lockdown, she could not report the case to Action Aid Uganda Amuru GBV shelter. Men have claimed that they lack the capacity to take care of their families during the lockdown, hence chasing women with children to return to their parents’ homes. Women have had to sleep on hungry stomachs with their children. In Apowegi village Amuru sub-county, for instance, a woman was accused by the husband of misusing basic essentials, the home environment is tense, rather than peace love and joy, its tears. The clan leaders in the area claim that they receive at least three calls a day reporting anxieties and limited interventions hence, the lockdown makes women victims of GBV yet they continue with the struggle of taking care of their husbands’ responsibilities, thus making gender-related issues a major challenge in the area (Admin, 2020a). The head of the family has the responsibility to coordinate and mobilize all family members and enforce all guidelines issued by World Health Organization, Ministry of Health and the President to prevent the spread of Covid-19 (Kisige, 2020).

The objective of the paper was to assess how prevention and response to GBV and domestic violence (DV) victims can be done amidst the deadly novel Covid-19 pandemic.

Literature review

GBV is a term used to bring out a difference between common violence from violence that aims at specific groups of individuals or individuals on the foundation of their gender. GBV is defined (CEDAW, 1992) as violence that targets a person on grounds of gender or sex. It comprises acts that impose mental, physical or sexual maltreatment or misery, intimidations such as pressure and other deficiencies of liberty and freedoms. It contains sexual violence, sex trafficking, forced prostitution, spousal abuse, emotional and psychological abuse, female genital mutilation, forced marriage, infanticide of female children and bias practices based on gender.

DV covers any form of abusive behavior or acts that are perpetrated by a person against another within a relationship i.e. marriage, families, cohabiting couples with the aim of gaining, maintaining or controlling someone’s life and denying them personal freedoms, alleviation of suffering and opportunities to lead a productive normal life, which have several consequences i.e. severe trauma, injury, people are impacted for the rest of their lives and death.

GBV includes acts that are imposed on gender i.e. physical, psychological or sexual harm or suffering, threats of such acts, coercion and other deprivations of liberty: physical; it involves pushing, beating, hitting, shoving, confinement and denial of basic necessities of life i.e. food, shelter, water, medical care and clothing. The results include crucial harm such as burns, serious inquires and severe cuts, which may result into hospitalization.

Sexual; the perpetrators force any person into any sexual-related activity or engage a person into sex without a person’s consent. It is a serious offense especially when that person declined or has physical or mental difficulties, as one can transmit sexually transmitted infections to an innocent person.

Psychological pattern of behavior that makes the victim feel dehumanized, humiliated, worthless, mocked and teased like saying nasty things about someone, insults, name calling, screaming at the person with the intention to victimize someone.

Economic abuse; when one denies another person access to economic resources i.e. property, money, some men put their wives in a state of subservience by refusing them to work so that they are powerless hence, less empowered to make decisions in a home.

Harassment; when someone behaves in an unpleasant manner of threatening way toward another. It may include sexual harassment, touching or massaging. You may also send emails, letters, phone calls, text messages to disturb someone and make her life unbearable with another person. “Women must be encouraged to fight back because abuse changes their lives and changes the life of the abusers through breaking silence on abuse.” “It is our responsibility to bring about a deserving change and keep everyone safe from DV” (Bott et al., 2005).

Theoretical review

Feminist standpoint is the greatest technique to know or understand the views about VAW and its consequences. Through listening to the voices of the girls and women that have faced the vice singularly is through a feminist perspective. This point of view offers a meaningful and considerate perspective of violence by examining how it is associated to and surrounded in, male-controlled and dominated constructions of control (Cockburn, 2004). The problems associated to women and girls in Uganda are a true reflection of the voices explaining their feelings toward violence in their families, homes and communities. The lived experience of victims of GBV in Uganda is a true reflection of how they feel and how much it has affected their lives physically, socially, psychologically and economically they need for all stakeholders to support survivors and perpetrators should be punished for the vice.

International legal instruments

The international legal framework includes the ratified international and regional agreements that promote gender equality, support prevention and response to GBV. Table 1 below outlines some of the relevant international conventions that have been ratified by Uganda.

The legal framework-national policies and plans

A number of national policies and plans relevant to GBV include:

GoU (2007c) and the National Action Plan on Women (2007) inspire the state, civil society and UN activities to focus on gender equality in all strategies and interventions, to address GBV.

The National Policy on Elimination of GBV (2016) offers an outline for the application of the all-inclusive GBV prevention strategies in line with multi-sectoral support services for survivors. The policy involves government, non-government organizations (NGOs) and civil society including at local and national levels, planned actions and measuring performance indicators. It addresses the critical gaps in GBV prevention and response.

Uganda Vision 2040, (2013) specifies a plan to encourage equal opportunities and pleasure of human rights for both women and men to offer support and protection of vulnerable groups.

National Development Plan II (2015/2016–2019/2020) highlights gender equality as a foundation for growth and the abolition of GBV as a key planned achievement.

The Social Development Sector Plan 2015/2016–2019/2020 emphasizes the growth of GBV response and prevention programs as an important area of accomplishment.

