Posts Tagged ‘women in conflict’

The Rwenzori region derives its name from the famous Rwenzori Mountain, a block mountain in Western Uganda.  The name Rwenzori is a word in a local dialect that means “the rainmaker”. The region comprises of 5 districts namely: Kasese, Kabarole, Bundibugyo, Kyenjojo and Kamwenge and is neighboring the Democratic Republic of Congo.

Like any other region in  Uganda, the  Rwenzori region has had  its share of  armed conflicts. Ever since Uganda got its independence in 1962, the region has witnessed a number of civil wars in the form of guerilla warfare. Several rebel groups have operated in this region including the Rwenzururu, National Resistance Army, National Army for the Liberation of Uganda  and Allied Democratic Forces.

The impact of ADF rebellion on civilians was devastating as it led to internal massive displacement. According to the Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre, 105,000 people were displaced in Bundibugyo in  and 18,000 were displaced in Kasese between 2000 and 2002. Many people were   killed and villages set a blaze.  Indiscriminate acts of violence perpetrated against the communities especially women still linger in their faces

Joyce who is  a survivor of war is one of the many people whose lives were shattered during the war. Her husband was killed as she looked on and was later gang raped. She  went into coma and was  left in the bush for dead. She was saved by hunters who brought her home and was treated with herbs. Up to now, Joyce’s uterus still hangs out and she has never received any medical assistance.

Like Joyce, many women and girls are still suffering from the pains of war. In a study conducted by Isis-WICCE Institute participants in 2011 in Kasese and Bundibugyo districts on the impact of war on women’s health; 90% of women experienced sexual violence  as they were forced to marry, gang raped  and sometimes inserting objects  in their private parts.

 Makisoro Sanyu,  was abducted together with her sister and a cousin was  repeatedly raped  and  forced to eat her sister’s flesh. Her sister complained that she wanted to rest and was killed. The rebels forced Sanyu to cut her sister’s body into pieces and then mixed it with goats’ meat.  “I was the first to be given the piece of her flesh.  My cousin was also killed and then her private parts were cut off and I was forced  to eat them too.  I was threatened that in case I refused I would be the next on the row, I simply ate”.   Sanyu  narrated

The study also revealed that there has not been any form of intervention since the war ended. Almost 70% of the women interviewed revealed that they have never received any form medical attention to address their sexual reproductive health complications.  The senior official in the Rwenzururu Kingdom confirmed this “When the ADF created the havoc our population is grappling with, no particular focus was given to the region because of the bigger war in the north.”

Health services in the two districts were worsened by the war  as most of them are non functional and the functional      ones  lack staffing  and  medical supplies. The  geographical terrain of the area is also another   challenge as it is  highly mountainous  and cannot   easily be accessed.

The study  further indicated that, most of the women who were interviewed had never practiced any method of family planning. Even those formerly abducted women who were having a burden of denied children and reproductive health problems were still producing many children in addition to those they came with from the bush. The minimum number of children  per household seven ( 7)

I was operated on using a knife and a razor blade. Up to now I feel  so much pain in my private parts. My voice has been affected and it sometimes stops when I am talking.  the children that I came with from the bush have been rejected by my foster husband.

 The war did not only leave the physical scars  on the populations   but also the psychological torture hence  emotional and behavioral disorder including mental disorders. “Most of the community people especially women are still distressed and experience terrible night mares”  said Kalisa Doreen who was part of the research team.

Some of the formerly abducted women. Most of these women have several health problems

The rebels could force mothers to abandon their babies in the bush and leave them crying and if they were seen distressed, they  were  killed.  Lovance,   was abducted during the war and was tortured. Now she is mentally disturbed, and she lives in isolation coupled with  poor living conditions.

In Bundibugyo district, Ndughuthu Sub County, the rebels attacked and burnt the church killing 72 people  majority of whom  were women. This incident has continued to haunt  the people in that village to the extent that up to now, when people pass nearby  that church, they cry.

Almost all households that were covered in the study   in Kasese and Bundibugyo, were directly affected by the war either they lost  members  or were maimed, abducted and  lost their property. Unfortunately these families have never been rehabilitated.

The parents  of the suspected rebels were also targeted and tortured by both the local  leaders and government soldiers who beat them  badly  and imprisoned to produce their children that had joined the rebels. This  affected the parents while others suffered  physical injuries.

The study further revealed high levels of poverty and  its effects on population such as  high instances of early marriage  where by parents  consider the girl  child as a source of wealth in form of dowry.  In a  different research conducted by Isis-WICCE    on  early marriage and its impact in Kasese district revealed that almost every household has a child mother and the major driver was poverty.

The people of the Rwenzori region have awaited for long for the help which is not forthcoming. The partial end of the ADF insurgency did not bring any clear opportunities for the people it had affected. The Rwenzori-Luweero Development Programme that was designed by the government of Uganda to address post-conflict concerns in relation to the NRA war has not yet taken off.

As we enter into 50 years of independence,  I  call upon the government and all stakeholders  to support the  post conflict recovery in Rwenzururu region especially on the issue of sexual and reproductive health because many women are rotting and sooner or later their lives will be no more hence loosing the treasured mothers of the nation and nurtures  of the  future generation.

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In  July 2011, I was interacted with  two women leaders from Ivory Coast  who were on a cross cultural learning and exchange visit in Uganda. Due to the post election violence that Ivory Coast descended into late last year, the purpose of their  visit was for the women to share their experience  as well as  acquiring  knowledge  and best practices  on how best to engage in post conflict  reconstruction and recovery.

