This article originally appeared in the Daily Monitor.
Gender-Based Violence (GBV) is a result of socially constructed power differences between men and women. When those who have power abuse it, it often causes GBV. Many cultures in Uganda give more power to men through the process of socialisation and distribution of rights and privileges. But unlike in the past, more men today say they are experiencing GBV.
Gender based violence manifests itself in different forms including rape, defilement, and domestic violence which includes emotional, physical, economic and sexual violence. Others include harmful traditional practices such as forced widow inheritance, courtship rape, female genital mutilation, and early or forced marriage.
According to the Uganda Demographic and Health Survey of 2006 and the Uganda Law Reform Commission’s Report of 2007 respectively, 68 percent and 78 percent of women in Uganda experience domestic violence.
Today, some men are increasingly complaining that campaigns against GBV focus on women and ignore them. What both men and women should recognise is that there is factual and documented evidence that the majority of people who experience GBV globally are women.
The subordinate position of women in many cultures and the gender roles assigned to them by society increase their vulnerability to GBV compared to men. Although it is true that some men are experiencing gender violence, there is little documented evidence to prove this claim.
The few cases where women have been blamed for perpetuating violence in relationships are often a result of women’s reaction to long histories of physical, sexual and emotional violence perpetuated against them by their male partners. Many have been reluctant to seek legal redress due to ignorance of the law or lack of trust in justice institutions and enforcers. We hope that the Domestic Violence Act will work to protect the lives of men and women experiencing domestic violence.
Recently, I was in a GBV prevention workshop in northern Uganda in which both men and women reported that violence against men had become common. When asked why men do not speak out or report to the police, several participants stated that it was considered shameful for a man to report that he is experiencing gender-based violence because culturally, men are not supposed to cry – they are supposed to be “strong”. We encourage men who are experiencing GBV to break the silence and publicly share their experiences.
The ‘We Can Campaign’ is a global campaign that aims to reduce the social acceptance of gender-based violence and is calling upon women and men from all walks of life to join the fight against GBV by changing negative attitudes and practices that perpetuate or condone the practice. Men and women need to work towards making GBV a public rather than a private matter and engage everybody to play a role in ending it.
In places such as Kasese and Bundibugyo in western Uganda where the We Can Campaign has been implemented since earlier this year, we have seen rising numbers of both women and men who experience GBV starting to share their experiences in public without shame. This self-awareness has sparked off a process that we hope will bring lasting change in attitudes, beliefs and practices that condone GBV.
Men who are experiencing GBV should be open about it and seek assistance from duty bearers like the local councils, the police or someone they trust. Both men and women are encouraged to make GBV a public rather than a private matter and speak out whenever they experience it. Speaking out mitigates the grave consequences associated with GBV, including the risk of HIV infection. Until we break the silence and stigma associated with publicly speaking about GBV and begin to challenge people around us, this evil will continue to thrive.