Championing Equality and Equity for All
On 11th September 2023, WHRDNU led a group of WHRDs from diverse social movements and different parts of Uganda for a special meeting with the Honourable Chairperson of the Equal Opportunities Commission of Uganda Ms. Safia Nalule
The women defenders sharing a group photo with Ms. Safia Nalule
Their mission was to talk to Ms. Safia about the challenges and attacks. ‘You see, these women had been working tirelessly to protect human rights and promote equality. But they were often attacked and discriminated against. Some people even said that they should leave the job of defending human rights to men.’ Said Sarah Kabagenyi from the Association of Bundibugyo Women with Disability Living with HIV/AIDs.
According to Hon. Safia, this was a memorable day because she had never sat down with indigenous peoples/ethnic minorities —the Batwa and Bennet WHRDs. WHRDs, sat down with Ms. Safia to share their stories. They wanted her to understand what they were going through when promoting gender equality and fighting against discrimination and prejudice. Hon. Safia was touched by their dedication. To her, this meeting was historic because it brought together women from different rights categories. She praised their efforts to fight discrimination and ensure gender equality.
Lenah the programs coordinator of WHRDNU explained that in 2017 the Women Human Rights Defenders Network Uganda was formed and now operates as a non-governmental organization with the goal of protecting women defenders who were at the forefront of defending human rights.
Brenda of the WHRDNU spoke passionately about how women defenders had been working hard to promote equality and fight discrimination. However, they faced many challenges, including violence and lack of support. They were attacked just because they were women and for defending human rights.
Hon. Safia then explained the commission’s mandate. She encouraged the WHRDs to collect and share important gender-related information with district officials. She asked them to report any discrimination cases so they could be investigated. This way, they would work closely with the Equal Opportunities Commission and advocate with evidence.
During the meeting, WHRDs shared their personal experiences. It was emotional. They talked about discrimination based on gender, disability, HIV status, marital status, and ethnic background, neglect of indigenous Batwa and Bennet people, discrimination against women with disabilities, domestic violence, and more.
- ‘Juliet defending land rights and GBV said that women are left out on government programs like PDM and Emyoga. They usually include people who are not even legible for the benefit’
- ‘Sandra of UWOPA said that women MPS face d domestic violence and yet they had nowhere to report for fear of being ashamed, they were also ignorant of the gender-related programs in place and needed capacity building training’
- ‘Bongomin Alice (children’s rights) said that women are overwhelmed by the responsibilities of taking care of their homes because men abandoned their responsibilities and spent most of their time drinking. The drinking also makes them beat their wives and cause domestic violence in homes.’
- ‘Generous (Land Rights Defender) said that women were denied land rights and yet they are vulnerable when it comes to taking up responsibilities of the home. When they demonstrated against lack of power in government hospitals they were accused of inciting violence and yet children were dying in the hospitals.’
- ‘Stella (GBV rights) said that they have a GBV shelter that has put them at risk of threats attack from domestic violence perpetrators who claim that they take their women from their homes. She narrated about an incident of an acid attack on their security guard that was intended for the ED.’
- ‘Biira said that women are denied land rights including widows and orphans. This especially applied to the women who lost their husbands during the Kasese palace massacre. Family members of these women attack her for fighting for these women’s rights to land.’
- Shannon (Mining rights defender) said that she once handled a case of a deaf person who was abused at the hospital and failed to get services due to discrimination. That the companies extracting minerals exploit the local people who are denied any benefits from the minerals. They are beaten and even sometimes arrested. The companies excavate the land and destroy the environment as well yet no one condemns them.’
- Grace said ‘As defenders of sexual and reproductive health, they are labeled as prostitutes, face physical and verbal attacks from local leaders and are labeled as spreading immorality yet they are supporting women with HIV prevention and response services of drugs and condom supplies.’
- Atim said ‘We are involved in demanding land rights yet they have no representative for disability at the sub-counties. She works as the only defender for disability rights yet she faces discrimination and non-recognition, she was even chased away from the district council meetings after being labeled as loud and disruptive.’
- Sara defending disability rights said ‘We face discrimination and side-lining from benefiting from the government programs for the disabilities because they always put the wrong people who are not even disabled. She has multiple challenges including HIV, yet she faces attacks for speaking out on injustice.
- Edreda defending ethnic minority rights said ‘We were chased away from their ancestral land and not given clear settlement areas. We are discriminated against even from benefiting from government programs like PDM and the elderly grant. When they go to hospitals no one attends to them claiming that they smell.’
- Sange representing ethnic indigenous Benet said, ‘We were chased away from their ancestral home and yet are not recognized as eligible to benefit from government programs.’ She has approached any offices including RDC but has not gotten the required support. She has fought against FGM and has faced attacks from cultural leaders calling her disruptive of norms.
- Rashida said, ‘I am facing attacks from the Muslim leaders for fighting for the land which belongs to a community school. I am facing threats of arrests and beatings and was forced to relocate from my home district because my life was being threatened.’
This meeting became a platform to investigate reported discrimination cases and create collaboration between WHRDs and the Equal Opportunities Commission.
Ms. Safia recognized the amazing work of these women defenders and promised to reach out to government officials to ensure they had equal opportunities for empowerment. She introduced Counsel Jonathan as the contact person for the commission.
To protect WHRDs and help them in their work, Hon. Safia committed to working with district community development officers and the Uganda Wildlife Authority. This partnership aimed to provide local support networks and ensure their safety.
In a touching gesture, Ms. Safia promised to participate in celebrations organized by WHRDs to commemorate WHRDs Day on November 29th. This showed that the commission acknowledged and appreciated the hard work of these women defenders.