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No Woman is a punching bag: Gender Based Violence remains a big threat to Ugandan women and girls

By Lilian Nuwabaine

Recently, while interacting with one of the survivors of Gender Based Violence (GBV), she said “Musawo, as woman, it’s okay for my husband to beat me whenever things go wrong at home, even with my swollen eyes after being beaten hard by my husband, I cannot deny him intimacy at any time, whether I am menstruating or not.” She went on to say “In our culture, being subjected to physical discipline by one’s spouse is viewed as a demonstration of care and a form of necessary discipline. Denying my partner intimacy might jeopardize the well-being of my family, I feel compelled to fulfill my marital duties.”

Such statements from a GBV survivor hit me hard as a Midwife and Women’s Health Specialist. I asked myself, “Does she know that as a woman, she has  rights that need to be respected?.”

The above scenario isn’t any different from the recent research findings from one of the studies which showed that GBV ranks at the top of Ugandans’ priorities among women’s-rights issues that need vital government and societal attention. Whereas most Ugandan citizens detest a husband’s use of physical force to discipline his wife, half report that violence against women and girls is a common occurrence in their communities, both urban and rural. In Uganda, while some of us are confident and know that the police takes GBV cases seriously, the majority still think that women and girls reporting violence will be criticised and that domestic violence is a private matter to be handled within the family. In fact, others say, reporting such GBV cases is a taboo and one can instead be disowned by their own communities.

Worse still, according to the Police crime report of 2016-2021, over 272,737 GBV cases of GBV were recorded including 2,278 homicides cases attributed to intimate partners. The report adds that domestic violence cases accounted for 33% of the female homicide caseload. This automatically shows that government initiatives like community policing programmes and public awareness campaigns about violence against women and girls still have huge gaps as they do not appear to have reduced the number of GBV cases over the six-year period. Amidst all this, the Government of Uganda has stated its commitment to ending GBV as part of the Sustainable Development Goal 5 and integrated its targets into its National Development Plan.

The Sustainable Development Goal 5 (SDG 5) recognizes the importance of addressing violence against women and girls to achieve gender equality and the empowerment of women and girls. Specifically, target 5.2 says “To eliminate all forms of violence against women and girls in the public and private spheres, including trafficking and sexual and other types of exploitation.” This implies we should be moving towards seeing a country like Uganda with zero incidents of violence against women and girls. Honestly, violence against women and girls is preventable.

I therefore recommend that the government of Uganda through its relevant line Ministries and partners intensifies and strengthens the measures put in place to curb down incidents of GBV such as improving the reporting and handling of GBV crimes and training devoted to child and family protection and sexual offences. More efforts should be put in media engagements to promote community sensitization about violence against women and girls, without forgetting to debunk the already existing myths in this area. Everyone needs to know that “No woman is your punching bag.”  

The author is a BSc Nurse and MSN-Midwife and Women’s Health Specialist. She is also a Heroes in Health Award Winner-Midwife of the Year 2021.

 

Developing a New Instinct during my Internship Placement at CEHURD

By Chlöe Shahinian

Within ten minutes of my arrival at the Center for Health, Human Rights and Development (CEHURD), I was partaking in the traditional Monday morning reflections and update meeting for all staff. I tried to keep up with the various staff updates and absorb all of the acronyms being used and the names of the projects being referenced. Later in the day, when the Strategic Litigation (SL) team met separately for a program meeting, I got to learn more about the ongoing work of the team with which I would be interning for the next two months,I knew that the Summer was guaranteed to be filled with new and exciting opportunities.

I found out on my second day that a supervising lawyer would be taking me to the Magistrate’s Court in Entebbe the following day. Having never been to court in Uganda, or Canada for that matter, I was grateful to have such an interesting learning experience so early in my internship. CEHURD, as part of its legal aid clinic services, was attending court to watch brief on a criminal case where a woman had been raped by a healthcare worker while seeking emergency medical care at a hospital. CEHURD’s mandate to attend court in the case was derived from instructions given to them by the survivor. Upon arrival at court, my supervising lawyer guided me to the Registry Office where we handed over various photocopies of the prepared Notice to Watch Brief. These were then each stamped and quickly slipped back into our case file. Next, we exited the grounds of the Court to visit the Office of the Resident State Attorney, where our documents needed to be stamped once again. I sat precisely where my supervising lawyer pointed to and watched in rapt interest as discussions in Luganda (a local language spoken in central Buganda, Kampala) took place around me.

