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Isis-WICCE joins the women’s movement in Uganda to protest police brutality

16 May

Over 100 Ugandan women from Civil Society organizations staged a March for Peace and Justice in Kampala on Monday 9th May 2011. The women’s march was to register their deep concern and condemn the excessive use of force by the Police and other security agencies to quell demonstrations under the “Walk to Work” campaign.

Isis-WICCE Executive Director Ruth Ojiambo Ochieng with a sauce pan during the protest

Women were holding banners that had different messages to the government and the public. “Stop shooting our children,” one banner read while others called on government to intervene to cut fuel prices which have led to high cost of living especially in the urban areas. After the March, the women gathered at Kira road playground where they spoke out calling for investigations into the deaths and brutal arrests. The Women handed over a statement to UN Special Rapporteur on Human Rights Defenders Ms Margaret Sekagya who called for thorough investigation into the incidents.

100 YEARS OF THE WOMEN’S MOVEMENT GENDER BASED VIOLENCE CONTINUES WITH IMPUNITY

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

Reflections on 2010 – Our most exciting moments!

16 Dec

As we round up for 2010, I can remember how we spent days, weeks, meetings upon meetings planning for the year. As we round up the year, I want us to share the most striking moments/events/shifts that we experienced during the year. It does not have to be all sweet stories, you can also share most of the most difficult moments.

Helen

Isis-WICCE’s Working Paper on 16 Days of Activism

10 Dec

Dear members,

Please find below the working paper that Isis-WICCE has produced concerning the theme of this years 16 Days of Activism. 

The question that still remains unanswered is ‘why both government and rebel forces should use women’s bodies as a stage for war and conflict?’

 Thank you!

 The Impact of Militarism on Women in Armed and Post Conflict Situations

By

Helen Kezie-Nwoha[1]

Background

Since Isis-WICCE[2] started it’s in depth research and documentation in 1996, its focus has been on documenting women’s experience in armed conflict and post conflict situations. The main purpose of Isis-WICCE’s relocation to Africa is to tap the voices of African women; and document the war experiences of women and its effect on them. Isis-WICCE’s approach to documentation is action oriented. In addition, Isis-WICCE through its international exchange institute documents women’s war experience as one of the phases of training institute participants. In addition, Isis-WICCE has profiled and documented the war experiences of women in Uganda (including Luwero, Gulu, Kitigum, Katakwi and Teso sub region); Southern Sudan, Liberia and most recently Nepal. Isis-WICCE draws its mandate from relevant articles in the Beijing Platform for Action; the Convention on the Elimination of All forms of Discrimination against Women; and United Nations Security Council Resolution 1325, 1820, 1888 and 1889. Experience from the various research and documentation shows that the military plays key role in propagating violence against women during the war and in peace keeping efforts. The types of violations vary from rape to killing and maiming.

This year marks the 20th 16 days of activism against gender based violence campaign with the theme; Militarism and Violence against women. This theme is timely considering the increased conflict around the globe; and specifically in Africa. Many African countries have been in conflict for protracted periods, many are intra country conflict as the case with Sudan and the agitated disagreements between the two parties; some other forms of violence that are anticipated are those related to elections come 2011, in countries such as Uganda, Liberia and Nigeria.  The use of military as the last stopper to ensure peace and security has not been the best option, but most countries still rely on the military to ensure safety of people during and after conflict.

This paper analyzes Isis-WICCE’s research reports from various countries to show the impact of militarism on women in armed and post conflict situations, it compares the findings from different countries and makes policy recommendations for the way forward in addressing the intersection between militarism and violence against women. It outlines how enshrined patriarchy within military institutions and other peace and security institution refuse to recognize and respect the rights of women to be protected from violations by the military.

Militarism governs the conduct of armed conflict and continues in the post war context, the dynamics and impact of militarism is not different from during the war. This usually translates into high levels of criminal violence and increased violence within the households, families and communities. Research findings show that the end of war hardly brings peace, in fact the level of the violation of women’s right after war has been seen to be higher in post conflict situations, this state of affairs puts women at a precarious and deprived position.

