In 2010, we conducted a survey of over 500 women in conflict-affected districts in northern Uganda. Those surveyed identified access to housing, food security, access to education, livelihood initiatives and other reintegration programmes as their most urgent needs. The survey also revealed that there were three groups of women who faced heightened levels of marginalisation, namely: widows who were raising their grandchildren orphaned as a result of the conflict; young women abducted and enslaved by the LRA; and young women abducted and enslaved by the LRA who returned with children as a result of rape.

In response to the findings of this survey, between 2013 and 2015, we collaborated with local partners to develop strategies to address the marginalisation and reintegration issues of young women who had returned either through being released by or escaping from the LRA. Primarily these efforts focused on advocacy to engender the Peace, Recovery and Development Plan (PRDP) for Northern Uganda. The purpose of the PRDP is to rebuild the conflict-affected areas of north and north-eastern Uganda and to restore infrastructure, provide livelihood, education and training initiatives, resolve land issues, stimulate business and enterprise, and establish psychosocial support mechanisms, amongst other areas. One of our key strategies responding to the opportunities presented by the PRDP was the production of a gender justice documentary, No Longer Silent, and hosting strategic screenings of the film with key decisions-makers advocating for women, including female returnees, to be included as stakeholders and beneficiaries of the PRDP programmes. During the period 2013-2015, the Women’s Initiatives and our local partner, the Greater North Women’s Voices for Peace Network, held screenings of the documentary and advocacy events involving over 3,000 key PRDP stakeholders, specifically district and local leaders, decision-makers, traditional elders as well as women’s rights advocates and victims/survivors.

No Longer Silent, co-produced by the Women’s Initiatives for Gender Justice and our partner, the Greater North Women’s Voices for Peace Network (GNWVPN), with WITNESS, describes the harms suffered by women abducted, enslaved and/or attacked by the LRA, their experiences with the LRA in the bush and their eventual release or escape.  The documentary highlights their reintegration needs including access to land and economic opportunities, their calls for justice and truth-telling, medical assistance and reconciliation with the communities they were taken from.

During this time, we also worked with women parliamentarians and the Prime Minister’s Office and successfully advocated for the passage of resolutions for the creation of women’s funds in the 55 districts where the PRDP programme operates and the development of specific programmes for female beneficiaries.

In 2014, the Women’s Initiatives, the GNWVPN, the Women’s Advocacy Network and the Justice and Reconciliation Project, along with other NGOs, supported the passing of a parliamentary resolution on reparations for victims/survivors of the LRA-related conflict. This included specific provisions for women affected by the conflict.

To date, these resolutions have not been implemented and little tangible progress has been made towards the inclusion of women as beneficiaries of the PRPD programme.  However, there are signs of increased awareness of the needs of girls and women. District leaders and traditional elders who participated in the documentary screenings reported feeling more informed, knowledgeable and aware of the impact of the conflict on girls and women and the specific recovery, support and reintegration needs of these populations. They also reported feeling more motivated to include women in the implementation of the PRPD in their districts and to advocate for better responses at the sub-regional level. There was also evidence of women being included in the cattle re-stocking component of the PRDP in some of the districts where the leaders had participated in the screenings of the documentary and the related advocacy events.

At each of the strategic screenings and in other local and national advocacy fora, we created space for young women who were formerly abducted by the LRA (female returnees) to articulate their experiences and advocate for their individual and collective needs. The prioritisation of these voices provided important validation for this group of victims/survivors for whom the day-to-day experience in their communities is beset by discrimination, marginalisation and poverty.