Posts Tagged ‘post conflict’

The Rwenzori region derives its name from the famous Rwenzori Mountain, a block mountain in Western Uganda.  The name Rwenzori is a word in a local dialect that means “the rainmaker”. The region comprises of 5 districts namely: Kasese, Kabarole, Bundibugyo, Kyenjojo and Kamwenge and is neighboring the Democratic Republic of Congo.

Like any other region in  Uganda, the  Rwenzori region has had  its share of  armed conflicts. Ever since Uganda got its independence in 1962, the region has witnessed a number of civil wars in the form of guerilla warfare. Several rebel groups have operated in this region including the Rwenzururu, National Resistance Army, National Army for the Liberation of Uganda  and Allied Democratic Forces.

The impact of ADF rebellion on civilians was devastating as it led to internal massive displacement. According to the Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre, 105,000 people were displaced in Bundibugyo in  and 18,000 were displaced in Kasese between 2000 and 2002. Many people were   killed and villages set a blaze.  Indiscriminate acts of violence perpetrated against the communities especially women still linger in their faces

Joyce who is  a survivor of war is one of the many people whose lives were shattered during the war. Her husband was killed as she looked on and was later gang raped. She  went into coma and was  left in the bush for dead. She was saved by hunters who brought her home and was treated with herbs. Up to now, Joyce’s uterus still hangs out and she has never received any medical assistance.

Like Joyce, many women and girls are still suffering from the pains of war. In a study conducted by Isis-WICCE Institute participants in 2011 in Kasese and Bundibugyo districts on the impact of war on women’s health; 90% of women experienced sexual violence  as they were forced to marry, gang raped  and sometimes inserting objects  in their private parts.

 Makisoro Sanyu,  was abducted together with her sister and a cousin was  repeatedly raped  and  forced to eat her sister’s flesh. Her sister complained that she wanted to rest and was killed. The rebels forced Sanyu to cut her sister’s body into pieces and then mixed it with goats’ meat.  “I was the first to be given the piece of her flesh.  My cousin was also killed and then her private parts were cut off and I was forced  to eat them too.  I was threatened that in case I refused I would be the next on the row, I simply ate”.   Sanyu  narrated

The study also revealed that there has not been any form of intervention since the war ended. Almost 70% of the women interviewed revealed that they have never received any form medical attention to address their sexual reproductive health complications.  The senior official in the Rwenzururu Kingdom confirmed this “When the ADF created the havoc our population is grappling with, no particular focus was given to the region because of the bigger war in the north.”

Health services in the two districts were worsened by the war  as most of them are non functional and the functional      ones  lack staffing  and  medical supplies. The  geographical terrain of the area is also another   challenge as it is  highly mountainous  and cannot   easily be accessed.

The study  further indicated that, most of the women who were interviewed had never practiced any method of family planning. Even those formerly abducted women who were having a burden of denied children and reproductive health problems were still producing many children in addition to those they came with from the bush. The minimum number of children  per household seven ( 7)

I was operated on using a knife and a razor blade. Up to now I feel  so much pain in my private parts. My voice has been affected and it sometimes stops when I am talking.  the children that I came with from the bush have been rejected by my foster husband.

 The war did not only leave the physical scars  on the populations   but also the psychological torture hence  emotional and behavioral disorder including mental disorders. “Most of the community people especially women are still distressed and experience terrible night mares”  said Kalisa Doreen who was part of the research team.

Some of the formerly abducted women. Most of these women have several health problems

The rebels could force mothers to abandon their babies in the bush and leave them crying and if they were seen distressed, they  were  killed.  Lovance,   was abducted during the war and was tortured. Now she is mentally disturbed, and she lives in isolation coupled with  poor living conditions.

In Bundibugyo district, Ndughuthu Sub County, the rebels attacked and burnt the church killing 72 people  majority of whom  were women. This incident has continued to haunt  the people in that village to the extent that up to now, when people pass nearby  that church, they cry.

Almost all households that were covered in the study   in Kasese and Bundibugyo, were directly affected by the war either they lost  members  or were maimed, abducted and  lost their property. Unfortunately these families have never been rehabilitated.

The parents  of the suspected rebels were also targeted and tortured by both the local  leaders and government soldiers who beat them  badly  and imprisoned to produce their children that had joined the rebels. This  affected the parents while others suffered  physical injuries.

The study further revealed high levels of poverty and  its effects on population such as  high instances of early marriage  where by parents  consider the girl  child as a source of wealth in form of dowry.  In a  different research conducted by Isis-WICCE    on  early marriage and its impact in Kasese district revealed that almost every household has a child mother and the major driver was poverty.

The people of the Rwenzori region have awaited for long for the help which is not forthcoming. The partial end of the ADF insurgency did not bring any clear opportunities for the people it had affected. The Rwenzori-Luweero Development Programme that was designed by the government of Uganda to address post-conflict concerns in relation to the NRA war has not yet taken off.

As we enter into 50 years of independence,  I  call upon the government and all stakeholders  to support the  post conflict recovery in Rwenzururu region especially on the issue of sexual and reproductive health because many women are rotting and sooner or later their lives will be no more hence loosing the treasured mothers of the nation and nurtures  of the  future generation.

