Caption:From Left to right: Sarah Kisoro (the representative of the oil and extractive action working group of WHRDN-U), Begg-Saffar (NGO and Human Rights Manager, Total Energies), Gladys Oyenyboth (Bulisa Community Grass root WHRD), Petronilla Lamunu (NGO officer, Total Energies) and Brenda Kugonza (Executive director WHRDN-U).
On 29/09/2021, Women Human Rights Defenders Network Uganda (WHRDNU) held an advocacy meeting with Total Energies’ NGO and Human Rights Department. The meeting took place at Total Energies Offices on Yusuf Lule Road, Kampala. The meeting discussed matters of protection of women human rights defenders who defend land rights of communities evicted due to oil extraction projects in Bulisa district.
We are grateful to Total Energies for using the UN principles on business and human rights and their commitment to work with Bulisa WHRDs to ensure that women’s rights are protected.
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.
Caption: WHRDs from Karamoja pose for a photo after the workshop.
WHRDS from Karamoja region are involved in fighting against GBV, FGM, Widow Inheritance and defending Land and environmental rights, Child rights, women’s rights among others. These are rights that were formally not observed or respected due to cultural and social norms in Karamoja region. For instance, women were inherited as property upon the demise of the husband. A girl had to go through FGM to be considered a “real woman”. Women did not own land and physical battering was looked at as disciplining a woman or a child.
This has made the work of women defenders increasingly difficult as they maneuver cultural norms to fight against violence inflicted on them. It is a difficult battle that can only be won by speaking out to challenge the existing cultural and social norms. Below are some of the challenges they faced in the course of their work.
A child’s rights woman defender from Amudat district followed up on a case where a young girl had been raped and reported it to the police. To her surprise, the police abused her for making sure of an arrest and the parents of the girl only asked for compensation while resisting the arrest of the perpetrator.
A female journalist and woman defender against Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) from Kapchorwa district narrated how she was attacked by cultural elders for speaking out against FGM. They claimed that it was their cultural norm and a rite of passage to womanhood for their girls in the Sabiny culture. This forced the woman defender to abandon her work in the region for two years as she sought asylum in a new location. It is important to note that girls who underwent FGM suffered excruciating pain, swellings and keloids in their private parts.
In addition, a human rights defender for women’s rights went through an ordeal where she lost her husband and his relatives wanted to take all property she jointly owned with him. She immediately reported the case to Uganda Law Society and got legal support. It could have gone sour if she hadn’t quickly reached out to a legal organization for help.
Another woman defender for reproductive rights recalled an incident where a pregnant woman died due to negligence of the nurse in charge of the labor ward that day. She reported the nurse who was later arrested and taken into custody. This made other medical staff skeptical and they singled her out as a problematic person. They later on refused to give her any medical assistance since that incident yet she was only doing her work as a Human rights defender.
Following the above challenges, the women defenders had a training in Moroto district where they were trained in networking, advocacy and lobbying strategies to enable them build supportive networks among themselves, advocate for human rights as well as lobby duty bearers to take action by protecting them from physical attacks.
They were equipped with human rights advocacy strategies such as research and analysis, networking and co-ordination, planning, implementation, monitoring and evaluation and problem identification. The WHRDs made resolutions and appreciated the strategies stating that they will guide them in their human rights work as they continue to raise their voices against violations in the region of Karamoja.
The WHRDS also raised concerns and requested to be trained in issues of security, given more information on protection, monitoring, reporting and evaluation. They further asked for self-care and collective healing spaces and more opportunities to have networking activities for them.
The WHRDNU took their concerns into account and is committed to providing them with support and spaces to enable them continue with their human rights work.
Caption: Brenda Kugonza E.D WHRDNU conducting her session during the training.
On the 19th of May 2021, 20 Women human rights defenders (WHRDs) from Karamoja region were trained in Human Rights Activism in Moroto district, Uganda. They were trained by UN Women together with OHCHR and Women Human Rights Defenders Network Uganda (WHRDNU) from 19th to 21st May.
It aimed at improving their skills of doing human rights work. The meeting was organized following concerns raised by WHRDs related to backlash from their communities, increased gender violence, police resistance and rampant name calling.
The WHRDs were also introduced to the national and International human rights protection mechanisms. For instance the Universal Periodic Review (UPR) is an international human rights protection mechanism. The UNOHCR facilitator informed participants that Uganda was reviewed in UPR in October 2011 noting that the government received over 170 recommendations and accepted 129.
The Women defenders were encouraged to work amicably with duty bearers. For instance they can build a friendly working relationship with police officers in their areas. This would make it easy for them to report an attack or follow up on cases.
The training methodology encouraged participation by every member. For instance, the WHRDN-U staff, divided participants in to 3 groups. The group discussions enabled participants to discuss key questions namely:
Identify the offline and online security threats, risks ad attacks that WHRDs face in Karamoja Regions.
Suggest practical ways in which these off-line and on-line threats, risks and attacks can be addressed or prevented.
In what ways can WHRDs in your region prevent or respond to attacks against them.
Responses to questions above.
The first group cited denial to speak in meetings/gatherings, arbitrary arrests, name calling, denial to access services, online bullying, hacking and revealing of private information to the public.
The second group suggested solutions such as avoiding joining multiple WhatsApp groups, desist from sharing hate speeches or personal information online/ offline. Having a 24/7 helpline like the one of WHRDNU at all times, use of different routes to avoid being followed unaware and referring cases to WHRDNU for support.
The third group gave insights on how women defenders can prevent or respond to attacks against them. These included but were not limited to reporting cases to authorities, burden sharing to overcome trauma, recording phone calls to do with threats, having good relationships with other WHRDs and joining professional organizations that can help.
