Violence and abuse against women has several consequences on their health and wellbeing. But often times, these negative effects are overlooked, writes Evelyn Lirri.
Christine Lanyero was 23 years old when she got married. For 16 years, she suffered at the hands of her brutal husband who physically assaulted and sexually abused her.
Ms Lanyero, who hails from Acholi Bur village in Aruu County, Pader District, is bitter that she was not able to get help immediately.
“Wife battering is a routine here. Even without a reason, a man will just beat you especially when he is drunk. My husband is always beating me. Each time he asks for money and I don’t give him he just starts beating me,” she said.
She is now HIV positive. “My husband would go and sleep with other women and return to force me to have sex with him. If I refused, he would beat me. He did not use any protection,” she narrated.
Like her, many women in Uganda are still subjected to various forms of domestic violence and abuse. This violence has had negative consequences on their health and wellbeing.
According to the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/Aids (UNAIDS), women who have experienced violence are up to three times more likely to be infected with HIV than those who have not.
Dr Margaret Mungherera, a senior consultant psychiatric at Mulago Hospital, told participants at a meeting to discuss gender-based violence that such violence has long term effects--especially on women’s health including mental disorders.
These conditions, she said, were more prevalent in areas that were once affected by conflict like northern Uganda, Luwero Triangle and the Teso sub region.
“In Luwero the effects of war are still persisting, while in Teso sub-region, 47 percent of women suffer from major depressive disorder,” she noted.
The meeting, organised by the Agency for Cooperation and Research in Development (ACORD), CARE Uganda and the Women’s International Cross Cultural Exchange (Isis-WICCE) also explored the link between gender-based violence and reproductive health concerns.
Presenting findings of a report on domestic violence conducted by the Uganda Aids Commission (UAC), Dr Mungherera said most of the violence inflicted on women leaves long term psychological effects on their health.
This is a result of several factors including difficulty in accessing justice and social support. Common domestic violence crimes against women and girls include rape, defilement and physical assault, forced and early marriages.
High level violence
Activists say this kind of violence remains a cause for concern. The Uganda Demographic and Household Survey of 2006 shows that at least 60 per cent of women in the country say they have experienced physical violence in their lifetime.
According to the survey, the majority of gender-based violence against women is committed by an intimate partner.
It also shows that women are four times more likely than men to be targeted for both physical and sexual violence. Despite these disturbing statistics, many women are reluctant to seek redress from the justice system.
A report by ACORD found that the justice system in Uganda is not supporting women who seek redress for domestic violence crimes because most victims are asked to pay bribes to law enforcement officials to expedite their cases. The lengthy court processes and general lack of knowledge with the legal process also makes it more difficult for women to go to court.
As a result, the report reveals that perpetrators escape prosecution and punishment for their crimes. “An important indicator of this social reality is the statistically insignificant number of prosecutions and convictions of men who batter or rape their women and girls,” the report shows.
In 2008 for example, police records show that of the 1,536 rape cases registered, only 241 went to court, with only 52 convictions. In 2009, the report shows 165 incidents of domestic violence deaths were reported to police. This is an increase from 137 cases reported the previous year.
The report, however, does not specify if the violence was perpetrated against women only. The report also reveals that there were 619 rape cases registered in 2009, down from 1,536 cases reported in 2008.
This trend continues in the latest crime report by Police released last week which shows that while general crime levels are declining fast, domestic-related crime levels are still worrying. There were at least 159 deaths through domestic violence in the past year. While defilement was the leading sex related crime reported with 7564 cases, only 3401 suspects of these crimes were arrested and taken to court.
Despite government assurances that it’s committed to ending such violence and abuse, it continues unabated.“Few reparation programmes have taken women victims’ need into consideration. This failure not only affects the participation of women victims, it also runs the risk of reinforcing inequality within societies even though reparations are often viewed as a way to help restore victims to being equal rights holders,” reveals the report.
Activists believe cost-effective approaches to reduce violence against women, including legislation will be key. They are putting their hopes on the Domestic Violence Act to offer more protection to victims of domestic violence and also to punish crime perpetrators. President Museveni assented to the Act last year.
Other laws that activists hope will save women from being battered are the Marriage and Divorce Bill, the Sexual Offences Bill and the Trafficking in Persons Bill. They say with the new laws in place, perpetrators will no longer be able to count on the culture of impunity. In the absence of a law, countless men have been getting away with assaulting and sexually abusing women.
The Domestic Violence Act for instance criminalises marital rape and other forms of domestic violence and makes provision for appropriate penalties and civil remedies. It also penalises a partner in a domestic relationship who injures and endangers the health of the other.
“With a law in place, we expect a lot to change,” says Ms Rita Aciro of the Uganda Women’s Network, but she also adds that having a law may not necessarily save women like Christine Lanyero. The law must be implemented to protect women who are persistently abused by their husbands.