Date: Thu, 23 Dec 1999 11:22:53 -0600 (CST)
Copyright 1999 InterPress Service, all rights reserved.
Women Bear The Brunt Of War
By Mustafa Amin, IPS, 22 December 1999
KAMPALA, Dec 22 (IPS) - Women in the war-torn western Uganda districts of Bundibugyo and Kabarole face increasing food insecurity and lack access to adequate health care as fighting continues between government troops and rebels.
"Women in Bundibugyo district could be cursing the day they were born as many have been abducted by the rebels of the Allied Democratic Forces (ADF), while others have been raped and molested," says Lillian Nsubuga of the Uganda Media Women Association.
Many pregnant women, Nsubuga adds, have stopped going to health centres for fear of meeting the rebels on the way and women are scared to go to the fields for food.
" Pregnant women who live in the 47 camps for the internally displaced people that are scattered all over the district have a more sad story to tell," Nsubuga says. "Some have lost their little babies as they struggle to reach the only hospital in the district and a few have died, along with their babies."
Reports from Bundibugyo, about 417 kilometres west of the Ugandan capital where there is renewed fighting between government troops, the Uganda Peoples Defence Forces (UPDF) and the ADF rebels, say that besides the sexual violence inflicted on women by the rebels, many have been conscripted into the rebel forces.
Food shortages also are increasing in the camps for internally displaced people in the district. At present, an estimated 100,000 people have taken refuge in the government protected camps, since the ADF rebels began their attacks a few years ago.
People living in the camps receive some food aid from the World Food Programme (WFP), but the aid is only meant to supplement the diet, so women are forced to go to the fields to look for additional food.
A senior police officer attached to Kabarole police station, about 300 kilometres west of Kampala, said that in spite of the fact that people have left their villages and gone to camps in towns for protection, "women are not safe, as from time to time they are forced to go back to villages in search of food and fire wood."
"It is a hard life, because you cannot sit back when children are asking for food. Many women are forced to go back to deserted villages in search of food," said Atenyi Abwoli, who arrived in Kampala from the region recently.
For fear of the rebels at night, people in Bundibugyo do not leave their homes after 7:30 pm and they wait until 10 am before moving about. Women who go into labour during the night and need the attention of a specialised doctor are particularly vulnerable.
Some non-governmental organisations have started to train Traditional Birth Attendants (TBAs) in an effort to help pregnant mothers who may fail to get to health centres.
Serina Biira, the acting District Health Visitor for Bundibugyo, says at least 360 Traditional Birth Attendants are needed. "We need to train at least 360 TBAs, but we do not have funds, neither do we have enough trainers," Biira said.
Some 170 TBAs were trained in Bundibugyo by the World Harvest Mission, an international ngo, some time ago, but "some of the 170 TBAs have been killed by the rebels, while others have fled the area in fear of being attacked. A handful of them now remain," says Nsubuga
Steven Kavuma, Minister of State for Defence says the recent attacks by the ADF rebels have been caused by UPDF attacks on their positions in the Rwenzori Mountains. "They(the rebels) are trying to divert the army from the operations in the mountains, but we are pursuing them," says Kavuma.
It is not only in western Uganda where women have suffered as a result of the war, but also in northern Uganda, where President Yoweri Museveni's government has for the last 13 years been fighting the Lords Resistance Army (LRA) rebels of Joseph Kony.
The LRA rebels, also abduct women and children and forcibly conscript them into their ranks, and women and young girls are forced also into marriage by the rebels.
[c] 1999, InterPress Third World News Agency (IPS)
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