HISTORIC MEETING BETWEEN WHRDN-U AND UGANDA HUMAN RIGHTS COMMISSION ON SEPTEMBER 21ST, 2023
A significant gathering took place in Uganda as the Women Human Rights Defenders Network Uganda (WHRDN-U) hosted a meeting with the Uganda Human Rights Commission (UHRC).
This historic event brought together women defenders from various regions, including Busoga, Bukedi, Karamoja, Rwenzori,, and the Central region, with the aim of fostering collaboration and addressing crucial human rights issues.
The meeting kicked off with Ms. Mariam Wangadya, the Chairperson of UHRC, expressing her enthusiasm about welcoming the women defenders to their new office. She celebrated the resilience of women in defending human rights and emphasized the importance of refusing victimhood. Ms. Wangadya shared her own experiences, highlighting the online attacks she faces, and offered emotional support to those facing similar challenges.
Lenah, the Programs Coordinator of WHRDN-U, introduced the organization’s mission, focusing on advocacy, capacity building, and rapid response services to protect women defenders. Brenda added that the network represents diverse social movements, including parliamentarians, indigenous communities, and land rights activists.
Several women defenders shared their experiences, from fighting against FGM and land rights abuses to advocating for disability rights. They revealed the discrimination, violence, and stigma they face, shedding light on pressing issues that demand attention.
Chairperson Wangadya praised the women’s dedication and resilience, urging them to stand in solidarity. She pledged UHRC’s commitment to collaborate with the women defenders, highlighting their shared goal of advancing human rights. The commission will continue to spotlight the challenges faced by women defenders and investigate violations they endure. Ms. Wangadya shared personal contacts and promised to participate in WHRDs Day celebrations on November 29th, reaffirming the commission’s support and recognition of these courageous women.
This meeting marked a significant step toward unity and collaboration between WHRDN-U and UHRC, demonstrating the power of collective action in Uganda’s fight for human rights.
Championing Equality and Equity for All
On 11th September 2023, WHRDNU led a group of WHRDs from diverse social movements and different parts of Uganda for a special meeting with the Honourable Chairperson of the Equal Opportunities Commission of Uganda Ms. Safia Nalule
The women defenders sharing a group photo with Ms. Safia Nalule
Their mission was to talk to Ms. Safia about the challenges and attacks. ‘You see, these women had been working tirelessly to protect human rights and promote equality. But they were often attacked and discriminated against. Some people even said that they should leave the job of defending human rights to men.’ Said Sarah Kabagenyi from the Association of Bundibugyo Women with Disability Living with HIV/AIDs.
According to Hon. Safia, this was a memorable day because she had never sat down with indigenous peoples/ethnic minorities —the Batwa and Bennet WHRDs. WHRDs, sat down with Ms. Safia to share their stories. They wanted her to understand what they were going through when promoting gender equality and fighting against discrimination and prejudice. Hon. Safia was touched by their dedication. To her, this meeting was historic because it brought together women from different rights categories. She praised their efforts to fight discrimination and ensure gender equality.
Lenah the programs coordinator of WHRDNU explained that in 2017 the Women Human Rights Defenders Network Uganda was formed and now operates as a non-governmental organization with the goal of protecting women defenders who were at the forefront of defending human rights.
Brenda of the WHRDNU spoke passionately about how women defenders had been working hard to promote equality and fight discrimination. However, they faced many challenges, including violence and lack of support. They were attacked just because they were women and for defending human rights.
Hon. Safia then explained the commission’s mandate. She encouraged the WHRDs to collect and share important gender-related information with district officials. She asked them to report any discrimination cases so they could be investigated. This way, they would work closely with the Equal Opportunities Commission and advocate with evidence.
During the meeting, WHRDs shared their personal experiences. It was emotional. They talked about discrimination based on gender, disability, HIV status, marital status, and ethnic background, neglect of indigenous Batwa and Bennet people, discrimination against women with disabilities, domestic violence, and more.
- ‘Juliet defending land rights and GBV said that women are left out on government programs like PDM and Emyoga. They usually include people who are not even legible for the benefit’
- ‘Sandra of UWOPA said that women MPS face d domestic violence and yet they had nowhere to report for fear of being ashamed, they were also ignorant of the gender-related programs in place and needed capacity building training’
- ‘Bongomin Alice (children’s rights) said that women are overwhelmed by the responsibilities of taking care of their homes because men abandoned their responsibilities and spent most of their time drinking. The drinking also makes them beat their wives and cause domestic violence in homes.’
- ‘Generous (Land Rights Defender) said that women were denied land rights and yet they are vulnerable when it comes to taking up responsibilities of the home. When they demonstrated against lack of power in government hospitals they were accused of inciting violence and yet children were dying in the hospitals.’
