Strengthening Women Human Rights Defenders to achieve feminists’ practices in their human rights work.

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 book in 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:

  1. Power

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
  • deliberate oppression
  • empowering women to realize their full rights
  • creating equality around all spheres of life
  • Inclusiveness

3. Intersectionality

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 

For more details, read the 3 days’ workshop report

 

WHRDN-U hold consultative meeting with WHRD groups in Karamoja sub region

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

  1. To understand what kind of threats and risks, have WHRDs registered
  2. To a establish linkages between WHRD’s security incidents to the context and the social, political and economic analysis in Karamoja region
  3. To understand protection needs of at risk WHRDs
Meeting with one of the Sanay Anti-FGM movement groups
Meeting with one of the Sanay Anti-FGM movement groups

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.

Chepar Paulina on the extreme left
                                                                                        Chepar Paulina on the extreme left

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 of Mandeleo Women's Group
Sagal Paulina of Mandeleo Women’s Group

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 is a member of the Karamoja WHRDNU Regional Network
Joyce Alungat is a member of the Karamoja WHRDNU Regional Network

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.

 

 

 

 

 

Mama Cash booklet: Stories of change

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
and communities;
3. Providing a space for collective learning and networking with other grantee partners

Stories about co-coordinating with others.

WHRDNU features in Mama Cash booklet
                                                             WHRDNU features in Mama Cash booklet

Access the full booklet below

MAMA CASH BOOKLET OF STORIES

 

 

 

 

Brenda speaks at the 3rd Universal Periodic Review

WHRDNU presents at the 50th session of the Human Rights Council at the 3rd Universal Periodic Review

During the 50th session of the Human Rights Council held on July 1st 2022, Uganda presented the outcome of its 3rd Universal Periodic Review where only 54% of the recommendations given for review were accepted by Uganda and none of them were related to the protection of human rights defenders.

In a joint statement delivered by International Service For Human Rights and Women Human Rights Defenders Network Uganda (WHRDN-U), highlighted that the government has shown very little will to change the situation of human rights defenders by noting recommendations on:

  • The excessive use of force
  • The need to combat impunity
  • Freedom of expression and peaceful assembly
  • 16 recommendations concerning civic space and human rights defenders that were offered by all regional groups

WHRDNU Executive Director Brenda Kugonza speaks during the 50th Human Rights Council advocating for laws to protect women human rights defenders in Uganda.

International Service for Human Rights recommends Uganda to

  • Adopt the Human Rights Defenders Bill and ensure it is gender-sensitive to give full force and effect to the UN resolution on the Protection of women defenders and the UN Declaration on Human Rights Defenders
  • Publicly affirm the legitimate role of women defenders and protect them from violations by State and non-State actors by acknowledging such violations and implementing security measures for them
  • Finally, refrain from criminalising the legitimate activities of defenders including women defenders, and repeal all laws and policies that restrict their activities and rights, including the Public Order Management Act, the Anti-Pornography Act, Anti-Money Laundering Act, Anti-Terrorism Act ( as amended), and the Computer Misuse Act.

 

 

 

ANTI-TORTURE DAY COMMEMORATION AND CELEBRATION OF 10 YEARS OF THE ANTI-TORTURE LAW.

Women Human Rights Defenders network Uganda was glad to participate in the E-public dialogue in commemoration of the Anti-torture Day 2022 on June 26th. This day marked 10 years of the Anti-torture law since its enactment and was aired on NBS TV organized by Uganda Human Rights Commission in conjunction with Anti Torture For Violence.

Commemoration of Anti-Torture Day 2022 live on NBS TV
Commemoration of Anti-Torture Day 2022 live on NBS TV

Panelists

  1. Ida Nakiganda – Director, Complaints, Investigation and Legal Services UHRC.
  2. Barbra Kawuma – Ass DPP in charge of Human rights
  3. ACP Kusemererwa James – Head of Human Rights Development
  4. Herbert Samuel Nsubuga – Chairperson CAT-U, & CEO of ACTV.
Panelists at the Anti Torture Commemoration Day airing on NBS TV
Panelists at the Anti Torture Commemoration Day airing on NBS TV

What is torture?

