Young people in Mbale district have said that the persistence of gender-based violence is due to the cultural norms and stigma still existent in the community.

They said that girls and women continue to believe that a man has the right to beat a woman, which leads society to regard a woman who reports a husband for any violence or abuse as disrespectful.

This was revealed recently during the Mbale “community girl and women-centered activations on challenging SGBV and harmful practices,” which took place on November 18th, 2021 at the UYAHF adolescent health clinic in Mbale.

The dialogue was held as a pre-16 Day of Activism against GBV activity, aimed at raising awareness among adolescent girls and young people on the magnitude of teenage pregnancy, child marriages, and sexual violence; creating awareness and agency on violence against the girl child among families, communities, and law enforcement agencies to catalyze positive attitudes and behavior that foster peace and positive relationships during this pandemic; and publicly condemning and calling on various stakeholders to desist from all forms of violence against the girl child, especially ending all forms of sexual violence, including child marriage, among others.

The dialogue brought together adolescent girls, young women, and district officials such as the Mbale Community Development Officer (CDO), Chief Administrative Officer (CAO), District Health Officer (DHO), and several CSOs, among others.

District and religious leaders attending the dialogue recently

During an open discussion involving young people on the key drivers of SGBV, the young people revealed that many of their fellow young women and girls are enduring abusive marriages and relationships, as well as being subjected to rape by relatives and caregivers because they are afraid of how society will perceive them if they talk it out.

“If you report a man for beating you, people in the community will instead abuse and mock you. As a result, many women end up remaining silent, but one can clearly see their pain through the bruises or swellings on their bodies, “said Namutosi Agnes.

Another young person, Namataka Judith, explained that when one reports a case of abuse to the area chairman, they are usually asked to settle the matter as a couple, putting the woman at greater risk of further violence.

“Just two days ago, my neighbour beat his wife nearly to death because she denied him sex yet she was in her menstruation, so when we came and intervened and reported the case to the chairman, he told us that these are matters of husband and wife that should be solved in the house by them, not by a chairman,” Judith revealed.

According to the young people, the outbreak of COVID-19 has also been a major contributor to some of the cases of gender-based violence in the communities. They claimed that young girls had been married because their parents were unable to provide for their families. While some others have lured their daughters to sleep with men so that they may be given money to fend for the family,”

 Data from Mbale Central Police Station indicates that,1181 cases of gender-based violence were reported in December 2020, ranging from child neglect of 193, domestic violence of 815, child labor of 46, and defilement of 28. In addition, 731 cases of SGBV were managed in all health facilities between June 2020 and September 2020.

During a panel discussion on the key drivers of GBV in the community, Sister Alupot Deborah, an Adolescent Health Educator in Mbale, said that many victims also fear reporting GBV because they will have nowhere else to go but return to the same home where they have been abused, putting them at even greater risk.

According to Sgt. Mukoya Daphine, an officer at the Child Protection Unit – CPS Mbale, some cases of defilement or rape go unsolved because victims abandon the case after reporting it and do not follow up, causing the court to dismiss the case over time.

In response to concerns about parents settling defilement cases at home, Sgt Daphine stated unequivocally that the Ugandan law forbids any negotiation. “There is no way around it; the perpetrators must face the law, so anyone caught negotiating, including parents, is supposed to be arrested.”

However, according to Nabifo Immaculate, the Mbale Community Development Officer (CDO), people have abandoned cases and lost trust in the police and the court system, causing them to be hesitant to report.

“I am occasionally irritated by the unnecessary delays in the legal process. These delays have caused complainants to abandon cases because they spend a lot of money and time on transportation while attempting to follow up on cases.” The CDO stated.

She went on to describe the dilemma victims face during the reporting process, from police to court.

“At the police station, they ask you questions that directly traumatize you, they ask you to narrate the entire experience, they ask you to wear the same clothes, and they sometimes ask you to narrate this to a male officer, so how do you think someone feels? This experience definitely feels like another form of torture, so unless you are determined, you end up giving up,” Nabifo added.

The CDO also requested Mbale district officials to designate one of their vacant buildings as an SGBV shelter so that victims could find a safe place to stay.