”My mother was killed by a man when I was a child. Being an orphan my rights were constantly violated. Men and powerful people are groomed by society to violate the rights of the powerless. That is why I am fighting for the rights of women and children. I have a vision of changing the lives of those who are abused physically or sexually, or denied education, treatment for HIV/AIDS, or simply a happy childhood.”
Nulu Nabunya, 46, lives and works in the slums of Kampala, Uganda, as the executive director of MAWDA (Makerere Women’s Development Association, an ActionAid partner).
Appalled by the high rates of unplanned pregnancies and death among the youth, Nulu founded the organisation together with four other women in 1991. They started to meet under a mango tree. Today the organisation reaches out to over 30,000 people - mostly women and vulnerable children, in various parts of Uganda.
“This morning I went to see a machine that turns garbage into charcoal, and later I will meet a group of community women about maternal health and family planning. I am the manager, I am supposed to be sitting at my desk, but there is no way I can do that. I need to be on the ground all day.”
MAWDA supports women’s development through a variety of activities, ranging from reducing the effects of HIV/AIDS, to training people in life skills such as good sanitation and hygiene practices and cooking. MAWDA also supports women with rights-based advocacy and legal aid, for instance to the woman whose violent husband was about to sell the house and leave her and seven children behind.
“We helped with the police and a lawyer, and the woman won. Now some of her children are in university. Isn’t that wonderful? I am so touched and happy when I meet people who are demanding their rights and changing their lives, when I see somebody who was about to die survives and becomes a beautiful citizen. That is my reward.”
However there are challenges Nulu explains. Often political and local leaders feel their positions are being challenged by humanitarian workers.
”They try by all means to discredit the work of humanitarian workers and prevent dissemination of information to the community. This leaves community members ignorant on political affairs and human rights.”
But once people know their rights things can begin to change.
“Actually, I find it quite easy to mobilise people in the community. You inform them about their rights and they act. The real problem is that they don’t know their rights in the first place."