Upon the arrival of the State Attorney, our documents received their final necessary stamp, and we were off to the courthouse again, this time walking and talking with the State Attorney as we made our way. Once we arrived in the courtroom, my supervising lawyer and I slotted into two available spots in the front row of the public seating, and we waited as the accused in the day’s cases were guided into the room by prison warders. When our case name was called, we rushed to leave the courtroom and enter the Magistrate’s chambers, where sexual offense cases are typically heard for reasons relating to the privacy of survivors, and where we finally submitted our paperwork. What seemed like two minutes later, before I could even process what had happened, my supervising lawyer gestured for me to exit, and I realized that we were done at court for the day. “What happened?” I asked my supervising lawyer, “are we done?” I was told that we had adjourned, on the request of the State Prosecutor, to another day as the necessary Committal paperwork had not yet been completed for referral to the High Court which is clothed with the jurisdiction to try offenses of that magnitude. In the moment, it felt like we had spent half a day of work driving to and attending court, only to be returning to the office empty-handed. However, this experience early in my internship has become an example of a quality I have come to see defines CEHURD as an organization: resilience.

In full transparency, I can’t take credit for the word resilience. I first thought about it as a potential guiding theme for this blog post during CEHURD’s whole-organization Project Review Meeting, which took place in the second week of my internship. At the conclusion of the meeting, CEHURD’s Executive Director, Fatia Kiyange, speaking about the implementation of one of the organization’s largest projects, highlighted the resilience of the project’s implementers in the face of various challenges. It occurred to me that resilience was a fruitful lens through which to consider much of the organization’s work, especially in my position as an intern with the Strategic litigation team (SL). The importance of resilience in human rights work became especially apparent to me in the first weeks of my internship when I was tasked with working on an organizational report that would analyze cases in which CEHURD had received a negative judgment and lessons learned from the litigation strategies adopted in those cases. Working on the report allowed me to familiarize myself with CEHURD’s past litigation and helped me to better understand how the SL team has modified its litigation strategy, specifically in cases on appeal, when faced with a negative judgment at a lower court. The report, I realized, was in effect an analysis of CEHURD’s resilience.

As time went by,  I had the privilege to go into the field and see how the SL team manages its ongoing litigation. I learned that working as a member of the team is a lesson in resilience. For instance, at the High Court in Mukono, a case in which CEHURD is a co-applicant was adjourned  because two Respondents had not yet submitted their written submissions despite having previously been ordered by the Court to do so. This case relates to a clean and healthy environment which was filed by CEHURD and Others, National Environment Management Authority (NEMA) and Mukono District Local Government, Civil Application No.1 of 2023. As an intern being newly introduced to this system, it was easy for my first reaction to be frustration. However, in observing my colleagues, I came to see how their experiences navigating Uganda’s justice system have made them incredibly resilient. Each appearance at Court, even if it is only to be informed of an adjournment, is an opportunity to speak with relevant State actors to learn more information, to organize possible mobilization efforts with co-applicants, or even to demonstrate CEHURD’s commitment to the case. Importantly, one of the SL team’s lawyers emphasized to me the impact of showing persistence in always showing up. She highlighted that when State actors, such as the Chief Magistrate, see CEHURD appearing time after time in the interest of their clients, it signals that CEHURD is dedicated to following the case through no matter the difficulty of navigating the obstacles posed. The significance of this follow-through for CEHURD’s vulnerable clients cannot be overstated.

Human rights work is incredibly hard, and as a newcomer in the space, it was easy to lean into instinctual feelings of frustration, impatience, or even resignation when it felt as if we were not progressing quickly enough towards the justice the client rightly deserves. This is an impulse which I fought since the beginning of my internship with CEHURD. However, watching the SL team, and seeing their perseverance in the face of adverse outcomes as well as their unrelenting efforts in defending the rights of their clients, helped me to develop a new instinct: trying to always ask “what can I do next?” as a first reaction, instead of lingering on factors beyond my control. Having completed my internship with CEHURD, I feel that I have strengthened this new instinct in such a way that will assist me in human rights work moving forward.

The writer was a CEHURD intern from McGill University Canada.

Moot Problem and Instructions for the 10th National Inter-University Constitutional Law Moot Court Competition

The Center for Health, Human Rights, and Development (CEHURD) expresses its gratitude to Universities that registered for the 10th National Inter-University Constitutional Law Moot Court Competition. The theme for this year’s competition is “Advancing Reproductive Health and Gender Justice in Uganda”

We are delighted to announce that the Moot problem and Instructions for the 10th Annual CEHURD Moot Court Competition are now available for download.

