Research Activities

South Sudanese Refugee Survivors of Sexual and Gender-Based Violence and Torture: Health and Justice Service Responses in Northern Uganda

By Helen Liebling

A recent British Academy/Leverhulme-funded research carried out by APRO through Dr Helen Liebling partnering with Prof.Hazel Barrett, and Prof. Lilly Artz, UCT, Cape Town investigated the health and justice service responses to the needs of South Sudanese refugees living in refugee settlements in Northern Uganda who had been subjected to sexual and gender-based violence (SGBV) and torture. It involved the collection and thematic analysis of the narratives of 20 men and 41 women who were refugee survivors of SGBV and torture, including their experiences in South Sudan, their journeys to Uganda and experiences in refugee settlements, in particular their access to health and justice services.

Researcher evaluating social enterprise group for male refugee survivors in Bidi Bidi

Thirty-seven key stakeholders including international, government, non-government organisations and civil society organisations were also interviewed regarding their experiences of providing health and justice services to refugees. 

All refugees had survived human rights abuses mainly carried out in South Sudan but some had also occurred on route to Uganda and within Uganda. Despite the significant impact of their experiences, the analysis indicated that there was limited service response in refugee settlements in Northern Uganda once the immediate humanitarian crisis ended. The thematic analysis indicated five main themes coming from the interviews. These included: the nature of refugee experiences of SGBV and torture, including domestic violence and child abduction and forced marriage; issues associated with service provision such as lack of adequate screening and under resourcing of health and justice services; a lack of gender sensitivity and specialist services, particularly for men; the sustained involvement of civil society organisations and local non-governmental organisations in providing counselling and offering emotional support and hope to survivors; and enhancing health and justice responses and services to improve refugee recovery, dignity and resilience. The authors recommend that integrated gendered and culturally sensitive service provision should be adopted, which brings together formal and informal health, justice services and survivor support programmes.

Following this above project, Dr Liebling obtained Enterprise research funding from Coventry University to set up and evaluate social enterprise groups with the same refugees interviewed. The authors concluded that his model for social microenterprises, which is based on participatory approaches and is action focussed and empowering that involves training and that combines livelihood and health and well-being is very beneficial to both men and women. The quantitative and qualitative analysis demonstrates this pilot approach to engaging refugees in running social enterprises has demonstrated how action research can produce real societal impacts for refugee survivors of SGBV and torture living in refugee settlements.

Other projects meant to empower men and women living refugee settlements included.

Mungula women’s group social enterprise project on goat breeding/milk production

Bidi Bidi womens and men’s social enterprise group preparing soap production (Liquid soap and place where soap production took place and oyster mushrooms were also grown and sold as a further social enterprise)

Oyster mushrooms growing in shed –one of the businesses developed by Men and Women refugee survivors in Bidi Bidi