Rape Incidence Drops as Locals Promote Violence-Free Homes in Northern Uganda

 

Article Highlights

 
A community agent of change counsels residents of Akokoro.  
Uganda

The number of reported rape, domestic violence and defilement cases dropped between 2011 and 2012 in the Apac district of northern Uganda.

APAC DISTRICT, NORTHERN UGANDA – Mary Akello, 38, sits peeling potatoes for her family of seven. She says her husband is polygamous.

“My co lives over there,” she says of her co-wife, pointing to the next village. “She has four children.”

Her husband drives a boda-boda, or motorcycle, taxi. At first, he took care of her and their children – until a new woman joined the relationship, Akello says.

“My husband started spending less time at my home,” she says. “And with time, the emotional and financial support ended. Between 2009 to 2012, I learned to live without his support, and he also got used to not supporting me.”

Her friends advised her to seek help from the clan leaders, who called Akello and her husband for a meeting. Akello says they punished her husband with 12 strokes of the cane.

After this incident, she says her husband abandoned her. He later threatened that he would sell the land where she lived and farmed with their children.

Once again, she reported the issue to the clan leaders. This time, they referred her to Bosco Ocaa, chairman of the village council. 

Ocaa had been trained as a community agent of change by Action for Development, a local nongovernmental organization. With his training, he counseled the couple for two months. He explained how their children were suffering because their father was absent.

Now, Akello says she and her husband are reunited as a family. He now provides for both wives and their children.

Action for Development trained 60 local residents to be “community agents of change” in 2012 in northern Uganda. Together, they handle conflicts and offer counseling. The agents cited gender-based violence as the primary issue affecting local families. They found that in-home violence was often fueled by extramarital affairs, alcoholism and early marriage. Program leaders and local government officials say changing the culture of violence here remains a challenge. But they say that the one-year program was successful and encourage the local agents to continue to promote peace in the home.

There were 221 cases of defilement reported in the Apac district of northern Uganda between January and August 2011, according to records from the Apac Central Police Station provided by Chiriga Taban, district criminal investigative division officer. In 2012, there were just 68 reported cases during those months.

The number of domestic violence cases reported also decreased from 145 to 86, Taban says. Reports of rape and attempted murder declined slightly too.

The decline in violence here could be due to Action for Development’s one-year project on gender-based violence prevention in Oyam and Apac districts, says Harriet Aseko, the program officer of the organization’s economic and gender department.

Action for Development aims to promote women's empowerment, gender equality and equity through advocacy, networking, and capacity building of both women and men, Aseko says. Its most recent project promoted violence-free families and communities.

“The aim of the project is to educate and empower women and girls as well as men and boys to adopt peaceful and nonviolent means for resolving conflicts in their lives,” Aseko says.

The organization implemented the project in four subcounties in two districts – Ibuje and Akokoro in Apac district and Loro and Kamdini in Oyam district – from January to December 2012. The organization selected these areas based on the high rates of domestic violence in each, Aseko says.

Action for Development trained 60 community members, dubbed community agents of change, on human rights, women’s rights, gender-based violence and conflict resolution. The unpaid, volunteer agents include clan leaders, women’s group leaders, religious leaders and local councilmen.

“These community agents of change are respected in their communities, and their work will be valued by the people,” Aseko says.

Andrew Ssekirevu, a volunteer for Action for Development, says that the main goal is to decrease violence.

“The community agents of change are to integrate conflict resolution in their work and also own the projects,” he says. “There is great need to reduce violence in the communities.”

Aseko says that one of the greatest needs is reducing gender-based violence in particular.

“Violence is specifically targeted against a person because of his or her gender, and it affects women disproportionately,” Aseko says. “It includes, but is not limited to, physical, sexual and psychological harm, including intimidation, suffering, coercion, and/or deprivation of liberty within the family or within the general community.”

Once educated on the subject, most community agents of change agreed that violence occurs in both the public and private spheres, Aseko says.

Eunice Alabo, a community agent of change, says that gender-based violence is widespread.

“Such violence not only occurs in the family and in the general community,” she says, “but is sometimes also perpetuated by the state through policies or the actions of agents of the state such as the police, military or immigration authorities.”

