Gender-Based Violence and Violence Against Children: Prevention and Response Services in Uganda’s Refugee-Hosting Districts

The Republic of Uganda and the World Bank (2020)


Uganda hosts 1.4 million refugees, 81 percent of whom are women and children who are at high risk of gender-based violence (GBV) and violence against children (VAC), including sexual exploitation and abuse, rape, forced and child marriage, and intimate partner violence. Host communities face similar challenges.

This report documents the outcomes of a rapid assessment in 11 of the 12 refugee-hosting districts in Uganda to: (1) identify key risk factors for GBV and VAC and to examine the intersections between them, with an emphasis on host communities; (2) map existing GBV and VAC prevention and response services in both refugee and host communities, including the effectiveness of existing referral pathways; and (3) provide recommendations to align and link the GBV and VAC prevention and response services provided in refugee settlements and host communities.

Main findings:

  • GBV and VAC are prevalent in both refugee and host communities. Data were collected before the COVID-19 pandemic, but subsequent data show an increase in GBV and VAC, exacerbated by confinement measures, particularly for adolescent girls and women who are at increased risk of intimate partner violence.
  • The most common factors contributing to violence against women and children in host and refugee communities include poverty, substance abuse, discriminatory gender roles, and widespread acceptance of violence, which are reinforced by social norms. Disability, substance abuse, financial stress, the physical environment (e.g. location, porous border, and environmental degradation), and discriminatory social and gender norms are identified as key risk factors for violence against women and children in host communities. Economic hardship and substance abuse are the most commonly mentioned factors in the study’s qualitative findings. Additionally, domestic violence, violence in schools, and a lack of child-friendly and accessible services to report and respond to VAC increase children’s risk of victimization.
  • Women and children in situations of forced displacement face specific vulnerabilities associated with poverty, food insecurity, aid dependency, and trauma that can exacerbate the risk of experiencing violence and constrain their ability to seek help and access services. Socioeconomic status and ethnicity influences case reporting, and survivors who have access to resources or livelihoods are more likely to report GBV than refugees without resources or livelihoods. Reporting is also limited among the more conservative refugee communities (e.g. Somalis and Eritreans). Poverty and a lack of safeguards drive children into the hands of abusers and perpetrate harmful practices, such as early marriage.
  • GBV and VAC share similar risk factors that tend to be mutually reinforcing. For example, children in households where women experience intimate partner violence are at higher risk of VAC. There is a high rate of acceptance of physical violence as a way to ‘discipline’ women and children.
  • Many survivors of GBV and VAC who live in host communities face various barriers to accessing essential services (such as health, psychosocial support, justice, and safety) due to gaps in the existing referral systems, poor case tracking, weak institutional capacity, and weak coordination of services in refugee-hosting districts.
  • GBV and VAC services provided by humanitarian organizations can establish parallel structures for the provision of services, which are not necessarily aligned with or integrated into local and national protection systems. This hampers the standardization of procedures, protocols, and interventions among service providers, and undermines local capacity to address GBV and VAC in a sustainable and integrated manner.
  • The few prevention programs that are being implemented in refugee and host communities are low-scale, fragmented, and dispersed. Evidence-based approaches to reduce the key risks of violence identified in this assessment, such as economic and social empowerment of women and adolescent girls, have not been systematically undertaken over time.
  • Despite their common risk factors, programming for GBV and VAC continue to operate in silos, each with its own funding streams and actors.

The authors offer the following recommendations to strengthen protection against GBV and VAC:

  • Integrate GBV risk mitigation and prevention into the development response to forced displacement. Measures could include grievance redress mechanisms, guidance, and tools to train local project stakeholders on GBV and VAC risk assessment and mitigation.
  • Strengthen and enhance multi-sectoral services, including district- and local-level structures. Bolster the case management capacity of GBV and child protection actors through: systematic training and mentoring; improving facilities and logistical resources; and strengthening coordination and referral mechanisms, including local leaders and refugee welfare committees.
  • Scale-up evidence-based community violence prevention approaches to address GBV and VAC risk factors aligned to District and community structures. Focus prevention efforts on: changing social norms that perpetuate GBV and VAC; supporting economic empowerment of women and adolescent girls; and preventing VAC at school, including school clubs, gender-differentiated sanitary facilities, and peer-to-peer learning.
  • Break conceptual ‘silent spaces’ across GBV and child protection programming by, for example, training service providers to address multiple forms of violence and expanding existing programs to address common risks factors.
  • Bridge the humanitarian-development divide between GBV and child protection programming. In line with the 2017 Comprehensive Refugee Response Framework (CRRF) for Uganda, reduce the gap between humanitarian and development responses to GBV- and VAC-related risks by aligning violence prevention and response interventions with national systems.