Harriet married at just 14 years old, hoping for a more prosperous life. But at 26, Harriet has experienced more violence than most. After leaving two abusive marriages she was brutally assaulted by a group of men who broke into her home.
“My life was completely shattered when I failed to pay my rent for two months and I had to relocate to a relatively cheaper place from where I was assaulted, since then I noticed that poverty is the worst form of violence,” she said.
After the assault, Harriet courageously filed a police report. It was here that she came across the ActionAid Uganda Gulu Gender-Based Violence Shelter. Here she was able to access vital medical care and counselling services. More importantly, the shelter liaised with local police to locate and arrest the perpetrators.
The shelter worked with local partner, the Legal Aid Project of Uganda Law Society to support evidence collection and ensure Harriet was supported with legal representation. Now, the perpetrators are being held at a local prison for a hearing and judgment.
Half of all women in Uganda aged 15-49 have experienced violence in their lifetime, according to the 2016 National Demographic and Health Survey. While almost a quarter of Ugandan women have experienced some form of sexual violence which amounts to a staggering 1 million women being exposed to sexual violence in Uganda. Yet, few women ever report violence to the police.
Before the assault, Harriet was working as cook at a local nursery school. Here she earned the equivalent of 22 USD each month and was able to rent a single room close to the school. As she gained experience as a cook, Harriet became more confident in her skills and started making and selling porridge at a nearby market. she used the extra income to send her child to school.
Now, Harriet is learning to move past the trauma of this experience; and is claiming her economic rights so that she can support her children through the COVID-19 pandemic and bring her attackers to justice.
“I feel excited that there were concerned people and organizations that came out to support me during the most difficult moment of my life when I was completely broken and helpless. With the collective support, my problems became lighter and I have progressively healed with the traumatizing experiences due to the psychosocial support from ActionAid; and most importantly, for bringing the perpetrators to account for their actions.”
Through the shelter, she is being supported to rebuild her livelihood as a cook. Harriet now encourages other women to seek help as she did and report their experiences of violence to the police. “I advise my fellow women not to always lie in silence and get ashamed of their experiences, but to always report an assault.”
*Name has been changed to protect privacy