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.