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KYEGEGWA COMMUNITY EMPOWERED TO FIGHT VIOLENCE GAINST WOMEN AND GIRLS THROUGH LEGAL AID OPEN OUTREACH

The Legal Aid Service Providers’ Network (LASPNET), on 25th August 2021 conducted a Legal Aid Open Day in Kyegegwa district. The open day received over 200 people across the district who flocked to different set up centres at 5 sub counties to seek for free legal services on legal issues affecting their communities especially in relation to Sexual Gender Based Violence (SGBV)

Participants pose in a group photo with the guest of honor H/W Joy Nambozo seated in the middle

The open day organized under the theme “Elimination of Violence Against Women and Girls and promotion of Access to Justice for all”, was a one-day event supported by United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) under the EU/UN “Spotlight Initiative ” which focuses on the elimination of violence against women and girls through provision of legal aid and empowering communities to lobby for legal and policy reforms geared at eradicating GBV in Uganda. The main function which was at Kyegegwa district was moderated by Ms. Bridget Nasasira, the Board Representative - Western region.

The function was presided over by Her Worship Joy Nambozo, the Chief Magistrate of Kyenjojo district and was attended by district officials who included the District Speaker, Mr. Joel Magoba as well as Legal Aid Service Providers and Media. During the Legal Aid Open day, a total of 232 registered Male: 157 Female: 75 clients received legal aid.

Due to COVID-19 guidelines and following SOPs, the Legal Aid Open day was broadcasted live on Britop FM Radio which covers districts of Kyegegwa, Kyenjojo, Kabarole, Kagadi, Kibale, Kiruhuura, Ibanda, Kamwenge, Kakumiro, Bunyangabu and Mubende. This approach provided an opportunity to the rest of public to hear the proceedings live and to call in and ask questions that were answered relevantly by the guests in attendance as well as to get legal support at their respective locations. The Open day was also broadcast on zoom which enabled participation of other stakeholders.

To ensure a wider reach, Lawyers from LASPs in Western region were mobilized and dispatched in various sub counties to provide on spot legal advice and counseling to communities.

In her introductory remarks, the CEO of LASPNET, Dr. Sylvia Namubiru Mukasa appreciated the district leadership for welcoming LASPNET to conduct the Legal Aid Open day amidst the COVID 19 situation. She then commended UNDP for supporting legal aid outreaches which are intended to strengthen access to justice for most poor and vulnerable. “I would like to further extend my gratitude to our Chief Guest, H/W Joy Nambozo for her invaluable time and acceptance to officiate the legal aid open day.” She remarked. In addition, she averred that the crux of the legal aid open day was to provide legal aid and create awareness on Access to Justice and SGBV in Kyegegwa as one of the Spotlight districts with high prevalence of SGBV.

Speaking on behalf of UNDP , Ms. Annet Mpabulungi Wakabi, the Team Leader Rule of Law and Constitutional Democracy appreciated LASPNET for the great work done. She recognized the government efforts towards eliminating violence against women and girls in Uganda working under the coordination of Ministry of Gender, Labour and Social Development.

She added that through European Union – United Nations (EU-UN) Spotlight Initiative, focus is being placed on fostering legislative and political framework aimed at responding to GBV; strengthening the institutions at the national level and sub-national level such as legal aid open days as well as ensuring that there is effective gender mainstreaming in planning, budgeting and provision of legal aid.

She noted that, while a lot of interventions have been implemented, there is still have high preference of violence against women and children in the country. “The preference of women and girls affects the wellbeing of our communities and overall economic and social development in those communities and the country at large”, She said. On that she noted that legal aid institutions in the country are still unevenly distributed hence the need to conduct more legal aid outreaches. Ms. Mpabulungi concluded by mentioning that the legal aid open day in Kyegegwa is a strong gap measure to provide the people of Kyegegwa with information on the existing laws and procedures of accessing legal aid services.

