Archive | April, 2011


6 Apr

As the world celebrates 100 years of women’s movement, so many questions have been going on in my mind, such as: do we really have anything to celebrate? Must we celebrate? And who is celebrating? I will attempt to answer these questions.

I will start with; do we really have to celebrate? No and Yes. No because we as African’s have adapted all Eurocentric ideas wholeheartedly. Sometimes I wonder what happened to our original principles, ideals, cultures and practices before we were colonized. Our colonial masters seem to have helped us eliminate them and we in the spirit of civilization took all the western ideals and practices in order for us to qualify as developed!  What this has done to women is take away their rights and privileges. Women in Africa had mobilized before the 1911 internationally recognized dates. Women in African societies, especially women in Uganda; they mobilized in their homesteads, their communities, across regions to celebrate, to challenge, to support and to speak out. These early activities of women were not documented nor shared with anyone, therefore not recognized.

Should we celebrate yes, despite these unplanned influences and global drive for development and democracy; women have played significant roles and made progress in demanding for their rights. Women in Africa have moved alongside women in the world from the first world women’s conference  in Mexico, to Nairobi, to Beijing , and to New York. All these spaces provided platforms for women to gather and agree on issues affecting them across borders, class, and ethnicity. These conferences produced various frameworks including the Nairobi forward looking strategy, the Beijing Platform for Action, the International Conference on Population and Development, the Convention on the Elimination of All forms of Discrimination against Women and the United Nations Security Council Resolution 1325, which focuses specifically on women, peace and security issues. The UNSCR 1325 has given birth to so many other resolutions, which women’s activists are becoming disillusioned on the extent to which these resolutions will be implemented.

Uganda like many other countries in Africa has followed the calls by the United Nations to domesticate many of these frameworks; and again they did wholeheartedly, probably that is why we are having challenges implementing them to the dot. The Uganda constitution recognizes the rights of all citizens including women as demanded by the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Other laws and policies emanating from international frameworks include the domestic violence Act, the national gender policy and the marriage and divorce bill which still being debated by the Parliament.  In fact, Uganda had made progress in this line that many women activists have called on other African countries to follow suit. But what have these laws, Acts and policies delivered for the women of Uganda?

Gender discrimination continues through political exclusion, economic marginalization and sexual gender based violence; denying women their rights and limiting their potential to participate and benefit from development.  However, there has been lack of political will to respect these frameworks, including a sudden realization that some of the provisions do not align with our cultures as was the case with the Maputo Protocol. While there has been  lack of resources to implement these policies and frameworks, increased incidences of various forms of gender based violence have cast doubts on any gains. Maybe African women have to develop methodologies that are sensitive to the realities on ground reflecting local realities when addressing the marginalization and exploitation women still experience.

Gender based violence has remained unchecked by government, all stakeholders and every citizen of this country. Various women’s rights organizations have worked tirelessly to combat gender based violence and ensure that women who experience violence access justice and are sufficiently compensated for the harm on their physical and mental health.

Research conducted by Isis-WICCE on women’s war experiences in Uganda shows the various forms of gender based violence include physical, emotional and sexual violence. The impact of GBV on women include reproductive health complications, trauma, and in some cases, mental health complications (Isis-WICCE, 2001, 2004; TPO, 2010). Intimate Partner Violence is on the increase in Uganda. In a recent research commissioned by the Uganda AIDS Commission in the Teso sub region, 46.8% of women researched reported Intimate Partner Violence. Similarly, Isis-WICCE’s research in northern Uganda and the Luwero triangle indicated high incidences of psychological distress amongst women who were violated. The findings reveal that the government has not sufficiently addressed the reproductive health needs of women.

Isis-WICCE’s recent monitoring of the implementation of the Peace Recovery and Development Plan for Northern Uganda reveals that most of the health centers do not provide comprehensive health services; majority of the women who are victims of GBV only receive services from NGOs and community based organizations. This leaves a large number of women untreated of reproductive health complications arising from gender based violence.  In addition GBV reduces empowerment opportunities for women as they lose their self esteem and ability to participate in community development, this is the case of women with leaking urine, such incidences leads to trauma. Does this call for celebrations?

After several years of research, medical intervention and continuous work with women in Uganda, Isis-WICCE has recognized that there is a direct relationship between GBV, Reproductive Health and Mental Health problems among women living in post-conflict areas in Uganda. In post conflict situations, the vulnerability factors for GBV, Reproductive Health and Mental Health problems among women are similar. Most women are poor, economically disempowered; lack education; lack awareness of their rights; and widowed among other factors. This intersection calls for evidence based, right based, comprehensive, multi-disciplinary approaches and linkages between services to ensure that the various intersections are addressed at each point of service delivery.

This can be achieved through the integration of GBV services into assessment and treatment guidelines and protocols used in antenatal, postnatal, family planning and HIV/AIDS services. It would also require Gender, Mental Health and basic counseling skills training of midwives and other health workers such as community psychosocial support workers. All stakeholders need to advocate for such comprehensive approaches if we are going to reduce gender based violence and maternal mortality as indicated in the millennium development goal. Probably by 2015 we may have more to celebrate on achieving gender equality.

Helen Kezie-Nwoha