- ‘Stella (GBV rights) said that they have a GBV shelter that has put them at risk of threats attack from domestic violence perpetrators who claim that they take their women from their homes. She narrated about an incident of an acid attack on their security guard that was intended for the ED.’
- ‘Biira said that women are denied land rights including widows and orphans. This especially applied to the women who lost their husbands during the Kasese palace massacre. Family members of these women attack her for fighting for these women’s rights to land.’
- Shannon (Mining rights defender) said that she once handled a case of a deaf person who was abused at the hospital and failed to get services due to discrimination. That the companies extracting minerals exploit the local people who are denied any benefits from the minerals. They are beaten and even sometimes arrested. The companies excavate the land and destroy the environment as well yet no one condemns them.’
- Grace said ‘As defenders of sexual and reproductive health, they are labeled as prostitutes, face physical and verbal attacks from local leaders and are labeled as spreading immorality yet they are supporting women with HIV prevention and response services of drugs and condom supplies.’
- Atim said ‘We are involved in demanding land rights yet they have no representative for disability at the sub-counties. She works as the only defender for disability rights yet she faces discrimination and non-recognition, she was even chased away from the district council meetings after being labeled as loud and disruptive.’
- Sara defending disability rights said ‘We face discrimination and side-lining from benefiting from the government programs for the disabilities because they always put the wrong people who are not even disabled. She has multiple challenges including HIV, yet she faces attacks for speaking out on injustice.
- Edreda defending ethnic minority rights said ‘We were chased away from their ancestral land and not given clear settlement areas. We are discriminated against even from benefiting from government programs like PDM and the elderly grant. When they go to hospitals no one attends to them claiming that they smell.’
- Sange representing ethnic indigenous Benet said, ‘We were chased away from their ancestral home and yet are not recognized as eligible to benefit from government programs.’ She has approached any offices including RDC but has not gotten the required support. She has fought against FGM and has faced attacks from cultural leaders calling her disruptive of norms.
- Rashida said, ‘I am facing attacks from the Muslim leaders for fighting for the land which belongs to a community school. I am facing threats of arrests and beatings and was forced to relocate from my home district because my life was being threatened.’
This meeting became a platform to investigate reported discrimination cases and create collaboration between WHRDs and the Equal Opportunities Commission.
Ms. Safia recognized the amazing work of these women defenders and promised to reach out to government officials to ensure they had equal opportunities for empowerment. She introduced Counsel Jonathan as the contact person for the commission.
To protect WHRDs and help them in their work, Hon. Safia committed to working with district community development officers and the Uganda Wildlife Authority. This partnership aimed to provide local support networks and ensure their safety.
In a touching gesture, Ms. Safia promised to participate in celebrations organized by WHRDs to commemorate WHRDs Day on November 29th. This showed that the commission acknowledged and appreciated the hard work of these women defenders.
Empowering Women Human Rights Defenders through Training on Gendered Documentation.
Women Human Rights Defenders Network Uganda (WHRDN-U) with support from The Urgent Action Fund for Women Africa conducted a two-day training on gendered documentation. The activity was held on September 12th and 13th, 2023, at the Eureka Hotel in Kampala, bringing together 12 regional Focal Points from various regions in Uganda. The training aimed to equip participants with the knowledge and skills needed to effectively document the work, specific risks, violations, and challenges faced by WHRDs.
Group picture with the participants
During the two-day event, participants explored the diverse
(1) Purposes of documentation, which included raising awareness, holding perpetrators accountable, and advocating for policy changes that benefit WHRDs.
(2) Ways to Document. The training covered various methods for effective documentation, including written reports, photographs, videos, and audio.
(3) What to Document in which participants learned how to identify and document gender-related issues faced by WHRDs, such as gender-based violence, discrimination, and structural barriers.
One of the noteworthy outcomes of this training was the creation of a network of empowered WHRDs. The 12 regional Focal Points, hailing from different parts of Uganda, forged connections and shared experiences, fostering a sense of solidarity and collaboration.
Group Presentations in the training
We also strengthened their ability to document the experiences of WHRDs . In documenting the struggles, activism and challenges faced by WHRDs, they will lead to increased support, awareness, and more effective advocacy for women’s rights.
Highlights from the training
Video of Amiya Shanon from Moroto District Explaining the Importance of the training
Empowering Women Human Rights Defenders: WHRDNU’s Training on Offline and Online Safety in Kasese District, Uganda – September 7th- 8th, 2023
Group photo with the WRHDs in Kasese
In a joint initiative, the Women Human Rights Defenders Network Uganda (WHRDNU), with invaluable support from the Embassy of France Uganda and the Initiative Marianne, conducted a two-day training at the prestigious Rwenzori International Hotel in Kasese District on September 7th and 8th, 2023, the training workshop sought to equip WHRDs with the critical knowledge and skills needed to ensure their offline and online safety.
