By Harriet Barbra Nakanwagi — Medical Clinical Officer & Paralegal
Everyone has the right to live free from violence. But many continue to face violence every day because of their gender. This is referred to as Gender-Based Violence (GBV) and is a violation of human rights.
Introduction & Background
Gender-Based Violence (GBV) is identified as any harm inflicted upon an individual against their will — through abuse of power — and based on unequal relations between men and women, and between boys and girls — as defined by the Legal Aid Service Providers' Network (LASPNET) in 2021.
Gender-Based Violence can be physical, sexual, emotional and / or psychological — as detailed in the UN Declaration on the Elimination of Violence Against Women in 1993. In the Ugandan setting, GBV can also have severe economic consequences.
“The COVID pandemic has escalated this suffering.”
Whereas everybody can be exposed to GBV, more women and girls are victims of this vice — as compared to men and boys. Much as GBV has always been present in communities, the COVID pandemic and subsequent national lockdowns have escalated this suffering. Since early 2020, there has been a steady increase in the number of GBV cases in Uganda, and more so in the Ugandan Districts which make up greater Mukono (Mukono, Kayunga and Buikwe).
Gender-Based Violence manifests in different ways depending on the type as follows:
• Physical violence manifests through physical bodily harm on individuals — mostly
women and young girls, but also children — through beating, battering, burning,
cutting, and strangling.
• Related sexual violence manifests through sexual abuse, unwanted sexual advances,
rape, defilement, forced prostitution, and child/ early marriages.
• Emotional/ Psycho-social Violence manifests as humiliation, quarrels, verbal abuses,
threats of violence, isolation and confinement against the victim’s will.
The consequences have resulted in many more teenagers becoming pregnant before they are ready to be mothers. As well, there has been an increase in unsafe abortions, and in HIV incidences. Separations between couples and parents have also been rampant. As well, the COVID pandemic has caused severe economic hardships in families. Hence there have been severe manifestations of physical and emotional/ psychological violence — resulting in increased incidence of mental illness and higher prevalence of physical harms.
“...many more teenagers [are] becoming pregnant before they are ready to be mothers. As well, there has been a significant increase in unsafe abortions, and in HIV incidences.”
Caring for This Suffering
Those of us who are professionally addressing this issue are developing several innovative approaches to improve the lives of people suffering from GBV. All these interventions can be identified as promoting six of the 17 the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).
Three Innovative Grassroots Actions for Six Global Goals
One of the first innovative actions has been psycho-social support to GBV survivors. This helps to promote good health. It prevents suicide and mental illnesses — achieving SDG #3 ‘Good Health and Well-Being.’ This support also helps to prevent crime, calms GBV survivors down, and helps to provide referral pathways for these victims to find support and to develop management approaches to health and healing.
Another approach is to provide medical examinations of GBV survivors and to develop related and adequate medical reports. These actions help to strengthen the formal justice systems by providing evidence of the violence. Once justice prevails, then inequalities are reduced — addressing SDG #10. As well, SDG #16 ‘Peace and Justice’ is realized through stronger institutions. Of course, SDG#5 ‘Gender Equality’ is also being promoted and achieved.
A third significant approach includes treating and managing the health problems and illnesses that arise out of Gender-Based Violence — such as wounds, dislocations, and burns. As well, young women and teen-age girls — who are often prime GBV victims — need related antenatal care, post-abortion care, HIV care, health- counseling services, and management of sexually-transmitted infections. These actions promote the health and wellbeing of victims, again achieving SDG #3. As these vulnerable members of society are kept healthier — and their well-being is promoted — their productivity is increased. This outcome promotes SDG #1 ‘No Poverty’, and SDG #2 ‘Zero Hunger’ because African women — as compared to men — make immense contributions to food production in homes, alongside their children.
