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COVID-19 AND GBV: IMPACT ON GIRLS AND WOMEN IN UGANDA

The novel Coronavirus commonly referred to as Covid-19 has caused a Pandemic of global proportions with many countries struggling to contain it and its effects. In Uganda, the Covid-19 pandemic has caused government to take action in order to curb its spread. This has resulted into a total lockdown with public services like transport suspended, businesses closed, schools and learning stopped, public gatherings banned and a curfew in effect. These measures have served their purpose with Uganda’s infection curve currently far below the numbers projected by this time.

However, the measures to tackle the Covid-19 pandemic though necessary have had adverse effects on the population, especially on girls and women. There has been a notable increase in Gender Based Violence related cases across the country, with girls and women being the majority of the victims. Unfortunately, a number of these GBV cases have proved fatal. What cannot be discounted is that Uganda was not prepared for a Pandemic of this magnitude. The highest percentile of the population was not adequately prepared in terms of food security and savings to that would enable them negotiate and survive through the severe measures brought about by the lockdown. Uganda is still largely a cash economy with people surviving on a hand to mouth basis, most of the population is employed in the informal sector with no guaranteed job security and count on a daily income for survival. There are hardly any social safety nets in place for people, more so girls and women and the lockdown has made this everyday reality glaringly obvious. Because families can no longer provide for themselves, tensions. Most people are not psychologically prepared to handle the tensions that have ensued and therefore vent their frustrations through violence, most of it aimed at girls and women.

The government and its many partners has been addressing the issue of Gender Based violence over a number of years and systems have been strengthened right to the grassroots to deal with it. With the current lockdown, such systems are no longer optimally operating to address issues of GBV. Police is currently implementing the presidential directive and in villages, this means that reporting, referral and tracking of GBV cases is impacted. As a partner to government, Trailblazers Mentoring Foundation has been strengthening capacity of girls and women to report, track and refer cases of GBV. Such girls and women have found their ability to report cases greatly affected by the lockdown. In most cases, their calls are not responded to and their movements are restricted.  

It is therefore very clear that the Covid-19 pandemic is not only a health crisis but a social and economic one, and none feel the social and economic impacts more than girls and women in communities. As government seeks to alleviate the effects of the lockdown brought about by the Covid-19 Pandemic, emphasis should be placed on ensuring that systems that are supposed to protect girls and women from GBV are not compromised. If this is not done, and done quickly, the country will find itself dealing with a number of Psycho-social problems brought about by the lockdown.

TMF Girl advocates and boy champions engaging Bukedea Sub-County Leadership on workable solutions to curbing the increasing cases of GBV during the lockdown.

In this regard, Trailblazers Mentoring Foundation (TMF) is intensifying advocacy against GBV through traditional and social media platforms. We are running radio talk shows and radio spot messages against GBV and engaging girls, women and leaders from government and the civil society on social media to find workable solutions to curbing the increasing cases of GBV in our communities. TMF is continuing to work together with government and other partners to ensure that cases of GBV that arise in our communities are expeditiously handled and justice obtained for the victims.

TMF Project officer (in blue T-Shirt) during a Radio Talk-show and Rock Mambo FM engaging Tororo District stakeholders including CSO partners on workable solutions to curbing the increasing cases of GBV in the communities.

In conclusion, Covid-19 and its impact should teach us all a lesson. As actors in government and the civil society, focus should shift towards ensuring that our communities become resilient, both economically and socially.  Government and CSOs should ensure that safety nets are in place, especially for the biggest percentage of the population who are in the informal sector to enable them absorb such shocks. This will in turn ensure better protection from GBV for girls and women in the country. Failure to do this will just see the scenario repeat itself and condemn girls and women to an endless cycle of violence.

Harold Owiny,
Project Officer, Trailblazers Mentoring Foundation (TMF), Lira.