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 Tuesday 05 May 2009
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UGANDA: High sexual violence places women at greater HIV risk

Photo: Sven Torfinn/IRIN
One-third of women believe that a husband is justified in beating his wife if she refuses to have sex with him
NAIROBI, 21 August 2007 (PlusNews) - Almost 40 percent of Ugandan women aged between 15 and 49 have experienced some form of sexual violence in their lifetime, a statistic that is "unacceptably high", gender experts said.

One in four Ugandan women said their first sexual intercourse was against their will, according to the Uganda Demographic and Health Survey 2006 by the Uganda Bureau of Statistics (UBOS). "Women in Uganda continue to lack power over their sexual rights," Elizabeth Kyasimire, a commissioner at the Ministry of Gender, told IRIN/PlusNews.

"This is rooted in our society's cultural and social make-up, where women are in subordinate positions," she said. More than two thousand women were interviewed, almost half of whom said their husband or partner had been sexually violent.

General physical abuse was also common, with an estimated 60 percent of women between the ages of 15 and 49 experiencing some form of physical violence. "Overall, seven in ten women and about 60 percent of men believe there are at least some situations in which a husband is justified in beating his wife," the survey found.

"Nineteen percent of men and almost one-third of women believe that a husband is justified in beating his wife if she refuses to have sex with him," according to the report.

Although the survey indicated that the likelihood of a woman experiencing sexual violence decreased with her educational attainment, Kyasimire commented that "Women still lack economic empowerment and feel they must follow the will of their partners or risk losing their homes and livelihoods."

She said her ministry was working with the UBOS to carry out research into the link between HIV and sexual violence, but "We need authentic data, so that we can go to the relevant authorities, who can then focus their programmes on sexual violence, which definitely has a correlation with HIV in this country. Knowledge about HIV exists in the population, but women can't use it because of their low status."

Northern situation unclear

The UBOS survey found that sexual violence in the conflict-affected populations of war-torn northern Uganda was lower than elsewhere. An estimated 27.7 percent of women living in camps for internally displaced persons (IDP) reported having experienced some form of sexual violence, compared with 56 percent of women in the east of the country and 42 percent in the west.

However, these findings contradict those of 'Suffering in Silence: A Study of Sexual and Gender-based Violence in Pabbo IPD Camp', jointly carried out by the government and the UN Children's Fund (UNICEF) in 2005.

"Research revealed that six out of 10 women in Pabbo Camp are physically and sexually assaulted, threatened and humiliated by the men in whom they have the greatest trust." The UNICEF study also found that rape was often considered a "normal" part of life in Pabbo, the largest IDP camp in Gulu district.

Some activists said the UBOS figures for the north might have been skewed by a perception of what constitutes sexual violence. UNICEF's study found that cases of sexual assault in Pabbo were reported as lesser crimes or went completely unreported. The abduction of young girls for use as sexual slaves has been a common practice of the rebel Lord's Resistance Army.

"Sexual violence is definitely high in the north: throughout the war, the women have been raped and young girls have been defiled," said Hilda Akabway, acting executive director of the Uganda Association of Women Lawyers (FIDA-Uganda).

Akabway said FIDA-Uganda was setting up a desk in the Acholi region, which suffered the most during the war, to empower women with the knowledge and skills to prevent sexual and other forms of violence.

She stressed that there was an urgent need for the government to create awareness about women's sexual rights across the country, to start changing society's harmful gender perceptions.

The Ministry of Gender's Kyasimire said although there were laws to protect women and obtain justice for the survivors of sexual violence, implementation of the laws was often not user-friendly, especially in rural areas.

"If a woman is raped and reports it to the police, the legal process is very lengthy and economically costly; poor girls and women usually abandon their cases because of this."

A national domestic violence bill is being drafted, and parliament recently passed an amendment that can impose the death penalty on any HIV-positive person who wilfully infects a minor through sexual intercourse.


Theme(s): (PLUSNEWS) Gender - PlusNews, (PLUSNEWS) HIV/AIDS (PlusNews), (PLUSNEWS) Prevention - PlusNews, (PLUSNEWS) Research - PlusNews, (PLUSNEWS) Youth - PlusNews


[This report does not necessarily reflect the views of the United Nations]
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