As Uganda geared towards the presidential elections, there was widespread violence, human rights abuses as reported by various media houses and tabloids. The abuses included killings by security forces, arrests, and beatings of opposition supporters and journalists, abductions of people organizational accounts frozen the shutdown of the internet among others. All these actions continue to create a lot of fear among Ugandans. When it comes to SRHR advocates they are also facing various security and safety threats as they advocate and implement in Uganda. SRHR encompasses sexual health, reproductive health, reproductive rights, and sexual rights. All these four areas are interlinked and influence each other, however, each area may enjoy varying levels of political and social support depending on the context. SRHR advocates receive opposition from religious leaders, cultural leaders, family members, fellow SRHR advocates that don’t agree with all the four areas that make up SRHR among others. They face opposition while using social media, in church, places of work, family, in their communities name it. SRHR advocates continue to operate even though their voices and services continue to be restricted by unnecessary regulation because investing in Sexual and reproductive health care is key to building a more equitable and sustainable world for all and giving in to these regulations will prevent women and girls from seeking and receiving the care and services they so desperately want.

On 17th February 2021, Uganda Youth and Adolescent Health Forum (UYAHF) conducted a capacity-building training on security and safety in Mbale district at the UYAHF Adolescent Health Clinic. The training was attended by members of the Eastern youth network from the districts of Tororo, Butalejja, and Mbale. The meeting was attended to by 25 participants (F, 10 and M, 15). The objectives of the capacity building training were;

1.To introduce the security management concept focusing on physical and digital security and provide a platform to address security management issues.

2.To enable SRHR advocates to distinguish the roles and responsibilities of their organizations and the individual level.

3.To encourage sharing of practical tools and tactics.

Participants were trained on both digital and physical security measures. Under physical security Ms. Mellon introduced the concept of holistic security which is was a conservation around the well-being and agency of ourselves as SRHR advocates, our families, and communities through the consistent use of the three domains, namely; psychosocial (a vivid example of this kind of insecurity is the consequences of the general elections campaigns in Mbale), physical (individuals should ensure that they have proper control of physical entities like door locks, wall fences, padlocks, etc. an example of poor management of physical security is having open doors to sensitive rooms), and digital tools and tactics in ways that reinforce each other. “Many times people are used to their routines and are not even conscious about their surroundings, for example, many people have Boda Boda riders that transport them to and from work using the same route, we install apps on our phones without reading all the terms and conditions but rather quick to press next, this training is going to be an eye-opener for many of you”, said Ms. Akakunda Mellon. Holistic security helps advocates to assess;

1.Risks and threats are inherent and continue against SRHR advocates. SRHR advocates need to be more aware of their surroundings since they operate under very strict guidelines.

2.Impunity levels are still high for example, continuous media reporting about the crimes reported against media personalities as they report and record news especially those that are around democracy, and the continuous abductions of Ugandans among others.

3.Ineffective protection mechanisms by national, regional, and international stakeholders.

4.Individual or organizational surveillance.

5.Rampant office break-ins targeting information; a couple of organizations have had unknown people break into their office premises and sensitive documents and property were taken such as computers, servers among others.

6.Media house closures. Over the last three years, several media houses have been forcefully shut down because of hosting certain personalities during political shows, airing of political stories among others.

When evaluating physical security, individuals need to identify and classify assets and resources (what we want to protect), identify probable threats (who to protect it from), identify likely vulnerabilities that threats may exploit (the likelihood), and the expected cost if bad things happen (consequences)

Digital security is a combination of tools and habits to prevent access to physical and unauthorized access information. Digital security is more important now more than ever because of the increased usage of digital services, exposure to censorship, restrictive legal context, increased media and organizational break-ins and closure. There are 3 main vulnerabilities of digital security, namely;

  • Unauthorized access to social media platforms such as Facebook, WhatsApp, etc.
  • Unauthorized access to social media platforms such as emails, websites, and many more.
  • Unauthorized access to physical devices such as phones, computers, etc.

Information mapping enables one to understand the importance of information as a valuable asset to ourselves, our allies, and adversaries. How to handle digital breakdowns; Do proper information mapping i.e. information is divided into two categories which are Information at rest and Information in motion. Individuals can overcome some digital insecurities as by;

  • Hacking – use strong passwords for emails and other accounts and encryption of data.
  • Denial of service attacks – use of SSL certificate that creates a secure, encrypted connection between a browser and a server. The website should be secure with HTTPS
  • Phishing- perform a software update, install Firewall, and install Antimalware /Antivirus, and use Two-step verification.
  • Social engineering – research the facts, delete any request for financial information or passwords, don’t open the links, be-aware of any download, set your spam filters too high, and secure your computing devices with Antivirus
  • Surveillance – encryption of data and secure online communication
  • Malicious attacks – installing Antimalware software, secure Back-up of information, encryption of data, software update, avoiding the use of Internet Café and Public Computers
  • Unauthorized access of devices and documents – use of cable locks, use of Passwords, proper Data Disposal Mechanisms, and use of Intrusion Detection Systems like alarm systems and CCTV cameras.

By the end of the capacity building training participants had developed organizational and individual safety and security action plans for their organizations and themselves.