BULISA WHRDS ADVOCATE FOR PROTECTION OF WOMEN’S RIGHTS IN THE LAND AND OIL EXTRACTIVES SECTOR.

Caption: From Left to right: Sarah Kisoro (the representative of the oil and extractive action working group of WHRDN-U), Begg-Saffar (NGO and Human Rights Manager, Total Energies), Gladys Oyenyboth (Bulisa Community Grass root WHRD), Petronilla Lamunu (NGO officer, Total Energies) and Brenda Kugonza (Executive director WHRDN-U).

 

On 29/09/2021, Women Human Rights Defenders Network Uganda (WHRDNU) held an advocacy meeting with Total Energies’ NGO and Human Rights Department. The meeting took place at Total Energies Offices on Yusuf Lule Road, Kampala. The meeting discussed matters of protection of women human rights defenders who defend land rights of communities evicted due to oil extraction projects in Bulisa district.

We are grateful to Total Energies for using the UN principles on business and human rights and their commitment to work with Bulisa WHRDs to ensure that women’s rights are protected.

SISTERHOOD IS REALLY IMPORTANT IN PROTECTION OF WOMEN HUMAN RIGHTS DEFENDERS.

Caption: Representatives of the Rwenzori women defenders network pose for a photo supporting the work of women defenders at the grass root community of Lake Katwe Salt mines.

 

Rwenzori Women Human Rights Defenders Network encouraging other women to see themselves as women defenders. On 24th/09/2021, three women human rights defenders from Bundibugyo, Kabarole, Kasese districts came together through a solidarity visit to support the work of four women human rights defenders confronting historical inequalities and discrimination against women in the salt- mines of lake Katwe community.

During the solidarity visit, women human rights defenders discussed how to strengthen the liaisons, networks and how to foster local linkages to ensure the protection of women human rights defenders. Women defenders also shared personal and collective testimonies about how they are preventing and confronting violence and discrimination against women in the salt -extractive activities.

Thanks to the women defenders located in lake Katwe- salt – mining community, they are not willing to give up on promoting the economic rights & ensuring that women are not stripped of their source of livelihood which is salt mining in lake Katwe.

 

Ms. Sarah Kisoro thanking TotalEnergies for recognizing the contribution of WHRDs in advocating for resettlement packages for women in Albertine region.

REGIONAL WHRDS NETWORKS AS A CRITICAL STRATEGY FOR THE WOMEN HUMAN RIGHTS DEFENDERS NETWORK UGANDA. (WHRDN-U)

Caption: Ms. Sarah Kisoro thanking TotalEnergies for recognizing the contribution of WHRDs in advocating for resettlement packages for women in Albertine region.

 

Based on the principle of collective power is louder and networks can save lives, a key strategy of the WHRDN-U is the creation and support of regional (rural) women human rights defenders networks and coordination of joint actions. WHRDN-U supported regional networks in Albertine, Acholi, Rwenzori and West Nile regions as a joint platform for advocating and confronting violence etc. Below are key actions of WHRDs-Regional Networks.

KEY ACTIONS OF WHRDS- REGIONAL- NETWORKS

  1. Women Human Rights Defenders from Albertine region have not abandoned their human rights work of engaging extractive Industries.

The Women Human Rights Defenders Network Uganda (WHRDN-U), has created the WHRD -Albertine- regional -network, that has helped WHRDs to take collective actions. For instance; On 23rd and 30th August 2021, the WHRD- Albertine – regional network in collaboration with 17   Women defenders from Kagadi, Masindi, Hoima, Bulisa, and Kiryadongo districts of Albertine Region, engaged with Total energies’ NGO desk at their offices in Bulisa district. In the meeting, Women Defenders highlighted their contributions in the Albertine region noting as women they have promoted peace and justice, economic and political rights, challenged discrimination and promoted equality for everyone.

The women defenders informed the team from Total that they also work to amplify the concerns of women and community members who have suffered land evictions due to oil extractions. In the meetings, discussions also focused on how women tend to be excluded from the economic benefits and negotiations about the fate of their territories.

