Uganda: The voice of a woman facing stigma

30 Jan 2014 - 12:00

Contributors: Joshua Ssebunya, Amit Makan

After spending close to 2 years at cabinet level, the draft Mental Health Bill (drafted in 2010 following the work of PRIME’s predecessor, the Mental Health and Poverty Project, MHaPP) has proceeded to the Parliament, where it is expected to be debated further, and hopefully passed before the end of the year. At present, the proposed new law has not yet come into effect, and the old mental health law of 1964 is not implemented. In the meanwhile, human rights violations against those living with mental illness persists.Miria* is one such example of a woman, who bravely shares her experience of living with mental illness.

Ugandan womanMiria*, 25, has been mentally ill since 14. She has been a psychiatric patient and has attended different hospitals in Uganda. She is now receiving regular care from her psychiatrist for many years. Miria shares the plight of being a woman, living with mental illness:

* Not her real name or picture

As a woman living with mental illness, I have been very much disrespected by men who have reached the extent of sexually assaulting and using me the way they feel like. I have now decided to change my life, and stick to my justice.

There is a guy here called Ken* (name changed). He indecently assaulted me in my office and was always asking me for sex, saying that he didn’t have a girlfriend or wife. Although he asked me to keep things a secret from his mum, I told her and my friends about everything that happened. When nobody believed me, I began to wonder: "Is it because I am a mental patient that people disrespect me and do not believe in me?"

So I took the matter to the police on Monday after his mother handled me as if I were insane, openly and proudly calling me a mental patient, saying that everyone knew that I was mentally ill.

Ken thereafter lied that I started the whole thing by forcefully kissing and hugging him. However, I am not withdrawing the case until the guy speaks the truth before his mother. Due to so much of anger in me, I left the police station and asked the police officers to talk to him as men.

I am so disappointed in the fact that I am treated so badly, with no respect, because I am a mental patient. So now all the guys here treat me with such disrespect now because they know I am mentally ill. The officers want me to drop the case because Ken's punishment would be 14 years in jail. What can I do? I have not withdrawn the case as yet. I am so hurt. Ken is just fooling around because he knows I am mentally ill. All I want is justice to prevail. Please help me with some advice

Much of the work that PRIME does is to promote the uptake of its research amongst policy makers. In the case of Uganda, it is hoped that this process will speed up the assent of its mental health legislation in Uganda so that victims like Miria can begin to enjoy real rights as a person living with mental illness.