KAMPALA, Uganda – May 19, 2023: The shortage of housing facilities for police personnel in Uganda has increased the risk of sexual violence in the force, a new Doctoral study at Makerere University, has revealed.
The dire situation has led to a concerning situation where officers, whether married or single, are forced to share cramped living spaces, including single rooms.
The Uganda Police Force is composed of over 50,000 personnel and their families and some civilian staff.
ResearchFinds News reports that the 2022 qualitative doctoral study was conducted by Dr. Stedia Asiimwe and supervised by Dr. Victoria Flavia Namuggala of Makerere University’s School of Women and Gender Studies.
The study broadly sheds light on the experiences of female survivors of intimate partner violence (IPV) in relationships involving police officers. It investigated experiences of female survivors of intimate partner violence, using a case of relationships involving male police officers, leading to the publication of a journal paper titled ‘Police Housing: An Instigator of Sexual Violence against Women and Girls in Uganda’ which has been published in the Journal of Social Development in Africa and is available online.
This news website picked this study from the journal to further its mission of translating published research products into news stories for a nonacademic audience, policymakers, and industry.
Approved by Makerere University, Makerere Research Ethics Committee, National Council for Science and Technology, and Uganda Police Force, the study was sponsored by the Government of Sweden (SIDA) as part of the researcher’s Ph.D. program in Gender Studies at Makerere University, which was awarded to her, this year. And from its ethical approval section, the researcher ensured the confidentiality of the respondents and provided leeway for the voluntary participation of the respondents.
“The study, for example, reveals that shared accommodation in Jinja Police barracks, found in the Eastern Industrial City of Jinja, has become a trigger for sexual violence against female spouses,” Dr. Asiimwe writes.
Apparently, this is the barracks holding probably the trophy for the worst housing crisis in the force and together with Mbale City, has been a subject of parliamentary concern.
Police Spokesman Fred Enanga admits to ResearchFinds News that housing in the force is a challenge but one which is being addressed through short-term, medium, and long-term interventions.
But he revealed via a telephone interview yesterday, that the force received about Shs 70 billion shillings from the central government last year to construct 6,446 ‘unipots,’ and several companies were contracted to install them.
“This is the short term. The construction across the country is ongoing. In the medium term, we have ensured that all new posts and stations being created as a result of new towns and districts being created have staff quarters, and for senior officers, we have been renting for them,” Enanga said.
He further revealed that with parliament ring-fencing some good money for the police in the next financial year, the long term will be catered for.
“We will concentrate on constructing decent housing units for them.”
He added that the Ministry of Internal Affairs, which is the supervisor of the police operations, is in talks with potential funders who, under a Public-Private Partnership (PPP) arrangement, will construct good accommodation across all the stations in the country.
Housing in the Force:
The housing situation within the Uganda Police Force has been a challenge for many years. The force has been grappling with inadequate housing facilities to accommodate its growing number of officers and their families. This has resulted in various issues and concerns related to the qualitative and quantitative aspects of housing.
In many cases, the existing housing facilities are overcrowded, poorly maintained, and lack basic amenities. Officers and their families often have to share limited space, leading to cramped living conditions and a lack of privacy.
These conditions can have a significant impact on the well-being and quality of life of police personnel and their families.
According to Mr. Enanga, there is a significant shortage of housing units within the Uganda Police Force to meet the needs of its personnel adequately.
“The number of officers joining the force and the rate at which new political-administrative centers are being created have outpaced the construction and allocation of new housing units, leading to a housing crisis,” he says.
“As a result, many police officers, whether married or single, have to share houses, including single rooms, which further exacerbates the shortage and creates challenges for families,” observes Dr. Asiimwe in her study.
In a sense, the inadequate quantity and quality of housing within the Uganda Police Force have several implications.
First, it puts pressure on officers and their families, affects their well-being and morale, and can have a negative impact on job performance and effectiveness.
Second, it also raises concerns about the safety and security of officers and their families, as well as the overall living conditions within police barracks.