Several actions were also proposed to strengthen working relationship between WHRDs and Total energies’ NGO desk.  For instance, Total energies pledged to invite women defenders to participate in the periodic NGO meetings organized by them and to work with women defenders to ensure women of Albertine region continue to benefit from the land resettlement compensation packages.

WHRDN-U, continues to support women defenders that have decided to take action because of seeing the negative impact of extractive operations on women and people struggling for social, economic and environment justices in their communities.

 

Mr. Moses Abigaba from TotalEnergies while addressing the WHRDs from Albertine region, informed members that TotalEnergies had created an NGO Human Rights Desk to handle Human Rights issues of women in the region.
Mr. Moses Abigaba from TotalEnergies while addressing the WHRDs from Albertine region, informed members that TotalEnergies had created an NGO Human Rights Desk to handle Human Rights issues of women in the region.

 

WHRDs of the Albertine Regional Network take a photo with the Total NGO and Human Rights Manager Mary Begg-Saffar after their meeting on 30th August 2021
WHRDs of the Albertine Regional Network take a photo with the Total NGO and Human Rights Manager Mary Begg-Saffar after their meeting on 30th August 2021

2. Members of the Acholi -WHRD -Regional Network: Maintain relationships and disseminate information about their contributions in Acholi region

The Women Human Rights Defenders Network Uganda (WHRDN-U), continues, to support women defenders from Acholi region to acquire important experience on how to enhance the visibility of their contributions in region.  On 26th August /2021, 19 women defenders from Kitgum, Gulu, Pader and Amuru districts of Acholi region, took a collective action when they held a radio talk show. The radio talk show at Might Fire FM in Kitgum district, enabled defenders to promote the human rights defense work they do in the region and their identities. The talk show was the first of its kind in the region where women defenders jointly came together to make their work visible. The talk show was an opportunity for women defenders to call upon different stakeholders to support their human rights.

For instance, while on radio, Ms.Anena Sandra from Gulu district  stated “we call upon, cultural, religious and political leaders  to support women defenders in Acholi region.”

Ms. Akot Lucy from Amuru district, while on radio mentioned “As women defenders, we have supported, women, children and even men whose rights have been violated, this has made our communities better.”

Ms.Ocuuee Susan , while on radio  noted “ I have defended women and children who have faced cultural and domestic violence in my district.”

As a result of the talk show, the Manager of Might FM made commitments to collaborate with WHRDs in the region when he commented “We will give you free air time to come and discuss issues affecting women and increased teenage pregnancies in our region- please women defenders always share information with us for airing as news.”

The Acholi WHRDs play a crucial role in protecting and defending the rights of women and girls in their communities, especially in remote areas. The Women Human Rights Defenders Network Uganda will continue to strengthen the capacity of the Acholi- WHRD-Regional network to promote the recognition of the human rights work they do.

WHRDs of the Acholi Regional Network wait at the reception of Mighty Fire for their radio talk show.
WHRDs of the Acholi Regional Network wait at the reception of Mighty Fire for their radio talk show.

 

Members of the Acholi Regional Network of WHRDs pose for a photo after the radio talk show at Mighty Fire FM in kitgum district.
Members of the Acholi Regional Network of WHRDs pose for a photo after the radio talk show at Mighty Fire FM in kitgum district.

 

3. The Batwa women indigenous defenders, together with Rwenzori- WHRDs -Regional -Network have achieved greater recognition from the Uganda Wildlife Authority

The Batwa community of Bundibugyo district are some of the indigenous and yet minority group of people in Uganda whose rights to culture and source of livelihood (the forests) need to be protected from being extinct.  Many of them continue to face violence and discrimination.

It is against the above background, that women defenders from rural areas across the Rwenzori region came together including; indigenous women, sex workers, community organizers, land rights defenders, defenders of the rights of people with disability, defenders working on GBV, and women defenders in the mining sector.  All grouped together within the Rwenzori -regional -women human rights defenders’ network. They coordinated themselves to express solidarity with the Batwa indigenous women defenders of Bundibugyo. This was achieved on 30/August/2021, when they jointly held an advocacy meeting with Uganda Wildlife Authority (UWA) at their offices in Bundibugyo district.

