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African women face two pandemics | Women’s Rights



In the last few months, as the coronavirus has spread across the world, African countries have registered a surge in cases of domestic violence and sexual violence, which has provoked public outrage.

In May, South Sudanese activists protested the gang rape of an eight-year-old girl by three men while holding her mother at gunpoint, in the capital, Juba. The online campaign #SouthSudaneseSurvivor prompted women to share their harrowing experiences to break the silence on sexual abuse and rape culture in their communities both in the country and the diaspora.

Around the same time, in one of his national COVID-19 addresses, South African President Cyril Ramaphosa decried that “the scourge of gender-based violence continues to stalk our country as the men of our country declared war on the women.” Calls to the government-run GBV and femicide command centre had reportedly doubled during the nationwide lockdown.

In early June, Nigerians started the #WeAreTired campaign after two young women, Vera Uwaila Omosuwa, a 22-year-old microbiology student, and 18-year-old Barakat Bello were raped and killed five days apart. Following the online campaign and nationwide protests by women’s rights activists, all 36 Nigerian governors agreed to declare a state of emergency over gender-based violence against women and children. In the same month, Nigerian Popstar D’banj faced allegations of rape and abduction.

In late June, campaigners in Sierra Leone protested the rape and killing of a five-year-old girl, Kadijah Saccoh. In July, Liberian human rights activists called on President George Weah to announce policy responses to the alarming increase in rape.

In Machakos County in Kenya, 3,964 girls became pregnant in five month period to June, , as children stayed at home due to COVID-19 closures. Similar grim trends have been registered in neighbouring Uganda. Most of these cases are a result of statutory rape. The majority of cases of sexual violence are perpetrated by people known to the children, proof that home is hardly a safe place.

African countries are not unique in this pattern of increased gender-based violence during the pandemic. The UN has warned of a “shadow pandemic“, as countries across the world have reported a spike in domestic violence. The reality, however, is that violence against women and girls is hardly a “shadow” pandemic. The term “shadow”  trivialises and minimises the consistent and harrowing violence African women and girls experience on a daily basis. To address violence against women and girls, African governments must first acknowledge its historic existence and tackle it as a matter of national emergency. 

What the present crisis highlights across the African continent is the ineffectiveness of past measures. It seems the little band-aids that existed in normal pre-pandemic times have been ripped off, and the perpetual state of violence that African women experience can no longer be ignored.

No normal times for women’s safety

The gender-based violence pandemic sweeping through Africa today comes on the heels of a series of protests, calls for action from activists and declarations of commitment to eradicating the problem from government officials over the past few years.

In Sierra Leone, President Julius Maada Bio declared a national emergency over sexual violence in February 2019 after hearing the testimony from a five-year-old girl who was paralysed after being raped.

In Sudan, an independent commission was formed in September 2019, to investigate the massacre and mass rape of protesters during a sit-in in Khartoum, demanding the military hand over power after the deposing long-term ruler Omar al-Bashir. The commission is still to release the results of its inquiry.

In South Africa, in 2018, activists presented 24 demands to the government calling for action against Gender-Based Violence. A few months later, in response to these demands, the Presidential Summit Against Gender-Based Violence and Femicide was held, and the presidency expressed its commitment to addressing all of them. But just a year later, the rape and murder of 19-year-old student Uyinene Mrwetyana at a post office sparked mass protests against the lack of progress on eliminating gender-based violence.

In Nigeria, photographer Busola Dakolo’s testimony detailing her rape by the pastor of a large church in Abuja sparked public outcry and precipitated the campaign #ChurchToo to demand accountability from the Church in 2019. The Christian Association of Nigeria pledged to get to the “root of the matter”.

And perhaps even more importantly, across West Africa, in the aftermath of the Ebola outbreak of 2013-2015, evidence was collected of a significant increase in sexual and gender-based violence. Yet the local authorities did not take action to put protocols in place to protect women and children.

Why does sexual violence continue to rise?

Rape does not happen in a vacuum. It is part of a continuum of gender-based violence allowed and meted out on women through harmful social and cultural norms embedded in society. Stereotypical gender norms and practices endorsed by patriarchy remain at the root of it.

When it comes to irrevocably and radically shifting societal standards towards humanising women outside violence, most of society remains impervious.

Various actors – from legislators to law enforcement, religious bodies, the media and gatekeepers of culture – have not taken their role as guarantors of the rights of women, girls and minorities seriously.

As Nigerian feminist scholar, Amina Mama, has said, “African ‘liberated’ states have never liberated women. It’s been an edifice of male complicity engaged in pacification forever … colonial, post-colonial, neoliberal, theocratic.”

