On Friday 19th February, 2021, Women Human Rights Defenders Network Uganda conducted a half day planning meeting with the heads of thematic working action groups held at the Women Human Rights Defenders Network Uganda offices. The objective of the meeting was to provide a platform of sharing experiences on the impact of COVID-19 and election period on the work of WHRDs, reflecting on the responsibilities of thematic heads and discuss strategies of mobilizing WHRDs of thematic action working groups.
Ms. Brenda Kugonza appreciated WHRDs for continuing denouncing human rights violations in the face of the difficult times of COVID-19 and concluded elections ‘‘during these times we continued to denounce human rights violations“ she said. She emphasized that WHRDs are advocates of justice and equality.
The WHRDN-U received cases of human rights violation from all thematic action working groups of different regions, WHRDN-U managed to offer support and protection for the safety of the WHRDs whose lives were in danger, one of the serious cases received at the secretariat was acid attack in Gomba, WHRD was a Vitim of Acid attacks her face was disfiguring due to her work of defending rights.
“We face challenges with our male counterparts, the LBQ women are attacked for their identity and how they want to dress” Jay Abang said.
WHRD-U is gradually building its capacity to provide different kinds of support that help to guarantee protection of WHRDs by sharing support offered by WHRD-U to WHRDs, WHRDN-U supported the HOIMA coordinator of Women Living with HIV with legal support –when RDC, summoned her for distributing food to sex workers and thus spreading COVID-19.
Ms. Jenifer Baitwamasa said that referrals that WHRDN-U make are very helpful because the network follows up to ensure that people are supported”.
“When the case is not ours, we refer it and still follow up until the person has been helped” Jay Abang added.
WHRD-U emphasized that thematic focal persons to invite WHRDN-U staff to participate in their activities both in Kampala and upcountry-for networking, sharing best practices thematic focal persons and learning purposes.
Brenda Kugonza asked each thematic working group to identify 2 focal persons per thematic field of work during jointly meeting with thematic focal persons between April and May 2021 and to involve thematic focal persons in WHRDN-U activity implementation or interventions (up- country field trips, policy & advocacy).
Heads of thematic groups shared concerns and problems in supporting WHRDs at risk, this resulted in to general recommendations for members of WHRDN-U which encouraged a safer and a more supportive environment for WHRDs and for effective response to needs of WHRDs.
On the 27th November 2020, a group of Women Human Rights Defenders convened at the Alliance Of Women Advocating for Change offices to commemorate the International Day of Women Human Rights Defenders that is celebrated on 29th November every year. The theme for this years commemoration was “In the uncertain times of COVID-19: WHRDN-U calls for the recognition of the essential work of Women Human Rights Defenders.”
Some of the key messages shared by Women Human Rights Defenders as they commemorated the International Women Human Rights Day
💬I am Mary Asili a WHRD supporting survivors of gender based violence from Tororo Mifumi. COVID-19 changed the way we did our work. Access to services by GBV survivors was a challenge, survivors were told not to report cases to police until the lock down was lifted. pic.twitter.com/mWlmA18HSU
Betty from Mbale, working for the rights of LBQTI and sex workers. 💬As a WHRD I was intimidated and feared to continue doing my work. Efforts to enforce curfews and lockdowns resulted into fear by women and girls to go to hospital to seek sexual reproductive health care. pic.twitter.com/651MsbWen3
On 5th November 2020, Oxfam Uganda and Uganda Women’s Network launched the “Enough” campaign at Mestil Hotel aiming to put at an end to the violence against women and girls in Uganda. Rita Aciro, the Executive Director of UWONET during her opening remarks, emphasized the importance of having a society that respects women and girls.
Today 5th Nov 2020, the Women Human Rights Defenders Network Uganda is humbled to withess the launch of the Enough campaign in Uganda with an aim of ending violence against women and girls that is embedded in cultural social norms. #FlipTheScriptUGpic.twitter.com/hOnEcNh9ij
The Women Human Rights Defenders Network Uganda, with support from Urgent Action Fund For Africa organised a 4 (four) day Self Care, Wellbeing and Collective Healing Capacity building Workshop for two groups of Women Human Rights Defenders Thematic Action groups. The first workshop comprising of representatives of the thematic working groups run from August 11th-12th 2020, and the second group comprised of regional focal persons, run from 13th-14th August 2020 at Eureka Place Hotel Ntinda.
Self Care and Collective Healing
The workshop was aimed at creating a relaxed and soothing environment where Women Human Rights Defenders would focus on their well being and come together to collectively heal from all the trauma and stress that comes along with their work.
Brenda Kugonza emphasizes achieving wellness in all aspects: economically, socially, physically
Lois Acheng, a counselor leads a session on self care
Messages of encouragement, self belief and self love were re-echoed by the Women Human Rights Defenders to collectively heal together as they talked about dealing with trauma. It is important to heal one self before helping others, is what they unanimously agreed to while listening to each others stories.
Dr Linda Birungi, a gynecologist from Reproductive Health Uganda led sessions discussing sexual reproduction, family planning and best health practices. Health risks and dangers like cervical and breast cancer were discussed at length to ensure Women Human Rights defenders seek treatment and help before developing complications while working.
Dr Linda Birungi- It’s important to go for cervical cancer screening every 3 years
Group photo of Women HRDs with Dr Lind Birungi
Wellness and Healing
Mildred Apenyo, a woman’s rights activist and C.E.O of Flitclique Africa , an organization empowering and creating safe spaces for women, conducted therapy and relaxation sessions with Women HRDs to release fatigue from their bodies. Candles, ornaments, yoga and exercises were some of the tools and routines they were taken through as part of their healing.
A masseuse was also invited to massage and sooth body muscles to release any kind of stress and fatigue on the body. A healthy body is a healthy mind, so it is important for Women Human Rights Defenders to have healthy bodies to continue with their work without difficulty.
Practical Self Care & Mutual Support
The workshop was concluded by officially launching a new culture of activism that is rooted in Practical Self-Care and mutual support as a necessary condition of Women’s movement in Uganda.
Brenda Kugonza, the Executive Director of the Women Human Rights Defenders Network Uganda, presented a position paper by Women Human Rights Defenders on the need and relevance of a gender perspective in the Human Rights Defenders Protection bill. “Women’s unique issues and concerns while protecting rights of others should be put into full consideration as the bill is drafted.”
Rights of all individuals should be respected and reflected in the bill to ensure equal leveled ground while carrying out work. Women Human Rights Defenders across all regions from the country gave accounts of the different violations and threats they face while working.
It is important to WHRDN-U that Women Human Rights Defenders are well represented in this bill, and this was central to the discussions held. Hon Lucy Akello, who sits on the Human Rights Parliamentary committee welcomed the idea of ensuring women’s voices and rights are well respected in drafting the bill.
Mary Lamunu, welcomed the timely intervention and discussion and emphasized the need for WHRDs issues to be well laid out in the bill. The discussion held resulted in the members agreeing to champion this cause going forward in Parliament.
The COVID-19 pandemic has affected many sectors and notably too, the work of Women Human Rights Defenders in Uganda. Brenda Kugonza, the Executive Director of Women Human Rights Defenders Network Uganda, with other members of the network analyzed the effect the pandemic has had on WHRDs in a 2 page feature in the Daily Monitor. Read full article here.