16 Days of Activism Public Dialogue, Makerere University

Thank you for having me here today.  I’d like to thank Makerere University and the Center for Domestic Violence Prevention for hosting this important community dialogue.  I’d also like to thank you, the students, for taking the time to be here today to discuss the important issue of gender-based violence.

This dialogue is timely because tomorrow kicks off the United Nations-led global campaign of 16 Days of Activism Against Gender-Based Violence.  The unfortunate reality is that gender-based violence is pervasive, affecting women and girls from all walks of life, all over the world, each and every day.

While human rights and gender equality should always be respected and promoted, these 16 days offer us the opportunity to renew our commitment to ending violence against women and girls – whether it takes place on campus, at home, in the workplace, or in public.

Worldwide, 1 in 3 women will be physically or sexually abused in her lifetime.  In Uganda, these statistics are even worse:  56% of Ugandan women experience physical violence, 27% experience sexual violence – and of those, 55% are under the age of 19.  In addition, 51% of women have been abused by an intimate partner in their lifetime.

This means that more than half of the women in Uganda have been victimized.  Gender-based violence, or GBV, knows no boundaries.  It can affect all people, regardless of social, economic, or political status.  And it goes beyond just physical and sexual abuse.  Psychological abuse, forced and early marriage, female genital mutilation, and the denial of resources and services are all forms of GBV.

I’d be remiss if I didn’t say that men and boys can also be victims of gender-based violence.  But the sad fact is that many societies value women less than men, resulting in women having less power over their own lives.  Because of this, women and girls are most often victimized.

So what are we going to do?  If you’ve been following the news, you may have noticed that throughout the world we are at a crucial moment in the conversation about GBV.  Violence against women is rampant everywhere, but in countries like the United States, more and more women are breaking their silence on taboo subjects like rape and sexual assault. Women are taking a stand – they are calling out their perpetrators, reporting crimes to the authorities, and sharing their stories.  Just last month, the #MeToo hashtag spread across social media.  How many of you saw that?  Millions of people, including celebrities, used the hashtag to come forward with their stories of sexual assault and harassment.  The goal of this movement was to demonstrate just how widespread these issues are, and if we’re here today talking about it in Uganda, the point has been made.

But the problem still exists.  We won’t solve it by simply making it a “women’s issue,” which often becomes code for doing nothing.  Gender-based violence is and must be an issue for everyone, including men and boys.  Here on campus, everyone has a role to play – whether it’s speaking out against sex for marks and intimate partner violence, making sure the Anti-Sexual Harassment policy is enforced, or getting involved in the Anti-Sexual Harassment Committee.  I urge you all to take whatever steps you can to make your campus a safe space for everyone – and for you to carry those values back with you to your homes and communities.

I’d also like to touch upon the theme for this year’s campaign: “Every girl counts! What actions will you take to keep girls in school?” Now, if you’re a female student here today, you are unfortunately the exception, not the norm.

The average Ugandan is just now coming of age.  She is a 14-year-old girl, living in a rural area.  She has a 1 in 4 risk of becoming pregnant during adolescence, is at high risk of being in an early marriage, and will likely drop out of school before reaching the secondary level.  In Uganda, 40% of girls marry before the age of 18.  When a girl marries young, she is more likely to drop out of school, at a higher risk for contracting HIV, more susceptible to domestic violence, and less likely to participate in the workforce and contribute to her family.  Those are some very depressing statistics.  So I urge you to think of the next generation of girls and how we can keep them safe, healthy, and empowered.

In closing, gender-based violence is and must be an issue for everyone – including men and boys.  We all have a role to play.  We all must remember that as one half of humanity, women are entitled to the protection, promotion, and fulfillment of their human rights.  Thank you.