Expression of solidarity with Sex workers Women Human Rights Defenders in Kabarole

The Rwenzori Women Human Rights Defenders Network express solidarity with female sex workers from Kabarole district during Moonlight activity.

On the night of 24th March 2022, 22 Women Human Rights Defenders (WHRDs) from the Rwenzori region paid a protection solidarity visit to Female Sex workers defenders in Kabarole district. The solidarity visit took place at a Moonlight activity and comprised of;

Composition of WHRDS that made the protection solidarity visit.

  • 5 WHRDs from Kabarole district (4 defending rights of sex workers and 1 Female Journalist WHRD.
  • 1 WHRD defending rights of Gold miners from Mubende
  • 7 WHRDS defending rights of gold miners in Katwe
  • 1 WHRD from Ntoroko defending rights of victims of Gender Based Violence (GBV)
  •  4 WHRDs from Bundibugyo ( 1 WHRD defending land rights and 3 WHRDs defending rights of the Batwa indigenous community.
  • 3 WHRDs from Kasese district. 1 defending rights of the disabled, 1 defending rights of GBV victims and 1 defending rights of sex workers.
Expression of solidarity with Sex workers Women Human Rights Defenders in Kabarole
Expression of solidarity with Sex workers Women Human Rights Defenders in Kabarole

Challenges faced by Sex Workers Women Human Rights Defenders

During the solidarity visit, the Sex Workers Women Human Rights Defenders (SWHRDs) expressed concerns of challenges they are facing due to the nature of their work that include:

  • Threats from clients
  • Raids on their homes
  • Physical attacks
  • Police surveillance while conducting health outreach work
  • Threats to relocation from the area they sell sex after becoming known HRDs
  • Public defamation campaigns
  • Discriminatory exclusion from policy making
Moonlight activity
Moonlight activity

 

 

 

Karamoja Regional WHRDS Network graoup photo with peace mediators

Karamoja Regional Women Human Rights Defenders Network visit and express solidarity with peace mediators in Kotido district.

Twenty three (23) Women Human Rights defenders from Karamoja region visited and stood in solidarity with peace mediators in Kotido district. The visit that took place on 18th March 2022 began with a meet up with peace mediators  in Rengen sub county and later at Nakere Rural Women’s Activities (NARWOA) head offices.

Karamoja Regional WHRDS meet with peace mediators at Rengen sub-county
                                       Karamoja Regional WHRDS meet with peace mediators at Rengen sub-county

Solidarity visit to Peace Mediators at Rengen sub-county

The peace mediators have played a pivotal role in conflict resolution in the region amidst the disarmament process and cattle rustling grappling the region. The Karamoja regional WHRDS expressed solidarity and sisterhood with them, thanking them for the pacifying role they play in Karamoja. Despite continued personal attacks due to their work, the peace makers vowed to continue brokering peace in the region.

Karamoja Regional WHRDS express solidarity with peace mediators
Karamoja Regional WHRDS express solidarity with peace mediators

Despite the ongoing psychological, social and economic attacks on their personal lives due to the nature of their conflict resolving work, the peace makers vowed to continue mediating peace in their communities and thanked the Karamoja Regional Women Human Rights Defenders for visiting and expressing solidarity with them.

The peace mediators at Rengen sub-county
The peace mediators at Rengen sub-county

Karamoja Regional WHRDS dance with peace mediators after their visit and expression of solidarity

Solidarity visit to Peace Mediators at Nakere Rural Women’s Activities head offices

Following the visit to peace mediators in Rengen sub-county, the Karamoja Regional WHRDs visited the peace mediators at Nakere Rural Women’s Activities head offices in Kotido. The visit, coordinated by the Ms. Aata Jessica, the Regional focal person of WHRDN-U in Karamoja began with her welcome remarks to the WHRDs visiting.

Listen to Ms Aata Jessica welcome WHRDS to NARWOA’s offices.

The peace mediators at NARWOA expressed their gratitude with the visit from fellow WHRDS in the region and called for more sisterhood and collective efforts in peace mediation in the region. They promised to continue supporting each other in their different fields as well as strengthen the network so that they aren’t easily isolated and targeted as peace mediators in Karamoja.

Karamoja Regional WHRDS express solidarity with peace mediators
                                               Karamoja Regional WHRDS express solidarity with peace mediators

Karamoja Regional WHRDS tour NARWOA offices.