In addition, there are other policies including: National Strategy to End Child marriage and teenage pregnancy (2014/2015–2019/2020); The National planned strategy on violence against children in schools (2015–2020); and The National Achievement Strategy on Elimination of GBV in Uganda (2016–2021) guide efforts toward reduction of GBV prevalence in all its manifestations and ensure a coordinated mechanism for elimination GBV from all societies in Uganda (Table 2).

The existing literature on GBV and DV in Uganda in line with resilience (Namy et al., 2017) explored its dimensions among adolescents using regression analysis to test the effect between psychological asserts and violence measures. The findings indicated a multifaceted association between resilience and violence, when patterns are fluctuated by the offender (caregiver, teacher or peers) and sex of the pupil moderated the forces at work. The decreased family connectedness exposed more violence and suggested that adolescents are exposed to internal and external behaviors by adults due to family withdrawal also suggested strengthening the family association, as well as work on strategies, which are gender related for equal benefit for both boys and girls.

According to Schwitters et al. (2015), they investigated GBV among female sexual workers (FSWs) where they identified risk issues and occurrence of customer-based GBV. The study used a survey to evaluate the prevalence of rape among FSWs and to recognize risk features and prevalence of customer-categorized GBV among FSWs in Uganda. GBV risk improved with cumulative frequency of customer demand for sex without condoms, time spent in the sexual task and liquor drinking by FSW. Risk reduced depending on where sex takes place i.e. hotel, FSW’s or customer’s house or in open spaces. Results presented the prevalence of GBV among FSWs and the need for urgent prevention strategies.

Hayhurst et al. (2014) studied the GBV of girls in sports and aimed to improve discipline, leadership skills and self-defense. The study was challenged because of gender imbalance, as it excluded boys in planning, coupled with the traditional inappropriateness of girls involved in military arts, may have underwritten to the girls’ subservience. Overall, involvement in sport for growth and harmony landscape is generally essential if we are to understand the challenges of gendered conventions, social relations and gender dynamics and that girls are not the only target.

Morof et al. (2014) GBV among refugees and asylum seekers in mental health. A cross-sectional study was used and interviewed Congolese and Somalian women to understand lifetime experience to physical and sexual violence and signs of despair. The results indicated the prevalence of violence, despair as signs among women urban refugees in Kampala and symbols are high. There is a need for extra facilities and improved availability of psychosocial plans for asylum seekers in Kampala.

Schulkind et al. (2016) assessed GBV, alcohol use and vulnerability to HIV-infection among women and their steady male associates. Interviews between men and women from high risk sexually transmitted infectious places including HIV-Aids. Results indicated that regular patterns of gender injustice associated cases related to violence, incomplete living possibilities and economic, social difficulty. Generally, women were talented to exchange sex with a condom and protect themselves against GBV from their sex customers. It was evidenced that alcohol led to close companion violence and high levels of risk-sexual pleasing, hence reduce the use of condoms. Stark et al. (2010) measured DV amidst war and displacement in Northern Uganda in displacement camps. GBV is regarded as a substantial challenge in war torn areas throughout the world. Nevertheless, charitable organizations naturally have been incapable of consistently evaluating the occurrence of intimate, rape partner violence and other types of sexual abuse in such regions.

Mootz et al. (2017) investigated GBV in armed conflict areas through analysis of its pathways. Through a collaborative approach in the community using the socio-ecological conceptual model common for feminist perspective and its effects to community Northeastern Uganda. Results indicated that armed conflict impacted on quarreling/physical violence, early marriage, sexual violence and land grabbing through raiding of resources, sexual violence, resource mobilization, death of a loved one or husband. The discoveries proposed organizational, community and policy-level interventions through interconnecting with the defenseless to defend them against GBV and the need for systemic and structural changes for emotional support.

Siu et al. (2017) examined men’s participation in child-care to lessen child mistreatment and GBV in Kampala through interviewees for both fathers and mothers in mixed sessions and results included fathers’ interest in changing children’s behaviors and conflicting perspectives and suggested intervention values in communities.

Bukuluki et al. (2013) explored drivers’ foe sexual and GBV in post-conflict Northern Uganda qualitative approach was used through the use of focus group discussions, key informants and interviews. Findings discovered that emotional and physical violence was alleged to feature the most prevalence although all other types of violence are perceived to exist in Northern Uganda. Men seemed to be the major perpetrators of violence although there were a few cases of men who reported GBV, hence stigmatization alleged to be weak in a male-controlled society that distinguishes ideal men to be robust and less vulnerable to emotional, sexual abuse and physical. Early marriages were prime as a main type of GBV yet professed as ordinary in many communities in spite of the records associated to negative reproductive and social health effects. Defilement, sexual violence, rape and incest were on the rise in Northern Uganda. The study acknowledged some drivers of sexual and gender-based violence (SGBV), which included imbalance in power, poverty, insecurity, accessibility and control over resources, blame game especially on women, HIV associated stigma and judgment and discrimination, liquor and use of weed.

