The training workshop for WHRDs from West Nile region on off-line and online safety guidelines was conducted on the 16th and 17th February 2023 at the Satellite hotel Nebbi district in West Nile. The workshop was supported by the French Embassy- in Uganda in partnership with Women Human Rights Defenders Network Uganda (WHRDN-U). The 2 day workshop consisted of 22 participants from across the West Nile region, involved in the defense of human rights and were trained by a team from the WHRDN-U secretariat.
To this end, the training focused on physical security, personal security, information security, office & home security and digital security. Participants discussed some practical measures some of which they already take to minimize security risks and learned about others that they might not have been aware of yet. Participants committed to use the following measures and deal with specific threats in the future for their security and safety:
Create and maintain secure passwords to protect sensitive files on your computer, protect computers from malware and hackers, backing information
Introduce a security registration book for visitors at office
The different physical and digital strategies for personal and organizational protection of WHRDs.
The workshop used interactive activities to help people understand the information, and take part in discussions. For instance; in role plays participants acted out a situation, in small group discussions. Similarly, participants composed a song to help them focus their attention and to make it easy for them to remember the things they learned.
This training workshop was implemented on the basis of the off-line and on-line safety guidelines of WHRDs launched by the UNWOMEN, UNOHCR and WHRDN-U in 2021. The aim of the workshop was to strengthen the capacity of WHRDs and mitigate the impact of online and offline attacks against WHRDs, provide knowledge on mitigating gender-based attacks, criminalization of their work, as well as physical and personal security management, offer practical strategies for enhancing WHRD’s safety online & offline as well as provide WHRDS with basic safety tools for WHRDs in preventing and responding to attacks against them.
Dr Birungi Lynda, a medical councilor encouraged the WHRDs to always love themselves fast before loving others citing that “If you don’t love yourself you cannot love others, we must be selfish to ourselves, if you do feel like you want to look smart go ahead and put on your nice dress”. She also emphasized to the WHRDS to create social groups where they can save their money. She further encouraged the WHRDS to always do things that make them happy “Some of us have intimate partners who are difficult in our marriages, friends that don’t treat us well and neighbors who are difficult, but let us look at those things that make us happy and start taking care of our selves’’.
She advised the WHRDS to care of their bodies by going for medical check-ups and also have a balanced diet ,”For example when you wake up in the morning ,do your millet and take millet porridge because it has a lot of nutrients like iron .Go for medical check-up if a group of health workers have come in your community please go for breast examination or cervical cancer screening because sometimes if you don’t go for medical check-ups and you wait for the pain to come then that indicates that it is too late to save yourself’’. Furthermore, Dr Birungi emphasized that as women human rights defenders they have a right to decide the number of children they want and also to choose to have children or not because some women are not giving birth to children.
Counsellor Ruth Matoya Kemunto session
Counsellor Ruth stated that women human rights defenders should learn to appreciate themselves for the human rights work they do in their communities because if they don’t know one will appreciate the work that you as women human rights defenders. And encouraged the words to always surround themselves with positive people with positive ideas.
The counsellor encouraged the WHRDS to take care of bodies, mind heart and soul by doing activities that bring joy and happiness, “When you feel good it is the medicine of the heart because no one will give you happiness’’ because as WHRDS they do a lot of work that always brings them stress, anxiety and sadness.
She advised the WHRDS to;
Buy for yourself sweets
Have fun go for parties and dance
Align yourself with positive people in your communities and eliminate negative people in your life.
Go for a walk and do exercise to keep your bodies strong and health.
Drink at least two glasses of water in the morning and before sleeping often because it is helps on ulcers and pressure.
Eat well balanced deity like vegetables, fruits and water.
Women Human Rights Defenders speak out after the self care and wellness workshop.
Women human rights defenders implement self care and wellness in Amudat.
As result of the self-care activity the women human rights defenders from Amudat implemented their own a self-care and wellness activity in Amudat.
On 19th May 2022, Women Human Rights Defenders Network Uganda organised a regional cordination meeting for Women Human Rights Defenders in the Albertine region in Hoima district. The meeting held at Hoima Resort hotel consisted of 22 WHRDS from Hoima (6), Masindi(5), Bullisa (6), Kagadi(2), Kiryandongo (1). This meeting was held in line with the efforts of WHRDN-U to achieve a well-coordinated national feminist Holistic protection program and a secure working environment for WHRDs in Uganda.
Objectives of the meeting were to
To strengthen local support systems to offer timely response to WHRDs under attack in West Nile Region.
To offer a training on how to fill the case incidence form
To understand why one is unable to receive support whenever attacked
Ms Beatrice Rukanyanga the district focal person welcomed everyone to the meeting and told all the participants to share and interact freely and made an emphasis that, “Human rights activism work is given from God and it’s in our Blood despite the fact that defenders are attacked every day, we still continue to defend Human rights. Individually we cannot stand but when we work as a team it’s hard for the community to attack and pin us down, we have to work as a team and support one another” She further encouraged members to carry out solidarity visits among themselves.
