29th November of every year is a momentous commemoration of the diligent work of Women Human Rights Defenders. This year’s commemoration was no exception to the previous years with Women Human Rights Defenders Network Uganda (WHRDNU) appreciating the diligent and selfless contribution of WHRDs to ensure rights of all are respected.
WHRDNU Executive Director, Brenda Kugonza shares message in commemoration of International Women Human Rights Defenders Day 2022.
In a sit down with International Service For Human Rights, Brenda Kugonza speaks on how International advocacy is a tool to advance our human rights work, but it is also a tool that will support us in consolidating our protection as women human rights defenders.
Watch full video below.
Happy International Women Human Rights Defenders Day 2022!
Women Human Rights Defenders Network Uganda (WHRDNU) conducted a two days training to launch the Lango Regional Network for Women Human Rights Defenders from October 10th-11th2022 at Hotel Tasha in Lira district.
Session one: understanding each other as an activist River of Life
Participants discussed their journeys as human rights defenders explaining how they have not been straight with ups and downs, some calm moments but also moments to cherish/opportunities
Akiria Patricia shared that networking through relationships like friends enabled her raise funds to fulfill her passion to fight for the rights of sex workers and child abuse, but the community has constantly discriminated against her due to ignorance.
Abalo Grace said, she identified a child who as denied the right to food, then she reported a case to police, that she has also faced some challenges like some security officers not supporting cases she reports.
Barbra Apio shared on it is not easy to carry out activism work in Apac especially defending LBQT rights, she has often been referred to as one promoting immorality and has been arrested but managed to continue because of the passion for the work.
Understanding the nature of threats/challenges facing WHRDs
Different experiences on the threats/challenges were presented based on the different Thematic Action Groups
Four role-plays were acted to emphasize on who a defender is and the nature of threats received by the WHRDs in order to request for protection support
Women Human Rights Defenders Network Uganda (WHRDN-U) conducted a two days training at Hotel Paradise, Jinja from October 4th-5th 2022 to increase awareness among WHRDs on their rights and safety. The twenty WHRDs were from different TAGs which included; nine GBV activists, two from Disability rights, one LBQT, four female journalists, three from Land, Environment, Oil and Extractives and one of social justice.
River of Life
Participants discussed their human rights defending journeys explaining how they have not been straight in terms of the challenges received but also some calm moments with achievements. Below shows some of the WHRDs’ journeys of defending human rights.
Brenda Kugonza continued to emphasize on how the WHRDN-U works to promote the safety and security of the WHRDs.
Participants had a discussion on the importance of networking, some of the key issues from group 1 and 2 were;
Mariam Namusabi a GBV activist from Jinja presented for group 1 said, that it promotes sisterhood of taking care of one another, supporting one another in case of attack, sharing information and knowledge.
Ms. Sarah Namaggo from Kaliro district working on disability rights from group 2 presented on some of the following; in order to enjoy activism work through learning tips like, eat good, look good and be happy, carry out exchange visits.
Women Human Rights Defenders Network Uganda (WHRDNU) conducted a two days training to launch the Bukedi Regional Network for Women Human Rights Defenders. The training comprised of twenty one WHRDS and five staff from the secretariat was held from 7th- 8th October at Hotel Pretoria in Mbale district.
Session one: Understanding each other as an activist River of Life
Participants discussed their human rights defending journeys explaining how they have not been straight, with ups and downs, some calm moments.
“Ayo Juliet a GBV activist from Tororo human rights rehabilitation center shared on how she started activism work after 22 acres of land were grabbed away from her by the husband who later divorced with her, her work has attracted the media, which has displayed it and thus attracting funding sources to continue fighting against GBV”.
“Ms. Okello Justin a GBV activist from Tororo says, she begun by reporting defilement cases of children to police perpetrated by head teachers and the teachers in various around Tororo. MIFUMI and Plan International begun facilitating her with money to continue with the work and later different politicians continued to support her with the work up to date”
Session 2: Understanding the WHRDN-U illustration
Participants carried out a demonstration on how the WHRDN-U works to protect WHRDs from violations, threats, attacks.
Session 3: Understanding the nature of threats/challenges facing WHRDs
Different experiences on the threats/challenges were presented based on the different Thematic Action Groups where each participant belonged.