Lane (2015) the lead to fight against GBV. Taking the baby steps in the fight against GBV to NGOs to say no to inequality and promote rights of women thus, communities were advised to report the cases to the local leaders at local council (LCI), if no support is granted then the case/s were to be reported to any nearby police station and later taken to court. The fight began by training health workers and police officers on how to deal with SGBV cases. Afterward, the efforts achieved the 2010 DV Act and later awareness and support to the victims.

Linos (2009) evaluated the rethinking of GBV by looking at civilians and whether they have been victims and how that matters during conflict. The study used experiences from men who faced violence during the war in Bosnia and Herzegovina. The results indicated hidden pain owing to the fact stereotypes surrounding maleness and a traditional tolerant approach to violence committed against men, particularly during war times. The study recommended that the sermon on GBV begins exploring the detailed requirements of men. Because culprits are frequently male, an excess level of stigma is supplementary when its men sexually harassed, hence no reporting and failure to receive health-services. The need to direct the work of NGOs agencies employed with survivors of GBV in conflict and post-conflict surroundings to give equal access to suitable health services for both sexes.

Palermo et al. (2014) assessed GBV in developing countries among women who report and those who do not in 24 developing countries using survey data for a period of seven years till 2011. Findings indicated that 40% of women disclosed to someone, only 7% testified to an official source, in India only 2% and 14% in East Asia. The implication was that police could be under reporting GBV prevalence and program strategies should know that women who report are different from those who do not.

Liebling-Kalifani et al. (2011) analyzed the influence and experiences of GBV on women survivors in post-conflict Liberia using a qualitative approach. Results indicated grave effects of suffering, sexual, physical and psychological violence on their health and suggested funding for rehabilitation of victims holistically and policy changes on survivors.

Durick (2013) scrutinized the importance of GBV. DV existed before the war, often reinforced by male-controlled customs, principles and social prospects, but it required the prevalence of the present-day delinquent. Women are robbed of livelihood, dignity and support, the cultural social life deteriorated and led to harmful behaviors with structural inequalities, which worsened GBV in Northern Uganda and recommended human development through sustainable peacebuilding by addressing GBV using a community holistic approach.

Tiessen and Thomas (2014) estimated impacts of GBV in Northern Uganda that included grave effects of suffering, sexual, physical and psychological violence on their health. Abramsky et al. (2012) predicted the inventions to avert VAW in Kampala Uganda. They used a qualitative approach to evaluate United Nations Programme on Human Immunodeficiency Virus/Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome (HIV/AIDS) combined approaches to deal with the gender customs, relationships and injustices that motivate both HIV/AIDS and VAW and the study traced the impact of community mobilization involvement for prevention VAW and reduction of HIV/AIDS. The study focused on the acceptability of VAW, refusing sex among community members, experiences of violence from intimate partners and community interventions. Results indicated the need for community health promotion approaches on interventions and sensitization.

Stark and Ager (2011) assessed emergencies in GBV occurrences. The study used a systematic review to measure the degree of GBV in emergency situations. The results indicated physical violence, rape and intimate partner violence the three main forms of violence. Intimate partner violence score scored highest than rape and executed during war times outside homes and suggested remedies dependent on experiences encountered by victims.

Ahikire and Mwiine (2012) measured the connection among GBV/HIV and identified challenges lack of clarity on HIV/GBV, limited resources, a lot of speaking no actions and GBV and masculinity and suggested a 360-degree method to HIV/GBV, assimilate peace building into HIV programs in war tone areas, design a structural framework to deal with the link between HIV/GBV, integrate a feminist and masculinity approach in HIV/GBV programs, continuous populace awareness through civic education and beyond individual understanding, hence encouraging testing and feedback.

Krause (2015) analyzed GBV in conflict areas and internally displaced people, consideration focused on linking the type of violence in different stages, the researcher challenged the literature presented. Cases of violence were a basket of all forms happening in internally disputed camps and discussed factors impacting on violence. He argued that one-dimensionality of the prevalence of sexual gender-based violence (SGBV) throughout conflict, wartime and campsite discloses a range with spreading forms, as particularly the arrangements, offender constructions and circumstances demonstrate a historical upsurge of difficulty.

Ager et al. (2018) weighed GBV in internal displaced camps, emphasis was put on the evaluation of rape occurrence by intimate violent partner and other forms of sexual abuse in northern Uganda. Using the “neighborhood methodology,” where a mature person reported on other people’s experiences and the other on themselves. General occurrence of close partner violence scored 51.7% and 27.6% prevalence of rape by the offender. Violence by partners is very common in post-conflict Uganda and community involvement in reporting cases was recommended.

Edström and Dolan (2019) evaluated breaking the silence against sexual harassment and activism among refugees in 2015, a group of male refugee survivors of sexual violence (SV) were able to form, rebuild and convert to activism and replicated how the struggle should be engaged and understood in line with their recovery through mutual support and lobbied communal acts, and the role of service providers and humanitarian organizations in support and suggested change in policy, support in recovery, networking, say no to male victimization in conflict areas and activism.

