On 25th March 2022, 25 members of the West Nile Women Human Rights Defenders Network paid a courtesy visit to the Uganda Human Rights Commission (UHRC) offices in Arua. The delegation of Women Human Rights Defenders(WHRDs) was received by Kisa Daisy, the Human Rights Officer in charge of Investigations who handles complaint of Human Rights violations in West Nile. In her remarks, she stated
“We are happy that as the West Nile Women Human Rights Defenders Chapter, you recognise the work of the Uganda Human Rights Commission. It is empowered by the constitution to protect and promote rights of all in the country. That’s why in our report of 2018, we dedicated a chapter for women human rights defenders and specifically put in a topic on especially the women because they go through a lot. Generally Human Rights work is risky work.”
She further stated that she was glad to have met the WHRDs and this meeting was the beginning of a formation of a mutual relationship and connection between each other. She promised to involve members of the West Nile WHRD regional network in upcoming trainings and meetings that would benefit their participation.
“There is need for us to work together and have active communication amongst ourselves. This forms a bond of solidarity and also a protection layer where WHRDs aren’t isolated and easily attacked. And our impact will be felt in the West Nile region.”
Rosemary Kyemba, a WHRD who was part of the delegation that visited said the group consisted of Women Human Rights Defenders defending Rights of the LGBQI, land and environmental rights and rights of indigenous people. She stated
“In our communities we are working in, we are working to promote the rights of everyone. In most cases WHRDs are attacked in different ways due to the nature of their work. We call upon you as the UHRC to always support us whenever we report cases and also feel your presence in the communities in the sub regions where we defend people.”
Caption: Ms. Sarah Kisoro thanking TotalEnergies for recognizing the contribution of WHRDs in advocating for resettlement packages for women in Albertine region.
Based on the principle of collective power is louder and networks can save lives, a key strategy of the WHRDN-U is the creation and support of regional (rural) women human rights defenders networks and coordination of joint actions. WHRDN-U supported regional networks in Albertine, Acholi, Rwenzori and West Nile regions as a joint platform for advocating and confronting violence etc. Below are key actions of WHRDs-Regional Networks.
KEY ACTIONS OF WHRDS- REGIONAL- NETWORKS
Women Human Rights Defenders from Albertine region have not abandoned their human rights work of engaging extractive Industries.
The Women Human Rights Defenders Network Uganda (WHRDN-U), has created the WHRD -Albertine- regional -network, that has helped WHRDs to take collective actions. For instance; On 23rd and 30th August 2021, the WHRD- Albertine – regional network in collaboration with 17 Women defenders from Kagadi, Masindi, Hoima, Bulisa, and Kiryadongo districts of Albertine Region, engaged with Total energies’ NGO desk at their offices in Bulisa district. In the meeting, Women Defenders highlighted their contributions in the Albertine region noting as women they have promoted peace and justice, economic and political rights, challenged discrimination and promoted equality for everyone.
The women defenders informed the team from Total that they also work to amplify the concerns of women and community members who have suffered land evictions due to oil extractions. In the meetings, discussions also focused on how women tend to be excluded from the economic benefits and negotiations about the fate of their territories.
Several actions were also proposed to strengthen working relationship between WHRDs and Total energies’ NGO desk. For instance, Total energies pledged to invite women defenders to participate in the periodic NGO meetings organized by them and to work with women defenders to ensure women of Albertine region continue to benefit from the land resettlement compensation packages.
WHRDN-U, continues to support women defenders that have decided to take action because of seeing the negative impact of extractive operations on women and people struggling for social, economic and environment justices in their communities.
2. Members of the Acholi -WHRD -Regional Network: Maintain relationships and disseminate information about their contributions in Acholi region
The Women Human Rights Defenders Network Uganda (WHRDN-U), continues, to support women defenders from Acholi region to acquire important experience on how to enhance the visibility of their contributions in region. On 26th August /2021, 19 women defenders from Kitgum, Gulu, Pader and Amuru districts of Acholi region, took a collective action when they held a radio talk show. The radio talk show at Might Fire FM in Kitgum district, enabled defenders to promote the human rights defense work they do in the region and their identities. The talk show was the first of its kind in the region where women defenders jointly came together to make their work visible. The talk show was an opportunity for women defenders to call upon different stakeholders to support their human rights.
For instance, while on radio, Ms.Anena Sandra from Gulu district stated “we call upon, cultural, religious and political leaders to support women defenders in Acholi region.”
Ms. Akot Lucy from Amuru district, while on radio mentioned “As women defenders, we have supported, women, children and even men whose rights have been violated, this has made our communities better.”
