ONLINE AND OFFLINE SAFETY AND SECURITY GUIDELINES FOR WHRDS IN UGANDA

On 29th November 2021, Women Human Rights Defenders Network Uganda (WHRDN-U) in partnership with the UN Women Uganda, and the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), launched the safety and security guidelines as a strategy to strengthen the capacity of Women Human Rights Defenders (WHRDS) to mitigate the impact of gender-based violence against their work.

WHRDS and their networks continue to face specific risks and are often targets of serious abuses due to the nature of human rights work they do. They therefore require enhanced protection from attacks at all levels. Unfortunately, this is not the case in Uganda as there are no clear policies to protect WHRDS.

It is from this context that WHRDN-U together with UN Women and OHCHR developed safety and security guidelines to enhance the protection of WHRDS by providing practical safety measures.

The guidelines for WHRDS presents the best practices both online and offline, highlighted in sections 3, 4 and 5, recommendations and key considerations also highlighted in section 6. The best practices are discussed below;

  • Individual WHRDS are encouraged to join the networks for solidarity, enhance their accountability and understand how to operate online, be conscious of their security all times, safeguard all evidence and report cases.
  • WHRDS organizations are encouraged to develop and implement a security plan, nurture space to speak up, use collective care, wellness approach, and adopt to technology for online activism and rapid response.
  • Social movements are advised to develop a database for referral of services, create support spaces at district and regional levels, and alliance building with like-minded actors.
  • The guidelines also provide digital and social media mechanisms to help WHRDS and their organizations prevent online violence such as use of Anti-Virus and Anti-Spyware protection, managing social media and phone settings, blocking abusers by using social media features such as unfollowing/unfriending, reporting and muting among others.

Furthermore, the guidelines offer recommendations for the key actors in the protection of WHRDS such as;

  1. WHRDN-U: To establish a clear referral pathway for WHRDS, foster safe networking space for WHRDS, expand online activism, and equip WHRDS with knowledge and skills on human rights work including knowledge on ICT and put in place an emergency fund to address issues of WHRDS.
  2. UN Women, OHCHR and other partners: To support recommended actions to push the implementation and effective utilization of these guidelines, set up an emergency fund that addresses the unique gender attacks and violations that WHRDS face and prioritize support for self-care, wellness and healing justice for WHRDS
  3. WHRD Networks, organizations, and CSOs: To institute internal institutional WHRDS programs and interventions aimed at enhancing institutional safety mechanisms, safety protocols and staff capacities.
  4. State Actors, Non-State Actor and Communities: To enact enabling laws that curb violence targeted at WHRDS such as POMA, Computer Misuse Act, Penal Code and Sexual Offences Bill that are often used to violate WHRDS and address impunity at institutional and community levels.

To access a copy of the Safety and Security Guidelines for WHRDS click here.

THE ANNUAL GENERAL MEETING 2021

 

On 29th November 2021, WHRDN-U held their 2nd Annual General Meeting at Protea Hotel in Kampala, under the theme: Leaving No One Behind: For Protection, Recognition and Wellness of WHRDS. The meeting was graced with presence of sixty five network members and attracted a discussion on what the network has achieved in the year 2021. During the meeting, the Board members presented the following reports to the network members.

  • The Annual Progress Report 2021
  • The Audited Reports
  • The Previous Minutes

It was also an opportunity for interaction and networking among the staff WHRDN-U, the board members and the WHRDS.

Photos of the Annual General Meeting 2021

The presentation of the Annual Report 2021
The presentations on the annual report 2021
Brenda Kugonza, the Executive Director for WHRDN-U gives her remarks during the AGM
Brenda Kugonza, the Executive Director WHRDN-U and Margaret Kyemba, the Board Chairperson during the Annual General Meeting 2021
Network members support a mention passed during the meeting
Members participating during the discussion

WHRDS TRAINED IN INTERNATIONAL HUMAN RIGHTS MECHANISMS FOR PROTECTION.

Women Human Rights Defenders Network Uganda (WHRDN-U) in partnership with International Service of Human Rights (ISHR) held a three days workshop that engaged 23 WHRDS with relevant human rights protection mechanisms at Esella Hotel in Kampala, from 5th to 7th October, 2021.

The workshop aimed at equipping WHRDS with skills on relevant human rights protection mechanisms and mapping out opportunities for advocacy. It was also an opportunity to foster coordination and networking among members.

Brenda Kugonza, the Executive Director for WHRDN-U began the workshop with highlights on the role of the network as an umbrella that was formed to protect women who defend the rights of others. She emphasized that the network came together to respond to specific individual or collective cases of violation of rights of WHRDs at risk.

