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Uganda’s violence against women survey heralds legislative and policy changes
People in Uganda commemorate the 16 Days of Activism against Gender-Based Violence in 2018 with a boda ride. Photo: UN Women/Martin Ninsiima
People in Uganda commemorate the 16 Days of Activism against Gender-Based Violence with a bike ride. Photo: UN Women/Martin Ninsiima

Uganda’s first-ever stand-alone National Survey on Violence against Women and Girls (VAWG),  conducted by the Uganda Bureau of Statistics (UBOS) and supported by UN Women’s Women Count programme in 2020, has informed several pieces of legislation now before Parliament. The findings have also spurred action to increase timely access to justice, monitor budget allocations for VAWG prevention, and to improve data collection, management, and dissemination.

Among the shocking survey findings were that almost all Ugandan women and girls (95%) had experienced physical or sexual violence, or both, by partners or non-partners since the age of 15.

“These data have informed policies and draft legislation,” asserts Sandra Heather, Programme Officer for the Ugandan Women’s Parliamentary Association (UWOPA), which convenes over 200 Members of Parliament (MPs). “And we’ve seen progress on these laws on the floor of Parliament.”

She cites the rehashed version of a Sexual Offences Bill being introducing this November, which specifically seeks to address the kinds of sexual violence women and girls reported in the survey.

The original bill faced backlash from MPs arguing that some aspects existed in other laws, which should be amended instead. So, UWOPA will simultaneously use the survey data to pressure the Government to table Penal Code amendments and argue for any necessary changes at committee stage.

“Some aspects of the Domestic Violence Act, Prevention of Trafficking in Persons Act, and Female Genital Mutilation Act have also become outdated, especially in light of technology and international best practices, and therefore need to be amended,” explains Heather. “The [VAWG survey] data gave us actionable information to address disparities in these laws.”

UWOPA also used the findings to lobby for a Marriage Bill introduced in 2020 but fine-tuned and reintroduced as a Private Members’ Bill in July 2022. Among other things, it proposes an end to child marriage and bride prices and ensure other rights.

The survey also survey found that violence in the workplace was affecting many Ugandan women – 86% in the previous 12 months. An Employment Amendment Bill, which proposes sexual harassment policies in the workplace, was thus reintroduced in Parliament in February of 2022. Currently at the committee stage, the bill is expected to pass its second reading soon.

Data-collection improvements

According to Pamela Kakande, Head of UBOS’s Gender and Disability Unit, UBOS has committed to conduct the VAWG survey every five years to get a clearer picture of trends and progress, and to assist policymaking.

Two post-survey VAWG policy briefs and a dialogue on financing for VAWG prevention, which recommended strengthening data management systems to collect timely and quality disaggregated VAWG data (for variables such as age, sex and location), including by tracking cases from entry to exit—changes which have all now been implemented. .

Kakande says these changes are allowing the authorities to get a better sense of VAWG case outcomes. A Gender Unit has been created within the Uganda Police Force and VAWG forms now appear in the Health Management Information System – with consistently higher cases in the latter.

Kakande says these data management changes will reduce costs and ultimately improve services and timely access to justice: “They will provide regular real-time data on where service-delivery gaps or inconsistencies exist, to better focus interventions to improve access to justice for survivors. For example, the indicator on lead time intends to establish the time taken for an individual to receive justice. With these systems in place, cases that are ready for hearing will be presented as required by law, thus making the criminal justice system efficient.”

VAWG budgeting and policymaking

Other positive changes as a result of the 2020 survey include a call by the Minister of Finance for a national zero-tolerance policy on VAWG. The Equal Opportunities Commission’s assessment tools – and those of ministries, departments and agencies – now integrate gender-based violence criteria and are now required to monitor budget allocations for VAWG prevention. This detailed tracking is expected to contribute to increasing such budgetary allocations.

Survey findings on help-seeking behaviour have equally spurred action, as only 43% of women who had been physically abused by their partner had never sought help from formal services or authorities (including local leaders).

Heather says there have been improvements in access to services for survivors of sexual violence, such as ensuring shelters remained open during the pandemic, and making post-exposure prophylaxis (PEP) free, as well as increased punishments for perpetrators of sexual violence.

According to Paulina Chiwangu, UN Women Country Representative for Uganda, the VAWG survey also helped identify gender gaps in access to services for survivors at the community level: “We equipped human rights defenders with the critical data and evidence they needed to influence decisions in favour of more effective service-delivery. Based on data presented to decision-makers during the COVID-19 response, for example, ending VAWG services were recognized as an essential service and accorded similar status to emergency services, as they deliver critical life-saving support to women and girl survivors,” she says. 

“The VAWG survey provided sobering and eye-opening data on what many women’s organizations had been saying for quite some time, and we’ve been pleased to see various bodies not only taking notice, but also taking action and transforming lives,” adds Chiwangu. “These tangible results are evidence of the impact that gender data can have on policies and practices, with the end goal of improving Uganda’s responses for survivors of gender-based violence.”

Written By:
Jen Ross
Jen Ross

Jen Ross is a Chilean-Canadian journalist with more than 20 years of experience, including 10 on staff with the UN (ECLAC, OHCHR and UN Women). She is now based in Aruba, where she has written her first works of fiction, lectures at the University of Aruba, and consults as a writer, editor and translator for UN Women and other clients.

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