On January 31, 2019, 25 womxn gathered together in the expansive green gardens of Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftungs Uganda office (thanks, FES!) to chat about intimate partner violence. This was the first, of many to follow, ‘intimate gatherings’ of womxn that Lakwena intends to put together periodically.
It is pretty well-known that where the queer community in Uganda is concerned, there is a dearth of information available for public consumption. As a result, the vast majority of the conversation deliberately centered on IPV in the queer community, informed by the viewpoints and experiences of LBTQ womxn and allies present.
The conversation begun with a general definition of partner violence, including its various forms. After sharing thoughts on the participants’ various understandings of it, the adopted working definition was that intimate partner violence encompasses any and all forms of violence between persons in a romantic or sexual relationship. This could take the form of physical, verbal, psychological, emotional, economic and/or sexual violence.
As regards the queer community particularly, partner violence may extend beyond these well known ‘traditional’ forms. Distinctive forms of violence exclusive to LBTQ womxn may include those that draw on homophobia, biphobia, transphobia and transmisogyny. Common examples shared by the participants included ‘outing’ to friends and family, or restricting a person’s access to items that are central to their gender or sexual identity (especially common for trans womxn), as well as undermining and/or dismissing a partner’s queer or trans identity. Instances of this include misgendering transgender, nonbinary and gender nonconforming persons. Some of the womxn shared examples of instances that have involved friends and family deliberately refusing to acknowledge their authentic genders and referring to them using the wrong gender pronouns.
The general consensus throughout the discussion was that IPV is incredibly underreported and mostly undocumented in the queer community. The most notable reasons for this include stigma, sexism, internalized homophobia and a lack of recognition of abusive behaviors. Myths around partner violence in both hetero and queer communities have certainly heavily contributed to this. Such myths include the belief that love sometimes finds expression in aggressive (usually mistaken for ‘passionate’) ways and that controlling behavior and possessiveness are not abuse but rather are signs of passion and expressions of deep love. Relatedly, even where partner violence has been correctly identified, numerous barriers exist to those that may be interested in seeking help. In Uganda, specifically, where homosexuality is considered criminal, sexual and gender minorities lack sufficient resources to address these issues. Admittedly, there are a few organizations that provide such resources (shout out to Freedom & Roam Uganda and Fem Alliance Uganda), however, they are not widespread enough to adequately address the problem. And where queer persons with disabilities are concerned, the situation is even direr.
Additionally, where affected LBTQ womxn may be aware of and have access to such resources, many have expressed reluctance in, firstly, acknowledging the existence of IPV for fear that it would reflect negatively on the community, which in itself is already struggling to gain simple acceptance and respect. For many, the trade-off does not seem worth it. Secondly, the tight-knit mature of the community makes it difficult for one of their own to feel comfortable seeking help from members of that community. The fear around this is that the information could get back to the perpetrator of the abuse, with negative and at times grim repercussions for the victim. The result is that help is then rarely sought. Moreover, many LBTQ womxn that have previously sought help on partner violence have reported largely negative experiences with service providers who are principally trained to only or primarily deal with heterosexual cases.
Of course, the legal environment in Uganda remains, perhaps, the greatest barrier in addressing partner violence in the LBTQ community. Beyond the Constitution, which is the ‘supreme law’ of the country, only recognizing heterosexual marriages and thus indirectly prohibiting same-sex marriages, the Penal code Act similarly criminalizes what it refers to as “carnal knowledge against the order of nature.” And while a law on domestic violence does exist, it is questionable whether it extends any protection to queer womxn in same-sex and/or queer relationships and whether, in light of Ugandans’ social and political views on same-sex relationships as well as existing laws such as the above-mentioned, any form of legal protection is even possible.
Given this grim picture, I bet you’re wondering how queer womxn deal with instances of partner violence in the complete absence of the law’s protection and with astoundingly few resources and organizations providing much-needed services? Yeah, that would be a good question to ponder!
Especially given that IPV can have incredibly serious and fatal impact on victims. Many victims, for example, succumb to poor physical and mental health, suffer from depression, PTSD, and engage in dangerous activities such as unsafe sex and substance abuse, to cope, sometimes ending up in deaths by suicide.
Outside the obvious need for regulatory reforms, which is potentially decades away (eye roll!), in the interim, it certainly remains critical to create inclusive environments in which gender and sexual minorities feel comfortable accessing necessary services (and guess what, that starts with you!).
It’s equally imperative to maintain resources specific to LBTQ womxn or, at the very least, expand existing resources to include queer womxn that may need the very same services readily available to the heterosexual community.
As a cis heterosexual womxn, I hardly ever think twice about approaching service providers (hi, police!) when I need to. I certainly never think about what role my sexuality might play in the services I can access, or the way that I access them. Neither should my queer sisters!
*If you or any queer womxn you know is struggling through any situation of partner violence, and is interested in seeking help, please reach out to the above-mentioned organizations, or if you’d prefer, just shoot us an email at [email protected] and we’ll connect you with the right people!