Ida Nakiganda of UHRC defined torture relating to the Anti-Torture Act (not in the UN Convention against Torture) as severe pain or suffering by either a public official or a person acting in the capacity of a private individual capacity for the purpose of obtaining a confession or information, punishing and intimidating an individual. There has to be an intention or purpose for which that act was performed.

This definition was widened to include state actors (law enforcement agencies, security agencies), private spheres of life eg GBV, and any other space that may not be formal or official

Panel discussion

What is your role as CAT?

Samuel CAT started in 2005. We felt it was important to get together a number of civil society organizations to help improve the legal framework in the country that was not specific to torture. Together with UHRC, we started to, first of all, sensitize the relevant stakeholders (the key arms of government, security agencies, and the community).

In particular, ACTV is the chairperson of CAT, apart from the treatment and rehabilitation of torture victims, it helps us in advocacy, and developing medical-legal reports which are utilized by UHRC at courts of law for compensation.

There are still some challenges we face especially in terms of resources, and issues of the investigation by police (we have not had convictions that we are happy with as secretariat).

 

Why has it taken this long for Uganda to ratify any of these optional protocols to the CAT?

Ida Uganda has ratified the Convention against Torture (1987). However, there’s an optional protocol to that convention (UN OPCAT) which requires that there should be access to places of detention (police, remand homes, prisons, military places of detention). OPCAT requires that there’s a prevention mechanism at the national level but also there’s a sub-committee against torture at the UN level who are supposed to access places of detention here in Uganda if Uganda is to ratify it. I believe that since Uganda has justices of peace including the UHRC which has a constitutional mandate to access places of detention, there has been a delay in ratifying the OPCAT but I think it’s important to have a number of actors on board so that if the commission is not here, the sub-committee will be visiting and inspecting these places of detention.

 

Looking at the high need for proper documentation, UPF has continued to use the older form 3. Why is that?

James We are working with ACTV to do away with that because the older form has not been specifically directed to getting that kind of evidence. I hope in a little time it will go through. However, it doesn’t mean that nothing is being done (People have been prosecuted, people have lost jobs and people have been made to compensate others).

 

Why are criminal prosecutions against perpetrators of torture not common?

Barbra It is not that criminal prosecutions are not common. They are actually ongoing. For the period July 2021 to March 2022, DPP has registered 205 torture cases and 771 other human rights violations. We have the statistics of those that have gone through the system, and secured convictions for these cases with the help of ACTV.

 

Is there a process for awards and compensation of torture victims?

Ida Compensation is key for a victim of torture. It’s a way of repairing the injustice that the victim suffered. You can’t say you can get them to the position they were previously but it’s a way of helping them rebuild their lives. At the Commission, when we’re done with our investigation, evidence has been gathered and the matter has gone to the tribunal and the matter has been confirmed to be a torture case, the tribunal will award the victim compensation. Previously, it was paid by the attorney general but since about 2015/2016, compensations are now paid by individual institutions like UPF, UPDF, and Uganda Prisons Service (decentralization of payment of compensation awards).

Even before decentralization, there have been challenges in payment – when someone has been tortured, there are effects they are going to stay with for the rest of their lives, so it’s important that compensation is done in a timely manner so that this person is able to start rebuilding and make sense of their lives.

However, the attorney general is still actively paying the arrears. In the FY 2020-2021, the attorney general paid about a 600million to victims of torture and for the successive four financial years, the attorney general has paid about 4 billion to victims of torture. When we go to decentralization, there are challenges, the institutions say payment of compensation awards is not part of their budget so victims are made to wait for quite a long period of time.

