(Above: Cutting season is about to start in Sebei, Eastern Uganda. An article on the topic was celebrated at WFD refresher workshop on implementation of CEDAW)
“By talking about these issues, it feeds the community with knowledge” says Joyce Chemitai, Bureau Chief at Daily Monitor Publications in Uganda. “I realised we were not doing anything on gender related issues, so [the WFD sponsored training] triggered me to get into gender reporting.”
From land rights to domestic violence, the Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) should ensure women are protected against a range of issues that impact on their lives. Journalism in Uganda tackles many different topics, but coverage of violations of CEDAW is lacking. Westminster Foundation for Democracy’s work supporting the Ugandan Parliamentary Press Association (UPPA) training of journalists is laying the ground work for changes to traditional attitudes regarding women. Journalism can be instrumental in increasing recognition of existing international and domestic legislation in place to protect women from discrimination. Our work encouraging journalists to report on issues related to gender has contributed to increased levels of awareness within communities about the challenges women face.
“Traditionally in our communities we think many of the wrongs that happen are good, it has happened because it should happen, like violence against women” Joyce said. But through her writing about gender based violence Joyce is contributing to changing that perception.
One of the major challenges journalists face is accessing information for their reports. “I have done a few pieces and even currently I am doing a project on men” Joyce explained. “I realised out of my interactions with the communities that many men neglected their families. The women are the ones carrying everything at home. If you go to the police, to NGOs who take complaints on women’s issues the major complaint is negligence. Men go drink, they come back and beat up the women” she continued.
Through the support provided by WFD, Joyce was educated about CEDAW, how it can protect women and how to monitor when the convention is violated – techniques that Joyce is putting into practice to get the information she needs for her current piece. “I am in touch with the police to compile for me [the figures], so I ask them to give me a report of CEDAW related cases, of child abuse, of violence against women” she said, as well as contacting the federation of female lawyers and NGOs like ActionAid to get statistics on domestic abuse and female genital mutilation. Monitoring violations and reporting on them increases knowledge within the community and holds law enforcement to account, although not without challenges. “Sometimes even police are compromised, you go to them and you want information, but they tell you “No, we are still investigating, this is not happening”.”
(Above: Joyce, far right, participates in WFD refresher workshop on implementation of CEDAW alongside district councillors )
That’s why cooperation is key. By supporting several journalists in the Sebei region of Uganda increased coordination and sharing of information was facilitated through the programme. Joyce noted the value of continued coordination with journalists from the training and she tries to encourage ones who did not participate to spread knowledge on issues related to CEDAW like gender based violence or female genital mutilation. “When there is an issue [to report on] I always call someone and I am like “Why don’t you take this up? There is this issue that is happening” Joyce said.
“Now the local radios here also call the police or local government officers who are directly responsible for a case” Joyce explained “when you talk about it on media the community will realise it is a bad thing.” It’s not just Joyce and fellow journalists who have benefitted from WFD’s support. Increased reporting on CEDAW and women’s rights is helping to transform damaging traditional attitudes in rural Uganda that impact negatively on women and girls. “There is a feedback session that helps community members to also get involved in case there are any problems, so they can help to report it, they can help to take that person to hospital. It builds confidence among the victims, or just community members who now understand” Joyce said.
And the more members of the community who understand the damaging impact discrimination against women and girls has on the individuals involved, the community they come from and Uganda as a whole, the more likely that CEDAW and the accompanying domestic legislation will stand a chance of being implemented effectively and women’s interests truly represented.
Joyce’s story demonstrates how important values are in a democratic system. Freedom of expression through an actively engaged press that is not afraid to report on controversial topics can play a fundamental role holding the government and parliament to account. Asking questions about traditional norms and reporting on abhorrent cases of gender based violence ensures this important issue stays on the political agenda.