The 20 WHRDs including the Batwa defenders from Kasese, Katwe, Bundibugyo, Kabarole and Mubende districts of Rwenzori region, interacted with Mr. Balyasima Geoffrey the in-charge warden and Ms. Norah Bumbi the Community liaison officer of Semuliki national park in Bundibugyo district.

During the meeting between Uganda Wildlife Authority (UWA) and WHRDs of the Rwenzori region, participants appreciated UWA for allowing the Batwa people to access firewood, to harvest fish from the ponds and streams and herbs in the forest. Participants also discussed how to foster collaboration with UWA to ensure Batwa people are protected from violence while accessing the Matongo/ Semiliki forest for food, herbs and visiting their ancestral burial sites.

The coordination of this joint action, enabled the Batwa women defenders to share collective testimonies about how they are prevented from accessing their ancestral land and the violence that they continue to face. Below are testimonies:

“We the Batwa, we are stopped from hunting bush meat from the forest-We are beaten when being chased out of the forest and some people use the guns to shoot us” said Ms. Edreda Dogolo, a mutwa woman defender.

“We continue to face violations and marginalization because we are Batwa indigenous peoples- COVID-19 is affecting us as indigenous peoples and we have no access to health, when we access our ancestral land to get medicine etc, we are accused of increasing conflict and encroachment over our indigenous land and ancestral ground.” Said Grace Mbhatina a mutwa woman defender

The UWA pledged to collaborate with the Batwa women and WHRDs to ensure that the Batwa community is protected from violence noting that the Community liaison officer of Semuliki national park   will keep in touch with Batwa in order to address any emerging concern.  “We appreciate the Batwa community and will continue to work with them to ensure they access the forest.” Said Mr. Balyasima Godfrey the in-charge warden Semuliki national park.

The Women Human Rights Defenders Network Uganda, will continue supporting processes of coordination for the Rwenzori Regional Network.

Grace Mbhatina the Mutwa activist raised challenges of restrictions on access to the Matong/Semiliki forest
Grace Mbhatina the Mutwa activist raised challenges of restrictions on access to the Matong/Semiliki forest
Edreda Dingoli a Mutwa Activist shares her plight of not being able to access herbs from the forest due to the restrictions by the UWA.
Edreda Dingoli a Mutwa Activist shares her plight of not being able to access herbs from the forest due to the restrictions by the UWA.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 Mr. Balyasima Godfrey (Incharge warden of Semliki Np) and Ms. Norah Bumbi the community liaison officer of UWA take a photo with the Batwa women defenders after the advocacy meeting.
Mr. Balyasima Godfrey (Incharge warden of Semliki Np) and Ms. Norah Bumbi the community liaison officer of UWA take a photo with the Batwa women defenders after the advocacy meeting.

 

Mr. Godfrey Balyasima informed the WHRD-Rwenzori Reginal Network UWA will continue to work with the Batwa Community
Mr. Godfrey Balyasima informed the WHRD-Rwenzori Reginal Network UWA will continue to work with the Batwa Community

 

 

4. WHRDs of the West Nile Regional Network: express solidarity with women defending rights of sex workers.

The West Nile Regional Network of 20 women defenders from Zombo, Adjumani, Moyo, Koboko, and Nebbi took a collective joint action to support and demonstrate solidarity to women defending the rights of sex workers in Arua district.

The women defenders from the West Nile Regional Network are involved in defending various rights like land rights, civil rights, political rights, sexual and reproductive rights, rights of sex workers and fighting against GBV, widow inheritance, discrimination, and injustices in their communities.

On 2nd September 2021, the WHRDs interfaced with the women defending the rights of sex workers who raised concerns of stigmatization, discrimination and arbitrary arrests from duty bearers. During the meeting, the WHRDs appreciated and encouraged the women defending rights of sex workers to continue defending and promoting human rights.

