Data from the Ministry of Lands, Housing and Urban Development indicates that between 49 and 64 per cent (about 1.6 to two million people) of the total urban population in Uganda live in slums. Kampala City alone is estimated to have 57 slum settlements which are spread across the five divisions of Kampala Central, Kawempe, Nakawa, Rubaga and Makindye.
According to the 2017 International Organisation for Migration (IOM) baseline survey report on strengthening social cohesion and stability in slum populations in Uganda, urban slum communities are prone to various acts of violence, inter-communal conflict and unprecedented levels of crime that compromise stability.
Domestic violence, mob ‘justice’ and sexual harassment were the highest ranking crimes with 47 per cent, 46 per cent and 33 per cent respectively.
Kampala slum areas have been known for high rates of rape, underage marriages and other forms of sexual and gender-based violence (SGBV). The number of women and girls who experience SGBV in comparison to men and boys remains unacceptably high.
SGBV refers to any act that is perpetrated against a person’s will and is based on gender norms and unequal power relationships. It includes physical, emotional or psychological and sexual violence, and denial of resources or access to services. Violence includes threats and coercion. SGBV inflicts harm on women, girls, men and boys and is a severe violation of several human rights.
There is no single, simple explanation for SGBV in the slums, although a number of causes have been identified. Evidence shows that poverty, unemployment, idleness, drug abuse, alcoholism (for both women and men) and cultural norms among people living in the slums coupled with high levels of frustration and boredom are believed to expose many women and girls to vulnerable situations.
Studies have further revealed that there is an overwhelming distrust of the local authorities such as Kampala Capital City Authority (KCCA) and police by the local communities who are conservative and prefer to settle the cases of SGBV themselves. For example, many cases of rape and defilement in slums remain largely unreported to the police or local authorities due to the perception that they rarely take action against culprits.
The consequences of SGBV are devastating and according to the World Health Organization, survivors often experience life-long emotional distress, mental health problems, poor reproductive health and high risk of acquiring HIV/Aids. In extreme cases, it leads to death.
In order to tackle the SGBV issue, several studies and research have proposed a number of potential strategic interventions including, but not limited to:
• Poverty and unemployment have been singled out as the most important drivers to SGBV in these slum areas. Therefore, strategic interventions should involve economic empowerment through improved access to income generating activities.
• Improved access to affordable financial support services. These services may be provided through community-based savings and loan schemes (Saccos /microfinance schemes) in order to improve livelihoods.
• Bridging of capacity gaps for police, KCCA and other agencies. This will lead to an improvement in the working relationships with the slum communities.
• Increased community participation in decision-making processes. Awareness campaigns that seek to promote citizen participation in all matters of social well-being and community development should be conducted.
• More health centres should be established within the slum communities. They should also be equipped with qualified and motivated staff, adequate drugs and other medical equipment.
Above all, the prevention of and response to SGBV is a collaborative, multi-functional, inter-agency and community-based approach. Therefore, this calls for immediate attention from all key stakeholders.
The writer is country director, Every Child Ministries Uganda.