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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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In my previous post I wrote about the research study that is being undertaken by Isis-WICCE to examine the effectiveness of female Members of Parliament and Councilors in influencing decisions for gender equality. In this post I am sharing key finding from the field in Agago and Pader districts, Northern Uganda with women councilors at the local government level.

The system of Local Government in Uganda is based on the District as a Unit under which there are lower Local Governments and Administrative Unit Councils. The  Elected Local Government Councils are made up of persons directly elected to represent electoral areas, persons with disabilities, the youth and women councillors. The Local Government Council is the highest political authority in its area of jurisdiction. The councils are corporate bodies having both legislative and executive powers. They have powers to make local laws and enforce implementation. The Local Governments in a District rural area are: the Sub-County and a Parish.

Given the patriarchal nature of our societies, women still find it very challenging to take up leadership positions. For example in Acholi culture, if a woman wants to contest for political leadership, she has to first ask for permission from her husband, If the husband accepts, the  husband has to consult the clan leaders for approval. The clan leaders will then task the man to tell them how he will manage the family when the wife is away. The clan leaders in most cases will label a woman a prostitute because they assume that she cannot manage to contain her sexual emotions when she is surrounded by men in council meetings. All this is meant to humilate and frustrate the  woman and her husband to give up the political leadership

Joyce Banda

Isnt this  patriarchy at play? Her Excellency Joyce Banda,president of Malawi kneeling to greet her fellow presidents

Source PAWA254

Despite all those challenges, women have braved and a handful have taken on political leadership but their level of participation and engagement is very low and has been reduced to the  ‘3s’ syndrome (Second, Support and Sign) motions  during the council meetings. This has also been attributed to their low level of education and limited knowledge since most of them are primary level graduates. They are easily manipulated, threatened and sexually harassed by the male councilors.

Women Leading to Change

On the other hand, women leaders at lower levels especially at Parish level, have demosntrated the potential and been made a difference in their communities. For example in Agago, three parishes which are chaired by women have been able to make bylaws to curb down child marriage, defilement and reduce maternal death. I a woman delivers at home, the husband is made to pay Ugshs. 250,000; an equivalent of US$100. If a man marries underage girl he pays a fine of Ug shs.100,000; and equivalent of US$40 and is subjected to a community service for a period of one month. A teacher who defiles will lose his job and cannot be employed anywhere in the district. I must say that this is what is called Feminist Leadership and it goes without saying that If the women ruled the world, it would be a better place for all.

The above example clearly shows that women have the potential and the capacity to  lead but Patriarchy which has entrenched our societies for ages cannot allow them to do so. Its high time we dismantle the powers of patriarchy and give women a chance to lead becasue they are better leaders.

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“For every great feminist leader we can think of from anywhere in the world, past and present has one thing in common: she led by challenging and disturbing the status quo.”  Srilatha Batliwala,2012

Leadership from a feminist standpoint is informed by the power of the feminist lens, which enables the feminist leader to identify injustices and oppressions and inspires her to facilitate the development of more inclusive, holistic approaches. Feminist leaders are motivated by fairness, justice, and equity and strive to keep issues of gender, race, social class, sexual orientation, and ability at the forefront.

Feminist leadership is also commonly referred to transformational leadership which is concerned with causing social change; and achieving   gender justice. For any kind of feminist transformational leadership, leaders need to undergo a process of personal reflection, consciousness-raising, awakening and internalization of feminism.

This process in part of Isis-WICCE’s Exchange Programme Institute that brings together women from conflict and post conflict situations across the world to acquire  and share skills and knowledge  in peace building and conflict transformation so as to take lead addressing post conflict recovery and development issues in their communities.

This year the institute brought  together 34 women  leaders and activists from Asia and Africa who acquired knowledge and skills in skills in feminist approaches to conflict; sexual and reproductive health and rights; research methods and documentation of women’s realities and feminist peace building and leadership.

Participants demonstrating different ways of challenging social injustice during the training

Participants had an opportunity to reflect and share  their personal experiences of resisting and challenging  injustice and oppression in their communities and how they  managed to overcome and brought  about social change as  grounded in feminist leadership.

Wekoweu Tsuha from  India shared her reflection on how she led a group of activists and   utilised the access to information Act together  and   asked public authorities for a specific rural government programme worth several hundred thousand rupees in one village which was not getting funds that they were supposed to get . They filed a case under this Act and found out that a lot of money had been sent and was not reaching the actual beneficiaries. This information was shared with the common people and started raising questions on the expenditure. The people were able to demand for accountability and those who were involved were exposed and resigned.

Nadia  Carine from Central African Republic shared her experience on the  fact finding mission  she conducted on the situation of prison inmates  in her country.  in prison cells  she found out that  male and female inmates were sharing one cell  and female inmates  were sexually  abused by the male inmates especially rape. She wrote a report about the situation and presented to relevant authorities including the UNDP which took up the issue and as a result a  women’s cell was constructed.

Angele DRC intervened in the case of a woman who was wrongly accused of witch craft because her husband had found her with strange leaves in the bedroom. The woman had brought the leaves to treat her body from the injuries sustained as a result of domestic violence. Her husband went around telling  the village that his  wife was a sorcerer. The wife  was beaten and chased away from the village.  Angele intervened in her situation and took her case to a human rights organisation which  hired a lawyer to handle it. In the end justice was served and the husband apologised to her, gave her a piece of  land  to support her  raise her children.

Henda from  Tunisia her story  that  after her  studies her  family decided that she should not  work in public service as  journalist  instead she should get married. She  resisted and started writing on the internet and got support through  her  blog where she  met people  who encouraged her  and helped her to  get out of the isolation and this  gave her  courage to continue. Consequently her parents allowed her to work as a journalist and she started developing her career.

Therese from Zimbabwe was able to secure proper housing for over 80 orphans and other vulnerable children when the government was demolishing  houses which were not secure.  “I was afraid to approach the government so I started by engaging the media despite fearing being threatened”.  She engaged the media to bring the issues of orphans and vulnerable children to public attention and also contacted UNICEF which constructed the houses for the orphans and  also 100 families were offered proper housing by the government.

These are a few stories of women that illustrate feminist leadership in practice with a transformative agenda even without the formal power or authority do do so and with very marginal resources  and consequently bringing about social justice. The stories also show that feminist leadership requires agility and resilience because of the likelihood of backlash.

Interesting though is that many of these women did not see themselves as feminist leaders until the concept of feminist leadership was interrogated during the training. The training therefore cleared the conceptual cloud, illuminated the practice of feminist leadership and demonstration of social change.

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This  digital story shows the work of Isis-WICCE  in  empowering women in S.Sudan with leadership skills to actively engage in post conflict reconstruction and peace building through  the Exchange Programme Institute  http://vimeo.com/37577788

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