Freedom and Roam Uganda (FARUG) hosted her first social Friday of the year with a dialogue focused on the impacts that the Covid19 lockdown and recently concluded general election have had on queer women. The event which took place at FARUG office premises was attended by the host's membership and LBQ women from various LBQ led organizations based in Kampala.
According to the FARUG Executive Director Nkali Joanita Ssenfuka, many cases of gender based violence (GBV) towards LBQ women were reported during the lockdown. The numbers were further heightened during the election period hence the dire need for solutions to address the rising cases of GBV, something Ms Nkali stressed would inform the organization’s programming.
She also shared her painful experience as a leader of an LGBQ organization during lockdown. "It was the most challenging and toughest times in the history of my working in a leadership position. I looked at different KP led organizations giving out food and relief support that was sent out to them. We applied for all the relief opportunities as we badly wanted to do the same for our members and other LBQ women in need. Unfortunately, very few of these opportunities were tailored towards LBQ women which was so painful. The fact that we couldn't raise the needed funds to support our own movement traumatized me and even when we did what we could, people didn't feel that we had done enough since they needed food relief more than anything else," Nkali said.
Ms Nkali called on the organization’s members to share resource mobilization and fundraising opportunities with each other in order to overcome the dire impacts of COVID19 especially for those who were challenged with financial constraints
From the experience sharing session, it was clear that there has been a massive wave of unemployment that had swept through the community but a number of LBQ women had used the lockdown to acquire new skills, and innovations and business ventures were born during this time which supplemented their incomes. Among the new ventures were as farming, small food restaurants, baking and online businesses among others.
Another notable development was the investment in personal security especially during the election period that created a tense atmosphere for sexual and gender minorities.
At organizational level, FARUG currently boasts of 10 staff because of expansion of her activities thus offered more employment opportunities to her membership. There has also been emphasis and appreciation of the importance and relevance of mental health services for LBQ women due to physical violations in homes and communities especially during the pandemic and election period.
In a conversation on political unrest during the recent election period, the Programs Director FARUG emphasized the importance of LBQ women recognizing their role when it comes to the politics of the country despite the widespread homophobic sentiments spread by politicians. "If you have been following the current affairs in Uganda, many politicians and the government have used our movement as a scapegoat with claims that we are funding the opposition. These homophobic statements did not only affect us as an organization, but also as individuals intentionally or unintentionally. We need to be able to speak up for ourselves in face of these challenges," she stressed.
Among the challenges faced by LBQ women during the election period were denial of their right to vote because they wore toe rings and anklets which are affiliated to LBQ identifying women and sex workers, increased mental and emotional breakdowns due to depression, stress, anxiety and panic attacks triggered by the homophobic statements by political leaders and mainstream media. In addition to sexual abuse through rape attempts and actual rape cases by close relatives and friends, there were are also incidents of intimidation by society and local authorities.
Some of the experiences shared by the participants:
Participant 1 from Rella: "During this period, there was a time a boda boda man who refused to take me home because he wasn't sure of my gender identity even when I offered to pay more than he had requested and yes, it was before curfew time."
Participant 2 from Makidye: "It was late past curfew and I was stranded at a male friend's house so for safety, I decided to sleep over. Late in the night, this guy violently attempted to rape me and I fought back. In return, he threw punches in my face. I took off but I have been traumatized ever since. I had to go to a therapist friend to help me through counseling."
FARUG member: "A boda guy threatened to cut off my dreadlocks saying that we are the cause of havoc in the country. I was so scared that I almost chopped all my hair off."
Should you be challenged with a crisis regarding health, legal or need counselling, please contact FARUG on their 24hr toll-free line; 0800 100093