Spotlight Initiative CSOs Knowledge Sharing Forum in Addis Ababa - Justice Centres Uganda

Spotlight Initiative CSOs Knowledge Sharing Forum in Addis Ababa

The JCU National Coordinator – Mr. Besigye Aaron shares JCU’s involvement in eliminating violence against women and girls, during the Spotlight Initiative CSOs Knowledge Sharing Forum in Addis Ababa.  In April 2019, JCU partnered with UN Women  to implement the Legal Aid and Women’s Access to Justice (LAWA2J) Project in Kasese, Kampala, Bundibugyo and Tororo Districts. Many women, girls and other vulnerable groups cannot afford legal services due to conditions of extreme deprivation and poverty. The problems faced by most women and girls in Uganda include; lack of knowledge about their rights, how and where to realize them, poverty,  gender based violence in its several forms, discrimination among others. A study by the Hague Institute for Innovations in Law shows that women report more domestic violence, family, and neighbor problems than their counter parts.

Many of the women and girls in the identified districts faced high prevalence of GBV as well as violation of their SRHR with a need for interventions to support them in their ordeals according to Uganda Demographic and Health Survey (UDHS 2017). The common issues in all districts included; high incidences of GBV, early marriages of girls, defilement, return of bride price , teenage pregnancies, violation of SRHR, limited land rights, among others. In Bundibugyo for example, at the time of establishment of the Centre, there was no single GBV case being handled by the Magistrates Court and yet it was one of those leading in DV cases. However this changed within the first six months of JCU’s interventions as more than 100 cases were registered and handled by the Centre.

For Kasese district, there were many issues identified before implementation, these included; bigger part of it being mountainous and accessibility being a big challenge, access to both health and legal services is always low, illiteracy levels were also high 39.6%  for females aged 18 years and above, women contribute to more than 80% of the districts agricultural production yet they own less than 7% of the land on which this production takes place. The rate of unemployment and low earnings as well as literacy levels left women in Kasese particularly vulnerable to poverty and deprivation.

Approaches, methodologies and strategies used to implement the JCU-UN Women project:

JCU contributed to law reform with a view to align Ugandan laws with International best practices as follows;

  • Wrote a number of position papers, critiquing and analyzing the bills, and giving alternative views that encompass the interests of women and girls on the (i) constitutional amendment bill, (ii) the Sexual Offences Bill,  and (iii) Marriage and Divorce Bill – all laws that have a bearing on access to justice for women. At a district level, JCU helped the district of Kasese draft the Gender Based Violence ordinance and has been a reliable advisor on legislation affecting women.

To empower women and girls to be knowledgeable about their rights and measures to protect them, JCU has used several mediums like;

  • Media platforms e.g. radio and television talk-shows spot messages. The messages addressed the most prevalent issues like rights of women, land, domestic violence, rights of children, succession and where to go in the event of rights being abused.
  • Outreaches in schools targeting girls especially on sexual harassment in schools. Women and girls out of school were also reached through  tailor made community awareness, sessions. The outreaches have always been capped with a Baraza- an accountability forum that brings together the communities and decision makers.
  • Identified male champions who were incorporated into our programs to support women but also help in mind shift change towards GBV.

JCU ensured that the women and girls access quality essential services through basic legal training, assistance and empowerment in the ways below;

  • JCU created mobile clinics that ensured that women were able to access services within their areas of reach and at the appropriate time.
  • Some of the women who benefit from JCU awareness sessions started filing complaints through JCU and are supported to mediate the disputes using the inhouse counsel and or the trained Community Based Volunteers.
  • Disputes that fail at mediation that have merit are escalated to court where JCU provides legal representation to the survivors of GBV.
  • JCU continues to support women and girls in conflict with the law through its interventions at police stations and prisons with a view to supporting them secure bond as well as navigate the criminal justice system.
  • JCU has developed a Client Response and Support Network. The purpose of the network is to support the women and girls in other ways that JCU is not able to do  Like economic empowerment.

JCU appreciates the value of Monitoring and Evaluation in helping to improve project performance with a view to achieving the planned results as follows;

  • JCU maintains several Monitoring tools, the highlight of which is the Information and Case Management System that supports in real time monitoring of the Centres.
  • The issues are tracked in order to better appreciate the trends as well as report of any changes attributable to JCU interventions.
  • This further provides an avenue for better programming that is results based, helps to aid decision making process, helps in tracking changes in KAPs among the targeted population that is attributable to JCU’s interventions.
  • The results from the data analysis are used to advocate and determine the demand for better and modified services and also identify future needs for the women and girls thus enabling design new or follow-up activities.

Challenges faced during implementation:

  • Inadequate financing. Funds available not being enough to address the legal needs of the community. This is coupled with some times late disbursement of funds.
  • Culture continues to influence the social aspects of the people in the districts of implementation and deep-rooted cultural practices need sustained efforts. Short term intervention will affect the already attained gains.
  • Institutional bottlenecks within the  administration of justice organs proved a big hinderance. for example poor facilitation of the police has led to many cases of GBV not followed.
  • High rates of illiteracy among women continues to make women vulnerable and accepting the practice of GBV disguised as a cultural  adaptable norm.

Successes attained as a result of the initiative;

Lessons learned as a result of the initiative;

  • Religion and Culture remain the last frontier in the emancipation of women and children and religious and cultural leaders are critical in the crusade.
  • Livelihood is a critical component that must be addressed to empower women.
  • Well trained and motivated Community Based Volunteers are critical for empowerment of women and should be a blend of local leaders from across the divide both men and women.
  • Private media houses can be a great ally in sustaining the message when they offer free airtime.