Speaking about the event, Brenda Kugonza of WHRDNU, expressed gratitude to the Embassy of Uganda and Initiative Marianne for their unwavering support.
“This training represents a pivotal moment for WHRDs in the Rwenzori sub-region. We are now better prepared to face the challenges ahead and continue our work with renewed determination.” Said Faridah Kugonza a participant.
Joan from WHRDNU delivering digital security tips
According to Nasaka Halima, ‘This training serves as a testament to the importance of collaboration and empowering us the front lines of human rights work.’
”As WHRD in the Rwenzori sub-region, I leave with a renewed sense of purpose and carry with me the knowledge to train my fellow colleagues when I get back to office.” said Beatrice Mulungi.
Group Role play exercises
As the event unfolded, Key Takeaways from the Training included
- Online Security: The training gave online safety tips, including cybersecurity, protection against online harassment, and securing personal data. WHRDs were educated on the importance of safeguarding their digital presence while advocating for human rights.
- Offline Safety Measures: WHRDS were provided with essential tools and strategies to ensure their physical safety during activism and advocacy work. This included office and home security tips for dealing with potential threats.
- Networking and Collaboration: The event fostered collaboration among WHRDs from diverse backgrounds & districts of the Rwenzori region, promoting a united voice in the fight for human rights. Participants had the opportunity to exchange experiences and build a strong network of support.
In conclusion, participants expressed their determination to apply the knowledge and skills acquired during the training to strengthen their human rights defense efforts.
Advocacy Meeting Sparks Collaboration Between WHRDs and Ministry of Gender
The WHRs sharing some reading materials with the Commissioner for Gender and Women affairs Ms Angella Nakafero
In a recent meeting held on 30th August 2023 at the Ministry of Gender Labour and Social Development (MOGLSD), the Commissioner for Gender and Women Affairs, Ms. Angela Nakafero, convened a gathering that held discussions for women’s rights and gender equality advocates. The meeting aimed to bridge the gap between Women Human Rights Defenders (WHRDs) and the ministry, fostering a deeper understanding of each other’s work and challenges.
The WHRds Interacting and sharing their experiences with the commissioner
Objective 1: Introducing WHRDs to the Ministry
Commissioner Angela Nakafero began by expressing her heartfelt appreciation for the tireless efforts of WHRDs in championing women’s rights. She acknowledged the ministry’s pivotal role in empowering women to stand up for their rights but also acknowledged a gap in engaging with these dedicated WHRDs. She recognized the valuable experiences WHRDs bring to the table, especially in areas such as combating Gender-Based Violence (GBV) and advocating for the rights of ethnic minorities.
Objective 2: Understanding MOGLSD Operations
Commissioner Nakafero elaborated on areas where WHRDs and the ministry could collaborate effectively. This collaboration includes shaping gender policies within national development plans, gathering crucial gender-related statistics, and enhancing the capacity of government agencies. She encouraged WHRDs to work closely with the Uganda Women Parliamentary Association (UWOPA) and emphasized the significance of advocacy grounded in evidence.
Brenda Introduces WHRDN-U:
Brenda Kugonza, the Executive Director of the Women Human Rights Defenders Network-Uganda (WHRDN-U), took the floor to introduce her organization. She highlighted WHRDN-U’s wide-ranging influence across the nation and its diverse membership, which encompasses activists advocating for various rights, including land rights, GBV, and environmental issues. Brenda emphasized the formidable challenges faced by WHRDs, such as discrimination, violence, and a lack of support. She went on to outline WHRDN-U’s three core programs: capacity development, protection, and advocacy.
Objective 3: Sharing Challenges and Work of WHRDs
During the meeting, several WHRDs courageously shared their personal experiences and challenges. These experiences included resistance encountered while combating Female Genital Mutilation (FGM), the neglect of indigenous Batwa people, discrimination against women with disabilities, domestic violence among HIV-positive women, attacks on shelters for GBV victims, challenges in the mining sector, and the critical need for legal knowledge.
The meeting not only facilitated a deeper understanding of the important work carried out by WHRDs but also marked the beginning of a potential collaboration between these dedicated WHRDS and the Ministry of Gender Labour and Social Development.
The Commissioner for Gender and Women Affairs, Ms. Angela Nakafero, has not only acknowledged their commendable work but also pledged her support to fortify their endeavors. Recognizing the challenges faced by WHRDs and the importance of their mission, Commissioner Nakafero committed to a series of initiatives aimed at empowering and collaborating with WHRDs.
- Creating Spaces for Engagement: Commissioner Nakafero’s commitment begins with the creation of dedicated spaces for engagement with WHRDs. WHRDNU members will receive invitations to participate in various ministry events, including the prominent 16 Days of Activism campaign. This step promises to provide WHRDs with a platform to amplify their voices and advocate for women’s rights on a broader scale.