Brenda facilitating during the training

Hannah Sobocinski, the training and advocacy manager for ISHR briefed participants on human rights mechanisms at international and regional level which defenders can collaborate with. These included the Human Rights Council, the Universal Periodic Review, the Special Procedures and independent experts, and the treaty bodies.

Hannah further explained the role of regional human rights instruments (treaties, conventions, and declarations) that it helps to localize international human rights norms and standards, and the regional human rights mechanisms (commissions, special rapporteurs, courts) that implements these instruments. She added that African Charter on Human Rights, an institution was formed in 1986,  has been a significant in promoting human rights through declaring 21 October every year celebrated as an International Human Rights Day.

Pooja Patel, the programs director of ISHR also led a session on the human rights mechanism. She described The United Nations’ Convention on the Elimination of all forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) as the international bill of rights for women in civil, political, economic, social, and cultural fields whose role is to set up an agenda for national action to end discrimination against women.

With the support from the discussions, WHRDS recognized I need to advocate for the implementation of advocacy objectives to engage with international mechanisms.  They recommended the following objectives;

  1. Parliament of Uganda to enact gender-responsive laws
  2. Expand WHRDS network for international solidarity
  3. Advance WHRDS agenda at the international community

 

Participants discussing the advocacy objectives to engage with key stakeholders.

They also mapped out key stakeholders to influence and a time frame. Facilitators advised that it was vital for them to look beyond the human rights defenders’ bill, and that they should not be limited by time as issues of WHRDS are worrying and therefore requires urgent action.

 

Screenshot showing advocacy objectives which participants designed.

WHRDS TRAINED TO USE VISIBILITY FOR PROTECTION AGAINST VIOLENCE.

From 21st to 25th September 2021, Women Human Rights Defenders Network Uganda (WHRDN-U), in partnership with Frontline defenders, conducted a workshop on visibility for protection of 21 WHRDS at Sky’s Hotel in Kampala. The specific objectives were to reflect on the multi-layered aspects of visibility and the protection methodologies for WHRDS.

During those five days, WHRDS discussed how visibility has affected their work, the gender specific threats, strategies to respond to those threats, and shared their experiences on the visibility for protection.

The first session of the workshop marked interventions from Marie San Martin, advocacy manager for Frontline Defenders. Marie explained what visibility means and its impact on the work of WHRDS noting that visibility is fundamental feature for WHRDS as it promotes their work. One participant shared that visibility has helped her take back her power as a woman defending rights of sex workers. She has set the pace for other sex workers to also speak out and defend their rights. Another participant noted that visibility is important for resource mobilization since donors are interested in seeing progress of their work.

Marie San Martin leading a session during the visibility for protection workshop.

The second day led by Brenda Kugonza focused on identifying gender specific threats against WHRDS. She mentioned that threats such as, defamation, smear campaign, stigmatization and online violence are being used to harm their reputation. One of the participants mentioned that she has been named ‘a prostitute’ by the community. “Look at you, do you also have children? you don’t deserve them, you are only a prostitute’’- she expressed.

Brenda Kugonza facilitating on gender-specific threats during the workshop.

The third day of the workshop involved participants brain storming on protection strategies they can use to respond to risks and attacks they face. They also drafted action plans that analyzed risks they face. The action plans elaborated measures they can use for their visibility such as;

  • Sensitization and information
  • Temporary relocation
  • Disclosing to their families the work they do
  • Increase legal capacity
  • Self-care and seeking counseling.

Participants drawing action plans on how they will protect their visibility. 

The fourth day focused on digital security management and the intervention of internet.  Sandra Kwikiriza, the Executive Director at Her Internet, told participants that there is a need for them to tighten their digital and physical security. She encouraged WHRDS to use the following digital safety tips

  • Data backup
  • Strong passwords
  • 2 factor authentication
  • The Onion Rouser browser. 

The fifth day marked the end of the workshop with a session on online violence by Hellen. She highlighted the new forms of violence including sexual harassment, cyber stalking and hate speech, mentioning that they are frequently terrifying and have manifested to physical violence. She enabled group discussions where participants identified the following digital security tips;

  • Installing cameras in their workplace,
  • Keeping information confidential
  • Monitoring their movements.
  • Change of office locks

During the workshop, participants hard a self-care and wellbeing session.

FEMALE JOURNALISTS WHRDS TRAINED IN ONLINE VIOLENCE AND DIGITAL SECURITY MANAGEMENT.

