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Women safe spaces: A refuge for women and girls exposed to violence

Sixteen-year-old Angella fled to Uganda in 2017 following the war in South Sudan and the death of her mother. Together with her two younger sisters, Angella now lives with her aunt at the Palorinya Refugee Settlement in Moyo district in the West Nile region. One day in early 2020, Angella was going home from school when she met a group of men by her home.

Little did she know that the four men had come to take her back to South Sudan to have her married off. Although she had never seen the men before at the settlement, she recalls seeing them back in her neighborhood in South Sudan. The four men had travelled all the way from South Sudan with the proposed husband, a man who also used to live in her neighborhood back in South Sudan. Angella’s father had supposedly killed someone back in South Sudan, and the bride price would be given to the deceased family to settle the matter. Angella describes the would-be suitor as an ‘old man of 50 years old’

I said that for me I will not accept”. Then they started beating me,” she narrates.

Luckily for Angella, she knew about the UNFPA-supported women spaces where she had been in close contact with safe space volunteer Margret. Through the support from UNFPA and with funding the Government of Denmark/DANIDA, the women safe spaces have continued to support young people during the closure of schools in light of COVID-19. The safe spaces offer a safe place for young people to talk, participate in recreational activities, get counseling and receive information on sexual violence and other SRHR-related topics.

Angella received counseling and was advised to report the matter to the police alongside her aunt. The matter was then reported to the police and the protection partners in the settlement who hosted Angella and her family for three months. The four men are reported to have gone back to South Sudan.

Today, Angella feels safe and protected and is confident that she will be protected by the police and the volunteers. She is looking forward to the re-opening of schools so that she can pursue her dream of becoming a doctor. She has also become more actively involved in the youth groups where she is now a treasurer.

As of November 2020, a total of 47 women safe spaces operate across 23 refugee settlements, reaching about 1,880 refugee women. The spaces are run by the women themselves with the support of trained volunteers who are equipped with skills on SRHR, GBV and economic empowerment. The women safe spaces form part of the larger and more comprehensive: “Women, Youth, and Adolescents Rights & Empowerment (WAY) Programme. The WAY programme is implemented across 10 districts of West Nile and Northern Uganda funded by the Government of Denmark/DANIDA, coordinated by UNFPA Uganda, and implemented through partners.

 

*All names are changed to protect the girl’s privacy*

 

Written by Cecilie Uldbjerg (UNFPA) and Esther Nanjovu (CARE International)