Caption: WHRDNU staff (second left) poses for a photo with WHRDs in Mbale before heading to other districts.
There are many WHRDs in the districts of Kapchorwa, Kween and Mbale who are individual and organization affiliated Women Defenders. They defend Children’s Rights, Sexual and Reproductive Rights of women and girls, land rights of ethnic and indigenous people, rights of LBTG Women and fight against Widow Inheritance.
On 8th July 2020, the Women Human Rights Defenders Network Uganda (WHRDNU) represented by secretariat and the Head of Oil and Extracting rights working group woman defender conducted a solidarity visit to 18 WHRDs in the above mentioned districts to express solidarity, create awareness of WHRDNU, monitor their situation and encourage networking to foster solidarity among them.
The WHRDs voiced a series of challenges they were facing which included: being abhorred by barriers to access to justice, Phone call warnings, threats of being raped and beaten up, hostility from their community members and having nowhere to report such incidents. They recognized that the solidarity visits energize and encourage them. Members also received a helpline that would enable them reach WHRDNU.
We equipped them with tools and skills on how to identify the different forms of violations and how to report to WHRDNU for support in case of attacks. Contacts of service providers were shared through a list of referral services.
The WHRDs intimated that they would like to have more solidarity visits made to their areas to enhance and boost their confidence as they carry out their work and as a way of self-checking on their mental and psychological state.
Caption: Group photo of Women HRDs with Dr Linda Birungi.
The WHRDNU held a workshop for 14 WHRDs regional focal person representatives from different sub regions namely Acholi, Lango, Karamoja, Kigezi, Albertine, Rwenzori, Ankole, Busoga, Bagisu, Teso, Sebei, Bukedia, Budama, Bunyoro and rural Buganda under the theme “Promoting a culture of activism rooted in practices of self-care, mutual support and well-being” on 13th – 14th August 2020.
The workshop kicked off with the WHRDNU secretariat welcoming the participants and thanking them for attending the workshop. The objective was reiterated which was to provide a platform and process for WHRDs to deal with emotional and physical trauma and begin to prioritize their own well-being as a personal act. She further mentioned that the workshop is for them to reflect, relax, learn and enjoy. She invited them to feel free since this was a free space for all of them to network and commiserate with each other.
The WHRDs raised several challenges they faced repeatedly which include but are not limited to: Heavy workloads, stress and fatigue, family issues, financial instability, marital problems, personal frustrations and anxiety of what next in life. There was a counselor from Healing Talk Services who encouraged the WHRDs to seek out counseling services at least once a month and also engage in group counseling which reduces the stress of feeling lonely, overwhelmed and individually exposed.
Burden sharing was one of the activities that was done to help the WHRDs unpack the loaded up feelings of fatigue, bitterness and burn-outs that may affect their Human Rights work if not dealt with. A facilitator from Fitclique Africa helped address the several burdens that the WHRDs shared during the session by giving them tips on planning out an entire week and saving some funds to reduce on the stress of unpreparedness and distractions that come because of lack of proper planning.
Healing and care with medical and health practices was one of the sessions that shed light on reproductive health, health risks, and best health practices for WHRDs. Dr. Linda Birungi a gynecologist at Reproductive Health Uganda enlightened the WHRDs about their reproductive health, family planning and menstrual periods. She also advised the ladies to go for cervical cancer screening every after 3 years for those who don’t have HIV/AIDS and every year for those with it.
The self-care, well-being and collective healing workshop ended on a high note with the WHRDs appreciating the help and self-love practices they received and promised to incorporate them into their daily life. A new culture of activism that is rooted in practices of self-care and mutual support was also launched as a necessary condition of women’s movements in Uganda.
Caption: CEO WHRDNU Brenda Kugonza addressing WHRDs from the West Nile region.
On 22nd July 2020, the secretariat of WHRDNU together with the representative of sexual minorities’ woman defender conducted a Solidarity visit to West Nile. They held a meeting with 37 women human rights defenders from Arua, Koboko and Zombo districts. The purpose of the meeting was to introduce WHRDNU to them and build networks of solidarity from individuals and organizations to ensure their safety and active response to attacks with support from the Women Human Rights Defenders Network Uganda.
The women Human Rights defenders welcomed the presence of the WHRDNU by appreciating their work of supporting WHRDs as being unique, and equally acknowledged that they have always faced different forms of violations like physical assaults, threats on their lives and families, stigmatization and smear campaigns but had nowhere to report or get support and Protection.
