Rights activists demand swifter justice for GBV victims: concerns rise over delays

Women's rights activists have expressed deep concern over the ineffective implementation of laws addressing sexual and gender-based violence.

They are also troubled by the government's failure to allocate sufficient funding to agencies, such as the police, that play a crucial role in combating this issue.

As we approach the 16 days of activism against gender-based violence from November 25 to December 10, the Forum for Women in Democracy, represented by Elizabeth Ampaire, Director of Programs, Dr. Miria Matembe, a renowned human rights defender, and Suzan Golobe from Ntinda Police Station, emphasizes the urgent need for action to address the escalating violence.

The forum highlights the power dynamics central to gender-based violence, with Matembe stressing the importance of recognizing women's autonomy and their rights as full human beings who can make decisions for themselves and their communities.

Matembe stated, "Gender-based violence is about power and women's autonomy.

It is about their ability to make personal decisions for themselves and their communities."

"Today, we remember Hon. Joyce Mpanga, a trailblazer for women's rights. Unfortunately, she did not live to see women's rights fully realized. We seem to be regressing in our struggle, but we must fight against gender-based violence. It should not limit women's ability to reach their full potential. Let us rise up and practice Ubuntu.

Ugandans should not lose their morals," she added.

Gender-based violence continues to be a widespread issue that disproportionately affects women and girls worldwide.

According to the World Bank, one in every three women will experience gender-based violence in their lifetime.

In Uganda, the Uganda Demographic Health Survey of 2016 reported that 56% of women have experienced physical violence at some point in their lives.

The Police Crime Report for 2022 documented a total of 17,698 cases of domestic violence, 1,623 cases of rape, 8,960 cases of defilement, and 14,693 sex-related crimes registered in the past year.

Ampaire highlighted the fact that many cases remain unreported due to stigma, economic dependence on perpetrators, intimidation, and challenges in accessing justice, among other factors.

Violence against women has also increased in various settings such as the workplace and online spaces.

A global study conducted by the Economist Intelligence Unit in 2021 found that 38% of women have personally experienced online violence, and 85% of women who spend time online have witnessed digital violence against other women.

Despite these alarming statistics, Ampaire emphasized that the prosecution rates indicate the low accessibility to justice for survivors of gender-based violence.

For example, in 2022, only 7.8% of domestic violence cases (1,357 cases) were taken to court, resulting in a mere 1.1% (207 cases) resulting in convictions.

Furthermore, out of the total registered rape cases, only 34.3% (557 suspects) were charged in court, with a meagre 0.12% (2 cases) resulting in convictions.

Additionally, only 52% (4,725 cases) of registered defilement cases made it to court, with only 206 cases securing convictions.

A study conducted by the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) estimated that gender-based violence incidents cost the Ugandan economy approximately Shs 77 billion annually.

Moreover, a recent study by FOWODE (Budgeting for Peace 2021) revealed that gender-based violence has significant long-term physical, sexual, financial, and psychological impacts on families, hindering women and girls from realizing their full potential.

Ampaire reminded the government about the magnitude of gender-based violence and its social and economic costs.

The activists called for increased investment and prioritization of the recruitment of staff under the Community-Based Services Departments in Local Governments, aiming to reach at least 70% in the short term (5% above the minimum staffing threshold).

This would enable Local Governments to fulfil their citizen mobilization mandate and gradually contribute to reducing negative cultural practices and attitudes in society.

They also urged for gradual increases in allocations for the Community Mobilization and Mindset Change function.

Ampaire noted that inadequate funding has led to significant gaps in access to justice, as evident in the earlier presented statistics, within the Justice Law and Order Sector (JLOS).

Key institutions such as the Child and Family Protection Unity (CFPU) of the Police and the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions (ODPP) are severely underfunded, impeding their ability to fulfil their mandates.

Ampaire called on the government to strengthen the mandates of key institutions responsible for the prevention, mitigation, and management of gender-based violence.

The activists further demanded the revision of the chart of accounts to include a specific budget code for tagging all resources and expenses related to violence against women and gender-based violence.

This revision would greatly enhance the ability to plan for and track resources allocated to combating gender-based violence, ensuring consistent reporting.

Golobe, representing the police, highlighted the numerous cases of violence encountered by the police, with women often approaching them in a state of depression.

She emphasized the need for increased funding to provide psychosocial support to survivors.

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