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Posts Tagged ‘violence’

Domestic violence is a big problem in Uganda. Around 60% of women experience it, and around 25% of women experience rape as their first sexual experience. Men are also victims, but women are four times more likely to suffer.

Last Wednesday, after the Easter weekend and before the Royal Wedding and riots, my cleaning lady (aka ‘maid’ here) came in looking mournful. When I asked her if she had had a good weekend, she burst into tears and said she had had a disagreement with her husband. Follow up revealed that she and her 4 children are now living with her sister who has AIDS and loads of kids. People’s lives here really can be miserable.

There have been telltale signs, but I had hoped that it was something else. She has always been submissive and timid, and I don’t think it’s just me. She started turning up at 7am (rather than 830am) when I am looking distinctly sub-human and prefer to be left alone. E suggested that maybe it wasn’t that she loves her job (I am sure she doesn’t, although I pay on time and leave her to her own devices), nor did he think it was to traffic-related (a common excuse here for being late – not early). Maybe , he said, she doesn’t want to be in her house for some reason. Obvious, really.

So, the Wednesday after Easter weekend confirmed our suspicions and left me in a quandary: to interfere, or not interfere? Unsure of what to do, I asked some colleagues who work on gender violence issues at work. We have a big campaign on this, and I even have a spare tyre cover on my car saying I support a violence-free life for all! They recommended CEDOVIP and MIFUMI. I called CEDOVIP, who I have dealt with before and who do pretty amazing work to try and change people’s mindsets around violence in the home.

A man answered with a barrage of questions.

“What’s your name? Where do you come from? What is your organsiation?” This would be very intimidating for any callers needing help. I couldn’t understand why he was on reception. Oh well. I skipped his questions, and launched into mine, at which point I was quickly transferred to a woman.

“I think my maid is being beaten.”

“Ah, and why do you think that?”

(I describe the ‘symptoms’).

“OK,” said the woman, “does she want to leave her husband”

“I don’t know. Should I ask her? I think that’s her private business, I wouldn’t like my employer asking me that.”

“You’re right. It really helps if you can talk to one of her neighbours, and see if they can talk to her.”

“But she only works for me 2 days I week. I don’t know her neighbours.” (I can hear you all I thinking I should, that this is just like apartheid, but really, do you get to know your plumber’s neighbours back home, or your cleaner’s neighbours? I employ her, I am not her best buddy.)

“Hmmm. Well, if you drop her off here, that’s forcing her to get  help and she might not want to speak to us.”

“I agree. And can you help her, anyway, if she is NOT going to leave her husband?”

“Hmm, maybe, maybe not. But you know, it’s really best if you can talk to her neighbours and get them to…”

(ARRRRRURRRRrgh!) “I don’t know her neighbours, do I? What’s it going to look like if some White person shows up in her neighbourhood asking questions about her marriage?”

“Good point.”

In the end, we decided that I’d give my cleaner the details of the organisation, I’d pay her some extra money to help with her house hunting, and I’d tell her she could take a day off to go and see CEDOVIP if she wanted. She hasn’t yet – nor does she have to.

These issues are much more easily dealt with when, say, designing a programme on violence against women, or putting them on a tyre cover, than when they are right under your nose.

What to do, what to do, about domestic violence. Answers on a postcard please.

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It’s hotting up in Kampala, and none of us are quite sure where it’s headed. My first notification on Friday came from an American friend working near Nakasero market, who heard gunshots nearby. The security notifications came thick and fast after that. I was sitting on the balcony at work in a leafy suburb of Kampala, thinking, “trouble never comes here“, when I heard fireworks/firecrackers/gunshots. I opted for the latter, given the context, and observed vans, boda bodas (motorbikes) and large military vehicles with even larger guns rushing towards my neighbourhood. I carried on typing until my colleague Gilbert popped his head out after a new volley of gunshots and said tactfully,

“You don’t think you should, well, come inside? Seems a bit of a risky place to be sitting.”

Good point. I shuffled inside. I tried to stream the Royal Wedding online, but the gunshots were distracting and all that rioting interrupted my concentration – priorities, people!

The walk to work starts again tomorrow. Apparently, those people planning on walking can do so as long as they notify their local police.

Weather forecast: overcast with teargas and rubber bullets.

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