WHRDS tour NARWOA offices
                                                                                            WHRDS tour NARWOA offices

 

Group photo
                                                                                                 Group photo

 

 

 

Brenda Kugonza facilitates a session on the legal framework for HRDs

Karamoja Regional Women Human Rights Defenders attend 2 day workshop on safety and rights awareness

Women Human Rights Defenders Network Uganda (WHRDN-U), in partnership with Civil Rights Defenders, conducted a two days’ workshop for 23 Women Human Rights Defenders from Kotido, Amudat and Kabongo, Nakapiriprit, Napak, Abim, Moroto districts. The WHRDS who form the Karamoja Regional Women Human Rights Defenders Network converged at Kotido Resort Hotel on 17th and 18th March 2022 for the themed workshop ‘Creating Safe Spaces for WHRDS, their rights and safety.’ 

Women Human Rights Defenders introduce themselves during the 2 day workshop
Women Human Rights Defenders introduce themselves during the 2 day workshop

Workshop Objective

The 2 day workshop meant to strengthen the coordination capacity among the WHRDS in the Karamoja region looked to further;

  • Increase awareness among WHRDs on their rights and their safety.
  • To celebrate the struggles of women and help WHRDs at grass root level feel part of the women’s movement for social justice in Uganda.
  • To improve their understanding and analysis of the violence faced by WHRDs and promote collective and feminist protection strategies based on their knowledge and experiences.
  • Create awareness on creating safer spaces for WHRDs.

Workshop Flow

The 2 day workshop began with opening remarks from the District focal person, Ms. Ataa Jessica Ruth from Nakere district. She informed the participants that she was privileged to have supported the WHRDN-U secretariat with mobilization and coordination of the workshop. She further emphasized the importance of Karamoja WHRDs coming together to support each other and that whereas WHRDs are doing human rights,they are vulnerable to attacks and smear campaigns in the Karamoja region.

Ms. Ataa Jessica Ruth gives opening remarks
Ms. Ataa Jessica Ruth gives opening remarks

Brenda Kugonza, Executive Director of WHRDN-U also welcomed participants to the workshop. She appreciated WHRDs who have resisted oppression, defended rights and kept resilient. She underlined the need for WHRDs to shoulder each other and acknowledge the contributions we are making in our communities even if we are from various social movements. 

Brenda Kugonza welcomes WHRDS to the 2 day workshop
Brenda Kugonza welcomes WHRDS to the 2 day workshop

River of Life: Reflection on stories of activism

Brenda Kugonza asked each participant to draw a river on a sheet of paper which will represent their individual RIVER OF LIFE. Brenda explained that our lives are never straight lines; the river will inevitably have some curves to it, some rapids, rocks and a few quiet spots along the way. Participants were asked to identify some important moments in their history of activism and place them along the course of the river, the moment when they first became concerned about human rights and the most significant moments in their history as activists.

Participants draw their rivers of life
Participants draw their rivers of life

Understanding who we are as human rights defenders

In this session facilitated by Ms. Asingwire Bonitah from WHRDN-U, it was meant to deepen the definition of a Woman Human Rights defender. The session enabled participants give their own understanding of who a human rights defender is.

Bonita Asingwire facilitates a session on Understanding who a HRD is
Bonita Asingwire facilitates a session on Understanding who a HRD is

Participants share their understanding of who a Human Rights Defender is.

Participants further shared alternative terms that a human rights defender can be referred to as in their different local dialects.

WHRDS share their different terms and examples for human rights defenders
WHRDS share their different terms and examples for human rights defenders

The ‘Flowers of our struggles’ We are part of the human rights movement

In this session facilitated by Brenda Kugonza, participants discussed the strengths and value of women’s movement and establishing WHRD regional networks, noting that movements enable women to use their collective power to bring change , speaking not as individuals organizations  but with a powerful voice that cannot be easily isolated and suppressed. Each member was asked to write and name their stories of their struggles that they have contributed to the strengthening of the women’s and human rights movement.

Flowers of our struggles
Flowers of our struggles
Particiapants reflect on powerful images that inspire their human rights work
Participants reflect on powerful images that inspire their human rights work

The reflection on the photographs made participants feel that they are part of a movement beyond their organizations, groups etc and acknowledged the benefits and strengthens of movements as illustrated below:

  • My reflection on the pictures is that Women don’t fear to stand and speak against violence “Chepar Paulina”
  • Cecilia Dengel mentioned that women are fearless to demonstrate
  • Esther Toto mentioned that women HRDs are confident to demonstrate because they know their rights.
  • Rose Namoe mentioned that women’s movements show that they are brave to advocate for other people’s rights.
  • Maria Kiiza said that the pictures show solidarity amongst WHRDs.
Participant shares her reflection from the human rights inspired photographs
                             Participant shares her reflection from the human rights inspired photographs

WHRDS dance and jubilate at the end of Day 1 of the workshop

DAY TWO 

Understanding the legal framework for defense of human rights defense.

