The International Rescue Committee (IRC) is a nonprofit organization that aids more than 40 countries during devastating humanitarian crises, providing resources and support to “restore health, safety, education, economic wellbeing and power.” Through the organization’s efforts, it has provided food, shelter and clothing, influenced humanitarian policy, supported health care workers and provided educational opportunities.
Along with these efforts, the IRC is committed to supporting women’s rights for refugees, those at high risk of gender-based violence and those who face discrimination. As the IRC states, nearly half of all refugees are “women and girls,” but are often overlooked during crises and unable to raise awareness for their own needs. Similarly, “nearly one in three women worldwide” who have experienced physical and sexual violence are also unable to receive help due to “fear of retaliation” and the stigma surrounding violence. For this reason, the IRC reports that “less than 1% of humanitarian funding worldwide” is allocated to assist programs supporting women. To assist, the IRC instituted the Listen Up Program, which elevates women’s voices in local communities to enact positive change. This program raises awareness of the alarming rates of gender-based violence and provides resources to prevent future violence.
Because of the Listen Up Program, female activists and women’s rights groups in Uganda have been encouraged to institute change in their communities, providing support for refugees, along with resources for women recovering from violence and abuse.
Gender-Based Violence in Uganda
Based on a 2020 World Bank assessment conducted by the UNHCR, it’s evident that 81% of the 1.4 million Ugandan women and children refugees face a heightened risk of gender-based violence. Additionally, a study conducted by the Uganda Bureau of Statistics (UBOS) found that approximately 95% of Ugandan females had encountered some form of sexual or physical abuse since the age of 15.
These harrowing statistics highlight the increased need for an outpouring of resources, support and funds for Ugandan women who have experienced gender-based violence and harassment.
Through the support of the IRC’s Listen Up Program, the following women’s rights groups in Uganda have positively enacted change through increased training and raising awareness and funds to alleviate gender-based violence.
The Karamoja Women Umbrella Organization (KAWUO)
Since 2015, the Karamoja Women Umbrella Organization (KAWUO) has partnered with the IRC to provide medical and counseling assistance to aid survivors of violence. When the COVID-19 pandemic increased violence in home spaces, the KAWUO and IRC worked together to provide accessible resources for those in need, including remote medical services, counseling and legal advice when necessary.
By instituting bi-weekly telephone calls with the 617 team members to discuss “survivor-centered case management,” the IRC used their Listen Up principles to amplify the voices of women in need. This involved instilling a safe space for female survivors, where they were able to safely interact with the team members with adaptable safe words.
After this outreach, the IRC reported that “as of September 2020, 1,246 survivors of violence received direct support or referrals to legal, law enforcement, health providers or livelihood services.”
With the support of the IRC and its increased commitment to following the Listen Up Program, the women’s rights group in Uganda, KAWUO, was able to adapt to the COVID-19 pandemic’s demands and provide safe and easily accessible resources to support those affected by gender-based violence.
Another women’s rights group in Uganda benefitting from the IRC’s support is COSMESS, which “empowers local communities” through training and interaction. This involves training women to be proficient in professions like carpentry and mechanics, while also providing “awareness-training” sessions on sexual harassment.
One Ugandan activist involved with COSMESS, Grace Muuduru, discusses the importance of empowering women. She stresses the importance of silencing those who would argue that women are “not capable of some things,” and instead offers assistance to female refugees who are interested in learning new professions or starting their own businesses. She finds it extremely important to educate women on harassment and abuse, as she finds that most women do not recognize the extent of their traumatizing experiences, or the resources available to protect and support them.
The IRC’s Listen Up Program recognizes women as “forceful agents of change,” and encourages activists in women’s rights groups to provide training and support to refugees and women in need.
The IRC uses the Listen Up Program to amplify female voices within local communities to put real experiences at the forefront of humanitarian change.
The IRC continues to not only provide resources and support to those in need but to also advocate for further monetary support from the United Nations and non-government organizations (NGOs).
With the continuation of the IRC’s support and its focus on amplifying women’s voices, women’s rights groups in Uganda will continue to provide positive support for those affected by gender-based violence, fostering and strengthening relationships between local organizations and community members.
– Kristina Gaffney
Photo: Wikipedia Commons