Peace T.Kyamureku is the Executive Director of Rural Women and Youth Fund Uganda (Ruth Fund); a women rights Not for Profit organization which started in February 2014. She has been involved in activism since 1994, when she started working with the National Association of Women Organisations In Uganda (NAWOU). She is passionate about gender equality especially among the rural grass-root communities where patriarchy and religious beliefs/ fundamentalism are still strong hindrances to girls and women empowerment.
2.Description of the work that Peace has been doing as a women rights activist /defender in her country
Her work with NAWOU involved the implementation of the Beijing Platform for Action, with programs in different parts of Uganda raising awareness on girls and women rights. She worked on a Constituent Assembly project where citizen’s views were collected, analysed and debated to make the 1995 Constitution, that is gender sensitive and includes Affirmative Action provision for marginalized groups (women, People with Disabilities, army and workers).
There was a project on Domestic Relations Bill, which was later named the Marriage and Divorce Bill, which could protect a woman before marriage, during and after marriage but legislators continue to shelve it.
She would love Ugandans to gain knowledge of regional and international Instruments and Conventions, for instance, CEDAW, which is a relevant tool for gender equality and so, important in a woman’s everyday life. In Uganda, there is discrimination and gender inequality that are considered social norms. This challenges activists who need to have laws and policies that match the Constitution. But it is hard when majority of the population are ignorant of their rights and Constitutional entitlements.
She worked on a governance project with the support of FES which for over ten years encouraged and built confidence among girls and women to get involved in politics of Uganda and gained knowledge how to defend their social, economic and political rights. Her work increased women in leadership positions in grass root groups and organizations. It is from such women that community, district, and national leaders emerged.
Ruth Fund Uganda was started to bridge the gap left by the top –down work of CSOs in Uganda. Ruth Fund Uganda approach is to support awareness raising on human and women’s rights, for example by supporting drama groups in schools and women groups to celebrate Human Rights Days so that communities can feel part of and identify with the regional and global human rights issues and activists.
Ruth Fund is a Listening organization that builds capacity of rural and urban poor communities to have a voice on violation of and denial of human which are women’s rights. Since 2014 Ruth Fund is supporting initiatives to reduce or stop early pregnancies, and early marriages; is raising awareness of alcohol and drug abuse effects on girls, women and society especially in relation to increasing gender based violence and killing of women. Ruth Fund works to bring visibility to issues of older women who are increasingly being marginalized, oppressed and abused. She has a project to build their confidence so that they can age actively, carrying on economic activities, sharing traditional knowledge and skills with the youth.
Ruth Fund has a duty to support communities to create sustainable interventions for promoting, protecting and enjoying human and women’s rights.
3. What do you think are the three most important women’s rights issues in your country and why?
The three most important women rights issues in Uganda are-
i) Education –Low educational levels, high drop out rates and poor quality of education that create job seekers rather than job makers. The rural communities have greater challenges and negative attitudes that consider education, especially of the girl child a waste of money. This means that women continue to be the face of poverty and are denied opportunities indirectly. The illiterate lack access to information and knowledge for social, economic and political development. They tend to feel insignificant and not worthy to claim their rights, they become dependant on exploitative leadership.
ii) Patriarchy and Negative Cultural Practices- Due to patriarchy, there is discrimination against girls or preference of boys to girls in Uganda. The girl child is taken as an economic asset good for bridewealth, women are taken as property to be inherited and not good enough to own property, that is why many women and children are affected most when there is displacement due to nature (floods, landslides) or developments like roads and women are not compensated. Older women are mistreated and the country has no definite laws to protect them. The increasing poverty has led to human trafficking and exploitation of women in exported labour. Negative attitudes towards females makes them marginalized and forced to lead undignified lives.
iii) Health- Uganda has a high maternal, newborn and child mortality rates globally, with at least 16 women dying every day from maternal related complications. ( Unfinished Business: The Women’s Manifesto 2016 to 2021 ), the health of a mother impacts not just the family but the community. Women and girls continue to suffer all forms of gender-based violence and currently since 2017, over 36 girls and women were killed in unexplainable circumstances in a short period in Wakiso district. There is need for households and communities to take greater control of their health by promoting health practices and life styles. There is increased alcohol and drug abuse that contribute to violence, insecurity and unhealthy lifestyles. There is inadequate health care and drugs due to inadequate government financing, and hard to reach areas not accessing health centres , although government put up the infrastructure.