At the end of the training, the WHRDs were appreciative of the new knowledge and skills they had acquired from the workshop.
On 17th February 2021, WHRDNU learnt of the physical abuse that Irene Abalo of Daily Monitor and Josephine Namakumbi of NBS TV both journalists faced in the line of duty. They were capturing former Presidential Candidate Robert Kyagulanyi’s walk to deliver his petition on Human Rights Violations committed by the government to the offices of United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) in Kololo.
They were blocked and chased away by Military Police officials who also beat them until they could not walk or run. Irene Abalo was pulled by a police officer and one of her ankles hit three times causing it to swell. Whereas Josephine Namakumbi received heavy beatings of a baton on her back until she was forced to kneel down on the ground.
One of the police officers who assaulted them was quoted saying, “Stand up and run, we shall finish all of you.” It was hard for them to have been denied access to the premises of the UNHRC Offices but to also assault them physically was beyond the line.
The WHRDNU paid a solidarity visit to both of them in their homes to make sure that they were receiving medical attention and that they feel and remain encouraged fighting for the right to justice and information. They however expressed fear for their lives and loss of their jobs if they tried to report their cases to Police since it is the same police that was the perpetrator. Lists of referral services were given to them to help them get justice.
The WHRDNU is committed to Supporting accessing to support and emergency services for women defenders at risk for healing and self-care including accompaniments such as legal, medical, psycho- social support and temporary relocation services.
Caption:WHRD Mariam Nakku(right) is facing isolation for the work she does
In the context of strengthening synergies among the WHRDs and ensuring this safety of women defenders during the pandemic and election period, a mission of field solidarity visits took place in March 2021 with Women Human Rights Defenders in Uganda. The WHRDN-U is proud to that through this intervention we kept WHRDs together and safe from various sources of violence that surround them and foster energy of sisters and connect to each other.
The field solidarity visits with women human rights defenders based in rural parts of Uganda aimed to extend sisterhood and feminist solidarity to women defenders in Uganda as way to help strengthen their activism, enhance visibility of their struggles and threats as well as promote regional solidarity. The WHRDN-U jointly with regional focal persons through solidarity visits reached out to more than 25 WHRDs.
Documented or not, we found out through solidarity visits that women defenders go through similar risks and attacks as a result of their work. A few examples below:
WHRDN-U , reached out to Mariam Nakku a WHRD fighting against Gender Based violence and defending children rights to shelter, she’s facing isolation and lack of support from her family because of the work she does as an WHRD.
On Friday 19th February, 2021, Women Human Rights Defenders Network Uganda conducted a half day planning meeting with the heads of thematic working action groups held at the Women Human Rights Defenders Network Uganda offices. The objective of the meeting was to provide a platform of sharing experiences on the impact of COVID-19 and election period on the work of WHRDs, reflecting on the responsibilities of thematic heads and discuss strategies of mobilizing WHRDs of thematic action working groups.
Ms. Brenda Kugonza appreciated WHRDs for continuing denouncing human rights violations in the face of the difficult times of COVID-19 and concluded elections ‘‘during these times we continued to denounce human rights violations“ she said. She emphasized that WHRDs are advocates of justice and equality.
The WHRDN-U received cases of human rights violation from all thematic action working groups of different regions, WHRDN-U managed to offer support and protection for the safety of the WHRDs whose lives were in danger, one of the serious cases received at the secretariat was acid attack in Gomba, WHRD was a Vitim of Acid attacks her face was disfiguring due to her work of defending rights.
“We face challenges with our male counterparts, the LBQ women are attacked for their identity and how they want to dress” Jay Abang said.
WHRD-U is gradually building its capacity to provide different kinds of support that help to guarantee protection of WHRDs by sharing support offered by WHRD-U to WHRDs, WHRDN-U supported the HOIMA coordinator of Women Living with HIV with legal support –when RDC, summoned her for distributing food to sex workers and thus spreading COVID-19.
Ms. Jenifer Baitwamasa said that referrals that WHRDN-U make are very helpful because the network follows up to ensure that people are supported”.
“When the case is not ours, we refer it and still follow up until the person has been helped” Jay Abang added.
WHRD-U emphasized that thematic focal persons to invite WHRDN-U staff to participate in their activities both in Kampala and upcountry-for networking, sharing best practices thematic focal persons and learning purposes.
Brenda Kugonza asked each thematic working group to identify 2 focal persons per thematic field of work during jointly meeting with thematic focal persons between April and May 2021 and to involve thematic focal persons in WHRDN-U activity implementation or interventions (up- country field trips, policy & advocacy).
Heads of thematic groups shared concerns and problems in supporting WHRDs at risk, this resulted in to general recommendations for members of WHRDN-U which encouraged a safer and a more supportive environment for WHRDs and for effective response to needs of WHRDs.
On the 27th November 2020, a group of Women Human Rights Defenders convened at the Alliance Of Women Advocating for Change offices to commemorate the International Day of Women Human Rights Defenders that is celebrated on 29th November every year. The theme for this years commemoration was “In the uncertain times of COVID-19: WHRDN-U calls for the recognition of the essential work of Women Human Rights Defenders.”
Some of the key messages shared by Women Human Rights Defenders as they commemorated the International Women Human Rights Day
💬I am Mary Asili a WHRD supporting survivors of gender based violence from Tororo Mifumi. COVID-19 changed the way we did our work. Access to services by GBV survivors was a challenge, survivors were told not to report cases to police until the lock down was lifted. pic.twitter.com/mWlmA18HSU
Betty from Mbale, working for the rights of LBQTI and sex workers. 💬As a WHRD I was intimidated and feared to continue doing my work. Efforts to enforce curfews and lockdowns resulted into fear by women and girls to go to hospital to seek sexual reproductive health care. pic.twitter.com/651MsbWen3