KAMPALA —Players working to support victims of Gender-based violence including Action Aid International Uganda (AAIU) and the Ministry of Gender, Labour, and Social Development (MGLSD) with support from the UN Women Uganda convened the National Symposium on the Impact and Sustainability of Gender Based Violence Shelters in Uganda.
Shelters are a critical part of a holistic approach to violence against women and girls, in providing refuge, medical, legal, economic, and psycho-social services for victims. There are 20 shelters in total in Uganda, supported in partnership with the Government of Uganda and the MGLSD.
These shelters are managed by UN Women supported partners including Action Aid and UGANET, MIFUMI and UWONET among other organisations.
Speaking at the opening session of the Symposium, UN Women Uganda Country Representative Paulina Chiwangu noted that UN Women whereas there’s some improvement, the reality is that some of the shelters are not operational due to lack of funding, and others are on the brink of closing.
The Ambassador of Sweden Maria Hakansson outlined that violence leads to major economic costs for society, and gender-based violence is the most obvious expression of this inequality.
Gender-based violence is often used to silence women who express themselves.
Hakannson made a call to action that this is the time to walk the talk.
She challenged women and men in all spheres of society to step up to the plate to prevent and respond to GBV.
During the Symposium a short documentary was screened on the subject ahead of a presentation from the Ministry of Gender, Labour, and Social Development on the status of GBV Shelters in Uganda.
The Symposium highlighted the importance of the interlinkages between violence against women and girls, and women’s economic empowerment.
The strategic direction of the MGLSD is to mainstream the GBV Shelter programming, but due to the economic recess this has not been easy. There is a need for additional financial support to the GBV shelters to ensure continuity of GBV Survivors critical services. Much has been done in terms of legal policy framework, social norm change, coordination and a multi-sectoral approach but all this requires financial support. During the COVID-19 pandemic as the shelters faced closures, UN Women Uganda stepped in to provide emergency funding sustaining the shelters.
Sustainability was at the heart of the discussions with presentations and discussions held around the funding options for shelters.
A presentation on “The Funding Ecosystem” presented by Jean Kemitare (Programme Director at Urgent Action Fund), who highlighted the fact that the system is co-dependent as all actors and factors constitute a whole and that system comprises of local and national governments, private sector, bilateral agencies such as FCDO and SIDA, women’s funds among others.
This presentation sparked a conversation around being strategic, innovative, and partnering with sustainable institutions in addition to other partners such as high-net-worth individuals.
District Local Government (DLG) Officials, District Community Development Officers (DCDOs), civil society organisations, UN agencies and other stakeholders engaged in a plenary discussion where participants shared concerns around inadequate funding in this area, the influx of survivors, the functionality of the referral system as well as a call for the Ministry of Gender to support the GBV shelters.
Participants representing the UN spoke to their commitments and seeing this challenge of funding as a good opportunity to expand our thinking around funding and piggyback on other donors in the refugee response areas, for example.
Dr. Katja Kerschbaumer, representing the Austrian Development Cooperation, spoke to the support Austria is giving towards ending violence by building the investigative capacity of the police, prosecution and having more staff in these agencies, as well as courts in the districts where GBV is most prevalent. The overall takeaway from the Symposium was a need to take needs of women and girls seriously as a global and national emergency.
Participants shared takeaways during the interactive sessions.
Angella Akoth, National Project Coordinator GBV Shelters, ActionAid International Uganda spoke to the shadow pandemic of violence against women and called for support and commitment, and the need to prioritises these services.
“We have had a hike in cases of violence against women in Uganda due to economic constraints related to COVID-19 pandemic and other global crisis. In this time, facing threat of closure leaves us with many questions: what’s next? How do women get support? How can women be reached with these services when facing threat of closure? Women are the backbone of Uganda; we must prioritise them. If we allocate funds to water, hygiene, the environment then why don’t we allocate funding to the safety of women? Contributing funds to WASH (for example) and neglecting the person who will benefit from WASH does not make sense,” she said.
Commissioner Angella Nakafeero, Ministry of Gender, Labour, and Social Development, emphasised the importance of women’s economic empowerment and the interlinkages with violence prevention:
“When women have a source of income they can access justice, provide for their own needs, and decide to move on from abusive relationships. [Through the support of UN Women] These shelters have supported 665 women across 5 districts to benefit from entrepreneurial skills in agro- and non-agro based businesses.”