Following two decades of conflict, violence against women remains a challenge to recovery in Uganda. By providing key life skills, and knowledge in agricultural production and nutrition - FAO's Farmer Field and Life Schools help address the root causes of gender-based violence.
At the centre of a devastating civil conflict from 1986 to 2006 , Northern Uganda remains one of the poorest regions in the country, with 64% of its population unable to meet basic needs – twice as high as the national average. Over the years, an estimated 1.8 million people have suffered displacement as a result of war, pushing both men and women to the edge of chronic food insecurity.
Loss of life and assets, as well as declining livelihood opportunities, have exposed entire communities to a multitude of social injustices, including gender-based violence (GBV). Wife battering and defilement account for 55% of GBV in Uganda, but other common forms of abuse include rape, sexual exploitation, forced marriage and property grabbing. Boys and men have also been the targets of violence, mainly in the form of coercion into military activities.
Studies carried out in the north of the country also point towards a strong correlation between food insecurity and incidences of violence. Unable to feed their families, men often turn to risky coping behaviours like alcohol or drug abuse, while women may resort to sex in exchange for food and other goods. Disagreements on how to manage limited household food supplies frequently escalate into violence as well.
In the northern District of Amuru, for instance, gender-based violence was observed to rise during the hunger gap from April to June, as well as the dry season from November to January, when families were most likely to experience food shortages or lacked access to fresh vegetables.
To tackle the underlying causes of gender-based violence, FAO together with UNIFEM and UNFPA launched a network of Farmer Field and Life Schools (FFLS) in 2009. The project, funded by the Government of Norway, targets Uganda's northern Districts of Amuru, Katakwi and Abim. By helping men and women to regain essential farming skills lost during the years of conflict, the schools aim to provide them with better livelihood options.
As part of the FFLS, groups of neighbouring farmers - both men and women - gather regularly to learn a variety of traditional and modern agricultural practices, such as: field preparation, sowing and transplanting, processing, storage and conservation of resources. Through guided classroom discussions, students are taught about healthy nutrition and HIV prevention, as well as encouraged to address issues of gender inequality and violence.
To date, 60 fully functional FFLS have been set up in the targeted districts, and 21 facilitators have been trained to introduce gender-based violence in the FFLS activities, as one of various special topics affecting rural households. Problems of unequal access and control over resources are freely discussed to promote positive changes in attitude.
FFLS members are also able to access jointly owned mills, and can obtain investment loans or credit to help pay for children's education - thus reducing tensions at home. Participatory methods are used to help them build entrepreneurial skills like record keeping, budgeting and opening of savings account. The farmer schools also help GBV victims to link up with medical service providers, counselors and local authorities.
Acen Helen, an FFLS member living in the district of Katakwi, experienced firsthand the advantages of GBV-prevention activities: “My husband had accumulated debts in the village and was in the habit of selling off items in the house, including food,” she says. “Whenever I asked, he would become violent and threaten to send me back to my parents since I came without any property.”
“Last year I borrowed money to pay off his debts and to purchase a pig, which recently littered 9 piglets. I could not imagine how this transformed the home – to see my husband willing to help take care of the pigs.”
The majority of female beneficiaries have also adopted backyard gardens to reduce expenditure on vegetables, and both men and women are encouraged to invest in alternative income-generating activities to increase self-reliance and food security.
Through a number of related projects, FAO has been at the forefront of livelihood support interventions in Uganda. To date, it has built the capacities of 25 local and international NGOs, as well as supported the establishment of over 2,000 FFLS in the north and north-east of the country.
Entrenched inequalities in the distribution of power, resources and responsibilities between men and women often create a spiral of poverty, GBV and food insecurity. By helping resettling communities to restore their livelihoods, FFLS have proven extremely effective in the prevention of violence. Their approach, which focuses on cohesion and a willingness among farmers to solve problems together, is crucial in building knowledge, self-esteem and the right skills to make positive decisions.