An adako-adaka or, ‘I am a mere woman’. A common saying in Northern Uganda even today, 7 yrs after the ceasefire agreement put an end to the war with the LRA that lasted two decades and displaced 1.8 million people. During the conflict impunity reigned and lawlessness played itself out on the bodies of women and children. Sexual and gender-based violence rates skyrocketed, perpetrated by actors on both sides of the conflict and community-based support systems broke down. Courts stopped functioning, police could not be trusted and traditional justice structures fell apart as entire communities were relocated to IDP camps to escape the violence. Suddenly survivors of abuse had nowhere to turn.
Today, despite huge strides towards peace and stability and the mass return of the majority of displaced persons to their homes, women’s rights are still not widely understood or respected in Northern Uganda. The lingering culture of impunity, a direct result of the conflict, is evident in the cases that pass through the doors of War Child Canada’s legal aid clinics. Clients travel long distances to report instances of domestic abuse, child defilement, rape. There is a strong sentiment among Northern Ugandans to move on and move forward. ‘We don’t want to talk about the war anymore’, I’m told. But as long as the phrase an adako-adaka is heard echoing on the streets of Pader, on the other end of the phoneline in Kitgum and in the market in Gulu Town, society cannot move on. Until women’s rights are adequately promoted and protected, women feel no shame in reporting abuses and the obstacles obstructing justice are removed, peace and security cannot be fully realized.
In 2012 War Child’s Access to Justice program enabled over 1600 women and children to realize their rights and access justice. Over 120 police officers were trained on handling cases of sexual and gender based violence and over 9,000 community members across eight districts received information about women’s rights. Client by client, community by community, War Child is helping to make the saying an adako-adaka a thing of the past.
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