Women defenders in Karamoja Region pose for a photo after a capacity building workshop

WHRDs speak out on the challenges of negative cultural/social norms in Karamoja Region.

Caption: WHRDs from Karamoja pose for a photo after the workshop.

WHRDS from Karamoja region are involved in fighting against GBV, FGM, Widow Inheritance and defending Land and environmental rights, Child rights, women’s rights among others. These are rights that were formally not observed or respected due to cultural and social norms in Karamoja region. For instance, women were inherited as property upon the demise of the husband. A girl had to go through FGM to be considered a “real woman”. Women did not own land and physical battering was looked at as disciplining a woman or a child.

This has made the work of women defenders increasingly difficult as they maneuver cultural norms to fight against violence inflicted on them. It is a difficult battle that can only be won by speaking out to challenge the existing cultural and social norms.  Below are some of the challenges they faced in the course of their work.

A child’s rights woman defender from Amudat district followed up on a case where a young girl had been raped and reported it to the police. To her surprise, the police abused her for making sure of an arrest and the parents of the girl only asked for compensation while resisting the arrest of the perpetrator.

A female journalist and woman defender against Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) from Kapchorwa district narrated how she was attacked by cultural elders for speaking out against FGM. They claimed that it was their cultural norm and a rite of passage to womanhood for their girls in the Sabiny culture. This forced the woman defender to abandon her work in the region for two years as she sought asylum in a new location.  It is important to note that girls who underwent FGM suffered excruciating pain, swellings and keloids in their private parts.

In addition, a human rights defender for women’s rights went through an ordeal where she lost her husband and his relatives wanted to take all property she jointly owned with him. She immediately reported the case to Uganda Law Society and got legal support. It could have gone sour if she hadn’t quickly reached out to a legal organization for help.

Another woman defender for reproductive rights recalled an incident where a pregnant woman died due to negligence of the nurse in charge of the labor ward that day. She reported the nurse who was later arrested and taken into custody. This made other medical staff skeptical and they singled her out as a problematic person. They later on refused to give her any medical assistance since that incident yet she was only doing her work as a Human rights defender.

Following the above challenges, the women defenders  had a training in Moroto district where they  were trained in networking, advocacy and lobbying  strategies to enable them build supportive networks among themselves, advocate for human rights as well as lobby duty bearers to take action by protecting them from physical attacks.

They were equipped with human rights advocacy strategies such as research and analysis, networking and co-ordination, planning, implementation, monitoring and evaluation and problem identification. The WHRDs made resolutions and appreciated the strategies stating that they will guide them in their human rights work as they continue to raise their voices against violations in the region of Karamoja.

The WHRDS also raised concerns and requested to be trained in issues of security, given more information on protection, monitoring, reporting and evaluation. They further asked for self-care and collective healing spaces and more opportunities to have networking activities for them.

The WHRDNU took their concerns into account and is committed to providing them with support and spaces to enable them continue with their human rights work.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

CEO WHRDNU Brenda Kugonza  addressing WHRDs from the West Nile region. 

Women Human Rights Defenders Network Uganda reaches out to WHRDS in hard to reach areas.

Caption: CEO WHRDNU Brenda Kugonza  addressing WHRDs from the West Nile region. 

On 22nd July 2020, the secretariat of WHRDNU together with the representative of sexual minorities’ woman defender conducted a Solidarity visit to West Nile. They held a meeting with 37 women human rights defenders from Arua, Koboko and Zombo districts. The purpose of the meeting was to introduce  WHRDNU to them and build networks of solidarity from individuals and organizations to ensure their safety and active response to attacks with support from the Women Human Rights Defenders Network Uganda.

The women Human Rights defenders welcomed the presence of the WHRDNU by appreciating their work of supporting WHRDs as being unique, and equally acknowledged that they have always faced different forms of violations like physical assaults, threats on their lives and families, stigmatization and smear campaigns but had nowhere to report or get support and Protection.

A WHRD for Economic rights informed us of how she had been attacked by men in her community accusing her of being disrespectful, stubborn and misleading women to grab land from men. This was simply because she encouraged women to utilize land in their possession, get soft loans to invest and also save to become economically empowered and support their families.

Another WHRD submitted her grievance of being called “loud mouthed” and “nosy” just because she ensures good governance and Human rights while holding duty bearers accountable. Another woman defender recounted to us how she received threats from perpetrators promising to bring harm upon her family. She further faced confrontation from a district chairperson who went as far as talking to her husband about her work interfering in matters that are not of her concern.

A number of  female journalists and many more WHRDs interfaced with a series of threats from phone calls warning them to back off, threats of being beaten and being called uncouth names publicly hence making the people in their community shun them and their work.

At the end of this meeting, key milestones were achieved such as the visibility of the WHRDNU, its work of providing protection and ensuring a safe working environment for WHRDs. WHRDNU also shared the list of referral services which the WHRDs can use in case of attacks and need support. The WHRDs were glad to have a hand that supports them after having shared their lived experiences of violations.

The Women Human Rights Defenders Network continues to conduct solidarity visits coupled with capacity building trainings to equip our WHRDs with tools to protect themselves from attacks but also report them when they happen and need support.