Dr Birungi Lynda, a medical councilor encouraged the WHRDs to always love themselves fast before loving others citing that “If you don’t love yourself you cannot love others, we must be selfish to ourselves, if you do feel like you want to look smart go ahead and put on your nice dress”. She also emphasized to the WHRDS to create social groups where they can save their money. She further encouraged the WHRDS to always do things that make them happy “Some of us have intimate partners who are difficult in our marriages, friends that don’t treat us well and neighbors who are difficult, but let us look at those things that make us happy and start taking care of our selves’’.
She advised the WHRDS to care of their bodies by going for medical check-ups and also have a balanced diet ,”For example when you wake up in the morning ,do your millet and take millet porridge because it has a lot of nutrients like iron .Go for medical check-up if a group of health workers have come in your community please go for breast examination or cervical cancer screening because sometimes if you don’t go for medical check-ups and you wait for the pain to come then that indicates that it is too late to save yourself’’. Furthermore, Dr Birungi emphasized that as women human rights defenders they have a right to decide the number of children they want and also to choose to have children or not because some women are not giving birth to children.
Counsellor Ruth Matoya Kemunto session
Counsellor Ruth stated that women human rights defenders should learn to appreciate themselves for the human rights work they do in their communities because if they don’t know one will appreciate the work that you as women human rights defenders. And encouraged the words to always surround themselves with positive people with positive ideas.
The counsellor encouraged the WHRDS to take care of bodies, mind heart and soul by doing activities that bring joy and happiness, “When you feel good it is the medicine of the heart because no one will give you happiness’’ because as WHRDS they do a lot of work that always brings them stress, anxiety and sadness.
She advised the WHRDS to;
Buy for yourself sweets
Have fun go for parties and dance
Align yourself with positive people in your communities and eliminate negative people in your life.
Go for a walk and do exercise to keep your bodies strong and health.
Drink at least two glasses of water in the morning and before sleeping often because it is helps on ulcers and pressure.
Eat well balanced deity like vegetables, fruits and water.
Women Human Rights Defenders speak out after the self care and wellness workshop.
Women human rights defenders implement self care and wellness in Amudat.
As result of the self-care activity the women human rights defenders from Amudat implemented their own a self-care and wellness activity in Amudat.
We thank the ISHR for responding to calls by women human rights defenders to engage with the ACHPR special procedures mechanisms to raise awareness about the gendered impact of restrictive environments on WHRDs.
On 18th October, the second day of the NGO Forum ahead of the 73 session the African Commission on Human and People’s Rights (ACHPR), Civil society discussed issues around limiting press freedoms, stifling citizen efforts to hold their governments to account and gender-based violence.
The Special Rapporteur mechanism on human rights defenders, Hon. Remy Ngoy Lumbu in Africa commended states parties of Cote d’lvoire, Burkina Faso, Mali and Niger for having adopted laws for protection of human rights defenders and called upon other state parties to emulate the state parties with laws to protect human rights defenders. He added that states should establish protection mechanisms for human rights defenders.
Engagement with the Special Rapporteur on Rights of Women In Africa
WHRDN-U had the privilege to engage with the Special Rapporteur on Rights of Women In Africa, Ms.Janet Ramatoulie Sallah-Njie, who we called upon to work with the Special Rapporteur for human rights to develop a stronger gender perspective to protect WHRDs and to offer technical assistance in the development of the HRD protection bill.
From 29th- 31st August 2022, WHRDN-U in partnership with Civil Rights Defenders, held a workshop titled ‘Building Feminists Practice’ at Essella Hotel in Uganda. The workshop provided over 20 WHRDs from diverse social movements an excellent opportunity to discuss strategies for feminists’ perspectives on their human rights work. The workshop raised the participants’ consciousness about power structures.
The organizers and facilitators used CRD Feminists Pocket bookin presenting practical ways of practicing feminism in human rights work. The pocketbook indeed resonates with the experiences of WHRDs that were shared during the workshop.
Participants discussed systems of oppression and power more deeply, using a feminist lens to assess cultures and programming components of an organization, and learned to apply basic feminist practices in their work. Some of the main topics discussed included:
Under this topic, the workshop emphasized different forms of power, noting that there are different kinds of power, namely: Feminist consciousness (Power within), Solidarity and community (Power with), Personal and collective action (power to), and Oppressive power (power over). Participants discussed what they understood and their experiences of different types of power. The workshop highlighted the difference between positive power and negative power.