4. What kind of limitations have you faced in your activism in your country and beyond, within the East and Horn of Africa region?
As Human Right Defenders, Peace Kyamureku is challenged by communities who are more interested in accessing today’s food/ corruption other than justice. Women’s rights are violated with impunity by those in power who would be protecting them. For instance cases of defilement and rape are rarely reported to police because the victims fear to be blamed by community, they do not have adequate knowledge of legal procedures, justice is delayed and expensive to follow up. Parents/ guardians of affected girls prefer to settle cases outside court, and getting a cash settlement instead of justice. Such practices make work of Human Rights Defenders seem useless and irrelevant to community. When pro bono services are secured, it is not sustainable ,and there is stigma for the victims and their families. Rural communities feel human rights are for urban based people.
There is insecurity, in form of harsh police , false arrests, asking for ransom and killings of women with no good will from government to protect Human Right Defenders. There are a number of women in police custody on flimsy or no clear charges(Stella Nyanzi on cyber crime, abusing President, Hon Rwabwogo case of sexual harassment )the rural people are further discouraged by such.
5. Do you feel like women rights are being treated as human rights? (If YES or NO, please provide reasons)
Women’s Rights are not treated as Human Rights. As much as there is limited knowledge and appreciation of Human Rights, majority of Ugandans do not take women as rights holders, they instead want them to dress, speak , behave and move in approved places. There are standards that are used to assess crime depending on whether man or woman. It is common to hear questions like-Why was she is such a place at such a time? Why was she dressed like that? Why!
6. Do you believe that the space for women rights activists / defenders in civil society is shrinking? If yes, why?
The space for women rights activists/defenders in civil society is shrinking, on one hand, due to insecurity and legislation, the Public Order Management Laws and apathy of communities. However, there is vibrant social media activism and information sharing. As an activist for the poor and marginalized, I feel the technological gap widening,( affordability, availability and network) leaving human rights violations in the rural and urban poor invisible to public eye.
7. Do you feel protected in the work that you do? (If YES or NO, please provide reasons)
I do not have to feel protected, I take the risk to do what is lawful and just for Uganda. I have a duty to share knowledge on women’s rights among the least visible populations in Uganda.
8. Over the tenure of your activism, do you feel like you have been rewarded or recognized for the work that you do? (If YES or NO, please provide reasons)
For many years (1994- 2012) I was in a paid job where I was not earning much but was happy that I was touching people’s / women’s lives. Then I took time to go as a Volunteer to Tanzania (2013-December 2014) where I learnt more about women’s rights and activism. I used that knowledge to reach out to other activists who were concerned at the marginalization , invisibility and denial of rights of rural women and youth in Uganda to start Ruth Fund in February 2014. In June 2018, I was nominated and awarded by Women 4Women as second runner up in the Women’s Rights category.
9. What do you envision is the landscape for women human rights defenders in the region?
There is hope for better legislation but it may remain on paper as governments fear to be ashamed for not conforming to regional and international standards. Implementation of such legislation may take longer to achieve due to lack of political will, inadequate financing and inadequate lobbying and advocacy. When there is economic hardship in a country, there is reduced attention on social and economic development, in times of insecurity issues of women’s rights are not a priority to governments.
10. What keeps you motivated to keep doing this work?
I am motivated to work as a feminist, rural and poor women and youth activist because I realize that I am one of the few privileged, educated women who is where I am because some women before my time stood up for women’s rights. I need to pay back, to make my contribution so that the next generation does not blame me for letting the Women’s Movement in Uganda down.