- Introducing WHRDs to District Gender Focal Persons: To foster collaboration and protection for WHRDs who are at the forefront of demanding accountability for government programs like the Uganda Women Entrepreneurship Program (UWEP), the ministry plans to introduce WHRDs to district gender focal persons. This strategic alliance aims to provide WHRDs with local support networks and ensure their safety while pursuing their crucial work.
- Participation in WHRDs Celebrations: As a tangible gesture of solidarity and recognition, Commissioner Nakafero commits to participating in celebrations organized by WHRDs to commemorate WHRDs Day on 29th November. This involvement not only underscores the ministry’s support but also highlights the invaluable contributions of WHRDs to the empowerment of women in Uganda.
- Introduction to the National GBV Reference Group: The Ministry of Gender will facilitate an introduction between WHRDNU and the National Gender-Based Violence (GBV) Reference Group. This connection promises to enhance the coordination of efforts against GBV and strengthen the capacity of WHRDs in addressing this critical issue.
Commissioner Nakafero’s proactive approach signifies a promising step towards greater collaboration and support for WHRDs. By opening doors to engagement, introducing them to key stakeholders, and actively participating in their celebrations, the Ministry of Gender and Women Affairs demonstrates its commitment to advancing women’s rights and gender equality in Uganda. This partnership holds the potential to further amplify the impact of WHRDs and protect the hard-earned gains in the battle for gender equity.
WELLNESS AND SELF CARE WORKSHOP AT SPA MANIA
The Women Human Rights Defenders Network Uganda (WHRDN-U), established a holistic protection approach that links with collective and self-care strategies to empower Women Defenders. As a response to challenges of stress, exhaustion, burnout, and fatigue faced by Women Human Rights Defenders (WHRDs) in their daily activism, a Collective and Self-care, Healing and Well-being Workshop was conducted on 18/08/2023 at Spa Mania wellness centre in Kampala. This intervention emanates from gender –based violence, discrimination, threats and violations they encounter in their work. The workshop aimed to address the resulting physical, and emotional trauma, fostering self-care and wellness practices.
WHRDN-U used methodologies that involved (i) inviting WHRDs that had reported their emotional and physical risks and threats. (ii) Identifying a safe venue, and (iii) identification of a counsellor.
2.0.1. Identification of Participants
WHRDN-U supported a rest and respite activity to put a pause on the activism work of 21 (six secretariat staff and 15 –at risk-WHRDs) subjected to excessive workloads and high-stress dynamics. The WHRDs who fight for different categories of rights over the period operated in hostile contexts and were subjected to unnecessary pressure and harassment. Using a feminist perspective, we identified factors associated to the patriarchal culture, deeply entrenched cultural norms and beliefs that affect the vulnerability of WHRDs . For instance; Below are some of the experiences of WHRDs identified for the workshop.
Akello Sarah is Woman Human Rights Defender from Tapak community in Moroto district advocating for economic rights and, land rights of miners in the Mable mining sector. She has been exposing ugly human rights violations, exploitation and violence perpetuated by Tororo Cement Company including fighting for; Environmental degradation, Eviction of the community members, Revenue returns to the community, Health advocacy issues for safety gears for the miners, Drafting and advocating for the bi-law for mining and loading fee for the tracks, Advocacy for fair compensation for victims of land evictions in the mining community. She has been doing this without protection yet there have been threats against her, warnings to stop her work by police and military, faced GBV, criminalization of her work, marginalised and often excluded from decision-making processes related to mining and extractive activities not heard in by local leaders and extractive companies, and their concerns are not taken into account in decision-making processes. She did not have networks to provide solidarity, didn’t know how to maintain her sanity and emotional balance.
Olga is a woman rights activist and Executive Director with Over Comers, fighting for women and children’s rights in Adjumani district. She has mobilized grass roots networks to fight GBV. For Olga due to her passion, it is work, work, and work. Because her organization is the only organization in her community promoting women and girl’s rights. Olga reported to WHRDN-U that many times she left office after 10:00pm, goes to bed with her laptop, that she felt that parts of her are fragmented, with each other simply because of her work and work and work and does not have the time to bring everything together. This makes Olga fail to recover because her body, especially the back, aches because of sitting at your computer, day in and day out supporting survivors of violence, and this is made worse with stress of limited with resources, with no chance to rest or renew so as to release the pain, . Olga revealed to WHRDN-U how she didn’t know how to survive When her health was compromised by over-work, and sometimes felt dizzy, with aches and pains, . Olga didn’t know of any feminist organization or healing that can support her to heal, regain her energy.
