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Posts Tagged ‘Women’

You cannot talk about access to justice for the victims of sexual violence if you do not understand the context in which this crime takes place’. Lady Justice, Prof. Tibatemwa Ekirikubinza, Supreme Court of the Republic of Uganda.

http://www.decalsplanet.com/item-11772-law-of-justice-women-balance.htmlSexual violence is defined as any sexual act that is perpetrated against someone’s will. It can be committed by any person regardless of their relationship to the victim and can occur in any setting.  It is deeply rooted in historical and structural inequalities that exist between men and women, and the different forms of gender-based discrimination that women are subjected to.

Survivors of sexual violence face significant barriers to accessing justice despite the existence of legal frameworks at international, regional and national levels that guarantees the right to access to justice.

In addition, because of the nature of the crime and poor cooperation and coordination between the different actors involved, access for survivors of sexual violence has remained a nightmare. ‘For decades, if not centuries, there has been a near-total absence of justice for survivors of rape and sexual violence says William Hague, the Former UK Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs.

In an effort to combat SGBV, as well as facilitating access to justice for the survivors of SGBV in the Great Lakes region, the International Conference on the Great Lakes Region (ICGLR) established a Regional Training Facility (RTF) on the Prevention and Suppression of sexual violence as mandated by Article 6(9) of the ICGLR protocol on Prevention and Suppression of sexual violence against women and children of 2006 ; and the ICGLR Pact on Security, Stability and Development  which obliges  Member States to prevent, criminalize and punish  all acts of sexual violence both  in times of peace and war, and in accordance with the national and international Law.

At a recent meeting, organized by the Training Facility, Judicial, Medical, Police officers, civil society and journalists in Uganda came together to dialogue and find ways of improving access to justice for survivors of sexual violence.

From the discussion, it was clear that there was general lack of knowledge and skills on how to collect and preserve of evidence by the police and the medical personnel. The Judges expressed disappointment on the kind of evidence that is normally presented in court which is sometimes irrelevant. ‘The court acts on the principle of proof beyond reasonable doubt and someone just presents a nicker in court and says this is my daughter’ remarked Justice David Batema. The investigators do not know how to collect substantive evidence. They should also know that every case has different ingredients, he added. He further highlighted the Police Form 3A which is used to collect evidence from the victim is an open check.

Likewise, Dr. Onen, A Consultant Pathologist lamented over the lack of a structure responsible for collecting and storing forensic evidence at the Ministry of Health. In the same way, the Judges re-echoed fact that if properly managed, medical-legal evidence can be used to pursue the case in circumstances where the victim/ witness loses interest. ‘If medical legal evidence has been properly built, even if money has exchanged hands, criminal justice system should be pursued’, said Hon. Lady Justice Susan Okalany.

The Judges also pointed out the issue of the language that is used by the medical officers while presenting evidence in court. When you are testifying, endeavor to use the language that the Judge understands, one of the judges commented.

Since sexual violence crimes are crimes committed against the state, there is also a challenge of balancing the duo status of the victim who is also a witness. Further still, the way in which the victims are handled in courts is sometimes so embarrassing and traumatizing as highlighted by one of the Prosecutors from the government Directorate of Public Prosecution ‘I have been in these court session and the questions posed to these ladies are so embarrassing’.

By not allowing the victims to testify in court chambers, the Judges were pointed out to be insensitive to the privacy and security of survivors. “Imagine a woman being asked by the Judge to re-count a rape ordeal in a court room five years later, this is secondary trauma that is subjected to her, said Lady Justice Susan Okalany .  Therefore, the Judicial officers need to be trained on how to handle sexual violence cases so that women and girls can appreciate courts as places of justice and not torture.

Lastly, the Judges pointed out lack of uniformity in sentencing sexual violence crimes. Although the courts have the Sentencing Guidelines, there are not specific and this gives the Judges power to decide on the final sentence which sometimes can be biased.

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Fourteen years ago, UN Security Council unanimously adopted Resolution 1325 which recognizes women’s leadership in conflict prevention, resolution and peace building, as well as the gendered impact of war on women and girls. As part of promoting women’s participation as mandated by UNSCR 1325 and other international human rights instruments that promote women’s leadership and participation in decision making, Isis –WICCE has been conducting leadership training institution for women from conflict and post to upscale their knowledge, skills and enthusiasm towards making 1325 a reality.

The 2013/14 Institute brought together 35 women leaders Nepal, Burma, Democratic Republic of Congo, South Sudan, Myanmar and Uganda on a three phased training under the theme theme ‘Women’s Agency in Peace building and Human Security’.

During the last phase which will take place from August 6 to 12, 2014 in Thailand, women leaders are expected to share the findings their research studies which were conducted in the second phase. Using new knowledge and skills acquired from the first phase of the training in 2013, participants critically analysed women’s participation in peace building and decision making processes as stipulated in the UN Security Council Resolution 1325.

Participants from Nepal analyzed women’s participation in Local Peace Committees Local Peace Committee (LPC) that are formed at the level of a district, municipality, town or village and requires that 33% of its membership are women. The work of the LPC among others include facilitating joint, inclusive peace making and peace building processes within its own context, facilitating reconciliation process at the local level between two or more parties to conflict, conflict-affected victims, and other stakeholders.

According to the study, 50% of the study districts (10) LPC had been able to achieve 33 percent or more representation of women in current LPC. Although the numbers seem to paint a positive image, it was discovered that women were there only in the name of inclusion and this has been described by feminists as the “just add women and stir” approach that is present in some of the UNSCR 1325 implementation efforts today. The notion of “just add women and stir” completely instrumentalizes women’s lives and fails to challenge patriarchal systems and structures which have consistently discriminated and marginalized women.

