Womens organizations from across the International Conference on the Great Lakes Region (ICGLR) member states have called for faster and more collaborative intervention in the prevention, punishment and response to Sexual and Gender-Based Violence (SGBV) before the effects of the Covid-19 pandemic destroy the achievements made in the last ten years. The call was made by members of the ICGLR Regional Womens Forum to Parliamentarians during a regional meeting where they appealed to member states to expedite the process to develop gender responsive laws and policies aimed at eradicating gender-based violence and violence against women. ICGLR is composed of twelve member states, namely: Angola, Burundi, Central African Republic, Republic of Congo, Democratic Republic of Congo, Kenya, Uganda, Rwanda, Republic of South Sudan, Sudan, Tanzania and Zambia. Speaking at the meeting the Vice President of the ICGLR Regional Women Forum, Lydia Gachoya, said that the global Covid-19 pandemic resulted into a sharp increase of SGBV cases and requires partnerships between gender champions and parliamentarians to ensure that these numbers are reigned in. “We have the Kampala Declaration that was championed by the regional women and the commitment of our Heads of State to fight SGBV but we lack the laws and policies to domesticate effectively, the same declaration. We want parliamentarians and civil society to work hand in hand with us so that correct legislation is in place,” she said. Gachoya also called on lawmakers to ensure that budgets allocated to different sectors are all gender sensitive so that there are enough funds to finance national implementation plans to fight SGBV and promote peace and security. Invest in preventive measures The Chair of Women’s Associations in the Great Lakes region (COCAFEM / GL) Marguerite Mutumwinka told the participants that although commitments were made by all countries to put in place SGBV preventive measures, that has so far not been achieved. “The mechanisms of early warning systems which were meant to have been put in place have not been functional which means that prevention, which is key, does not take place. Early warning does not only help identify the issue faster, but it also provides an opportunity for victims to seek the necessary assistance ,” she said. Introduce human rights lessons early Mutumwinka also advised regional countries to ensure that all education plans include curriculums that teach about human rights, sexual and reproductive health and women, child rights to ensure that the region’s future development planners grow up in places free of violence. She also called for widespread sensitization about the laws that punish SGBV which she said cannot only be a deterrent but can also be an opportunity for victims to know that there are laws and policies in place to ensure that they get justice. The UN Special Envoy in Great lakes Huang Xia called for a special focus to be put on improving legislative and financial frameworks in addressing women’s participation and protection. He reminded that such meetings are an opportunity for women to impart their vision for a safer and secure environment. “The women present here today online, represent a cross section of women organizations including survivors of violence whose contributions can contribute to how the regional parliamentary body can support a zero tolerance of gender-based violence and ensure that perpetrators of crimes cannot hide from the full force of the rule of law in the Great Lakes region,” he said. SGBV not a private issue Kenya’s Senate Speaker Ken Lusaka who is also the President of ICGLR reminded that SGBV is not a private issue but one that involves entire communities and therefore calls for a holistic approach. He called on all ICGLR members to enact laws that promote family values, gender equality and inclusivity and also actively participate and propose alternatives during legislation. He also called on all judiciaries across the region to prosecute all SGBV perpetrators in a timely manner. “The legislative arms in the member countries should diligently work on laws that deter violence at home, at work, on the streets and online. No nation can prosper with the absence of peace and security, women rights and freedoms,” he said. The numbers According to official numbers release in November 2021, Uganda ranks highest in GBV prevalence where physical violence stands at 31 percent while sexual violence is at 55 percent. Between 2016 and 2021, intimate partner violence increased from 29 percent to 36 percent. In Rwanda, non-partner violence increased from 31 percent in 2005 to 37 percent in 2019/2020. Intimate partner violence increased from 31 to 36 percent while sexual violence rose from 34 percent to 42 percent. In Kenya, 45 percent of the 1200 interviewees asked in a 2021 survey said that they had been victims or knew someone who had experienced violence during the Covid-19 pandemic period. 16 percent of it was sexual while 15 percent was physical.