Odwe et al. (2018) investigated attitude toward seeking for support, acquaintance and sensitivities concerning SGBV among women and men in a humanitarian setting in Uganda. Using a cross-section survey of heads of refugee households and results exposed amplified probabilities of having a promising attitude toward seeking help for SGBV among women with liberal attitudes toward SGBV and sensed that SBGV was not welcome in the community and men indicated differences in attitude toward seeking help for SGBV and inventions focused on awareness.

Tappis et al. (2016) assessed how effective the interventions at the community level, girls and women are at improved risk of violence and examined prevention of conflict linked sexual violence, with inadequate emphasis on other types of GBV, for example, intimate partner violence. Using content analysis, the study discovered ineffectiveness in the GBV programs and recommended a community humanitarian approach through rebuilding family tie structures, improve responsibility systems, change of cultural norms, engaging men in the fight of GBV and monitoring and evaluation.

Kasente (2011) evaluated GBV in Uganda and Keesbury and Askew (2010) analyzed GBV in low resource settings in Uganda through reinforcing evidence base on SGBV programs in Sub-Saharan Africa through vigorous network to support survivors of SGBV, particularly survivors of SV. Using the experience-based method, findings will be used to contribute to the evolving documented strategies to help and support victims and punish perpetuators.

Kwagala et al. (2013) assessed violence among married women and used spouses’ manners and intimate partner physical violence to understand the influence of women’s empowerment using secondary data analysis. Results indicated that prevalence is still high at 41% and women from wealthy families are less likely to be exposed and women were accused of unfaithfulness and some were likely to report GBV.

Opinia and Bubenzer (2011) assessed reconciliation and gender justice in Northern Uganda. Lords Resistance Movement during their war in Northern Uganda fighting National Resistance Movement raped, looted, abducted, raided, burnt homes, militarized, practiced all forms of GBV and this had psychological, physical, economic and social impacts on the communities. They recommended community led approaches in peace building and ending SGBV.

The above literature indicates that a lot of research has been done in areas of GBV and DV especially in Northern parts of the country. However, there is no study that has been investigated linking Novel Coronavirus Covid-19 with GBV and DV. Therefore, this study aimed at establishing how prevention and response can be done amidst the deadly pandemic, assess the lived experiences of women and girls, identify the challenges and suggest a way forward.

Problem statement

A household is theorized to be the safest place for individuals to stay especially during the Covid-19 lockdown and quarantine however, the men have turned homes into unsafe places for human habitation. The lockdown was expected to bond families, to promote achievements, challenges and plotting a way forward but it is not the case for some families (Tumwebaze, 2020). Thus, reports indicate increased battering of women in their houses, which has caused serious bodily and emotional harm as a result of the lockdown. Conferring to Uganda’s Demographic Household Survey 2016, the majority of women encounter partner violence and 22% experienced sexual violence (Kato, 2020). The social environment of lockdown has resulted into increased cases of GBV and some cases have claimed lives even before Covid-19 the period between 30th March, 2020–28th April, 2020 when a total of 3,280 cases of GBV and 283 child-based violence were reported to police and 1,148 girls and 766 boys did not report DV-related cases (Abet, 2020; Emorut, 2020). Women are assaulted, battered by their spouses and police stations are advising them to settle the complaints at home. By the end of April, 2020 death cases of DV were reported during the Covid-19 lockdown period and figures and numbers are horrifyingly increasing daily (Amoako, 2020).

The acts are unacceptable and perpetrators of the vices should be dealt with authoritatively (Tumwebaze, 2020) using the law. The victims are trapped at home due to the lockdown and quarantine men are slapping them due to claims of wastage of domestic items and the victims are trapped in their homes by the abusers to rape them and reports estimated that 3.3 million people are exposed to adult DV each year, worst of all they die in silence because medical facilities, police, gender offices, local leaders are all scrambling to respond to the Covid-19 pandemic (Admin, 2020b). These victims are in danger of health-related glitches i.e. sexually transmitted diseases, reproductive dysfunction, enduring pain, risk reproductive coercion (terminate pregnancy) and post-traumatic stress (Farise, 2020).

Over 89% of the students are currently out of school because of Covid-19 closures and girls are exposed to sexual violence, as husbands are at home and taking advantage of the lockdown and quarantine to engage school going girls and entice them into sexual behaviors in return for money to meet their basic and personal needs. Typical classroom education has stopped because the girls are in casual wear at home, they look like adults as they utter vulgar words and insults insisting that their bodies are attractive, some are abused by close family members in the guise that they are providing for them in the name of poverty and others the parents are asking 13 and 14-year-old children to look for men to provide for the family and there are risks for teenage pregnancies (Masinde, 2020a).

There is continued exposure to liabilities in political, social and economic systems, which is intensifying GBV during the pandemic. The population at risk include those living and working in the informal sector and disaster-prone areas i.e. Manafa, Sironko, Bududa, Bulambuli, Katakwi, Soroti, Butaleja, Mbale, Amuria, Bundibugyo, Bukwo, Ntoroko, Kisoro, Kabale and Kasese, These communities have insufficient access to social services, they lack partisan stimulus and lack capacity and opportunity to manage including the urban poor in Kampala and Wakiso district (Kato, 2020).

