Despite Efforts, Gender Based Violence Rages On In Northern Uganda
By Ruth Atim
“I was a very violent man who would drink a lot and batter his wife,” confesses Michael Ali, 38, from Coo-pee village about 8kms out of Gulu town.
Mr Ali, is now considered a ‘‘model Man’’ after having undergone training by Gulu Women Economic Development and Globalization (GWED- G), a Gulu-based NGO working to stop gender based violence.
In northern Uganda, just like the other vagaries of war that continue to linger despite the end of the conflict, gender based violence remains rampant.
Although it is generally assumed that only women suffer from gender based violence men too suffer, albeit silently for fear of being mocked by a society which views the man as the stronger sex.
But some men are beginning to speak out about the violence they suffer in the hands of their wives. One of them is Fred Odill, 38, a resident of Purongo in Nwoya district.
‘‘She hits me at will,’’ says Odill who alleges that his wife has turned him into ‘‘toy to play with.’’
Odill attributes the violence he suffers in the hands of his wife to his physical size; he’s a small man.
“I have tried to take her before the Local Council (LC) Court but it’s not helping because no punishment is given to her. I have plans of reporting the matter to police in Anaka Town but I am scared that they will make fun of me.”
John Oola, the LC1 chairperson of Pawat Omeru west village, Odill’s village, told this writer that his office has without much success to mediated between Odill and his wife.
Disagreements over family farm harvests
Mr Oola observes that most of the cases of violence against men occur during harvest season when some men want to sell foodstuff produced by the family to fund their drinking.
“The man would always want to sell harvests and use the proceeds for drinking which eventually results into physical fights in family,’’ says Geoffrey Oyat of GWED- G, the Gulu-based NGO.
To some—that women are putting up fights to stop the sale of jointly produced farm products is an indicator that women are becoming more aware of their rights and place in a changing context in which men and women are both working had to provide for the family.
“Women have now discovered their rights. Men feel intimidated by it,’’ is how Nwoya district Chairman Okello Patrick Oryema put it.
Using model man in fight against gender based violence
Michael Ali, the 38 year old ex-wife batterer from Coo-pee in Gulu district is in his community known as the model man. He is, says Geoffrey Oyat of GWED-G, a demonstration of the fights that organization like GWED- G and others are putting in the fight gender based violence.
Ke Kwaro Acholi, the Acholi cultural institution is also among those in the forefront of fighting the vice. In 2010, says Balmoi Caide Okello, the gender based violence focal point at Ker Kwaro, the institution produced a book titled: Acholi Relationship Principles aimed at promoting the rights of women in the eight districts that make the Acholi sub region.
But the fight against gender based violence has faced some setbacks.
Gulu Chief Magistrate Mr Deo Ssejjemba says the costs of travel by witnesses to testify before court has had a major setback in rendering justice to victims of gender violence because they are not able to come to court when they are needed.
Mr Ssejjemba points out at poor investigation as another challenge hindering justice for victims of gender based violence.
“Most of the cases brought here die natural death because they are not investigated well by the doctors who examine victims of gender based violence and due to long distances for the witnesses to come and testify, we end up rendering injustices to our people,” noted Ssejjemba.
Northern Uganda is still reeling from a two-decade long conflict despite it having ended more than a decade ago. The war exposed entire communities various forms of violence which some now argue are beginning to rear their heads.
Henry Twinomuhwezi, an Assistant Court Registrar of Gulu High Court says children who were exposed to violence at a young age during insurgency in northern Uganda have come off age and are exploring what they saw as younsters.
Although some successes have been registered in the fight against gender based violence in northern Uganda, cases still remain hight. In the last three years, according to figures from GWED-G, 3,053 gender based violence cases have been registered by the organization. Of these, 1,160 were physical assaults cases, 516 defilement and 380 cases of child neglect.
At the Gulu Central Police, department of Child and Family Protection unit over 600 cases of gender based violence was registered between March to July 2017. Of these 269 were cases of child neglect and 396 defilement. 169 cases of child neglect are before court, 26 have had convictions, 4 are pending, 39 are under inquiry while three have been disposed.
Aswa river region police spokesman whose docket covers northern Uganda attributes the high cases of gender based violence to alcohol abuse and trauma linked to the conflict in northern Uganda.
Geoffrey Oyet of GWED-G says cases of physical assault is high because it [assault] is more visible compared to other forms of violence.
Despite the hurdles in the fight against gender based violence, actors in the war against the vice hope with more model men like Micheal Ali in northern Uganda villages, and men speaking out more openly against violence they suffer in the hands of women, the war against gender based violence will be won.