In 2010 I moved to Uganda, where for almost two years I worked on a community based project aiming to raise awareness on gender based and sexual violence against women and girls; a rampant problem in the country, affecting more than half of the female population.
Aisha, a mother of five, has been suffering domestic violence from her husband for more than 15 years. I met and interviewed her at the Center For Domestic Violence in Kampala, a contact facilitated by Action for Development (Acfode), a non-governmental women's association who aims to improve women's status and lives in Uganda.
This her story, as told by Aisha, 36 years old.
"I was born in Rakai and I went to school up to the age of 14. Then I had to stop because my parents could not pay school fees. I got married at 16 and I came to live in Kireka (a suburb of Kampala). My husband is a builder and in the first 5 ears of our marriage we had no big problems. But then he brought home a second wife and he asked me to leave the house.
I refused to leave the house and he started beating me. I had two children and I was 4 months pregnant. He gave me money and he asked me to have an abortion because he did not want the baby. When I said no, he came back to the house and started kicking me and punching my head on the wall. He locked me out of the house so I went to stay with my mother in law. Things were calm for a while but then my mother in law died and he wanted to sell her property. He would come to the house and he would beat me up in front of the children. At that time I got pregnant again but he did not stop kicking me. I reported him to the Local Council asking for help but he managed to bribe them and they ignored all my pleas.
He used to come to the house occasionally, spent the night but bringing no food for me and my children. One day he came with a note, asking me to go out and buy things for the second wife. When I refused he tried to strangle me, saying that I was of no use. My oldest daughter screamed for help and one of the neighbors came in and pulled my husband away. I reported him again to the Local Council but they did not take any action against him. I contacted FIDA (the association of Uganda Women Lawyers) that helped me to take my case to the court. I had no money to pay the court fees so I dropped my case.
My husband kept on threatening that he will kill me and my children so I reported him to the police. The police arrested him and made him sign a declaration that he would stop harassing me. When we returned home, he came in and started kicking me and punching me. He would also beat the children. One day he took a knife and he tried to cut my throat. He stopped only when the neighbors heard the screams and came in the house. After that, a woman told me to go the Center for Domestic Violence. There, they accompanied me to the police station and I reported him again. This time the police arrested him but he bribed them to escape.
Since then he had disappeared but occasionally he comes around and threats to kill me and my children. I earn 90.000 shillings (€29/$38) per month from three small rentals, but he has been trying to sell my property all that time, leaving me with no money. I have no expectations for my life and I live in the constant fear that my husband will come back any time to kill me and my children.
When you are a woman you have no voice. Men are allowed to do whatever they want and they never get punished".
Some facts on Gender Based Violence in Uganda
The 2011 Uganda Demographic and Health Survey (UDHS) revealed that 82 percent of violence against women is caused by a spouse-who is often drunk- while in northern Uganda seven out of ten of married women have experienced a form of violence from their partner.
Ugandan women confront a male-dominated power structure that justifies men's entitlement to dictate the terms of relationships and marriage. Customs such as the payment of bride price, widow inheritance by a man of his brother's widow, or polygynous marriages render women even more vulnerable to abusive relationships and often expose them to a higher risk of HIV transmission.
Domestic and sexual violence deprives women of bodily integrity and eliminates their ability to negotiate their placement in the society.
Sexual violence remains one of the leading crimes in Uganda but the perpetrators often go unpunished. According to a 2011 Crime and Traffic Police Report, while some 8,000 cases on defilement and 520 cases of rape were investigated, only 269 suspects were arrested and charged in court.
Fighting violence against women and girls requires above all significant changes in individual and community cultural beliefs towards such violence. Poverty, ignorance and negative cultural attitudes against women increase women's vulnerability, especially in rural areas. Statistics published by Unicef in its 2008 report indicate that 77% of women in Uganda, consider domestic violence justified if the woman burns food or refuses to comply to her husband' wishes.
All photos by Fragkiska Megaloudi