An online photo of Ms. Annet Mpabulungi Wakabi – The team Leader Rule of Law and Constitutional Democracy

While presenting the district status on GBV, the District Gender Officer, Ms. Birungi Agnes noted that by the end of last financial year, the status of SGBV stood at 64.1% mainly comprising of early teenage pregnancies. She added that in the period (July – December 2019), a total of 975 early teenage pregnancies were registered and this increased drastically to 11,504 in the period January to December 2020. To her these cases are recorded at health centres and police stations where some of these teenagers come for antenatal services whereas the other cases which remain un reported. She requested participants and the whole district to join hands to fight against GBV among women and children by reporting the2 perpetrators and sensitizing the public about GBV

The welcome remarks were made by Mr. Joel Magoba, the District Speaker on behalf of the LC 5 Chairman of Kyegegwa district. He welcomed LASPNET and appreciated it for considering Kyegegewa for the Legal Aid Open day.  “Allow me to inform you that that the District has put place a committee that will help to coordinate councils of the district to enact an ordinance aimed at protecting our women and children and this program is supported by the Spotlight Initiative. It is hoped that by December this year, the ordinance will be in place to protect the latter against GBV.” He said.

He underscored the need for presence of more Lawyers in the district in order to ensure timely handling of GBV cases which are rampant in the district. Therefore, he requested the CEO of LASPNET to at least consider designating a full time Legal Officer at the District Headquarters to handle clients with legal problems

The Chief Magistrate of Kyenjojo district H/W Joy Nambozo who also doubled as the Chief Guest presented on “the role of courts in enhancing Accesses to Justice by Gender-Based Violence survivors.” In her presentation she emphasized the fact that courts are supposed to deliver justice to people who have committed injustices against women and girls. Like the previous speakers from the district, she also observed that SGBV is on a rise and that it’s partly caused by overstaying of children at home in addition to Kyegegwa being a host of Kyaka refugee settlement

She noted with concern how some members in the communities prefer to keep quiet than reporting such cases to police and courts of law and this greatly affects the girl child since it halts her future aspirations. “Parents Should report SGBV cases so as to provide justice to the affected victims and also once cases are reported, people should endeavor to come up and provide conclusive evidences to accelerate a proper delivery of judgement because if they don’t, those perpetrators will go scot-free” she advised

Her Worship stressed the fact that Kyegegwa, is reported to be among the districts with the highest incidents of GBV. She decried the limited LASPs within the region to handle victims of GBV through provision of legal and psychosocial services. “Kyegegwa is a refugee hosting district faced with extra Access to Justice issues especially for refugees and host communities which among others include limited knowledge and appreciation of the national laws; limited access to legal aid services; language barrier as well as corruption in the justice system, among others which exacerbates their already vulnerable situation” she explained

In her conclusion and before closing the event, she informed the public that courts have been critical in providing a conducive environment for handling GBV cases. This has been done through engaging witness in camera in order to provide evidence without fear or favor. She urged the residents of Kyegegwa to refrain from child neglect and domestic violence and to report corruption court and police officials who solicit ambiguous money from litigants. Still on the same matter, she cautioned the public against facilitating corruption in courts of law and cautioned them against giving out any money to court officials which is not receipted

During the call-in time the callers mainly sought clarification on how to handle GBV matters while others sought to know about the cases which had stayed long in court.  One participant asked the difference between defiling a 12-year-old girl and that of 16 years of age.  [HK1] The responses to the queries were made by the LASPs lawyers. In particular, emphasis was put on preserving evidence especially in sexual related matters, protecting and preventing GBV especially among girls, witness attending court to ensure cases are prosecuted among others The Magistrate while responding restricted herself to providing information on court procedures and what the litigants should or should not do while their cases are before courts of law but restrained answering questions on going or likely to come before her court

By and large, the Legal Aid Open day in Kyegegwa was successful and well attended by both the key dignitaries and general public who utilized the day to seek legal information

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