Kampala, Uganda | December 2, 2022
(As prepared for delivery)
Good afternoon! 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 would like to thank the Ministry of Gender, Labor, and Social Development, The Alliance for Women Advocating for Change (AWAC), and the Infectious Diseases Institute (IDI) for organizing this event to raise public awareness about the dangers of gender-based violence against women and girls.
We applaud the Alliance for Women Advocating for Change (AWAC) team’s efforts and dedication to addressing this very serious issue. It is so appropriate for us to convene at this facility because its mission aligns with the theme of this year’s 16 Days’ against GBV campaign: “Orange the World: UNITE, Activism to End Violence against Women and Girls!”
I want to appreciate all of the brave girls and young women who shared their personal testimonies, including in the skits and songs. I commend your strength and perseverance, but we can’t ignore the underlying heartbreak, pain, and suffering inflicted upon women as a result of gender-based violence. This must stop, now!
As evidenced from today’s testimonies, violence has a variety of negative consequences, including facilitating the spread of HIV, hampering adherence to medication, lowering the self-esteem of women, and disrupting families, and communities.
I am hopeful that today’s dialogue among you who are directly involved in preventing violence — the Kampala Capital City Authority, Local Councils, health sector, the community leaders and all other key stakeholder present here today — will reinvigorate you to continue the fight against GBV, to learn from each other, to strengthen your collective efforts, and mobilize all those in your spheres of influence to commit themselves to eliminating violence against women and girls.
This commitment is critical as we strive towards HIV epidemic control in Uganda. Heath equity is the first of 5 principles in the re-imagined PEPFAR. We do not want to leave anyone behind and yet violence threatens HIV and other public health efforts, especially for women.
From PEPFAR-supported Integrated Bio-Behavioral Surveys conducted in 2022 by the Makerere School of Public Health, preliminary data indicate an HIV prevalence of 35% among female sex workers in Uganda. This is almost six times higher than the prevalence among the general population. This is not a new finding, but speaks to the vulnerability of this population and need to recommit our HIV prevention, care and treatment efforts.
Additionally, gender-based violence destroys families, weakens the fabric of society, takes a heavy toll on communities and the economy. This violation of women’s fundamental rights has devastating consequences for women, girls, and their families, as well as men and the broader community. GBV is widespread in Uganda and was recently compounded by the COVID-19 pandemic which created a lot of anxiety, stress and hardships, especially for the most marginalized groups, leading to escalated cases of GBV in this community, not to mention early and teenage pregnancies.
The AWAC Uganda COVID-19 Rapid Gender Assessment of 2020, presented data indicating that out of 1,124 respondents, 65% had experienced physical violence, 38% had experienced sexual violence, 72% had experienced psychological violence and all the respondents were experiencing distress due the COVID-19 pandemic. The data propel us to make deliberate steps directing our investments to initiatives, such as support to this Drop-in Center.
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 heartbreaking stories from women and girls about their experiences with gender discrimination and GBV. I’ve lived in countries where women needed a guardian to travel, could not vote, or were denied access to money they earned. And I’ve lived in places where key populations were harassed, confined to a compound they could not leave, and exposed to physical violence if they did. 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. Moreover, the harassment of key populations only compounds the obstacles to critical health care and other daily needs.
But it doesn’t have to be this way. In line with the 16 Days of GBV activism theme this year, “UNITE, Activism to End Violence against Women and Girls!” The U.S. government fully embraces the objective of the 16 days campaign and continues to work with stakeholders to invest in raising awareness at the local and national levels about GBV and its impact on national development. We use data on GBV to inform policy and programming. For example, in our PEPFAR implementation plan this year, we strategically invested in the integration of GBV programming across our HIV prevention and treatment program, specifically focused on equity for key populations to help address GBV as well as HIV. We continue to advocate for meaningful engagement and investment with key populations, to include facilitating the cooperative work as witnessed in this drop-in center facility where the community has an opportunity to serve. And we continue to rally 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.
I am glad to see some of our U.S. government-funded implementing partners directly working with the key populations community and stakeholders to tackle gender-based violence. I am especially pleased with the Ministry of Health for providing a framework through which AWAC and other DICs can operate, ensuring availability of essential services to survivors of violence and other populations that need them most. The efforts of all the partners represented here to complete the GBV care pathway, including efforts by the local councils, the police, the judiciary, and community actors are highly commended. It is our hope that survivors of gender-based violence can feel safer to report abuse cases, benefit from counselling, legal support, and be supported to seek health services Post Exposure Prophylaxis that can protect them from HIV.
We must empower all communities to work together to prevent GBV. I acknowledge that Uganda has made progress in raising awareness about gender-based violence, but there is still much more work to be done; not only during the annual 16 Days of activism against gender-based violence campaign, but on each and every day of the year. So, 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 and most vulnerable among us. Let us hold perpetuators accountable for the harm they do. Let us strive to achieve a better society for all of us.