Ivory Coast experienced post election violence following the disputed outcomes of the November 2010 Presidential elections between Alassane Outtara and Laurent Gbagbo. Alassane Ouatarra won the election but the incumbent Laurent Gbagabo refused to give up power and had to be removed by force; but after months of violence between the army and pro-Outtara forces.

During the violence, people lost their lives and property as villages were set ablaze leaving many people homeless. At least 3000 people were killed in the postelection violence.

Pauline sharing her experience during the dialogue

During their visit, Pauline Yao, the Chair Person; National level Femmes Cote d’Ivoire Experience (FCIEX) and Julia Gnekpato, Coordinator, Restoration of Human Rights Foundation presented video clips and photographs showing the extent of violence that civilians in Ivory Coast faced.

This was during the  roundtable discussion on Ivory Coast and women and post conflict reconstruction.  Yao emotionally recounted the moments when she was attacked by armed men who tied her and wanted to kill her. The moving story of her narrow escape from death was a story of many Ivorians. Yao  was forced out of her house and rebels occupied it. She sought refugee in her office and for twenty days she could not get out.

Julia Gnekpato  also shared her experience of how she lost everything.

I have nobody left. You are all I have.”Gnekpato said in a very emotional moment.

Julia in a very emotional moment while sharing her story

However these women are leading efforts to rebuild their communities from the ruins of violence. They told of documenting stories of sexual violence in different communities. In particular, the women narrated to the participants a story of a 60 year old woman who was raped by a 13 years old boy during the turmoil. To such women, regaining dignity takes a long time and a lot of efforts from different actors.

The women now carry out home visits, one-on-one counseling, community sensitization, drama and sports as a way of bringing communities back together.

After their presentation, Julia and Pauline received words of comfort and encouragement from the members of the Ugandan civil society to continue with their peace building work. They also got advice on several strategies to use in their peace building work and post conflict reconstruction.

Isis-WICCE brought these women to Ugandan to enable the civil society to understand what struggles other women on the continent are faced with. Harriet Musoke from Isis-WICCE said that sharing such experiences from other countries which have gone through the same experience such as Rwanda, Kenya and Uganda enables women understand how to approach post conflict recovery.

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One of the Women at the AU open Session

In March 2011, women survivors of sexual violence from Cote d’Ivoire, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Equatorial Guinea, Kenya, Somalia, South Sudan, Uganda and Zimbabwe presented their concerns to the AU peace and Security Council. This was during the councils’ second open session on Women and Children in Armed Conflict, which was held in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. The Peace and Security Council of the AU is responsible for promoting peace, security and stability as well as managing catastrophes and humanitarian actions in Africa.

The women who were facilitated by  Isis-WICCE, Femmes Africa Solidarité, UN Women, Oxfam (GB) and Urgent Action Fund-Africa expressed their concerns on the continuing armed conflicts on the continent that have led to increased sexual violence.

In their  statement, the women reiterated the fact that in spite of all the African Union and UN instruments, armed conflicts  continue un abated and sexual violence against women  is carried out with impunity by all parties  involved in fighting. They acknowledged the efforts of the AU member states in promoting gender parity, equality and enhancement of women’s participation through adoption of the Solemn Declaration on Gender Equality in Africa and the Additional Protocol to the African Charter on Human and Peoples Rights on the Rights of Women in Africa among others.

This meeting was the first   of its kind to discuss the extent of vulnerabilities faced by women and children in conflict and post conflict situations.  Mary Elias, a survivor  from South Sudan narrated how she was captured and tortured by the Sudan army on suspicion of  being a rebel collaborator. She described the way her hands and legs were tied behind and hot pepper was put in her vagina, anus and face.  Likewise,   Anna Grace Nakasi, a survivor from Uganda vividly shared her personal story and recounted her multiple experiences of rape by a total of 19 men including soldiers charged with civilian protection during armed conflict in Uganda. Nakasi got infected with HIV from the rapes and later faced stigmatization and excommunication from the community

The women called upon the member states to   put in place mechanisms that will ensure survivors’ full recovery of the bodies and soul and involve them in planning designing and implementing recovery and rehabilitation programmes. They emphasized the importance of  providing comprehensive medical care through increased health budgets for sexual and reproductive health complications and trauma management.

Similarly, the UN Special Representative of the Secretary-General on sexual violence in conflict, Mrs. Margot Wallstrom affirmed that sexual violence has been ignored in peace talks, reparations schemes and funding frameworks for recovery.

She further highlighted some of the actions that have been taken to combat impunity like that of the Government of DRC which has recently prosecuted a number of senior army officers for crimes of sexual violence. She urged AU member states to appoint an AU Special Representative on sexual violence in Conflict and pledged her support to such a role which she said will serve as a natural point of contact to strengthen AU-UN partnership.

Until 2009, little has been documented about the councils’ efforts in protecting women and children during conflict. In 2009, however when the council adopted the Livingstone Formula which ensures the participation of civil society organization in the council meetings and creation of open sessions.

In response to women’s concerns, the AU Peace and Security Council saluted the courage and resilience of  the survivors of conflict- related  sexual violence and  stressed the need to fully  investigate cases of crimes  committed against women. It emphasized the need for   launching preventive campaigns aimed at armed forces and the police to ensure that perpetrators are brought to justice.

The   members of the Council also urged member states  who have not ratified   the Protocol  to the African Charter  on Human and Peoples Rights  on the Rights of  women in Africa to do so and  ensure its  domestication. They also emphasized the importance of developing strategies at continental and regional level to enable monitoring of the situation of women and children in conflict as well as providing support for facilitating the psychological rehabilitation of the survivors of sexual violence. The Council further called for mobilization of resources to ensure that gender is mainstreamed in all aspects of AU peace-related activities.

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