Local Constructions of Gender-based Violence amongst IDPs in Northern Uganda

Alastair Ager, Carolyn Bancroft, Elizabeth Berger, and Lindsay Stark

Conflict and Health, Volume 12, Issue 10 (2018)



An assessment of prevalence of Gender-Based Violence (GBV) in IDP camps in Northern Uganda found that 50 percent of women reported experiencing some form of violence in the previous year, 40 percent reported forced sex with an intimate partner and 5 percent reported having been raped by someone outside of their household. Drawing on archived data on the prevalence of GBV amongst IDPs in northern Uganda in 2006, the authors seek to understand the social experience of GBV in the IDP camps in northern Uganda. The authors find that amongst forms of GBV faced by women, rape was ranked as the greatest concern amongst participants, followed by marital rape, and intimate partner violence. Girls ranked all forms of GBV as higher priority concerns than other participants. GBV was generally considered normalized within the camp. Gender roles and power, economic deprivation, and physical and social characteristics of the camp setting emerged as key explanatory factors in accounts of GBV prevalence:

  • Central to the communal construction of gender is the role of women as property of their husbands or fathers, and the understanding of their lack of agency to make personal and sexual decisions.
  • Extreme household poverty within the camp communities was emphasized as one of the key underlying factors contributing to the pervasiveness of sexual and physical violence.
  • The majority of GBV was inflicted within the home and within familial circles, rather than chance attacks by strangers in the external environment. However, water sources and spaces on the outer boundaries of camp confines where firewood is collected were recognized as high-risk areas.

All groups acknowledged GBV to represent a significant threat for women residing in the camps (among other major concerns such as transportation, water, shelter, food and security). Given evidence of the significantly higher risk in the camp of intimate partner violence and marital rape, the relative prominence of the issue of rape in all rankings suggests normalization of violence within the home. Programs targeting reduction in GBV need to address community-identified root causes such as economic deprivation and social norms related to gender roles.