Establishing Community Protection Committees in Uganda
Oxfam supports a rights-based approach to gender justice that involves addressing the consequences, and also the causes, of gender inequality and GBV. This is done by very deliberately putting women’s rights at the heart of all activities. In practice, this means promoting widespread changes in attitudes and beliefs about gender power relations.
In Uganda, Oxfam works with South Sudanese refugees to promote protection of communities in displaced settings by supporting the establishment of Community Protection Committees. These committees, comprised of equal numbers of men and women from both displaced and host communities, are trained on basic human rights, supported to identify protection issues in their communities, and develop plans to address these issues. These plans may include acting as mediators in a local dispute, making a referral to a specialist service provider (e.g. medical/psychosocial support in the event of sexual violence, or advocating with local authorities or NGOs for support to their right to protection). Each Committee has a dedicated Women’s Forum, a safe space for confidential discourse on matters of concern to women and girls.
The Community Protection Committees represent an important platform for cross-cultural dialogue and understanding of protective norms.
Of particular concern to one committee was the issue of girl’s access to education. The contents and frequency of distribution of hygiene kits to refugees, which included sanitary pads, were insufficient to meet the needs of menstruating women and girls. As a result, girls often stayed away from school thereby affecting not only the quality of their education, but also as a consequence, their life choices. The Women’s Forum of this Protection Committee recognised that this increased the risk of girls being forced into early marriage as a survival strategy.
At the same time, an Oxfam income generation initiative for refugees provided training on the making of reusable sanitary towels using materials available in the nearest large market. Members of the committee sold some of the towels as part of their income generation but most reusable sanitary towels were distributed to women and girls in their community, allowing girls to attend school with dignity. Now these girls are teaching others how to make them. Women’s Forum members then went to schools (Uganda’s favourable open door policy allows refugees to attend primary school for free), actively engaging teachers and students on the benefits of a girl’s right to education.
- Through the committees, refugees from South Sudan are sensitised to Uganda’s legal framework on domestic violence and child marriage.
- Focus group discussions held with a number of Committees reported that known incidents of violence had dropped “by more than 50%” and one Committee reported that its representation had prevented the marriage of two child brides.
The Oxfam engagement with Community Protection Committees shows the importance in identifying often overlooked barriers to women’s access to education- the knock on effect of having insufficient hygiene provisions and how this can eventually lead to negative coping mechanisms such as early marriage.