The UPDF and UPS are making good strides in paying compensation but the biggest challenge is still with UPF.

 

What procedure does the UPF take when a torture case is reported?

James In most cases, 70% of victims prefer going to other organizations than to the police though still, these cases come back to us for investigation. When we get these cases, we start investigations by calling these victims back to obtain information, and a month ago, out of 200 cases that had been referred to us, 109 cases were already seen. Some of these officers have been convicted and others are on remand. The gap I would only admit is the accountability side of it especially to the public once the action has been taken. We however encourage the public to come to us.

 

As the human rights department, do you carry out investigations?

James No, they come to us then we channel. We may not have enough resources and manpower to do that but we assess the cases. Afterward, we refer it to the CID for investigation and subsequent prosecution.

 

What penalty does UPF have for fellow police perpetrators?

James As an institution, once you are prosecuted through criminal courts and you are convicted, it is an automatic dismissal. On top of other sanctions that the court may issue, we have our own

 

Who does a follow-up on these processes? Who holds the entire team accountable?

Ida We have been trying to follow up as a commission in terms of payments (mostly with the attorney general and several institutions) but there needs to be a focal point institution and in our annual reports we’ve always made recommendations that may be the Ministry of Justice should be that focal point to do the following up. So that when we consult them, we are able to know what is pending with the UPDF, UPF, and UPS, we make reports and share them with the Human Rights Committee of Parliament who will hold these institutions accountable.

 

As CAT, are you happy? Are the numbers going down? Is the process working for those victims you represent?

Samuel Unfortunately, we are still averaging over 1000 survivors of torture passing through ACTV gates for treatment and rehabilitation. In 2020 lockdown, we saw 960 survivors of torture. Since the covid 19 pandemic, we’ve not been able to access the prisons yet they contain over 30% of the survivors we have registered. Last year (2021), we registered 1202 survivors of torture. Torture is still prevalent and we are trying to advocate for a rehabilitation policy from MoH and because we are still the only rehabilitation center in the country, we want to see hospitals and health institutions to understand and identify torture victims and accord the specialized treatment. So far, we have had inroads with mental health and there are already trainings in that direction.

 

If DPP is averaging at 300 whereas ACTV is averaging at 1000, Is there a disparity, are there any challenges and why?

Barbra As Samuel had earlier on mentioned, many are not willing to report and follow through their cases for different reasons eg personal security. As DPP, we receive cases from police and we can only work with numbers that have been investigated and forwarded to us. That’s why forums like these are important so that the public can know that once they have been violated, they should know that the justice system is there to help them.

 

Is there a way to create a safe way for people to report?

James There are still challenges on that especially that the witness protection law is not in place. Without that law, it creates challenges also on the part of police because how do you create that environment for the victims to report? Do you have the protection mechanisms in place for that? The word “safe house” was vulgarized but initially it was for that purpose. We however try to find a way.

 

Does the court process allow anonymity in any way, even when we managed to protect the witnesses?  

Barbra Mechanisms that can be put in place. The office of the DPP has the witness protection guidelines that our prosecutors are supposed to follow. If you are disclosing evidence to the defense, there are things you can do so that the names of the witnesses are not disclosed at that early stage until they get to court. Of course, this is an expensive process and if there’s no law that clearly provides for that, you can only do as much as you can depending on the circumstances.

When it comes to court, I think the criminal division of the high court have created an atmosphere where the victim (especially on child abuse, defilement) can testify without necessarily looking at the accused person. This however is not spread out yet because of funding. The human rights committee of parliament is trying to push for the witness protection law.

 

What is the process like for a torture victim?

Ida You have various options. You can go to the various institutions or UHRC to report your complaint, it will be registered. We are now going to a very important stage which is documentation (the collection of evidence – Key evidence is medical evidence). When a person is tortured, he can go to the hospital first and then come with the medical report (not the medical treatment notes). The report will entail the history of the person, what happened, the gravity of the injury they suffered and the impact of the injury.