The unresolved differences were augmented by disruptions in income, social isolation, food and movement, which has worsened the responsiveness on GBV and whereas the government has done well to curb the Coronavirus, DV is not at the center of their efforts (Atuhaire, 2020). Women working in markets, as they are single mothers, carried their children along to sleep in the markets to make ends meet and the ministry of gender did not get any allocation of funds during the Covid-19 taskforce and these inadequate resources and capacity to follow-up cases on DV, hence perpetrators walked free in communities and committed DV with impunity, as the women cannot walk for long distances to report-related cases (Actionaid, 2020). GBV and DV will kill Ugandan women before the coronavirus kills them (Feminism, 2020) and deaths have been registered with no death recorded from Covid-19 (Byamukama|, 2020) and DV is a men issue, its sisters, mothers, wives, daughters and friends that we are talking about and men should play a role to end it or those who continue with the vice be treated as terrorists (Masinde, 2020b).

Objectives of the study

To establish prevention and response for GBV victims during Covid-19 lockdown, assess the lived experiences of women and girls, identify the challenges of fighting GBV and DV during Covid-19 lockdown and suggest a way forward.

Methodology

Content analysis was used to collect data to answer the objective of the study. Relevant documents that related to prevention and response to GBV amidst the deadly novel coronavirus Covid-19 pandemic were reviewed i.e. both print ((inter)-national newspapers i.e. monitor and newspaper), electronic (television and radio) and social media (Face book and Twitter) and presidential addresses on Covid-19. Other documents included; among others; the World Bank safeguards policies, Agreement on Abolition of all arrangements of Discrimination Against Women (1979), Uganda GBV Diagnostic Study Report (2016), the Constitution of the Republic of Uganda (1995), the National Social Protection Policy (2016), the National Policy on Abolition of GBV (2016) and the National Equal Opportunities Policy (2006).

Experiences of women and girls during Covid-19 in Uganda

According to security personnel, women specifically during the lockdown period were being manhandled and beaten up both in their homes by their male partners, on their way to health centers, during curfew time, by security personnel and also at their places of work, for instance, the women street vendors. The abuses have caused serious psychological and bodily harm to these victims. For example, the chairman of Bunyangabu district struck a female Residential District Commissioner, and curfew enforcement teams beat up a pregnant woman and in the district of Arua a prison guard was roughed up. All of these cases epitomize the abuse of power during the lockdown and contribute to an increase in GBV.

During the Covid-19 period, many men have abandoned their responsibilities leaving them to women, which has escalated GBV in homes as explained by one woman in Amuru district. Anek Sylvia’s husband abandoned her with three of their children leaving her stressed and struggling in the middle of the Covid-19 lockdown. Admittedly Anek had for long been having fights with her husband over shared responsibility in the family before the husband relocated to another place. Clearly, the result of this has been a strain on women’s incomes and savings to the extent that all predictions are that the post-Covid-19 era will see many women falling out of business.

Covid-19 has highlighted the fact that prolonged stay at home for women and young girls is not safe as many of them are exposed to increased risk of infections through rape and defilement among other sexual evils. Coming at a time of decreased access to sexual and reproductive health, this may lead to sexually transmitted disease infections and unwanted pregnancies among other undesirable consequences. Nakawunde Faridah of Kalagala village, Bagezza sub-county is a mother of five hailing from Mubende district in Uganda. Nakawunde alleges that her husband who had been going out with other women rejected her request that they do an HIV test and instead held her mouth tight and raped her on the night of the day the president announced the initial lockdown of 14 days.

There is evidence that during Covid-19 there is increasing violation of women’s rights through cases of GBV amidst decreased capacity to respond and support victims on the part of the justice sector. For instance, Nakawunde Faridah from Mubende district in Uganda a resident of Kalagala village, Bagezza sub-county and mother of five recently reported, through the ActionAid Uganda helpline, that her husband, who doubles as a Local Council-2 (LC2) official in the area, forced himself on her upon returning one night after having stayed away from home for two years. Apparently, she could not report him to the local authorities such as Local Council-1 (LC1) chairman given his position on the LC2 committee and at the same time was unable to travel to the distant law enforcement offices due to the lockdown hence, denying Nakawunde her rights to justice. The Justice for Women Amidst COVID-19 report further backs this up, the report developed by International Development Law Organization, UN women and other partners indicates that the “justice gap” for GBV survivors is worsening during the Covid-19.

Covid-19 pandemic has forced many women and young girls into survival sex leading to early marriages, unwanted pregnancies and an increase in cases of defilement among young girls. This, in turn, enhances the commercial sex for survival cycle. Women and girls living in refugee camps and those who have lost their livelihoods as a result of the economic devastation brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic have been most affected. For instance, Bridget aged six years became a victim of defilement during the Covid-19 lockdown in Toro. Bridget, herself a child of a sex worker, was susceptible to sexual violence due to her mother’s line of work. Apparently, because men were welcome to sexually engage any other female in the household Bridget inclusive, all in the name of accessing resources for survival during the lockdown. Mr Pius Bigirimana, the permanent secretary to the Judiciary, has advocated for the promotion of men’s involvement in the fight against GBV after all they are stewards of philosophies that foster it.

