In 2002, Ugandan Vice President Specioza Kazibwo announced that she was separating from her husband because he beat her. Many in the press (including the BBC, which provided special coverage of the story) thought that the Vice President’s candor would make the situation less shameful for other Ugandan women to come forward with similar stories. On the contrary, a number of local radio personalities and editorial columnists were quick to vilify her for making a private matter public or for making such a fuss over a “couple slaps”. The reaction from the public at large was similar. Many claimed to sympathize with her estranged husband who, in their eyes, had not deserved the public humiliation.
Unfortunately, a survey conducted by the World Health Organization (WHO) in the rural district of Rakai illustrated that the Ugandan populace has a very permissive attitude toward domestic violence. Of the 3881 men surveyed, approximately 70% claimed to believe that beating a female partner is “justifiable in some circumstances”. Even more disturbing is the fact that 90% of the 5109 women interviewed agreed with the men, claiming that women deserve to be beaten in some instances.
Statistics on the prevalence of domestic violence in Uganda are limited, and the available data is likely skewed by the high rate of women who fail to report incidents or fail to classify abuse as an abnormal phenomena. As the Coalition against Gender Violence reports, “often the victims themselves are inculcated in and have internalized the culture of gender inequality such that they are not cognizant of what constitutes gender violence.” Some even describe it as a form of spousal affection, a necessary disciplinary tool used to improve the wife.
The facts that are available, however, reveal an alarmingly high incidence of gender violence. According to UN Statistics, 41% of Ugandan women have experienced domestic violence. Similarly, Mulago Hospital’s prenatal clinic collected data from their patients and found that 40.7% of women had experienced violence within the year prior to conception alone. Considering the large number of cases that go unreported, one can assume that at least half of all Ugandan women have been victims of intimate partner violence.
Virtually no reliable data exist on the prevalence of armed domestic violence, but anecdotal evidence combined with newspaper reports, would suggest that firearms are a common component of intimate violence, especially when used as a tool to intimidate women into submission. The presence of small arms was clearly linked to sexual violence in a study conducted by the National Focal Point on Small Arms, a governmental agency established to develop and implement the National Action Plan on Small Arms. According to the NFP’s research, within districts identified as having a high presence of small arms, the rate of sexual assault reached 19%, compared to 4% in the districts with a low prevalence of small arms. The rate of general assault rises from the national average of 24% to 41% in areas with a high concentration of firearms. With men in Uganda being more than twice as likely to have access to a gun (and being much more likely to personally own one), women face a serious power imbalance.
The combination of these elements-permissive attitudes about gender violence, easy access to firearms, weak (and, in some cases, corrupt) enforcement agencies—creates a very high-risk scenario for women. Moreover, the cumulative results illustrate that domestic violence and gun violence are not disparate issues. The prevalence of small arms clearly undermines the security of the most vulnerable. An IRIN special report on small arms summarizes the tenuous situation as follows:
“Stress in post-conflict environments, combined with the diffusion of small arms into communities, engenders a rise in intimate-partner violence. Even in nonconflict settings, women are more likely to be attacked by a partner if a gun is available; in 2003 ‘The American Journal of Public Health’ found that access to a gun increased the likelihood of a woman being killed by her husband fivefold.”
Any attempt to enhance the protection of women’s rights must also examine the corollary factors that have made them so insecure in the first place. In the case of Uganda, traditional gender biases that endanger and suppress women must be challenged, and armed domestic violence must be addressed through laws that simultaneously criminalize intimate violence and also provide necessary protective measures for potential victims, such as spousal notification for firearms purchases and restrictions on gun ownership for known offenders.
 World Health Organization (WHO), “Domestic violence in rural Uganda: evidence from a community-based study,” Bulletin of the World Health Organization, vol. 81.1, (2003), http://www.scielosp.org/scielo.php?pid=S0042-96862003000100011&script=sci_arttext.
 Human Rights Watch (HRW), Just Die Quietly: Domestic Violence and Women’s Vulnerability to HIV in Uganda, (August 2003), www.hrw.org/reports/2003/uganda0803/uganda0803.pdf.
 HRW, Just Die Quietly…
 National Focal Point on Small Arms, Mapping the Small Arms Problem in Uganda: The development of Uganda’s National Action Plan on Small Arms and Light Weapons, (Kampala: Government of Uganda, Saferworld: May 2007).
 IRIN (Integrated Regional Information Network), “Small Arms, Gender, and Age,” In-Depth: Guns out of Control: The Continuing Threat of Small Arms, (May 2006), http://www.irinnews.org/InDepthMain.aspx?InDepthId=8&ReportId=58979.
Posted By Courtney Chance
Posted Jul 8th, 2009