Last week we concluded our nationwide women convenings across the country. These convenings brought together different women activists and organizers to share experiences and lessons learned through their struggle against injustices in their communities. They also shared how our training and mentorship programs in community organizing and movement building have helped them stand against oppression.
In the Eastern region, women from Kumi, Soroti, Serere, Busia, Bukedea, and Kween were joined by a visiting group from Mubende to share and learn from their different experiences as women activists and community organizers. These women were involved in different nonviolent campaigns which continue to inspire them and other communities to rise against injustice. Women from Kumi shared their experiences about a peaceful demonstration against corruption and mismanagement that had marred Kumi Hospital for a long time. As a result of their actions, senior hospital administrators were fired, and a new administration was instated. The women from the Benet Indigenous community in Kween shared about their experiences staging an occupation that lasted more than 30 days. They occupied the Uganda Wildlife Authority (UWA) offices in demand for the release of their illegally confiscated animals. Their animals were released during this occupation.
In Western Uganda, women from Isingiro, Kabale, Kyegegwa, Masindi, Hoima, and Bullisa were joined by women from Wakiso district. The women shared stories of how they have contributed towards the growth of their communities through engaging in nonviolent actions that included demonstrations against poor service delivery on roads and health facilities as well as participating in the National Anti-land grabbing Bicycle Caravan. Through a peaceful demonstration, women from Buliisa demanded more space for the maternity ward, a tent was provided which provided more space for women to be attended to in Buliisa Health Center III.
In Northern Uganda women from Arua, Alebtong, Amuru, and Nwoya districts came together. During the convening, the women identified land grabbing as a common injustice happening in their communities. They also shared how this has greatly affected them as women who are caretakers of their homes. They shared how some cultural norms limit their participation in decision-making processes pertaining to land ownership and use. Due to fear and intimidation from authorities and sometimes their partners (families), only a few courageous women have been able to speak out against the land grabs.
As these women celebrate their victories, they also must reminisce the challenges that they have to deal with in their struggles. The majority of them have been intimidated and arrested while defending their rights and standing against injustice and oppression.
Adong Frances was arrested when she questioned the police to produce a missing defilement file. “My arrest occurred after we insisted that the police produce a missing defilement file, and I was afterward detained. They attempted to free me when they realized I committed no crime, but I stood firm and demanded to know why I had been arrested.”
“Two days after we staged a protest demanding the development of the main road, the Gombolola DISO called me and threatened me after seeing us on television. Later, the same individual, called me to explain our demands, which we did. The commandant of the refugee camp reached out to us in the days following these activities and began supplying us with clean water, and the hospital has now reopened. After the caravan, the land officials who had neglected to provide us with land titles approached us and offered to do so in six months,” Western region participant
Through mentorship and capacity building these women have gained more confidence and courage to stand against their oppressors. Some have been able to directly engage with their local and national leaders while others ran for office in the previous election, hoping to be directly involved in decision-making and influence social change as leaders.
These women groups have not only fostered unity and cohesion, but they have also enhanced their economic welfare and independence as women in the struggle. They have engaged in income-generating activities such as saving programs and farming. The women from Kabale have been growing and selling mushrooms, which has helped them generate funds to not only sustain their movement but also improve their livelihoods.
As the convenings concluded, the women reiterated their commitment towards their struggles.
“I’ve been highly motivated, and I’m now committed to always being at the frontline of what belongs to our community. The stories recounted today, particularly that of Hellen and Betty from Alebtong, who successfully held a peaceful demonstration to prevent Bishop Tom Okello from seizing and privatizing a community hill (Kidi Ongora) have inspired me,” Gasi Mildred, Logiri community
Mildred added that when they returned to Arua, they would fight with renewed vigor to rescue their land, which is presently being seized by the National Forestry Authority (NFA) under false pretences of conservation. Recently the Logiri community discovered NFA was growing Opium on land taken away from the community in the guise of preserving a forest.
The women encouraged each other to get more involved in direct actions against land grabbing which is one of the most common injustice happening in their communities and greatly affecting their livelihoods. They also plan on having joint national actions to amplify their solidarity and voices.
“When unique voices are united in a common cause, they make history,” Gloria Steinem