By Sean Farrell, Trócaire Country Representative in Uganda
For many women in Uganda, violence is not an isolated and horrid act, but a fact of life. A large study conducted throughout the country in 2006 found that up to 70 per cent of Ugandan women over 15 years of age had experienced physical or sexual violence.
Half of these women experienced violence at the hands of their husbands or partners. These shocking statistics are well above the average in Africa and worldwide, making Uganda one of the most dangerous places in the world for women.
Caption: The Catholic Church in Uganda is working with Trócaire to tackle the problem of violence against women. Photos: Alan Whelan and (middle top) Jeannie O’Brien.
Trócaire began examining how to best respond to high rates of domestic violence in Uganda. One of the issues that emerged was the lack of work to address domestic violence by any major religion. Trócaire set out to fill this gap alongside the leadership of the Catholic Church in Uganda.
There are approximately 14 million Catholics in Uganda with high levels of religious practice and faith. In rural areas, which suffer poverty and exclusion, many people turn to their local Church in times of difficulty or distress. The Catholic Church was uniquely positioned to champion efforts to end violence against women using its influence and reach into every village in the country.
In 2009, Archbishop Lwanga of Kampala, with the support of Trócaire, launched a national Church project to tackle domestic violence, spreading awareness of the problem through parishes.
Today, the call to break the silence on the scandal of domestic violence has been carried to each of the 25,000 Catholic churches in Uganda. Its parishioners are receiving and grasping the Church’s powerful message against the abuse of women.
In a survey, 88% of Mass goers said they had heard their priest or church leader speak about domestic violence. They are beginning to talk and acknowledge the problem. The silence is being broken village by village and church by church.
Archbishop Lwanga recently told me: “In a culture where matters affecting the home are not publically discussed, women can suffer silently. Our national campaign has created awareness, which did not exist before, of what is happening in people’s homes.”
The effect of this project has been transforming. Now, Muslim leaders have seen the impact of the Catholic Church’s project and have started a similar initiative for mosques across Uganda.
As long as domestic violence persists, the challenge to respond will be there. With your support, church leaders in Uganda are lifting the lid of silence and leading the way towards a day when the horrific presence of domestic violence might become a thing of the past.