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
- To understand what kind of threats and risks, have WHRDs registered
- To a establish linkages between WHRD’s security incidents to the context and the social, political and economic analysis in Karamoja region
- To understand protection needs of at risk WHRDs
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.
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: 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 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.
Women Human Rights Defenders Network Uganda is honoured to be part of the Mama Cash booklet of stories that is an accompaniment to the Mama Cash Baseline Narrative Report and presents 16 stories written by grantee partners (GPs) participating in the Mama Cash Baseline process in September 2021 – April 2022.
During the Baseline process Recrear offered GPs a virtual learning series aimed at:
1. Learning about how the groups are progressing along different outcomes;
2. Sharing storytelling for LME as a tool they could apply in their own contexts, organizations
3. Providing a space for collective learning and networking with other grantee partners
Stories about co-coordinating with others.
Access the full booklet below
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.
On 26 and 27th May 2022, The Women Human Rights Defenders Network Uganda held a “ Creating Space and Time to Heal, Rest, Rejuvenate, Reflect and Connect” workshop at Essela Hotel, Kampala . Over 25 participants from different parts of the country and various social movements benefited from the workshop.
The workshop provided a space for Women Human Rights Defenders to understand their lives of activism. Different members had things to say about how their activism work affected their well-being.
They are dedicated, passionate about their human rights work, and caring for others while forgetting about themselves. The WHRDS said all this is making them burn out, the job of defending never stops, Not for Profit Organizations and Community Based Organizations understaffed, yet the lives of the people they served depend on their actions, the WHRDs noted working in the evenings, on weekends, skip annual leave and when on annual leave, they check emails-because they think if they ignore them, they will pile. To some, they have pondered about living their activism work to joining the business sector.
The workshop also enabled participants to practice self-care, thus empowering them to manage their health to take care of their own emotional, physical, and mental health. The many ways in which members practiced rest, rejuvenation, and healing included the following:
- Group counseling session :
In this session, participants understood how stress and burnout could result from human rights work in Uganda. This session helped WHRDs prevent burnout and ensure their psychological security. The WHRDs noted that they suffer violence, harassment, discrimination, and criminalization, leading to burnout. This session used group discussions, and they learned tips to help them recognize moments of stress, feelings of anxiety, and time management
2. Fitness session ;
This session motivated and inspired participants to sustain a healthy lifestyle, and it was to help participants get their hearts and lungs to work faster; it was a fun atmosphere. The session involved stretching, dancing exercises to help with the body’s flexibility, and muscle strengthening for the legs, hips, the back, chest, stomach, shoulders, and arms. Breathing work, the facilitator informed participants that breathing helps control the nervous system and that having deep breathing, even for a moment, can help soothe people’s anxiety and calm our panic.
3. Nutrition, Diet and food.
Ms. Elizabeth Masaba, a nutritionist, helped participants understand food as our primary source of medicine. She informed participants that what we eat and drink affects our energy levels, our moods, and how and what we think.
She urged WHRDs to create time for food breaks. By cutting a cake decorated as a healthy eating pyramid, as an illustrate, she encouraged members to maintain a balanced diet and that foods make up a healthy diet.
4. Health benefits of massage Therapy for WHRDs.
Massage consultants enabled participants to understand that massage can combat stress and anxiety, increase blood flows to areas of the brain that associate with mood and stress regulation, boost immune systems, improve sleep, relieve pain and fatigue, etc. Trained massage therapists eased pain and tension by massaging the muscles and joints of body participants. Thus the, using different massage techniques during session this promoted relaxation among participants.
5. Conversations, Networking, Music and Dancing sessions.
During this session, it was a question n from the Urgent Action Fund for women “what is the point of a revolution if we can’t dance?’. This platform allowed WHRDs to dance, and women danced. The participants recognized the health benefits of dancing as a tool to stay fit for all ages, is a great way to meet new friends, improve muscle tone, better social skills, and help the heart and lungs.
6. Gynecology and women’s health session.
This session was essential for WHRD’s reproductive health. Ms. Birungi of Reproductive Health Uganda covered cancer screening, menstruation management, post-menopause management, and family planning. The objective of this session was to promote the health and well-being WHRDs by offering them information and improving their knowledge on reproductive health-related matters.
Here are some of the ways in which WHRDs committed to practice self-care and collecting healing:
- Take an hour for lunch break, limit taking office work home, and create me time
- Minimize interactions with social media platforms, and go for regular medical check –ups
- Go for a walk, and have a good diet,
Reflections from participants
Ataro Juliet of Women Rural Development Network speaking at the Self Care workshop
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.”
In the context of sisterhood and solidarity, 25 members of the Rwenzori Regional Network of Women Human Rights Defenders extended a feminist solidarity visit to WHRDs defending LBQTI rights working with Twilight Support Initiative in Kasese district, that took place on 31st March 2022.
Women defenders working on land rights, women’s rights & GBV, female journalists, Sex workers rights defenders, women with disability human rights defenders, women defending human rights in the oil and extractive sectors, indigenous rights women defenders and community –based -women defenders , gathered together coming from the districts from Kabarole, Katwe, Kasese, Bundibugyo, Ntoroko, and Mubende districts of Rwenzori.
The aim of the solidarity to women LBQTI defenders in Kasese district was a way to help their actions, lend visibility to their struggles and promote local and inter-district solidarity.
“In Kasese district, Women defending LBQTI rights endure attacks and discrimination directly aimed at their identity as women or as LBQTI people, questioning our mental health and sexuality as well as shaming us publically,” said Aisha of Twilight Support Initiative. According to Kats of Twilight Support Initiative “The solidarity visit is a source of protection, support and solidarity”.
The WHRDN-U will continue to inspire the Rwenzori Regional –Network of WHRDs to build a safer environment for themselves and each other.
On the night of 24th March 2022, 22 Women Human Rights Defenders (WHRDs) from the Rwenzori region paid a protection solidarity visit to Female Sex workers defenders in Kabarole district. The solidarity visit took place at a Moonlight activity and comprised of;
Composition of WHRDS that made the protection solidarity visit.
- 5 WHRDs from Kabarole district (4 defending rights of sex workers and 1 Female Journalist WHRD.
- 1 WHRD defending rights of Gold miners from Mubende
- 7 WHRDS defending rights of gold miners in Katwe
- 1 WHRD from Ntoroko defending rights of victims of Gender Based Violence (GBV)
- 4 WHRDs from Bundibugyo ( 1 WHRD defending land rights and 3 WHRDs defending rights of the Batwa indigenous community.
- 3 WHRDs from Kasese district. 1 defending rights of the disabled, 1 defending rights of GBV victims and 1 defending rights of sex workers.
Challenges faced by Sex Workers Women Human Rights Defenders
During the solidarity visit, the Sex Workers Women Human Rights Defenders (SWHRDs) expressed concerns of challenges they are facing due to the nature of their work that include:
- Threats from clients
- Raids on their homes
- Physical attacks
- Police surveillance while conducting health outreach work
- Threats to relocation from the area they sell sex after becoming known HRDs
- Public defamation campaigns
- Discriminatory exclusion from policy making
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.
Karamoja Regional WHRDS tour NARWOA offices.
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 that our 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.