 

Country Experiences

In Uganda, the long period of war had its impact on the population, but women and girls were most affected. The nature of the violent conflict in Northern Uganda was constructed in a way were armed groups terrorized the region; government forces who were supposed to control the escalation of conflict instead propagated it, with high levels of violence. Isis-WICCE’s research in Gulu indicated that women and girls were targets of violent acts, such as abduction, rape, mutilation, forced murder, threats, false accusation, maiming and killing. Women experienced sexual violations in a large scale. Both government forces and the Lord Resistant Army forces sexually abused women and girls extensively. Furthermore, Women were forcefully married to rebels, and most times one man had several women, those who refused to be raped or married out are maimed or killed. Many young girls were impregnated and abandoned, increasing the number of child mothers.

The so called wives of soldiers suffered seclusion from the rest of the society and were brutally handled by their husbands. Many, who relocated to government camps, claimed that they were not adequately protected by the soldiers, as the soldiers lured young girls for sex for protection, and were unable to prevent the abduction of children and women by the rebel groups. These problems left communities with high incidences of sexually transmitted diseases, including HIV/AIDS, and other forms of reproductive health complications, all these resulting in long term health and social problems[3]. Ever since the incidence the government has refused to take responsibility of the excesses of its soldiers and its consequences on the general population, especially women and girls. From all indications it seems that justice for these women and girls who were raped is not coming soon, in spite of the efforts of women’s rights organization, who have stressed the need for reparation and post conflict reconstruction processes to include social justice for women and girls.

Despite the various difficulties women faced during and after the prolonged insurgency, they have continued to demonstrate resourcefulness in the way they have been able to organize themselves in the midst of the crisis and have been able to support their families economically. On the other hand, many women have not recovered from the trauma and health complications inflicted on them during the war, this has had an impact on their health and their capacity to contribute effectively to peace building and post conflict reconstruction[4]. Till date many women have limited access to quality health care services, the current Peace Recovery and Development Plan for Northern Uganda has failed to address the health needs of women in practical term, as its area of focus is infrastructure development, but this does not automatically translate to improved health for women.

Sudan’s independence in 1956 did not deliver the constructive development as anticipated, but became a battle ground for two civil armed conflict 1955-1972 and 1983-2005. The conflict has been between the Sudan government in Khartoum and the Sudan Peoples Liberation Movement (SPLM) in the South. The conflict was based on ethnic, cultural, religious, and other socio-political and cultural divides. The marginalization of the South by the North contributed in a large scale to the conflict. It was only in 2005 that a comprehensive peace agreement was signed[5].

Violations during the long period of war in Sudan can be categorized into the following: sexual violations, violations of peoples self worth, violations of economic rights, violations of health rights, and violations of the right to interact and live in a safe environment. Others include violations of right to education, forced marriages by both parents who wanted to prevent their daughters from being abducted and the forced marriages by rebel forces. An assessment of perpetrators of armed conflict torture in the Southern Sudan studies, points to high number of militarized groups including the Sudan Armed Forces, the Sudan Peoples Liberation Army, the militia and foreign forces such as the Lords Resistant Army[6].

Although some women participated actively as combatants, during the war women who were caught in the crossfire by either side were subjected to humiliating, brutal and traumatizing experiences. Apart from gang rapes often with their husbands present and sometimes acting as mattresses, women were pierced in their vaginas and young girls had their external genitalia cut off. Such experience resulted into reproductive and mental health complications. Many of these complications remained unaddressed for prolonged period. Currently there are efforts by international development partners to support the government of Southern Sudan to address these challenges, but very few interventions are geared towards addressing trauma and reproductive health of women and girls in Southern Sudan. Health indices for Southern Sudan has worsened in the last five years, as maternal mortality rates are 2074 deaths out of 100,000 live births, the highest in the world, infant mortality rate is at 105 deaths in every 1,000 live births.

The nature of conflict in Sudan resulted in women losing their self esteem and dignity, and being totally disconnected from the developments and benefits of the global women’s movements. Currently, some women have broken through the barriers to attain political positions; some of these women include those trained by Isis-WICCE in its affirmative action women’s leadership institute in Southern Sudan. However, much more needs to be done to ensure women’s effective participation, especially as we approach the referendum come January 2011.

The 14 year conflict in Liberia and sexual gender based violence that emanated had overwhelming effects on the general population especially women. An analysis[7] of some of the causes of the conflict pointed to militarization and breakdown of governance, marginalization of majority indigenous people, lack of education and employment opportunities amongst minority population, and dominance of leadership by a minority population. These differences and marginalization led to the creation of about twelve militant groups, all fighting the government for their various interests. In addition to the armed groups, government forces, including the police and prison officials also perpetrated violations against women and the general population. Isis-WICCE’s research found that the nature of sexual torture experienced by women and girls had impact on their sexual and reproductive health. Out of 515 women researched[8], 62.5% reported personal experiences of sexual torture; this sample size gives an idea of the large population of women who were sexually violated during and after the armed conflict in Liberia. Some of the violated women and girls who had objects forcefully inserted in their vaginas acquired rectal vaginal fistulae. The high level of sexual abuse escalated the prevalence of sexually transmitted infections, especially HIV/AIDS.