The coronavirus pandemic has led to increased homelessness especially among women and girls that are survivors of GBV. For instance, in Palabek Ogili Village in Lamwo District in Uganda, many pregnant teenagers who are victims of sexual and GBV have been left without shelters. This is information is backed by Ms Judith Nakalembe, a GBV specialist, who says that the safety and protection of vulnerable women is essential in addressing the problem of homelessness. Ms Nakalembe asserts that many victims especially women sleep at police counters after being abused by their husbands and some young girls become homeless after being abused and abandoned. Mr James Ebitu, Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Gender, recommends that the government of Uganda should build more shelters in different regions of the country to cater for the increased survivors of GBV during this Covid-19 period and for survivors of GBV to be integrated into communities where they can be respected.

During this pandemic, many parents have forced their children into child labor especially young girls due to the negative economic consequences such as loss of jobs, the collapse of business that has led to failure on the part of parents to look after their homes. This has exposed the vulnerable young girls to abusive men who take advantage of them giving rise to early pregnancies and subsequently to dropping out of school. This is backed by one 14-year old called Jane a primary six pupil of Mucwini Primary School who was allegedly soaked by a 29-year-old man during the Covid-19 lockdown. Jane’s mother gave her 12,000 Uganda shillings as capital to initiate a sugarcane selling business and supplement the family’s daily income while awaiting the reopening of schools. Unfortunately, this exposed her to the danger of abusive men.

The COVID-19 pandemic has disrupted life across all ages exposing the most vulnerable populations such as adolescent girls and young women to greater dangers such as forced and early marriages due to increased poverty levels, parents’ greed for dowery, peer pressure and displacement, exposing these young girls to DV and its consequences. Ms Sarah Obore is the program manager of Kadama Widows Association and in an interview with a journalist from the daily monitor mentioned that they are getting many reports of early and forced marriages due to lack of food and money during this lockdown, forcing parents to give away their daughters into marriage. This is backed by the experience of Masiko, a 14-year old girl, who lived with her father in one of the suburbs of Kampala. Masiko says that her family’s inability to make ends meet subjected her father to intense pressure driving him into the desperate position of marrying her off to a 47-year old man in exchange for food to support the rest of his family. According to Masiko, she suffered sustained sexual and physical abuse at the hands of her 47-year old husband until she was rescued by Hope Nankunda of Raising Teenagers Uganda but with a lot of resistance from Masiko’s father.

The pandemic has increased DV cases especially for women who strictly stay at home and depend entirely to their husbands. In these situations, women cannot seek recourse with the authorities or seek shelter elsewhere because they are not allowed to move and they harbor the fear that their husbands on whom they fully depend may summarily chase them from the home. A female key informant from Omoro district in her own words emphasized that “a man without money to adequately provide for the family becomes aggressive whenever a woman asks him for money. He feels his masculinity is being challenged.”

As a recommendation, the Head of Advocacy and Strategic Litigation at the Uganda Network on Law, Ethics and HIV/AIDS has suggested and is lobbying the government to fast-track the implementation of the DV Act. These efforts are being supplemented by the investment Uganda’s development partners are making in GBV prevention efforts through sensitization and creating awareness on the positive exercise of power in homes, as well as unlearning of archaic cultures that promoted power imbalance in homes.

During the lockdown, one of the measures implemented to curb the spread of Covid-19 is the ban on public transport that has left women trapped with their abusive spouses in their homes. Cases of multiple beatings, marital rape, psychological torture by use of abusive words, miscarriages through frequent beatings are becoming rampant. For example, Veronica a 25-year-old mother from Moroto district-returned home from a medical center where her child had just undergone treatment only for her husband to pick up a sharp object and stab her in the right eye. He then beat her up and left her for dead. Many women like Veronica are forced to stay in abusive relationships because they fear that they have no means of getting away from their homes in search of help due to the ban on public transport.

In Amudat, women failed to access police to report GBV and DV cases that happened during Covid-19 lockdown. Some were beaten by their husbands, forced into endless sex, refused from taking family planning pills, forced them to become pregnant and forced their children into involuntary marriages. Surely Ugandan girls and women need justice and protection before the pandemic becomes another GBV crisis.

Ajambo from Luweero district struggled to retain her arm after the husband nearly cut it off with the panga. She decried of abuse, neglect, mistreatment and violence with her six children by the husband. She narrated excessive drinking, verbal insults and failure for the husband to take up family responsibilities. She could not access the police because she lacked transportation and related resources coupled with a transport ban during the Covid-19 lockdown.

Prosy Namatovu married for 16 years, a mother of four children and a resident of Kalimari in Bwaise, could not recall the number of times she was battered and abused sexually during Covid-19 lockdown. She claims that the husband is an alcoholic and does not take care of his responsibilities, a situation that worsened during the quarantine because he is continuously at home hence, abusing her and the children.

