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Archive for the ‘My Experience’ Category

In September 2015, I was privileged to participate in the third African School on Internet Governance(AfriSIG) that took place is Addis Ababa. The goal of AfriSIG is to give Africans from multiple sectors and stakeholder groups the opportunity to gain knowledge and confidence to enable them to participate effectively in internet governance processes and debates at national regional and global level.

The 2015 AfriSIG brought together  is a diverse and dynamic group of people with different, expertise, age and gender identities. Being at the AfriSIG was  a whole new experience to me and  made me realise how little I know about the internet and internet governance in particular despite that fact that I use it on a daily basis. One of the remarkable assignments at AfriSIG was the practicum where  students  were  grouped  into four stakeholder teams that  included the Business Community, Civil Society, Government and the Technical Community. Each team was tasked to develop a policy statement on the subject of Net Neutrality and Zero rating. 

Net neutrality is the principle that individuals should be free to access all content on the internet and applications equally, regardless of the source, without Internet service providers discriminating against specific online services or websites

On the other hand, a zero-rated service  refers to services that do not incur data costs and are exempt from data usage counts. This practice generally refers to mobile carriers offering free mobile data so that customers can access particular forms of online content and services at no additional cost to the carrier’s customers or without having associated data usage counted against the costumer’s usage allowance under the hired wireless service plan.

I was in a group that presented the interests of the civil society. Sincerely speaking, this assignment brought out the dynamics and complexities involved in public policy formulation process, the nature of stakeholders and their vested interests. Even within the individual interest groups, it was very difficult to reach at a consensus because the groups were composed of different categories of people from different institutions. The civil society group composed of the Academia, Charity NGO, Multinational Advocacy organisation, Non Commercial Internet user, Privacy advocacy, rights advocacy and a Youth group. All these people have different values and priorities and at time they contradict each other. I also believe that this was not any different from other  stakeholder groups.

Similarly, the nature of the policy issues were also confusing because  they seem to contradict each other. Net neutrality as mentioned above  is the principle that individuals should be free to access all content and applications on internet equally, regardless of the source, without Internet service providers discriminating against specific online services or websites. On the other hand, Zero rating refers to the provision of access to certain internet services by internet service providers in such a way that the bandwidth consumed is not charged to the customer. Although zero rating has been embraced as a solution to bridge the digital divide especially in Africa by increasing  internet access and affordability, it contradicts the principle of net neutrality. Therefore it was very challenging for stakeholders to come up with clear positions within a short period of time.

In actual sense, this discussion was a clear reflection of what happens in real policy negotiations and formulation processes between different stakeholders who have different interests especially the civil society organisation who are rarely given an opportunity to present their issues.

Thanks to  the faulty team of #AfriSIG for organising and facilitating this mock  exercise that  exposed us  to the  realities and complexities of  public policy making.

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Activists marching through Busia to to raise awareness

Activists marching through Busia town  to raise awareness on SGBV

In december 2014 I was in Busia district, Eastern Uganda on a campaign to end Sexual and Gender based Violence (SGBV) organized by the Institute for Social Transformation (IST) and Isis-WICCE in Partnership with Busia Local Government.  The aim of the campaign was to mobilize communities in Busia district to discuss strategies to address the increasing SGBV cases.

According to Police files, on a daily basis at least three cases related to SGBV are reported and over 80 cases a month. These are only the reported cases and remember that so many cases remain unreported.

Over 2000 women, men, youth and local leaders from different sub counties in the district participated in the

discussions.

Dressed in their usual African dresses and non-traditional African attires in different styles, designs and colors with majority putting on head covers, the women listened attentively in the discussions and actively participated in different activities such as the march and group discussions.

Women during listening  to the facilitator during the discussion

Women  listening to the facilitator during the discussion

I kept observing  the crowds of women and then, I remembered that 20 years ago, the Beijing Conference took place and was a seen as major breakthrough in the history of gender struggles and women’s empowerment. The conference came out with what is known as the Beijing Platform for Action. The Platform established twelve Critical Areas of Concern that needed to be addressed in order to achieve political, social, economic, cultural, and environmental security among all people. These Areas are poverty; education; health; violence; armed conflict; the economy; power and decision-making; mechanisms for women’s advancement; women’s human rights; mass media; the environment; and, the girl child. For each critical area of concern, the problem was diagnosed and strategic objectives and concrete actions were e proposed for Governments and others stakeholders.