Other reproductive health complications reported include: abnormal vaginal bleeding; abnormal vagina discharge; infertility; leaking urine; chronic abdominal pain; genital sores among others. In addition to the reproductive health complications, the general population suffered psychological problems leading to mental health complications. Majority of the women could not access health services during the conflict due to a combination of factors including lack of health care facilities; poverty and stigma around sexual violations which prevent women from discussing or reporting their experiences.

The nature of conflict in Liberia led to the normalization of sexual violence and militarization of intimate relationships. Evidence shows that during the conflict the main perpetrators of sexual violence were fighting forces, and in the post conflict period this has reversed to community or family members, teachers, and husband/partners attacking the sexuality of women and girls. Many of these newly defined perpetrators were either ex combatants or who themselves were violated during the conflict; it seems the attack on the sexuality of women is a way of excising power negatively or a form of claiming lost authority during the conflict. This form of masculinity and power expressed by different categories of men has been questioned and challenged by feminists. The continuous violation of women and girls sexuality has resulted in their inability to participate in post conflict recovery and reconstruction of Liberia. However, the Liberian government has made progress with regards to setting up legal frameworks such as the poverty reduction strategy; the national plan of action for GBV; and the national GBV task force to address sexual violations, what remains is implementation of the frameworks.

Evidence from other armed and post countries show similar trends, in the Democratic Republic of Congo rape was committed at very high levels, as it was not only limited to combatants, but also men from local communities who exploited the chaos of conflict to commit sexual violence against women with impunity[9]. In addition, women and girls who were abducted during the conflict were used for sexual slavery and forcefully conscripted into active combatants. In Sierra Leone a study undertaken by UNFPA in 2000 showed that between 50,000 to 64,000 internally displaced women may have been sexually victimized.[10] In Darfur, Medicines Sans Frontiers (MSF) reported that between October 2004 and February 2005, they treated almost 500 rape survivors. However, this number does not represent the actual numbers of women raped, as many women do not report cases of rape. Similarly, the 1994 Rwanda genocide recorded an estimated 500,000 rape cases out of which two third of the victims were infected with HIV/AIDS. In the case of Rwanda, rape was part of the genocide plan and a strategy to systematically degrade women and girls, this practice was exported into Eastern Democratic Republic of Congo through militias[11]. Across countries the issue of none reporting of rape could be attributed to the stigma attached to rape and the trauma associated with women and girls who have been raped.

Militarism and sexual gender based violence

Experiences across countries show similar trends indicating the effect of militarism and violence against women on women and girls in post conflict situations. From country case studies, it is obvious that the impact of conflict has resulted in various forms of reproductive health complications, increased infection rates including sexually transmitted diseases and HIV/AIDS. Studies also reveal that women and girls have suffered from psychological and mental trauma resulting from the violations they experienced during and after the conflict. Most of the country cases show high level of impunity and government denial of the participation of its forces. It seems from all indications that governments tend to cover up and deny the allegations of sexual violence by its forces, but instead blames it on the unruly behavior of rebel forces. Nevertheless governments have over the time used this blame game as a tactics to label the rebels as bad and justify their attack on them. The question that remains unanswered is ‘why both government and rebel forces should use women’s bodies as a stage for war and conflict?’

Despite the high numbers of violations recorded by various researches, it seems a long way before women and girls can receive justice for the sexual violence meted on them. Although the UNSCR 1325 and 1820 explicitly calls for all perpetrators of sexual violence to be tried for war crimes, most governments, such as Uganda and Liberia that have developed National Action Plans for the Implementation of 1325 and 1820, tend to focus on preventive measures rather than including mechanisms for social and legal justice for women. Similarly in Uganda and Liberia legal frameworks have been developed to address sexual gender based violence including domestic violence, but these frameworks lack political will for implementation. It will seem most governments are not politically willing to address the issues of sexual gender based violence nor support the victims pf sexual violence seek justice, especially those committed by government forces.

