‘Figuring’ Out Gender Violence in Uganda

October 9, 2014


“When I look at this room it brings me joy, happiness

and my heart beats fast when I look at it,

but then you came into that room.

You destroyed everything you made it a dark evil room.”



Emotive words from a rape survivor, trying to come to terms with the ordeal that she had to live through. Unfortunately, these dark rooms are replicated in cities, towns and villages across the continent and beyond. Uganda is no exception, with the capital Kampala experiencing a high prevalence of Intimate Partner Violence (IPV). A 2011 report from Kampala, Demographic and Health Survey (DHS), revealed that 45 percent of women, in some form of relationship and between the ages of 15 and 49, reported to have experienced physical and/or sexual violence by their current or previous partner. 

This troubling statistic makes interventions like SASA! all the more important. SASA!, which means ‘now’ in Kiswahili, is also an acronym for the phases of the approach: Start, Awareness, Support, and Action. SASA!, is a mobilisation programme that seeks to change community attitudes, norms and behaviours that result in gender inequality, violence and increased HIV vulnerability for women.  It was designed by Hivos partner, Raising Voices and was implemented in Kampala by the Centre for Domestic Violence Prevention (CEDOVIP).

A recent study by Raising Voices was conducted to assess the impact on the target community where the SASA! programme is being implemented. The study was the first of its kind in Sub-Saharan Africa and was carried out in two districts of the Ugandan capital between November 2007 and May 2012.

Key highlights of the study are:

  • Physical partner violence against women was 52 percent lower in SASA! communities than in control communities.
  • In SASA! communities 76 percent of women and men believe physical violence against a partner is not acceptable while only 26 percent of women and men in control communities believe the same.
  • In SASA! communities 28 percent more women and men believe it is acceptable for a woman to refuse sex than women and men in control communities.
  • Women exposed to SASA! were 3 times more likely to receive helpful support when reporting violence than women not exposed to SASA!
  • In SASA! communities, 27 percent of men reported concurrent sexual partners, whereas 45 percent of men in control communities reported multiple partners.

“The results of the SASA! Study gives us evidence for action. It provides a modest contribution to a much-needed debate around violence against women,” says Ruth Njambi, Programme Officer for the Hivos SRHR/HIV Rights and Citizenship Programme in East Africa. “Programmes likes SASA! help us better understand the exploration of power—what it is, who has it, how it is used, how it is abused and how power dynamics between women and men can change for the better.”

Women’s high susceptibility to HIV infection stems from gender inequalities that restrict women’s decision-making power over their own bodies. Once infected, women often experience violence that prevents them from seeking treatment and living normal lives.IPV and HIV are important and interconnected public health concerns. While it is recognised that they share common social drivers, there is limited evidence surrounding the potential of community interventions to reduce cases of violence and HIV risk at the community level. The study has been hailed as it now provides strong evidence on both IPV and HIV.

Hivos has always approached HIV/AIDS from a human rights and a development perspective. The vulnerability of people most at risk of being affected – largely a result of social inequality and power imbalances – is both a cause and a driver of the global HIV/AIDS pandemic. We recognise that social exclusion, stigma and discrimination faced by the so-called ‘Most at Risk’ are underlying factors of the spread of the HIV virus.

SASA! is now being delivered in the control communities and replicated in more than 15 counties in Uganda.