A young girl narrates that her father was motorcycle rider as a result of banning public transport during the Covid-19 lockdown, the father could not take care of his family and sent them to their uncle’s home who later was reported having raped the girl, and on disclosing to the father, he kept a deaf ear.

In Buyende district, a step mother denied four step children (girls age range 10–16) from returning home following a presidential directive on school closure in March 2020 to reduce the spread of Covid-19 pandemic. She claimed that she did not have money to feed the children during the lockdown and the girls were found sleeping on the streets increasing their risk to GBV. They were later picked by their uncle and taken for shelter.

Young girls in Tororo district in Melikit village narrated their interest in taking up temporary jobs as maids to enable them earn a living to feed their families during the lockdown. In the same district, a village called Amsugut, two young girls aged between 12–15 narrated how their father instructed them to look for men and get money to support their family, as their father had lost the job due to the Covid-19 lockdown.

GBV is not only a Ugandan problem but rather regional, in Argentina cases of GBV have increased by 25%, Singapore 33%, Cyprus 30% and other countries such as Spain, UK, Canada Malaysia and USA SGBV and DV cases are on the raise and worrying (Byamukama, 2020a, 2020b).

In Latin America, VAW is on the raise in spite of the recent progress and was expected to increase to tune of 92% during the quarantine period. Explaining unpaid domestic work coupled with potential increase and risks to GBV and addressing-related issues becomes a matter of urgency, as it is related to death, humiliation, emotional abuse, insults and intimidation.

In Zimbabwe, GBV reveals its self psychologically, physically and emotionally during Covid-19 lockdown where women and girls were assaulted, battered and raped during Covid-19 lockdown. This led to failure to access justice and health care, as women and girls faced obstacles in accessing a permission letter allowing them to travel coupled with high transport costs. Early pregnancies among young girls in Kenya have increased due to the pandemic and its social evils such as sexual exploitation and rape. Cathy is psychologically tortured because she feels if she tells her mother, she will be disappointed in her, as she had been paying her school fees and she had not yet told the father of her new born who is a former primary school teacher who helps her to cover her school costs when her mother failed.

Challenges related to fighting gender-based violence and domestic violence during lockdown

The president of Ugandan announced a nationwide lockdown and curfew on 20th March 2020. This curtailed the usual mechanisms that victims go through to report cases because they were not allowed to leave their homes to go the far GBV camps, police stations and local council I to report cases, coupled with the ban of public transport made movements impossible. The GBV shelters in the country are located in far places, which made it very hard for the victims to access even using foot. Some survivors have to wait until public transport is fully opened to report the cases.

This followed low levels of reporting GBV-related cases during the lockdown quarantine from March to June 2020, hence victims were left lonely away from the persons and resources that would support them. The safe nets, for example, the family, friends, neighbors, GBV shelters and NGOs were not accessible. Accessing the law enforcement and justice institutions such as police and courts was not easy without public transport. The police were very busy with implementing the presidential directive on lockdown and curfew so they have not been so helpful with GBV cases and local councils, cultural leaders, religious leaders, child and family protect units at police and health centers have also been busy, as they were engaged in the fight of the novel coronavirus Covid-19, hence neglecting the GBV survivors for a later period.

Police needs to take GBV and DV as serious crimes, prosecute offenders seriously for the crimes, which inflicted pain and suffering to victims. This will lead the public to wake up and take the GBV and DV as very serious offenses, as the vice imparts pain and suffering and denies victims meaningful contributions to the growth and development of their communities.

The lockdown and quarantine presented to the perpetrators the perfect environment to continue abusing victims, as everyone was required to respect the stay-at-home orders, hence presenting a fertile ground for isolation and control of the victims. The abusers enjoyed perfect time in the hands of victims because of “stay home, stay safe presidential directives.” Frustration mounted, as hangout places and open spaces were closed i.e. bars, hotels, leisure parks, gardens, beaches and it was assumed that home is the safest place, which is actually not the case hence, the need to provide support to GBV survivors.

The Covid-19 lockdown and quarantine resulted in victims facing loss of shelter, hunger and isolation hence, the government needs to emphasize that both survivors and GBV response is prioritized. In the presidential addresses, during the lockdown and quarantine, he did not emphasize GBV or child abuse as priority areas therefore, to the perpetrators, this laid a conducive environment to carry on with the vice. The available local structures have been exhaustively used in the Covid-19 fight because the president used the local structures to distribute food, enforce curfew and implement the presidential directives on lockdown and quarantine, which left the victims unattended too. While an online app was designed called SafePal app, a digital platform to enable survivors of GBV report-related cases. Unfortunately, many Ugandans cannot afford mobile phones and data but also lack knowledge on how to use the platform (UNFPA, 2020). How prevention and response to GBV and DV victims can be done amidst the deadly novel coronavirus?

The author calls for: Involvement in community speeches and familiarize local information and understanding in the Covid-19 recovery and response plan at the district and National level. Districts, under community-based services, need to design proactive measures for effective social safety networks to increase responsiveness to the victims during lockdown and implement recovery plans.

