Women Human Rights Defenders undergo capacity building training in online and offline security guidelines

In November 2021, UN-WOMEN, UNOHCR (United Human Rights Office of The High Commissioner) and the WHRDN-U (Women Human Rights Defenders Network Uganda), published and launched safety guidelines for WHRDs titled “Our Voices, Our Power: Online and Offline Safety and Security guidelines for Women Human Rights Defenders in Uganda”. The report also called for urgent measures to deal with challenges facing WHRDs including equipping WHRDs with capacities and skills to mitigate the impact of online and offline attacks.

Upon this background, WHRDNU with support from the French Embassy of Uganda, conducted workshop to 20 WHRDs from Karamoja region. The training was conducted on 3rd and 4th November,2022, at Seven ranges hotel, in Moroto district. The two day activity was organized to strengthen the capacity of WHRDs and mitigate the impact of online and offline attacks against WHRDs,  provide knowledge on preventing and mitigating gender-based attacks, criminalization of their work, as well as physical and personal security management, offer practical strategies for enhancing WHRD’s safety online & offline as well as provide WHRDS with basic safety tools for WHRDs in preventing and responding to attacks against them.

Capacity building training
                                                                       Capacity building training

Remarks from WHRDN-U Secretariat

Ms. Brenda Kugonza of the WHRDN-U started by appreciating the French Embassy in Uganda noting that without their financial support, the training would not have happened. She thanked WHRDs for the good work they do to defend rights in Karamoja region and welcomed them to the training. Brenda then gave details on the objectives of training. She said that training workshop is to increase the knowledge and skills of the participants and their organizations the in relation to off-line and on-line safety guidelines. It would facilitate the spread of information, skills, and culture to prevent and respond to attacks, threats and risks both on-line and off-line by WHRDs. Training workshop was an opportunity to strengthen the capacity of Karamoja WHRDs because they had participated in developing the guidelines during a workshop that was conducted by UNWOMEN, UNOHCHR and WHRDN-U .

Brenda Kugonza (WHRDNU) gives objectives of the training)

Remarks from the district representative

Ms. Betty Nakiru, a female police officer working with Moroto District Child and Family Protection Unit, in her remarks appreciated the WHRDN-U for supporting the work of WHRDS in Karamoja region.  She urged participants to report to police when attacked for supporting girls and women the community. If also us the police women are attacked for supporting survivors of domestic violence and what about you. she noted that if women defenders are attacked, then the marginalized people suffer. She ended her remarks by urging them to get her contacts.

Role plays. Types of violence against WHRDs

Joan Namulondo of WHRDN-U, employed the role play methodology f in this session to further help participants understand the concepts. Four (4) scenarios (See below) were role played by participants to identify the online and offline, attacks, and gender-based attacks faced by WHRDs in their region. Reflections and learnings scenarios included:

  • Human rights work is risky and the need to prepare to deal with un expected risks, threats, and security incidents.
  • Human Rights activities cannot be successful without security measures.
  • WHRDs in Karamoja, have suffered the same risks such as those roles played


Digital and social media security management

The purpose of the session was to learn about Digital and Online Security Management. The learnings were imparted when participants mentioned that digital security in relation to smart phones, mobile phones, internet café, phones, cameras, modems, flash discs, emails, watsapp, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Tiktok etc. Through a brain storming session, participants learnt some basic computer security measures such as to install antivirus to protect their computers from malware and hackers, to create and maintain secure passwords, have strong different passwords for different services and phone security measures such as the safest mobile phone is a cheap, unregistered, don’t save sensitive information on your phone, make sure all your information is deleted on your mobile before selling it or having it repaired, destroy unusable phones and old sim cards before discarding them.

Joan Namulondo of WHRDN-U, facilitating a session on digital security management
Joan Namulondo of WHRDN-U, facilitating a session on digital security management


WHRDN-U hold consultative meeting with WHRD groups in Karamoja sub region

On 30th July 2022, WHRDNU held a consultative meeting with 7 WHRDs groups belonging to  Sanay Anti-FGM movement based in Amudat district, Karamoja sub-region namely:

  • Maedelo Ya wanawake
  • Kamesoi Women’s Group
  • Natukuman,Salcco –Safe and Learning Committee
  • SinjololChepkarlal, and Sanay women groups

The objective of meeting these groups was aimed at 3 important aspects

  1. To understand what kind of threats and risks, have WHRDs registered
  2. To a establish linkages between WHRD’s security incidents to the context and the social, political and economic analysis in Karamoja region
  3. To understand protection needs of at risk WHRDs
Meeting with one of the Sanay Anti-FGM movement groups
Meeting with one of the Sanay Anti-FGM movement groups

Area activism work done by WHRDS

Despite the difficult environment, WHRDS have continued their activism related to defending women’s rights to a life free of violence particularly fighting rape, Female Genital mutilation, and early marriages, supporting victims of torture, unlawful arrest, HIV, Child protection. They strive to build and sustain community networks for protection. SANAY Movement’s  campaigning strategy include educational talks, discussion groups, radio talk shows, use homes as shelter for girls experiencing difficulties in their families, for refusing to undergo FGM.