Rose Kahude, as sexworker rights defender based in Kasese district- working as the Executive Director ( Kasese Health Initiative), revealed to WHRDN-U how her activism work is risky affecting her physical and emotional wellbeing. According to Rose, her works has been stigmatized, criminalized and Sexuality is a life-force but it has been stigmatized, criminalized and covered by shame and a taboo. Rose has been accused by different people in her community as supporting women who love other women and as result she has received several eviction letters to take away her office, summoned by the police and some district leaders accused of promoting homosexuality in a traditional and religious community. Some of her staff have been intimated as well . Her family is threatened because her feminist and activism work. Rose informed WHRDN-U that does not know how to deal with guilt and shame, how to balance privacy of her family and her activism, how to recharge in the event of backlash and were to find love.
Juliet Ayoo is a woman land rights defender based in Tororo district. Some people have never had about her work in remte parts of Tororo district in Uganda. The WHRDN-U knows about how Juliet has been fighting against land grabbing by so called investors and greedy government officials. We also know that Juliet is building a strong movement of women who resist called Tororo District Women Association. At some point she escaped rape and acid attack and when she reported the cases to police she was provoked, insulted and ridiculed. Juliet shared her fears with WHRDN-U how sometimes she fails to maintain power with in a culture that wants to see her powerless as a way of diverting her from activism, when people post on watsapp attacking messages simply because you are fighting for the rights of women to own land. Juliet further noted that sometimes she does not see the mind, spirit and body as a whole to keep her going.
Diana Natukunda, Executive Director of WONETHA, reported to WHRDN-U , how she was scandalized by social media and a blackmail against you, on account of your work with women sex workers. Yet she was always fighting for the improvement of their working conditions. Diana at some point spent time worried about social media, with its mindless garbage, sensational gossip, propaganda. WHRDN-U noted that Diana needed a wellness and self-care space to take time to reconnect with every part of herself.
Sarah Kabagenyi, As a woman rights defender with disability, works with Bundibugyo Women With Disability Living with HIV. Has defended women and girls with disabilities all her life without a thought for self. She has witnessed violations against theme. Sarah broke the silence and condemned abuse based on their disability. Sarah explained to WHRDN-U that sometimes she feels like retire from her activism due to her disability, when her mobility is limited. She sometimes wonders how to deal with her discomfort, how to protect her body from becoming overloaded with anxiety especially when she is reminded that she is a woman with disability and an outcast, and marginalized, and accused of being a wasted and spoilt woman. Sarah says no wonder she often feels tired and weak and constant worry of sabotage. Sometimes she needs a place that enables her to find love to ignite her.
2.0.2. Identified a safe venue.
WHRDN-U identified a safe venue that involved a clear approach to assess its security and therapies provided. The safe space was located in a facility called Wellness Centre Spa mania. The centre provided services for healing and wellness for WHRDs including Jacuzzi sessions, massage therapy, body scrub, steam bath, a good diet, rest and exercise. These sessions held the WHRDs to relax their minds and bodies away from their routine human rights work and boost their health.
2.0.3. Identification of a Counsellor:
In addition, a counsellor from healing talk Uganda conducted mental health sessions, addressing stress and trauma.
- Objectives of the workshop
- To raise awareness about self-care and its role in healing and building resilience.
- Provide practical self-care techniques for coping with stress, trauma, and emotional challenges.
- Conduct counselling sessions on mindfulness, meditation, and stress management
- Establish peer support groups of WHRDs at risk, enabling shared experiences, and healing journey.
3.0. Session one: Opening Remarks
In her opening remarks, Lenah Naddunga te Programs Coordinator, WHRDN-U, empathized the significance of self-care and the integration of wellness into daily routines. She said that as WHRDS defend the rights of others, they focus a lot on taking care of others and forget to take care of themselves. She added that some of us think that taking care of our needs will prevent us from doing our work yet we are continuously facing trauma, fatigue, stress, depression and burn out while taking care of the needs of others. She ended by saying that today we want to emphasise wellness and self-care that should be integrated into your daily practice for your mental, physical and emotional wellbeing. Taking care of one’s personal needs is not a crime and should be embraced in our daily routine work.
Lenah Naddunga The programs Coordinator giving Opening remarks during the workshop
4.0. Session two: Counsellor
Through a group psychotherapy, Janet Makka of Healing Talk Uganda focused on specific issues that women defenders raised themselves. She noted that WHRDs are undergoing significant stress due to challenges posed by duty bearers, local leaders, and individuals within their surroundings who fail to offer support. Additionally, the counselor highlighted that even their own family members sometimes struggle to provide backing for their human rights advocacy efforts. Consequently, these challenges led to instances of abuse, harassment, and emotional and psychological distress. Noting that this in turn has resulted in heightened stress levels, affecting their ability to sleep as they constantly reflect on well-being of those whose rights are being violated.