Survivors often find themselves between a rock and a hard place, between a societal system that silences them and a state that constantly fails to value their lives. Globally, 30 percent of women experience physical or sexual violence by an intimate partner in their lifetime. Women do not always report their experiences of violence because of deep-rooted barriers including “fear of stigma and shame, financial barriers, lack of awareness of available services, fear of revenge, lack of law enforcement action and attitudes surrounding violence as a normal component of life”.

Containing COVID-19 has now become the primary focus of governments, with little attention paid to gender-based violence. State control and militarism have taken centre stage. The solidifying of oppressive state power in a pandemic means a consolidation of patriarchal power and violence at micro- and macro-levels.

Economic pressures have significantly limited alternatives for victims of violence. COVID-19-related restrictions have forced survivors to co-exist with their abusers and justice systems offer little hope for the punishment of perpetrators.

Investment by African governments in state-funded shelters could have created safe spaces for victims of gender-based violence, but that has not happened. Additionally, civic support has been limited by both by restrictions on movement and the lack of capacities in addressing occupational safety and protection in these times.

What COVID-19 response must bring?

Building a post-COVID-19 society that better addresses inequality and provides a better social contract for women is a liberation struggle that requires society-wide commitment. Social and cultural norms that uphold scrutiny and control of women’s sexuality, enable victim-blaming and excuse violence against women must be dismantled.

As Oyeronkee Oyewumi, professor of sociology at Stony Brook University, has argued: “What I see is what I call cultures of impunity that colonisation represented … The colonisers did whatever they wanted, and so they did lay out these institutions that were not responsive to the colonised. As a result, today, we have all sorts of cultures of impunity from the top-down … We must never accept.”

The pandemic has tested the fabric of society as we know it. It has exposed the failures and the unsustainable nature of capitalism. The social-political and economic impact of the health crisis has forced us to re-imagine a just world. As we advocate for that just world, we must, with similar gusto, advocate for a safer world for women.

We must stop interventions that entrench performative male support of gender equality with no shift in how power is held and exercised. Any responses to sexual violence in this pandemic must be mindful of the ways in which societies were already failing women. Therefore, an understanding of systemic inequalities is essential in creating alternatives.

The long-term impact of COVID-19 on women and girls in all their diversities depends on what responses African states and communities put in place regarding gender-based violence. States must acknowledge and link the historical institutionalisation of male dominance to gender-based violence and work towards eliminating the hurdles to women’s right to a dignified life.

Women’s voices must be centred in decision-making both at the national and community level and services – from medical-legal and psychosocial assistance – expedited to mitigate gender-based violence within COVID-19 response plans. A continent-wide response is necessary and urgent.

The views expressed in this article are the authors’ own and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera’s editorial stance.

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Minister Rukutana charged with attempted murder, remanded




The state minister for Labour, Gender and Economic Development Mwesigwa Rukutana has been remanded to Kyamugorani prison in Mbarara district.

Rukutana appeared before Ntungamo Grade One magistrate Nazifah Namayanja this afternoon from where he was charged with seven offences related to attempted murder, assault, malicious damage, and threatening violence.

Rukutana was captured in a video that went viral on social media showing him grabbing a gun from one of his bodyguards and started shooting at a vehicle belonging to supporters of his political rival Naome Kabasharira. At the time of the incident, Rukutana had just lost the Rushenyi country NRM flag to Kabasharira.

The prosecution alleges that on September 5, 2020, at Kagugu village in Ntungamo district, Rukutana and others still at large assaulted Julius Niwamanya and threatened to kill or injure him together with three others. The others are Stuart Kamukama, Dan Rwibirungi, and Moses Kamukama. 

It is also alleged that Rukutana also willfully and unlawfully damaged a motor vehicle registration number UAR 840X Toyota Rav 4 type which belongs to Moses Muhumuza.

According to the Judiciary public relations officer, Jameson Karemani, Rukutana has not taken a plea of these charges against him since they can only be tried by the chief magistrate who was not in court today.

As a result, the magistrate decided to send him to Kyamugorani, awaiting his return to court on Tuesday.      

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Lira district headquarters closed over COVID-19




Lira district headquarters have been closed after one staff tested positive for COVID-19 last week. 

On Monday morning, district staff were blocked at the gate with only the deputy chief administrative officer, his secretary and the receptionist allowed access to their offices. 

Paul Samuel Mbiiwa, the deputy chief administrative officer says that only heads of department will be allowed at the headquarters while the rest will work from home. He adds that the restriction will help to curb the spread of the virus.