Female journalists WHRDS were asked to consider digital security crucial as a means to protect themselves from online attacks. This was during a two-day training of 20 female journalists from different media houses, organised by Women Human Rights Defenders Network Uganda (WHRDN-U) at Eureka hotel in Ntinda, on 21th to 22nd October 2021.

Female journalists working as frontline defenders face a lot of challenges attributed to gender stereotypes. The training, aimed at equipping them with knowledge on how to report and respond to the attacks they face online while executing their work.

Ms. Amwiko Sarah, a journalist at Radio Pacis in Arua district expressed that she wrote a story about her friend who is lesbian but her news editor denied it to be aired. Even when she held a talk show with a topic “Rights of different sex desires”, people on social media accused her of supporting immorality.

Ms. Kalungi Rachael, a journalist at B FM explained that she has faced online threats from her ex-boyfriend who helped her to create a Facebook account. After they broke up, he changed the password and currently, he is controlling it. Of recent, he posted nude pictures on that page.

Ms. Karungi (in a white and black dress), explaining her experience on online gender-based violence.

Ms. Kwikiriza Sandra, a facilitator of digital security management enabled journalists to install the most recommendable Virtual Private Network (VPN) and Signal App saying that they help to promote anonymity of a user and demonstrated how they can create strong passwords. “There is need to use strong passwords with over 15 characters including capital letters and special characteristics and activate two-factor authentication, as this prevents hackers from accessing your accounts because one receives a notification whenever someone else tries to login their accounts from another device”.

Ms. Kwikiriza advised female journalists to prioritize their safety through safety precautions such as;

  • Safer devices,
  • Trusting their instincts
  • Identifying the abuse
  • Documenting incidents to show to the police

Ms. Kwikiriza facilitating on digital security management.

Ms. Amuge Peace, an online gender-based consultant guided the journalists on how to understand the new forms of violence such as cyber stalking, defamation/hate speech, and nonconsensual creation of sexual images and how they have led to psyco social, physical violence and economic loss among women human rights defenders. She encouraged journalists to stay calm and not give up on their duties, but to be conscious of their security while using internet.

Ms. Amuge facilitating during the female journalists training.

Some of the female journalists presenting during the online gender-based violence session.

As a means to end online gender-based violence among WHRDS, female journalists were encouraged to transfer knowledge and skills to colleagues in their respective organizations. In our tweet here Sarah Amviko, a female journalist from Pacis FM in Arua shared the knowledge and skills she acquired with her workmates.

LBQT AND FEMALE SEX WORKERS DEFENDERS TRAINED IN ONLINE VIOLENCE AND DIGITAL SECURITY MANAGMENT.

On 19th and 20th October 2021, Women Human Rights Defenders Network Uganda (WHRDN-U) held a training on online gender-based violence and digital security management for 20 LBQT and female sex workers defenders, at Eureka Hotel, in Ntinda.

The training that was facilitated by Ms. Amuge Peace, the Executive Director for Women of Uganda Network, and Ms. Kwikiriza Sandra, the Executive Director for Her Internet, enabled participants gain skills in analyzing and responding to on online gender threats and attacks.

During her facilitation on online gender-based violence, Ms. Amuge Peace told participants that the misuse of digital tools has facilitated online violence forms such as cyber stalking, sexual harassment, defamation and doxing, and advised participants to avoid using the internet aimlessly. She enabled participants to identify incidents of online gender-based violence among themselves such as;

  • Ms. Kugonza Farida, an HIV/AIDS activist expressed that she has been going through tough times following an insult she got from Facebook that she is spreading HIV/AIDS after posting experiences of women leaving with HIV/AIDS.
  • Ms. Sebabi Kirsteen, a leader of LBQT/Loose network shared that the government has not done enough to protect their rights just like other individuals. Many of LBQT and sex worker have face gender based violence but they cannot seek protection because the policies do not favor them.
  • Ms. Sebabi said that Pastor Martin Ssempa uses his social media to trawl LBQT and sex workers defenders and calls them ‘Laba abasiyazi’ meaning ‘Look at Gays’.

Ms. Kwikiriza Sandra, encouraged participants to consider their safety as key and, the importance of using strong passwords saying that, it helps to secure our information and data from cyber criminals/hackers. “Passwords should be changed after three months. Every WHRD should have a password manager which is a program that allows users to store, generate and manage their passwords for local applications and online. It assists to retrieve complex passwords, storing them in one encrypted database.”

Ms. Kwikiriza guided participants on how to install the most recommendable Virtual Private Network (VPN) and Signal App saying that they help to promote anonymity.