I asked myself, do these women know that there is Beijing Platform for Action and other human rights instruments that guarantee protection and promotion of women’s rights and gender equality?  As confirmed by Dr. Thelma Awori, the Executive Director of IST, women in Busia are afraid to stand up for their rights, afraid to take advantage of  the laws that are in place and have resigned to violence  that ‘what can I do, I just have to suffer’.

This state of hopelessness is what many women globally experience every day. Statistics from UN Women reports indicate that between 15 and 76 percent of women are targeted for physical and/or sexual violence in their lifetime and most of this violence takes place within intimate relationships.

Therefore as the world reviews twenty years of Beijing Platforn for Action code named ‘Beijing+20’,many questions  remain unanswered.  Why aren’t these frameworks changing the lives of women? What can be done differently? Are there any hopes of breaking through patriarchy? Are women losing the struggle against gender equality?

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Last week on Friday 20, the Uganda media broadcasted a video clip where the Police officers were seen squeezing the breast of the opposition woman politician Ingrid Turinawe. Ingrid is the leader of the women’s league for Forum for Democratic Change(FDC)  which is one of the strongest opposition political party in the country. The police squeezed Ingrid’s breast  while arresting her  on her way to a rally in one of the city surburbs. This cruel and brutal act has been condemned by human rights activists and the general public

As a woman, I couldn’t image the pain Ingrid experienced  in the hands of the police. Why did the police target her breast? This is  pure sexual violence perpetrated by the state which is supposed to protect its citizens. If the police can behave like this in broad day light and before the cameras, what happens in isolated places? Isn’t worse that this?

This action by police also shows that the country has no respect for women which is very sad as they are mothers of all nations. One of the reactions from the Uganda Women’s Movement was to organise a topless protest only wearing the bras at  the  central police station to express their anger and action against the police officers who abused Ingrid. Unfortunately they were also arrested though later released. The women were also criticised by the public for exposing their breasts and condemned for being immoral.

In the same spirit, the chairperson of Uganda  Women parliamentary association Betty Among   and on behalf  of the Uganda Women’s Movement presented a statement in parliament condemning in the strongest terms the police act and demanding an apology from the Uganda Police and government  in general on behalf.

To the surprise of many of us from  the women movement  who attended the parliamentary session, members of parliament from the ruling party, National Resistance Movement(NRM) who stood up to talk condemned the police  act with reservations  and blamed Ingrid for resisting the arrest and added that she deserved it.

There was also another controversy on who actually effected the arrest as police claimed that it was done by the female police officer while the cameras clearly showed that it was done by the male officer. The Uganda constitution says that female offenders are supposed to be arrested by the female police officers

When the Prime minister honourable Amama Mbabazi  stood up to speak he stated that he watched the clip and  apologised.  He also said that action had been taken and the Police Officer who was involved has been suspended.

And when he was tasked to give the details, he could not explain,  the Prime Minister however insisted that he did not have the name of the officer but said he would bring the details to the house when police investigations have been concluded.

The speaker of Parliament Rebecca Kadaga asked the state minister for internal affairs to table the findings from the police investigation before 18th May when the Parliamentary session ends.

Since the  presidential elections in 2011, Ugandans have experienced  increased police brutality  especially targeting opposition leaders.

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Hellen is a simple, calm and soft-spoken woman with a big heart for helping women and children. She has done what is in her reach to support them  and make their lives better and more meaningful. I met Helen Alyek during a meeting for Women Taskforce Members for  a gender responsive Peace Recovery and Development Plan (PRDP) for North and North Eastern Uganda in Kampala in April, 2012 organised by Isis-WICCE.  Hellen is  from Lira district and she is a retired Superintendent of  Uganda Police Force where she served  for over 25years and established the Child and Family Protection Unit. Hellen is also the founder and the Director of Lira Rural Women and Children Development Initiative Shelter (LIRWOCDI).

