On 19th May 2022, Women Human Rights Defenders Network Uganda organised a regional cordination meeting for Women Human Rights Defenders in the Albertine region in Hoima district. The meeting held at Hoima Resort hotel consisted of 22 WHRDS from Hoima (6), Masindi(5), Bullisa (6), Kagadi(2), Kiryandongo (1). This meeting was held in line with the efforts of WHRDN-U to achieve a well-coordinated national feminist Holistic protection program and a secure working environment for WHRDs in Uganda.
Objectives of the meeting were to
To strengthen local support systems to offer timely response to WHRDs under attack in West Nile Region.
To offer a training on how to fill the case incidence form
To understand why one is unable to receive support whenever attacked
Ms Beatrice Rukanyanga the district focal person welcomed everyone to the meeting and told all the participants to share and interact freely and made an emphasis that, “Human rights activism work is given from God and it’s in our Blood despite the fact that defenders are attacked every day, we still continue to defend Human rights. Individually we cannot stand but when we work as a team it’s hard for the community to attack and pin us down, we have to work as a team and support one another” She further encouraged members to carry out solidarity visits among themselves.
Remarks from Gender Officer, Ms Kabatalya Joyce
Kabatalya Joyce thanked the WHRDS for the good work they were doing in their different communities.She said there are very many cases of violation of human rights at grass root levels and was glad to see a group of brave women who are risking their lives to defend the rights of such people, she encouraged the WHRDS to continue with this good work and re-assured her support whenever needed. “I am ready and willing to work with you, the different government institution have to work with you and you with them so that to make a big impact in the community”
Poster presentation and dissemination of the online GBV handbook for WHRDS.
Posters were distributed to members and each one was tasked to pin them in their work places to help create visibility of the network.
By conclusion of the meeting, participants knew the different ways of strengthening the local support system in case of attacks, shared action points on how they would support one other and also learnt how to fill in the incidence forms.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.’
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.
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.
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.
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 thatour 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
WHRDS dance and jubilate at the end of Day 1 of the workshop
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.”
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.
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.
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:
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.
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.
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
“The enactment of a single law on the protection of Women Human rights defenders is an important step forward but insufficient without a holistic view of the legislative environment in which WHRDs operate. pic.twitter.com/OKk3PxHTIl
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.