WHRDNU commemorates International Day for Women Human Rights Defenders 2022

29th November of every year is a momentous commemoration of the diligent work of Women Human Rights Defenders. This year’s commemoration was no exception to the previous years with Women Human Rights Defenders Network Uganda (WHRDNU) appreciating the diligent and selfless contribution of WHRDs to ensure rights of all are respected.

Inclusivity and protection of rights of all persons is a core mandate for Women Human Rights Defenders. We strive for protection of rights of all marginalized persons in our communities

WHRDNU Executive Director, Brenda Kugonza shares message in commemoration of International Women Human Rights Defenders Day 2022.

In an interview with Civil Rights Defenders, Brenda Kugonza shares the discrimination, harassment, and gender-based violence WHRDs in Uganda still face.

We pride in creating bonds and solidarity among Women Human Rights Defenders networks to build sisterhood and a strong support system
We pride in creating bonds and solidarity among Women Human Rights Defenders networks to build sisterhood and a strong support system

In a sit down with International Service For Human Rights, Brenda Kugonza speaks on how International advocacy is a tool to advance our human rights work, but it is also a tool that will support us in consolidating our protection as women human rights defenders.

Watch full video below.

Happy International Women Human Rights Defenders Day 2022!

 

Lango Regional Network

WHRDNU launches Lango Regional Network

Women Human Rights Defenders Network Uganda (WHRDNU) conducted a two days training to launch the Lango Regional Network for Women Human Rights Defenders from October 10th-11th2022 at Hotel Tasha in Lira district.

Session one: understanding each other as an activist River of Life

Participants discussed their journeys as  human rights defenders  explaining how they have not been straight with ups and downs, some calm moments but also moments to cherish/opportunities

River of life example in Lango
                                                   River of life example 
  • Akiria Patricia shared that networking through relationships like friends enabled her raise funds to fulfill her passion to fight for the rights of sex workers and child abuse, but the community has constantly discriminated against her due to ignorance.
  • Abalo Grace said, she identified a child who as denied the right to food, then she reported a case to police, that she has also faced some challenges like some security officers not supporting cases she reports.
  • Barbra Apio shared on it is not easy to carry out activism work in Apac especially defending LBQT rights, she has often been referred to as one promoting immorality and has been arrested but managed to continue because of the passion for the work.
Participants illustrating on how the WHRDN-U works to protect WHRDs Lango
                                     Participants illustrating on how the WHRDN-U works to protect WHRDs Lango

Understanding the nature of threats/challenges facing WHRDs 

Different experiences on the threats/challenges were presented based on the different Thematic Action Groups

Ms. Rashida Adong presenting on the threats faced by the GBV activists
Ms. Rashida Adong presenting on the threats faced by the GBV activists
A presentation on the threats and challenges from the Disability WHRDs
                                      A presentation on the threats and challenges from the Disability WHRDs

Day 2

Role plays

Four role-plays were acted to emphasize on who a defender is and the nature of threats received by the WHRDs in order to request for protection support

Participants acting during the role-plays
                 Participants acting during the role-plays

 

 

Launch of Busoga regional network

WHRDNU launches Busoga Regional Network

Women Human Rights Defenders Network Uganda (WHRDN-U) conducted a two days training at Hotel Paradise, Jinja from October 4th-5th 2022  to increase awareness among WHRDs on their rights and safety. The twenty WHRDs were from different TAGs which included; nine GBV activists, two from Disability rights, one LBQT, four female journalists, three from Land, Environment, Oil and Extractives and one of social justice.

Mr. Lokyaza Moses giving an introductory remark during the meeting
                                         Mr. Lokyaza Moses giving an introductory remark during the meeting

River of Life

Participants discussed their human rights defending journeys explaining how they have not been straight in terms of the challenges received but also some calm moments with achievements. Below shows some of the WHRDs’ journeys of defending human rights.

River of life example
                                                             River of life example

Brenda Kugonza continued to emphasize on how the WHRDN-U works to promote the safety and security of the WHRDs.

Ms Brenda Kugonza emphasizing how WHRDNU works
                                                  Ms Brenda Kugonza emphasizing how WHRDNU works

Day 2

Participants had a discussion on the importance of networking, some of the key issues from group 1 and 2 were;

Mariam Namusabi a GBV activist from Jinja presented for group 1 said, that it promotes sisterhood of taking care of one another, supporting one another in case of attack, sharing information and knowledge.

