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RIGHTS-AFRICA: Uganda Women Seek Gender Recovery Plan

Wambi Michael

KAMPALA, Sep 26 2009 (IPS) - After two decades of war during which thousands of children were used as child soldiers and many women raped, northern Uganda’s recovery plan is to be spent on building roads rather than helping the country’s most vulnerable.

A child mother protects her baby as she begs to earn a living. Credit: Wambi Michael/IPS

A child mother protects her baby as she begs to earn a living. Credit: Wambi Michael/IPS

Civil society and women parliamentarians are not happy with the government and donors, as there are no concrete measures to meet gender-related concerns over the recovery plan for Northern Uganda.

The over 600 million dollar Peace, Recovery and Development Plan (PRDP) – 70 percent of which was sponsored by donors and the remainder by the Ugandan government – was designed to stabilise and bridge the economic disparities between Northern Uganda and the rest of the country.

Most of the money, to be spent over three years, is to be used to construct feeder roads and infrastructure destroyed during the war.

And while roads were needed, the needs of the women also needed to be met, said Oyam District Member of Parliament, Amongi Beatrice Lagada. "The women took on so many burdens during the war. So unless we recognise those gender roles we shall not restore the gender perspectives which were there before," she said.

An estimated 30,000 to 66,000 children were abducted during the 20 years of conflict. About 90 percent of the LRA ranks were populated by children forced to terrorise civilians by cutting off hands and lips, among other atrocities.

A study conducted by United Nations Children's Fund in 2005 in one of the Pabo displaced-persons camp found that at least 60 percent of women there had suffered sexual or domestic violence.

Monica Amonding, coordinator of the Uganda Women Parliamentarians' Association (UWOPA), says the PRDP has no budget to resettle single mothers, female-headed households, widows, formerly abducted girls, women with disabilities and other vulnerable groups.

Amonding said many war-affected women, girls and boys had resorted to begging in streets in urban centres because they had not been assisted to cope with life after two decades of war.

The Women's Task Force on a Gender-Responsive Peace, Recovery and Development Plan, and UWOPA say the war affected women and men differently, because of gender advantages or disadvantages.

They say women and girls have suffered from brutal levels of sexual and gender-based violence that increased their vulnerability to HIV/AIDS. But the recovery programme lacks interventions to alleviate the plight of women.

Beatrice Anywar, a female MP from Kitgum district on the Uganda-Sudan border, said the PRDP should help child mothers to return to school, or gain skills for income generation.

"We have stressed that women and children have suffered most, whether those who remained at home or those who were abducted and were serving with (Joseph) Kony. A woman is now charged with more responsibilities than a man, but there is little on the table to show she will get a fair share of the money," she said.

Joseph Kony, leader of Lord's Resistance Army rebel group, was indicted by the International Criminal Court for the atrocities committed on civilians during the two decades of war in Northern Uganda.

Uganda’s Minister in Charge of Northern Uganda reconstruction, David Wakikona, told IPS the ministry was working toward including some of the women's concerns in the next budget. He said people with disabilities, women, and other special interest groups had to present fundable projects through their groups.

"We shall definitely fund them, because we know that the women have suffered, so the women should not be worried," he said.

But Amonding said the government should not operate like a donor.

"For us PRDP will be meaningless as long as it continues to focus on hardware issues like roads, bridges and so on. We want software issues like counselling services, maternal health and adolescent-friendly services for boys and girls. But these have not been reflected anywhere in the framework."

Jane Alisemera, a female member of Parliament and UWOPA chairperson, told IPS: "Eighty percent of formerly displaced persons are women and children. The PRDP's intended objectives will fail to deliver tangible results if gender gaps are not urgently addressed."

The activists say the PRDP framework is not in line with accepted national, regional and international gender instruments such as Uganda's gender policy, the Convention on the Elimination of All forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) or the Beijing Platform of Action. Uganda’s gender policy, like CEDAW, requires the state to take measures to eliminate discrimination against women.

Alisemera further noted that sex-disaggregated data had not been included in the framework for planned interventions. "The budget allocation has not been broken down by gender; this makes it nearly impossible to determine the projected spending on men and women, or boys and girls. So you cannot come out with gender-responsive tools to monitor and evaluate its impact," she said.

The two years of peace in Northern Uganda have seen many formerly displaced people resettling in their villages, but it has not been easy for those with disabilities. This is one of the areas that the activists want the money channelled to if people with disabilities are to return home. For disabled people, moving from IDP camps means they will now have longer distances to travel for food, fetch water, access medical care and essential services.

Margaret Babadiri, a Member of Parliament from Kobko, is visually impaired. Climbing the Parliament of Uganda stairs with her white cane, she told IPS: "Well first of all I’m happy because the PRDP will benefit areas that have suffered from war for a very long time. But what I’m not happy with is the way it was developed. It did not involve everybody, or include people with a disability – women and so on. They think we are uniform. It is actually disability-blind and gender-blind.

"If I can take it close to home: during the insurgency a lot of havoc has been done, people were killed, many became disabled and the number of disabled persons in Northern Uganda is greater than any other region in Uganda.

"Because you step on a landmine, your leg is cut off, and the atrocities caused by Kony where the lips are cut off. So this PRDP should target people with disabilities, but we don't see any specific programmes aimed at us," she stressed.

Santos Okumu, representating the visually impaired in the Gulu District Disabled Persons' Union, told IPS the women had suffered most from war-related disabilities, and women with disabilities were no longer supported by their spouses

"They are really suffering. When they got married they were walking, but now the landmine has blown off one leg. They look like a cock that has folded one leg, so the spouses don’t want them. These people are highly traumatised. They don't only need psycho-social support, they need financial support if they are to gain a livelihood. But unfortunately many will miss out on the PRDP in its current form," he said.

Irene Laker is a victim of a landmine planted by the Lord's Resistance Army. She was about to get married, but now lives a single life after her leg was amputated.

"You know at the time I was hit by a mine, I was going to get married. But because of that disability, that person saw me in the hospital without a limb, then he disappointed me. That was the first challenge. And then the family members look at me as a burden. I was doing some small work at the district, but lost that job because of the disability." Laker has remained unemployed, and is yet to marry.

Uganda's Finance Minister, Syda Bumba who until recently was Gender Minster, said the concerns of the women were genuine and expected they could be addressed in the subsequent budgets. "I'm aware that we discussed those issues even when I was still at Gender (Ministry). And I (am) aware that discussion are still going on between the different actors and the Prime Minister's office. So I believe those issues will be addressed by government," she said.

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