How working shoulder-to-shoulder with service providers and empowering survivor groups have ensured sustainable access to quality services for survivors of violence in Uganda.
Living as a woman with disabilities in the district of Kasese in Uganda, the life of twenty-four-year-old Miremba (not her real name) was drastically changed when she was raped by an older man in her community. Although many victims don’t report their experiences with sexual violence and assault to authorities due to social stigma, Miremba had the courage and strength to seek justice and psychosocial support.
Miremba reported the case at the local police post, with police conducting a medical examination and referring Miremba for psychosocial support. Though, as with many cases of sexual violence in Uganda, there was a delay in moving the case forward. Police not only failed to visit the scene of the crime, but also failed to interview witnesses, examine the perpetrator and record statements. Given the severity of her injuries, Miremba also required additional medical support but did not know who to turn to.
Unfortunately, what happened to Miremba is not an isolated incident for many Ugandan women and girls. The 2016 Uganda Demographic and Health Survey revealed that up to 22% of women aged 15 to 49 in the country had experienced some form of sexual violence, and the Ministry of Gender, Labour and Social Development recently noted an increase in cases of gender-based violence during the country-wide lockdown following the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.
The case of Miremba was brought to the attention of the International Justice Mission (IJM), a UNDP implementing partner working in Kasese with funding from the EU-UN Spotlight Initiative, aiming at supporting transformative change on the ground to end violence against women and girls and harmful practices. IJM does this by strengthening the capacity of government institutions at the sub-national level to deliver quality, coordinated multi-sector essential services and access to justice, as well as ensuring that communities and women at risk of violence have knowledge of and access to quality essential services. After listening to Miremba’s story, IJM took on her case.
At the heart of IJM’s methodology under the Spotlight Initiative is its collaborative casework approach: active mentoring of and collaboration with justice system officials on real and ongoing cases of violence. By working shoulder-to-shoulder on delivering justice to survivors of violence, experienced IJM personnel establish long term relationships with counterparts in the public justice system, enabling the sustainable transfer of skills built on open engagement and trust.
To ensure Miremba’s case could move forward, IJM supported police in the district, advising they move the case to a more equipped police post. Through this shoulder-to-shoulder mentoring, the scene of crime was investigated, evidence was collected, and all interviews and statements were completed, with the case subsequently moving forward.
As the perpetrator pleaded not guilty, the case has been remanded to court. Meanwhile, case workers made sure that Miremba was able to access and benefit from the medical and psychosocial support that she urgently needed, and she is on a good path to physically recover from the event. IJM will continue to support Miremba’s case through psychosocial support and mentoring of officials along the entire justice chain until the court reaches its final verdict.
The direct collaboration with officials along the case management chain allows for a better understanding of the key capacity gaps within the system, as well as influencing better tailored interventions to address them, measuring change in both officials’ attitudes and performance along the way. Through the collaborative casework approach, IJM has provided direct service to 10 survivors of violence against women and girls and harmful practises (including investigative, legal, and social services), as well as mentoring officials on their own provision of service.
More than 137 survivors have also been directly supported through engagements with survivor groups in understanding and accessing the justice system, as well as by providing psycho-social support throughout their journey to justice, including assisting with healthcare, education, and economic support, always placing importance on exceeding ethics and safety standards. It is this dual approach of direct service coupled with mentoring of officials that allows for a deep understanding of a survivor’s experience while still impacting real life cases.
The mentoring and capacity building of more than 425 service providers in the district of Kasese and Tororo with support from the Spotlight Initiative is one way through which women like Miremba are able to access justice and essential quality services, as service providers are better equipped to end impunity for perpetrators and effectively implement the law.
Coupling mentorship interventions with multi-sectoral trainings and workshops, there has been a noted improvement in case management since the inception of the Spotlight Initiative in the districts. One Community Development Officer who was trained, and who later trained survivor groups, believes there has been an improvement in referral since survivors at the community level have been trained and understand how to report.
Police reports also noted improvement in support from senior Police Officers in responding to violence against women and harmful practices cases. The Head of Criminal Investigations at Hima Police Station noted that: “Some bosses used to not understand cases and would interfere, but they no longer interfere. That’s a breakthrough on our part.”
The collaborative casework approach builds upon the idea that effective public justice systems that hold criminals accountable create a deterrence effect by increasing the cost and risk associated with committing a crime. Would-be perpetrators are deterred when the chance of facing legal and/or social consequences increase, which thus decreases prevalence of that crime. Ending impunity of perpetrators by effectively implementing the law, UNDP and IJM through the Spotlight Initiative are well on the path to eliminating violence against women and girls and harmful practices in Uganda – so women like Miremba can feel safe in their communities.