During her  career in the Ugandan Police Force Hellen   worked in various sections  such as  Traffic, Police 99 Patrol, Interpol Narcotics Drugs, Criminal Investigations,  Juvenile Court  (as a court prosecutor), and later as an Administrator at the Police  Headquarter  in Kampala.

As a court prosecutor in the Juvenile courts, Hellen used to receive many complaints from young offenders between the ages of 12-14 years that they were mistreated and harassed by the adult suspects in the cells.

In order to offer protection to the children suspects, Hellen  risked herself and  kept  the children   in her house in the police barracks, feed them and  bought clothes for them. Unfortunately, the young criminals did not spare her, they would steal her property and run away and she never gave up.

It was the frustrations from the young offenders that Hellen an hatched the idea of establishing special   units for children at police stations where they can be protected. She shared the  idea with the  then Inspector General of Police and the then  Chief Advisor  for Police from Scotland Yard who also supported her idea.

In 1995 Helen started the new unit, called the Child and Family Protection Unit (CFPU) in the Uganda Police Force.  The unit started handling cases of violence against women and children in the police barracks and nearby community and there were many cases to handle

The Unit also raised community awareness about the rights of women and children, and taught crime prevention tips to children in nearby schools.  With time the CFPU became so popular so the need for expansion.

Hellen approached UNICEF for support to the unit and she got funding for  training of the first 120  police women and men.  These officers were trained in human rights, counseling, investigation, the protection of women and children, as well as interview techniques for young survivors and suspects.

After the training, they were posted to police stations all over Uganda to handle cases of violence against women/children and were made aware of the importance of separating young offenders from the adult suspects while in custody. UNICEF further supported the unit with a motor vehicle to oversee the work of police officers within the CFPU countrywide, 20 bicycles and 120 motorcycles for officers to use in the field.

With the support of UNICEF and other donors, separate rooms for young offenders  within five police stations were constructed in  Masaka Police Station in Southern Uganda, Gulu in Northern Uganda, Kumi in Eastern Uganda and the Central Police Station in Central Kampala, which  were registering the highest crime rates committed by children.

As a result of this initiative in the Uganda Police, Hellen received the International Scholarship Award in 1997 by the International Association of Women Police (IAWP) in Dallas, Texas as the first Woman Police Officer in Africa to be recognized. In that same year she was also awarded a Certificate of Recognition by the Inspector  General of the Uganda Police Force as Police Woman of the Year.

“I am proud to say that the unit that I started with one table and two chairs is now wide spread in all police stations in Uganda, with officers skilled in handling cases of violence against women and children”. Hellen added

The birth of Lira Rural Women and Children Development Initiative Shelter (LIRWOCDI)

When Hellen was doing her supervisory role in the police force, she visited several IDP camps in Northen Uganda where she met over 50 female survivors of sexual abuse who shared with her their   moving, sad stories. The stories touched her heart and inspired her  to find a solution.  Hellen also saw many orphans in the camps who had lost their parents due to armed conflict or HIV and AIDS and they had nowhere to call home. Due to sexual abuse and exploitation of female orphans, aged 12–15 years, many became young mothers and she felt that the best way to protect these women and children was to build a shelter where survivors of abuse could take refugee and nurse their injuries.

“By the time I retired from the Uganda Police Force in 2003, I had already established a shelter  and registered it  with the Lira Non Governmental Organization (NGO) Board  and the Local Lira Government.  I also contacted the International Association of Women Police for support to construct a permanent building for the Shelter with a perimeter wall. In the same year, the shelter received fifty female survivors of abuse. This is the first ever shelter of its kind in Lira District – Northern Uganda. Hellen recalls.

Since 2003 more than four thousand women and child survivors of abuse have passed through this Shelter. With support of UN Women and Children’s Fund the shelter also has been able to repair 40 serious cases of Fistula and the youngest survivor was four years who was raped by a neighbor. The shelter also provided medical treatment to over 60 young mothers who were sexually abused.