As Samuel said, we need to build the capacity of our medical workers to efficiently and effectively document torture cases because most times its insufficient and it is difficult to present it before the tribunal

 

Is torture different from any crime? Does it change when a definition of a person changes? For example; is it okay to beat a thief?

Ida What we have to emphasize today in the Anti torture day and those to come is that torture is widely condemned both in Uganda and at international level. It’s a crime that can never be justified because of the effects that it has on the dignity of the person. Even if the person has been imprisoned or is awaiting to be presented in court, they should not be tortured. Mob action too is torture and it should not be accepted in the communities.

 

Is torture a criminal or a civil act?

James Torture is a criminal act though you can get civil remedies at the end of the day. Now that people are getting more and more sensitized, people are going for more of the civil remedies because of maybe the compensations and the lawyers too see it as a short cut.

 

Is it okay for people to seek the civil dissolution of this criminal act or would you encourage people to come through the entire legal process?

Barbra The law provides for civil remedies but as players in the criminal justice system, we would want the cases to go through the systems. As Ida mentioned, Uganda is a signatory to some of these conventions and so, we are required to show progress that we have made over time. We encourage ACTV too to encourage their victims to come to us to report and not sit back home with their cases.

 

We’ve seen people come to UHRC and protest outside. Is this part of the process or would you rather have them do something else?

Ida They have freedom of expression but in terms of the formal processes, I think it’s better that they enter the office and lodge their complaint so that its registered and investigated. If it’s a genuine complaint that can be heard by the commission’s tribunal, they can get justice at the end of the day.

 

Are there actual effects of torture, or is this something we can continue living with?

Samuel There are physical and psychological effects. Physical effects are easily seen like bruises that can take like 2-3 months and go away but the psychological effects are not easily seen (someone can seem okay in the outside but broken inside). For example, we are still treating survivors of the Lords Resistance Army till now yet it ended in 2006.

On the psychological effects, we have the clinical psychologists and the counsellors who take the survivors through a number of over 10 sessions of therapy.

 

What would you advise is the best way to prevent torture from happening?

Barbra People should be alive to the fact that torture is a violation and it erodes dignity of an individual. What needs to come out to other masses is that there are other means of arrests, confining and disciplining someone other than torture.

To add on that, resources matter so much when it comes to law enforcement. Where there are lack of resources, there may be a temptation to initiate somethings outside the law. Eg before the advent of security cameras and DNA equipment, it was a challenge for people to get evidence out of the suspect and in the course of getting evidence at all costs, a temptation to use other means arises.

James The technological advancement that is coming into these institutions, many cases have been resolved by merely going back to the camera centers for review of the footage. We should advocate for all the players of antitorture to be supported and build capacity in terms of technology.

 

What would you rate UPF implementation of this law at?

James I think I would rate it highly. If we had to compare the situation then and now, issues may be there but what is the ordinary person in the streets observing? What is the police’s conduct now compared to then? I may mention figures here yet the people on ground are not seeing anything. I think because of the new laws in place, we have done a lot to professionalize our work.

 

Do you ever have any challenges as the human rights department of police with bringing any of the officers to book?

James In criminal law, we deal with the individual that has committed the crime. “Orders from above” doesn’t work anymore. We have been bringing down to people those sections of the law that talks about individual responsibility and so stop hiding behind people. The principle should be “You should obey orders from above but the orders should be lawful”.

 

Where do you feel we could do better as CAT or government when it comes to enacting this law?

Samuel We could do better in issues of reporting; because the law is there, simplified and translated into different local languages already.

We should include various hospitals especially the referral hospitals and institutions in identification, treatment and rehabilitation of torture survivors. This, we can do closely with the MoH.

JamesWe are on a journey but we are on the right track. Going forward, I think we need better synergies between police and DPP to understand torture more and give guidance to the officers.

