Thirty-eight-year-old Nanozi Sandra* welcomes me with a smile. She is carrying a child on her back as she weighs and packs up plastic bottles in a huge sack. She displays a face of resilience. Sandra is a single mother of five. She collects garbage which she later sells at a recycling plant.
Sandra was forced into marriage at the very tender age of 15 after she had been raped, she narrates nothing but a nightmare in marriage.
“Three years ago, I used to earn 80,000 (roughly $21) shillings at the salon. My husband would take all that I earned. I would be forced into sex. During my first encounter with this man I got pregnant, I was still young and knew little about sex, to make it worse my stepmother was such a fierce woman that I did not tell her what had happened. Instead, she would punish me as it is regarded immoral to talk about sex to anyone in our culture. That is why I escaped from home.”
“I lived on the streets of Kampala. With time I had to move into a stranger’s one-roomed house in Katanga one of Kampala’s biggest slums then. It was indeed not safe staying with a stranger but that was my only hope for shelter.”
The bad marriage
The stranger then became a husband who would take all she had leaving her penniless for several years. As the years went by, she had three other children to look after. “I didn’t know about family planning methods.”
Sandra’s lowest moment in her life that almost drove her to a mental breakdown was when her son, was kidnapped. This happened as the boy played outdoors. “This will forever remain on my mind!” she screams as tears roll down her eyes.
“I was tortured, beaten up for carelessness and often attacked by the child’s father, I had to run away from the marriage.”
Sandra escaped and sought shelter at a church, in Kampala called Mutundwe Christian Fellowship with her children where she got guidance and counselling from one of the pastors.
“After some time, I left the church. I started a new life. Since I had no source of income, I resorted to picking up plastic and selling it to recycling companies.”
“A few years later I was approached by a man who I thought loved me and promised to marry me but got very abusive.”
“He would slap me over a simple disagreement, hit me in front of our children. He hit my face until I had a dislocated jaw. This time he was arrested. He was later released on bail. I had to find my escape route with my children and went to stay further away from Kampala in Masaka.”
Uganda’s newly sworn-in human rights chairperson Jacklet Atuhairwe says, “women must always report gender-based violence cases to the police and get reference number. If the police fail to respond women should approach me and I will ensure that these cases are followed up and dealt with by the courts of law,” she says.
She adds that security amongst women and families is important for peace and development in a country and should therefore be ensured. “I call upon the Ugandan police to respond with urgency and tackle gender-based violence,” she says.
She goes on further to explain that according to the UN violence against women and girls is one of the most widespread, persistent and devastating human rights violations in our world today.
She also notes that it is a major obstacle to the fulfilment of women’s and girls’ human rights and the achievement of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. It occurs worldwide, cutting across all generations, nationalities, communities and spheres of our societies, irrespective of age, ethnicity, disability or other backgrounds.
She pointed out that gender-based violence has a great impact on peace at home and society in general.
Statistics from the Uganda National Bureau of Statistics show 17,664 domestic violence cases in 2020 went up by 29 per cent from 13,693 in 2019. 18,872 victims of domestic violence in 2020: 3,408 male adults, 13,145 female adults, 1,133 male juveniles and 1,186 female juveniles according to the annual police report on GBV and harmful practice of 2021.
She goes on further to call upon the government bodies in Uganda like the Judiciary to implement laws on gender-based violence to strengthen women’s peace and security in the country.
Fredrica Baguma the executive director Rural Health Promotion and Poverty Alleviation Initiative (RUHEPAI) noted that every individual’s abilities could be nurtured and enhanced with the right information and tools to attain economic transformation of their environment.
” Women form the most important parts of development and looking at their concerns leads to changes required for sustainable development,” she states adding that their programmes emphasise learning, actions and practices that derive to desirable livelihoods.
One of her programmes known as Kanyisa promotes increased farm yields and household income. Kanyisa is a local word which means “accumulate” It enables business initiation and enterprise development to enable grassroots women and girls to become self-reliant as owners of resources and this promote economic independence. She believes economic independence gives control over their lives thus curbing abuse and promotes peace.
Her organisation also emphasises rural farmers’ resilience and adaptation to inclusive farming systems that advance climate-smart agriculture to attain food security for women and their households.
She also equips them with practical life survival skills with an emphasis on hairdressing and sweater knitting that lead them to gain the power to sustain their livelihoods and become self-reliant. These activities go a long way toward promoting equal rights
Domestic Violence is a silent killer! Women’s security depends on security in the home and protection from gender-based violence. This is why women’s empowerment is such a sustainable solution to gender-based violence in communities and enhances peace and security. This is because sustainable peace involves promoting equal rights plus prevention and response to gender-based violence.
*Names changed to protect the victim of rape
This story is part of African Women in Media (AWiM)/ UNESCO Peace and Security Journalism Programme