This session facilitated by Brenda Kugonza, was meant to review instruments that support HRDs. Brenda stressed that The UN Declaration on Human Rights Defenders in its preamble, fourth paragraph, defines HRDs as individuals , groups and associations contributing to the elimination of all violations of human rights.”

Brenda Kugonza facilitates a session on the legal framework for HRDs
                                                    Brenda Kugonza facilitates a session on the legal framework for HRDs

The Declaration considers HRDs as rights holders and is an important instrument that can be used to lobby and advocate for the rights of defenders.

 

ISHR and WHRDN-U Oral statement at CEDAW NGO meeting for Uganda Review

                                                                                                                                   

In its list of issues, the Committee asked the State Party to “advise on specific legislative measures in place to protect the rights of women human rights defenders… (para 7)”.

Women human rights defenders in Uganda are facing particular challenges on account not only of transgressing gender norms in taking up the work of promoting and protecting human rights, but also often because of the nature of their work. HRDs identifying as or working with the LGBTI community are at particular risk, as are those working to promote and protect the rights of sex workers. Furthermore, land and environment WHRDs working as parts of communities to oppose resource extraction and mining operations have been threatened and intimidated by non-State actors and a number have faced arrests.

The draft bill on the Protection of Human Rights Defenders was tabled in 2020 and sits before the parliament. The adoption of this bill is important for the recognition of the work of all HRDs and would legitimise their rights to defend rights within the national legal frameworks. We call on CEDAW to recommend that the State genuinely engages with WHRDs to ensure that the bill and its implementation plans are fully gender responsive.

Brenda Kugonza presents statement during Zoom meeting on February 7th 2022
                           Brenda Kugonza presents statement during Zoom meeting on February 7th 2022

Meanwhile, the government of Uganda must review and reform other areas of its legislative framework in order to bring them in line with international standards. In particular, we urge the CEDAW Committee to call on the State to engage with civil society for the review and reform of the following:

  1. The Anti-Terrorism Act (Amendment) of 2015, which contains provisions that may restrict the funding of HRD organisations.
  2. The Computer Misuse Act, 2011 (section 24 and 25 in particular), under which charges of cyber harassment and offensive communication can be
  3. The NGO Act, 2016 restricts the rights to freedom of expression, association and peaceful Application of section 44 can result in restrictions for WHRDs working for groups regarded as illegal, such as sex workers and LGBTI persons.
  4. Section 145 of the Penal Code Act penalises same-sex relations. Further, an Anti- Homosexuality Act was operative for 5 months in 2014; during this period numerous cases of violations against the LGBTI community were reported, including arrest, physical violence and harassment.
  5. The Anti-Pornography Act is often misused against WHRDs promoting rights related to gender and bodily

Women Human Rights Defenders Network Uganda Executive Director, Brenda Kugonza present an oral statement at the CEDAW NGO meeting for Uganda Review on 7th February 2022

 

We stress that that the enactment of a single law on the protection of HRDs is an important step forwards, but insufficient without a holistic review of the legislative environment in which human rights defenders operate in order to address the root causes of the violence and discrimination that WHRDs are facing in Uganda. Thank you.

Sarah Opendi, chairperson uwopa signing the commitment

WOMEN MEMBERS OF PARLIAMENT COMMIT TO FIGHT ONLINE VIOLENCE AGAINST WHRDS.

Executive Women Members of Parliament were called upon by Women Human Rights Defenders (WHRDS) to advocate for Gender inclusive bills as a means to strengthen the security of WHRDS in Uganda. This was during the breakfast meeting organized by Women Human Rights Defenders Network (WHRDN-U) in partnership with UWOPA on 28th January, 2022 at Golden Tulip which aimed at raising awareness on gender-based concerns for WHRDS.
Speaking at the meeting, Ms. Mary Harriet Lamunu, Executive Director UWOPA explained that the breakfast meeting was to happen in 2021 but due the absence of their chairperson who had travelled to Arusha, it was extended to January 2022. She thanked the WHRDN-U team for engaging with them and promised to continue engaging with more MPs to handle issues that affect the women human rights defenders.

The Executive Director UWOPA giving her welcome remarks during the workshop.
The Executive Director UWOPA giving her welcome remarks during the workshop.

