In Uganda, the Africa for Women's Rights Campaign is in partnership with the Foundation for Human Rights Initiative(FHRI) . Livingstone Sewanyana, Executive Director, takes us through his experience as an advocate for women’s human rights.By Pouline Kimani.

Why are you engaging in the Africa for women’s rights campaign?

The question of women’s rights is cross cutting, we say that “developing women is developing a nation’’. It is vital that legal frameworks are conducive to the advancement of women rights. Yet, although the principle of equality between men is enshrined in the country’s constitution, women in Uganda continue to face legal and traditional discrimination as well as unequal treatment in education, employment and access to public services. FHRI seeks to ensure that all women including women in conflict, women in prison, women living with HIV can access the full range of fundamental rights, while reiterating the importance of promoting and protecting all women’s rights as a way to realize development for Uganda. We believe that the human rights of Ugandan women are interlinked and interdependent on all other issues of national concern. Our work therefore involves ensuring that these issues are mainstreamed in all our priority areas of work: electoral democracy, juvenile justice, right to health, recognition and promotion of people living with disabilities; challenging the death penalty, torture and freedom of the media.

What have been your moments of satisfaction in the combat for women's human rights in Uganda?

I was very pleased when they introduced the idea of reforming the existing family laws in Uganda which remain very discriminatory. A bill on marriage and divorce law was presented to parliament at the end of 2009 following many years of advocacy work by Ugandan NGOs. Although it has not yet been enacted into law, it represents an important milestone for women and all citizens of Uganda.

What would you ask for from your government?

Firstly, that the marriage and divorce bill is enacted into law. Secondly that the domestic violence bill that was approved by the National Assembly in December is signed into law by the President as well as the sexual offences bill, as these are crucial in beginning to challenge violations of women's rights since victims currently lack legal recourse. I would like to see the government of Uganda ensure that women can participate effectively in electoral processes. Special attention also needs to be paid to the situation of women in prison, especially those that are incarcerated with children. Finally, the government must put an end to ritual killings of children in “witchcraft”. This issue is also central to the wellbeing of women and their human rights. Women endure a lot of discrimination that leads to violation of their rights and using children as a trade object for witchcraft is first and foremost a gross violation of these children’s rights and additionally a reinforcement of the oppression on women by cultural practices who in most circumstances have no choice or right in decision making within the traditional Ugandan family set up.

Interview with Valentine Kalende, Spokesperson for The Civil Society Coalition on Human Rights and Constitutional Law

What are your main concerns as a woman and a defender of women rights in Uganda?

My concerns as a woman, a human rights defender and citizen of Uganda are that the rights of all women are protected, including lesbian women.For me, it is impossible to separate women's rights and sexual rights. And you cannot deal with one while neglecting the other. Lesbian women are women first before any consideration of their sexual orientation. I am concerned that the Domestic Relations legislation must be fully implemented and not just remain on paper. I would love to see a Uganda where women's sexual and health rights are fully protected.

What are your thoughts on the newly tabled marriage and divorce bill?

The new marriage and divorce bill is bound to face a lot of resistance from religious conservatives who do not agree with the principle of divorce. The Catholic Church has indicated that it does not support this bill because they consider that it promotes divorce as a mechanism of conflict resolution in marriages. But this bill creates an environment for justice and equality for both men and women. Men should not see this bill as a threat to manhood but should welcome it as a step to development.

What is your hope for women’s rights in Uganda?

The Government should work towards the Millennium Development goals to which it has committed itself. Without an enabling social and political environment for women to empower themselves, development is impossible for Uganda.