Welcome to part one of our November 2020 Inspirational Interview with Tumukunde Loyce, executive director at Youth Fraternity for Change (YFC-Uganda).
Ms. Loyce is a Ugandan social worker and a specialist in women health. Her not-for-profit organisation, YFC-Uganda, was formed to mobilise, organise and empower women and girls to overcome violence and inequality. She has been instrumental in ending child marriage and sexual violence in western Uganda. Ms. Loyce was recognised as regional woman human rights defender in 2019 because of her involvement in defending the rights of young women and girls.
Part 2 of this interview will be published on 30 November 2020.
Photos courtesy of YFC-Uganda.
1. How and why did you join the movement to end violence against women (VAW) and how did you come to be the executive director of Youth Fraternity for Change (YFC-Uganda)?
From my childhood, I witnessed violence in our own home and in the community. I didn’t understand gender-based violence (GBV) and human rights concepts then, which made me believe violence against girls and women was normal practice. Growing up, seeing many girls being sexually harassed at school, my sisters forced into early marriage and my mother and aunts being battered made me think one day I should do something to end VAW.
In my education journey, I developed a passion for gender studies to advance gender equality in my country, and this drove me to take bachelors of science in gender and women’s health at Mbarara University of Science and Technology. Thinking of how to practice my profession, I started volunteering with YFC-Uganda. In 2017 I was employed at YFC-Uganda as a gender and advocacy officer, and I was privileged to be selected by the board in 2019 to become the executive director of YFC-Uganda, where I have been instrumental in advocating for ending gender inequality and VAW.
2. Could you give us an overview of YFC-Uganda’s approach to addressing VAW in the Mbarara district of southwestern Uganda, where you are based?
We work with community structures, stakeholders and specialised institutions including: police family and child protection units, village health teams, nongovernmental organisations, men’s and boys’ groups, local council leaders, the district probation office and family courts. These institutions support our efforts by offering immediate services including medical, legal and temporary shelter for women facing violence.
Other YFC-Uganda activities include:
- Educational activities for children and young people that encourage gender equality, girls’ leadership and respectful relationships. These activities are delivered at school and community levels, centering girls and young women as champions of change, and increasing their participation in decision-making at all levels, including in the home, in the workplace and within governments or community.
- Raising public awareness through communication and advocacy campaigns that promote women’s rights and a zero-tolerance attitude to violence against women in different environments — at school, at workplaces and in families.
- Developing women’s livelihood skills so they can earn an income and achieve financial independence for good. This empowers young women, especially those in abusive relationships, to escape and live independent and dignified lives.
3. One of YFC-Uganda’s core focus issues is that of child marriage, which is a major form of VAW in Uganda where 40% of girls are married before their 18th birthday and one in 10 is married before the age of 15. Can you tell us about YFC-Uganda’s strategy and program for ending child marriage?
YFC engages in developing leadership skills among girls and young women to become community champions against VAW. This strategy empowers girls in and out of school to become community leaders and creates a supportive environment for them to discuss child marriage with the wider community. This changes their attitudes and beliefs in early and forced marriages and elevates the champions and other girls to be viewed differently by parents and community members, making it unacceptable to force them to marry at young ages.
Also, YFC aims to change of norms, practices and attitudes among religious and traditional people, including men and boys. This is done through community awareness campaigns centering girls and boys as change agents and champions against VAW.
YFC also enhances vocational and entrepreneurship skills to increase young women’s and families’ incomes. This addresses girls’ unique economic needs that make them vulnerable to early marriage. The rationale is that immediate economic opportunities would provide incentives to keep girls in school and let girls contribute income to their families. This reduces both the economic and social pressures to marry off girls early.
4. What are some of the particular challenges that Uganda faces when tackling VAW, and how have anti-violence against women organisations like YFC-Uganda addressed these challenges?
- Traditional norms and attitudes: Prevailing norms perpetuate gender inequality, which is a major cause of VAW in Uganda. YFC and other organisations have addressed this challenge through community awareness and campaigning against harmful practices.
- Institutional corruption: Most vulnerable women facing violence never get justice because police and the court system connive with perpetrators to kill cases and deny justice to victims of violence. YFC addresses this problem by providing legal awareness, escorting victims to police, and following up on court proceedings to ensure justice is dispensed.
- Limited to no women’s shelters: Majority districts don’t have GBV shelters to offer immediate support to women facing violence. YFC has addressed this challenge by creating a human rights referral pathway that has state and non-state actors where victims of violence are referred for medical and legal services and any other support.
- The information gap: A majority of the population don’t know all forms of VAW, including human rights and existing legal framework outlawing VAW. YFC has addressed this challenge with training women groups and raising awareness of women rights and legal framework against VAW.
5. Over the years, how has YFC-Uganda’s work influenced Uganda’s approach and attitudes towards VAW?
In 2017, YFC influenced the Mbarara District’s local government to develop a child protection and education by-law to enhance girls’ education, with support from the UNFPA southwestern region office. This operational by-law ensures that all children in Mbarara District will be treated equally in education investment, with a gender responsive education environment, care and protection of girls, and a multi-sectorial response to girls’ education. The by-law is being implemented in all 215 primary schools in Mbarara District.
In 2018, YFC developed and successfully implemented a human rights referral pathway to help young women get necessary support in seeking justice from human rights abuses and violations. Fifty young women in Mbarara District have so far used this referral pathway, which has 10 state and non-state actors with the mandate to handle human rights and VAW issues.