Mission and Purpose
Housed as a semi-autonomous body within Justice and Reconciliation Project, an NGO based in Gulu, northern Uganda, the Women’s Advocacy Network (WAN) was founded following the 20-year civil war in northern Uganda with a mission “to seek reintegration, reconciliation, and justice for war-affected women” (Justice and Reconciliation Project 2017). WAN is representative of much of the citizen participation in northern Uganda as it is a loose and informal network.
Origins and Development
Between 1986 and 2006, the rebel group the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) and the Ugandan government were engaged in a brutal conflict that displaced over 1.8 million people and killed over 20,000 people in northern Uganda (Uprooted and Forgotten 13). Women and girls faced some of the worst atrocities during this period, as they were subjected to large-scale sexual abuse by both rebel and government forces. In 2008, the civil war in northern Uganda ended, and from this context WAN emerged.
WAN was founded following a University of British Columbia (UBC) storytelling research project that documented the challenges women were facing in post-conflict northern Uganda. According to Grace Acan, a researcher for the project, she and three other researchers felt “it was impossible to just keep quiet and then look on all of these challenges without finding a solution. So we sat down and said why don’t we converge these women, talk to them and then see what they think about, are we going to leave our challenges like this? Isn’t there need to do advocacy on them?” Elaborating later in the interview, Grace explained, “I felt like there was a need for the voices of the voiceless to be heard.” The women they spoke to throughout northern Uganda were receptive, and in May of 2011 this grassroots movement officially became registered as a community-based organization (CBO).
Organizational Structure, Membership, and Funding
As stated on its website, WAN is currently “comprised of 16 grassroots women’s groups within the Acholi, Lango and West Nile sub-regions” (Justice and Reconciliation Project 2017). The network meets four times a year to “discuss advocacy issues, work towards consensus and develop strategies to ensure that issues of contention are addressed.” (Ibid) Originating from the aforementioned UBC research project, WAN is an example of the long-term positive impacts that development/research projects can have on communities in the global south. It also serves as a reminder for donors to broaden the ways in which they monitor and evaluate the effectiveness of development/research projects, as they can have ripple effects on communities for years after the conclusion of a project.
Specializations, Methods and Tools
WAN specializes in community organizing and capacity buidling. Specifically, its programming for war-affected women in northern Uganda has included income generating activities, loans and savings projects, and radio programs (Justice and Reconciliation Project 2017). The radio programs created by WAN has focused on facilitating community dialogue about “the needs and experiences of conflict-affected women and their children”, which the network states has resulted in increased acceptance of war-affected women and children in communities across northern Uganda (Justice and Reconciliation Project 2017). Child tracing and a petition to the parliament of Uganda have been two of the major projects in the network’s history.
Major Projects and Events
Currently, WAN’s major project is focused on child tracing in post-conflict northern Uganda (Grace Acan Interview). The objective of this project is to reunite children born in captivity with their paternal families in order to achieve reconciliation and social cohesion in the region (Justice and Reconciliation Project 2017). One in six female adolescents in northern Uganda were kidnapped by the LRA, and of this number, half bore children to LRA soldiers (Feinstein International Centre 4, 2008).
As stated by Grace Acan, the mothers involved in the WAN child tracing project were mostly “given by force to some LRA commanders, who in most cases are not back. They have passed away, or those who are back are not living together [with their family].” According to Grace, the importance of this project cannot be overstated, as in Uganda “children are attached to their father’s side...they don’t belong to their maternal side. If they grow up on their maternal side, I think they are not recognized [in the community], they don’t have inheritance, they don’t look at themselves as people who have identities somewhere.” Here, Grace is alluding to the reality that in northern Uganda it is very difficult for women to own land. As OXFAM stated in a 2014 report on women’s land rights in northern Uganda, “women are dependent on men and cannot own land in their own right under customary tenure and have what many term ‘secondary rights.’” (OXFAM 2) Given this, children growing up with their maternal family may not be recognized in community to the extent that a child would with his/her father present.
While Grace said the program has been successful, she also stated that it has faced challenges. In particular, many of the men who fought for the LRA are difficult to find. When they are found, Grace stated that it is “hard for the paternal family to accept very fast...because they are not sure whether this is the right child.” Due to this, WAN, in cooperation with other NGOs in the area, facilitates dialogues between the maternal and paternal families to ensure reconciliation and the acceptance of the child.
Another major project implemented by WAN was a petition presented to the parliament of Uganda which advocated for redress regarding war-affected women. Grace described how the women who spear-headed this project “were vocal, they were open, they were not afraid.” As stated on their website, the petition resulted in “the passing of a resolution by parliament, which hopefully will result in programs and policies to meet women’s needs” (Justice and Reconciliation Project 2017). However, as of today, there has been no official policy legislated by the parliament of Uganda, highlighting the difficulty of affecting change in policy at the government level. Nonetheless, this is a unique form of citizen participation in a context where ordinary people rarely challenge the government openly.
Analysis and Lessons Learned
Want to contribute an analysis of this organization? Help us complete this section!
Does this organization publish reports, studies, or other media? Help us complete this section!
Justice and Reconciliation Project Website - http://justiceandreconciliation.com/initiatives/womens-advocacy-network/
"Uprooted and Forgotten: Impunity and Human Rights Abuses in Northern Uganda." Human Rights Watch 17.12 (2005): 2-76. Web.
"Women's Land Rights in Northern Uganda: West Nile, Acholi, Lango, Teso, and Karamoja." Oxfam (2014): 1-103. Web
Lead image: Justice and Reconciliation Project https://goo.gl/FLCNaw