The study further revealed that the 50% of women in the LPC as drawn from the marginalized population such as the indigenous women, the disabled and are considered weak and have lesser capacity to lead/argue on women issues.

Likewise, in Uganda, institute participants analyzed the impact of women’s participation within the Uganda police force. The Uganda Gender Policy 2007, emphasizes that all government recruitments should have 30% of women. The Uganda Police has tried to fulfill this requirement but in most cases, the percentage is hardly never reached because gendered perspective of police which is considered to be a masculine institution as well as set recruitment standards which requires the Ordinary level certificate with an emphasis of science subjects (which in most cases are also considered to be masculine subjects) as the minimum requirement. That notwithstanding, the Uganda Police Force has 5951 Female Officers and only 293 are at a senior level rank.

Numbers aside, just like in Nepal’s Local Peace Committees, where women are considered as weak members, in Uganda Police Force, the women are also considered as weak officers and very few women are in decision making positions. For example, out of 129 District Police Commissioners (DPCs), only 5 are women.
In the two countries, a trend of keeping women in inactive posts where they do not get opportunities to meaningfully participate in the decision making process was observed. Despite this situation, the two studies agree that women are playing a critical role and their leadership brings unique values and perspectives to peace building and that is why Isis-WICCE has continued to organise leadership institutes for women leaders to ensure that women’s leadership is not only about the numbers but also the competencies to lead and hold policy makers accountable.

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As we mark the International Women’s Day for Peace and Disarmament and engage on the campaign ‘Gender militarism : Analyzing the linkages to strategize for peace’ let  us put into this  perspective that about 33.5 million people have been  displaced by conflict  at the end of 2013 according  IMDC report . We can consider these survivors as somehow  lucky  because other millions have  lost their lives  as a result of war, not forgetting immense destruction of infrastructure and natural resources.

It is a fact that in any conflict, it is the women and children who suffer most  and the  often-cited statistics are that  as many as 80 per cent of displaced populations are women and children. While women bear the brunt of war, they rarely receive any compensation because the rewards negotiated at the peace table benefit men. As I was browsing through  some literature, I came across  this statement from a woman Peace Activist from Northern Uganda  “When I look at the level of sufferings women go through in crisis, in violence, in armed conflict, then I just feel the need to play a key role to stop wars and violence from happening…..”   But can women play a key role in stopping war and violence? The answer is simple yes, women have the power to stop violence and suffering  but the  issues of patriarchy  and militarism  have made is very difficult for women to make meaning contribution in  peace building.

Militarism as defined by feminists is a threat system, which simply says “Do what I tell you – or else”. The basic value of militarism is power over the other. This statement  has been best explained by Rita Popo,  a peace activists who said “ the way men resolve conflicts is looking at whose power is greater… They don’t look at that possibility of saying: ‘Let me listen to him, let him listen to me and analyse Why we disagreed?’…They don’t look at it this way. They say: ‘I am powerful. I am more powerful than that one”.   Many times, male dominated agendas tend to emphasize and prioritize issues of power and political positions. In formal peace negotiations, men put there rules and regulations of what they want to happen, at the same time giving conditions for  putting guns down whereas  women go beyond this and want to see peace in terms of meeting human safety needs and other aspects of well-being.

Therefore, there is need for the new alternatives that will aim at dismantling and redefining  the power structures and patriarchal systems. The men  need to understand women’s participation in peace processes and  decision making  will not disadvantage them and that the idea is not to invert the balance of power, but to abolish domination, oppression, exploitation, discrimination and injustice. When both men and women work together to find solutions, they  benefit. It is a win win situation. This article was written as part of social media campaign on Gender and Militarism  organized by  Women Peace Makers Program, 2014  

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South Sudan Women Leaders light a candle as a symbol of hope and peace at the opening of a consultative meeting in Kampala

South Sudan Women Leaders light a candle as a symbol of hope and peace at the opening of a consultative meeting in Kampala

The recent outbreak of armed conflict in South Sudan, Africa’s youngest nation has led to massive displacement, suffering and killing of thousands of innocent civilians especially the women and children. Amidst desperation and suffering, the women of South Sudan have refused to remain victims but survivors and are demanding to be active participants in the ongoing peace talks taking place in Addis Ababa.

Soon after the outbreak of the conflict, the women picked up the pieces and organized themselves into women’s operation group. They supported each other, sent out strong messages of peace and provided humanitarian assistance to the victims by opening their homes to the displaced people.
I received over 25 families here in Uganda in my house and now I am finding it very hard to look after them, said one Sudanese woman during a consultative meeting in Kampala whose purpose was to provide a platform for South Sudan women to consolidate their voices in order to influence the peace talks taking place in Adis Ababa. Women are taking up the roles of the humanitarian agencies and the government as well. Unfortunately their effort goes unnoticed.

Another woman also commented that we feel so angry, frustrated and embarrassed. When shall we ever enjoy peace? We want to be at the peace table because the bullets do not discriminate between a woman and a man.

The Women of South Sudan are unsung heroines in the liberation struggle of their country. During the liberation war, the women under the ‘Girls Battalion’ pushed both sides to declare a cessation of hostilities. They also played an instrumental role in the 2011 referendum for their independence.

Therefore their efforts must be recognized and funded as provided for in United Nations Security Council Resolution 1325 (2000). Therefore including the women in the peace process, is not simply the right thing to do; it is the smart thing to do.

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