As the world celebrates 10 years of UNSCR1325, the Resolution has been heralded for drawing attention to the situation of women in armed and post conflict, including their participation in peace building and post conflict reconstruction processes. Likewise the recognition of UNSCR 1820 that sexual violence against women should be treated as war crimes, however these very important resolutions seem to lack an accountability framework that will provide sanctions for non implementation. As we celebrate the 20th 16 days of activism against gender based violence the theme for 2010 calls us to reflect on the impact of militarism and violence against women in armed and post conflict situations, and also in so called peaceful situations, where most women have remained unsafe and subject to many forms of sexual violence. To address the intersection between militarism and sexual gender based violence the following recommendations are proposed.

Recommendations

The United Nations Security Council and its entities should as a matter of urgency implement the calls and recommendations of UNSCR 1325, 1820, 1888 and 1889. There is also urgent need for the Security Council to develop mechanisms of accountability for implementation of the above listed resolutions, either through yearly reports or NGOs shadow reports. Governments need to view the issue of gender mainstreaming in the military from the perspective of ensuring reduced violence against women and not in terms of increased number of women in the military. The issue of gender mainstreaming and addressing sexual violence must be given priority by all governments who have signed into the United Nations Security Council Resolutions.

Civil society organizations and women’s organizations working in armed and post conflict settings need to document the various forms of violations and perpetrators to enable evidence based argument on the intersection between militarism and sexual gender based violence. Such data will provide information for policy advocacy and contribute to the UN Secretary Generals report to the Security Council. This may ultimately inform further action in addressing this intersection.


[1] Helen is Programme Manager at Isis-WICCE

[2] Isis-Women’s International Cross Cultural Exchange (Isis–WICCE) is a global action oriented women’s organization that to promote justice, equality and mutual relationships between women and men. Isis-WICCE operates primarily in Africa but maintains an international perspective and presence in its operations to lobby and bring the concerns of women in situations of armed conflicts to debates and campaigns at the international level. Please visit www.isis.or.ug for more information.

[3] Isis-WICCE, 2001. Women’s Experiences of Armed Conflict in Uganda, Gulu District, 1986-1999

[4] Ibid

[5] Isis-WICCE, 2007. Women’s Experiences During Armed Conflict in Southern Sudan, 1983-2005: The Case of Juba County Central Equatorial State.

[6] Ibid

[7] Isis-WICCE, 2008. A Situation Analysis of the Women Survivors of the 1989-2003 armed conflict in Liberia.

[8] Ibid

[9] UNFPA, 2006. Ending Violence against Women: From words to action. Study of the Secretary General. Violence against women: unmet needs broken promises. United Nations Fact Sheet. 6th October 2006.

[10] Ibid

[11] United Nations Report of the Secretary General on Women, Peace and Security – s/2002/1154.

A Cyber Dialogue on the theme ‘Structures of Violence: Defining the Intersections of Militarism and Violence Against Women’

10 Dec

As we are closing  the 16 Days of Activism of 2010 on International Human Rights Day, it is important to reflect on what the theme of this year can contribute to the discussion on violence against women.  

How can we as activists and advocates understand the intersections and reduce the prevalence of violence against women? With defining the problem it will guide us in finding the solution and move forward on

Celebrations at the an Isis-WICCE Exchange Institute

ensuring the progress of women.

At Isis-WICCE, we hoped you enjoyed the discussion and look forward to future engagements on our blog!

Thank you!

16 Days of Activism: Militarism and Violence Against Women…

29 Nov

WIPNET Women

Women have suffered the brunt of the violence and have become targets during conflict. Rape is an act of militarism and it has been perpetrated in conflict and post-conflict settings by militant combatants on either side of the conflict.

In what ways does the Militarism of a society contribute to the increase of Violence Against Women? In what ways can it actually help protect women from perpetrators who commit violence?

A Cyber Dialogue on the theme ‘Structures of Violence: Defining the Intersections of Militarism and Violence Against Women’

25 Nov

Cyber training

November 25th launches the 2010 16 Days of Activism and with this Isis-WICCE will commence a cyber dialogue. Asking members of the community particpate and contribute to some of the questions arising from the theme of this year. 

Militarism and violence against women has been an inter-linkage that has not been at the forefront of combating abuses committed against women. A militaristic society believes in having a strong military presence to defend national interests. In trying to define the intersections between Militarism and Violence Against Women, it is imperative to understand the terms.

Today let’s begin the dialogue with what our definition of militarism and violence against women is. Please share with us how you would describe these two terms and how it contributes to the structures of violence?