Engagement for change: Working with local leaders to address gender-based violence and land rights during COVID-19

Secure land rights can be a powerful lever for women’s economic empowerment and gender equality. When women gain those rights, however, it can be seen as a threat to existing norms wherein men and boys traditionally inherit, own and control these resources. In some contexts, gender-based violence (GBV) increases when these power dynamics shift. As shown in an expansive study published by IUCN through its partnership with the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) on Advancing Gender in the Environment (AGENT), GBV is used as a tool to control the access, use, management, and ownership of natural resources.

To specifically address these concerns, USAID’s Global Challenge on Resilient, Inclusive, and Sustainable Environments (RISE Challenge) aims to address GBV in environmental projects to promote an equitable, human-rights based approach to sustainable development.

In North-Eastern Uganda, grant winner Trócaire is partnering with Land and Equity Movement in Uganda (LEMU) to work with rural women and men in Katakwi and Bukedea districts to address gender-based violence by ending exclusionary practices in land rights.

Working with over 16,000 women and 11,000 men, the project is designed to reduce GBV risks by supporting women in attaining land rights through gender-sensitive customary demarcation systems and alternative dispute resolution mechanisms, while promoting positive social norms that support women’s rights to access and control land.

Yet, around the world, the COVID-19 pandemic not only fundamentally challenges health, social, and governance systems, but also the way projects are able to continue. In many places, activities have been put on hold – while gender-based violence is on the rise. With quarantines and restricted movements, violence in homes worsens as economic and resource availability and accessibility stressors increase tensions and violence. For example, in many communities, pressure on food, water, and firewood collection during lockdowns have led to increased domestic violence.

Back in Uganda, the Trocaire/LEMU project faces similar challenges, as for example information gathering has been hampered by diminished governmental engagement due to the pandemic. Yet, LEMU’s strong relationships with local leaders has been essential towards ensuring its work with Trocaire on RISE could continue. Consultations and frequent engagement to ensure strict adherence to coronavirus prevention procedures resulted in a successful startup workshop that also cultivated a shared sense of trust and commitment among project stakeholders.

The workshop sensitized local district, sub-county, and council leaders – mostly men – on the importance of the project’s work.

Land grabbing is on an increase, this project was initiated out of real need that will go a long way in securing land rights especially of women who cannot afford the cost of formal court processes.”

Mr. Moses Olemukan, the District Chairperson

Together, the leaders agreed that the project should not wait for the decline of COVID-19 to act. Rather, shared commitment towards supporting innovative solutions will ensure that the project proceeds.

Moving forward, local leaders are supporting Trocaire and LEMU in collecting data – while continuing to adhere and adapt to evolving COVID-19 guidelines – to support the project’s baseline assessments and community engagements. Further coordination among district departmental heads – such as District Health Officers, Chief Executive Officers, and Community Development Officers – will convene with gender focal points and partners to plan, share experiences, review and problem-solve challenges, and use data from the national GBV database to inform its advocacy work on ending GBV.

This story was developed by IUCN, Trocaire, and USAID partners, with photos from Trocaire and LEMU.

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