”As these vulnerable members of society are kept healthier — and their well-being is promoted — their productivity is increased. ”
As a Paralegal working with Action Against Violence-Uganda (AAV-U) a local based organization for volunteers, alongside Legal Aid Service Provider's Network (LASPNET), I have made a series of sensitization drives in the communities to increase awareness about and concern for addressing Gender-Based Violence and to show how these wounds can be healed at many levels. In addition, GBV community dialogues and stakeholder's dialogues have been used to educate the community members and leaders about GBV, its causes, it effects, and the roles different individuals and stakeholders can take in the prevention of GBV. These measures demonstrate SDG # 17 ‘Partnerships for the Goals.’
With these positive outcomes, the suffering associated with Gender-Based Violence can be significantly reduced and local communities — who may have been apathetic or feeling hopeless against this seemingly perpetual suffering — can witness and appreciate what can be done to promote the healing that is so needed in these cases.
Ensuring that Gender-Based Violence survivors receive health-care and justice — encouraging them to speak up — and empowering community members to respond to GBV in continuing ways — all these activities can and will help to further reduce or even eliminate Gender Based Violence, leading to making a major contribution to achieving several key United Nations Sustainable Development Goals by 2030.
“With these positive outcomes, the suffering associated with Gender-Based Violence can be significantly reduced.”
Harriet Barbra Nakanwagi is a female Ugandan, a wife and mother, a practicing Medical Clinical Officer, an Educationist, a Scientist, and a multi-professional Counselor.
She also volunteers as a Paralegal with Action Against Violence-Uganda (AAV- U).
Besides elementary, secondary education and short courses, she holds the following academic qualifications:
• Diploma in Clinical Medicine and Community Health
• Bachelor's Degree in Science (Chemistry, Zoology & Botany)
• Diploma in Secondary Education (Chemistry & Biology)
She received her first qualification in 2002 and has vast experience in all the professional fields of her expertise.
She is passionate about:
• Further medical professional development
• Quality and equal service delivery
• Serving humanity to the best of her abilities
• Working under minimum supervision
• Beating deadlines
• Time management
Ms. Nakanwagi has a beautiful family which she cherishes — and owes her work to the time she sometimes takes away from them — in order to serve humanity.
Her core values are:
• High integrity
• Respect for others
• Honesty & Loyalty
The above image demontrates Ms. Nakanwagi's efforts to sensitize the masses about GBV on a local radio station. To the left, she commits to additional innovative approaches to raising public awareness about Gender-Based Violence. These images and all the photos for this story are from her archives and used with permission.
Ms Nakanwagi welcomes your contacts via her email firstname.lastname@example.org
A recent cholera outbreak in my region of Uganda prompts me to write this story as a reminder of the the misery cholera causes — and the causes of cholera -- as well as to report, with pride, on the actions and fortitude of fellow Ugandans who are working to prevent re-occurrence and to strengthen our region to be healthier overall.
As the United Nations celebrates ‘World Toilet Day’ on November 19, every year — with this year’s theme ‘A Time for Action’ — it is clear that this message means much to us ‘at the grassroots’ of this continuing challenge to global health.
Of course, this outbreak is directly related to UN Sustainable Development Goal # 6 — Clean Water and Sanitation. But it is also connected to SDG # 3 – Health & Well-Being. And —because clean water costs more than the poorest can afford — SDG # 1 — Poverty is related — as is SDG # 11 — Sustainable Cities & Communities — because improved toilet facilities are still needed.
“Health workers went 'to the ground' to sensitize people about how to improve sanitation and use clean water..... This activity is paramount for this area — just at the right time — where everyone needs it now!”
Looking to address this need with local action, the nearby Mpondwe lhubiriha Town Council (MLTC) activated a community response team called the ‘TRUE ROOTS Association’ — to establish improved cleanliness in the MLTC and ‘Kick Cholera Out!’
Their joint effort removed cabbages on street and garbage from ditches, cleaned toilets for people and sensitized the community to safe water and sanitation lessons. The Lord Mayor of the Town Council was joined in these efforts. This activity is paramount for this area — just at a right time — where every one needs it now! Photos of their cleaning activities are included here, at the left and below.