Muwanguzi Alex grew up in Uganda where he witnessed routine violence against women and girls that few questioned. Social and cultural norms that favor negative male masculinities often accept violence such as domestic abuse, female genital mutilation (FGM), marital rape and sexual assault as normal societal occurrences. This culture also places the blame and shame on the victim leading the majority of victims to suffer in silence, afraid to speak up or report incidents of Sexual Gender Based Violence (SGBV) to authorities.
A recent Uganda Demographic and Health Survey revealed that up to 22% of women aged 15 to 49 in the country had experienced some form of sexual violence. The report also revealed that annually, 13% of women aged 15 to 49 report experiencing sexual violence. This translates to more than 1 million women exposed to sexual violence every year in Uganda. According to UN Women, some of the key drivers of Sexual Gender Based Violence in Uganda are gender inequalities, conflict, power-imbalances, insufficient food at home and alcoholism.
The anger within Muwanguzi grew as he watched young girls in his community suffer in the name of cultural norms. He knew that just because something is socially and culturally accepted does not mean it’s right. These daily injustices against women and girls are and should be an injustice to everyone, men included. But Muwanguzi also knew that changing deeply entrenched cultural and social beliefs must begin with spreading awareness. Through his research, he discovered that the lack of awareness was especially acute in rural communities so he decided to start an awareness and education campaign, but he wasn’t sure how to begin.
Muwanguzi searched for opportunities and a platform that would guide him to make a difference, eventually bringing him to Peace First, which he described as “a dream come true”. Using this platform and the changemaking journey framework it provides, Muwanguzi was able to found the Zero SGBV (Sexual and Gender Based Violence) project which aimed to recruit and train ambassadors all over Uganda to spread awareness on the ground in their communities, provide information and resources especially to victims and create a safe space for them to share their stories.
He started with a 10 person team of young people who were trained on SGBV prevention and response, community outreach and safeguarding. So far, Zero SGBV has engaged over 100 members of their communities through events. While the project focused on physical, in-person community engagement, it had to pivot and go virtual due to the COVID-19 pandemic. This was a difficult switch to make, according to Muwanguzi, but it has paid off since the ambassadors got a chance to learn and develop strong social media, photography and video editing skills.
The project has also been able to find a partner with the Youth Business Growth International, providing Muwanguzi’s project with a wider reach of people and new resources that will help Zero SGBV continue to grow. However, Muwanguzi realizes that those are merely baby steps in a long road. The project needs more exposure through local media, financial support to print and distribute educational and training materials, access to internet and technology and help with a strategy to engage government and police to be able to offer reliable resources to victims. But Muwanguzi is committed to his changemaking journey. “If our project can help one victim feel safe and heard, one person to change his view of women, one community to resist violent cultural norms, I would consider it a success.”