The good news is that no one has died in Uganda from the virus COVID-19. Community response and donations to aid the needy has been tremendous. However, women have died or are dying from domestic violence exacerbated by the lockdown.
There are disturbing clips of domestic violence circulating on social media. The ones I find most disturbing are not where the couple are of equal age and perhaps strength and fight each other, although this too is sad. The distressing clips are the ones where women frail and helpless, are beaten by young men wielding big sticks. There was one where a tall man clad only in underwear raises a panga or machete to strike down at a woman several times as she sits outside by the fire cooking, until she jumps up and runs into the muzigo, but with what injuries?
State actors have also been committing violence to women. There was the clip of a boda-boda carrying a woman, perhaps against lockdown regulations. A man who appears to be an LDU steps out and hits them hard with a stick. The woman falls to the ground. And then the most shocking one is of the recent fatal shooting of an expectant mother and boda-boda rider by an LDU in Masaka.
The sad thing is that there are bystanders watching the violence happen who seem helpless to intervene to protect these women. It was therefore heartening to see the police respond in one case where an elderly woman suffered violence at the hands of a young man. However by the time the police arrive at such scenes injuries have been suffered, limbs broken and perhaps even lives lost.
What we need is a prevention and response mechanism in the community that can step in to actively prevent harm and injury to women until the police arrive on the scene and the criminal or civil justice system kicks in.
In Tororo, MIFUMI, in partnership with the district health team have been going round the communities in a Pick-up, airing spot messages of health and safety. Including the message to desist from violence and abuse against women and children and to report any violence in the community.
This has been well received by the community. It may not be very much but it is a starting point. There is power in the Community that can be harnessed to protect women.
When MIFUMI began domestic violence work in 1999 it was similar to working in a pandemic situation. Domestic violence was not considered a serious matter. We were working within very hostile environments. We had to find a way of buying into community support to create a protective environment for women. Hence we created the Community Safety Forums composed of men and women community leaders and duty bearers. We also created Women’s Forums to support women and help them report abuse. We worked very closely with the duty bearers particularly the Police and LCs to get the message across that domestic violence is harmful and that at times of stress and anxiety we must find non-violent ways of resolving conflict. Domestic violence is neither necessary nor acceptable.
There are silent killers in homes and women are the hidden victims. We must not let the pandemic make them hidden victims of the pandemic as well. Women need not die because of the virus.
No longer can people stand and watch women being beaten. We must get the message across that domestic violence is everyone’s responsibility and that communities can be empowered to take action to prevent it through Community Safety Forums.
For further information on MIFUMI’s work please visit www.mifumi.org or call the MIFUMI Helpline on 0800 250 250.
Dr Atuki Turner,