The Silent Pandemic Within the Pandemic.

In Looro sub-county, Amudat district; one of the members of the Community Based Action Teams (COMBATs) working with the National Association of Women’s Organizations in Uganda (NAWOU), reported a man who has been forcing his wife to be violated by 3 of his brothers under the guise of helping her conceive. The Police arrested the man however, did not allow the survivor to make any statement. This prompted the relatives of the perpetuator to kidnap her and take her to an undisclosed location. It is also speculated that the police are working with said man, which is against the law. NAWOU is currently following up the matter with the District Police Commander (DPC) in Looro to trace the survivor, support her make a statement and receive justice, however challenging the situation. This is one of the many examples of violence against women and girls taking place during this lockdown due to the COVID 19 pandemic.

Due to the high impact of COVID-19 on normal day to day lives, one silent pandemic has emerged from the social distancing and non-motorized transport directives by the President of Uganda, H.E Yoweri Kaguta Museveni, to ensure the curbing of corona virus. Domestic violence, sexual exploitation and abuse, and all manners of violence against women is on the rise due to the COVID-19 Lockdown. This can majorly be traced back to the disruption of social and protective networks and decreased access to services.  It is documented that women all over the world are more susceptible to violence in their own homes because they now spend more time with their possible abusers. There is equally increased isolation of families, with no mechanisms for reporting violations.  Statistics show that 1 in 10 Ugandan women aged 15-49 has experienced gender based violence (GBV) during pregnancy; globally 243 million women and girls aged 15-49 years have been subjected to sexual and/or physical violence perpetuated by an intimate partner in the last 12 months. Emerging data shows that since the outbreak of COVID-19, violence against women and girls and particularly domestic violence has intensified (Source UNICEF).

Police Spokesman Fred Enanga speaking on violence against women during one of the press COVID-19 updates.

 In Uganda, particularly in Amudat, the women cannot access Police to report these cases because of various reasons that include unclear guidelines on how to address issues of GBV by the government especially now during the lockdown; restricted movement and general fear to go out of homes as well as fear of recurrent violation by the abusers who also restrict movement of the survivors.  The Amudat Police Officers limit dissemination of information regarding the prevention of COVID-19 spread in the urban centres, and less in the communities.  There is equally hardly any other information provided, say on how to address issues of GBV and access to other services. There is a huge information gap in Amudat that is predominantly rural, with close to no access to media information because the only radio station that serves the Pokot community is in Kenya.  The people speak Pokot and Kiswahili, which are largely used in Kenya.  The women when asked why they do not report said “We were advised by the Police not to move out of our homes. If they find us we are afraid of being beaten and arrested.”  They also think the Police now mainly focus on responding to the coronavirus related emergencies and transporting only persons suspected to be COVID 19 positive.  

NAWOU recognizes the different ways the government is trying to ensure the protection of all the citizens during this crisis but we request the districts and local leaders have more sensitizations and channels to disseminate clear and easily comprehendible guidelines for the communities to understand. The women ought to know that they can still seek justice even under the current situation of lockdown. Communities should be guided to know that they can choose to report their abusers and not suffer alone in silence. Besides that, the government should come up with policies to include essential services to address violence against women and girls in preparedness and response plans for COVID-19, fund them and identify accessibility measures. Police hotline numbers or legal service provider’s numbers should be distributed within the community to minimize on the movement of the women in order for them to access support and get justice.  

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