A SILENT BUT LOUD LEGAL TOOL FOR WOMEN’S LAND RIGHTS’ JUSTICE IN UGANDA: THE HUMAN RIGHTS (ENFORCEMENT) ACT, 2019
A typical rural woman wakes up at 5:30am in the morning, goes to the garden to provide food for her family. At around midday, she comes back to maintain her home, look after children and prepare food for her beloved husband. Her entire lifestyle rotates around one piece of land.
The saddening part is, often times rural women face social injustices caused by unfair and unequal power relations such as economic inequalities and gender dynamics between men and women. I have interacted with many women who have been inhumanely evicted off their only source of livelihood- the land by their husband, relatives and even their own children. A one Esther Nanziri (not real name) a vulnerable woman in Buyende District narrated; “Upon the death of my husband, his family evicted me with my two young children off the land where I used to stay and grow food from, I am now at the mercy of my brother who provides for us.”
To make matters worse, rural women do not have the financial muscle to seek justice from courts of law. I asked Esther why she had not filed the case in court. She stated,” The people torturing me live in Kampala, how will I be able to fight them when I have no money?”
This closes women such as Esther out of the gates of justice! The judicial system presents numerous stumbling blocks such as the cost of legal representation, language barrier, legal technicalities that can only be understood by a person who went through law school.
The Human Rights (Enforcement) Act of 2019 comes as a remedy towards overcoming these barriers! It unleashes opportunities for social justice on land rights of rural women. This Act strategically grants power to magistrate’s court to hear human rights cases. Magistrates courts are so close to rural communities which means vulnerable women can easily move to and from court. The Act deals away with all legal technicalities and formalities. Vulnerable women are allowed by this Act to walk to a magistrate court in their locality and explain their case orally or in any language they understand and it is upon the magistrate to deduce this into the language of court which is the English language. This enables a vulnerable woman such as Esther who only understands Lusoga to approach a magistrate state their claim, get their case heard and decided upon to and get justice for the violation of their rights.
The Human Rights (Enforcement) Act 0f 2019 has been tested by the Center for Food and Adequate Living Rights (CEFROHT) and has yielded positive results. CEFROHT has aided a one Sanyu Esther (Not real name), an illiterate and vulnerable woman registered a human rights violation case in Luganda in the magistrate court of Kiboga on her right to property when her Kibanja was taken by her neighbor. She was able to obtain justice in less than a month.
Therefore, as we celebrate the World Social Justice day, I call upon all stakeholders such as the government and civil societies organisations to utilization the use of this novel law to fight social injustices caused to rural women and their land rights.
(Program Manager Social Justice and strategic Litigation-CEFROHT)