Sexual Violence in Two-Roomed Houses:
The study reveals that to alleviate the housing crisis, the police administration has resorted to dividing two-roomed houses originally intended for a single officer into shared spaces for two officers and their families.
“While this approach tackles the issue of inadequate housing, it introduces a new challenge. Sharing entry/exit doors makes it easier for sexual violence to occur, particularly targeting women and girls,” Dr. Asiimwe says.
She adds that her study shows that due to the above crisis, the vulnerability increases at night when husbands are on duty, as female spouses are required to open the door for male police officers who share the same living quarters.
“Instances of rape were reported, with some officers assaulting women under the influence of alcohol or deliberately targeting their victims. Sadly, most cases were settled informally due to negative consequences associated with reporting the abuser to the authorities,” she adds.
One Room, Multiple Families:
The study further reveals that in certain instances, officers were compelled to share a single room. And despite instructions from administrators not to bring their spouses to the barracks, many officers ignore the directive.
“Resultantly, rooms intended for only officers accommodated also their spouses. This overcrowding leads to officers engaging in sexual activities with their spouses in the presence of their colleagues,” the study reveals in chilling findings that have been shared with the force.
As a result, the lack of privacy forced women to endure sex in open spaces, stripping them of their dignity and reducing them to mere sexual objects.
“Officers interviewed argued that bringing in their spouses was necessary to reduce the risk of contracting sexually transmitted infections and to maintain a connection with their partners,” the study says.
Marital Rape in the Barracks:
According to the study, inadequate housing conditions have also contributed to cases of marital rape in the force.
“With parents and children sharing the same bedroom, officers returning from duty hastily engaged in sexual activities while children were still awake,” the study reveals in its findings.
It adds that the fear of embarrassment and close proximity to neighbors prevented women from raising their voices against this violation of their rights.
“Economic dependence on their husbands exacerbated the situation, as some officers withheld food as a form of punishment for women who refused sex,” reveals the study.
It adds that the housing crisis has therefore led to various forms of violence against women, including physical, economic, and psychological abuse.
“Access to justice for civilian spouses of officers is limited due to the position of the perpetrators within the police and the wider criminal justice system.”
Call for Urgent Action:
The current housing crisis and the resulting violence against women in police barracks require immediate attention from the Ugandan government, Dr. Asiimwe argues.
She says urgent recommendations include the construction of low-income housing units, and utilizing internal resources such as police officers as a source of labor for construction.
She adds that although government programs like the Parish Development Model, Bonabagagawale, Emyoga, etc had not reached the barracks community, skills training programs in areas such as tailoring, baking, and handcrafts would further enhance women’s self-reliance.
She says the Police leadership must also organize programs to sensitize officers and their spouses about sexual violence, in collaboration with relevant ministries, NGOs, and academic institutions.
“The goal is to create awareness about sexual violence, its impact on survivors, the legal remedies available, and the importance of reporting incidents for appropriate action,” Dr. Asiimwe recommends.
She further calls for the implementation of policies and regulations that promote gender equality and protect the rights of women within the police force.
“By addressing the housing crisis and implementing targeted interventions, the government can ensure the safety, dignity, and well-being of police officers’ families and contribute to the achievement of sustainable development goals 5, 9, 10, and 11,” she concludes.
On his part, Mr. Enanga tells ResearchFinds News that while housing in the force is a very expensive venture, the government has been doing its best to direct resources to this.
“When you look at the number of police posts and stations coming up, you know the challenge we have. But we are getting on top of this and partners like the European Union have supported us with the construction of nine new stations in Karamoja which are fully functional with modern housing units. This problem will be solved,” he promised.
The full journal paper can be accessed here: https://www.ajol.info/index.php/jsda/article/view/208020
About Dr. Stedia Asiimwe:
Stedia Asiimwe is a Lecturer at Kyambogo University, in the Department of Sociology and Social Administration, Kampala, Uganda. Her research interests include Gender, Women and Justice, and Gender-based violence. Email: Stedia.firstname.lastname@example.org