The COVID-19 pandemic is not stopping UYAHF to actively work on topics that need to be discussed. On the 7th of May 2020, UYAHF, in partnership with SheDecides Uganda, organised their 3rd webinar on harnessing the power of local movements in advancing gender equality and SRHR in the midst of COVID-19. The overall goal of this webinar was to spark discussion around the power of local movements in improving women’s rights and how we can collaboratively harness this effort to advance gender equality, promote women’s rights and challenge all forms of violence against women, as the government addresses COVID-19.

The webinar was moderated by Winnie Apio, Program Manager at UYAHF, and was attended by 70 (48 Female and 22 Male) participants from different organisations as well as 6 panelists. The panel featured Tikhala Itaye from She Decides Global Movement, Prof. Grace Bantebya Kyomuhendo from Makerere University School of Women and Gender, Ann Lumbasi from Centre for Health Human Rights and Development (CEHURD), Programme Officer Hajjara Bater from Lady Mamaid’s Bureau, Executive Director Eunice Musiime from Akiina Mama WaAfrika Uganda, Executive Director Alice Nayebare from UNFPA and Kudzanai Motombo from Women Deliver, Zimbabwe.

We gathered together to reflect, assess and evaluate the local movements on this topic and what their journeys have been so far, what has worked well and what hasn’t. We discussed opportunities, challenges and achievements when advancing women’s rights amidst COVID-19. We also went through opportunities for leveraging, linking and learning from other similar movements.

The first thing that was highlighted was the government’s efforts to prevent COVID-19 from spreading. Although serious measures were taken, there has been little to no attention given to SRHR needs which has created a massive risk area, especially for youth, girls, and young women. Numbers are showing increased levels of gender-based violence and which is likely to create a ripple-effect with regards to future cases of teenage pregnancy and unsafe abortion.

Anne Lumbasi pointed out that the situation, which was already serious, has only gotten worse due to COVID-19. She emphasized that coalitions during these times are needed and that, although partners have been active, there is more to be done. Most importantly she argues, there needs to be a balance between working together and the need for statistics to back up our efforts.

Professor Grace Bantebya Kyomuhendo also shared this view and mentioned that in order for local movements to improve on their advocacy, they need to dis aggregate data beyond female and male and include vulnerable districts and what categories of women are facing a particular problems, as often the data is incomplete or of low quality.

Eunice Musiime  Executive Director of Akiina Mama Wa Africa stated that  “Pandemics make visible what has been invisible for a long time.” 

Key recommendations as a result of this discussion were the need to adopt a Feminist approach and a more holistic point of view, both when emphasizing self-care as implementing partners, but also for the front line workers and in the programs. Another key recommendation was the need for more coordination and collaboration among implementing partners with common objectives. Next, more accurate data collected, analysed, disseminated and used for programming purposes was stressed. It is important that we collect realistic data that is based on representation of different issues and that local movements are able to collect and analyse it.

Lastly, partners need to implement and amplify the voices of the less privileged so that they are supported with services that can improve their lives. The most marginalized groups like the LGBTQI+, sex workers and elderly women can not be forgotten. They face a lot of stigma in society as a result of religious and/or cultural beliefs and have been seriously affected due to COVID-19. These groups of people have been left out on many levels both before and during the pandemic. Hajara Sanyu Bater advocated for joint advocacy and collaboration as a team as this is the only thing that makes sense during these hard times.

As a youth led and advocacy organization, UYAHF took these recommendations and concerns into account and continues to work with partners and different stakeholders to fight these challenges. Not only did the panelists share their concerns, they also shared what they have been doing to keep gender equality and SRH rights growing.