Marking International Women Human Rights Defenders Day

As Uganda’s women human rights defenders increasingly tackle physical assault, malicious targeting, office break-ins, arbitrary detention, public backlash, resistance from opinion leaders and smear campaigns for addressing contentious issues such as land conflict or sexual minority rights; the political space, funding and support for women’s rights work continues to shrink.

This year’s International Women Human Rights Defenders (WHRDs) Day (29th November), set aside to publically recognise the invaluable work and contributions of women who promote human rights, comes at a time when the need to acknowledge and address the diverse, often-unrecognised risks Uganda’s WHRDs face is paramount.

On this occasion the National Coalition of Human Rights Defenders Uganda (NCHRD- U), Isis-Women’s International Cross-Cultural Exchange (Isis-WICCE) and the African Great Lakes Human Rights Defenders Protection Fund draw attention to the significant contributions of women human rights defenders in Uganda, the threats they face as women and activists, and the need for solidarity, support and protection measures.

“Women human rights defenders across Uganda are in essence, government partners and are responsible for a broad range of development gains. Promoting the rights of women and girls is well aligned with the goals of the National Development Plan and the dream of Vision 2040,” Helen Kezie-Nwoha Isis-WICCE Executive Director states.

Over time, WHRDs have supported government efforts by advancing rural women’s economic empowerment through saving and loan schemes and income generating activities as well as addressing sexual and gender-based violence. They have contributed to post-conflict recovery through offering psychosocial support and trauma management; documenting women’s experiences of war; addressing women’s war-related health needs; and monitoring post-conflict programming to ensure accountability and efficient provision of social services such as health and education. WHRDs have also sensitized (based on statutory and customary provisions) and supported women to enjoy their property and land rights; their rights to access justice and dignified health service provision in the case of sexual minorities among others. As Cissy Kagabba the ACCU Executive Director affirms “WHRDs are active in the protection and promotion of all human rights including civil, political, economic, social, and cultural and in all fields of life including in the family and community”,

“Women HRDs in Uganda are more vulnerable and face additional risks such as sexual harassment, domestic violence, conviction of moral crimes and threats against their children and reputation, all because of their gender,” Brenda Kugonza, NCHRD-U Coordinator explains. WHRDs often deal with resistance and hostility from their partners, family members, community leaders and state actors including the courts, the military and police. Instead of being celebrated for their invaluable work, these women face immense pressure to stop their work as they are often at risk of divorce, family expulsion, verbal threats for defying religious or cultural stereotypes as well as physical attacks.

As such, the commemoration of International Women Human Rights Defenders Day offers the opportunity for state and non-state actors, to renew their commitment to concretely support the work of women human rights defenders, to ensure robust protection measures and the spirit of solidarity for WHRDs to work without threats or violence.

As Perry Alitua, Women Democracy Network Executive Director asserts, “the UN Declaration on Human Rights Defenders (9 article 2) stresses that each State has a primary responsibility and duty to protect, promote and implement all human rights and fundamental freedoms. The Government has the responsibility to protect human rights defenders and/or prevent any violations against HRDs”,

Therefore we call upon;

  1. The Government to prevent actions by communities, companies, individuals, states and non –state actors that threaten, attack or try to hamper the work of WHRDs
  2. Members of the media to highlight and advocate for the protection of WHRDS by reporting on and recognizing the work of WHRDs.
  3. Police to initiate investigations and prosecutions of the perpetrators of violations and abuses against WHRDs
  4. The Judiciary to promote and protect the rights of WHRDs by properly and promptly adjudicating the cases of violence against WHRDs and holding perpetrators accountable.
  5. The Uganda Human Rights Commission to provide responses to emergencies and issue recommendations for the adoption of the UN Declaration on Human Rights Defenders within the legal framework of Uganda.
  6. Ministry of Gender, Labour and Social Development to provide protection of WHRDs protect and promote the rights of WHRDs through provision of services such as legal

This International WHRDs Day, NCHRD-U, Isis-WICCE and HRD Protection Fund celebrate the activism, advocacy and courageous acts of resistance by women who promote human rights and particularly women’s rights in Uganda.

National Coalition of Human Rights Defenders Uganda (NCHRD- U), an umbrella organisation of individuals and organisations working to promote the protection of human rights defenders in Uganda.

Isis-Women’s International Cross-Cultural Exchange (Isis-WICCE) ignites and amplifies women’s voices, leadership and activism in conflict and post-conflict settings through research, advocacy, skills development and feminist knowledge management.

African Great Lakes Human Rights Defenders Protection Fund (The Fund) is a technical and financial support mechanism designed to provide sustainable responses to protect, assist and strengthen the work of HRDs, mainly through the use of law and legal processes.