In her remarks Brenda Kugonza, the Executive Director WHRDN-U mentioned that the shrinking space has impacted on the work of WHRDs. By working with the parliament, will create a safe working environment for WHRDs. She illustrated how WHRDN-U defends the women human rights defenders who defend the rights of land, the disability, LBQT and sexworkers, female journalists, and ethnic indigenous. Brenda further clarified that patriarchal is real, Female MPs are attacked when defending the laws and acts that protect women.

Sandra Kwikiriza from Her Internet told the congregation how online violence has affected many women including WHRDS. She asked members of parliament to ensure their security online by not sharing certain information related to their private life online and hide their passwords with others. “There is no good reason for me to share my email/ social media password. In reality, most of us share our passwords with our partners. I don’t have to share my password because someone can log in my account and misuse my platform”.

Sandra Kwikiriza facilitating on online violence
Sandra Kwikiriza facilitating on online violence

Members of Parliament also gave their opinions on online violence and how they have been in their leadership roles. Hon. Betty Naluyima commented that online violence is happens in the real life and she has been a victim when she was attacked online, by her opponents. “Regardless of the violence, “we will not stop” this is a crucial war and we want them to listen. We can’t give up any time no matter what happens”.
“Gender stereotypes affect women more when it comes to violence and threats online. For example, women receive more negative comments than men when it comes to sharing same information online”. Hon. Okia Joanne.

Hon. Members of Parliament expressing opinions on online violence
Hon. Members of Parliament expressing opinions on online violence

WHRDS shared testimonies on how they had been attacked online because of their human rights work. “During lockdown, teenage pregnancy cases were very high. It so happened that a young girl was defiled by a 40-year-old man and I shared this on Facebook, instead people abused me and this put me down. I regretted why I had put the story there”. Mwanje Caroline, WHRD from Kagadi.
“As a female journalism during lockdown, I posted stories of defilement and called for dealing with men who can’t control their sexual desires. Because I posted what people didn’t like, I was insulted, and humiliated for not having a man. I thought of leaving Facebook”. Sarah Chekwech, WHRD from Kapchorwa.

“When women with disability post pictures of our work, we are harassed. I campaigned on Facebook about a family that planned to steal land of a widow. I almost relocated because of attacks on my body. People said my body is ugly, unattractive, and that I should hide instead of exposing it on Facebook and in public. I am happy that I supported the woman amidst intimidation”. Peluce Kabagenyi, WHRD from Kasese.

“As a female journalist, in 2021 during lockdown, when I posted stories of defilement and called for dealing with men who can’t control their sexual desires and because I posted what people didn’t want, they harassed me, they went below my belt attacking me for not having a man, I sated thinking of leaving Facebook”. Goretti kajumba, WHRD from Kabarole.

“My colleague was attacked online for her activism work in the mining in Moroto. They used photo shop to put her head on a naked woman and it went viral. We later found out that our colleague’s bottom parts had a scar and the photo posted had no scar”. Flavia Aballo, WHRD from Kampala.

WHRDS testifying how they have encountered online violence in their human rights work.
WHRDS testifying how they have encountered online violence in their human rights work.

“I was hosted on a talk show to discuss GBV in Busoga, men attacked me on social media saying that am not supposed to comment on marriage issues because I am not married. They used messages such as ‘The spoilt girl should not mislead you’ to humiliate me”. Kyemba Rosemary, WHRD from Jinja.

In her speech, Hon. Sarah Opendi the Chairperson UWOPA thanked WHRDN-U for being a back a backbone of women huma rights defenders and encouraged the network to continue carrying on human rights work. She testified how she has been a victim of online violence, which is why she is not on Facebook. Someone created an account in her name, and promised people jobs and stole money from them.

Hon Sarah, further shared she was attached on social media for advocating for the rights to safe abortion. We must continue until we reach where women’s rights are respected and also where women and girls are not looked at or perceived as sex objects. She also mentioned that they will be bringing back the marriage bill to parliament and more amendments will be made like from woman MP. We are also bringing forth the Surrogacy bill. Infertility is not a matter for women alone but also a man’s issue.

The Executive a pledged to support WHRDS through working with WHRDN-U to promote safety and security on WHRDS in Uganda and advocating for gender responsive bills in members through signing a commitment form at the breakfast meeting.

Sarah Opendi, chairperson uwopa signing the commitment
Sarah Opendi, chairperson UWOPA signing the commitment

Hon. Members of Parliament signing on a commitment board to advocate for gender responsive bills during the breakfast meeting.

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;