The UGANET quarterly report of October to December 2010 shows that 67 percent of human rights violation cases brought to its field legal officers in the five districts of operation were reported by women. This means that HIV/AIDS-related discrimination and human rights violations affect women most.
In Masindi district for example, over 50 cases were reported in the year 2010, but between October and December, 11 cases were reported by females against 5 reported by male clients.
One of these cases was that of Joan Nyakato, a blind widow from Kisindizi village in Karujubu sub-county. The 41-year-old mother of four was facing harassment from her co-wife and her husband’s relatives over land she had inherited from her late husband.
“My husband decided to divide the land when his health started failing. He called local officials, family members and neighbours and the land was divided and everything was put in writing. He had given me 7-acres but his relatives later laid claim to part of the land and I was left with about 6 and a half. Still the wrangles never stopped, they kept harassing me and saying I should leave and go back to my family,” she narrates in a frail voice.
She is seated on her shabby bed, the only piece of furniture in her leaking grass-thatched hut. The holes in the wall could be mistaken for ventilators, but they are the manifestation of a household with no concrete pillar. Her two-year-old daughter, Karungi, sits on her lap, wanting to be cuddled. It is like mother and daughter are trying to shelter each other from the chill of the rainy morning, since tatters are all they have for clothing.
Nyakato is living with HIV. But her immediate worries are far from her health; rather, she is more concerned with keeping her land, for her children’s future.
She relates that after her husband had passed on, she visited Masindi hospital for check up, having been in ill-health for a while. That is when she was confirmed to be HIV positive. She didn’t seek treatment then, and about 8 years ago, became very sick to the extent that she lost her sight.
One would expect neighbours and family to a support a person in her situation. Instead, they took advantage of her vulnerability.
“Since I couldn’t grow any food on my own, some of my neighbours and family requested to grow some crops on my land and I allowed them. But as I grew weak, I asked that at least they give me some food or money in payment for using the land. None of them heeded my pleas,” she says.
Luckily by that time, Nyakato had started attending the TASO clinic at the Masindi centre. In a counseling session one day, she shared her problems with her counselor, Berina Kamahoro. The counselor explains, “Nyakato was brought to the clinic by her young son. But when I started talking to her in a counseling session I realised she had more than one problem. She told me she was facing harassment back home, over land. And we referred that case to our partners at UGANET.”
The UGANET officials wrote summons to the invaders, the rest of the family and some members of the community and the land issue was resolved in a mediation session assisted by the police. Ignatius Tinka Zarugaba, the District CID officer for Masindi, explains why Nyakato’s case was unique.
“The UGANET officials came in with the brief that Nyakato was blind and she was also living with HIV. I felt that a crime had been committed against a vulnerable person, but also that this person had nobody else to fight for her rights, so we had to do our duty.”
The boundaries were reopened afresh, and the rightful owner given letters of administration for the land. But her troubles were not about to end.
Of the latest incident she says, “I came home one evening to find my mattress missing. One of the neighbors had seen the man who took it, but thought that I was in hospital and the man was helping me bring the mattress to me. When I told my neighbor that it had been stolen, he called my TASO counselor and she came together with the UGANET lawyers and the police and they helped me recover it.”
Her fifteen-year-old son, Christopher Mujuni, is the family’s breadwinner. A primary five pupil, most days he has to leave school two hours ahead of closing time, to come home and labour on people’s farms for the family’s meals. He also learns the prescriptions on his mother’s ARVs and sorts out for her what to take each day before he leaves home.
With all this difficulty though, his biggest worry is the lack of a strong shelter for the family. He thinks that this would not only help his ailing mother sleep better, but perhaps it would also make it possible for them to survive in this village longer and secure their land.
By providing free legal aid to such families as Nyakato’s, UGANET does not only make an impact on direct beneficiaries, but it has also made its mark on the larger community.
“UGANET is filing a gap, because the poor and vulnerable cannot afford legal fees. Sometimes they guide us in our investigations. Through UGANET’s work, we are able to establish whether a widow or orphan has been wronged and they are being wrongfully accused. We compare notes and are able to resolve cases amicably,” Zarugaba, the District CID officer, says.