Ms. Kwikiriza facilitating on digital security management during LBQT and female sex workers training

Participants conducting skit to demonstrate how online gender-based manifests to physical violence to develop action plans to mitigate online gender-based violence. 

As a means to end online gender-based violence among WHRD, LBQT and female sex workers were encouraged to transfer knowledge and skills to colleagues in their respective organizations. On 5th November 2021, Ms. Taaka Irene, and Ms. Sebabi Kirsteen, a team leader of LBQT and Loose network conducted an online gender-based violence and digital security management training with colleagues in their Organizations.

Taaka Irene training her colleagues from Friends Uganda on online gender-based violence and digital security management.

Kirsteen training her colleagues from LBQT and Loose Network on online gender-based violence and digital security management.

DISTRICT FOCAL PERSONS WHRDS TRAINED IN ONLINE GENDER-BASED VIOLENCE AND DIGITAL SECURITY MANAGEMENT.

20 district focal persons from Karamoja, Albertine, Rwenzori, West Nile, and Acholi regions of Uganda acquired skills on online gender-based violence and digital security management as a mean to protect themselves against online gender threats in their work. This was during a two-day training, organized by Women Human Rights Defenders Network Uganda (WHRDN-U) at Eureka hotel in Ntinda, on 28th to 29th October 2021.

While leading a session on digital security management, Ms. Kwikiriza Sandra, encouraged participants to prioritize their safety through using practical tips such as;

  • Installing virtual private networks
  • Setting strong passwords
  • Activating two-factor authentication
  • Backing up data
  • Identifying the abusers
  • Reporting cases of violence to authorities.

Ms Kwikiriza demonstrated how the internet operates. “When one sends a message to another person through a device, it passes through internet service provider 1(ISP1) like Airtel or MTN who then connects to the WhatsApp or website then back to Internet Service Provider 2(ISP 2) where the message is being sent.’’

Ms. Kwikiriza Sandra facilitating on digital security management during the district focal persons WHRDS training.

Ms. Amuge Peace, while facilitating on online gender-based violence advised participants to be aware of digital hackers and stay vigilant when using internet. She explained that the misuse of digital tools has opened doors to new forms of abuse such as cyber bullying, defamation, doxing and sexual harassment. This has caused distress, trauma, and depression to victims including WHRDS.

Ms. Asubazuyo Gertrude, a WHRD from Albertine region shared that, “News came from one of my WhatsApp groups of a man who was found beating his wife in the market accusing her of not staying home to cook. When I condemned this act, people abused me in comments saying that this matter does not concern me. Another person commented, ‘no wonder you are not married’’.

Ms. Lopuka Mary, a WHRD from Karamoja region revealed that, she got shocked when together with her colleagues reached at work in the morning and opened their computers only to find a pornography movie.

Gertrude Asubaziyo (third from left), a WHRD from Masindi district in Albertine region sharing her experience on online gender-based violence.
Mary Lopuka, a WHRD from Nakapirit district in Karamoja region explaining her experience on online gender-based during the training.

Participants were encouraged to transfer knowledge on online gender-based violence and digital security skills to colleagues in their respective organizations. In our tweet here, Ms. Sange Jackeline, a WHRD from Kween district, Eastern region trained two of her colleagues in the Benet Community.

 

WOMEN HUMAN RIGHTS DEFENDERS NETWORK UGANDA APPRECIATES MEDIA’S SUPPORT IN THEIR WORK.

Women Human Rights Defenders Network Uganda (WHRDN-U) is deeply indebted to the media for the great work of setting the agenda to support the work of women human rights defenders in ending violence against women and girls.

On 24/11/2021, our Executive Director Ms. Kugonza Brenda addressed journalists on the situation of women human rights defenders at Piato Restaurant, Kampala. On 30/11/2021, her message was published in the New Vision, and featured in one o’clock news bulletin, at 107.8, Aulogo FM, in Adjuman District.

Click here to read more about Ms. Brenda’s story in the New Vision.

The news bite that was aired on 107.8, Aulogo FM.

As our mandate to ensure a free and safe work environment for women human rights defenders, we continue to condemn all forms of violence against women and girls. We also seek government protection for all women human rights defenders in Uganda.

Women human rights defender having a fun time during the launch.

COMMEMORATION OF 29TH NOVEMBER 2021 INTERNATIONAL WOMEN HUMAN RIGHTS DEFENDERS DAY

As the world commemorated the International day for women human rights defenders on 29th November 2021, Women Human Rights Defenders Network Uganda (WHRDN-U) jointly with UN Women, oriented this year’s campaign and launched the safety guidelines as move to strengthen the protection women human rights defenders against violence.

