Community Declaration to fight Violence against Girls and Women

By Okello Felix, Executive Director Talents Enabling Uganda

Gender-based violence in Uganda has continued to rob women and girls of their identity and dignity. As we approach the Women’s Day celebrations on the 8th March, 2024 under the theme, ‘Invest in Women: Accelerate Progress,’ we want to unveil the violence against women in our society and the efforts in place to reverse it.

Talents Enabling Uganda (TEU), funded by Voice, tackles gender-based violence through their “Getting My Life Back, to fulfil my full potential” project in Wakiso District. To-date, the organization is a ray of hope for several women and girls that have suffered/are suffering different forms of abuse.

On February 22nd, 67 torchbearers, converged at TEU’s Headquarters with the mission to pronounce loud and clear the first of its kind Community Declaration for the protection of women and girls, that resonates with the pulse of a community determined to reclaim their human dignity, celebrate their identity, and commit to keeping it.

The event was stirred up by a touching, yet strong testimony of Cynthia, a survivor of violence and abuse. She is one of the 20 rightsholders who have benefitted from economic empowerment interventions through funding from Voice. With her voice trembling with the weight of a ‘lived experience’, she unveiled her journey laying bare the scars of her past marred by shame, stigma, deception and loss.

I lost my mother at a young age of four and navigated adolescence without guidance. I ended-up falling victim to deceit that led to unplanned pregnancy during my third year of secondary school. Threatened into silence, imposed by societal norms, I struggled on silently facing unimaginable stress, stigma, and financial hardship, which resulted in the heart-breaking loss of my five months baby.
I sought justice within my community, only to be met with indifference and silence from local leaders and influential figures. Despite my brave attempts to expose the truth, I was dismissed and told to keep quiet.

Cynthia’s courage to share her story, ignited a firestorm of compassion and determination among the assembled leaders. The leaders vowed never to turn a blind eye to the suffering of their little sisters, daughters and mothers. With Cynthia’s rallying cry resonating in their heart.

Under the guidance of Dr. Lina Zedriga, a former Magistrate, and current Secretary of Uganda’s National Committee for the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide, War Crimes, Crimes Against Humanity, and All Forms of Discrimination, the leaders were rallied to take action.

All leaders, led by the Woman Member of Parliament for Wakiso District (Hon. Ethel Betty Naluyima) signed a declaration and painted a mural as testament to the collective will of a community refusing to accept the status quo. With each stroke of the pen, leaders lent their voices to the chorus of change, their signatures etched into history as a promise to safeguard vulnerable women and girls.

Today, we stand united in our resolve to create a society where every woman and girl feels safe, empowered and heard. It is not just a declaration; it is a call to action. Let us build bridges of understanding, break barriers of inequality, and together forge a path towards a future where the rights and dignity of every woman and girl are unshakably protected.” She however also noted, the need to involve boys and men into the program, to ensure that women are protected.

This community declaration, borne out of Cynthia’s poignant story, stands as a testament to the power of collective action and advocacy. The leaders, having heard and understood the depth of the challenges faced by women and girls like Cynthia; have embarked on a journey to bring about tangible change. The event concluded with a renewed sense of purpose, a shared commitment to uplift the marginalized, and that through collaborative efforts, the community can indeed reclaim their human dignity and celebrate collective identity.