Counsellor Janet Makka
5.0. Session three: Therapies used at the facility.
Body massage: WHRDs experienced a massage that comforted their bodies, emotions, energy with foot reflexology. In addition, the massage helped women to relieve pain in the body’s oft tissues and allowed them to improve the motion lost due to trauma, including emotion realse therapy were the women defender had the opportunity to get to know how their bodies hold painful emotions and how to release them.
Body Scrub: The WHRDS were treated to body scrub to exfoliate and hydrate their skin, leaving it smooth and soft. A body scrub is done with an abrasive material usually sea salt scrub or sugar mixed with some kind of massage oil and an aromatic like essential oils. Since these women work under harsh conditions especially these involved in mining they needed the thorough body scrub to cleanse their skins for glowing effect as a way of refreshing them physically and mentally.
Jacuzzi session: This was healing through detoxification. The WHRDS were enjoyed a Jacuzzi session in which a large pool bath with a system of underwater jets of water to massage the body. Warm water flowed through small holes, producing a pleasant, bubbling effect which relaxes the mind and he body. As they enjoyed the bubbling water for relaxing of muscles, they also watched a movie as they sipped wine, while other enjoyed fruit juice. During these sessions, the WHRDS interacted as they laughed and engaged in conversation that was relaxing to the mind.
Photos of participants enjoying therapies used.
6.0. A few testimonies that reflect the contribution that WHRDN-U’s wellness and self-care activity on WHRDs lives.
- ‘For me, today’s wellness and healing activity, has been a school of reality and practical living, Said Sylvia
- I learned to love myself, I learned to respect myself and give myself time to myself,
- and to look calmly at the problems’ Said Maimuna
- After this workshop of wellness, I am not feeling bad as I came, I now have a network that tells me listen and take care of your selves, even when I get an emotional issue I face the tools to face them’ said Grace Atim.
- ‘When I arrived at Spa Mania wellness center, I realized they massaged me from the top of my head all the way to the tips of my toes, and then I saw it feels so, so good, because these things do not happen to us, because we are always living for others, but we don’t live for ourselves’ Said Gorreti
- ‘Coming to the Spamania wellness canter helped me identify the weak. For me there is before and after the experience of this wellness support, I will not leave with everything of my live solved but yes with the tools that will really help me, I want to set time aside for myself, I will take some regular massage and reflexology’ . If WHRDN-U had not brought me here I would not have known’ Said Florence Masuliya
WHRDN-U created a space for healing and rest and respite for WHRDs who were experiencing extreme impacts due to the context of violence and patriarchal culture that create difficulties and obstacles in their defense work. Thus WHRDN-U
- Raised awareness about the importance of self-care and its role in healing and resilience-building.
- The WHRDs learnt to utilise practical self-care techniques and tools for coping with stress, trauma, and emotional challenges.
- Provided women with the necessary skills to manage stress and trauma effectively.
- Established fostered peer Support Groups of WHRDs at risk to start journeys of self-care.
- Some women defenders found it challenging and asked how to balance activism and self-care. Finding the right balance between their activism work and self-care can be a constant struggle. WHRDN-U helped them on how to integrate self-care into their daily routines.
- Some WHRDs come from regions with limited access to wellness facilities, making it difficult for them to implement self-care practices like therapies used.
Women Human Rights Defenders in Busoga: Courageously Championing Change in difficult working conditions
In July 2023, the Women Human Rights Defenders Network Uganda embarked on a fact-finding mission and solidarity visits to grassroots women human rights defenders in the Busoga region. The mission aimed to identify challenges faced by WHRDs, verify allegations of attacks, and recommend measures to create a safer working environment. During this remarkable journey, the defenders demonstrated their unwavering commitment to various human rights causes, including environmental rights, gender-based violence, child labor, land rights, LGBTQ+ rights, and sex workers’ rights.
Empowering Voices on NBS Radio
The WHRDs from the Busoga region seized the opportunity to broadcast their message on NBS Radio in Jinja. They eloquently spoke about their essential roles in protecting and empowering the community. From supporting victims of domestic violence and fighting against early marriages to defending the environment and advocating for children’s rights in rice and sugarcane plantations, their dedication to making a positive impact was evident.
Women Human Rights Defenders from Busoga region during the radio talk show
Supporting Persons with Albinism:
One of the heartening encounters was with Fazirah Kawoma, Head of Programs at the Source of Nile Union of Persons with Albinism (SNUPA). Fazirah shed light on the discrimination faced by people with albinism, emphasizing the importance of promoting healthcare and education. SNUPA’s efforts in supporting cancer prevention through surgeries and educational opportunities were laudable, proving that solidarity can be a powerful tool against discrimination.
