Context and Background
Women-lead grassroots organizations play a critical role in building violence prevention and response systems in conflict-affected communities in Uganda. The 20-year insurgency in Northern and North-Eastern Uganda, which was characterized by abductions, sexual and gender based violence, familial displacement, and land grabbing, created a climate of economic, social and cultural deprivation and stigmatization. The war exacerbated long-standing gendered inequalities in the social fabric of the affected communities and contributed to increased incidences of sexual, gender-based and domestic violence, mainly against women and girls, which significantly impacted their social and economic advancement. While substantial effort has been made through government-lead development projects and reconstruction initiatives to address the economic, social, and infrastructural gaps faced by survivors and residents of the post-conflict regions, grassroots women-lead organisations have been the main direct responders and change drivers at local and community levels to address the social, economic and psychological needs of survivors.
However, these women leaders are noticeably absent from key decision-making spaces, and their voices rarely resonate beyond the limited places that many of them occupy. A needs assessment survey among women grassroots leaders in ten conflict-affected communities in North and North-Eastern Uganda  carried out on behalf of Gulu Women Economic Development and Globalization (GWED-G), Tallawah Justice for Women, and the University of Nottingham in March-April 2022, confirmed that despite the essential role that grassroots women leaders play in providing support and response services, particularly among victims and survivor communities, they struggle to attract meaningful and sustained public and political support due to a misperception about the nature and importance of their work. The study highlighted the urgent need for a complete reframing, repackaging, and reprioritization of the work of grassroots women leaders and their organizations to attract increased support and to make investment and financing of their work a policy priority. The study found that women leaders must be part of processes and initiatives if systemic change is to be realized in local government processes, legislative and policy developments, social restructuring exercises, and programmatic initiatives designed to address inequalities. These processes need to be deliberately structured through relationships and networks that include the women leaders as well as policymakers and critical powerbrokers to ensure sustained and scalable impact. Women leaders must be ensured a seat at the table and be included in change processes, not absent from them.
UN Resolution 2493 (2019) urges Member States to recommit to the women, peace and security agenda, including by “creating safe environments for women leaders, women peacebuilders, human rights defenders and political actors.” It asks States to “facilitate the full, equal and meaningful participation of women…in peacekeeping operations.” Uganda’s National Action Plan (NAP) III acknowledges that women in conflict and crises contexts have “proved a reliable source of information and knowledge on prevention and protection measures for the population at risk, and have contributed in developing national strategies for conflict prevention.” The NAP stresses the importance of building the capacity of women to engage in meaningful prevention of violence and conflict prevention, and to develop and expand women leaders’ access to professional networks and resources.
To create a platform for meaningful dialogue on this important issue, GWED-G, Tallawah Justice for Women, and the University of Nottingham will convene a conference entitled “Out of the Shadows: Women Survivor Leaders Arise”, aimed at increasing the visibility and influence of women grassroots leaders in decision-making processes on SGBV, violence prevention and conflict resolution in Uganda. The conference will be held on August 12th 2022 at the Bomah Hotel, Gulu City and will bring together between 80 – 100 women leaders of grassroots, community-based organisations, war victims groups and networks from the Eastern, Lango, Acholi and West Nile regions, local government women leaders in Council including the Speakers to Council and women leading committees, policymakers, donors, community and cultural leaders, civil society representatives and other key stakeholders.
Aims and Objectives
The main objective of the Conference is to foster inclusive dialogue concerning the crucial role and influence of women grassroots leaders in developing and shaping policies that directly impact women survivors in post-conflict Uganda. The conference is critically aimed at highlighting the important role of women grassroots leaders in conflict prevention, mediation and violence de-escalation under the women, peace and security agenda in Uganda, as per the NAP III.
The six specific objectives of this multi-stakeholder dialogue are to:
- Amplify the voices of grassroots women leaders by creating a platform for exchange of ideas and perspectives on conflict prevention, SGBV and other women specific policies for advancing peace and security with key stakeholders including policymakers, parliamentarians, donors and civil society groups. For the women leaders this is critical as many lack vital skills for advocacy, coalition building, government relations, peer learning and innovation, power mapping, multi-stakeholder dialogue, negotiation, policy formulation, convening and collaboration, and documentation.
- Formulate strategies to reduce grassroots women’s political and social exclusion and to strengthen their participation and representation in political decision-making at the micro and macro level.
- Address the chronic underfunding and absence of long-term investment in women-lead grassroots organisations. Chronic underfunding further prevents women-led grassroots organizations from stabilizing, expanding, diversifying their activities, and growing into strong and resilient institutions.
- Catalyse a shift (among women leaders, policymakers and donors) from activities and projects primarily focused on addressing the immediate, basic needs of SGBV survivors without dealing with factors which lead to and entrench gendered violence in the first place including systemic inequities, misogynistic practices and biased social and economic structures.
- Strengthen the capacity of grassroots women leaders to engage effectively in movement building, conflict mediation, partnerships and collaborative working and to strengthen their internal organizational systems, identify and access resources.
- Advance the women, peace and security agenda in Uganda by creating space for women leaders to advocate for reform and accountability for conflict-related sexual and gender-based violence, share best practices and make specific demands for change.
This conference is being organised by GWED-G, Tallawah Justice for Women, and the University of Nottingham in the United Kingdom under the project: “Out of the Shadows: Increasing the visibility and influence of women grassroots leaders in SGBV decision-making processes in Uganda” generously funded by a grant from the Quality Research Policy Support Fund from Research England to the University of Nottingham.
GWED-G is a grassroots Ugandan non-profit organization, which works to advance the human rights of women in Uganda, particularly in the war-affected Northern region. Website: https://gwed-g.org
Tallawah Justice for Women is a non-profit organization registered in Weeze, Germany whose mission is to connect, empower and amplify the voices of women survivor leaders in Africa and the Caribbean. Website: https://tallawahjustice.org
 The study was conducted in Gulu, Pader, Kitgum, Lamwo, Amuru, and Nwoya Moroto, Soroti, Lira, Arua, and Adjumani. The findings and analysis from the needs assessment survey have been documented in the report Empowering Grassroots Women Leaders to SOAR (Strategise, Organise, Advocate and Rise) which will shortly be available for download.