COVID-19 impacted gendered roles and responsibilities of households and community members as women continue to shoulder the burden of care and undertake a greater proportion of household labour. A new Oxfam report, The Ignored Pandemic, shows an increase in gender-based violence (GBV) during the COVID-19 pandemic around the world. National statistics show that over half of adult women 15-49 years have experienced violence and more than 1 in every 5 women 15-24 years have experienced sexual violence in their lifetime. The Uganda Police Crime report 2020 also indicate over 14,000 cases of defilement were reported in 2020; 44 percent of girls and 59 percent of boys aged 13-17 had experienced physical violence, while 20 percent of children aged 13-17 had experienced emotional abuse.

COVID-19 has therefore brought a strain on gender relations due to prolonged confinement, among other reasons, leading to a noted increase in domestic violence. The roles for women however did not change, it just doubled because most men neglected their roles, and it was the responsibility of the women to provide and take care of the home and its welfare.

Triggered by confinement, loss of jobs, among other reasons presented the risk for harmful coping mechanisms by men who resorted to indulging in alcohol consumption as a coping strategy fostering further tension and violence. Gender-based violence during and after the lockdown was seen to take on a diverse number of forms. In our interaction with communities in Arua, Nebbi and Yumbe districts, indicated as the key forms of GBV present in their locations to include domestic violence, child sexual abuse that has resulted in increased cases of teenage pregnancies and child marriages. GBV remains at the heart of the inequalities women and young girls continue to face, particularly in situations of emergency and crisis such as Covid-19. To address gender and power dynamics will require gender transformative approaches such as the Oxfam’s Gender Action Learning System (GALS).

GALS is a community-led empowerment methodology that uses participatory processes and diagram tools. GALS has proved to be effective in giving women and men more control over their lives as the basis for individual, household, community and organisational development. GALS methodology, which has yielded positive impact in the areas where it was piloted over the years, also addresses power issues within households, between communities, religious & traditional authorities, private sector and Government actors through the use of a series of tools that enable household members to negotiate their needs and interests to find innovative, gender-equitable solutions in livelihoods planning and interventions.

In spite of the increase of GBV cases aggravated by Covid19, households in West Nile that have embraced GALS have registered an increase in joint decision making by men and women and men supporting women with domestic work and household responsibilities. This is in contrast to several households not using GALS that registered negative shifts in gender relations manifesting in increased abandonment of decision-making roles by men, among other responsibilities and drastic increase in GBV occurrences in these households. Issa Arita, a member of Poroporo cooperative in Yumbe district said, “Kemeru village in Poroporo sub-county in Yumbe district had high cases of domestic violence before GALS was introduced in this village, it is now not the case even with existence of covid. This is attributed to the values that GALS instils in people like sharing common work, sharing income and responsibilities”.

Zawadde Esther, a member of NAFA cooperative in Arua district said, “GALS has helped during this period of covid since it promotes sharing roles and responsibilities leading to reduced GBV cases in homes”. Being able to live in harmony in spite of the economic hardships brought about by covid, the social cohesion brought about by GALS has helped communities in sharing of risk and stresses faced before and during the covid19 pandemic.

In the global fight against poverty, much progress cannot be realised without addressing the key drivers of inequality, gender being one of them. With methodologies such as GALS, achieving gender justice and essentially inclusive development is possible. When both men and women have equal access to services and resources, enjoy equal rights and get equal opportunity to develop capabilities, then the development would be faster and more sustainable. It is therefore very important to leverage on gender transformative approaches such as GALS to advance shared control of resources and decision making for inclusive and sustainable development.