Participants learnt that there are different types of power, power can be used positively and negatively, we all have the power within us, even if at times we don’t realize it, using power over someone else is an abuse of that person’s right, we can join our power with other to give marginalized support groups of people noting that we all have the power to do something to act.
Furthermore, the session inspired participants to reflect on how ‘Using one’s power over another person creates negative feelings, such as resentment, hopelessness, and anger. Using one’s power over another person is abusive. It is a violation of the person’s rights. That certain groups of people are usually allowed to use their power over sexual minority groups in our families, communities, and organizations, and Men are generally allowed to use their power over women in our families, communities, and organizations, and Certain groups of people are generally allowed to use their control over sexual minority groups in our families, communities, and organizations.
2. Feminist consciousness
The workshop emphasized that feminism is the belief that women and girls have the same value and worth as men and boys, and it is a commitment to take action to change inequitable social norms and reduce the structural inequalities which prevent the advancement of women’s and girls’ rights. Feminism is intersectional, meaning it recognizes that women are not a homogenous group; it acknowledges how our multiple and complex identities interact and overlap to create different experiences of power, oppression, discrimination, and privilege. However, it was also noted that as a movement, feminism stands not only for gender equality but for eliminating all imbalances in power that further marginalize women and girls based on their sex, race, age, sexual orientation, ability, religion, caste, or ethnicity. Several ideas emerged from participants of what they understood as feminism, such as;
equity and not equality
feminism is fighting oppression
accessibility of services by the women at the grass root levels
dismantling the system of domination
unapologetic way of dealing with issues that affect women
empowering women to realize their full rights
creating equality around all spheres of life
The workshop delved into understanding the concept of Intersectionality, which helped participants understand how Intersectionality identifies multiple factors of advantage and disadvantage. These factors include gender, sex, race, ethnicity, class, sexuality, religion, disability, weight, physical appearance, location, and height. These intersecting and overlapping social identities may be both empowering and oppressing. As a way to engage the participants from diverse perspectives in a conversation about Intersectionality, it was emphasized that women experience intersecting forms of discrimination based on the above factors that stop them from participating on equal terms.
4. The Personal is Political
Participants learned and discussed the concept of the personal is political as a feminist practice. During the workshop, participants understood how to deal with resistance, noting that feminist activists experience backlash, harassment, and violations when they confront unequal power relations.
Here are videos with some of the reflections that emerged from the workshop
On 30th July 2022, WHRDNU held a consultative meeting with 7 WHRDs groups belonging to Sanay Anti-FGM movement based in Amudat district, Karamoja sub-region namely:
Maedelo Ya wanawake
Kamesoi Women’s Group
Natukuman,Salcco –Safe and Learning Committee
SinjololChepkarlal, and Sanay women groups
The objective of meeting these groups was aimed at 3 important aspects
To understand what kind of threats and risks, have WHRDs registered
To a establish linkages between WHRD’s security incidents to the context and the social, political and economic analysis in Karamoja region
To understand protection needs of at risk WHRDs
Area activism work done by WHRDS
Despite the difficult environment, WHRDS have continued their activism related to defending women’s rights to a life free of violence particularly fighting rape, Female Genital mutilation, and early marriages, supporting victims of torture, unlawful arrest, HIV, Child protection. They strive to build and sustain community networks for protection. SANAY Movement’s campaigning strategy include educational talks, discussion groups, radio talk shows, use homes as shelter for girls experiencing difficulties in their families, for refusing to undergo FGM.
Ms. Paulina Chepar, is the Chairperson of Sanay Anti-FGM Movement, in Amudat district. This movement is a community based organization made up of women groups that defend rights of women and girls, supporting FGM survivors and Women, and promoting women’s economic empowerment. Due to their work of fighting FGM, GBV, early marriages etc. SANAY members usually suffer attacks, threats of killing, arrests and assaults.
Ms Pauline Chepar speaks on her fight against Female Genital Mutilation.
