Clad in a veil, Shifa Kateregga listens attentively and sorrowfully to the tale of Scovia Kamashanyu, a woman from Kakuuto, Kyotera District, whose husband abandoned her with five children, leaving them to survive at the mercy of neighbours.
The desperate mother pleads with Kateregga, a renown human rights defender, to intervene legally and compel her spouse to care for his children, especially paying school fees and providing food since she has no source of income.
“I have called him several times, and the last time I did so, he told me never to call him again saying I was a threat to his new marriage. I was told that you are the person who can help me; that you have helped many mothers with cases bigger than mine,” pleads Kamashanyu.
Kateregga is the executive director of Human Rights Defenders Masaka (Huridem). She is committed to advocating for and defending human rights, especially domestic violence, land succession and child abuse cases.
The calm, jolly woman was born 50 years ago, at Gayaza, Kimanya, Kyabakuza Division in Masaka District, to Sheik Mustafa Walusimbi and Mitina Namaganda (both deceased).
The motivational speaker and counsellor holds a Bachelors in Social Sciences from Islamic University In Uganda, a Diploma in Development Studies, a certificate in Public Law from Abuja University, as well as a Post graduate Diploma in Counselling, which academic disciplines have moulded her into a passionate human rights defender. The former Masaka District community development officer, who also doubled as the rehabilitation, probation and welfare officer for a decade, shares that she has heard all sorts of problems that women go through.
“Then our office was referred to as ‘office yebizibu’ translated as office for those with problems,” Kateregga shares.
With sadness, she recalls the suffering and manipulation of women and children whom she says were marginalised and yet these practices were supported by culture.
Kateregga notes that she would intervene wholeheartedly, fighting tooth and nail to see that mothers’ rights are not infringed upon, in the guise of culture and gender.
“I had to change the mindset of men and culture that denies women a say in the home setting,” the mother of seven shares.
However, along the way, for reasons she is yet to understand, Kateregga was forced into early retirement.
But the staunch Moslem shares that the experience she went through could not allow her to sit back and look on because she had left a public office. In 2005, she joined her colleague Teddy Nampera, a retired social worker who had started Huridem, to fight for people’s rights especially women.
When Nampera requested her to join the struggle, she embraced the cause wholeheartedly and the organisation is still running to date.
Between 2011 and 2017, Kateregga shares that they received close to 430 walk in clients whose cases have been about domestic violence, land succession disputes and child abuse. On top of these, a series of human rights awareness campaigns have been conducted in outreaches.
“Allah has been good to us. Most of the cases we have handled have emerged successful, with just a few cases referred to our partners,” Kateregga happily shares, adding that sometimes Uganda Human Rights Commission in Masaka District, refers certain cases to them on grounds that they can ably handle them “I’m a human rights defender not activist because the latter sometimes use force but for us we want a win win situation, because if we use force, sometimes the offenders may retaliate bitterly.” She quickly gives an example of the case, I found her handling saying, she intends to call the husband and bring the matter before him to see if he responds as per the demands of his ex-wife. It is only after negotiations fail that she resorts to strong arm methods.
Kateregga does not only defend women’s rights but men as well especially those whose rights at home are violated by their spouses. She says although some men are shy due to the cultural settings which place them in an upper position, some are bold and seek redress from her.
“This year I have received eight cases of domestic violence being reported by men,” She notes.
Kateregga’s journey has not been smooth. She says several challenges have come across her way including negative attitude of some elements in police and local government over her style of work. Financial constraints have also affected their activities especially when it comes to mass sensitisation of citizens. “Most people are ignorant about their rights and thus need to be sensitised to know when their rights are violated,” she adds.
WHAT OTHERS SAY
“Kateregga has done us proud as women and leaders. It is rare to see a determined woman coming up to defend rights of fellow women,” Ms Nakisekka says, adding “she has used her education considerately by defending many mothers who are victims of human rights abuse. She works hard to get them out of cultural practices which sometimes fuel gender-based violence.”
Janat Nakisekka, Masaka District Vice Chairperson,
“She is a great woman whom I admire; an activist who has really fought for human rights to a bigger extent and rescued many from the jaws of domestic violence.”
Mariam Tusiime, Former Masaka Municipality Councillor
“Kateregga has been our strength in defending human rights and when it comes to land wrangles, defending mothers who tend to be denied access to their deceased spouse’s property. Her continuous sensitisation campaigns about human rights have seen mothers get to know their rights and quickly report any kind of violation.”
Joseph Ssekasamba, Deputy RDC Masaka