von Wolfgang Zechner
Fighting Gender-Based Violence in the Context of COVID-19
Regina Bafaki, Executive Director the Ugandan women’s organization ACFODE talks about the organization’s actions and challenges during the COVID-19 lockdown and how women are affected by the situation.
How is ACFODE dealing with the COVID-19 situation? What are the main challenges for the organization?
Since the announcement by the government about the lockdown, ACFODE closed offices both (head and field) on 24th March 2020. And so all staff have been doing work from home since then until 25th May when the lockdown was again partially lifted. It is a partial opening because though the private means of transport were allowed, there are still restrictions such as 3 people per vehicle, no use motorcycle, wearing masks, and curfew that starts at 7 pm.
The major challenges experienced by ACFODE during the COVID-19 have been:
- All the field activities have been the halted until the situation normalizes
- Staff working from home there has been the issue of connectivity especially those that traveled in rural areas where there are challenges of electricity
- Inability to reach out and provide timely support to the target groups especially women who experience gender-based violence
- Inability to meet the reporting timelines for some projects due to challenges with connectivity and accessing support documents (hard copies)
- Some development partners have reduced or delayed submission of the funds especially administrative costs (salaries) pegging them onto program activities implemented.
- Some key institutional strengthening activities have been halted such as programs committee meetings, development partners conference, and elections for the new board of directors.
How does lockdown affect women in Uganda?
The lockdown has affected women in Uganda and elsewhere in different ways. Women have had their care work increased since all family members stay home and this has had a toll on their health (exhaustion) and yet it has been reported that some male partners do not give a helping hand but rather demand sex irrespective of the situation. Refusal of conjugal rights has resulted in domestic violence which is witnessed by the children since they are at home in most cases.
There have been cases of defilement rape, sexual harassment, and use of abusive languages by the men and yet due to the lockdown, many women have had to put up with their abusive partners due to limitations in movement. The survivors have had challenges accessing justice and social services. This is because most of the police force have focused their attention on enforcing government directives with regard to COVID 19, while the health workers have been overwhelmed with the pandemic moreover the health facilities are not well equipped to handle COVID patients and other health matters.
Due to the ban on public transport including the motorcycles and the commuter taxis especially the former being the most common means of transport for the rural population and the urban poor, women have not been able to move and report the cases of SGBV adequately and to seek justice and support.
There have been reports of stock out of sexual and reproductive services especially family planning and this is likely to lead to unwanted and unplanned pregnancies, while the expectant mothers have not been able to access antenatal services while others have resorted to traditional birth attendants that can sometimes be risky for both the mother and the baby in case there are complications.
The women living with HIV/AIDS have not accessed the ARVs as required due to shortages and limitation to movement, while those who have managed to get some their spouses have forcefully shared with them the dozes thus making them ineffective. This been compromised by poor feeding due to the pandemic where some of them were involved in all sorts of businesses in the informal sector that has been greatly due to the lockdown.
These cases of gender-based violence are addressed by the local council leaders who are closer to the families, others report to police particularly the Family and Protection Unit, the Ministry of Gender, and other civil society organizations have toll free lines. Media is also used to create awareness and report cases of gender-based violence. Some organizations offer legal counseling and shelter to survivors of gender-based violence however, with the pandemic this has been challenging.
How do you inform people about the topic of gender-based violence during the lockdown?
ACFODE has employed different approaches to inform people about gender-based violence namely use of spot messages on local radios, working with local leaders and community activists to use of community radios to sensitize the masses on gender-based violence, working with members of the district task forces on COVID 19 to distribute of leaflets on gender-based violence and holding talk shows. At a national level we have had zoom meetings, written petitions with other organizations, had TV talk shows, and given talks to different groupings such as Rotary through zoom and given opinions during call-in radio programs.
What is important for women to know about gender-based violence?
Women need to know that it is a violation of their rights, takes different forms i.e. physical, sexual, emotional, economic, and psychological. They need to know their rights and that it is illegal and punishable according to the Uganda laws such as the Domestic Violence Act 2010. There is a need to know that it affects everyone irrespective of their socio-economic status, age, and sex. They need to know that it is caused by the misuse or abuse of power. It is wrong and unacceptable and that it should not be normalized. They should know where to report in case of abuse and that it is very important to break the silence about gender-based violence. They should not blame themselves for the violence experienced but rather talk about it and seek assistance. If they notice it is persistent, it is important to move out of the relationship than stay and either be maimed for life or die. Lastly, it is important for the women to be economically empowered so that they are less dependant on their partners and can support themselves economically once they move out of the abusive relationship.
Action for Development (ACFODE) is an indigenous, voluntary, non-governmental women’s organization whose formation was stimulated by the United Nations Third World Conference on Women held in Nairobi in July 1985. The issues raised in this conference showed a need for an organized forum that would formally provide a platform for effective debate and action on issues related to the advancement of women in Uganda.
Since its establishment three decades ago in 1985, ACFODE has been an effective platform of debate and action on issues related to women’s empowerment in Uganda. ACFODE’s work revolves around five major program pillar areas: 1) Policy Development and Research, 2) Leadership Development, 3) Transformative Social-cultural practices, 4) Economic empowerment and Institutional development.
About Regina Bafaki
Regina has over 20 years’ experience working in women’s rights and gender equality. As ACFODE’s Executive Director she provides oversight, strategic direction, and leadership to the organization. She possesses a master’s degree in Gender and Development Studies and postgraduates in Development Policy, Planning and Management, and Organizational Development. Regina serves on different organization boards including Action Aid International Uganda chairing the Board Governance Committee, Centre for Domestic Violence (CEDOVIP), advisory board member EU supported civil society supported program in Uganda (C SUP) and Inclusive Decisions at Local level (IDEAL) a program run by VNG International (The Netherlands) and a board of Trustees Cross Cultural Foundation of Uganda (CCFU).