When shocking statistics indicate a positive new trend

Through the Spotlight Initiative, communities are now reporting gender based violence cases and those affected receiving much needed help

By Joachim Buwembo
gender based violence, violence against children, violence against women, Uganda, Kasese, Spotlight Initiative, European Union, early pregnancy, child mothers, adolescent girls
UNICEF Uganda/2021/Kabuye
01 June 2021

Over the past one to two years, some really unpleasant stories have been coming out of Bugoye, one of the 44 sub counties that make up the giant, mountainous district of Kasese in western Uganda. 

The Kasese deputy Chief Administrative Officer (CAO) who is directly concerned with the Spotlight Initiative activities, Senku Samwiri Kimuli, admits that the statistics of gender-based violence and related child abuse really look bad. But for him, the unpleasant reports and shocking statistics indicate a positive new trend.

“These things have been happening here from time immemorial. But because of the awareness that has been created under the Spotlight Initiative, people are now reporting and seeking justice,” 

Kimuli says.

The EU’s Spotlight Initiative is thus an effective partnership of committed civil servants and social workers supported by UNICEF that has created a hunger that pushes the CAO to ask for much more.

“The difference between the ten sub counties covered under the initiative and the 34 which are outside the programme area is that many things that are still accepted in the 34 are outright criminal in the ten,” he says. 

Zainabu Asiimwe, Acting Senior Probation Officer in Kasese District agrees with her boss, saying rather philosophically that while thousands in Kasese are parents, few know how to play the parental role.

Already because of sensitization, victims of abuse and defilement are no longer treated like offenders. In the recently concluded national examinations for example, 92 girls sat for Ordinary level while pregnant. For the Primary Leaving Exams, it was 60 candidates who were pregnant. Two years ago, this was unthinkable as the poor girls would be convicted by their own parents to destitution and oblivion with their babies. Today they are encouraged to return to school and pursue their dreams.

After hearing statistics and reading reports, we head to Bugoye to see for ourselves what is on the ground. The top civil servant here is the sub county chief, the middle aged, indefatigable Stephen Kabau.

“The situation is bad, but it was worse a couple of years back,” says the heavyset Kabau.

“Surprisingly, Bugoye is not a poor area, I think the people here have a higher income than the average Ugandan. But I think alcohol has something to do with it and we are tackling the problems head on.”

Since he came to Bugoye over a year ago, Kabau has instituted a radical policy; whereby all public gatherings, be they social, political or administrative, must include an address by a para social worker about Gender Based Violence. In fact, in recent times, to ensure that the anti-GBV message does not get lost on tired audiences, Kabau has directed that it comes first on the agenda before people are tired. So at funerals before eulogizing the dead, at political functions before the ‘big’ persons speak, the platform is first given to a GBV activist.

gender based violence, violence against children, violence against women, Uganda, Kasese, Spotlight Initiative, European Union, early pregnancy, child mothers, adolescent girls
UNICEF Uganda/2021/Kabuye

We set out to test the assertion. It was the week of swearing into office by previously elected leaders. Indeed, before the new sub-county councillors took oath before the chief magistrate, a para social worker from Muhambo Parish, Ithungu Jonesi, took the microphone. She reminded the gathering about the need to watch out for signs of abuse in their neighbourhood, to help the affected people and above all, to report to people like her whose job is to link the victims to channels of getting justice and help. She finished by sharing her phone number with the crowd.

As we start to leave the ceremony unobtrusively, we notice that Ithungu too is leaving. We ask why she is not staying until the end. 

“I have to catch up with several other gatherings to preach the message of preventing gender based violence or reporting it when it occurs,” she says before hailing a boda boda that whisks her off to her next itinerary.