“My husband used to be very quarrelsome and beat me, but it got worse after I tested HIV positive” says Jacklyn Akumu, 38, a resident of Nebbi District. Her case is by no means uncommon. More than 80 percent of HIV positive women in Uganda experience domestic violence, according to a recent Action Aid report, “Stories of Change: One Woman at a Time.”
Annet Muzero, from Mubende District, recalls that when she tested positive her husband “would get drunk, come home and beat me up.” He also forbade his wife from taking anti-retroviral drugs.
Married women in Uganda often learn their HIV status when they are tested during pregnancy. In some cases their husbands accuse them of bringing HIV into the home, whilst themselves refusing testing and counselling.
For Jacklyn, things have turned out well. She left her husband and with help from a local support group for people living with HIV/AIDS was able to train as a dressmaker. She now earns a living for herself and her two children by making clothes.
“This is enough for me,” she says. “Plus I have a cow that gives me and my children milk. I am a happy woman.” She hopes to save enough to build a mabati (brick) house.
Jacklyn’s story, and that of many other Ugandan women, is told in the 50-page Stories of Change report which summarizes Action Aid’s recent work in women’s empowerment.
As well as highlighting the link between HIV/AIDS and domestic violence, the report presents case studies of efforts to divert girls and young women from sex work and to protect the land rights of women in polygamous marriages.
Charles Businge, Country Director of Action Aid Uganda, stresses in a preface to the report that threats to the rights and well-being of women are common and widespread. “Unfortunately, it has been established that the spread of HIV/AIDS and wife battering are plaguing the lives of numerous women in Uganda,” he says. “A majority of women and girls continue to suffer various forms of violence including defilement, rape, denial of property, spouse battering, forced and child marriages, which indirectly or directly predisposes them to HIV/AIDS infections.”
Businge calls for improved legal protections for women, noting that these must be accompanied by improved women’s representation in—and improved capacity of—law enforcement and judicial institutions and systems. He adds that more efforts are needed “to engender and transform archaic cultural and religious institutions to recognize women’s rights as human rights”
In addition to national level advocacy, Action Aid works by supporting the formation and operation of community-based organisations and self help groups. The NGO has received funding for such work in the districts of Mubende, Mityana, Nebbi, Pallisa, Namutumba and Kalangala from the Civil Society Fund, which disburses contributions from international donor agencies.
The full Stories of Change report can be downloaded here.