When we discovered that 16 girls at one of our Just Like My Child schools at St. Kizito in rural Uganda had been sexually molested or assaulted by their own teacher, we knew the odds were beyond dismal for any justice. Ugandan officials have acknowledged that ten percent of all girls are sexually assaulted by their own teacher.
And a 2010 Amnesty International report shows, between January and June 2009, there was only a 1.83 per cent conviction rate for rape and a 5.89 per cent conviction rate for defilement cases. Defilement is the all-too-tidy euphemism used in Uganda for sexual molestation.
How do you even begin to inject hope and change into a society with those kind of horrific human rights odds? Among many other strategies, we empower the women and unleash the full legal power of attorneys like Ugandan’s Rose Nsenge, a strong ally in our Project Justice program.
For eight years, Rose has proven that “I’ll do anything to help anybody as long as it’s within my power! When I feel justice has to be done, I’m not going to eat. I’m not going to sleep. I will make sure I follow each task until the very last conclusion. I don’t mind having sleepless nights if, in the end, I get justice.”
Working closely with legal authorities, Rose helped mobilize our St. Kizito community, identified the headmaster who’d assaulted the girls, and got him arrested. After serving some time, he was released for lack of evidence (all-too common in Uganda). But he was run out of the community – for good. As importantly, Rose sees people in the community rising up with their own sense of empowerment. “Now when we return to St. Kizito we ask, ‘Where are the children?’ And they are in school. And the majority of women? They are making decisions and holding positions in the community. They are more vigilant about protecting the children.”
A 29-year-old mother of two, Rose grew up in the slums of Kampala. She became outraged when she saw how she and other children had no voices in her culture, even when they were abused or treated as property. Now, she’s an attorney making waves across Africa. Her husband, also an attorney, supports her professional leadership.
Under our Project Justice umbrella, Rose trains paralegals, police officers, social workers, medical personnel, and families in more than 50 communities in rural Uganda about their rights, the need for justice, and how to seek it. She’s made a name for herself throughout Uganda as a legal lightning rod. Rose was the first attorney on the scene when a horrific human rights abuse from Uganda rocked the globe. It’s beyond the pale, but in 2009 it was discovered that a rural Ugandan man had forced his wife to breastfeed puppies for years.
“My role was to initiate, mobilize, and call for action from fellow women activists to travel and visit the woman, who lived about 100 km away from Kampala. I led a team of about 14 women activists to seek justice for her.”
The man, who felt justified in abusing his wife in this manner because he’d paid a “bride price” for her, was arrested, but not prosecuted.
“I have been following up on this case, trying to see to it that this poor woman gets justice.” Rose says. “Actionaid Uganda got the woman funding, and they managed to build for her a house, however, the man is still at large, and up to now, he has never been charged. The case is currently before The Uganda Human Rights Commission. I will work to see that this woman will get justice one day. I think I was the determination and courage to move this case. It might be a matter of time, days, months, but the woman will get justice one day.”
Disease won’t change, poverty won’t change, and illiteracy won’t change—until access to justice increases.