Media outlets are awash with news and reports of increased domestic violence in Uganda resulting from the Covid-19 lockdown. Acute poverty and economic downturn, lack of meals, sights of sickly spouses and children, coupled with confined living conditions are a sparking cause of tension in homes across the country. Violence in a domestic setting results in untold implications on victims, survivors, families, and communities. Nothing scars emotionally as violence perpetrated by a partner or loved one against a girl or woman whom such loved one ought to protect in a time of crisis - like this raging pandemic.
At present, essential services are disrupted, health service providers are preoccupied with overwhelming numbers of Covid-19 cases and access to domestic violence support services such as counselling services and legal aid is limited, while many victims of domestic violence find themselves trapped in a confined space with their abusers.
This then begs the question, what can victims of domestic violence do to get help under these conditions? As a lawyer who provides legal aid to women who face sexual and gender-based violence, including domestic violence, I can make the following recommendations:
Recognise domestic violence for what it is. Domestic violence is any act that harms, injures, endangers or harasses anyone in a domestic setting or has the effect of threatening that person or anyone related to them. The harm or threat of harm can be physical, emotional, sexual, economical or psychological. Make a decision to get help and support. Remember that it is not your fault that you are facing domestic violence and that there is no shame in seeking help. Confide in trusted neighbours, friends, family members or members of women’s groups or associations that you may be part of. Also strive to be your neighbour’s keeper: should you be aware of gender-based violence within your neighbourhood, alert the authorities on the victim’s behalf.
Contact your local area leaders, such as the LC I chairperson or defence secretary. These leaders may mediate the matter in order to reach an amicable solution or refer you to the police where there is need for criminal prosecution (for instance in cases of rape or defilement). Local council leaders can also convene a local council court to determine the case and give orders against the perpetrator if found guilty.
Report your case to the nearest police station. Police stations have gender desks and child and family protection officers at your disposal. Police officers will listen to you, investigate the case, provide counsel and create a safety plan for you to avoid further violence. Further steps may involve evacuating you from your home, arresting the abuser, mediating the case where appropriate, referring you to a hospital in case of physical and sexual abuse (a Police Form three shall be given to you for filling by a qualified doctor) and referring the case to the state attorney for prosecution in courts of law.
If you are in immediate danger, call 999 to reach police or the police GBV toll free helpline number 0800199195 for help!
Seek medical care in cases of sexual and physical abuse. Doctors, nurses, and counsellors can offer physical aid, emotional support, and resources. Go to a hospital if you need immediate help for injuries.
Contact legal aid service providers, who may help you get a protection order against your abuser.
Contact service providers that can support you with temporary shelter, food and psychosocial support. Join women’s savings groups in your area in order to help you gain economic independence from an abusive partner or spouse. Some of these women’s savings groups have access to funds from the Uganda Women Entrepreneurship Programme and may enable you to access capital for income generating activities. Violence against children should also be reported using the Uganda Child Helpline called Sauti on 116.
Ms Victoria Mufumba is the head of legal Aid Clinic, FIDA Uganda.