Women defenders in Karamoja Region pose for a photo after a capacity building workshop

WHRDs speak out on the challenges of negative cultural/social norms in Karamoja Region.

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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

WHRDs from Karamoja trained in Human Rights Activism.

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.

During the training, the Women defenders outlined key national protection institutions they can partner with in their defense of human rights. These included Uganda Human Rights Commission, Uganda Law Reform Commission, The Justice, Law and Order Sector. The Uganda Police Force and Equal Opportunity Commission (EOC). These institutions defend and advocate for human rights and human rights activists.

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.

Brenda Kugonza conducting her session during the training.
A woman defender asks a question during the training.

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.

 

Military Police beating and chasing journalists.

Female Journalists harassed by the Military Police while doing their work.

 

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.

 

Military Police beating and chasing journalists.
Military Police beating and chasing journalists.

 

WHRD Mariam Nakku(right) is facing isolation for the work she does

Field solidarity visits as accompaniment with Women Human Rights Defenders in Uganda

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.

Group photo of Women Defenders at the offices of WHRDNU after a successful capacity building session

Heads Of Thematic Working Action Groups Meeting at WHRDNU offices

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.

Meeting with heads of thematic action working groups
                                                     Meeting with heads 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.

Discussions among thematic working group heads
                                                    Discussions among thematic working group heads

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.

 

 

Women Human Rights Defenders Uganda express concern over increased violence against journalists

Statement from WHRDN-U on brutality of journalists by Women Human Rights Defenders Network Uganda on Scribd

International Women Human Rights Defenders Day 2020

International Women Human Rights Defenders Day 2020 Commemoration in Uganda

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.”

Brenda Kugonza speaks at the International Women Human Rights Defenders Day 2020
Brenda Kugonza speaks at the International Women Human Rights Defenders Day 2020

Message From Harriet Lamunu from UWOPA

Mary Lamunu, the coordinator of Uganda Women Parliamentary Association spoke about the importance of adding a gender lens to the Human Rights Defenders Bill 2020.

 

Key Messages from Women Human Rights Defenders

Some of the key messages shared by Women Human Rights Defenders as they commemorated the International Women Human Rights Day

 

Remarks from Eve Acan, Programs Manager AWAC Uganda


 

Women Human Rights Defenders Network Uganda group photo

Wellness And Self Care Healing For Women Human Rights Defenders In Uganda

The Women Human Rights Defenders Network Uganda, with support from Urgent Action Fund For Africa organised a  4 (four) day Self Care, Wellbeing and Collective Healing Capacity building Workshop for two groups of Women Human Rights Defenders Thematic Action groups. The first workshop comprising of representatives of the thematic working groups run from August 11th-12th 2020, and the second group comprised of regional focal persons, run from 13th-14th August 2020 at Eureka Place Hotel Ntinda.

Self Care and Collective Healing

The workshop was aimed at creating a relaxed and soothing environment where Women Human Rights Defenders would focus on their well being and come together to collectively heal from all the trauma and stress that comes along with their work.

Women HRDs read Self Healing and Wellness messages
Women HRDs read Self Healing and Wellness messages

 

Messages of encouragement, self belief and self love were re-echoed by the Women Human Rights Defenders to collectively heal together as they talked about dealing with trauma. It is important to heal one self before helping others, is what they unanimously agreed to while listening to each others stories.

 

 

 

Reproductive Health

Dr Linda Birungi, a gynecologist from Reproductive Health Uganda led sessions discussing sexual reproduction, family planning and best health practices. Health risks and dangers like cervical and breast cancer were discussed at length to ensure Women Human Rights defenders seek treatment and help before developing complications while working.

Wellness and Healing

Mildred Apenyo, a woman’s rights activist and C.E.O of Flitclique Africa , an organization empowering and creating safe spaces for women, conducted therapy and relaxation sessions with Women HRDs to release fatigue from their bodies. Candles, ornaments, yoga and exercises were some of the tools and routines they were taken through as part of their healing.

Massage

A masseuse was also invited to massage and sooth body muscles to release any kind of stress and fatigue on the body. A healthy body is a healthy mind, so it is important for Women Human Rights Defenders to have healthy bodies to continue with their work without difficulty.

Practical Self Care & Mutual Support

The workshop was concluded by officially launching a new culture of activism that is rooted in Practical Self-Care and mutual support as a necessary condition of Women’s movement in Uganda.

Launch of a new culture of activism that is rooted in Practical Self-Care and mutual support as a necessary condition of Women's movement in Uganda.
Launch of a new culture of activism that is rooted in Practical Self-Care and mutual support as a necessary condition of Women’s movement in Uganda.

 

Ensuring a Gender Responsive Human Rights Defenders Protection Bill

On July 30th 2020, Brenda Kugonza the Executive Director of Women Human Rights Defenders Network Uganda, together with the Assistant Protection and Rapid Response Manager, Jane Sssenyange met with Hon Lucy Akello, Hon Jovah Kamatek and Mary Harriet Lamunu, program coordinator from Uganda Women Parliament Association to discuss the proposed Human Rights Defenders protection bill and how it can be gender responsive.

Discussing a Gender Responsive Human Rights Defenders Protection Bill

It is important to WHRDN-U that Women Human Rights Defenders are well represented in this bill, and this was central to the discussions held. Hon Lucy Akello, who sits on the Human Rights Parliamentary committee welcomed the idea of ensuring women’s voices and rights are well respected in drafting the bill.

Mary Lamunu, welcomed the timely intervention and discussion and emphasized the need for WHRDs issues to be well laid out in the bill. The discussion held resulted in the members agreeing to champion this cause going forward in Parliament.