Break the silence!

Acting and raising awareness against sexual harassment and abuse

High Sound for Children with their local contacts and participants of the workshop for storytelling.

Our second time in Africa was a result of a series of incredible luck and flow as we were able to connect to our colleagues in Uganda in a discussion around obstacles that women experience on their path to dignified state, empowering environment and safe life. In this project we wanted to use culture forms like film and theatre to open up public discussions about sensitive and taboo subject of violence and harassment against women and find means to be able to spread women’s experiences “behind the scenes” despite harsh censorship and poor access to the internet.
We wanted to conduct some discussion meetings with local decision makers as well as a series of workshops in film and theater technology for women influencers, thereby changing and giving higher priority in social debate to issues of gender equality, sexual abuse and legal certainty. We wanted to give voice to women in the media, teachers, students and activists within the SCO.

The project was made possible thanks to the support from Swedish Institute and done in collaboration with 3 local organisations in Kampala: Muwanga Development Organisation, High Sound for Children and Media Challenge Initiative. In total, over

Evelyn is learning Lugandan! on the right, there are empty plastic bottles under the coverage: collecting then and selling for recycling at a price of 0,1 USD per kg pays for school tuition (around 150 dollars per semester) of the young girl in the family who dropped out of public school since she was ruthlessly bullied after she was raped and got pregnant.

Strategic objectives of the project were corresponding to SDG 5: Achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls,


SDG 16: Promote peaceful and inclusive societies for sustainable development, provide access to justice for all and build effective, and build effective, accountable and inclusive institutions at all levels.

Slowly building up resilience and capacity we aim to contribute to end all forms of discrimination against all women and girls everywhere. That we hope to do through enhancing the use of enabling technology, in particular information and communications technology, to promote the empowerment of women. Gradually we hope to trengthen sound policies and enforceable legislation for the promotion of gender equality and the empowerment of all women and girls at all levels, promote and enforce non-discriminatory laws and policies for sustainable development.

Hadijah Mwanje, founder and leader of High Sound for children, is summing up the discussion for the group.

We wanted to draw attention to grassroots issues that affect women’s ability to protect their interests, participate in community life and decision-making, namely abuse and sexual harassment of women from others community members and also their families, in schools and workplaces in Uganda.

So what we want to influence directly through the project is not the level of violence in intimate relationships by itself but the silence that exists on the issue of women’s position and vulnerability to violence.
We see reduction in violence as a more long-term result of these open discussions.

We wanted to implement the project in order to raise together with our Ugandan colleagues, present problems that women experience on the way to gain power over their lives, decisions and safety. Instead of working with central media that is under tight control, we researched a possibility to strengthen and support a number of committed resourceful women to become more efficient information spreader and content creators. Through a number of individual talks and stories that we wanted to present in an appealing creative format of short films and
plays, we intended to achieve a media campaign effect but with much more flexibility and decentralized means. Instead of tackling gender issues directly and in that way risk confrontation with those in power as well risk life and health of local women journalists, teachers and activists, we aimed at together with local women’s own voices and vision, create a wave of opinion and awareness of problems nationally and internationally. This would then lead to incremental changes in local and national legislation and policy-making, and provide
women more space in social life. That was what we hoped for.

There is a huge problem of women and girl child abuse by family members, at school and in the community. Young and adolescent girls are confronted with sexual harassment by peer groups, male teachers in schools and community members. This problem is exacerbated by corruption within the state agencies who practice bribe to let the offenders go scot free after committing these crimes. Parents tend to force their daughters at early ages into marriage for want of money and other forms of gifts like dowry of two goats or one cow and the poor victims end uphelped to access justice. The women are confronted with challenges of domestic violence committed to them by their spouses. They are beaten and sometimes thrown out of their houses and poor women have no freedom of expression, many widows and orphans are forced out of their matrimonial homes by clan leaders after the death of the husband/father.