Ms. Sarah Namaggo from Kaliro district working on disability rights from group 2 presented on some of the following; in order to enjoy activism work through learning tips like, eat good, look good and be happy, carry out exchange visits.

WHRDs discuss the importance of networking
                                                      WHRDs discuss the importance of networking
Women Human Rights Defenders Network Uganda launches Bukedi regional network

WHRDNU launches Bukedi Regional Network

Women Human Rights Defenders Network Uganda (WHRDNU) conducted a two days training to launch the Bukedi Regional Network for Women Human Rights Defenders. The training comprised of twenty one WHRDS and five staff from the secretariat was held from 7th- 8th October at Hotel Pretoria in Mbale district.

Mr Yusuf Makweta gives opening remarks
                                                                             Mr Yusuf Makweta gives opening remarks

Session one: Understanding each other as an activist River of Life

Participants discussed their human rights defending journeys explaining how they have not been straight, with ups and downs, some calm moments.

  • “Ayo Juliet a GBV activist from Tororo human rights rehabilitation center shared on how she started activism work after 22 acres of land were grabbed away from her by the husband who later divorced with her, her work has attracted the media, which has displayed it and thus attracting funding sources to continue fighting against GBV”.

 

  • “Ms. Okello Justin a GBV activist from Tororo says, she begun by reporting defilement cases of children to police perpetrated by head teachers and the teachers in various around Tororo. MIFUMI and Plan International begun facilitating her with money to continue with the work and later different politicians continued to support her with the work up to date”
Ms. Ayo Juliet (left) and Ms. Okello Justin (right) demonstrating their rivers of life
                                     Ms. Ayo Juliet (left) and Ms. Okello Justin (right) demonstrating their rivers of life

Session 2: Understanding the WHRDN-U illustration

Participants carried out a demonstration on how the WHRDN-U works to protect WHRDs from violations, threats, attacks.

Participants illustrating on how the WHRDN-U works to protect WHRDs
                                  Participants illustrating on how the WHRDN-U works to protect WHRDs

Session 3: Understanding the nature of threats/challenges facing WHRDs

Different experiences on the threats/challenges were presented based on the different Thematic Action Groups where each participant belonged.

Threats and challenges shared during the meeting
Threats and challenges shared during the meeting

 

ACHPR 73rd Ordinary session

Women Human Rights Defenders Network Uganda participates in the ACHPR 73rd Ordinary Session

From 17th – 20th  October2022, The International Service for Human Rights Defenders, supported the Women Human Rights Defenders Network Uganda to participate in the NGO Forum of the 73rd session of the African Commission on Human and People’s Rights (ACHPR) and the opening of the ACHPR 73 ordinary session.  The two important events took place in the Gambia, West –Africa.

We thank the ISHR for responding to calls by women human rights defenders to engage with the ACHPR special procedures mechanisms to raise awareness about the gendered impact of restrictive environments on WHRDs.

Brenda Kugonza , Executive Director of WHRDN-U, attended the ACHPR 73 ordinary session
Brenda Kugonza , Executive Director of WHRDN-U, attended the ACHPR 73 ordinary session

On 18th October, the second day of the NGO Forum ahead of the 73 session the African Commission on Human and People’s Rights (ACHPR), Civil society discussed issues around limiting press freedoms, stifling citizen efforts to hold their governments to account and gender-based violence.

The Special Rapporteur mechanism on human rights defenders, Hon. Remy Ngoy Lumbu in Africa commended states parties of Cote d’lvoire, Burkina Faso, Mali and Niger for having adopted laws for protection of human rights defenders and called upon other state parties to emulate the state parties with laws to protect human rights defenders. He added that states should establish protection mechanisms for human rights defenders.

Engagement with the Special Rapporteur on Rights of Women In Africa

WHRDN-U had the privilege to engage with the Special Rapporteur on Rights of Women In Africa, Ms.Janet Ramatoulie Sallah-Njie, who we called upon to work with the Special Rapporteur for human rights to develop a stronger gender perspective to protect WHRDs and to offer technical assistance in the development of the HRD protection bill.

The Special Rapporteur on Rights of Women In Africa, Ms.Janet Ramatoulie Sallah-Njie ( center), pose for a photo with Brenda Kugonza, Executive Director-WHRDN-U (right
The Special Rapporteur on Rights of Women In Africa, Ms.Janet Ramatoulie Sallah-Njie ( center), pose for a photo with Brenda Kugonza, Executive Director-WHRDN-U (right

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.