Can Austria help Ugandan women win more rights? 

Divorced women are a particularly discriminated group in the East African state of Uganda. An NGO is trying to change that -- with the help of a Central European ally.  

Christine Tragler
Christine Tragler Der Standard, Austria
Source: Der Standard
Can Austria help Ugandan women win more rights?  - NewsMavens
A group of Ugandan women. Image from Wikimedia Commons

Why this story matters:

"Every day, we are approached by divorced women who have no one else to turn to, because their husbands left them with nothing,” Gloria Nakaayi, a Ugandan lawyer told Der Standard editor Florian Niederndorfer.  Recently, Niederndorfer has traveled to the capital of the state, Kampala, and visited local non-governmental organizations that support divorced women. It turned out that Austria is involved in this program.

This year, 5,577 women sought protection and help from Gloria Nakaayi and her 60 colleagues who work for the lawyer network Fida, which is originally from Latin America and has been operating in Uganda since 1974. Most of the women need legal advice due to conflicts over maintenance, inheritance and land issues as well as domestic violence. If it was not for Fida, they could not afford legal help. Half of them live in the capital.

In Uganda, NGOs often have to perform the duties of the government -- too inept to care for its citizens. The existing state structures need to be supported as efficiently as possible in order to safeguard human rights. Especially, the rights of divorced women, who face double discrimination because of their gender and maritial status. The majority of the NGOs are funded from abroad. Since the 1990s, also by Austria.

"Whenever the Ugandan state fails, women bear the brunt," claims Irene Ovongi Odida, the spokesperson of the 60 Fida lawyers in 13 offices across the country.

Hence, she explains, in Uganda it is quite standard to be accompanied by a women when you go to a hospital. Not just for emotional support. Due to the scarcity of nurses, the wives, sisters and mothers of patients often perform their duties.

Perhaps the first step in the right direction is the recent declaration of the Secretary of State, Peace Mutuzo, who acknowledged that the situation of women is not only a social but also an economic problem. “Violence against women is one of the main obstacles to development," claimed Mutuzo.

In his reportage, Florian Niederndorfer suggests how to remove that obstacle -- how to render the legislation more sensitive to women's rights. Certainly, Austrian development aid can assist in this process.

Details from the story:

  • Uganda is located in East Africa, on the equator. It is inhabited by 42 million people.
  • The lawyer network Fida, originally from Latin America and since 1974 in Uganda, helps women to fight for their rights.
  • 60 lawyers advise the women who otherwise could afford legal help.
  • 5,577 women sought protection and help in 2017. Most of them due to conflicts over maintenance, inheritance and land issues as well as domestic violence.
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