The majority of women and girls who are received at the shelter for protection are female survivors of: domestic violence, sexual abuse, force marriage, child labor, orphans, rescued children from traffickers, potential victims (girl child) of Female Genital Mutilation ( FGM) and  Fistula

As part of raising awareness on Sexual and Gender Based Violence in the community and the duty bearers, Hellen spear headed the first ever Town Hall meeting in Lira town where district officials and community members    discussed issues of SGBV. The main objective of the meeting was to make the district officials aware of injustice women survivors of abuse face when they are not able to pay the Police Surgeon’s fee and to devise means of  protecting women and children from violence and abuse.

Despite the achievements, the shelter still faces some challenges as it mainly run on donations from well wishers. According to Hellen, the most pressing needs of the shelter are school fees  for orphans to go to school, feeding and clothing, medical care, skills training for young mothers, and a vehicle to ease the movement among others.

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Last year in October, I was privileged to coordinate the intercultural visit of 10 Dutch women (as they preferred to be called so) who came to Uganda to interact with fellow women  in Lwangosia, Namayingo District. Offcourse this came with its own challenges of  hosting big number of ‘Bazungu’ white people  in a typical village setting with no electricity, no running water and no proper accommodation  which called for serious preparations  to make sure that the visitors  feel at home and comfortable.    To the hosts in Namayingo, there was a lot of excitement, anxiety and high expectations from the Bazungu because this was their first time to host them. them. We held a lot of planning meetings to come up with interesting activities and site visits which included visiting the widows and orphans, schools, health centres and prisons in Namayingo district and Sigulu Islands in Lake Victoria. The first visit was to the widows in Bukhemba village which is 45 minutes drive from the place where we were staying.

As part of the gifts to the widows, each widow was given a matress and a blanket. We left when they were all smiling and the fact that a “muzungu” visited their homes was good enough to give them joy and happiness and restored their hope that someone out there is concerned about  their plight.

The visit to the Islands on Lake Victoria

Arrival in Sigulu Islands

Another exciting and almost tragic trip was the journey to Sigulu Islands. We left Lwangosia in the morning at 10:00am looking forward to a boat ride to the islands. To me , I thought we were going to use a modern boat. To my surprise, when we reached at the landing site which is about 30 minutes drive from Lwangosia I asked Rev Simon Peter Ongango who had arranged for the boat that where is the boat, he pointed at a wooden canoe boat, my heart jumped but I kept quiet since every body seemed comfortable with it including the Dutch women.  At the site, we managed to get 9 life jackets for a group of over 20 people and we were not bothered with them.

We set  off  for Sigulu at around 11:00am and the journey was so smooth and within an hour or less, we were  already in Sigulu. We were received well by the local leaders  and the natives there who were also excited to see the Bazungu and their expectation too were very high. The chairman LC1 gave a speech where he mentioned  problems  faced by the islanders  which was mainly lack of services like health, education and high prevalence of HIV and AIDs as well as  violence against women.

In sigulu, they  wanted us to visit a  widow  who was  a few kilometers  away from the centre where we were received and this  was not on the original plan. At the same time we were warned that we have to leave the Islands well in time because in the evening the lake gets rough.

As a leader and Coordinator of the group, I had to take a decision and we concluded our journey without visiting the widow because it was not in our original plan. We set off from Sigulu at around 3;00pm. We had carried some snacks which we ate on our way back. After we  had moved for  over 45 minutes just  in the middle of the journey on the lake, the boat engine went silent. At first the boat owners  tried to  re-start  it and  it failed. We thought it was just a temporal problem only to find out that the engine failed completely.

All of a sudden the boat started swinging from one position to another and it started moving on the free flow of the waves. Our hearts jumped. Remember we did not have life jackets and  we were right in the middle of the lake. I knew I was going to meet my creator there and then. Everybody on the boat trembled. I could see fear in the eyes of the Dutch women. This was my first greatest scare I have ever encountered in  life.Fear swallowed me and I immediately I started thinking about my eight months baby and my two year old son and how life will be without my presence.

We were stuck on the lake for an hour. Thanks to the advances in new ICTs especially the mobile phone communication. Amidst this crisis, we were able to make telephone calls to the owner of the boat and a rescue boat was sent with another engine which was fixed and that’s how we managed to get out of the lake. Otherwise we would have made the news for the day with the Dutch women on board.

