Uganda: lockdown brought increased inequality and violence for young people
By Blog Editor, IOE Digital, on 19 October 2020
Young people the world all over have been deeply affected by lockdown measures due to COVID-19. Our new study on Young people, inequality and violence during the COVID-19 lockdown in Uganda offers insights from young people on how and why the pandemic may be amplifying inequalities, thereby creating the conditions for multiple forms of violence.
In March 2020, the Ugandan government introduced stringent lockdown measures – closing schools and businesses, banning public gatherings, restricting travel, and introducing a night-time curfew. Against this backdrop we wanted to learn from young people first-hand how response measures during the early stages of the pandemic have affected their lives. Thanks to strong local partnerships and a well-established collaboration with Ugandan researchers, we were able to conduct phone interviews from May-June 2020 with 18 girls and 16 boys (aged 16-19 years) at a time when lockdown measures were still in place. All of our interviewees are participants in longitudinal research (2017-2022) for the Contexts of Violence in Adolescence Cohort study (CoVAC). This allowed us to relate findings from our phone interviews to their biographical narratives recounted to our researchers over the past two years.
Most of the young people interviewed faced financial hardship: loss of livelihoods left families without the means to purchase basic goods like sugar, salt or soap. The effects were most marked among those who were already disadvantaged, including young women and men who were out of school before the lockdown. Their stories exemplified how the lockdown had amplified pre-existing inequalities in a short period of time. School-going young people worried that the lockdown would reduce their chances of completing secondary education, because of the economic strains on caregivers.
Distance learning, for most of our interviewees, was especially challenged by the lack of access to a TV, not being able to afford newspapers or pamphlets with exercises, or weak radio signals. Young people further described how loss of livelihoods led to thefts and conflicts in their communities, and there were accounts of brutal enforcement by the police. For example, Ruth (female, age 16) spoke of her mother’s severe mental distress following her arrest for selling maize in the street after curfew.
With households facing multiple stresses under lockdown, some young people spoke of strained relationships within their families, or of witnessing domestic violence in their neighbourhoods. Kato (male, age 16) moved away from his mother and siblings, following repeated violent threats by the uncle they lived with: “they had a disagreement which led to our uncle even wanting to burn down the house that we had been staying in [….] Due to this COVID-19 pandemic, he has not been working anymore and stayed home all day and I think this should be the reason that sparked off the disagreement”. In several accounts, women and girls bore the brunt of domestic violence, committed by men thwarted from living up to their perceived role as provider. With girls more confined in their homes, some spoke of feeling trapped and lonely. For a few young people, strained relations within their homes combined with loss of schooling and income to generate considerable distress.
For many young people, however, families were the mainstay of emotional and material support. In the absence of assistance from state or development agencies, extended families provided crucial help with provision of food and shelter. young people and their families worked to sustain peaceful relationships and showed remarkable endurance in the face of adversity. There is a vital need, at international, governmental and community levels, to strengthen and enhance approaches to reduce these multiple pressures, that combine to amplify inequalities and injustices, creating anxiety and distress and jeopardizing the hopes for the future for these young people.
This research, led by UCL researchers, Jenny Parkes and Simone Datzberger, is a sub-study of Contexts of Violence in Adolescence Cohort Study (CoVAC). CoVAC is a mixed methodology research collaboration between London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, UCL Institute of Education, Raising Voices, and the Medical Research Council/Uganda Virus Research Institute and LSHTM Uganda Research Unit, funded by the Medical Research Council.