On 11th March, 2020 the World Health Organization (WHO) declared the Corona virus outbreak a pandemic meaning that it had become a threat to the whole world, and not just a few countries which had reported many cases. The virus, which started in Wuhan, China in late 2019 has seen the world change in many aspects. All over the world, many people have had to adopt to the new “normal” such as losing jobs, filing for unemployment(the United States of America has had over 22 million people file for unemployment benefits), requesting for food from their respective governments ( the Ugandan government has rolled out a programme to assist those in urban slum areas during the nation wide lockdown) but most importantly, many people have been made to stay at home in a bid to control the easily transmitted virus.
Therefore, many people including families, intimate partners have had to live together and under the same roof for a solid 24 hours. On a happier note,this would seem as the perfect period for families to bond, couples to spend time together away from the hustle and bustle of the world. One would paint a utopian picture of children playing, lovey dovey couples cuddling trying to be each other’s support system during this scaring and frustrating period that isn’t about to end.
In reality however, many couples across the world and around Uganda in particular look forward to the lifting of the lockdown because of the “trouble in paradise” situation they are facing for a month now since the President Y.K.Museveni declared nation wide lockdown. Many couples have experienced violence at the hands of their lovers/partners and the numbers seem only to score higher. All over the world domestic violence helplines are buzzing because of the increase in the cases. France, for example launched a secret number specifically for person’s who may be stuck with an abusive partner. In Uganda’s case however, the situation gets worse due to lack of domestic violence shelters and a largely indifferent society.
In an article by THE NEW YORK TIMES (www.thenewyorktimes.com) by Amanda Taub published on April 17th,2020, it was stated that there was every reason to believe that the stay-home restrictions imposed would result into an increase in domestic violence since these skyrocket whenever families spend more time together. In a Twitter post, the UN Secretary General Antonio Gutteres urged governments to put women’s saftey first as they responded to the pandemic. However, most governments seem absorbed in containing the virus that they have failed to prepare measures to save the victims of domestic violence from their abusers.
Hmmm Uganda has been grappling with the increasing rates of domestic violence catalysed by the country’s weak economy and high poverty levels, cultural and religious beliefs amnong others even before the covid-19 pandemic broke out. In March 2019,the Uganda Bureau of Statistics (UBOS) reported that 7.7% of men and 24.4% of women between ages 15-49 experienced gender based violence. In addition, previous reports have shown that about 5 in every 6 women have experienced domestic violence as compared to 2 in every 6 men.
Uganda, like many of her counterparts has not done much to prevent , control, or even stop this catastrophe during the pandemic. This can be attributed to the already leaping economy, strained resources all directed to combat the covid-19 pandemic. However, the indifference in leaders who haven’t yet realised that intimate violence is a time bomb has also permitted the continuance of thus abhorred act. While addressing the nation, the President Y.K. Museveni dismissed domestic violence as an emergency during the pandemic (https://africanfeminism.com April 2020). He stated that, “the guidelines are simple, you either respond to health or childbirth. We are not dealing with all problems, that some drunk has beaten his wife that can wait.” On the contrary, the Uganda Police has reported over 328 cases of domestic violence (keep in mind that many cases go unreported) during the first 14 days if the national covid-19 lockdown. (https://www.independent.co.ug on 16th April,2020).
In Napak district, a woman dies after having a fight with her husband. In Ibanda, a one Byaruhanga Wilson was found dead in a swamp near his girlfriend’s home. However, with the government’s stand point, many people(mostly women) are left at the mercy of their abusers for as long as the the countrywide lockdown continues.
Therefore, much as we really appreciate the state’s strategy to combat the pandemic, more attention needs to be paid to the people living with violent partners during the much needed lockdown lest we lose more people to violence than to the pandemic.