You would think as much as I’ve photographed the lives of women that they were getting preferential treatment here in Africa. Sadly in most cases it is the opposite. Though women are increasingly gaining more roles in government, Liberia’s current president, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, remains the first and only elected female head of state on the continent. Although countries like Uganda and Rwanda do have significant female representation in parliament (in both it’s mandated by law), this inclusion hardly ever trickles down to the village level. Last year there was quite an uproar in Sierra Leone when a woman made a bid to become chief. Places where women are marginalized are often places where crimes against them go ignored and unpunished.
As part of my most recent assignment with AcionAid, I visited the Women Won’t Wait Centre in Mubende, western Uganda. The center is one of four such locations in Uganda run by ActionAid where women can seek safety from domestic violence. Furthermore, women have access to counselors and even a lawyer at each of these shelters. Above, Nagabugo Agnes (r) seeks advice from a counselor at the center in Mubende. “I heard about this program on the radio,” she says. “I’m feeling good. I hope my problems will be solved here.” The NGO works hard at getting the word out to women before it’s too late, both by informing women of their legal rights and empowering them speak out and effect change in their governments and communities.
Take the case of Naziwa Annette, shown above, age 20. One evening she was severely beaten by her husband, but when she turned to the police, her husband fled the village. The police and local officials said they were powerless to act until Naziwa and her family came up with facilitation fees for the investigation. Two weeks later, while the family was scrounging up what they could, Naziwa’s husband returned and, in a fit of rage, severed both of her hands in front of her mother and daughter. Following ActionAid’s intervention Naziwa’s husband was caught, prosecuted, and imprisoned. Today Naziwa’s mother Patricia cares for her daughter and granddaughter.
This past Women’s Day Naziwa marched through the streets of Mubende along with other women who have been victims of domestic or gender based violence, brass band in tow. Hundreds of supporters from the local community, both men and women, trailed in their wake. It was a bold move on the part of these women and a sign of hope to those that still suffer. To express your own support for these women visit ActionAid’s website.