Engaging with Local Organizations
The fact-finding mission included interactions with local organizations and strengthening networks and resources. At the First African Bicycle Information Organization (FABIO), the WHRDNU team appointed Rita Nakalema as their focal person, ensuring a seamless support flow to defenders in need. Brenda Kugonza encouraged the referral of attacked WHRDs, exemplifying the spirit of collective empowerment.
Addressing Gender-Based Violence at Rape Hurts Foundation
The team visited the Rape Hurts Foundation, a pivotal organization supporting women and children in the Busoga region. The foundation’s efforts in providing emergency support for victims of violence and raising awareness about GBV, trafficking, and the rights of survivors were commendable. However, they also highlighted the challenges they face when handling GBV cases, with some police stations demanding bribes before taking action. Such obstacles underline the need for continued advocacy and reform.
Concern for Children and Women Empowerment (COFCAWE)
Namugolo Sarah, a WHRD from COFCAWE, showcased the organization’s dedication to empowering young children and teenage mothers through skill training and start-up kits. However, the prevalence of child abuse and defilement in the villages remains a pressing issue. WHRDs like Sarah face challenges in following up on cases due to reluctance from community leaders and parents to disclose criminals. Such hurdles call for collaborative efforts to strengthen legal mechanisms and support systems.
The Invaluable Efforts of Integrated Disabled Women Activists (IDWA)
The team’s interaction with Elizabeth Kayanga, Executive Director of IDWA, revealed the organization’s commendable endeavors in promoting gender equality and advocating for the rights of women and girls living with disabilities. Their achievements, such as providing adjustable labor beds and wheelchairs in hospitals, demonstrated the transformative power of grassroots activism. However, they also highlighted harassment and body shaming faced by paralegals with disabilities during their community outreach.
Empowering Female Sex Workers
The courageous female sex workers who are also human rights defenders shared the critical work they do in advocating for their rights and ensuring their safety in the face of insecurity. They recounted recent incidents of arrests and false accusations, which they tenaciously resolved through advocacy and intervention. Their resilience exemplifies the importance of ensuring human rights for all, regardless of their profession.
WHRDs build working relationships with police officers in the community for their protection.
The fact-finding mission and solidarity visits to the Busoga region showcased the immense contributions of women human rights defenders in championing change and safeguarding the rights of marginalized communities. Despite facing physical insecurity and numerous challenges, these defenders inspire hope and progress. By amplifying their voices, strengthening networks, and addressing systemic barriers, we can create a safer and more inclusive environment for these valiant defenders to continue their invaluable human rights work.
Empowering Voices: Report on a fact-finding mission in Bukedi
The Women Human Rights Defenders Network Uganda(WHRDN-U), conducted a fact-finding mission and solidarity visits to grassroots women human rights defenders from the Busoga subregion on the 24th, 25th, to 26th of July 2023 in Mbale, Kween, Tororo/Malaba, and Katakwi districts working on different kinds of human rights work in their communities like environmental rights, Gender-Based Violence, child labor rice plantations, land rights, LGBQ and sex workers rights.
Objectives of the visit were to;
1) To identify facts on contributions of WHRDs and verify allegations of attacks
2) To Identify the challenges faced WHRDs during their human rights work and express solidarity
3) To Identify WHRDs at risk who could have been attacked or threatened because of their human rights work.
4) To Identify possible recommendations that could create a safer working environment for WHRDs to continue doing human rights work in the region.
The methodology of the Finding mission was carried out through a combination of interviews. The team also visited offices and the areas where women human rights defenders conduct their activities to witness first-hand the challenges they face in their struggle for human rights.
Voices of WHRD from Mbale
- On 24th July 2023, the WHRDN-UGANDA team visited Mungoma Priscilla, a WHRD promoting the rights of the girl child and transpersons, health rights in her organization, Friends of the Marginalized in Mbale district.
- Priscila shared her experience of attacks and threats she is facing. She narrated that due to the passing of the anti-homosexuality act, she has been facing criticism, intimidation, and threats of killing her from the community and was arrested by a police officer that said, ‘’This is the girl that works with them’’ because she was working with her partner who belonged to the gay community in the organization.
- Priscilla emphasized that she promotes the healthy rights for women and girls by sensitizing them about the benefits of using birth control methods; because of her work, she was attacked by the community, who accused her that ‘’ She is refusing our girls and wives from giving birth.’’
Mungoma Priscila a WHRD from Mbale and team from WHRDN-U
Voices of Bennet WHRDs
- On the 24th of July 2023, the team from the women human rights defender network Uganda met Sange Jackline and Kusoru Viola WHRDs from the Kween district, and they shared the threats, attacks, and challenges they are facing as WHRDs for the Bukedi sub-region; Currently, some Benet indigenous peoples are living in the temporary settlement that the government gave them after evictions from Mount Elgon natural pack in 2008. Some Benet people and some temporary settlements were granted permanent residential settlements through the Uganda Wild Life Authority. With no clear boundaries for the temporary residential settlements. This is causing problems for the Bennet people living in the temporary settlements, as they are being abused for encroaching on the gazetted land. For instance, the Bennet are arrested, their family are victims of gunshots, and some families have lost them.
