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Key findings
  • Among women’s-rights issues that Ugandans think their government and society must address, gender-based violence (cited by 42% of respondents) outranks unequal property rights (16%), unequal access to education (15%), too few women in influential positions in government (12%), and unequal opportunities or pay in the workplace (10%).
  • About half (49%) of Ugandans say violence against women and girls is a “somewhat common” (28%) or “very common” (21%) occurrence in their community.
  • More than seven in 10 citizens (72%) say it is “never justified” for a man to use physical force to discipline his wife. But more than one in four (27%) consider it “sometimes” or “always” justified.
  • More than eight in 10 Ugandans say the police are “very likely” (59%) or “somewhat likely” (25%) to take GBV cases seriously.

Gender-based violence (GBV) is an everyday threat for Ugandan women and girls. National demographic data from 2020 reveal that 56% of married women aged 15-49 reported having suffered physical and/or sexual violence by a husband (Uganda Bureau of Statistics, 2021). More than one in three women (36%) had experienced sexual violence, most often from a partner; 28% reported victimisation by sexual violence in the past year. Child sexual abuse is also pervasive, with 59% of women reporting sexual abuse in childhood. National data also show that 33% of girls below the age of 15 years were forced at first sex. Among women who said they had experienced GBV, only a minority reported it to police.

Uganda Police Force (2016-2021) crime reports document 272,737 GBV cases between 2016 and 2021, including 2,278 homicides attributed to intimate partners. Domestic violence cases account for 33% of the female homicide caseload. Community policing programmes and public awareness campaigns do not appear to have reduced the number of GBV cases over the six-year period.

Uganda has stated its commitment to ending GBV as part of the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) No. 5 (UN, 2022) and integrated its targets into its National Development Plan (Republic of Uganda, 2020; Office of the Prime Minister, 2020). Laws and policies that target GBV include the Prohibition of Female Genital Mutilation Act (2010), the Domestic Violence Act (2010), the Prevention of Trafficking in Persons Act (2009), the Uganda Gender Policy (2007), and the National Policy on Elimination of Gender Based Violence in Uganda (2016).

The government and partners have put in place mechanisms to improve the reporting and handling of GBV crimes, including Uganda Police Force (2021b) units and training devoted to child and family protection and sexual offences.

This dispatch reports on a special survey module included in the Afrobarometer Round 9 (2021/2022) questionnaire to explore Africans’ experiences and perceptions of gender- based violence. (For related findings on gender equality, see Ssevume, Faiaz, Rao, & Raj, 2023).

Survey findings show that GBV ranks at the top of Ugandans’ priorities among women’s-rights issues that need government and societal attention. Most citizens reject a husband’s use of physical force to discipline his wife, but half report that violence against women and girls is a common occurrence in their community. And while they are confident that the police take GBV cases seriously, a majority think that women reporting violence will be criticised and that domestic violence is a private matter to be handled within the family.

Stevenson Ssevume Male

Stevenson Ssevume Male is an associate researcher with Hatchile Consult Ltd. in Kampala, Uganda.

Mir Muhtadi Faiaz

Mir Muhtadi Faiaz is a researcher

Namratha Rao

Namratha Rao is a program manager with the Center on Gender Equity and Health, University of California San Diego.

Anita Raj

Anita Raj is a professor of medicine, professor of social sciences, and the director of the Center on Gender Equity and Health.