UGANDA: The War Might be Over, But Women in Northern Uganda Still Suffer Abuse

Wednesday, November 9, 2011
New Vision
Eastern Africa
PeaceWomen Consolidated Themes: 
Sexual and Gender-Based Violence

November 25 is the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women. It also marks the beginning of the international campaign of 16 Days of Activism for No Violence Against Women and Children that ends of December 10, which is the International Human Rights Day.

Throughout November, Her Vision will bring you stories on women who have suffered and triumphed over gender-based violence

Lily Awor had dreams of going to school, getting a job and then getting married to a loving man.
Unfortunately, the 39-year-old's dreams were shattered when she was abducted by the Lord's Resistance Army (LRA) and an old man about her father's age was forced on her as her husband.

In 1988, at just age 15, Awor was on her way from school to her village in Koch-Goma, Nwoya district when LRA rebels abducted her.

“We walked for several hours towards Sudan. I was carrying a load and by the time we stopped to rest, I was very exhausted and my feet were swollen,” Awor recalls.

While resting, the Ugandan army ambushed the group, killing many. Awor was shot in both knees. She was treated by LRA medicine men. She recovered after a year and another LRA fighter was imposed on her as her husband.

Rape, rape, rape

While fleeing from the army, Awor's new ‘husband' raped her several times and in 1990, she got pregnant.
When birth pains struck, Awor's pelvis was so small that it was stretched and torn. She bled profusely, suffered excessive pain and infection.

Because of the suffering Awor was facing at that time, rape and giving birth during famine, where the hunger forced LRA fighters to feed on human flesh, she named her child ‘Oketch', which means that someone born in great suffering and misery.

In 1993, Awor's husband, fearing for his wife and children's lives, given the battles, hunger and disease, he took them to his mother's home at Padibe – Kitgum district.

Life was tough; Awor could neither stand properly nor walk long distances. So her mother -in-law gave her herbs and she gradually started walking upright. She then musterd the courage to flee and return to her home in Okwalamra village Ogur sub-county, Lira district.

Stigmatisation follows her

Back at home, Awor faced another hurdle, stigmatisaion. “The community did not welcome me. Many accused me of killing them and calling my child a rebel that was not supposed to be there,” Awor says.

This stigma worsened the her reproductive health woes. “Stress forced the pelvis to tear further, says a psychiatric nursing officer at Ogur Health Centre IV in Lira district, Luciano Omacho.

“Eventually Awor could not have sex normally with her new husband yet she had to fulfil her marital obligations, so she endured very painful sex and even had seven children with him,” Omacho adds.

Awor often visited Ogur health centre, but she would only be given pain killers because there were no doctors nor the treatment to help her.

A ray of hope

One of the members of the Ogur sub-county village health team, charged with sensitising the community about health issues, Awor joined the Women Peace Initiative in Uganda in 2004. It is a local charity founded by 23 Lira women in 2003 to teach the women in northern Uganda about their reproductive health rights and curb gender-based violence.

The charity is also charged with helping women, who have been abused, to access treatment and also engage in community-based income generating activities.

The charity's coordinator, Catherine Awor, said during one of their outreaches, Awor opened up revealing how she was raped by LRA rebels and urgently needed treatment.

“We counselled her, but could not offer treatment at that time,” she said.
However, recently, Isis Women's International Cross Cultural Exchange, an African charity that focuses on women peace and security issues, visited Lira and heard the plight of the abused women in northern Uganda. They held a medical camp for women survivors of physical and sexual violence.

Armed with three gynaecologists, the team examined women that were sexually and physically abused during and after LRA conflict, but had not received treatment.

Many women injuries caused by sexual abuse

The leader of the team, Dr. Charles Otim, a consultant gynaecologist based at Mbale Hospital, said they discovered that many of the women are suffering pelvic inflammatory diseases caused by rape and prolonged labour. For women who have a problem of relaxation of the genitalia or birth canal is coming out caused by rape and genital fistula.

Awor was among the over 500 women who received treatment at the camp. Dr. Otim diagnosed that she has suffered a pelvic injury caused by prolonged labour and rape. “This caused chronic pelvic pain that she has had since 1990,” he said.
Dr. Otim adds that such pain prevents couples from having sex and it is a major cause of violence in homes.

He also learnt that Awor had suffered physical abuse from her husband because whenever she tried to deny the husband sex due to the pain, the husband would either engage in sex forcefully or batter her.
Awor confessed that they often fought with her husband when she said ‘no' to sex.

Help comes

To keep her man and also avoid the physical and sexual pressures he inflicts on her when she declines – Awor is pregnant and she said she is still suffering pain.

After the examination – Dr. Otim gave Awor treatment, but also recommended she gets surgery on her pelvis. The surgery will be done at Lira Hospital, courtesy of Isis Women's International Cross Cultural exchange – that will be footing the bills of treatment.

A groundnut and sorghum and millet farmer – Awor and her husband could not afford the sh500, 000 demanded by so many health facilities to perform the surgery. They have less than a quarter acre of land and they have even failed to educate their eldest son beyond Senior Four – he has now dropped out.