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Key findings
  • Gender-based violence ranks as the most important women’s-rights problem that Ugandans say their government and society must address.
  • Half (49%) of citizens say violence against women and girls is a common occurrence in their community.
  • More than seven in 10 Ugandans say it is “never” justified for men to use physical force to discipline their wives.
  • More than eight in 10 (84%) consider it likely that the police will take reported cases of GBV seriously.
  • But 62% see domestic violence as a private matter to be resolved within the family rather than a criminal matter requiring law enforcement to be involved.
  • And a majority (54%) say it is likely that a woman who reports GBV to the authorities will be criticised, harassed, or shamed by others in the community.

Violence against women and girls is prevalent in almost all countries, widely acknowledged as a major public health and human rights concern (Devries et al., 2013; Nambi, Namuhani, & Kayemba, 2022). In line with the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goal 5, which calls for eliminating all forms of gender-based violence (GBV), the government of Uganda launched a National Gender-Based Violence Action Plan in 2016 that aims to end practices that promote violence against women and girls and to create a framework to ensure support and access to health services and justice for victims (UNHCR, 2016).

GBV is a critical problem in Uganda. The National Survey on Violence in Uganda reported that 95% of Ugandan women had experienced physical and/or sexual violence (Uganda Bureau of Statistics, 2021). In 2021, the gender state minister said that GBV led to at least 168 deaths during the previous year (Nabatanzi, 2021). The 2016 Demographic and Health Survey revealed that seven in 10 women who had suffered sexual violence neither sought help nor told anyone (Uganda Bureau of Statistics, 2018). Globally, fewer than one in 10 women who seek assistance after experiencing violence go to the police, often preferring to turn to family members or to remain silent (UN Women, 2021).

Factors that contribute to under-reporting of GBV include social stigma and shame, fear of reprisal, concerns about confidentiality and being believed, and, in some cultural settings, a high tolerance for violence (Garcia-Moreno et al., 2005; Kishor & Johnson, 2005; Bertram & Crowley, 2012; Sahay, 2021; United Nations, 2010).

Findings from the most recent Afrobarometer survey in Uganda show that GBV is the most important women’s-rights issue that citizens say their government and society need to address. Even though a majority of citizens reject the use of physical force against women as “never justified,” half say GBV is common in their community.

Most Ugandans think the police take GBV cases seriously, but majorities also see domestic violence as a private rather than a criminal matter and think that women who report GBV to the authorities will face negative reactions from the community.

Caroline Nakayiza

Caroline Nakayiza is a sampling assistant at Hatchile Consult Ltd.