 

 

 

Military Police beating and chasing journalists.

Female Journalists harassed by the Military Police while doing their work.

 

On 17th February 2021, WHRDNU learnt of the physical abuse that Irene Abalo of Daily Monitor and Josephine Namakumbi of NBS TV both journalists faced in the line of duty. They were capturing former Presidential Candidate Robert Kyagulanyi’s walk to deliver his petition on Human Rights Violations committed by the government to the offices of United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) in Kololo.

 They were blocked and chased away by  Military Police officials who also beat them until they could not walk or run. Irene Abalo was pulled by a police officer and one of her ankles hit three times causing it to swell. Whereas Josephine Namakumbi received heavy beatings of a baton on her back until she was forced to kneel down on the ground.

One of the police officers who assaulted them was quoted saying, “Stand up and run, we shall finish all of you.” It was hard for them to have been denied access to the premises of the UNHRC Offices but to also assault them physically was beyond the line.

The WHRDNU paid a solidarity visit to both of them in their homes to make sure that they were receiving medical attention and that they feel and remain encouraged fighting for the right to justice and information. They however expressed fear for their lives and loss of their jobs if they tried to report their cases to Police since it is the same police that was the perpetrator. Lists of referral services were given to them to help them get justice.

The WHRDNU is committed to Supporting accessing to support and emergency services for women defenders at risk for healing and self-care including accompaniments such as legal, medical, psycho- social support and temporary relocation services.

 

Military Police beating and chasing journalists.
Military Police beating and chasing journalists.

 

Women Human Rights Defenders Uganda express concern over increased violence against journalists

Statement from WHRDN-U on brutality of journalists by Women Human Rights Defenders Network Uganda on Scribd

Ensuring a Safe Working Environment For Female Journalists in Uganda

Every year, on 08th March the world over celebrates Women’s day in the commemoration of the achievements as well as struggles of women. In line with this year’s theme,” Iam generation equality: realizing women’s rights”, Women Human Rights Defenders Network Uganda engaged with the female journalists under the theme The need to allow women journalists to work in a safe environment and speak up about harassment they face in their line of work.

The Women Human Rights Defenders Network-Uganda reflected on the role played by female journalists as human rights defenders with a clear emphasis on the their working conditions of discrimination, impunity and human rights violence that puts their lives at risk.

The training provided a platform for the female journalists to share experiences they go through while doing their work. This created visibility for the human rights violations they are subjected to while in the field.

The training sought to create space for female journalists as frontline defenders for human rights, with a clear focus on the gender specific attacks and share support systems where women human rights defenders at risk can be supported. Much as they are called upon to do their work, it exposes them to numerous risks and intimidations because they use mainstream media and social media to report on contentious issues such as corruption, crimes, human rights violations in elections, sexual violence, human rights violations and so much more.

Brenda Kugonza, the executive Director, Women Human Rights Defenders Network Uganda (WHRDN-U) urged the journalists to be vigilant with the environment they work in because they are always at risk.

“Because of the work they do, in Uganda Women Journalists face specific dangers, vulnerable to sexual harassment. They have had to deal with hateful comments directed to their appearance, gender and sexuality. These attacks and intimidations against them, have in some cases silenced them and blocked them from disseminating news yet their absence in the media has serious implications in the free and democratic media,”. says Kugonza.

On that note, stake holders were called upon to uphold fundamental rights so as to enable journalists to have a safe and secure working environment.

Protection is key

Brenda Kugonza advised the journalists to always seek for help from organisations that offer journalist protection, move with first Aid kits, with contraceptives and PREP for just in case something happened to them while in the field.

For protection the Women Human Rights Defenders Network Uganda gave the journalists a list of support services that exist for female journalists and advised them to make use of them or even share with their colleagues because they may need it for protection.

Just like Brenda Kugonza, Margret Ssentamu, the director of Uganda Media Women’s Association advised the journalists to protect themselves at all times and she told them to be well informed with the law for instance they should know their rights, entitlement, where to get services and what the law says about their work so that they are not caught off guard.

Margret Ssentamu advised the journalists to follow their work ethics while doing their stories because that is one of the protection measures they can use.

The risks highlighted at the event

The journalists present also raised concerns of facing sexual harassment at their work places, some are being asked for sex in order to retain their jobs, being used as baits to get some information from the male sources, their work mates using gender stereo types to attack them which in most cases has silenced them.

They further shared the experiences they have had while in the field doing work for instance some of them are intimidated when they chose to report on sensitive issues, blackmail from politicians, being raped by their colleagues while at the field being beaten and also having their items confiscated when in line of their duty.

With all that happening to the female journalists, the journalist requested the network to always have such trainings for them so that they can be empowered, they asked the network to do follow ups just to know how they are doing, to pay regional visits so that there can be regular engagements and they also decided to remain in contact with them.

  • The journalists urged each other to create friendship so that they can be united.
  • The journalists said they should get to know each other so that they can interact so well especially when they meet.
  • The journalists said they should share contacts with each other for easy communication.
  • The journalists said they should enhance the visibility of the attacks they face.