Posted by: Ana Monroy | March 9, 2011

Celebrating International Women’s Day on the eve of the Uganda dialogue

After the eventful and inspiring Dialogues with refugee and displaced women and men in India, Colombia and Jordan, our team arrived on Saturday in Uganda to start the fourth Regional Dialogue. Timing of this dialogue is very appropriate, as it coincides with the 100th anniversary of International Women’s Day. Upon arrival to sunny Kampala we stumbled upon preparations for the city’s International Women’s Day celebration. We saw a great youth dance troupe performing to some wonderful East African percussion, and an older Muslim women’s collective who sang songs in praise of the strength of women. Women’s Day is even a public holiday in Uganda! Great to see the importance accorded to it – just a little inconvenient when we tried to exchange money at the bank this morning… 😉

On Monday we drove up from Kampala to Hoima, a town in North Western Uganda close to Lake Albert which borders the Democratic Republic of Congo. On the way: beautiful lush green hills, bountiful coffee plantations, lively villages, people transporting enormous piles of wood or other produce on bikes, children in school uniforms, women carrying loads of banana’s or jerry cans of water on their heads. In Hoima, we received a very warm welcome from staff at the UNHCR Sub Office, who work in the refugee settlements of Kyangwali and Kiryandongo.

Yesterday we celebrated Women’s Day with a training of trainers to UNHCR staff from Kampala, Hoima and other field offices, as well as Implementing Partners who provide health and other vital services to the refugees in Kyangwali – where we will be holding the Dialogues. During the training, we simulated the methodology that is being used for the Dialogues, and staff shared their enthusiasm to replicate it in their work.

We discussed many of the problems refugees in Kyangwali face and participants in the training brought the weight of their experience to the analysis of these problems. Participants shared the broad range of programs that they offer and some of the challenges that they are faced with. Of note was their analysis of Sexual and Gender Based Violence (SGBV) – which was as excellent as it was disturbing. Rape, sexual exploitation, prostitution, domestic violence, early marriages and pregnancies are all problems faced by the communities of Kyangwali. Refugees live in extreme poverty and the majority relies on food assistance. While refugees in principle have access to education, most students – particularly girls – drop out after primary school because of the high cost of secondary school, uniforms or simple school lunches.

We will hear more on these and undoubtedly many other problems refugees face in the Kyangwali refugee settlement, where we will speak to 60 refugee women and 30 refugee men, over the course of the next 10 days.

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