ISHR and WHRDN-U Oral statement at CEDAW NGO meeting for Uganda Review

                                                                                                                                   

In its list of issues, the Committee asked the State Party to “advise on specific legislative measures in place to protect the rights of women human rights defenders… (para 7)”.

Women human rights defenders in Uganda are facing particular challenges on account not only of transgressing gender norms in taking up the work of promoting and protecting human rights, but also often because of the nature of their work. HRDs identifying as or working with the LGBTI community are at particular risk, as are those working to promote and protect the rights of sex workers. Furthermore, land and environment WHRDs working as parts of communities to oppose resource extraction and mining operations have been threatened and intimidated by non-State actors and a number have faced arrests.

The draft bill on the Protection of Human Rights Defenders was tabled in 2020 and sits before the parliament. The adoption of this bill is important for the recognition of the work of all HRDs and would legitimise their rights to defend rights within the national legal frameworks. We call on CEDAW to recommend that the State genuinely engages with WHRDs to ensure that the bill and its implementation plans are fully gender responsive.

Brenda Kugonza presents statement during Zoom meeting on February 7th 2022
                           Brenda Kugonza presents statement during Zoom meeting on February 7th 2022

Meanwhile, the government of Uganda must review and reform other areas of its legislative framework in order to bring them in line with international standards. In particular, we urge the CEDAW Committee to call on the State to engage with civil society for the review and reform of the following:

  1. The Anti-Terrorism Act (Amendment) of 2015, which contains provisions that may restrict the funding of HRD organisations.
  2. The Computer Misuse Act, 2011 (section 24 and 25 in particular), under which charges of cyber harassment and offensive communication can be
  3. The NGO Act, 2016 restricts the rights to freedom of expression, association and peaceful Application of section 44 can result in restrictions for WHRDs working for groups regarded as illegal, such as sex workers and LGBTI persons.
  4. Section 145 of the Penal Code Act penalises same-sex relations. Further, an Anti- Homosexuality Act was operative for 5 months in 2014; during this period numerous cases of violations against the LGBTI community were reported, including arrest, physical violence and harassment.
  5. The Anti-Pornography Act is often misused against WHRDs promoting rights related to gender and bodily

Women Human Rights Defenders Network Uganda Executive Director, Brenda Kugonza present an oral statement at the CEDAW NGO meeting for Uganda Review on 7th February 2022

 

We stress that that the enactment of a single law on the protection of HRDs is an important step forwards, but insufficient without a holistic review of the legislative environment in which human rights defenders operate in order to address the root causes of the violence and discrimination that WHRDs are facing in Uganda. Thank you.

Women human rights defender having a fun time during the launch.

COMMEMORATION OF 29TH NOVEMBER 2021 INTERNATIONAL WOMEN HUMAN RIGHTS DEFENDERS DAY

As the world commemorated the International day for women human rights defenders on 29th November 2021, Women Human Rights Defenders Network Uganda (WHRDN-U) jointly with UN Women, oriented this year’s campaign and launched the safety guidelines as move to strengthen the protection women human rights defenders against violence.

Speaking at the launch at Protea Hotel, Ms. Anna Marrifield, the Deputy Ambassador European Union Delegation to Uganda and the chief guest, appreciated all women human rights defenders for not giving up amidst the challenges they face while executing their work. She urged women human rights defenders to take note of these guidelines and use them for self-protection against violence. She appealed to the policymakers of Uganda to consider these guidelines in the 11th Parliament

Ms. Anna Marrifield, the Deputy Ambassador EU Delegation to Uganda (on the right) and Ms. Kemi, UN Women representative (on the left) during the launch
Ms. Anna Marrifield, the Deputy Ambassador EU Delegation to Uganda (on the right) and Ms. Kemi, UN Women representative (on the left) during the launch

While presenting the safety guidelines, Ms. Nakaweesi Solome, a Pan-African feminist, who took a lead role in developing these safety guidelines, thanked WHRDN-U, UN Women, and other partners for the great work in the protection of women human rights defender. “We took time to consult women human rights defenders from four regions of Uganda, that is North, South, East and West. Some of these women are here with us, thank you for providing us with the information which led to the compilation of these safety guidelines”. Ms. Nakaweesi revealed.

Ms. Nakaweesi Solome, an international consultant and a human rights advocate presenting the safety guidelines during the launch.
Ms. Nakaweesi Solome, an international consultant and a human rights advocate presenting the safety guidelines during the launch.

