Remarks by U.S. Ambassador Natalie E. Brown at Bwaise Gender-based Violence Shelter Stakeholder Dialogue

U.S. Embassy Kampala | December 3, 2021

Remarks by U.S. Ambassador Natalie E. Brown for the 16 Days of Activism Against Gender-based Violence (GBV) Campaign: Bwaise GBV Shelter Stakeholder Dialogue

(As prepared for delivery)

Good morning! I am so pleased and honored to be here with you today to commemorate 16 Days of Activism Against Gender-Based Violence, or GBV. I’d like to thank the Ministry of Gender, Labor, and Social Development, ActionAid International, and the Infectious Diseases Institute for organizing this event to raise public awareness of Gender-Based Violence against women and girls. We applaud the ActionAid team’s efforts and dedication to addressing this very serious issue. It is so appropriate for us to convene at this shelter because its mission aligns with the theme of this year’s 16 Days’ against GBV campaign: “End Violence against Women and Girls Now!”

I am hopeful that today’s dialogue among you, those of you directly involved in averting violence — the police, the legal fraternity, the health sector, local government, and cultural leaders at the community level — will reinvigorate you to continue learning from each other, to inform your collective efforts, and to recommit all to eliminate violence against women and girls.

This commitment is particularly important now because as a consequence of the COVID-19 pandemic and resulting lockdowns, GBV rates all over the world have unfortunately soared. According to the PEPFAR fiscal year 2021 annual reports, 178,741 people in Uganda received services for sexual, emotional, and physical violence. And this is likely an underestimate of the problem given this only represents those who actually reported to a health facility for assistance. This data alone represents a 35% increase of reported incidence of GBV compared to fiscal year 2020. Of the 62,345 individuals who reported receiving post-rape care, 90% were female and 84% were under 25 years old.

In my work as U.S. Ambassador in Uganda, and through my work living in many parts of the world, I have heard first-hand harrowing and heartbreaking stories from women and girls about their experiences with GBV. I’ve lived in countries where women were cloistered, confined to a compound they could not leave and beaten if they did. I’ve lived in countries where a family’s honor was based on the women, who were beaten or even killed for a perceived slight. And here in Uganda, there are daily reports of women living in abusive situations where some girls and women are raped on the way to or from school or when collecting water for their families, or just going about their daily activities. Many become infected with HIV and other sexually transmitted diseases, forever changing the course of their lives.

But it doesn’t have to be this way. We can “End Violence against Women and Girls Now!” The U.S. government full embraces the objective of the 16 days campaign and continues to work with its implementing partners to invest in raising at the local and national levels awareness about GBV and its impact on national development. We use data on GBV to inform policy formulation and programming. In our current annual plan (COP 21) for PEPFAR, we have strategically invested in the integration of GBV programming across our HIV prevention and treatment programs, with over six million dollars in cross-cutting allocations to help address GBV. At the request of the Ministry of Gender, Labor, and Social Development, the U.S. government is partnering to support six GBV shelters, including the shelter here in Bwaise, which is supported through CDC support to the Infectious Diseases Institute. We continue to advocate for strategic action, to include facilitating the cooperative work among development partners, civil society organizations, religious and cultural leaders, and other players in the private sector to advance social change, including through the mobilization of resources dedicated to the prevention and response to GBV.

The COVID-19 lockdown measures have reduced access to services, including education, sexual reproductive health services, psychosocial support, and legal services for many women and girls. And as I noted earlier, it’s clear that there has been an increased number of incidents involving violence in the last year, with increased rates of sexual violence leading to higher teenage pregnancy rates.

I am happy to see some of our U.S. government-funded implementing partners directly working with the District and Government of Uganda ministries to tackle gender-based violence. I am especially pleased about the efforts of ActionAid and the Ministry of Gender in their efforts to establish the Bwaise GBV shelter, which operates 24 hours a day, seven days a week to ensure survivors of violence, both women and girls, receive prompt services. The efforts of all the partners represented here to complete the GBV referral pathway, including efforts by the local councils, the police, the judiciary, and community actors are to be commended. It is my hope that survivors of gender-based violence can feel safer to report abuse cases, benefit from counselling, and be supported to seek health and other needed services that can protect them from HIV through services like testing and post-exposure prophylaxis.

We need to empower all communities to work together to prevent GBV. I acknowledge that Uganda has made significant progress in raising awareness about gender-based violence, but we still need to do more, not only during the annual 16 Days of activism against gender-based violence campaign, but every day of the year. Let us continue to speak out against all forms of violence and shift the attitudes of men and women to promote the dignity and safety of all individuals, especially the youngest among us.

Let me conclude by recommitting the U.S. government in supporting efforts to end violence against women and girls in Uganda and everywhere through our programs that aim to ensure all voices are fully represented in helping to create violence-free environments.

Thank you.