The Arua women defending rights of sex workers, demonstrated their appreciation of the support from West Nile -WHRD-Regional- Network when they mentioned on the flip charts that:

  • “Sex workers defenders from today feel supported by the West Nile WHRDs Regional Network, thank you! Thank you!”
  • “Thank you! Appreciation to West Nile Human Rights Defenders Network for your solidarity protection to women defending the rights of sex workers in Arua district.”

WHRDNU continues to create platforms that enable women defenders to network and express solidarity to fellow women in different regions.

WHRDs of West Nile Regional Network (raising hands) as a symbol of sisterhood
WHRDs of West Nile Regional Network (raising hands) as a symbol of sisterhood

 

Women defending the rights of sex workers express their appreciation.
Women defending the rights of sex workers express their appreciation.

VIRTUAL COORDINATION MEETING FOR WESTNILE- WHRDS REGIONAL NETWORK.

 

Over 9 women from Zombo, Arua, Nebbi and Adjumani districts convened in their physical locations and attended an online meeting organized by Women Human Rights Defenders Network Uganda (WHRDNU) on 27th July 2021 from 8:30am to 12pm. The theme of the meeting was “Local Networking among WHRDs is crucial for supporting WHRDs at risk.” The meeting focused on the importance of local networking in West Nile region.

In her remarks, Ms. Brenda Kugonza of the WHRDN-U welcomed members and thanked them for advocating for peace, justice and equality in the region. She further noted that WHRDs in West Nile work tirelessly to defend women, girls, land, economic and freedom of expression rights while also fighting against gender-based violence, discrimination and widow inheritance.

However, Ms. Brenda Kugonza noted that as WHRDs defend human rights, secretariat has received reports of the challenges WHRDs face such as hostility, harassment, verbal and sexual assault by state and non-state actors and that the ongoing violations can result in damaging their physical, emotional and energy levels.

The following comments from participants illustrate the current situation of the threats faced by WHRDs based in West Nile:

  • People tell you remember your past before you talk to us, you lost your marriage and even failed to marry,” said Oroma Prisca.
  • “Cyber-attacks when defending women,” mentioned Amviko Caroline.
  • “Like us in the media, we are being told to first get married, they say get married before you come to talk to us, you are not even marriage material, first bring back your husband.” Mami Maimuna.
  • “Torture – psychological, emotional, and social,” shared Bileru Knight.

Ms. Brenda Kugonza from WHRDNU called upon the women defenders to practice self-care and healing from time to time. She noted human rights work can take a toll on their mental health and they shouldn’t reach a point of breaking down before they take a break.

In the plenary discussions, participants discussed how to improve coordination of the regional network:

  • “These meetings are about caring for each other.” Said Ocotuku Mercy from Arua district.
  • In West Nile, I think through the coordination meetings we will share our needs in areas of protection, safety and self-care,” Asibazuyo Lilian from Arua district.
  • “If you are not psychologically stable, you cannot counsel someone. So, we have to take care of our bodies and mental health,” remarked Adokwin Emmanuella from Zombo district.
  • “We can improve coordination through having WhatsApp groups,” said Adiru Gladys.
  • “Facilitate dialogues at regional level between women defenders representing various social movements in our regions so that they benefit and also participate in joint actions to ensure women defenders safety and protection,” Adokwin Emmanuella requested.
  • Stella Biryema from Zombo district said, “coordination meetings promote the growth and building of local networks to defend women defenders at risk.”
  • “We get demoralized sometimes when we get attacked by our communities, it also hurts to work alone and it is important to work together, we also need someone to lead us in the region,” submitted Oroma Prisca from Nebbi district.

The women defenders were encouraged to get each other’s contacts so that they can be able to check up on each other as well as stand with women defenders at risk. Phone contacts were shared and exchanged by members during the meeting.

Members suggested having an active WhatsApp group to ease coordination and networking in the region. Building good relationships with stakeholders like the police. Maintaining and having a positive attitude when they go out to do human rights work. These were recommendations raised to help members overcome the challenges women defenders face.

Participants attending the zoom meeting in their physical locations.

COORDINATION MEETING OF KARAMOJA WHRD REGIONAL NETWORK.