Gender-based violence happens in all societies and across all social classes, says Moses Abole, another community agent of change. He says women are particularly at risk to suffer violence from men they know.

 

Oleny Okello, a community agent of change in Oyam district, says he found that extramarital affairs were one of the major causes of violence in homes.

“When the wife confronts the husband, he becomes aggressive, and then fighting begins in the home,” Okello says. “In some cases, the woman also begins to have an affair.”

Community members were also concerned about alcoholism among the men and leaders in the area, which can contribute to violence.

Betty Ejang, a community agent of change in the Kamdini subcounty of the Oyam district, says that one woman complained to the local clan leaders that her husband used to sell food from their garden, spend the money on alcohol, return home drunk, and verbally abuse her and their children. Once, their fight escalated to a physical altercation. His wife broke his leg.

“I went and counseled him, and he promised to stop drinking,” Ejang says. “But he continued drinking at the same rate. He was then reported to the clan court and summoned by the leaders and he was beaten 12 strokes and fined 10,000 shillings ($116).”

Clan leaders advised his wife that if her husband did not change, she should report him to the local court of law and present the leaders as witnesses.

“He is now changed,” Ejang says of the husband.

Bosco Okori praises the community agents of change for encouraging him to reduce violence in his marriage. He says that once when he was drunk, his wife beat him and broke his collarbone.

“Belmoses Abonga, the community agent of change, encouraged me not to revenge on my wife but forgive her and work on having a better relationship with her,” Okori says.

He recovered from his injury and now drinks less.

Another cause of violence in homes is early marriages in the communities, says Grace Acio, a gender officer for the Loro subcounty government.

“You may find a 26-year-old mother of six children, and she does not know how to handle her husband or her children,” Acio says. “She may be bitter and fights everyone.”

Community members often do not know whom to go to with their problems, Aseko says. Or, they get frustrated with seeking help from clan leaders, so they try to deal with it themselves.

“Many of the community members always report to clan leaders in the communities to have their problems solved, especially the gender-based violence cases,” Aseko says. “In most cases, the clan leaders are not fair towards the women because they still have the rigid patriarchal tendencies that discriminate against women.”

Regina Bafaki, the executive director of Action for Development, says this is because most clan leaders are men.

“They tend to relate better with the men,” she says, “and there is a bias towards resolving the woman’s problem.”

Okello also says that clan leaders promote violence.

“Cultural and clan leaders still use violence as the most appropriate means of solving conflicts in the communities, which also encourages violence in the communities,” Okello says.

Acio says this is difficult to change.

“Cultural practices and the attitudes embedded in culture make it hard to change the community attitude towards violence,” she says.

 

Aseko says Action for Development appointed certain clan leaders as community agents to change their attitudes toward violence.

The agents should work more closely with other nongovernmental organizations, the government and traditional structures to continue to change the culture of violence, Acio says.

“More stakeholders should be brought on board, like the cultural and religious leaders, as they have the most influence in their communities,” she says.

Betty Opeto, chairwoman of the Akokoro subcounty council, also urges Action for Development to sensitize the community on the impact of violence in the home on children.

“If we show the people the negatives of violence,” Opreto says, “then they will want better for their children, hence preventing violence in the homes.”

Aseko says that the program has been successful in raising awareness.

“The sensitizations by the community agents of change in the communities have created a lot of awareness about gender-based violence,” Aseko says, “especially in relation to protecting women and the girl child, which has resulted into the reduction of cases reported in the communities.”

Alfred Tonny Okello, chief of Ibuje subcounty, commends the program.

“Thank you, community agents of change, for solving problems in our communities,” he says.

Akello thanks the community agents of change program for the improved communication with her husband and her co-wife.

“I communicate better with my husband,” she says. “I know that he has the two of us, and he is more supportive than he was. And this is because we have Ocaa, a community agent of change, to counsel us when we need help.”

These are the outcomes that the Action for Development team was hoping for, Bafaki says. The project ended in December 2012, but the organization encourages community agents of change and community members to continue to use the skills they have learned.

“A peaceful world begins with a peaceful home,” Bafaki says.