By Jeff Andrew Lule
The rising prices of essential commodities continue to expose young girls to more risks, perpetrated by their parents.
The State Minister for Gender and Culture, Peace Mutuuzo, noted that it is very unfortunate that during such hard economic times, some parents have instead decided to view their daughters as commercial commodities, which they can sell and earn something.
“The challenge of gender-based violence (GBV) is so biting. We had COVID-19, which appeared to affect everybody, but women were subjugated double during the two years of the lockdown and over three million girls were affected,” she said.
In her speech during the national symposium on the sustainability and impact of GBV shelters in Uganda at Protea Hotel in Kololo, a Kampala suburb, on Friday, August 12, the minister expressed concern over the increase of violence against women and girls.
The event was organised by the Ministry of Gender, Labour and Social Development, in partnership with UN Women, ActionAid International Uganda (AAIU), the Embassy of Sweden, and the UN Multi-Partner Trust Fund (MPTF) Office.
The event was attended by the Local Government officials, the Civil Society Organisation (CSO), and different partners among others.
“We thought once COVID was gone, we would go and start afresh, try to support those girls who had been gotten pregnant, but the economic crisis and climate change came in, which also has a great impact on women, especially the young girls,” she noted.
Mutuuzo stressed that as poverty stresses people, and commodity prices increase, little girls are now being looked at as commercial products, which they can exchange for money.
“They are the first ones to be let go of in exchange for money. Within the pastoral communities, people would rather save trees and not burn charcoal, but cannot save the girl child,” she noted.
Mutuuzo cited that social media has been awash with a video of a girl being kidnapped and compelled into marriage against her will, betrayed by her aunt who should be trusted most than anyone else.
“I am on my way to look for her. Before this weekend, I should have gotten to this girl,” she added.
However, Mutuuzo noted that this girl was lucky to have her matter followed, but such cases are never reported since parents and relatives are always involved and shield the perpetrators.
She said the situation of GBV remains unexpectedly high despite government commitments and efforts toward prevention.
Mutuuzo noted that the national survey on violence conducted by the Uganda Bureau of Statistics (UBOS) 2021, shows that 36% of women in an intimate relationship have experienced violence (physical, sexual or emotional).
“Intimate is supposed to mean love, but I don’t know how violence comes within love. I don’t really get it,” she wondered.
Mutuuzo stressed that whereas physical violence against women has reduced from 51% in 2016 to 45% in 2021, sexual violence has instead increased from 22% in 2016 to 36% in 2021.
“Why sexual violence? What is missing is that people have to find it in a sexual relationship and in a violent way when there are women willing to offer themselves either at a cheap cost or at free will. What is this that leads people to violate other people’s rights in a sexual forceful mechanism?” she asked.
The statistics further indicate that 47% of women have also faced economic violence such as being forced to give up part of their earnings, refused to access jobs, or denied money for household expenses.
The violence against children below 12 years has remained equally high in the past 12 months. Physical violence against boys is at 58% and girls at 73% while emotional violence stands at 57% for boys and 61% for girls.
The commissioner gender and women affairs, Angella Kafeero, said many women and children continue to be abused in various ways, a reason why there is a need for more shelters to rehabilitate the victims.
“That is why we want to see how to ensure the sustainability of these shelters. We have only 20, but need to be funded to offer the required services,” she added.
The AAIU Head of Programs, Grace Mercy Munduru, said the majority of the shelters are being supported and funded by various partners, who are pulling our next time.
“The question of sustainability is critical and we have been deliberating about it internally as an organisation. This symposium helps us to deliberate on the challenges surrounding this work looking at its impact, but also looking at the sustainability beyond donor funding,” she noted.
Munduru stressed that the Government together with the Local Governments and the local Civil Society Organisations (CSO) must start thinking innovatively about the future of the shelters.
Former MP Dora Byamukama noted that shelters not only provide counselling, but also other key services (shelter, medical, food, security, and other basic needs) to those who have been violated.
The Ambassador of Sweden to Uganda, Maria Hakansson, noted that GBV is an obvious expression of gender inequality in society, saying it is high time the Government walks the talk to end the vice.