 

The Women Human Rights Defenders Network Uganda (WHRDN-U) seeks to support and facilitate WHRD regional network coordination. The key aim is to help improve response and the effectiveness of the local regional WHRD network mechanisms in rural contexts. On 23rd July 2021, under the theme “Local Networking among WHRDs is crucial for supporting WHRDs at risk,’’ WHRDN-U conducted a zoom coordination meeting for over 14 WHRDs as a space to help improve collective understanding around coordination, documenting incidences of attacks and reports cases of WHRDs at risk to WHRDN-U secretariat. While the meeting was online, the WHRDs converged in physical locations in Amudat, Moroto, Kaabong, Nakapiririt, Napak, Nanduget and Kotido districts of Karamoja region.

Ms. Brenda Kugonza, of the WHRDN-U outlined the meeting objective stating that the discussions will cover, situation of women defenders in the region, gathering information on attacks. submission of reports and documentation of attacks.

Ms. Brenda Kugonza, gave an overview of the situation, highlighting the human rights work done by WHRDs, the reports on challenges, threats and fears Rwenzori WHRDs received at secretariat. Ms. Brenda acknowledged that WHRDs in the region were involved in defending land rights, freedom of speech, access to information, mining and environmental rights and fighting against GBV/Violence against children, patriarchy and Female Genital Mutilation. Ms. Brenda informed participants that the WHRDN-U secretariat was receiving reports of violations against women defenders in Karamoja region notably; restrictions on their freedom of expression, state actors’ refusal to recognize the work of women defenders in the region, infringing on their right to association and lack of appreciation of the work of WHRDs from their communities, discrimination and intimidation. She further inquired if some participants were experiencing similar challenges & threats. With regards to threats and challenges, below are WHRD’s voice;

  • Sending threatening pictures like a man holding a gun, shared Alosikin Merab from Amudat district.
  • Restrictions on access to information ‘sometimes you go to police to defend someone and they don’t give you any information’ said Nambuya Fiona from Moroto district.
  • Threats of losing marriages and not being married – ‘husbands are always told that they can’t control a woman who is a WHRD’ revealed Mary Lopuka from Nakapiririt district.
  • When you are sensitizing communities about FGM, they tell you, you must be a victim of FGM that is the reason why you know all about it, mentioned Cepohysiyo Janet from Amudat district.

In addition, participants were informed that they face a variety of problems related to their mental and physical health. In particular, the issues related to showing signs of fatigue, exhaustion and stress which indicated lack of self-care for themselves. Brenda Kugonza asked why WHRDs neglected their own self-care & wellbeing.  In response, Dorcus Chelain from Amudat district said ‘’we feel guilty to take breaks yet our people need us- sometimes we are overwhelmed with many sad cases that need our urgent attention.’’ Thus, the meeting highlighted the importance of selfcare and well-being and recommended that WHRDs learn to take off breaks for their own self-care and healing in order to avoid burn-outs, stress and also relax to feel better. For instance, “let’s create healing spaces for women defenders in regions to remove stress and traumas,’’ said Joyce Chemutai from Amudat district.

In conclusion, the meeting provided a great platform for dialogue and collaboration to review the need for stronger local support networks for WHRDs. The participants formulated recommendations to improve coordination, networking and support WHRDs at risk. They included;

  • Timely reporting of incidence of threats against WHRDs to WHRDN-U secretariat
  • Members suggested to have regular coordination meetings
  • Requested WHRDN-U team to visit regions when COVID-19 lock down measures are eased to provide on-site mentoring support to regional focal persons.
  • Exchanged telephone contacts to maintain communication and sharing of information
  • “Regional networks will help denounce violations against women defenders”, said Amiya Shannon from Napak district.
  • “Regional coordination meetings will help to promote recognition of women’s work and contribution in human rights.” Dorcus Chelain of Amudat district.

Members shared contacts during the zoom meeting as seen below.

Members participating in the meeting.

 

 

VIRTUAL COORDINATION MEETING FOR RWENZORI – WHRDS -REGIONAL NETWORK.

