VIVA LA HUMAN RIGHTS: Women hold the torch in Uganda

Among the many positive contradictions of human life is that where there is oppression, there is resistance. In Uganda, for example, a range of human rights violations birthed a community of women human rights defenders who have taken a stance against the injustices they face. 

Active in the remote regions of Uganda, these women have been at the forefront of work against female genital mutilation, trafficking of girls and women, oil extraction, sexual-and-gender-based-violence, land grabbing, crimes against sex workers, among others. The whistle-blowing nature of their work places women human rights defenders at risk of threats and gender-specific violence from communities as well as state institutions.

A network mobilises and connects women human rights defenders working across the country. It also provides them legal support, in addition to support for lobbying and advocacy with public officials, and workshops on individual and collective well-being to members of their communities. 

The work of women human rights defenders gained more urgency in 2020 when, because of COVID-19 lockdown and quarantine measures, state institutions and authorities such as the police criminalised and restricted the movement and work of sex workers. By August 2021, the National Bureau for Non-governmental Organizations in Uganda further impeded the work of human rights’ groups by indefinitely suspending the operations of 54 civil society groups, without any due process.

Amidst the reduction  of such urgent and vibrant work by Ugandan women human rights defenders, Mama Cash, as part of the Count Me In! consortium, supported the network through core and rapid response grants. 

This enabled the Network to push back and stand their ground, even during a time of crisis. A substantive example is from 2020 when the Network were able to influence a proposed 2020 Human Rights Defenders Protection Bill. The Network demanded that the Bill include provisions that address specific struggles and needs of their community. They did so by pro-actively advocating with policy makers in Uganda such as the Uganda Women Parliamentary Association and Members of Parliament. The network also drafted a position paper to document their experiences.

As a result, key legal officials publicly committed to including  the needs and demands of women human rights defenders into the bill. A senior legislator promised to use a gender lens to revise the working definitions of ‘discrimination’ and ‘victimisation’, based on the recommendations presented by the Network in their position paper. 

Even though the Bill has not been passed yet, the impact made by the Network on the drafting process of the Bill has been quite evident. Moving forward, members of the Network will work with parliamentarians to assess the revised Bill to ensure that their needs have been addressed.

The remarkable outcome of this effort has been that political and social actors as well as donors are now aware, willing, and even equipped to support the rights of women human rights defenders through appropriate laws and policies in Uganda. 

This is one of the six stories we have published as CMI! Stories of Change 2021 under the #FundWhatWorks campaign. The stories aim to portray how activists and organisations around the world are working to advance gender justice.

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