Climate crisis fueling gender-based violence in Karamoja

(Last Updated On: 10 April 2024)

Abim I To mitigate the effect of climate change in Karamoja sub-region, the Abim district environment officer Jennifer Akidi liaised with different partners to sensitise communities on the danger of misusing the environment.

However, the sensitization impact is taking time – according to Akidi given that the climate pattern of the sub-region remains unpredictable forcing many to burn charcoal that continues to affect the environment and affect climate change.

She said that the report shows that about 60% of families in Abim district depend on charcoal burning with women at the top of the activity. This shows that men have failed to take responsibility for their families forcing mothers into activities that would easily put food on their table.

The environment officer has advised the locals to get other alternative means of survival than cutting down trees to continue to worsen the climate pattern. Karamoja being a semi-arid area has a variable climate regime causing many to suffer from food insecurity; inter-ethnic conflict and human-wildlife conflict as major issues.

While the talk about climate change is now getting out of hand in the sub-region, Aketch Milly, 20, and mother of five children lives in Ating village, Oringowelo parish in Abim sub-county. She narrated that her husband abandoned her because of another woman – leaving her with five children.

After they were left alone, she said she and the children opted for charcoal burning to survive.

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Aketch was married to Ogwang Samson when she was only 14 years old. He would later torture his wife before abandoning her with five children.

“I live with my five children, the eldest being a daughter of 14 years old. We survive on charcoal burning in order to eat and get fees; my children help me get the trees for cutting but all is not easy at all, and that is the only way for our survival,” said Aketch.

“My husband who is a builder lives with another woman but whenever he comes around, he brings nothing but instead would fight me yet I have done nothing, l have even stopped begging him for help,” added Aketch.

Acheng Cecillia is a single mother and a widow. She lives in Rachkoko South-west village, Katabok West Parish in Morulem sub-county. She said staying in a semi-arid area with an inconstant climate regime has always barred them from having a bumper harvest. This has forced them into charcoal burning for food and school fees.

Acheng further added that women are so much involved in charcoal burning because men have turned violent and run away from their responsibilities.

“Women in this area are domestically being abused by men who have failed to take up as the head of the families. With poor climate change that does not favour farming forcing us [women] into charcoal burning as the only way to get food and pay school fees for our children.”

Acheng also said that despite having very many NGOs in Karamoja, domestic violence about climate change is still rampant in families. Awilli Goreti of Bulla village, Oretta parish in Nyakwae sub-county also said that they fear government enforcement stopping them from charcoal burning yet it is the only way they are feeding their families.

She asked the government to help them get out of the effect of climate change that is highly leaving women vulnerable.

Women already face various forms of GBVs like sexual and domestic violence. The issues of climate change now experienced in the sub-region and the country at large like unpredicted weather patterns make women more vulnerable.

According to SP Ayikoyo Sydney, Officer Incharge (OC) of Abim Central Police Station, they have so far recorded cases of murder after family misunderstanding. She cited a recent death that left Okello James, 48, of Morulem at large after killing his wife Atyang Secondina, 37.

The above crime happened on March 24, 2024.

Gender-based violence and sexual reproductive health rights survey released in January 2022 conducted in Abim, Awach, Magamaga, Lotukei, Alerek, Abim town; Morulem and Nyakwae indicated that physical violence among women and girls aged 10-59 was highest [71%] in Lotukel sub-county.

The lowest is Abim sub-county and Abim town council at 6%. Sexual violence among women and girls aged 10-59 remains highest in Magamaga sub-county at 13% and lowest in Morulem sub-county at 2%.

According to a World Vision report in 2020, girls and women in Karamoja had to move longer distances to collect water and firewood and make charcoal for survival. The report showed that doing so increases their risk of sexual violence and related crimes.

While the correlation between climate change and gender-based violence has in the past been underscored and considered weak, emerging research establishes otherwise.

A 2016 study carried out by the government of Uganda and its partners found a new weather pattern that threatens to worsen food security in Karamoja if no action is taken.

The study found that the average monthly rainfall in the region increased over the last 35 years and that the rainy season was two months longer.

However, the rains which now fall from around March to the end of the year increasingly vary in volume. This changeability was found to undermine agricultural production, thereby threatening to aggravate food in[security] in Karamoja.

Released in Kampala was the ‘Impacts of Climate Change on Food Security and Livelihoods in Karamoja’. The report found that temperatures have been rising in Karamoja over the last 35 years.

The rising temperatures threatened to increase the frequency, intensity and duration of heat waves in the region, therefore reducing the availability of water for crops and animals. This too undermines food security.

A large majority of people in Karamoja, particularly women were not aware that changes to the climate had been taking place over decades, the study states. However, most of the people who had perceived changes to the climate had not taken any action to adapt, typically because they did not know how to do so.

Whereas trees were planted as an adaptation measure, the sale of charcoal and firewood was also a common measure that people took in response to climate-related crop failure. This was their absolute alternative to survival.

By Ejang Sarah


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