Ms. Paulina Chepar, is the Chairperson of Sanay Anti-FGM Movement, in Amudat district. This movement is a community based organization made up of women groups that defend rights of women and girls, supporting FGM survivors and Women, and promoting women’s economic empowerment. Due to their work of fighting FGM, GBV, early marriages etc.  SANAY members usually suffer attacks, threats of killing, arrests and assaults.

Ms Pauline Chepar speaks on her fight against Female Genital Mutilation.

Paulina told the WHRDN-U team that one of the important achievement is ‘the way we engaged community surgeons (traditional –women-cutters of girls) ,trained  them and raised awareness about the dangers of FGM. I am proud of one Rebecca Lotukomoi  -a community surgeon  in Cheporoi community, who was a very well-known expert  and respected for cutting girls, with our activism work , Rebecca stopped the practice of cutting girls, Rebeca mobilized other cutters, together they formed a group known as  former surgeons called  Sinjolol group of ( 15 defenders) to start the campaign  to end FGM”…SANAY movement, has created partnerships with various NGOs, UN and managed to influence communities to fight FGM through her community sensitization efforts “ I feel happy my because my work has managed to influence surgeons to form groups, said Paulina Chepar.

Chepar Paulina on the extreme left
                                                                                        Chepar Paulina on the extreme left

Security threats faced by WHRDs

  • WHRDs are finding a harder time voicing out human rights violations and rape cases in Amudat. The 7 WHRDs informed WHRDN-U team that during COVIP- 19 period, “we registered incidents of rape, murder eg in Karita 13 women  were raped and 6 of them were killed in 2021. After raping, sticks and pangs were inserted in their private parts,In Amudat Sub count 2 Women were raped and murderd  in 2021, Amudat town council  18 raped  and 3 died  in 2021 and In Rolo subcounty 7 were raped and two killed. Accordining to Alungat Joyce of SALECO group”. “when we saw  these rampant rape cases , as WHRDs    belonging to :Sanai ,Maedelo Ya wanawake, Kamesoi Women’s Group,Natukuman Womn’s group,Salcco –Safe and Learning Committee, NAWOU,NAWOU, Sinjolol,  and Chepkarlal, we gathered , went police  to demand for justice met DPC mwesigye and demanded that perpetrators be brought to book and have police patrols in the communities. We buried women raped and murdered.”Said Dorcus Chelain.  Mar Kiza stated “Members informed WHRDN-U team that some of the perpetrators of rape where arrested from a drinking place and instead sellers of chnagai (sellers of local brew)- keep threatening  and insulting us that we shall bewitch you and see if you will survive because you are arresting our sons and customers”.
  • Paulina stated that when I joined Mercy Corps and the Community Development Officer, on July 5th and went to Ngongosowon village for sensitization on dangers of FGM, I heard voices of people shouting my name that Paulina you are the one reporting us to the Police and the Resident District Commissioner and warning me in order to silence me and I leave in fear and panic.”
  • Similarly, Lotukomoi Rebecca explained that when i mobilized a group of former surgeons (cutters of girls) and started a campaign to end FGM, this decision and action attracted hostility from her community. I faced resistance, isolation, stigma and i was chased away from her community by elders and SANAI gave her shelter, with income generating skills . I have continued by campaign and I face risks to my safety for example I have been told  and accused that I am the one reporting surgeons or cutters to the police since I was a former cutter, I can’t move alone in my community I fear mob justice.”

Impact of the threats and risks to WHRDs

According to Chepar Paulina, Given the hostile context, our children, parents, constantly worry about our work.

Sagal Paulina of Mandeleo Women's Group
Sagal Paulina of Mandeleo Women’s Group

Sagal Paulina: We have additional pressure as defenders affecting their mental wellbeing and activism work. It is too much for us in a context of this crisis ,no funds, dealing with rape cases, FGM, working on difficult issues of famine, locust, rape,COVIP-19,. Tell me how you  won’t  forget about you wellness and risk your  mental wellbeing- We care so much for others and who is there to care for us in all these difficulties. In fact we don’t sleep because in night you are thinking of solutions to help people whose rights have been violated.



Culturally rape is seen as courtship process. We face challenges in championing rights of women and girls, fighting rape,we don’t have protection from authorities because some of them do not believe in human rights of women and girls, people think we are bringing cultures that are not for Pockot people said Mary Kiza.

Joyce Alungat is a member of the Karamoja WHRDNU Regional Network
Joyce Alungat is a member of the Karamoja WHRDNU Regional Network

Joyce Alungat explained “ Because of doing my GBV work, family planning awareness, providing shelter to girls resisting FGM, referral GBV survivors to access services at the Police, Health center , NGOs, etc. I have been targeted through body shaming and damaging my reputation. They tell me you woman with big ass you are the one spreading HIV, you are Chepkartayan (meaning you are a prostitute), gathering children for prostitution. I have been told I am a bad mother, very immoral, publically shaming me. Sometimes you lack support and solidarity.