By Evelyn Birungi
Women glow differently, and that is not a statement based on how loved they are or how someone else makes them feel but only on the fact that they love themselves. The light that shone within Stella was one I had never seen before because it came from a struggle that I did not understand till now.
When I first met Stella, she drew everyone in with her beautiful spirit, contagious laugh, amazing character and heart-warming voice. However, it was close to impossible not to notice a few missing teeth and bruises on her face from time to time. “I was married at a young age and had my two beautiful daughters before I was 23 years old. I lived in a house with my husband and his three brothers who continuously sexually assaulted her, emotionally and physically abused her,” Stella emotionally narrates. “I always smile and laugh because I know I will survive this and be happy again.”
For over 8 years she stayed in a violent household because she believed that that was what ‘good wives’ did, after all, she had two girls to set an example for and ones she could not raise on her own. As is common in the Ugandan Situation, she reported this violence to the police in her community, but her case went unsolved, leaving her unsafe and living in misery. She never spent a day out in the town without hearing a couple of whispers that attempted to justify each bruise on her face and arm.
When Stella attended one of the InPact Community dialogues, she had access to different counsellors that were instrumental in saving her life. The counsellors created a safe space for her to share her experiences and seek guidance on what to do. Furthermore, she was taught skills like baking, smart climate agriculture and more that she would use to establish herself as a single mother capable of earning a living. She then made the conscious decision to leave her abusive home and move to a new town with her children that she is putting through school using her great agricultural skills. Months later, Stella reached out to the InPact team and watching her spread her joy and share her journey of growth to restore her glow is a constant inspiration.
(The Girls to Girls community dialogue 2020 Kanungu District, Stella has chosen to remain anonymous)
When Stella joined the InPact ambassador teams, she used her experience to shine a light on the injustice women in rural areas are facing. In most cases, women in the rural areas are unable to or don’t know how to speak up and seek justice for these horrendous acts. Unfortunately this is a reality for many young women around Uganda. Global statistics state that 2 out of 6 women have been a victim of sexual assault. In the one week that Uganda has been on lockdown, there have been 5 cases of domestic violence death recorded. According to the 2019 Uganda police report; Incidences of Death through Domestic Violence reported to the police in 2018 were 362. By the end of 2018, a total of 17,521 Sex Related crimes were registered, out of which 6,454 cases were taken to court, 920 cases secured convictions, 50 cases were acquitted, 473 cases were dismissed while 5,022 cases were still pending in court. This is the reality for sexual assault cases in the system, this leaves a big part seeking’s and promoting justice to the people.
A big part of questioning sexual assault comes down to questioning the laws that are failing to protect victims. Ineffective laws pose a big challenge to the fight against VAW. Laws such as the Penal Code (Amendment) Act 2007, the Domestic Violence Act 2010, the Sexual Offences Bill and the Marriage Bill do not address key aspects of VAW. None of these laws criminalize marital rape, for instance. Advocating for the law to be revised or new ones to be drawn up could be the small change that saves the next woman.
Too often, the blame of abuse falls on the victims who are often blamed for the way they dressed, the people they surrounded themselves with or their unavoidable choice to be in that situation.
DECIDE TO END SEXUAL VIOLENCE
Desmond Tutu once said ‘”If you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor” Sexual assault is a traumatic experience that women are having to face but they shouldn’t. Take a stand today, choose to support victims. Let it be known whose side you are on and most importantly show your support. Choose to break the cycles
Advocating for women is something that InPact is talking serious because the world often chooses to blame the survivor for them simply being that, a survivor. The girls to girls’ program have often created safe spaces for women to feel appreciated and seen. InPact aims to use this ‘girls to girls’ network’ as a way for women and girls to share their experiences, seek counsel and be a part of a greater connection that is continuously advocating for them and their rights.