We extend our best wishes to all participants, wishing you the very best of luck in the competition.

#CEHURDMoot2023

 

From vision to reality: Two Decades of the Maputo Protocol Enhancing Women’s Lives in Uganda

By Judith Suzan Nakalembe

Twenty years ago, the African Union took a momentous stride towards safeguarding the rights and well-being of women and girls across the continent. In 2003, the Protocol to the African Charter on Human and People’s Rights on the rights of women in Africa (Maputo Protocol) .This landmark instrument was specially designed to address the distinctive challenges encountered by women and girls on the continent, aiming to comprehensively uphold and safeguard their rights. Uganda endorsed the Maputo Protocol on March 22, 2010, signifying the nation’s commitment to champion and foster women’s rights in alignment with the protocol’s principles. The endeavors of the Center for Health Human Rights and Development (CEHURD) in advocating for Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights (SRHR) in Uganda resonate harmoniously with the principles and goals outlined in the Maputo Protocol.

Article 14: A Catalyst for Change: Article 14 of the Protocol highlights the importance of preserving and advancing women’s reproductive health and rights in Uganda. It emphasizes the need for accessible family planning education, comprehensive health information, and improved healthcare services to reduce maternal mortality rates and protect women’s reproductive rights, including permitting medical abortion in specific circumstance.

  •   Pic: Dignity Empowered: A Woman’s Journey to Fulfilling Her Family Planning Needs and Gender Roles.

Article 14 of the Maputo Protocol imposes a significant responsibility on the Ugandan government to enhance healthcare services for pregnant and breastfeeding women, focusing on prenatal, delivery, and post-natal care, aiming to reduce maternal mortality and improve the well-being of both mothers and children. Furthermore, the article underscores the importance of safeguarding women’s reproductive rights in Uganda by permitting medical abortion in specific situations, acknowledging the complexity of women’s circumstances and prioritizing their overall well-being and reproductive autonomy in the country

Tackling Maternal Mortality and Unsafe Abortions

Uganda faces high maternal mortality rates, largely driven by unsafe abortions due to restrictive abortion laws. Despite the Maputo Protocol’s provision allowing safe and legal abortion in specific circumstances like sexual assault, rape, incest, or threats to a woman’s mental or physical health, Uganda’s reservation to this provision results in a legal landscape that forces many women to seek unsafe procedures, contributing to maternal mortality.

         

 

< Pic: Silent Suffering: The Untold Story of a Woman’s Struggle with SRHR Neglect

 

 

 

The Impact and Innovation for Uganda

The Maputo Protocol is a groundbreaking treaty in Uganda. It uniquely links women’s rights with their health, emphasizing the importance of accessible and comprehensive healthcare services, including maternal care and family planning (Article 14(1)). Furthermore, it addresses harmful practices like female genital mutilation and forced sterilization, underscoring the protocol’s commitment to safeguarding women’s health and rights (Article 5).

Advancing Women’s Health in Uganda: A Case Study

CEHURD’s proactive role in championing for Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights (SRHR) in Uganda via advocacy and legal actions impeccably aligns with the Maputo Protocol’s emphasis on women’s rights and gender parity in Africa. Several salient instances and references underscore the alignment of CEHURD’s work with the protocol’s principles:

  • Advocacy for Policy and Legal Reforms: CEHURD has been at the forefront of advocating for the amendment of Uganda’s stringent abortion laws to harmonize with the Maputo Protocol’s call for access to safe abortion services. The organization has fervently campaigned for amendments to the Penal Code, ensuring that women possess the prerogative to make decisions regarding their reproductive health.
  • Legal Action to Challenge Rights Violations: In 2011, CEHURD instigated a landmark case against the Ugandan government, contesting the absence of maternal health services that led to the demise of a pregnant woman. This legal action mirrors the Maputo Protocol’s emphasis on obtaining access to quality healthcare services and holding entities accountable for rights transgressions.
  • Propagation of Health Services: CEHURD’s advocacy Endeavors have significantly contributed to advancing access to sexual and reproductive health services. For instance, the organization has actively participated in campaigns aimed at augmenting awareness about family planning and maternal health services in underserved communities, aligning harmoniously with the Maputo Protocol’s focus on women’s health rights.
  • Education and Awareness: CEHURD has conducted workshops, webinars and seminars to enlighten communities and policymakers about SRHR. Their “Know Your Rights” workshops empower women by disseminating information about their entitlements, encompassing those linked to reproductive health and gender-based violence, in resonance with the Maputo Protocol’s plea for sexuality education and awareness.
  • Monitoring and Reporting: CEHURD’s annual reports and publications chronicle instances of rights violations and disparities in Uganda’s SRHR policies and practices. These reports contribute to the monitoring and reporting mechanisms recommended by the Maputo Protocol to gauge progress in women’s rights.

