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Source: Thomson Reuters Foundation - Tue, 27 Jun 2006 00:00 GMT
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A internally displaced woman walks in the rain to fetch water at Olwal camp in this file photo taken on March 2005 in northern Uganda. REUTERS/Radu Sigheti/Files

INTERVIEW: Northern Uganda&${esc.hash}39;s hidden violence

By Emma Batha

LONDON (AlertNet)

- Getting shot, kidnapped or raped by rebels from the Lord&${esc.hash}39;s Resistance Army is not the only threat faced by women in northern Uganda.

Domestic violence is also a serious but little recognised problem in camps for hundreds of thousands of families displaced by the long-running conflict, according to Elizabeth Stites, a senior researcher at the Feinstein International Center at Tufts University in Boston.

Stites, speaking in London on Tuesday after returning from camps in northern Uganda&${esc.hash}39;s Kitgum district, said husbands and wives both blamed alcohol in part but disagreed on the other root cause.

Clan leaders say outside aid workers are undermining local Acholi culture by filling their women&${esc.hash}39;s heads with western ideas about women&${esc.hash}39;s rights. The women say they get beaten because they live in a patriarchal system.

"It&${esc.hash}39;s extremely prevalent," Stites said. "No one is saying this is not an issue."

She said health workers often see women with dislocated arms and legs, broken limbs or wounds to the head and face. In extreme cases some women have died. Children have also been killed trying to defend their mothers.

Women get beaten for not having meals ready on time, allowing the children to get dirty, letting the goats get away or refusing their husbands sex.

Residents in the camps reported hearing between one and 10 severe beatings every week in neighbouring huts, Stites said.

Double punishment

If a woman thinks her husband was wrong to beat her she can go to the clan leader who will hold a type of trial, but if he finds she was guilty of an infraction that justified a beating then she will be punished - with another beating. Stites said the four reasons cited above were all regarded as legitimate grounds for a beating.

If the wife wins her case the husband is punished, but then he takes it out on her when he gets home, said Stites.

"Men blame the breakdown of Acholi culture - they say the women are getting new ideas into their heads as they seek to exercise new rights," she added. "Clan leaders said one issue was that NGOs were coming in and teaching women and children they have rights and this was resulting in domestic violence."

But none of the women Stites spoke to made this connection. "They felt their increased knowledge was purely positive," she said.

Everyone in the camps agreed drunkenness also contributed to the problem. Traditionally, the Acholi drink a weak maize beer, but with the civil war causing food shortages they are brewing a much stronger type of hard liquor that needs less grain.

The cult-like rebel movement&${esc.hash}39;s brutal two-decade insurgency has created what the United Nations calls one of the world&${esc.hash}39;s most neglected humanitarian crises.

About 90 percent of people in Acholiland (Gulu, Kitgum and Pader districts) live in camps. About half fled to them out of fear of the rebels, and the other half were forced into the camps by Ugandan soldiers. Click here for more background on the crisis.

The issue of domestic violence will be included in Stites&${esc.hash}39; broader report on security and livelihood protection for displaced people, to be published soon.

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