The dailies have been awash with incidences of women fruit vendors being beaten, a chairman of Bunyangabu slapped a female RDC, a curfew team beat up a pregnant woman and a prison guard in Arua beat up an old woman who is now nursing her injuries in Arua hospital. Linking the above incidents is the abuse of Power. This is also the root cause of Gender Based Violence. I am sure the chairman in Bunyangabu would not have slapped a fellow male RDC whatever the provocation.
Preventing and responding to GBV during the lock down presents real challenges, as the usual mechanisms are curtailed. Moreover, the lockdown presents the perpetuators the perfect environment to further violate their victims. For example, the demand that everyone stays at home makes it easy to isolate and control a victim because safety nets like family, shelters and NGOs are not accessible. At the same time accessing justice institutions like court or the police is not easy with -out public transport. For those trapped in violent relationships, this presents a mammoth challenge of surviving GBV while cooped up with their abusers.
Moreover, the ‘’stay home, stay safe directive’’, is made with the assumption that home is the safest place for all, however this is not always so. With the current stay at home orders and closure of places of leisure like bars, the situation is rife with tension as frustration builds. The likelihood of lashing out is quite high. Even with the above situation playing out we must somehow find ways to provide support to GBV survivors but how?
The answer to the above dilemma is in our GBV referral pathway partners who are legion and are scattered in the very community where the survivors live. These include among others local councils, Cultural and religious leaders, area councillors, the child and family protection unit at the police and the Health centres which remain open as essential services. As stake holders in the GBV response, we all must mobilise and facilitate those who can still access the community. Most likely way of connecting is through phone and media.
Awareness on how the COVID19 lock down is leading to more cases of GBV and the unique way GBV manifests in the lock down is key to both the survivors and the GBV response stake holders like the police. For example, violence will likely take the shape of threats to loss of shelter, denial of food and isolation. The awareness serves the purpose of re-assuring those affected that there is still support and where to get this support. This will mean using popular means like radio spaces, television, social media and the newsprint to share information on what to do for those affected and those in position to help.
Avoid launching GBV awareness as a stand -alone issue but integrate it with COVID 19. This is to avoid being tone deaf and being ignored as COVID19 is what everyone wants to hear about now. This way we can provide support to COVID19 awareness but also alert the public of the silent issue of GBV manifesting in our homes, communities and country.
To make the support from local structures effective requires NGOs, government ministries like Gender to be a pro-active. We must quickly identify and reach out to the available local structures and provide information and resources to enable quick reporting of cases when they happen and response. For GBV response, our partners like DFID are still providing resources to provide GBV shelters services. Likewise, Organisations like ActionAid, MIFUMI, CEDOVIP can work with the ministry to set up a national GBV hotline where women, girls, boys and men suffering from violence can call in to get guidance and support. The hotline can lend clarity on which types of GBV are rising and where. Lastly it requires a feed- back mechanism, where we each check on what we are doing and continue providing support.