After we had reached Lwangosia, many questions kept coming in my mind; what If we had left Sigulu Island late in the evening and we were stuck in the lake at night? What if there was no mobile telephone communication, what were we going to do? How many people die on the lake die in the same circumstances like we have been in? Only God Knows.

Our next  field trip visit was in Lubango primary school, a place known to have crocodile  orphans and widows and a hard  to reach area with  poor road network.  We had to walk  for  three kilometres or more because the car could not reach the school where we were going. In Lubango we were warmly received by the Mothers Union and the school administration. Mothers union  taught the visitors how  who to make mats out of papyrus  and beads out of paper. The Dutch women carried small gifts which included scholastic materials and mattresses and blankets for the widows.

Prisoners sitting outside the cell

The last visit was the Uganda Prisons, Namayingo where we found horrible conditions of prisoners. There was one small cell that accommodated over 20 male inmates and it was filthy. When we asked about women’s section were shown another tiny room which formerly a kitchen and it had no inmates and we were told that there was no female inamtes by the time we visited

All in all the change visit was very exciting and at the same time a shock and an eye opener to the Dutch women as most of them could not imagine how people manage to  survive especially such conditions especially the widows, orphans and prisoners.

Nevertheless, they appreciated the beauty of our country and the climate  and urged the Ugandan women to work hard and utilise the resources that God gave us. We hope this relationship will be maintained and  we hope to see more visits and collaboration.

Jesca at the widows’ home in Lubango

Two of the widows we met in Lubango

Orphans we met the the widows’ home

Below are a few shots from the visit

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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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Brenda from Kubatana explaining to us how to use blogs and wikis

It  was  in 2005 that I attended  the Women’s Electronic Networking Training(WENT) organized by Association for Progressive Communication (APC) in Kampala. This was a time when I had just Isis-WICCE a women’s organization. The training focused on use of free and open source software (FOSS) by NGOs. The training had two tracks. One for the technical people  and the other one for non-techies. For non-techies where I was mainly  focused on blogs and wikis.

To me,  it was a very enriching experience. What first surprised me was the fact that I could see what transpired on the first day of the training on internet. I  read facilitators experiences and reflections on the first day and  asked myself   how have  they managed to put that information on internet so quickly. While at  University, I had learnt something about   website designing using HTML TAGS and it was cumbersome and it needed a lot of time and I kept wondering how they managed to publish content on line so first.

On the second day, we were introduced to blogging and specifically on how to use blogger. Things were not easy at first because it was the first time learning this. At the end of the training I managed to create a blog

I came from the training with the fire, enthusiasm and energy willing to learn more about blogs and I continuously consulted friends whom I met during the training.

Loyce after receiving her certificate of training

Blogging needs you to be a communicator and a writer, a skill which I lacked and my blogs  remained empty  for a while.  I also learnt how to use  wikis, by then facebook was not yet there. If it was there, then , the facilitators  would have talked about it.

In all this, I had a passion and commitment to learn the new tools and that is what kept me alert and wanting to learn more.

In 2006, I saw a call for facilitation on use of online networking andinformation sharing tools(wikis and Blogs) during a workshop organized by Kenya Library Association in Kampala on documenting the World Social Forum. I expressed the interest   and I was given an opportunity to facilitate. By then, I did not have very good knowledge about the   blogs and wikis so I had to do an extensive online research, consulted friends and in the process I ended up learning more. I did prepare and presented my session very well.

Having facilitated that, I was invited by UNICEF to facilitate the same session during a workshop for Resource Centre Managers and Information Officers in Kampala. This gave me more confidence and knowledge about the subject.

I have been struggling with learning how to be a good writer and communicator and in 2008, I participated in the Citizen Journalism Africa project where I acquired some basic skills in writing.

It was early this  year, while on my maternity leave that I reflected on creating a personal   and active blog where I can document my thoughts, experiences and stories about women I have interacted with as part of my work.  This made me realize how empty I was because of lack of a systematic record of  what I have done and here I was claiming to be a blogger.

Yes, I have created and managed blogs Loyce,  HIV ProjectTumbula Women but they were not consistent and others were project focused. I have also  contributing to several online information sharing platform like Frontline SMS I-Connect ,  WSFLibrary  and WorldPulse

I hope to maintain this because I have always loved writing and I admire what people have written.

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