Barbra Joint trainings: If UHRC or ACTV are to help us build our capacities, they should train us jointly (the investigators, the prosecutors, the judiciary). If we sit in the room together, we understand the challenges better, the guidance is even more and it prevents back and forth. At the end of the day, we have sufficient evidence that we give to court.

Ida In terms of prevention and prohibition of torture act, we want to see more people reporting acts of torture. We need to build mechanisms around this law to allow it to work including the enactment of the witness protection law, the legal aid bill. We would want to see more prosecutions, the annual crime report of the police force having more statistics on cases of torture they’ve handled.

Ida Institutions should put firm frameworks in place to hold their officers accountable. That’s why compensations were decentralized. We need more accountability for people who have been engaged in acts of torture.

 

Is there a plan to train people on ground on the Anti-torture law and human rights?

Ida UHRC has a constitutional mandate to conduct civic and human rights education so the trainings on prevention and prohibition of Anti-torture act is ongoing since 2012 when it was passed as a law. So, I think it’s just a matter of continuing with the training especially of new recruits that have been brought on board. We will continue engaging with DPP and the key actors to ensure its effective enforcement. 

A video commemorating the Anti Torture Day

A group photo of WHRDS raising the online GBV handbook guide for WHRDS

WHRDN-U CONDUCTS ALBERTINE REGIONAL COORDINATION MEETING

On 19th May 2022, Women Human Rights Defenders Network Uganda organised a regional cordination meeting for Women Human Rights Defenders in the Albertine region in Hoima district. The meeting held at Hoima Resort hotel consisted of 22 WHRDS from Hoima (6), Masindi(5), Bullisa (6), Kagadi(2), Kiryandongo (1). This meeting was held in line with the efforts of WHRDN-U to achieve a well-coordinated national feminist Holistic protection program and a secure working environment for WHRDs in Uganda.

WHRDS attending the Albertine regional coordination meeting
                                                           WHRDS attending the Albertine regional coordination meeting

Objectives of the meeting were to

  • To strengthen local support systems to offer timely response to WHRDs under attack in West Nile Region.
  • To offer a training on how to fill the case incidence form
  • To understand why one is unable to receive support whenever attacked

Ms Beatrice Rukanyanga the district focal person welcomed everyone to the meeting and told all the participants to share and interact freely and made an emphasis that,Human rights activism work is given from God and it’s in our Blood despite the fact that defenders are attacked every day, we still continue to defend Human rights. Individually we cannot stand but when we work as a team it’s hard for the community to attack and pin us down, we have to work as a team and support one anotherShe further encouraged members to carry out solidarity visits among themselves.

The district focal person Beatrice Rukanyanga giving her opening remarks
                                       The district focal person Beatrice Rukanyanga giving her opening remarks

Remarks from Gender Officer, Ms Kabatalya Joyce

Kabatalya Joyce thanked the WHRDS for the good work they were doing in their different communities.She said there are very many cases of violation of human rights at grass root levels and was glad to see a group of brave women who are risking their lives to defend the rights of such people, she encouraged the WHRDS to continue with this good work and re-assured her support whenever needed. I am ready and willing to work with you, the different government institution have to work with you and you with them so that to make a big impact in the community

Ms Kabatalya Joyce giving her opening remarks
                                                             Ms Kabatalya Joyce giving her opening remarks

Poster presentation and dissemination of the online GBV handbook for WHRDS.

Posters were distributed to members and each one was tasked to pin them in their work places to help create visibility of the network.

handing over a poster to the gender officer
                                                                           Handing over a poster to the gender officer
A group photo of WHRDS raising the online GBV handbook guide for WHRDS
                                     A group photo of WHRDS raising the online GBV handbook guide for WHRDS

By conclusion of the meeting, participants knew the different ways of strengthening the local support system in case of attacks, shared action points on how they would support one other and also learnt how to fill in the incidence forms.