Women are usually directed not to decide on their own the leaders of their choice, they would want to vote and when they vore for people against the will of their spouse they get harassed and beaten by husbands.

Meeting young mothers in Kawempe, workshop for storytelling and inteviews, under effort of High Sound for Children

Activities that we carried out were:

  1. Conducting 8 bigger group discussions and over 10 small group/idividual talks about women’s issues health, safety and rights; recording a number of interviews on the topic with the local activitists and journalists.
  2. 4 Workshops in storytelling and media production that resulted in several short media productions materials made by women in the project groups.
  3. 3 Workshops in theater technique, as well as preparation of short pieces on the topic of the project.
  4. 6 meetings for discussion of the issues with local active groups for women’s safety and rights and social mobilisation.
  5. Discussion and design of a theoretical platform for further promotion of the project objectives, sharing thoughts and ideas. Originally we planned for creatively designed online resourses like a blog or/and a youtube channel but this idea was modified due to technical obstacles and social mobilisation specifics that we were not aware about before.
On the way to Entebbe for a meeting with social and environmental activists

Equality and non-discrimination mean that not only women get to speak
and decisions in society, but also that men are relieved of half of their responsibility for community development. This creates more harmonious and balanced relationships in the family and in the workplace, reduces anxiety and increases public health and economic growth on a larger scale, which contributes to long-term social development.

Power of media and ways to break through. Workshop at MCI

As an outside organization from another country, we cannot influence Uganda’s politics or culture; we can, however, with our knowledge of civil processes and social dynamics clearly see the effect gender discrimination and low level of equality have on community development. Through collaboration with our partners, other local actors, journalists, teachers and activists in the area, we can raise awareness of this connection and share with us of methods that help to both increase gender equality and reduce it gender discrimination in the region.

Expression art workshop at National Culture Center

Results of the project

  • A group of committed activists and influencers gathered in a creative network for one long-term cooperation,
  • Students who want to fight for their better future were introduced to opportunities to spread their thoughts internationally,
  • Synergies of collaboration between women in the media, students, teachers and activists within civil society, were articulated and put to the test,
  • Ugandan women’s fight for their human rights, protection from sexual
    harassment and violence, security and legal certainty were made visible in a way that has greatest chance to pass censorship and the condemnation of honor culture,
  • Women who work with other women and young people gained pedagogical skills in conducting these creative workshops as well as support from our organizations,
  • Women (influencers) gained broader knowledge and insight into issues of violence and harassment in its direct and long-term effects,
  • Resourceful women in Uganda gained knowledge about information and communication technologies,
  • The attention of local decision-makers was directed to problems of violence against women and its effects on local development.

