Uganda: Addressing Gender-Based Violence

Catalina undergoing an HIV test for the first time


Kisoro is a mountainous district tucked away in the southwestern corner of Uganda, bordering Rwanda and the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

It covers an area of approximately 700 square kilometers. Like most Ugandan districts, subsistence agriculture forms the backbone of Kisoro’s economy.

When fighting erupted between armed groups and government forces in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), it forced thousands of Congolese to flee for safety over the border into Uganda. A majority of these female refugees are victims of gender-based violence (GBV).

The United Nations defines violence against women as any threat or act of gender-based violence that is likely to result in physical, sexual, or mental harm or suffering, whether occurring in public or in private life.

Globally, GBV is a serious public health, human rights, and general development concern. In Uganda, GBV affects women and children in all parts of the country.

GBV occurs in both development settings and in the context of complex emergencies, including locations affected by armed conflict.

This is the case for Catalina.

Catalina Mukawera is a 25-year-old Congolese refugee and mother of three. She recently fled to Uganda with two of her sons, aged 3 and 5.

One night, Catalina and her family were attacked by militias. She was repeatedly gang raped by more than 15 men for two weeks until she finally escaped.

“I do not know the whereabouts of my husband and 9-year-old son,” cried Catalina.

Catalina was among hundreds of people who recently turned up to access free reproductive health information and services, including HIV counseling and testing and TB screening, at Kisoro Hospital.

“I heard about today’s services from a peer educator while I was at the hospital getting treatment for my sick children. I decided to come for an HIV test, since I have never tested before,” said Catalina.

To her relief, Catalina’s HIV test results were negative.

Catalina was advised to return for a second test in a few weeks time. She was also counseled and referred to see the doctor in order to have a thorough medical checkup done.

Gender-based violence is associated with numerous negative health outcomes, including fatal and non-fatal injuries, unwanted pregnancies, sexually transmitted infections, and mental illness.

It is for this reason that the Foundation’s STAR-SW program in Uganda - funded by USAID - seeks to reduce the incidence of GBV and increase coverage of GBV survivor services in the project’s 13 districts in the country’s southwestern region.

There are many women like Catalina who need SGBV survivor services, which can include:

Addressing and preventing gender-based violence is one crucial way to help achieve an HIV-free generation of women and children.

Sanyu Nkiinzi Kagwa is the Foundation’s Communications & Outreach Officer, based in Uganda.