Ms.Ocuuee Susan , while on radio noted “ I have defended women and children who have faced cultural and domestic violence in my district.”
As a result of the talk show, the Manager of Might FM made commitments to collaborate with WHRDs in the region when he commented “We will give you free air time to come and discuss issues affecting women and increased teenage pregnancies in our region- please women defenders always share information with us for airing as news.”
The Acholi WHRDs play a crucial role in protecting and defending the rights of women and girls in their communities, especially in remote areas. The Women Human Rights Defenders Network Uganda will continue to strengthen the capacity of the Acholi- WHRD-Regional network to promote the recognition of the human rights work they do.
3. The Batwa women indigenous defenders, together with Rwenzori- WHRDs -Regional -Network have achieved greater recognition from the Uganda Wildlife Authority
The Batwa community of Bundibugyo district are some of the indigenous and yet minority group of people in Uganda whose rights to culture and source of livelihood (the forests) need to be protected from being extinct. Many of them continue to face violence and discrimination.
It is against the above background, that women defenders from rural areas across the Rwenzori region came together including; indigenous women, sex workers, community organizers, land rights defenders, defenders of the rights of people with disability, defenders working on GBV, and women defenders in the mining sector. All grouped together within the Rwenzori -regional -women human rights defenders’ network. They coordinated themselves to express solidarity with the Batwa indigenous women defenders of Bundibugyo. This was achieved on 30/August/2021, when they jointly held an advocacy meeting with Uganda Wildlife Authority (UWA) at their offices in Bundibugyo district.
The 20 WHRDs including the Batwa defenders from Kasese, Katwe, Bundibugyo, Kabarole and Mubende districts of Rwenzori region, interacted with Mr. Balyasima Geoffrey the in-charge warden and Ms. Norah Bumbi the Community liaison officer of Semuliki national park in Bundibugyo district.
During the meeting between Uganda Wildlife Authority (UWA) and WHRDs of the Rwenzori region, participants appreciated UWA for allowing the Batwa people to access firewood, to harvest fish from the ponds and streams and herbs in the forest. Participants also discussed how to foster collaboration with UWA to ensure Batwa people are protected from violence while accessing the Matongo/ Semiliki forest for food, herbs and visiting their ancestral burial sites.
The coordination of this joint action, enabled the Batwa women defenders to share collective testimonies about how they are prevented from accessing their ancestral land and the violence that they continue to face. Below are testimonies:
“We the Batwa, we are stopped from hunting bush meat from the forest-We are beaten when being chased out of the forest and some people use the guns to shoot us” said Ms. Edreda Dogolo, a mutwa woman defender.
“We continue to face violations and marginalization because we are Batwa indigenous peoples- COVID-19 is affecting us as indigenous peoples and we have no access to health, when we access our ancestral land to get medicine etc, we are accused of increasing conflict and encroachment over our indigenous land and ancestral ground.” Said Grace Mbhatina a mutwa woman defender
The UWA pledged to collaborate with the Batwa women and WHRDs to ensure that the Batwa community is protected from violence noting that the Community liaison officer of Semuliki national park will keep in touch with Batwa in order to address any emerging concern. “We appreciate the Batwa community and will continue to work with them to ensure they access the forest.” Said Mr. Balyasima Godfrey the in-charge warden Semuliki national park.
The Women Human Rights Defenders Network Uganda, will continue supporting processes of coordination for the Rwenzori Regional Network.
4. WHRDs of the West Nile Regional Network: express solidarity with women defending rights of sex workers.
The West Nile Regional Network of 20 women defenders from Zombo, Adjumani, Moyo, Koboko, and Nebbi took a collective joint action to support and demonstrate solidarity to women defending the rights of sex workers in Arua district.
The women defenders from the West Nile Regional Network are involved in defending various rights like land rights, civil rights, political rights, sexual and reproductive rights, rights of sex workers and fighting against GBV, widow inheritance, discrimination, and injustices in their communities.
On 2nd September 2021, the WHRDs interfaced with the women defending the rights of sex workers who raised concerns of stigmatization, discrimination and arbitrary arrests from duty bearers. During the meeting, the WHRDs appreciated and encouraged the women defending rights of sex workers to continue defending and promoting human rights.
The Arua women defending rights of sex workers, demonstrated their appreciation of the support from West Nile -WHRD-Regional- Network when they mentioned on the flip charts that:
“Sex workers defenders from today feel supported by the West Nile WHRDs Regional Network, thank you! Thank you!”
“Thank you! Appreciation to West Nile Human Rights Defenders Network for your solidarity protection to women defending the rights of sex workers in Arua district.”
WHRDNU continues to create platforms that enable women defenders to network and express solidarity to fellow women in different regions.