Access to legal information and guidance continues to be a major challenge to women in Uganda, entangled in dilemma ranging from disputes in land and inheritance, domestic brawls and numerous other socio-legal concerns. At BarefootLaw, we use digital tools and traditional sensitization methods to make free access to legal information and guidance a reality for the poorest who have for decades been denied access to justice. With support from the Belgian Development Agency – Enabel – and Wehubit, we have been able to extend access to legal information to women in the unconnected communities of Gulu, Uganda.
Florence Lalam, a 34-year-old widow in Arut village was one of the 469 women who attended the Legal Empowerment of Women Using Technology and Innovation (LEWUTI) sensitization at Adonai Primary School, Paicho Subcounty in Gulu district. Arut is 353 kilometers (a 6-hour drive) from the capital city of Uganda, Kampala.
“I was happy with the sensitization you held in July. It tackled an issue that directly affected me- land. In the early years, our kwari (clan heads) gave my family land to live and farm on but when many of them died in the war,” Lalam narrates.
In 1987, self-professed spirit medium and rebel leader, Joseph Kony, launched his insurgency in the districts of Gulu and Kitgum, north of Uganda. Lalam, who was 3 years old at the time marks the generation which spent their early childhood dodging the claws of war.
When the internally displaced persons returned home twenty years later, Lalam and her mother had nowhere to go. She decided to marry her, (now late) husband and father of her four children, prompting her to move to his ancestral home. She carried her mother along. “Having lost my entire family in the war, my marriage was a newfound hope. My mother was my strength, but she too died last May. Now I’m back to being alone,” Lalam shares, followed by a long pause in a clear attempt to hold back tears.
When her husband died, his family started to harass her in the struggle for the land he left behind. She consequently could not use it to support her family.
Feeling “defeated”, she decided to rent two gardens nearly twenty-five kilometres from her home, to farm for her family’s livelihood. She has cultivated cotton for commercial use on one of the farms; and sweet potatoes, with other subsistence crops, to feed her family. “I sell the produce to send my children to school,” she says as she weeds her 60-squarefoot sweet potato garden.
This, however, might not be her reality for long. Lalam, with a trace of a smile on her face, tells us that ever since the LEWUTI training, her in-laws have not made any attempts to evict her from her land or fight her for land. “My husband’s relatives attended the training and now they know that I’m aware of their unlawful acts against my family and how to act towards enforcing my rights.”
She thanked the lawyers for the legal knowledge shared. She was particularly appreciative of the free tools BarefootLaw shared with them in case any legal queries arise.” I saved that number and intend to call the lawyers whenever my in-laws start bothering me again.” Lalam also thanked Avocats Sans Frontiers for training the mediators. She noted that they’ve helped mediate between estranged couples, as a result of domestic violence.
“I no longer to cry myself to sleep or worry about where to go with my children. The training brought me peace. Thank you BarefootLaw,” Lalam appreciated as she carried her 20-liter jerrican of water from the borehole, back home to make lunch for her children, who were soon returning from school.
We appreciate the Belgian Development Agency, Enabel and Wehubit for enabling us to reach these unconnected communities.