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One of the major consequences of armed conflict is the rapid spread of HIV and AIDS. A case in point is the fact that districts which have been affected by armed conflict in Northern and Eastern Uganda have higher HIV and AIDS prevalence than other districts in Uganda. In Gulu district HIV prevalence rose from 9.4% in 2008, to 16% in 2009, with Gulu Municipality health sub-district leading with 22.1%.

According to John Charles Luwa, the district HIV/AIDS focal person, out of the 14,424 pregnant mothers who were tested under the Prevention of Mother-to-Child Transmission of HIV/AIDS (PMTCT) in 2009, about 3,214 were HIV-positive, constituting 22.1%. This is attributed to the high instances of sexual violence such as  rapes, defilement and other forms of sexual exploitation like sexual slavery.

In responding to this situation, Isis-WICCE, an International Women’s rights organization   implemented a pilot project  in 2009 on   “Advancing the rights and basic needs of women living with HIV and AIDS in Northern Uganda with special focus on Kitgum. The objective of this initiative is to enhance the rights of women living with HIV/AIDS and enable partners supporting them to be cognizant of their needs from a rights perspective.

Women Paralegals at the Kitgum High Court with Dr Nabisinde(in blue outfit),a former magistrate

It was a realization that enjoyment of  basic rights is still a dream and women have little or no say in the decisions that affect their lives and their health.  HIV and AIDS has  doubled the dose of violations  to women and these violations include gender based violence   due to disclosure to partners, loss of property especially land, loss of marriage rights  including  matrimonial home, stealing  or removal of drugs (ARVs) from  them, stigma and discrimination.

For the lucky few that were targeted in this project like Josephine  Oketayot, an HIV positive  mother of two children, her life  never remained the same. For 8 years in her marriage, she had never enjoyed her basic right such as   freedom of movement, expression and association. She confessed that whenever she wanted to go the market, fetching water and visiting her parents, he had to first ask for permission from her husband could.

not to go anywhere without asking for  permission from her husband be it fetching water, going to the market, and visiting her parents.

Josephine further explains that after the training she went back home with all the materials and handout given plus a bag  with the bag written on “Protect, Promote and Respect Women’s Rights, Yes We Can” which she placed on the bed. And when her husband found it there, he read the message and removed the materials in it and started reading them.

According to Josephine, from that time, her husband’s behavior begun to change because he realized that Josephine is now empowered and she knows her rights. He also told his brothers and sisters that I want all of you to respect my wife. He did not only stop at that, he bought for her a sewing machine so that she can start working and earn something.

Josephine and her husband are now happily married and they also wedded in church in December last year.

Josephine is one of many women whose rights have been violated and don’t have any say or decision in their lives and marriages. Had it not been Isis-WICCE’s  intervention, Josephine would still be isolated, not knowing her rights and resigned to her fate while she continues to suffer all her life. Josephine had this  to say:

I am now a happy woman and I  talk to the people. In the past I used not to talk to anyone when some one would talk to me I would keep quiet but now I go to the villages and sensitize people about  human rights, women’s rights and HIV and AIDS

The intervention also revealed that, HIV and AIDS programmes rolled out to the communities without consulting them have contributed to an increased gender based violence. The programmes in themselves are good but the implementation strategy is what is lacking. A case in point is Prevention of Mother to Child Transmission which mainly target women because of their biological roles. The PMTCT mandates a woman to disclose her HIV status to her partner and request him to a have the HIV test. The dilemma is that this is not critically analyzed to understand its implication at a family level.  

Loyce Kyogabirwe interviewing one of women paralegals after the training in Kitgum

The reality on the ground is that instead, the woman will be blamed for bringing HIV in the family and she will be beaten eventually, she will be chased away. In one of the community discussion I had, there was a story of  a  woman in Kitgum district Northern Uganda, she went to the health centre and was given  a packet of condoms. She was told to keep them in a cool dry place and when she reached at home, she looked for a cool dry place in her house. The only cool dry place she could find was the roof top of her grass thatched hut. When the husband came back he noticed something new on the roof and wanted to find out what exactly it was.

The man reached up and found a packet of condoms. He immediately started beating the wife and accusing him of prostitution. The poor woman was not given an opportunity to explain how the condoms found their way on the roof top. The women told us that they have found better ways of utilizing the condoms by using them to light fire especially the charcoal stove since they are oily, they can easily catch fire.

So where as service providers will attribute their success and achievement to the numbers of condoms distributed, the actual reality is that the intended result may not be attained.

The cultural beliefs, practices and attitudes of most of our societies perpetuate a lot of injustice to women and do not recognize their human rights and one of  them is wife inheritance. In most communities in Africa, when a man dies, his wife has to be inherited and  If she refuses all the property is grabbed from her and she will be chased away from her home.

It is therefore  our responsibility to ensure that women especially those living with HIV and AIDS are protected from such injustice and take control of their lives. When women are availed the knowledge and tools they take charge of their lives and play a key role in transforming the lives of communities

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