Saturday June 21 2014

Whatever I can do to make lives better

Jackie Mweisge with Black Monday activists

Jackie Mweisge with Black Monday activists contesting the poor state of the roads. Courtesy photo 

By Pauline Bangirana

Some know her as the wife of journalist, media scholar, and executive director - African Centre for Media Excellence (ACME) Peter Mwesige. However, she has more recently come to be associated with the Black Monday activists.

But, when I meet Jackie Asiimwe Mwesige, I realise that this is no politician or rogue activist with any hidden interest. She is just a woman with a genuine passion for bettering lives.

Mwesige is passionate about fighting for human rights and the needs of those she feels are oppressed.

“I feel bad when I see a woman begging on the street and having to work as a prostitute to be able to fend for herself,” she says.
A lawyer, Mwesige has worked with non-government organisations like FIDA (International Federation of Women Lawyers) that fight for women’s rights. She has also taken part in campaigns championed by journalists in the fight for media freedom.

She was also among the women that openly rooted for the marriage and Divorce Bill, about which she says, “Although Parliament has not yet signed this Bill, I’m proud to have been an advocate for it.”

The activist was also among the women who hit the streets to draw more attention towards the nodding disease in northern Uganda about two years ago.
“I’m not paid to do any of this, it is not for monetary reward. I will just do anything to ensure a woman is treated right,” she says.

A priest’s daughter
Born to Joy and Ben Mugarura, she is the first born in a family of five. Her father is an Anglican priest and her mother a veterinary doctor who later became a stay home mother.
The desire to change lives and get justice, she says, she got from her parents. As a girl, she saw her parents fighting for what is right and having to defend what they felt was right.

“My father was passionate about the youth and he believed that they should participate more in church activities, especially singing. He believed that the church should promote music through using drums and other instruments, although he met a lot of resistance from other church leaders at the time. My father stood his ground and fought for music in the church until he won,” she recounts.

The price to pay
The life of an activist is usually uncertain, never knowing when the rallying will get violent or land you behind bars, and Mwesige has known what this means.
“Most of the time, I do the ground work for the street campaigns you usually witness. Each street action is planned. We do not just go on the streets. It is my duty to pursue and follow up the cases of the activists who are arrested, for instance,” explains the lawyer.

She, nonetheless, recounts a time she had to run from the police: “It was when Monitor offices were closed. We were walking from Greenhill Academy approaching the Namuwongo offices when policemen came running towards us. One of the activists whom I do not remember grabbed me and told me to run. I ran and stopped later to realise some of our colleagues had been arrested. I felt scared.”

A mother of two boys aged 12 and 10, she says her sons know what she does and she always makes them understand that her work is risky. Each time I go to the streets or whenever I travel upcountry, I feel scared that anything might happen and I may not return home,” she says, lost in thought. But when I am back in the evening and seeing them hug me with all the love, I just feel blessed.”
When it comes to her husband, she says he is supportive and he understands her kind of work.

“There is a time he too was on the streets fighting for media freedom but that is when he was still younger.” Working closely with other activists like Miria Matembe, Mwesige says, has inspired and taught her alot.

Women are stronger than they know
She went to Gayaza High School and later attained a Bachelor’s Degree in Law from Makerere University and a Masters in Law from George Town Law School.
“Women have been influenced by the words that people build around them and this makes them fail to rise above the words that people put around them. However, in such cases, it takes shocks such as losing a husband that a woman realises she needs to be strong and rise above anything.”

What they say about her

Helena Okiring, activist
“Mwesige the person and the activist are no different people. She is a lover of justice, she loves people and God. Her activism is an extension of her and she has a very big heart and an insane sense of humour. She is a leader and a good example of what empowered female leadership can achieve. She is an inspiration. She is like a mentor to me and I have known her for about five years.

Rita Aciro, Executive Director, Uganda Women’s Network
“I have known Jackie for over 17 years now and she is honest and does not have prejudice. She feels people’s pain. She is also reserved if she does not know you well. She is a very hardworking and intelligent yet very generous and trustworthy. When she promises she delivers. She is fun loving and cracks a lot of jokes. She is a true friend and someone I have worked and interacted with.”

Rhoda Kalema, former minister, and an activist
“I have worked with her as an activist. Jackie is one of the few young women who has used her privilege of education and training to serve society. She applies her profession of law with devotion and courage to fight injustice. She is friendly, but also serious when she needs to be. This young woman is selfless and throws herself into seeing that other young girls benefit from their education and achieve maximum potential. She wants to see all others fully emancipated and useful to society. I love her and I know she loves me too. She is a very inspiring person to many, young or old. She is a servant leader. ”