Combatting sexual violence and addressing family planning in a Ugandan refugee settlement

ZTVA workshop in progress

IPPF is an active member of the Population and Sustainability Network (PSN) which  advocates for greater understanding of the relationships between population, health and sustainable development.The network is currently bringing a family planning component to a project combatting sexual violence in a Ugandan refugee settlement.

 

UNHCR estimates show that there are currently around 250,000 refugees from the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) in Uganda. Around 60,000 live in the Rwamwanja refugee settlement, where a large proportion of women are rape survivors. For many of these women, escaping sexual violence as a weapon of war in the DRC is not the end of their ordeal, as levels of this form of violence in the settlement itself remain high.

 

As a result, PSN Network member, the Thohoyandou Victim Empowerment Programme (TVEP), and the Population Council-led Africa Regional Sexual and Gender-Based Violence (SGBV) Network is providing technical assistance in Rwamwanja for the implementation of its model programme designed to combat violence against women.

 

TVEP is experienced in implementing unique programmes that combat sexual and gender based violence. It’s empowerment projects are varied, from its community based “Zero Tolerance Village Alliance” programme combatting SGBV through workshops, support groups and infrastructural changes (such as the development of safe houses for SGBV survivors), to its Trauma Centres providing essential services to survivors of sexual assault.

 

Evidence shows that implementation of TVEP’s model in other settings had led to enhanced knowledge among community members of where to obtain post-rape care services, an increase in women’s agency and to a change in negative gender beliefs.

The programme in the Rwamwanja refugee settlement is working to combat four the thematic areas of sexual assault, child abuse, HIV stigma and domestic violence, and aims to empower community members with educational activities on their rights and responsibilities in these areas.

 

Fiona Nicholson, TVEP Programme Director said, “TVEP joined the Population and Sustainability Network as we wanted to develop our work to have an additional focus on voluntary family planning. When we arrived in Rwamwanja we realised this project required that input.”

From a family planning perspective, there are two primary issues needing urgent attention in Rwamwanja. Many of the refugees, having lost their entire families in the process of escaping the DRC, are keen to have large families but lack information on healthy timing and spacing of pregnancy. Additionally, with such high rape prevalence, it is important that women have access to emergency contraception at Rwamwanja’s health centres. David Johnson, PSN Chief Executive said, “We’re already working with TVEP at a South African site, where we are providing the community information, education and communication materials and training on healthy timing and spacing of pregnancy, and we were only too happy adapt those materials for this different setting and add a greater focus on emergency contraception options.”

The global refugee crisis is currently gaining a great deal of coverage, but the focus is mainly on refugees seeking sanctuary in Europe. All the organisations involved at Rwamwanja are all too aware that the crisis is in no way restricted to Europe and that the sexual and reproductive rights of all refugees must never be forgotten.