 

On 22 July 2021, the Women Human Rights Defenders Network Uganda (WHRDN-U) convened a zoom coordination meeting for WHRDs based in Rwenzori region under the theme “Local Networking among WHRDs is crucial for supporting WHRDs at risk.” The meeting attracted over 18 women defenders who gathered in their physical locations from Kasese, Kabarole, Katwe, Bundibugyo, and Bulisa districts.

The coordination meeting aimed at improving the capacity of grass root regional WHRD networks to protect women human rights defenders at risk. It also provided a platform for women defenders to share their experiences of threats, fears and challenges faced in defending human rights work.

Women human rights defenders participating in the meeting had this to say about their experiences of threats, challenges, fears and attacks

  • “Some people abuse us that If you failed to manage your own children whose child, do you think you will manage, why are you interfering with our culture.” Kyobutungi Maureen of Kabarole district.
  • “Detention of WHRDs – ‘someone times you come in as a defender you are also arrested without even fair hearing.” Mawa Juliet Masika of Katwe district.
  • “I have received threats of rape, office break ins, and telling me to reduce my voice or I will die because of defending rights of sex workers.” Rose Kahunde of Kasese district

For her part, Ms. Brenda Kugonza thanked women defenders for their resilience and commitment to defending human rights noting that women defenders from Rwenzori region worked on a wide range of areas- rights of sex workers, rights of indigenous people (Batwa), women’s rights, land rights, business and human rights, environmental rights and working to dismantle patriarchy moreover in extremely difficult contexts and circumstances. In her remarks however, Ms. Brenda Kugonza informed participants that throughout the period of Lockdown, WHRDN-U secretariat received reports showing the challenges faced by members of Rwenzori WHRDs Network including:

  • Emotional blackmail
  • Discrimination against women defenders by duty bearers
  • Being branded as immoral women corrupting society.
  • And their meetings/gatherings being dispersed by duty bearers.

Speaking at the meeting, Kabagenyi Peluce, the focal person concurred with Ms. Brenda’s report of the challenges they were facing and thanked WHRDNU for organizing the meeting to ensure that their pertinent issues were heard and addressed.

In her presentation concerning how to improve the local network in the region, Ms. Brenda Kugonza, of the WHRDN-U, encouraged women defenders to document incidences of attacks against women defenders noting that documenting brings visibility and legitimacy to the work and contributions of women human rights defenders. She further noted that documenting allows us to record our experiences as human rights defenders and as women that if there is no record of the violations inflicted upon women defenders, the violations will not be known by the public. By the end of the meeting, WHRDs demonstrated the ability to coordinate grass root WHRDs, document attacks, and report cases to secretariat, when they gave the following proposals regarding collaboration, coordination and documenting and reporting cases of attacks against WHRDs.

  • They committed to opportunities of collaboration when they exchanged phone contacts. Members shared their phone numbers in the chat during the zoom meeting. They also suggested that they create a social media platform for the Rwenzori WHRDs Network.
  • “Coordination can surely improve if only we can keep in touch with each other and our district focal persons.” said Jacklyn Bwenge of Kasese district.
  • “Thank you, WHRDN-U, through the coordination meeting you will help provided a shared understanding of the violence women defenders face in our region.’’ Kabalisa Rhoda of Bundibugyo district
  • ‘’We need to have forums like this to encourage mobilization of women defenders to come together leading to a smooth flow of information between secretariat and the region,’’ said Peninah Zaninka from Kisoro district.
  • “In these meetings I get to know the sufferings of our sisters.” Peluce Kabagenyi of Rwenzori

The meeting also involved discussions on self-care and well-being. During the meeting, it was empathized that WHRDs need to take care of their mental and physical health through taking off time to rest and relax. Meeting as a Network for leisure activities like having dinner.  Participants went ahead to discuss the toll of stress, trauma and social exclusion on their mental health as there is a lot of stigma faced at community level. ‘’This leads to risks such as mental breakdown and distress due to psychological torture.” Musoki Elizabeth of Kasese.

Members gathered in physical locations to attend the zoom meeting.

