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The Dark Truth about Gender-Based Violence in Ugandan Refugee Camps

Nestled in the heart of East Africa, Uganda has long been a haven for those seeking refuge from  neighbouring conflicts, for example South Sudan, Rwanda and Democratic Republic of Congo. Yet,  an alarming critical problem persists. Women and girls within Ugandan refugee camps face a  pervasive and often silent crisis of gender-based violence (hereafter “GBV”).  

In the vast landscapes of displacement, the plight of women and girls in Ugandan refugee camps  demands our immediate attention. Indeed, in 2020, Uganda hosts 1.4 million refugees, of which  81 percent are women and children at high-risk of gender-based violence. A report by the  International Rescue Committee (IRC) revealed that sexual violence has been experienced by one  in every five women and girls amid crises. What is gender-based violence? It includes notably,  sexual exploitation and abuse, rape, forced and child marriage, and intimate partner violence. 


To comprehend the depth of the issue, we must first delve into the unique challenges faced by  refugees in Uganda. Overflowing with individuals who have fled conflict and persecution, these  camps become microcosms of vulnerability. Scarce resources, overcrowded living conditions, and  the trauma of displacement create an environment ripe for the exploitation of the most  marginalized – women and girls. Chantal Mukeshimana, a refugee from Rwanda, working to  combat gender-based violence in Uganda’s Kyaka II refugee settlement explains as such: 


“In the refugee community there are a number of factors that make people more vulnerable to  sexual and gender-based violence,” Mukeshimana said. “Key among them: unequal power relations  between the genders combined with insufficient resources. Families are always fighting because  there is not enough food and there is not enough land.” 

“When resources are not enough, men [can react] by abusing women, fighting and by not providing  the same resources to girls as boys,” she continued.

“[Violence becomes a way] of controlling  women, settling scores and demanding respect.”


Beyond the physical harm inflicted, the psychological toll on survivors is immeasurable. The  stigma surrounding gender-based violence silences victims, hindering their ability to seek support.  This silence reverberates through the community, breeding fear and perpetuating a culture of  impunity. 


As we confront this crisis, it is essential to acknowledge both international commitments and the  specific challenges within Uganda. While the country has made strides in refugee protection, the  implementation of measures to address gender-based violence lags behind. Different actors, such as governments and international organizations must advocate for the alignment  of national policies with international standards to ensure the comprehensive protection of women  and girls in Ugandan refugee camps.  


The 5-Year Interagency GBV Strategy for Uganda (2021-2025) responds to the complex  challenges of GBV within the Uganda Refugee Operation, a protracted  situation stemming from conflicts in the region. With Uganda hosting approximately 1.4 million  refugees, predominantly comprising women and children, the strategy recognizes the pervasive  nature of GBV, evidenced by an average of 5,000 new incidents reported annually from 2018- 2020. This initiative addresses the socio-cultural attitudes perpetuating GBV, the issue of  underreporting due to cultural silence, inadequate access to response systems, and gaps in  mainstreaming GBV across sectors.


In its implementation, the strategy capitalizes on existing opportunities, including the  acknowledgment and commitment of stakeholders, a progressive legal and policy framework, the  security and protection conditions in Uganda, the ReHoPe strategic framework for self-reliance,  and the availability of systems and capacities. By leveraging these resources, the strategy aims to  create a comprehensive and resilient approach to combat GBV, fostering a safer environment for  both refugees and host communities in Uganda.


To conclude this dive into gender-based violence in Ugandan refugee camps, a resounding call to  action echoes. By fostering awareness, advocating for policy changes, and supporting local  organizations, we can collectively contribute to a safer, more secure future for women and girls in  Ugandan refugee camps. 





Fullerton, A. (2023, November 25). Empowering Refugees in Uganda to tackle

gender-based violence. UNHCR – The UN Refugee Agency. Retrieved from: gender-based-violence

International Rescue Committee. (2024, March 6). 10 Ways to Help End Violence Against Women and Girls.  Retrieved from:


Joint Data Center on Forced Displacement, Gender-Based Violence and Violence

Against Children. (2020). JDC  Literature Review. Retrieved from:


Ministry of Gender, Labour and Social Development. (2021, March). National

Action Plan III on Women, Peace  and Security 2021-2025. Retrieved from:


UNDP. (2023). Gender Equality Strategy 2022-2025. United Nations Development 

Programme Uganda Country Office. Retrieved from:


UGANDA 2021-2025.  Retrieved

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