“You see corona is not a joke. We have taken a step at fighting it and that is why you are seeing the staff outside. Even in my office here I do not want people to come if there is anything we can discuss on the phone.”

Francis Okello Olwa, a senior community development officer who doubles as the district spokesperson says that the entire district offices will be fumigated and closed for two days.

Health authorities in the district are planning to take samples from all the staff because they could have interacted with the one who tested positive. Currently, there are 19 COVID-19 patients under treatment at Lira regional referral hospital.     

On Sunday four health workers at the hospital tested positive for COVID-19. Dr Patrick Odongo, a senior medical officer at the hospital also succumbed to the virus.  

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Museveni issues ultimatum to police boss




Museveni flagged off distribution of motorcycles for NRM chairpersons

President Yoweri Museveni has given Inspector General of Police (IGP) Martins Okoth Ochola a chilling ultimatum: You either do your work or I will do it myself!

Museveni disclosed the ultimatum he gave to the IGP today Monday at the NRM secretariat at Plot 10 Kyadondo Road in Kampala where he was flagging off the distribution of motorcycles to parish chairpersons of the ruling National Resistance Movement party across the country. 

“I told the IGP that if the police doesn’t do their work, I will do it myself by arresting the police officers themselves,” Museveni stunned his audience as he commented on the electoral violence that marred the NRM primaries held on Friday last week. At least 4 people were killed across the country during the primaries. 

“There was violence in Bukono county [Namutumba district] where people were beaten. I got information that police has not done much work. Some (policemen) have been arrested and given police bond; there is no police bond for somebody who has attacked Ugandans!,” Museveni added. 

Museveni vowed to deal with all persons who messed up the party primaries.  In some parts of the country, there were massive regularities where candidates who had been defeated ended up being announced winners. In some places like Namutumba, Isingiro, Ntungamo, Jinja, Katakwi, among others, there was violence that led to the killing and wounding of civilians. Museveni said that they are going to make sure that all those who participated in these irregularities and violence are held to account. 

Museveni said although the violence was orchestrated by the politicians, the police personnel are to be held accountable for failing to contain it.

Last week, police spokesman Fred Enanga warned police personnel especially those guarding VIPs against being drawn into the politicians’ political wrangles, reminding them that they would face the music if they did. With the president now threatening to go and conduct the arrests of errant policemen himself, IGP Ochola is likely to move fast to avert the spectacle. 

Museveni wondered why police would shoot at unarmed people who were fighting amongst themselves: “That policeman must be arrested; even the ones who are threatening people you will go to jail for that if we get evidence,” a seemingly incensed Museveni said.

He also said that the state minister of Labour, Gender and Economic Development Mwesigwa Rukutana who was captured on camera attempting to shoot people over the weekend in Ntugamo after he lost the  Rushenyi primaries, will be charged with threatening violence and attempted murder. 

 “This game is finished,” Museveni said.

Rukatana has since been charged and remanded to Kyamugorani prison in Mbarara district in western Uganda. Museveni called upon all those dissatisfied with the election results to write petitions to the regional panels of elders which he said are going to be constituted to hear all election complaints.

“We are going to get three respected people who are not part of the struggles, then we shall go and audit village per village and we shall discover. If you have committed forgery, the registrar or the politician who ordered,  you all shall go to jail. The game is finished; the voting is by lining and if you miss-add, you are ‘miss-add’ yourself,” Museveni said.

Museveni’s speech came shortly before that of Justine Kasule Lumumba, the secretary general of the NRM who called upon the president to reign over some senior people who with impunity were freely changing the results of the elections.

“Some of our staff were lured into changing declaration forms on the way forgetting that people who had participated at the village don’t need to write; they registered the record in their faces…Some have done things with impunity… in Butemba county Kyakwanzi district, one of the candidates who got 3,000 votes brought in soldiers, cordoned off that place and was declared a winner and off they went away,” Lumumba said. 

The ball is now in Ochola’s court to get the police to execute their duties professionally and with impartiality. In March 2017, President Museveni warned Ochola’s predecessor Kale Kayihura to clean the police force of wrong elements. As months passed with no visible sign of police officers shaping up, Museveni resorted to other security agencies who started arresting rogue senior police officers and charging them in the military court for various crimes.

Kayihura was then removed from office, arrested and jointly charged with the errant officers in the army court. To avoid similar fate, Ochola is likely to use a firmer hand on the police officers so that by the time of the February 2021 elections, there is no laxity in the force’s execution of its mandate to maintain law and order.

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