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.
Among the key issues addressed were amendment of women emancipation which impedes women emancipation, a firmer stance against gender based violence and creating a strong linkage with Uganda women parliamentarians. The challenges faced by Women Human Rights defenders in the mining sector were put into plight by the speaker and commended the courageous women rescuing women who are flown abroad and are exploited and tortured.