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On the 29th of November, 2018,  during the 16 days of Activism campaign, UN Women hosted a forum for judges on ‘Access to Justice for Women and Girls’ to present a report on sexual and gender based violence. The report was compiled by the Center for Domestic Violence Prevention.

This meeting was organised to bring the judiciary closer to  people and communities. Supporting people to understand what is really happening outside the court around sexual and gender based violence and strengthening the communities role in promoting gender justice.  Present were Hon. Justice Bamwine, SSP Atuhirwe Maureen, Justice Lillian Tibatema, H.E the Ambassador of Sweden, magistrates, the principal judge, journalists and civil society organisations.

Martha (far left), one of our Girls Advocacy volunteers at Restless Development, was at the event. This is her response:

Sexual harassment is unwanted sexual behaviour or attention that negatively affects a person’s work or learning environment or creates hostile public spaces. It can happen in our homes, streets and places of work. It is a form of discrimination that is often used against women and it is linked with power. Sexual harassment can be considered a form of gender based violence and it is disheartening that in some societies the blame can be placed on the victim.

In some cases, where women are targeted, society will even say it is all her fault for dressing the way she does or for being out so late. Such stereotypes scare victims from reporting a case because she is afraid she will be embarrassed and tortured psychologically and in doing so the offender goes unpunished. In situations where the victim reports a case, there is no guarantee that the offender will be sentenced.

Sexual harassment is very widespread and can lead to sexual violence. The damaging stereotypes surrounding women contribute to sexual harassment and violence often not being taken seriously.  Of the 1,335 rape cases filed last year in Uganda, only 396 were taken to court and of those, 6 resulted into convictions, 375 are still pending and 639 are still being investigated (The Ugandan police crime report). Despite the establishment of special court sessions in Uganda, which mainly hear gender based violence cases, there is still a lot of case backlog and delays which demoralizes the victim and reduces their willingness to follow up on the case.  

Further still, sexual and gender based violence trials often end up resulting in a plea bargain to save time. This means the perpetrator can plead guilty to receive a much lighter sentence. Often sentences bare no relationship to judicial sentencing guidelines, the Sexual Offences Bill declares a standard number of years of arrest for an offender found guilty of committing a sexual offence (the minimum being 30 years of imprisonment for the case of aggravated defilement). However this is rarely given.

My recommendations to achieve justice for women and girls

  • There is an urgent need to remove the obstacles to victim participation.
  • There is a need to develop strong support strategies for victims that will enable them to gain courage and confidence to speak up.
  • There is a need to strengthen the victim’s rights, roles and voice.
  • Gender training within the justice system is key in order to tackle the root causes of gender discrimination.
  • It is important to track cases in the justice system and improve the system for monitoring cases from the police station to the courtroom.  This is the best way to improve justice for girls and women.

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