Remarks from Gender Officer, Ms Kabatalya Joyce
Kabatalya Joyce thanked the WHRDS for the good work they were doing in their different communities.She said there are very many cases of violation of human rights at grass root levels and was glad to see a group of brave women who are risking their lives to defend the rights of such people, she encouraged the WHRDS to continue with this good work and re-assured her support whenever needed. “I am ready and willing to work with you, the different government institution have to work with you and you with them so that to make a big impact in the community”
Poster presentation and dissemination of the online GBV handbook for WHRDS.
Posters were distributed to members and each one was tasked to pin them in their work places to help create visibility of the network.
By conclusion of the meeting, participants knew the different ways of strengthening the local support system in case of attacks, shared action points on how they would support one other and also learnt how to fill in the incidence forms.
Caption: Representatives of the Rwenzori women defenders network pose for a photo supporting the work of women defenders at the grass root community of Lake Katwe Salt mines.
Rwenzori Women Human Rights Defenders Network encouraging other women to see themselves as women defenders. On 24th/09/2021, three women human rights defenders from Bundibugyo, Kabarole, Kasese districts came together through a solidarity visit to support the work of four women human rights defenders confronting historical inequalities and discrimination against women in the salt- mines of lake Katwe community.
During the solidarity visit, women human rights defenders discussed how to strengthen the liaisons, networks and how to foster local linkages to ensure the protection of women human rights defenders. Women defenders also shared personal and collective testimonies about how they are preventing and confronting violence and discrimination against women in the salt -extractive activities.
Thanks to the women defenders located in lake Katwe- salt – mining community, they are not willing to give up on promoting the economic rights & ensuring that women are not stripped of their source of livelihood which is salt mining in lake Katwe.
On 20th July 2021, 18 Women human rights defenders from Albertine (Kagadi, Hoima, Bulisa and Masindi districts) region were in attendance of a zoom meeting hosted by Women Human Rights Defenders Network Uganda (WHRDNU). Under the theme “Local Networking among WHRDs is crucial for supporting WHRDs at risk’’. The meeting was organized to foster a strong local network in the Albertine region to promote rapid response to cases as a team.
Ms. Brenda Kugonza of the WHRDN-U, commended the good work of WHRDs, she informed members that WHRDs in the regions are involved in various work of defending human rights including; land rights, women’s rights, mining rights, and minority rights.
Ms. Brenda Kugonza, in her remarks, noted that the purpose of the meeting was to facilitate dialogue among women defenders to create a local support system for them. It was also to build capacity to respond to cases at local level. She urged members to offer guidance, solutions or suggestions on how to strengthen joint action to ensure WHRDs are safe and protected.
Ms. Brenda during the meeting expressed concerns of fears, attacks and threats against women defenders emphasizing that over time, the WHRDNU secretariat documented the following challenges, risks and threats among WHRDs in the region:
Threats of closing their organizations by duty bearers
Threats to harm their families
Sexual harassment from male duty bearers
And hate from their communities.
Being asked for Identification/ documents that allow them to do Human Rights work.
In the plenary discussions, participants shared their experience of fears below;
‘’We are being undermined as women and being called women who can’t be married-this is all done to shut us down,’’ said Janepher Baitwamasa the Focal person of Albertine region.
Insults for example you look like a prostitute, failure in marriage, you are a childless woman or barren, shared Jolly Bategeka from Hoima district.
‘’Sexual harassment like bad touches even by law enforcement when reporting abuses, rape, nick- naming Albertine,’’ said Atugonza Harriet from Kagadi district.
Revenge porn and Blackmail, reported Ajok Flavia from Masindi district.
Sexual harassment – ‘’I one time went to police to seek for help but this police officer first asked me for sex before he helps with the case… This is tricky because if you don’t yield your issue isn’t addressed’’ explained Alinda Juliet from Buliisa district.
Among the suggestions brought forth to curb these challenges experienced by WHRDs were;
To continue naming violations against Women defenders, to lobby the government to recognize WHRDs as essential workers in this lockdown, provision of psychological support and a platform to share issues that can be handled jointly as a team in the region.
Ruth Namuyiga from Hoima district suggested continuous capacity building workshops for WHRDS, motivation of the defenders, creating local networks which are easily accessible to them in their local communities.
More trainings, self-care workshops and regional meetings were key activities that WHRDNU committed to have for the women defenders.
To me regional coordination is about sustainability of women’s movements and struggles, said Kabagenyi Marion from Hoima district.
Regional networks will help us be together said Joy Rugunda from Hoima district
Members are seen participating in the zoom meeting below;
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: 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.
The WHRDN-U has continued amplifying the voices of Women Human Rights Defenders at all levels during the COVID-19 pandemic. We have submitted to the UN Humans Rights Office stories of frontline defenders, press statements, virtual networking, advocacy meetings and continued support to WHRDS at risk.
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.
Our Executive Director Brenda was named Human Rights Defender of the month November 2019 by Defend Defenders, an organisation that seeks to protect and strengthen human rights defenders in East Africa and horn of Africa sub region. We are deeply honored as an organization to also be recognized by our works and are more than motivated to pursue justice for all Women Human Rights defenders in Uganda.