Millions of people in Uganda, including many adolescents, youths, and children, are subjected to sexual violence. Yet, very few survivors ever tell anyone about the experience or access health services or mental health support to help them heal. Many do not understand the importance of these services or the fact that, after a rape, every hour matters in preventing potentially lifelong health problems. Like in many countries around the world, the situation of sexual exploitation, gender-based violence, and abuse has even worsened in Uganda, during the COVID-19 crisis leaving a devastating impact on the health and well-being of many Ugandan girls. The pandemic has exacerbated inequalities already faced by vulnerable populations, particularly adolescents and young people.
In our bid to act, Uganda Youth and Adolescents Health Forum with support from METs and CDC Uganda has organized a Capacity building workshop for Youth Champion in Wakiso and Kampala on Every Hour Matters (EHM) Campaign using the EHM Youth Engagement Toolkit. The capacity building training was attended by 40 participants. The EHM campaign aims to increase awareness about the critical importance of quickly accessing post-rape care and calls on national and community leaders to ensure comprehensive services are available in all communities.
The EHM campaign is critical because it urgently calls to assess the current standard and highlights why accessing care quickly is important for health and well-being, for instance:
- HIV can be prevented if survivors receive life-saving medication within 72 hours.
- Emergency contraception can help prevent pregnancy, and in the longer term, many other complications, if accessed within 120 hours.
- Medical help for physical trauma may be urgently needed is the victim is to survive
The discussion set off with the facilitators making sure the participants understand the concept of gender, gender-based violence, and sex. From the discussions, it was evident that the majority understood gender and sex as being the same thing. The various types of gender-based violence were shared such as emotional violence which entails issues such as trauma, discrimination, denial of rights, intimidation, stalking, economic violence, child marriages, and sexual violence which can entail defilement, rape, or unwanted touching.
During the discussion, more emphasis was on knowing why every hour matters after rape and defilement. This is because many times survivors are okay with sharing stories of sexual violence with their peers who have little or no knowledge to provide them with the correct information. When one has been sexually abused they should reach out to a health facility to get immediate help such as the Emergency Contraceptives (EC) to help them prevent unwanted pregnancies which work best within 120 hours and HIV by giving them Post Exposure Prophylaxis (Pep) drug which works best within 72 hours its an anti-retroviral drug that prevents one from acquiring the virus after being exposed to possible infection. The victims are also supported with psychosocial support which prevents trauma, depression, stigma among others.
Uganda Youth and adolescent health forum has partnered with various stakeholders to ensure they support survivors and end violence by sensitizing people in the communities about the dangers of sexual abuse and holding the perpetrators accountable. The Trainers of Trainers were taken through the referral pathway to follow in case of sexual abuse and tasked to cascade this within their communities. The first place that one a survivor should visit is their local health facility where they will be able to get medical attention which will help in the collection and preservation of evidence, as well as psychosocial services to help them deal with the trauma. The second place should be the police, followed by family members, CDOS, and LCs.
Several challenges were highlighted during the discussion such as:
- There is a lack of male and boy support when it comes to rape they are judged and made fun of once they came out and speak about it. This has greatly affected the number of male survivors who report cases of rape.
- Society is always judgmental when it comes to the survivors this greatly builds upon their stigma.
- Many young girls and boys lack knowledge about rape and rape care.
- Training should be conducted within the communities.
- Sensitization of the parents and relatives about rape since some of them are unaware and they are after protecting the family name which they do by protecting the perpetrators.
- Conducting community outreaches to raise awareness about rape and rape care
- Use of media platforms to communicate the message rape care and rape to the public.