SELF CARE AND COLLECTIVE HEALING FOR WOMEN HUMAN RIGHTS DEFENDERS

On 26 and 27th May 2022, The Women Human Rights Defenders Network Uganda held a “ Creating Space and Time to Heal, Rest, Rejuvenate, Reflect and Connect” workshop at Essela Hotel, Kampala . Over 25 participants from different parts of the country and various social movements benefited from the workshop.

The workshop provided a space for Women Human Rights Defenders to understand their lives of activism. Different members had things to say about how their activism work affected their well-being.

They are dedicated, passionate about their human rights work, and caring for others while forgetting about themselves. The WHRDS said all this is making them burn out, the job of defending never stops, Not for Profit Organizations and Community Based Organizations understaffed, yet the lives of the people they served depend on their actions, the WHRDs noted working in the evenings, on weekends, skip annual leave and when on annual leave, they check emails-because they think if they ignore them, they will pile. To some, they have pondered about living their activism work to joining the business sector.

In the photo above, participants had a moment to talk about how they tend to prioritize the importance of their work before thinking of themselves
In the photo above, participants had a moment to talk about how they tend to prioritize the importance of their work before thinking of themselves

The workshop also enabled participants to practice self-care, thus empowering them to manage their health to take care of their own emotional, physical, and mental health. The many ways in which members practiced rest, rejuvenation, and healing included the following:

  1. Group counseling session :

In this session, participants understood how stress and burnout could result from human rights work in Uganda. This session helped WHRDs prevent burnout and ensure their psychological security. The WHRDs noted that they suffer violence, harassment, discrimination, and criminalization, leading to burnout. This session used group discussions, and they learned tips to help them recognize moments of stress, feelings of anxiety, and time management

Simon Ndawula , a clinical psychologists and consultant leading the counseling session
Simon Ndawula , a clinical psychologists and consultant leading the counseling session

2. Fitness session ;

This session motivated and inspired participants to sustain a healthy lifestyle, and it was to help participants get their hearts and lungs to work faster; it was a fun atmosphere. The session involved stretching, dancing exercises to help with the body’s flexibility, and muscle strengthening for the legs, hips, the back, chest, stomach, shoulders, and arms. Breathing work, the facilitator informed participants that breathing helps control the nervous system and that having deep breathing, even for a moment, can help soothe people’s anxiety and calm our panic.

ildred Apenyo of Fitcliqea Africa, leading a fitness session
Mildred Apenyo of Fitcliqea Africa, leading a fitness session

3. Nutrition, Diet and food.

Ms. Elizabeth Masabaa nutritionist, helped participants understand food as our primary source of medicine. She informed participants that what we eat and drink affects our energy levels, our moods, and how and what we think.

Nutritionist facilitates a session on diet
                                                              Nutritionist facilitates a session on diet

She urged WHRDs to create time for food breaks. By cutting a cake decorated as a healthy eating pyramid, as an illustrate, she encouraged members to maintain a balanced diet and that foods make up a healthy diet.

Healthy diet for WHRDS
                                                                            Healthy diet for WHRDS
WHRDs cut cake during self care workshop
                                                                        WHRDs cut cake during self care workshop

4. Health benefits of massage Therapy for WHRDs.

Massage consultants enabled participants to understand that massage can combat stress and anxiety, increase blood flows to areas of the brain that associate with mood and stress regulation, boost immune systems, improve sleep, relieve pain and fatigue, etc. Trained massage therapists eased pain and tension by massaging the muscles and joints of body participants. Thus the, using different massage techniques during session this promoted relaxation among participants.

5. Conversations, Networking, Music and Dancing sessions.

During this session, it was a question n from the Urgent Action Fund for women “what is the point of a revolution if we can’t dance?’. This platform allowed WHRDs to dance, and women danced. The participants recognized the health benefits of dancing as a tool to stay fit for all ages, is a great way to meet new friends, improve muscle tone, better social skills, and help the heart and lungs.