 

 

VIRTUAL COORDINATION MEETING FOR ACHOLI – WHRDS -REGIONAL NETWORK.

Over eight WHRDs from Gulu, Kitgum, Omoro and Pader districts, participated in a virtual meeting for the Acholi WHRD regional network. The meeting on 21st July 2021 from 8:30am to 12pm was under theme “Local Networking among WHRDs is crucial for supporting WHRDs at risk”. The women defenders gathered in their physical locations and joined the meeting online.

Speaking to the participants, Ms. Brenda Kugonza of Women Human Rights Defenders Network Uganda (WHRDNU) thanked them for the work of defending rights. She informed members how despite the COVID-19 crisis, they continued to fight against child marriages, GBV/FGM, widow inheritance, land grabbing and defending rights of LGBTQ persons and sex workers.

Ms. Brenda Kugonza also told members that reports received at secretariat from WHRDs in the region reveal that WHRDs continue to suffer from smear campaigns, eviction from their communities, being accused of promoting immorality and being assaulted physically on several occasions. That also lack of recognition of their human rights work since in their communities’ women activists are perceived as bad women, not being good wives, failure to attend to issues in the private sphere (their homes).

Participants also acknowledged the existence of social and traditional norms in the region that have posed grave obstacles for women defenders since it is unheard of for a woman to actively participate in public spaces. For instance Christine Achan from Gulu district was rejected by her community and forced to relocate. ‘’ I have been beaten on several occasions and recently I was being evicted from the house I was in and WHRDNU came in and supported me to relocate to another place, she told members. ‘’Threatening calls and messages, exposing nude pictures are the experiences we go through in handling our roles as Human rights defenders and sometimes it’s discouraging,’’ shared Agenorwot Fiona from Gulu district.

In the plenary discussions, participants discussed how to improve coordination of the regional network:

  • “To improve on coordination for effective reporting, we need to know contacts of fellow defenders and know the regional and districts focal persons,’’ submitted Ataro Juliet from Kitgum district. This would enable a woman defender at risk to reach out for support from the local network thus defending her from her attackers.
  • Effective coordination within the region promotes positive advocacy. It then leads to having and growing a strong movement of women of all walks of life coming out to defend rights of everyone. More solutions like having regular dialogues, check in meetings and practicing self-care were recommended by members to build a local support system for WHRDs at risk.
  • “I think as a regional network we will respond quick to women defenders in danger.” Teddy Ayo of Acholi
  • “Coordination means to share contacts so that WHRDs can communicate to each other in the region.” Aloyo Teopista of Gulu district.

 

Members pose for a photo during the meeting.

VIRTUAL COORDINATION MEETING FOR ALBERTINE – WHRDS -REGIONAL NETWORK.

On 20th July 2021, 18 Women human rights defenders from Albertine (Kagadi, Hoima, Bulisa and Masindi districts) region were in attendance of a zoom meeting hosted by Women Human Rights Defenders Network Uganda (WHRDNU).  Under the theme Local Networking among WHRDs is crucial for supporting WHRDs at risk’’. The meeting was organized to foster a strong local network in the Albertine region to promote rapid response to cases as a team.

Ms. Brenda Kugonza of the WHRDN-U, commended the good work of WHRDs, she informed members that WHRDs in the regions are involved in various work of defending human rights including; land rights, women’s rights, mining rights, and minority rights.

Ms. Brenda Kugonza, in her remarks, noted that the purpose of the meeting was to facilitate dialogue among women defenders to create a local support system for them. It was also to build capacity to respond to cases at local level. She urged members to offer guidance, solutions or suggestions on how to strengthen joint action to ensure WHRDs are safe and protected.

Ms. Brenda during the meeting expressed concerns of fears, attacks and threats against women defenders emphasizing that over time, the WHRDNU secretariat documented the following challenges, risks and threats among WHRDs in the region:

  • Arbitrary arrests
  • Threats of closing their organizations by duty bearers
  • Threats to harm their families
  • Sexual harassment from male duty bearers
  • And hate from their communities.
  • Being asked for Identification/ documents that allow them to do Human Rights work.