Government should mind gender dynamics in Covid-19 national response if community engagement is to be achieved in prevention and response intervention, materials on Covid-19 should be printed in all local languages with a vibrant and operative broadcasting strategy to influence the rural population.

Engagement and working with development partners government should provide basic needs to girls such as sanitary towels, sanitizers, liquid soap, gloves and hand washing facilities and cash transfers among others to support girls continue with education and avoid the catching coronavirus.

There is need to form a Covid-19 family task force to help handle all related increasing cases of GBV in Ugandan communities at the local level and ensure that family members are equipped with information concerning coronavirus pandemic and ensure members adhere to the ministry guidelines with the inclusion of rural persons with disability, older persons, illiterate and the young.

Government security officials should ensure that the lockdown and quarantine measures do not penalize women and girls experiencing DV in hospitals and police stations. Government should allocate adequate resources for services for survivors especially at the district level and the provision for Standard Operating Procedures for the response and prevention to GBV throughout Covid-19 lockdown and quarantine.

During the novel coronavirus Covid-19 lockdown and quarantine, the chairpersons should be given permission to issue authorization letters of emergency to allow sick people access health care services especially at night and they are available on call when police needed additional information or confirmation in the cause of doubt and also ensure that ambulances are placed in villages to support in the transportation of the sick people to reduce on the number of those who die on failure to access hospitals. The government should continue using popular means such as radio stations and programs, television, social media and newsprint to share information on GBV amidst the deadly pandemic.

Government’s integration of Covid-19 with GBV and it should not stand- alone to avoid being ignored in the wave of Covid-19 and this will enable the continued support and awareness to alert the public not to remain silent but report the cases to police.

The call to the government of Uganda for a Gender Sensitive National Covid-19 Response although government is under immense pressure to curb further spread of the disease, as it has consequences to the economy. The government should give critical attention to the different Covid-19 impacts to women and children so that women and children do not continue to shoulder the burden of their families and the stakeholder engagement for proper planning of interventions on GBV.

Conclusion

The government’s obvious efforts to deal with GBV-related issues are valued and as the police is deeply involved in the implementation of the lockdown and quarantine procedures following presidential directives, the fight to effectively respond to all reported cases, arrest offenders and support survivors of domestic, GBV and sexual violence should access legal aid services and medical treatment ought to be given priority and addressed. The existing interventions in the communities currently in Uganda leave a lot to be desired and suggested ideas should be incorporated if government is to register a recommendable change in the fight against GBV. Government of Uganda needs to put up preparedness, risk reduction, response measures including food distribution to victims, including transport for GBV victims to access health care in spite of the lockdown to reduce on the long-term negative impacts on women, girls, children, families and communities. It is the responsibility of all Ugandans to enforce gender equity perspectives through planning measures i.e. social and economic assistance to the marginalized women and girls in rural areas.

Relevant international conventions ratified by Uganda

Convention Year
Conventions on the Rights of the Children 1989 1990
Convention on Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination Against Women 1979 1987
Convention Against Torture and other Forms of Cruel, Inhuman and Degrading 1986
Treatment 1984 accession
Abolition of Forced Labor Convention 1957 (No.105) 1963
ILO Convention on Worst Forms of Child Labor, 1999 (No.182) 2001
Equal remuneration Convention No.100 2005
Discrimination (Employment and Occupation) Convention No.111 2005
UNESCO Convention on Safe Guarding of Intangible Cultural Heritage, 2003 2009
Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, 2006 2007
Beijing platform for Action 1995 1996
The African Charter on Human and People’s Rights 1981 1986
The African Union Heads of State Solemn Declaration on Gender Equality, 2004 2005
The Protocol to the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights on the Rights 2010
of Women in Africa (Maputo Protocol, 2003)

GBV interventions at community level

Organization Interventions Target
Local government Coordination and capacity building of Child Protection committees
local structures Para socials, village health teams (VHTs), etc
Justice law and order sector (JLOS) Legal services, capacity building Community, GBV survivors
monitoring Judicial officers, police
Police Awareness in communities, Law Families (men, women and
(Family and child protection units) enforcement, counselling and guidance children), victims of GBV and
referrals, handling cases Violence against children (VAC), juvenile offenders
Plan international Materials, education, awareness Communities, school children
Uganda women’s network (UWONET) GBV shelter management, legal aid GBV survivors
sensitization and mediation (women and children)
Association of female lawyers (FIDA) Free legal aid Women
Media houses Information dissemination Wider communities
BRAC Psychosocial support, livelihood Women, children
Microfinance
World vision Psychosocial support, education, water Youth, women
JOY For children Psychosocial support, sensitization People living with HIV (PLHIV)
Muhabura diocese Psychosocial support (spiritual) Women
Resettlement, food, clothing
Bantwana Sensitization, capacity building Children
United Organization of Batwa Development in Uganda (UOBDU) Education, legal support, capacity Indigenous minority peoples
building, sensitization (Batwa)

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Corresponding author

Madinah Nabukeera can be contacted at: nabmadinah@gmail.com

About the author

Madinah Nabukeera is based at the Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences, Kyambogo University, Kampala, Uganda.

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