Paulina told the WHRDN-U team that one of the important achievement is ‘the way we engaged community surgeons (traditional –women-cutters of girls) ,trained them and raised awareness about the dangers of FGM. I am proud of one Rebecca Lotukomoi -a community surgeon in Cheporoi community, who was a very well-known expert and respected for cutting girls, with our activism work , Rebecca stopped the practice of cutting girls, Rebeca mobilized other cutters, together they formed a group known as former surgeons called Sinjolol group of ( 15 defenders) to start the campaign to end FGM”…SANAY movement, has created partnerships with various NGOs, UN and managed to influence communities to fight FGM through her community sensitization efforts “ I feel happy my because my work has managed to influence surgeons to form groups, said Paulina Chepar.
Security threats faced by WHRDs
WHRDs are finding a harder time voicing out human rights violations and rape cases in Amudat. The 7 WHRDs informed WHRDN-U team that during COVIP- 19 period, “we registered incidents of rape, murder eg in Karita 13 women were raped and 6 of them were killed in 2021. After raping, sticks and pangs were inserted in their private parts,In Amudat Sub count 2 Women were raped and murderd in 2021, Amudat town council 18 raped and 3 died in 2021 and In Rolo subcounty 7 were raped and two killed. Accordining to Alungat Joyce of SALECO group”. “when we saw these rampant rape cases , as WHRDs belonging to :Sanai ,Maedelo Ya wanawake, Kamesoi Women’s Group,Natukuman Womn’s group,Salcco –Safe and Learning Committee, NAWOU,NAWOU, Sinjolol, and Chepkarlal, we gathered , went police to demand for justice met DPC mwesigye and demanded that perpetrators be brought to book and have police patrols in the communities. We buried women raped and murdered.”Said Dorcus Chelain. Mar Kiza stated “Members informed WHRDN-U team that some of the perpetrators of rape where arrested from a drinking place and instead sellers of chnagai (sellers of local brew)- keep threatening and insulting us that we shall bewitch you and see if you will survive because you are arresting our sons and customers”.
Paulina stated that when I joined Mercy Corps and the Community Development Officer, on July 5th and went to Ngongosowon village for sensitization on dangers of FGM, I heard voices of people shouting my name that Paulina you are the one reporting us to the Police and the Resident District Commissioner and warning me in order to silence me and I leave in fear and panic.”
Similarly, Lotukomoi Rebecca explained that when i mobilized a group of former surgeons (cutters of girls) and started a campaign to end FGM, this decision and action attracted hostility from her community. I faced resistance, isolation, stigma and i was chased away from her community by elders and SANAI gave her shelter, with income generating skills . I have continued by campaign and I face risks to my safety for example I have been told and accused that I am the one reporting surgeons or cutters to the police since I was a former cutter, I can’t move alone in my community I fear mob justice.”
Impact of the threats and risks to WHRDs
According to Chepar Paulina, Given the hostile context, our children, parents, constantly worry about our work.
Sagal Paulina: We have additional pressure as defenders affecting their mental wellbeing and activism work. It is too much for us in a context of this crisis ,no funds, dealing with rape cases, FGM, working on difficult issues of famine, locust, rape,COVIP-19,. Tell me how you won’t forget about you wellness and risk your mental wellbeing- We care so much for others and who is there to care for us in all these difficulties. In fact we don’t sleep because in night you are thinking of solutions to help people whose rights have been violated.
Culturally rape is seen as courtship process. We face challenges in championing rights of women and girls, fighting rape,we don’t have protection from authorities because some of them do not believe in human rights of women and girls, people think we are bringing cultures that are not for Pockot people said Mary Kiza.
Joyce Alungat explained “ Because of doing my GBV work, family planning awareness, providing shelter to girls resisting FGM, referral GBV survivors to access services at the Police, Health center , NGOs, etc. I have been targeted through body shaming and damaging my reputation. They tell me you woman with big ass you are the one spreading HIV, you are Chepkartayan (meaning you are a prostitute), gathering children for prostitution. I have been told I am a bad mother, very immoral, publically shaming me. Sometimes you lack support and solidarity.
Women Human Rights Defenders Network Uganda is honoured to be part of the Mama Cash booklet of stories that is an accompaniment to the Mama Cash Baseline Narrative Report and presents 16 stories written by grantee partners (GPs) participating in the Mama Cash Baseline process in September 2021 – April 2022.
During the Baseline process Recrear offered GPs a virtual learning series aimed at:
1. Learning about how the groups are progressing along different outcomes;
2. Sharing storytelling for LME as a tool they could apply in their own contexts, organizations
3. Providing a space for collective learning and networking with other grantee partners