Radio Coverage Empowers Ugandan Women

Lawyers and activists in northern Uganda say IWPR’s Facing Justice programme has prompted women to speak out about rights violations and seek justice.

By IWPR - International Justice - ICC

21 Apr 11

Organisations advancing the rights of women and others who were uprooted by the conflict in northern Uganda have told IWPR of the crucial support that its Facing Justice radio programme is providing to those now seeking to rebuild their lives.

Facing Justice reports on post-conflict justice and other issues around the redevelopment of the region in the aftermath of the 20-year Lord’s Resistance Army, LRA, insurgency.

Following a recent programme investigating the prevalence of domestic violence, the Association of Women’s Lawyers, FIDA, based in Gulu, informed IWPR that 30 women had approached the organisation for support and legal advice.

“The information that is given out on the programme helps people to know how to access legal services,” Adong said.

“The category of people [who have come to FIDA] are [those] who are affected by domestic violence and threats to their life, or battering [by their husbands] and issues to do with child neglect.”

FIDA said that the episode on domestic violence had provided vital information to parts of the region that the organisation struggled to reach out to.

“Through the [FIDA project] it is very hard to reach people in the deepest villages in rural Uganda. But when people tune in to Facing Justice and this programme on domestic violence [the information] is easily accessed,” Adong told IWPR.

Facing Justice is a regular, feature-length radio broadcast that seeks to fill a void in investigative reporting on human rights and transitional justice issues in northern Uganda.

It is broadcast across a network of five radio stations in northern Uganda. The programme goes out in English and three local languages - Luo, Ateso and Lugbara. Mega FM, Voice of Teso, Radio Palwak, Radio Pacis and Rhino Rhino have a combined regional audience of an estimated 4.6 million listeners.

As part of its current series, Facing Justice has broadcast two episodes analysing key issues faced by women as people displaced by the conflict return to their villages.

Besides the widespread domestic violence in the region, the programme has analysed the struggle facing widows who have to fight to claim ownership of their late husbands’ property. FIDA said that this programme had prompted a further 20 women to come forward to report difficulties in inheriting their husband’s property and to seek redress.

According to Adong, the women represented “an increase in clients” that have come to FIDA since the progromme was aired in February. Five of the widows who reported inheritance difficulties needed support to reconcile with their husbands while a further 15 cases required legal adjustments to a husband’s will in order to grant their widows the property that was a legally theirs.

Once informed of their legal rights women willingly came forward to pursue justice, Adong said.

“They want to find out if they have a course of action and can pursue it to a legal conclusion,” she told Facing Justice. “We had three or four defilement cases, we had five domestic violence cases and cases of [child] maintenance and child neglect.”

Meanwhile, in other parts of northern Uganda organisations say that Facing Justice’s coverage of widows’ struggle to inherit property has improved women’s understanding of laws that directly affect them.

“The radio programme is a very good mechanism for making people realise their rights,” Rebecca Tino, of the Uganda government’s Human Rights Commission in Soroti, said.

According to Tino, the Facing Justice programmes have helped to advance women’s rights in local communities by potentially reducing the number of violations and also helping women to seek justice.

“When people get informed of their rights it may lead to reductions in violations,” Tino explained. “On the other hand, [being informed of their rights] leads to people getting the information and having the ability to report the case.”

Tino said the two episodes of Facing Justice that have tackled women’s rights had prompted them to seek justice for violations they suffered.

“There was an impact. People are accessing information in the communities. Women became aware of what their rights are and they lodged their complaints [with the commission],” she said.

“Most communities do not know which laws govern inheritance. I think what was done [by Facing Justice] was one of the ways in which we can address that. The more [people] know the more they get the courage to report [violations of their rights].”

Meanwhile, Judith Adong at FIDA said that Facing Justice stood out from other radio programmes in the region and provided unique information to a wide audience.

“It is not a talk show,” Adong explained. “The programme is different from others [broadcast on the radio]. The ability of having a regular programme on legal matters affecting women, children and vulnerable groups makes it very different.”

“The continuous flow of information allows [listeners] to be aware and alert to the situation [they find themselves in].”

In the latest series of Facing Justice, which began in November 2010, the programme has tackled several important issues in northern Uganda, including the possible formation of a truth and reconciliation commission and victims’ claims for financial compensation in the aftermath of the LRA war.

Those working on transitional justice in the region say IWPR’s coverage of these subjects has improved levels of understanding of these complex subjects.

“[Facing Justice] has generated a lot of interest and debate for the local community. It was instrumental in reaching the people that it was meant to reach, especially people in the rural communities,” Lino Owor, of the Justice and Reconciliation Project in Gulu, said.

According to Owor, Facing Justice has helped analyse and disseminate important information on post-conflict justice to people all over the north.

“The biggest challenge we find is publishing our reports [in local communities],” Owor explained.

“When there is a radio programme like this and it is emphasising the same issues as [the Justice and Reconciliation Project] it is really complementing our work.”

Because Facing Justice is broadcast in local languages, it reaches a wide audience, something Owor also emphasised.

“The radio [programme] is listened to by very many people . It has a large audience compared to newspapers, internet and our research reports - judging by the volume of calls that come in during the radio programme,” he said.

The IWPR Uganda Radio Project which produces Facing Justice has trained a network of 12 reporters from the northern Ugandan regions of Teso, Acholi, Lango and West Nile. The project is run by IWPR reporter Simon Jennings and project coordinator, Moses Odokonyero, with the Facing Justice programme produced by Susan Kavuma.

IWPR media training held in Gulu in 2009 and 2010 has equipped reporters with skills in investigative journalism, reporting legal and justice issues, as well as production techniques that have enabled them to produce high quality reports for the programme.