Since 1986, the conflict between the rebel Lord's Resistance Army (LRA) and the government of Uganda has caught civilians in the crossfire and caused widespread insecurity and humanitarian crises throughout northern Uganda. At the height of the conflict, more than 1.8 million people - 80 percent of northern Uganda's population - were displaced. Forced to flee their homes, they had to live in squalid IDP camps, strained by massive overcrowding and insufficient resources.
The LRA has become infamous for its brutality in the region, committing mass atrocities including rape, mutilation, and massacre of civilians. The LRA also abducted large numbers of civilians - primarily children and adolescents - for forced training as guerrillas. Abducted girls and women were additionally forced to serve as sex slaves, subject to forced pregnancies meant to re-populate the ranks of LRA fighters, and put at extremely high risk for contracting HIV. A World Vision study found that the HIV/AIDS rate in Northern Uganda is more than twice the rate in the southern part of the country.
Women and girls had few places to turn for protection, even if they found their way into IDP camps. Women in prolonged camp situations became vulnerable to sexual abuse and domestic violence from male relatives or partners, due to the destruction of community customs, familial ties, and support structures. Women and girls additionally faced sexual violence and exploitation by the very soldiers tasked with protecting them. The conflict has calmed substantially in northern Uganda, and thousands of displaced people are returning home after twenty years of war. While there are many initiatives working to rehabilitate male former child soldiers, there are far fewer resources for women who are returning with the added trauma of having experienced prolonged sexual violence. While boys and men who escaped the LRA can be "cleansed" of any committed atrocities through an elaborate, traditional Acholi ritual, girls and young women - especially those who were forced to “marry” and have birthed the children of LRA rebels - are often stigmatized or cast out by their own families, forced to support themselves and their children alone as undereducated and unskilled single mothers.
Uganda is still in transition, post-conflict. Government infrastructure remains weakened, and services are limited. There is also concern that the government's plan for reconstruction is being implemented without consultation with affected communities. Given these circumstances, we believe it is vital to support social change through community-based civil society organizations in Uganda. By strengthening the capacity of Ugandan women to heal from the trauma of war and sexual violence and engage in their own priorities for development, Global Grassroots will help to create an underlying culture of collaboration, women's empowerment, healing, and reconciliation.
Global Grassroots is working in partnership with Women’s Economic Development and Globalization - Gulu (GWED-G), with whom we are collaborating to serve our target population of vulnerable women change agents. GWED-G is located in Gulu, Amuru and Noya districts, in some of the more remote areas where most NGOs are not located. They work with former abductees of the Lord’s Resistance Army, including those who were internally displaced and have been living in camps. GWED-G's work focuses on educating about women's rights, supporting reconciliation and peace-building, providing psycho-social support, investing in village savings and loan groups, advancing SGBV prevention through counseling and theater, and providing HIV/AIDS prevention and maternal and child health services.
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