 

In the plenary discussions, participants shared their experience of fears below;

  • ‘’We are being undermined as women and being called women who can’t be married-this is all done to shut us down,’’ said Janepher Baitwamasa the Focal person of Albertine region.
  • Insults for example you look like a prostitute, failure in marriage, you are a childless woman or barren, shared Jolly Bategeka from Hoima district.
  • ‘’Sexual harassment like bad touches even by law enforcement when reporting abuses, rape, nick- naming Albertine,’’ said Atugonza Harriet from Kagadi district.
  • Revenge porn and Blackmail, reported Ajok Flavia from Masindi district.
  • Sexual harassment – ‘’I one time went to police to seek for help but this police officer first asked me for sex before he helps with the case… This is tricky because if you don’t yield your issue isn’t addressed’’ explained Alinda Juliet from Buliisa district.

Among the suggestions brought forth to curb these challenges experienced by WHRDs were;

  • To continue naming violations against Women defenders, to lobby the government to recognize WHRDs as essential workers in this lockdown, provision of psychological support and a platform to share issues that can be handled jointly as a team in the region.
  • Ruth Namuyiga from Hoima district suggested continuous capacity building workshops for WHRDS, motivation of the defenders, creating local networks which are easily accessible to them in their local communities.
  • More trainings, self-care workshops and regional meetings were key activities that WHRDNU committed to have for the women defenders.
  • To me regional coordination is about sustainability of women’s movements and struggles, said Kabagenyi Marion from Hoima district.

Regional networks will help us be together said Joy Rugunda from Hoima district

Members are seen participating in the zoom meeting below;

Brenda Kugonza attending the zoom meeting

Human Rights Defenders Law Collaborators’ speak.

Caption: Brenda Kugonza E.D WHRDNU attending the zoom meeting.

The Human Rights Defenders Law Collaborators’ convened on 21 July 2021 from 11:00am to 12:30pm over a zoom meeting to discuss and get up to speed with how far the Human Rights Defenders Protection Bill has advanced. The Bill was moved by Hon. Lyandro Komakech in the 10th Parliament with support from Defenders Protection Initiative which overlooked all the processes of developing, modelling and tabling the bill.

The bill has seconders and collaborators who include

The collaborators’ contributed to the forming of this bill through providing timely research, experiences, finances and coordinating with key committees in parliament to make sure the bill was prepared and read on the floor of parliament. For instance WHRDNU was glad to provide a gender lens to the Bill alluding to the unique harassment Women Human Rights Defenders face doing their work.

‘By the close of the 10th Parliament, the Bill had had its first reading and had been scrutinized by the Human Rights Committee of Parliament and was almost reaching the Legal and Parliamentary Affairs Committee,’ reported Ms. Helen Namyalo from DPI. She also informed collaborators that the latest version of the HRD Protection Bill will be availed to members as soon as possible. This will enable members make informed decisions regarding the Bill.

It was noted with concern that the mover of the bill Hon.Lyandro Komakech had not returned to the 11th parliament. DPI promised to remain in contact with the seconders of the bill to ensure its progress.

Ms. Christine Candiru the Coordinator of Greater North Parliamentary Forum told members at the meeting that the Speaker of Parliament, Hon. Jacob Oulanyah is aware of the two Bills i.e. the Legal Aid Bill and the HRDs’ Protection Bill. He is in full support of the Bills and it was highly hoped that they would be given priority to see that they pass this year (2021).

Members raised questions on how to engage new members of Parliament noting that the bill needed someone with influence to bring other MPs on board in order to pass it. The new Chairperson of the Human Rights Committee Mr. Fox Odoi deputized by Janepher Kyomuhendo were named as key allies in having the Bill passed into law. Media engagements were cited as necessary to provide mileage to our advocacy.

Ms. Brenda Kugonza the E.D. of Women Human Rights Defenders Network Uganda (WHRDNU) thanked the organizers of the meeting and pledged full support to enhance advocacy to have the bill passed into law. She also noted the importance of having a specific Law that protects Women Human Rights Defenders which will improve the conditions of their work.