A WHRD for Economic rights informed us of how she had been attacked by men in her community accusing her of being disrespectful, stubborn and misleading women to grab land from men. This was simply because she encouraged women to utilize land in their possession, get soft loans to invest and also save to become economically empowered and support their families.
Another WHRD submitted her grievance of being called “loud mouthed” and “nosy” just because she ensures good governance and Human rights while holding duty bearers accountable. Another woman defender recounted to us how she received threats from perpetrators promising to bring harm upon her family. She further faced confrontation from a district chairperson who went as far as talking to her husband about her work interfering in matters that are not of her concern.
A number of female journalists and many more WHRDs interfaced with a series of threats from phone calls warning them to back off, threats of being beaten and being called uncouth names publicly hence making the people in their community shun them and their work.
At the end of this meeting, key milestones were achieved such as the visibility of the WHRDNU, its work of providing protection and ensuring a safe working environment for WHRDs. WHRDNU also shared the list of referral services which the WHRDs can use in case of attacks and need support. The WHRDs were glad to have a hand that supports them after having shared their lived experiences of violations.
The Women Human Rights Defenders Network continues to conduct solidarity visits coupled with capacity building trainings to equip our WHRDs with tools to protect themselves from attacks but also report them when they happen and need support.
COVID-19 has presented a global challenge to all sectors of life. This has also affected the work of Women human rights defenders around the world and presented challenges that were unprecedented to them. The United Nations Human Rights Office of the High Commissioner published a booklet detailing the Defending of Human Rights in the time of COVID-19. We are privileged to have our Executive Director, Brenda Kugonza featured in this publication.
Today 9th March 2021, Parliament of Uganda is set to discuss the Human Rights Defenders Protection Bill 2020. In a consultative meeting held on August 13th 2020, organized by Defenders Protection Initiative, WHRDNU, represented by Brenda Kugonza presented a position paper advocating for a gender lens in the Bill.
This was meant to advocate and highlight the unique circumstances Women Human Rights Defenders face while carrying out their work.
Listen to Brenda Kugonza speak on March 8th 2021, Women’s Day as she was hosted on Radio Etoil A in Karamoja.
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.”
Message From Harriet Lamunu from UWOPA
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
💬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
— Women Human Rights Defenders Network- Uganda (@WHRDNU) November 27, 2020
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
— Women Human Rights Defenders Network- Uganda (@WHRDNU) November 27, 2020
Remarks from Eve Acan, Programs Manager AWAC Uganda
On 5th November 2020, Oxfam Uganda and Uganda Women’s Network launched the “Enough” campaign at Mestil Hotel aiming to put at an end to the violence against women and girls in Uganda. Rita Aciro, the Executive Director of UWONET during her opening remarks, emphasized the importance of having a society that respects women and girls.
Under the #FlipTheSriptUG hashtag conversation around violence and torture of women was discussed as many organizations and people addressed the avenues through which this can be combatted. The Women Human Rights Defenders Network Uganda was proud to witness this launch and was represented by Brenda Kugonza (Executive Director), Margaret Kulaba (Chairperson) and Jane Ssenyange (Assistant Protection and Rapid Response Officer)
Today 5th Nov 2020, the Women Human Rights Defenders Network Uganda is humbled to withess the launch of the Enough campaign in Uganda with an aim of ending violence against women and girls that is embedded in cultural social norms. #FlipTheScriptUG pic.twitter.com/hOnEcNh9ij
— Women Human Rights Defenders Network- Uganda (@WHRDNU) November 5, 2020
Listen to Brenda Kugonza speak after the launch of the Enough Campaign
Honourable Winnie Kizza called for more dialogue on violence against women by Presidential candidates as they traverse the country campaign for votes in the upcoming 2021 Presidential elections.
Hon @WinnieKiiza – Presidential candidates should give perspective and clear direction on how they will address issues of violence against women and girls as they traverse the country campaigning for votes. #FlipTheScriptUG pic.twitter.com/Z3u4k15ljP
— Ultimate Multimedia Consult (@ultimate_UMC) November 5, 2020
Listen to “Bakimanye” the official “Enough” campaign soundtrack
A virtual reality tour of the launch of the “Enough Campaign” at Mestil Hotel.
Watch the video below of the Launch of the Enough Campaign.
Watch these testimonies and self expressions of Women Human Rights Defenders during the Wellness and Self Care Workshop that happened from 11th-14th August 2020.