The Executive Director of WHRDN-U, Ms. Kugonza Brenda, in her remarks, called for an urgent need to end gender-based violence among women human rights defenders, revealing that most of them have been arrested, beaten, discriminated, sexually assaulted, and cyber harassed, which has made their work difficult. She called upon women human rights defenders to pay attention to self-protection and committed herself to leading the network in the implementation the safety guidelines.

 

During the inspirational experience session, Ms. Edreda Dingolo, a defender for the Batwa tribe in Bundibudyo district, called for the protection of ancestral land and unique violence against Batwa women and girls. “There is a stereotype in our community that you can cure yourself of HIV by sleeping with a woman from Batwa, so we are often raped. She added. Ms. Halima Nalongo a defender for land, environmental, oil and extractives, also expressed her concerns on the rising threats and arrests among women working in salt industry related to land grabbing and access to justice in her region.

Ms. Edreda Dingolo (on the right), a defender for Batwa tribe in Bundibudyo distrct, Ms. Halima Nalongo (in the middle) a defender for land, environmental, oil and extractives, and Ms. Chelian Dorcus (on the left), a defender fighting FGM and early marriages in Amudat district express themselves during the launch.
Ms. Edreda Dingolo (on the right), a defender for Batwa tribe in Bundibudyo distrct, Ms. Halima Nalongo (in the middle) a defender for land, environmental, oil and extractives, and Ms. Chelian Dorcus (on the left), a defender fighting FGM and early marriages in Amudat district express themselves during the launch.

Mr. Thomas, a representative from EU Delegation to Uganda, who officially launched the safety guidelines, in his remarks, thanked WHRDN-U, UN Women, and other partners for initiating these guidelines and encouraged women human rights defenders to use of them.

Mr. Thomas (on the right), a representative from EU Delegation to Uganda speaking to women human rights defenders during the launch. On the right, WHRDN-U board chairperson Ms. Margaret Kyemba signing on the launch paper.
Mr. Thomas (on the right), a representative from EU Delegation to Uganda speaking to women human rights defenders during the launch. On the right, WHRDN-U board chairperson Ms. Margaret Kyemba signing on the launch paper.

ABOUT THE SAFETY AND SECURITY GUIDELINES FOR WOMEN HUMAN RIGHTS DEFENDERS 

The guidelines offer practical tips for online and offline safety measures that will enable women human rights defenders at different levels to mitigate risks and attacks of violence in their work. These include; creating support spaces at district and regional levels, alliance building with like-minded actors, reporting and exposing perpetrators, creating legal frameworks, group movements, self-care and wellness, confidentiality and responsible use of internet among others. Key implementers of these guidelines including UN Women, WHRDN-U, and OHCHR will make them accessible on their websites, workshops, briefings and webinar to support the effective utilisation of these guidelines.

Women human rights defenders from Karamoja region dressed in their traditional wear during the launch.
Women human rights defenders from Karamoja region dressed in their traditional wear during the launch.
Some of the women human rights defenders from the Batwa tribe having a picture with UN Women representatives at the launch.
Some of the women human rights defenders from the Batwa tribe having a picture with UN Women representatives at the launch.

 

WHRDNU staff poses for a photo with WHRDs from Women With A Mission in Mbale district.

Impact of solidarity visits for WHRDS.

 

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.

 

 

 

 

Group photo of Women HRDs with Dr Linda Birungi

Self-care, well being and collective healing a must for WHRDs.

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.

CEO WHRDNU Brenda Kugonza  addressing WHRDs from the West Nile region. 

Women Human Rights Defenders Network Uganda reaches out to WHRDS in hard to reach areas.

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.

 

 

 

Defending of Human Rights In the Time of COVID-19

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. 

Brenda Kugonza on defending human rights during COVID 19 times
Brenda Kugonza on defending human rights during COVID 19 times

 

Parliament of Uganda Order paper 9th March 2021

Parliament of Uganda to discuss Human Rights Defenders Protection Bill 2020

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.

Brenda Kugonza, Executive Director, Women Human Rights Defenders Network Uganda, delivers a position paper advocating for a gender based Human Rights Protection Bill
Brenda Kugonza, Executive Director, Women Human Rights Defenders Network Uganda, delivers a position paper advocating for a gender based Human Rights Protection Bill

This was meant to advocate and highlight the unique circumstances Women Human Rights Defenders face while carrying out their work.

Parliament of Uganda Order paper 9th March 2021
                                                            Parliament of Uganda Order paper 9th March 2021
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