Speaking at the launch at Protea Hotel, Ms. Anna Marrifield, the Deputy Ambassador European Union Delegation to Uganda and the chief guest, appreciated all women human rights defenders for not giving up amidst the challenges they face while executing their work. She urged women human rights defenders to take note of these guidelines and use them for self-protection against violence. She appealed to the policymakers of Uganda to consider these guidelines in the 11th Parliament

Ms. Anna Marrifield, the Deputy Ambassador EU Delegation to Uganda (on the right) and Ms. Kemi, UN Women representative (on the left) during the launch
Ms. Anna Marrifield, the Deputy Ambassador EU Delegation to Uganda (on the right) and Ms. Kemi, UN Women representative (on the left) during the launch

While presenting the safety guidelines, Ms. Nakaweesi Solome, a Pan-African feminist, who took a lead role in developing these safety guidelines, thanked WHRDN-U, UN Women, and other partners for the great work in the protection of women human rights defender. “We took time to consult women human rights defenders from four regions of Uganda, that is North, South, East and West. Some of these women are here with us, thank you for providing us with the information which led to the compilation of these safety guidelines”. Ms. Nakaweesi revealed.

Ms. Nakaweesi Solome, an international consultant and a human rights advocate presenting the safety guidelines during the launch.
Ms. Nakaweesi Solome, an international consultant and a human rights advocate presenting the safety guidelines during the launch.

The Executive Director of WHRDN-U, Ms. Kugonza Brenda, in her remarks, called for an urgent need to end gender-based violence among women human rights defenders, revealing that most of them have been arrested, beaten, discriminated, sexually assaulted, and cyber harassed, which has made their work difficult. She called upon women human rights defenders to pay attention to self-protection and committed herself to leading the network in the implementation the safety guidelines.

 

During the inspirational experience session, Ms. Edreda Dingolo, a defender for the Batwa tribe in Bundibudyo district, called for the protection of ancestral land and unique violence against Batwa women and girls. “There is a stereotype in our community that you can cure yourself of HIV by sleeping with a woman from Batwa, so we are often raped. She added. Ms. Halima Nalongo a defender for land, environmental, oil and extractives, also expressed her concerns on the rising threats and arrests among women working in salt industry related to land grabbing and access to justice in her region.

Ms. Edreda Dingolo (on the right), a defender for Batwa tribe in Bundibudyo distrct, Ms. Halima Nalongo (in the middle) a defender for land, environmental, oil and extractives, and Ms. Chelian Dorcus (on the left), a defender fighting FGM and early marriages in Amudat district express themselves during the launch.
Ms. Edreda Dingolo (on the right), a defender for Batwa tribe in Bundibudyo distrct, Ms. Halima Nalongo (in the middle) a defender for land, environmental, oil and extractives, and Ms. Chelian Dorcus (on the left), a defender fighting FGM and early marriages in Amudat district express themselves during the launch.

Mr. Thomas, a representative from EU Delegation to Uganda, who officially launched the safety guidelines, in his remarks, thanked WHRDN-U, UN Women, and other partners for initiating these guidelines and encouraged women human rights defenders to use of them.

Mr. Thomas (on the right), a representative from EU Delegation to Uganda speaking to women human rights defenders during the launch. On the right, WHRDN-U board chairperson Ms. Margaret Kyemba signing on the launch paper.
Mr. Thomas (on the right), a representative from EU Delegation to Uganda speaking to women human rights defenders during the launch. On the right, WHRDN-U board chairperson Ms. Margaret Kyemba signing on the launch paper.

ABOUT THE SAFETY AND SECURITY GUIDELINES FOR WOMEN HUMAN RIGHTS DEFENDERS 

The guidelines offer practical tips for online and offline safety measures that will enable women human rights defenders at different levels to mitigate risks and attacks of violence in their work. These include; creating support spaces at district and regional levels, alliance building with like-minded actors, reporting and exposing perpetrators, creating legal frameworks, group movements, self-care and wellness, confidentiality and responsible use of internet among others. Key implementers of these guidelines including UN Women, WHRDN-U, and OHCHR will make them accessible on their websites, workshops, briefings and webinar to support the effective utilisation of these guidelines.

Women human rights defenders from Karamoja region dressed in their traditional wear during the launch.
Women human rights defenders from Karamoja region dressed in their traditional wear during the launch.
Some of the women human rights defenders from the Batwa tribe having a picture with UN Women representatives at the launch.
Some of the women human rights defenders from the Batwa tribe having a picture with UN Women representatives at the launch.