Archive for September, 2011

To me, poverty and ignorance among women are some of the main challenges that hinder realization of women’s rights and empowerment. World over, women are the poorest population and the situation is worse in developing countries like Uganda. Many women in rural areas totally depend on their husbands for survival and cannot make any choice or decision concerning their lives and this has a lot of implications. A woman will stay in an abuse relationship and If you ask her why she will say “If I leave him, how will I survive and who will look after my children”.

For women and girls in fishing communities, the lack of money to engage in fish trade or any other economic activity places them at a disadvantage leaving them with sex as the only currency for survival. While women in post conflict situation who have lost almost everything, the level of trauma is very high and above all they are poor. This makes them very vulnerable to all sorts of abuse and violence.

That not withstanding, most of our societies or communities are patriarchal and this has created unequal power relations between men and women. Patriarchy accords too much power to men and systematically marginalize women. This patriarchy is also imbedded with in the invisible power of culture. Most of the cultural practices, beliefs, norms and attitudes in our communities perpetuate a lot of injustice to women and undermine their human rights. The most commonly practiced in the communities of Eastern and Northern Uganda is wife inheritance and this has fueled the spread of HIV and AIDS. For women who defy this practice, they loose all their property and are further stigmatized.

That aside, there is the challenge of poor and lack of information and communication infrastructure which makes it hard to mobilize communities especially women.

In order to overcome some of the challenges, grassroots women have been empowered through training to know and reclaim their rights as well as the rights of other women as shared in my previous articles. They have also been encouraged to engage in income generating activities such as group farming and sell the produce to earn some little income as well as us setting up some small business.

All these efforts and initiatives have been shared with the wider community online through blogging and because of this UN Women, social mobilization web platform Say NO – UNiTE to End Violence against Women got interested in the work of grassroots women and requested to partner with them and to share the experience and strategies on gender-based violence issues with a global audience

Likewise, pulse wire online community presents another opportunity for networking and sharing ideas and strategies with other grassroots women leaders from different corners of the world and engaging in collective action.

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Each year September 21, the  World celebrates the international day of peace. This day was  officially established in 2002 by the UN General Assembly to recognize the efforts of those who have worked hard to end conflict and promote peace. It was also to provide an opportunity for individuals, organizations and nations to create practical acts of peace on a shared date. The day is a great opportunity for reflection especially in an era when many countries in Africa and the rest of the world are in dire need of peace and sustainable development.

 What does this day mean for women in conflict and post conflict? Women in this situation have been subjected to  all forms of atrocities and sexual violence and they make up the majority of refugees and internally displaced people, the world over.

The gender-based violence against them in conflict, refugee and internally displaced camps is always rampant which include; gang rapes, sexual slavery, abductions, mutilations, death, loss of property, and in many instances, they have been made to bear children for their abductors. Sex is used as weapon of war; greatly traumatizing the victims; often leading to reproductive health consequences and infection of diseases particularly HIV and AIDS.

Strangely, these remain largely unacknowledged and unpunished, even after the armed conflict as post conflict reconstruction processes fail to acknowledge and address women’s needs and concerns.

 Women and girls are, however, not just victims in armed conflict. They are peace makers  in communities and are  actively involved in efforts to make peace, resolve conflict and work for reconciliation. Unfortunately, their potential and abilities remain unrecognized and are not utilized in post conflict programming. They still remain largely absent in decision making processes on peace and security. Furthermore, the allocation of rehabilitation packages is often blind to the specific needs of women and girls. Therefore, consolidating and sustaining peace in post-conflict countries calls for the involvement of women at all levels of conflict prevention and peace building.

According to Akello Betty the Coordinator of Women Rural Development network (WORUDET) in Pader District, Northern Uganda, peace is an important aspect which means living in dignity.

“When you do not have good health services and living in a lot of uncertainty, then you don’t have peace”.

“The government should address the issues of trauma, sexual and reproductive health of women as well as livelihood. In many health clinics, there are no personnel to attend to women’s health needs especially pregnant women. Those who are there, leave the facilities as early as they have arrived. In order to have a peaceful mind, women should be availed adequate services”.

Helen Amuge of Akwenyutu PHAs in Katakwi district notes that the international day of peace should be celebrated with the total knowledge of what peace means. She was also hard hitting on the disjointed provision of services in post conflict Eastern Uganda.

“Peace means that your mind, body and soul are free from disturbances.

Likewise, you cannot have peace when you are not healthy. Women in post conflict areas do not have access to adequate health services in health facilities.  Therefore services should be brought near to the women to ensure that they have peace”.

She wondered how one would expect women especially those living with HIV and AIDs who have to travel for over 45 km for access HIV and AIDs services can be peaceful.  “For example, in Orungo Sub-county, Katakwi district, we don’t have facilities for testing HIV and AIDS, and ARVs are rarely available. There are no PMTC services and when a pregnant mother is HIV positive, the nurses will  not attend to her. Recently I was at the Health centre where I found a woman who had been ignored by the nurses just because she was HIV positive. Even when she had just finished pushing the baby without assistance, there was no one to help the baby. This means that the chances were high for the baby to be infected. Such women are not at peace and they are not enjoying peace”.

Dona Aseru, from Arua, West Nile also agrees  Betty and Helen that

“Peace only comes when one has access to basic services like health, education and food.  Peace should be in our minds, we can’t enjoy peace when we are traumatized.There is a lot of trauma in the community and the government has not provided counseling services. This has continued to cause disharmony and women are not at peace”; she declared.

For Rufuna, of Dyero Kwo Post Test Club, Kitgum, in Northern Uganda

 “Peace means being able to express myself as a woman. As women we have not been allowed to express ourselves because we have not been involved in decision making and in post conflict recovery. Therefore we are not at peace because our needs have not been addressed”.

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Web 2.0 is a set of application tools and technologies which allow for participatory information sharing,user-genrated content design and collaboration. Examples of these tools include blogs, Wikis, Twitter, Facebook, search engines, video sharing sites like You Tube just to mention a few.

With web2.0, the power is in my hands because it gives me the opportunity to generate and share information in my own  style and design. I can write and express myself and my views freely without any one editing or influencing what I should write and not write online. I am able to connect with people  and make friends I have never met worldwide  and engage in topical  conversations and important issues, ask questions and get feedback. On top of that web 2.0 platform is free and I don’t have to pay for space to have my content published as long as I can access internet.

Likewise, web 2.0 presents opportunities for women’s empowerment globally in that for long the mainstream media has suffocated women’s issues and concerns by either ignoring or giving them little attention. Web 2.0 therefore offers  an alternative media for women to bring out their voices and concerns to the world. Women can now write, report and publish news   on and about women as they unfold in their communities and bring their views in the global arena thus  exposing  under reported issues that are affecting women as well as creating awareness. As a result  several issues  affecting  women have been  exposed for example  Shekina’s  story of beast ironing in Cameroon on her Pulsewire blog, Noha Atef blog which exposed  human rights abuses and censorship in Egypt,  Halima Rahman personal experience with female genital mutilation and many more stories.

Further more, web2.0 enables women across the world to connect, collaborate, share information, ideas and strategies online. By doing this, women are organising, building movements and online communities such as Pulsewire, Ushahidi
to name just a few and hence creating a critical mass of change markers around the world.

All in all Web2.0 has offered me an  opportunity to learn and acquire new knowledge and skills; connect and make friends with people from different walks of life and share ideas. I have  been empowered to participate in generation of woman-centered content online and share it with people worldwide. I now have  a voice and the world now knows me.

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