Shine a torch on GBV; it’s a plague in the shadow of Covid-19 pandemic

Wednesday May 20 2020




Gender-Based Violence (GBV) needs no introduction. We have heard about it in the media, seen it in our communities and many of us have lived through it. It manifests in various forms, including physical, sexual, psychological and economic, with women and girls facing the most brunt.

As the world fights Covid-19, another plague, GBV, continues to affect individuals and families. Lockdowns world over have deepened economic and social stress as a result of loss of daily income, restricted movement, and social isolation measures.

The close proximity and longer duration in which men and women are now living has disproportionately catalysed domestic violence against women and girls.

In Uganda, domestic violence cases have increased with several deaths. Gender, Labour and Social Development minister Frank Tumwebaze recently stated that between March 30 and April 28, a total of 3,280 cases of GBV were reported to police. The media continues to highlight these cases; however, many remain unreported.

In light of this, there is a dire need to ensure women and girls are protected and remain safe during this time.

Addressing domestic violence at both institutional and community levels remains a challenge mainly because the practice is deeply entrenched in social norms and stereotype. As such, social tolerance has normalised GBV.


Due to this, domestic violence cases are frequently referred to as “private matters” or “family affairs” that can simply be resolved at home.

In some instances, service providers have accused survivors of bringing such violence upon themselves, leading to double victimisation.

The disruption and inaccessibility of support services during Covid-19 has caused a gap in the response to domestic violence cases. Reports from civil society organisations working with Shelters have indicated a lack of capacity to resolve these cases.

Additionally, attention to social issues, including domestic violence, is obscured by Covid-19 rather than its social related impact.

For instance, health workers and security officials are more focused on Covid-19 patients and enforcing the presidential directives on curfews rather than protecting communities, especially women and girls, from domestic violence.

Ironically, those entrusted with protecting communities are the very perpetrators of violence against women and girls, all in the name of reinforcing curfew. Examples are the recent reports of security officers beating up women on the streets, or outside their homes as they eke out a living.

The economic stress due to Covid-19 has exacerbated domestic violence against women and increased the vulnerability for female-headed households. According to the Uganda National Household Survey Report for 2016/2017, 3 in every 10 households were headed by women who are largely employed in the informal sector and are now increasingly bearing the brunt of violence during this season.

Of the male-headed households, most women are economically dependent on men and are vulnerable to domestic violence.

More than half of Uganda’s population (52 per cent) is women and many of them are single mothers trying to make ends meet during the Covid-19 crisis and are encountering huge challenges. For example, market women have had to leave their homes and children behind to sleep in the market to make ends meet, hence are vulnerable.

While the government has done well in addressing the Covid-19 pandemic, domestic violence is not at the centre of its efforts.

Although funds have been allocated to legislators and the Covid-19 taskforce, the Ministry of Gender, Labour and Social Development has not received any financial support. Social workers tasked with providing immediate support to survivors of violence during Covid-19 have limited resources and capacity to follow up cases of domestic violence, which has allowed perpetrators to walk free in communities and committing domestic violence with impunity.

Due to the increasing cases of domestic violence, shelters are getting full and may soon not have enough space to provide safe spaces for survivors of domestic violence.

Recently, UN Secretary General António Guterres issued a statement in which he called upon all governments to make the prevention and redress of violence against women a key part of their national response plans for Covid-19. In light of this call, there is need to prioritise the social sector in order to ably address gender-based violence during the Covid-19.

Out of the recent funding (Shs57b) from the World Bank to address Covid-19-related issues, a portion should be allotted to address GBV, especially domestic violence.

Security officers should protect the women, especially the market vendors, and judicial systems should enhance access to justice for survivors of violence and ensure that perpetrators are brought to book.

There is also a need for development workers, in partnership with the government, to establish more shelters and dedicate toll-free hotlines forsurvivors of GBV.

It’s time to strengthen the capacity of women advocates and groups to identify and report any forms of violence. We should enhance media capacity in gender-sensitive reporting on GBV, enhance psychosocial support to ensure emotional wellbeing, and the government should make prevention and redress of violence against women a key part of the national response plan.

Dr Atuhaire (PhD) is a Mandela WashingtonFellow 2016 and works with UN Women in Liberia