- We, the Bennet indigenous groups, believe that Mount Elgon National pack is our ancestral pack and have the right to access the Elgon Forest land to get firewood medicinal herbs and graze our animals.As WHRDs from our organization, called the Bennet Lobby, we continue to advocate for our rights through dialogues between us, the Bennet natives, and the Resident District Commissioner (RDCs), UWA – so that government elevates the status of temporary residential settlements to permanent residential settlement for some of the Bennet people.
- They are tortured, raped, sexually harassed, beaten, and the Uganda World Life Authority destroys their animals and crops.
- As WHRDs, we are seen as inciting violence in the community, our work is criminalized, and we are surveilled by unknown people who attend our community sensitization meetings.
- On 1st May 2023 in Kwopi sub-county, the UWA officials arrested my neighbors, and their animals (cows, goats, and sheep) were taken. These Victims of this incident called me, Jackie Sange (as their defender), to conduct a mediation meeting between UWA and the victims; the UWA staff said they do not want me in the discussion, saying I was the problem. On 3rd/May/2023. When the UWA was carrying out an exercise for evacuating the Bennet people from the gazetted land, they destroyed houses, took away our animals, and threatened me, Jackie, and other defenders that ‘’if anyone tampers with the evacuation exercise, they would be arrested’.
Sange Jackline and Kusuru Viola WHRDs from Kween district and the team from WHRDN-U.
Stories of WHRDs from Tororo
- On 25th July 2023, the WHRDNU team also visited three words from Tororo district on the Ayoo Juliet, and Amongin Juliet from Milikiti sub-county,
- Athieno Annet, Aiweny Mary, Topista, Anyako, Apadet Sylvia Lear Atiyar Environmental WHRDS in Tororo District.
- Juliet Ayoo, a Woman HRD promoting land rights, introduced Women HRDS Athieno Annet, Aiweny Mary, Topista Anyako, Apadet Sylvia, and Lear Atiyar prompting environment rights from Osukuru United Women Network to the district environment officer in Tororo district to share the challenges they find while promoting and sensitizing to the community about the importance of planting trees and the dangers of cutting trees to burn charcoal and also to seek support whenever they attacked. The words shared that they are always in mind when they come out to stop people from cutting trees by saying that ‘’ we cannot stop cutting trees because this where we survive by cutting trees and burning charcoal. ’The environmental officer encouraged words to continue to protect and sensitize their communities about planting more trees to conserve the environment and pledged to support them by giving them more seedlings to plant in August 2023.
Tororo Women Environmental Defenders
Tororo Women Environmental Defenders in advocacy meeting with the environment and natural resource department at the district headquarters in Tororo district.
Voices of WHRDs Fighting Child Labour in Tororo
- The WHRDN- visited WHRD defending human rights for young children from child labour in rice plantations in Milikiti sub county Tororo district Amongin Juliet. She stated that while planting rice and harvesting rice, instead of taking the children to school, the parents take the children in the rice field to plant, and they also use the children to scare away birds from eating the rice during harvest. So, when she involves the Local Council (LC) and parents of the children to convince them to take their children back to school, they say to her,‘’ These are our children and not yours.’’
- Amongin furthermore stated that she gets insulted for advocating for the rights of young children, telling her that ‘’it is that one who is attached to human rights spoiling our children.’’Amongin stated that because of her human rights work, she is at risk, and when she visits some homes in her community moves with her bottle of water, and, she has been labeled and called names like ‘’Fire brigade.’’
- Namaganda Lydia sex work Woman Human Rights Defender from Malaba promotes the health care rights for sex workers, and LBQ stated that due to the passing of an anti-homosexuality bill, it has been challenging for the LBQ community to access health care for fear of being arrested. Hence, she narrated that she has to travel at night, which is risky to provide health care services to the LBQ community.
Namaganda Lydia WHRD from Malaba in Tororo district
The fact-finding mission of the Bukedi sub-region was a successful activity because of the following;
1) The WHRDNU team identified WHRDs that were at risk because of the human rights work they do in their communities to receive support.
2) The words from Tororo district met with the district environment office. They shared the challenges they face when sensitizing the community about the dangers of cutting trees to burn charcoal, and they requested support in case they are attacked.
3) The environment officer at the district agreed to support and provide protection to the words promoting environment conservation in case they are attacked.
4) The environmental officer also promised to give the women human rights defenders more seedlings in August to plant more trees.