Author: Michael Mubangizi
Violence against women and girls is one of the most ancient, widespread and devastating human rights violations in the world. Despite efforts to address it, in Uganda, the vice persists with 56% of women experiencing spousal violence and 22% sexual violence according to the 2016 Uganda Demographic Household Survey. Harmful practices such as child marriage and female genital mutilation still persist in many parts of the country.
To address these vices, the United Nations and the European Union in partnership with the Government of Uganda have launched Spotlight Initiative, a programme that seeks to eliminate all forms of Sexual and Gender Based Violence and other harmful practices. The programme was launched during the March 8, 2020 International Women's Day celebrations in Mbale. The programme builds on ongoing efforts to address the root causes of violence against women and girls.
While officiating at the launch, President Yoweri Museveni described wife battering as a cowardly act and called for the economic empowerment of women as a tool to reduce their vulnerability to violence and harmful practices.
On their part, women rights activists used the launch to call for affirmative action and reservation of 30% of public procurement to women-led businesses. They also called for stern action against rapists and defilers and increasing funding for law enforcement agencies dealing with the vices of Sexual and Gender Based Violence (SGBV).
Expedite legislative reforms
Speaking during the launch, Ms. Rosa Malango, the UN Resident Coordinator, observed that addressing gender inequality bears serious socioeconomic significance and is essential for economies and communities to thrive.
She recognized strides made in the advancement of women’s rights in Uganda and asked government to support gender-responsive legislations “by prioritizing the passage into law of key pending bills including the Legal Aid Bill, the sex offenses bill, the minimum wage bill, the succession amendment bill as well as the Marriage and Divorce bill.”
Malango also used the occasion to call for a more conducive environment for the operations of civil society organisations. She said, “Given the critical role that civil society plays in complementing government in the provision of services and upholding values, we request for your support, Mr. President, to facilitate a more conducive environment for CSO engagement at all levels of Uganda’s progress.”
She pledged continued UN support to the Government of Uganda including in the ratification of a key instrument that provides for the protection of women, within the formal and informal sector, the International Labour Organization (ILO) Convention 190 on violence and harassment in the world of work.
Focus on boys and men as well
On his part, Ambassador Attilio Pacifici, the Head of the European Union Delegation to Uganda, underscored the need for a whole-of-society approach involving both state and non-state actors, including youth and women groups, traditional and religious leaders in addressing harmful practices as well as violence against women and girls.
“It is important to highlight that this is not a programme only about women and girls, but also about boys and men. We need to have them on board. Working with religious leaders, traditional leaders, teachers and others is crucial if we want to obtain transformative change,” Pacifici said.
He said that EU’s support to the Spotlight Initiative is a demonstration of its commitment to gender equality and women’s empowerment, issues that are also manifest in its other undertakings such as the recently launched new EU Gender Strategy and the ongoing formulation of a new and all-encompassing European Union Gender Action Plan.
Uganda is one of the eight countries in Africa and the only one country in East and Central Africa benefitting from the programme. Although the project has a national scope, it will focus on populations most at risk in the districts of Amudat, Arua, Kampala, Kasese, Kitgum, Kyegegwa and Tororo.
The Spotlight Initiative is a four-year programme running for the period 2019 to 2022. It is a collaborative and innovative partnership between the Government of Uganda represented by 20 ministries, departments and agencies and seven district local governments; the European Union; the United Nations, civil society, the private sector, religious and cultural leaders, academia and women’s groups.
UNDP is among the six United Nations agencies involved in the implementation of Spotlight Initiative. Others are UN Women, UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF), UN Population Fund (UNFPA), the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) and the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR).
UNDP is contributing to the achievement of enhanced legislative and policy framework with strong institutions, leadership and whole-of-society approaches for the advancement of gender quality. Other areas of UNDP support include promoting women economic empowerment and building an effective system for the administration of justice through innovative and multisectoral case management models.