In Conclusion

As we commemorate two decades of the Maputo Protocol, its enduring influence, marking two decades of progress, continues to drive positive changes in women’s rights and healthcare in Africa, with its impact on Uganda’s Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights policies serving as a testament to its transformative potential.

The writer is an Advocate/Program Officer at the Center for Health Human Rights and Development Uganda (CEHURD).

By Kitandwe Rhodine

With young people constituting the greater part of Uganda’s population, any health system that does not respond to their health needs misses an opportunity to transform its community. National Development Plan III recognizes the important role that young people play in fostering economic transformation of this country. However, to be able achieve this, young people’s Sexual and Reproductive Health must have been addressed. A healthy and productive population is a critical driving for the realization of demographic dividend.  This, 12th of August, the international community is celebrating the potential of youth as partners in today’s global society.  This day is celebrated under the theme, Green Skill for youths: towards a sustainable world.  While green jobs are critical in achieving the demographic dividend, young people’s health is a key driving force in enhancing their productivity. The youth day therefore provides an opportunity for the country to reflect on the sexual and reproductive health of young people as a driver for economic growth.

Further, for a country like mine to be able to rethink its sustainability, especially with the fast-growing population of young people, improving its legal and policy framework on SRHR for them is key. In doing so, the government needs to put into consideration their unique sexual needs as well as invest public resources in the realization of the right to health. This will assure them a functional public health delivery system which is critical not just for the young people but the poor and marginalized communities in our society. A study by the world Bank demonstrated that young people are among the poorest strata in our community and as such the biggest beneficiaries of a functional public health system.

It is also important to note that one of greatest inhibiting factors to access to health and sexuality information for young people continues is misinformation and contestations of certain populations within the society. Even when sexuality education is provided in schools (which attract  about 39% of girls and 38% boys), much of what should be given  is not curriculum based. Ideally, there is a lot of information that young people have is from peers and internet yet with the developments in the world, majority of the populace that cannot access this have failed to understand the dimensions of young people. Perhaps, if the government had done much more than it provides and ensured that such information can be accessed in facilities beyond schools, sensitized communities, we would be in a much better place. The cost of inaction in as far as young people’s Sexual and reproductive health is concerned is extremely high.

Teenage pregnancy is currently responsible for nearly one fifth (18 percent) of pregnancies in Uganda and nearly half (46%) of unwanted pregnancies. It is worth noting that teenage pregnancies contribute 20% of infant deaths and 28% of maternal deaths. Access to sexual and reproductive health information and services is extremely crucial for young people.

Many young people see their potential hindered by social norms, cultural attitudes, institutional and structural barriers and violations of their fundamental rights by virtue of their age. Even when they require sexual and reproductive health services, young people often face discrimination and stigma because of societal norms in countries around the world. As a result, that judgement feeds back into health services where young people fear that their confidentiality is not secure or that they will be discriminated against. Discriminatory laws or policies prevent young people from accessing sexual and reproductive services without parental consent, or even allow healthcare workers to deny services based of their own religious beliefs.

As we commemorate the International Youth Day, we need to reflect on the need to transform the public health service delivery so as to be able to service the health needs of young people. We need to embolden young people, create for them platforms to engage in decision making and contribute to national discussions and development. This way, we will assure them of a sustainable world.  The Ministry of Health IN Uganda for example is working in collaboration with the Center for Health Human Rights and Development (CEHURD) will host the Uganda National Conference on Health, Human Rights and Development with a specific focus on the country’s advancement on realising the right to health within the context of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). They have themed it as “The right to Health: A vital component in achieving SDGs” and will hold it between 26th to 29th September. Part of the reason for this conference is to have concrete discussions on building a strong and profound health system that serves all especially the young people. Indeed, with such platforms, the country can assure young people of a health system that serves their needs.

The writer is a lawyer, passionate about Health Rights for young people and working at Center for Human Rights and Development (CEHURD).

A version of this article was first published in Daily Monitor Newspaper on 12th August 2023.