    How did we do that?
    We conducted a number of study visits to the places which were put on agenda due to activists work: teachers, journalists and NGO volunteers and where we met with over 90 persons who were actively involved into discussions. During these visits we had meetings with local civil society organisations and discussed matters of gender violence and discrimination against women, in relation to each one of their respective area of expertise.
    We had a number of individual meetings and group meetings, combined with workshops. For example:
  • Meeting with local church community as religion is a strong factor, discussing tradition of historical narratives about women participation in social life;
  • At Kiboga village, we had both a meeting with the village executive representatives (both genders) and a workshop with a number of women entrepreneurs, on matter of visual culture and representation of Uganda through women.
  • At Nansana suburb, we met with a local women organisation, discussed options for young women with limited opportunities to reach out to the global community, and had a creative writing workshop. Later we met the ladies again and helped them to make several recordings of their poems and interviews.
  • Meeting several groups of students, we had a seminar about representation of women in culture, taboos and one-sided storytelling.
  • We had a cordially warm meeting with young journalists in several locations, one at MCI media hub combined with a workshop in critical approach, one at KIIS radio combined with a workshop on intercultural references and de-dramatisation of sensitive issues, and one outdoors where two workshops were conducted: one in short video making and one in articulation of underlaying issues when reporting gender related matters.
  • Upon visiting a play at La Bonita theater, we had a meeting with the theater manager and one of the lead actors for a discussion of portraying women in entertainment.
  • Visiting/participating in a dance workshop at National culture centre, we not only were able to join local cultural production but also articulate a number of hidden issues on matter of public representation of women in/through culture but also a number of obstacles that curse the road of free speech for girls agains violence, rather than paving the road for it.
  • Invited by a colleague we could even join a student graduation party where we had a number of serious insights on matters of gender, in terms of transgender and LGBTQ+ and from where a number of young culture creators got connected into a network driven by interest in learning more about Swedish culture production and possibilities for further professional growth.
  • We visited community hall in Nansana area meeting with a number of local politicians, discussing policies of support for women in culture and media.
  • In the area of Bwise we organised a storytelling/filming workshop.
  • We organized a networking event where all the people that we have been in touch with during the project, were invited and where we both conducted a workshop on voluntary submission to discrimination and exclusion, and a number of discussions about the tradition of evaluation iof personal success and fulfillment.
  • As one of non-formal activities that actually brought much impact into the project, we met with a number of female influencers outdoors including a famous local singer who we could discuss with about the backstage of career development of women in culture, media and entertainment.
  • Together with HSC we visited a number of communities in area of Sebagala, Kingstone High School conducting workshops on storytelling and filming with a phone.
  • Together with Muwanga DA we visited Mutungo school and youth activity center where teachers together with students presented a theater play ”I lost all my daughters” about tradition of selling and exchanging women for services by men. It was absolutely heartbreaking.
  • Visiting Kawempe slums with HSC we were able to meet and record the stories of young women – victims of rape and violence. Many of them underaged and most are scared of talking in public as their offenders are usually men with authority in local communities, not uncommon priests.
  • We rounded up our stay with a day-long series of workshops on possibilities of tackling the issues in a more indirect but more impactful manner, searching for more suitable tactics in changing the public opinion on matters of sexual violence and women abuse.

In the end, we had met with over 90 persons from 15 organisations, 5 sectors: church, private businesses, public management, academia, non-profit NGOs. We worked tight with 3 organizations and met other 5, as well as a number of engaged young people and influencers that were representing themselves and their interest for the topic before any organizational affiliation. We had over 20 interviews where gradually it became clear why on one side, sexual abuse is such a hard topic to tackle, and on another side, why the original preparedness to participate in the projects activities as a public profile has changed into avoidance. It has indeed a deep rooted complex dilemma of danger of navigation on cultural grounds (tribal collective culture is diverse and very strong) and absorbing western culture based on individualism. Any person staying connected with the local environment would be seen as false if they articulate environment’s oppressive structures. But due to poverty, power (also as violence) comes forward as a main resource, and women’s dependance on men become normalized as well as community’s ruthless judgments in all matters related to gender identity and conflicts.

We faced a lot of taboos and hidden issues. But in the end, 4 short theater pieces were set, 2 by young people at schools we visited (matters of free speech and bride price), 1 by a fashion entrepreneur (child sacrifice), 1 by activists of HSC (breaking the silence), and 5 video recordings made by the participants of workshops.

Theater workshop at Media challenge initiative
Collecting women stories at Bwise, with great support of Muwada
Theater play “I had three baby girls” at Motongo, with great support and facilitation of teachers by MuwaDA
Short film and storytelling workshop at Bwise
Creative writing workshop at Women development group, Nansana

More information (oh so much more!!) exists in the project files and within the network that was created during these two unforgettable weeks in Uganda, Kampala with surroundings. So much more work we can do together! On all levels, no effort is too small or too short, as we have learnt. Please let us know if you want to become a part of this work!
For any other questions feel free to contact (preferably by Whatsapp) the project workers Tania Bauder +46761665626 and Evelyn Rodriguez +34666232916.

Evelyn and Tania in the countryside outside Kiboga village, 120 km from Kampala, researching the visual capital of Uganda

International Association for Women and Youth