WHRDs dance during the self care workshop
                                                                 WHRDs dance during the self care workshop

6. Gynecology and women’s health session.

This session was essential for WHRD’s reproductive health. Ms. Birungi of Reproductive Health Uganda covered cancer screening, menstruation management, post-menopause management, and family planning. The objective of this session was to promote the health and well-being WHRDs by offering them information and improving their knowledge on reproductive health-related matters.

Dr. Birungi leading a session on Reproductive Health
                                                           Dr. Birungi leading a session on Reproductive Health

Here are some of the ways in which WHRDs committed to practice self-care and collecting healing:

  1. Take an hour for lunch break, limit taking office work home, and create me time
  2. Minimize interactions with social media platforms, and go for regular medical check –ups
  3. Go for a walk, and have a good diet,

Reflections from participants

Ataro Juliet of Women Rural Development Network speaking at the Self Care workshop

Group photo at RELLA foundation

WHRDN-U pays solidarity visit to Rella Foundation

Following a report and request from Rella Foundation, on 5th/May 2022, a delegation of WHRDN-U  participated in the solidarity visit   to RELLA foundation

The delegation consisted of 7 WHRDs, 3WHRDs working on Sex workers rights from Arua, Kabarole and Kampala, 1 on GBV from Jinja and 3 on LBQT Rights from Kampala.

RELLA Foundation offers response to LBQTs at risk by providing different services like shelter where they receive psychology needs and expressed challenges they face.

  • security threats with the local council since the law does not protect them thus leading to criminalizing them all the time in the community.
  • Burnout and exhaustion leading to stress from work they do
  • issues of confidentiality is a big challenge to the people at the shelter
Solidarity visit at RELLA Foundation
Solidarity visit at RELLA Foundation

WHRDN-U pledged to provide support inform of protection, grant to buy the bedsheets, mattresses, blankets, towels and buckets

Acholi WHRDNU Network members present MP Betty Aol a position paper

Acholi Women Human Rights Defenders Regional Network meet with Gulu City Woman MP

On 2nd May 2022, 22 Women Human Rights Defenders from the Acholi Women Human Rights Defenders Regional Network met with Gulu City Woman MP, Hon Aol Betty Achan at her community office in Gulu City. The WHRDs who came from Gulu, Kitgum, Omoro, Pader, Nwoya, Lamwo and Amuru districts.

Adubo Diana, one of the WHRDs in the region took lead in this session outlined the various Gender based threats and intimidation they face that in their work of of GBV, land rights, promotion of rights for persons with disabilities, journalists, children, LBQT, sex work. She outlined these Gender specific attacks that include;

  • Instead of producing children, you are busy loitering, stop messing up your life as a woman
  • Gender discrimination. People don’t want to associate with you in the community.
  • No wonder you are single, which man can stay with a loud woman like you. Women are supposed to soft spoken always.
  • I cannot marry a woman like you. You are like a fellow man. Women like you are not marriage material.
  • Baby hater(If advocating for family planning and safe abortion)
  • Exclusion from clan land ownership committees.

The meeting offered a great opportunity in establishing a working relationship with the MP and the Acholi WHRDs requested the MP to create a platform to engage the Human Rights Parliamentary Committee and her office act as a referral point to WHRDS to report violations they encounter.

In her speech, MP Aol Betty appreciated the WHRDs for their activism and support they offer in upholding human rights especially of all people regardless of  gender, age and occupation. She also committed to create a platform to discuss their issues with the Human Rights Parliamentary Committee, the Gender Parliamentary Committee and the Speaker of Parliament.
The Acholi WHRDs also handed over a position paper and Human Rights Defenders Protection Bill to the MP.
Acholi WHRDNU Network members present MP Betty Aol a position paper
Acholi WHRDNU Network members present MP Betty Aol a position paper