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Violence against women in Uganda: a crisis of health, education and opportunity
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Violence against women in Uganda: a crisis of health, education and opportunity

Sexual and gender based violence continues to be a major national scourge.

Millions of girls and women in Uganda suffer from this form of violence and its consequences because of their gender and their status in communities which believes are inferior to men and boys. Violence against women (often called gender-based violence) is a serious violation of women’s human rights. Yet little attention has been paid to the serious health consequences of abuse and the health needs of abused women and girls.

For example, the UNHCR Uganda: Sexual and Gender Based Violence (SGBV) Thematic Report (August 2018) states that a total of 552 (50M, 502F) new incidents were identified, managed and reported bringing the cumulative number of reported incidents to 4054 since January, 2018.

Consequently, It is important to note that much as the reported number of early marriages is low, cases could be much higher given the fact that reporting is hampered by negative cultural norms. This further compounded by the fact that most of the perpetrators are caregivers of the survivors.

According to Ms. Tina Musuyi, the Executive Director of the Centre for Gender Based Violence Prevention, Uganda loses Shs 77.5bn in profits and expenses related to GBV; sexual abuse and teenage pregnancy are leading contributors to vulnerability accounting for more than half of all reasons for girls dropping out of school in Uganda.

More so, Ms. Tina further mentions that ending child marriage today could generate up to $2.7 billion by 2030 in annual benefits simply from lower population growth and a reduction in rates of under-five mortality and stunting for young children. Yet, too many continue to sanction beliefs, attitudes and behaviors that justify wife-beating and sexual violence towards women and girls. These beliefs impact women’s rights and the level of respect they are shown.

Women who have experienced physical, sexual, or psychological violence suffer a range of health problems, often in silence. They have poorer physical and mental health, suffer more injuries, and use more medical resources than non-abused women. Females of all ages are victims of violence, in part because of their limited social and economic power compared with men.

Furthermore; leaving an abusive situation when pregnant or with other dependent children can be very difficult since women have to consider whether or not they will continue the pregnancy as well as their health, money, shelter, family and support. It is important for social service practitioners to be aware of the barriers that prevent women from making informed choices. For women who have experienced abuse, whether it is from an intimate partner, a friend or a family member, a lack of choice can be disempowering and re-traumatizing since it does not allow her to move away from the violence and move forward with her life.

Health care workers have the opportunity and the obligation to identify, treat, and educate women who are being abused. Health care institutions can make significant contributions to addressing violence against women by supporting clinicians and clients. Developing and institutionalizing national health-sector policies, protocols, and norms about violence call attention to the problem of gender-based violence, and help ensure quality care for survivors of abuse.

Sexual and reproductive rights are truly important because they lead to broader choices in life and to empowerment. They can have a direct impact on one’s education, employment, relationships, etc. For example, if a woman becomes pregnant at a very young age, there are chances that she will not be able to pursue her education. This will restrict her employment options and her socioeconomic status. She might also be forced to marry.

Consequently, Sexual and reproductive rights are also crucial to protect the dignity of women and men, and to ensure gender equity. Without reproductive health and freedom, women cannot fully exercise their fundamental human rights. When women are facing violence in their lives it presents an immense barrier to making family planning and reproductive health decisions. As we know, one of the most dangerous times in an abusive relationship can be during pregnancy or when trying to leave the relationship.

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