FIDA: Ladies, we have got your back
Posted Saturday, March 2 2013 at 00:00
As we ponder on how we can each contribute to ending gender-based violence, it would be a good start to get educated about an organisation that has been at the heart of this fight, and more, for women. Stella Nakakande discovers what FIDA is really about.
Most women will tell you that when anything goes wrong in their homes or marriages, the one place they know they can seek help from is FIDA. Never mind that most do not even know where it is located, or what it is exactly about, until they need its services.
FIDA Uganda is membership-based, (the members being lawyers) association of Uganda women lawyers formed in 1974. It is affiliated to FIDA International which was founded in 1994 in Mexico City.
FIDA Uganda on the other hand was founded by three female lawyers referred to as the “barefoot lawyers”.
“Their aim was to provide professional and social support for each other since the law profession was dominated by men,” Brenda Peace Amito, a lawyer with FIDA Uganda explains.
These women came together due to the fact that during their years of practice, they had come across so many women being disinherited from property after the death of their husbands. In 1988, the first legal clinic was opened in Kampala. “The clinics made sure that the women got the property back; they would ensure her property rights were observed,” Amito explains.
Located on Plot 11 Kanjokya Street, Kamwokya in Kampala, FIDA Uganda today boosts of about 300 members.
In 2009, the mission was revised from not only providing legal aid but to “ensuring the human rights and the inherent dignity of women and children using law as a tool of social justice,” which is in line with the vision of a just and peaceful society. Also, the organisation which started out centered on helping women in these domestic disputes, has more recently taken on a more holistic approach. “We don’t only represent women in court now, we listen to both women and men because we know women do not live in isolation,” Amito says.
FIDA has three Legal offices; one in Gulu which serves the northern region a place that had no legal aid clinic, another in Moroto (since last year), then Iganga which focuses largely on children (8 years). They also have legal presence (legal officers) in other districts like Katakwi, Kapchorwa, Arua, Pallisa, Nebbi, Mubende, Bwaise. The officers sit in Women Protection centres, run under partnership with Action Aid.
FIDA boasts of 33 staff although its work is implement through its members that are responsible for areas they are conversant with, the local language being crucial. “The officers provide legal guidance to women who come with no other place to go.” The centres provide accommodation for the homeless, a solace to heal from both physical and emotional wounds. There are places with dormitories and so far are still pilots and will be spread around the country if the venture is successful.
How exactly does FIDA help?
Last year alone, FIDA handled 5,740 cases, all presented by women, some of which were on behalf of children. Some of these have been solved, some mediated and others are still pending. Those presented by men were 157. This year, though, FIDA has seen an influx of divorce cases.
Amito explains that most women come seeking assistance for their children and not against the crime (like rape) that has been committed against them. “Many women rationalise that if they have their husband arrested, then how will their children survive?” For most of these cases, where women seek assistance for the children, violence -emotional, physical and financial- is always the underlying issue.
FIDA does not only go to court but also carries out mediation, legal guidance and empowerment so that they can go and represent themselves in court, Amito explains. “This is interesting because some women are always perpetually at risk of violation, so those women in abusive relationships, those seeking maintenance, we train them on how to prepare their papers and go to court.” But even in such circumstances, FIDA always has a lawyer present to monitor the session and there is no abuse.
“They know that if my husband is threatening violence, I can go to court without giving in to the violence.”
FIDA also empowers women economically. This program is being implemented in the northern Uganda sub region to support an area that has been ravaged by war and poverty, a cycle women are not breaking out of and neither will their children. “We teach them how to use their land properly, and no one will come and grab it.”
The women are also trained on gender equality and FIDA along with, Victoria Seeds, a seed company, gives seeds to farmers on introduction from FIDA at no cost.