Spotlight Initiative programme helps Ugandan survivors of gender-based violence advocate for their rights

“My life has been full of pain”, says Angela Muhindo, surveying the green landscape where she spent her childhood in Kasese, in Uganda’s Western Region. “In my community, women have less power, but if you are disabled, you are even more vulnerable to exploitation”.

Muhindo, who has had a physical disability since childhood, said she has faced violence and exclusion throughout her life. Such treatment is the norm for many women and girls with disabilities, she said, noting that they also face challenges accessing education, employment, and health care. 

Globally, women and girls with disabilities are at least two to three times more likely than other women to experience violence.

People think that “a person with disabilities cannot get married and have children” and that “you are going to stay in your father’s home [forever] because no one is going to take care of you”, Muhindo said.

But when Muhindo’s parents died, a dispute over the inheritance of their property set into motion events that changed her life. Muhindo says she was threatened and intimidated by her male relatives over the inheritance, and felt powerless to advocate for herself. 

Land disputes can be a catalyst for gender-based violence in Uganda, where it’s not uncommon for widows and children to be evicted from their homes after the death of a husband or father, or in the event of a separation. The effect of this is two-fold — violence may be used to evict women from property by force, and without a place to live or land to farm, they become more vulnerable to violence in the future.

Seeking to better understand her rights, she attended a Spotlight Initiative-supported training course implemented by the National Union of Women with Disabilities Uganda through UN Women.

At the course, she learned about inheritance rights and realized that she was the sole legal heir to the property — and she gained the confidence to stand up to her relatives.

“I realized that as a person living with disabilities, I can do whatever other people can do”, she said. “I can speak up just like any other person. I can buy land, have a job”.

It took over a year, but Muhindo successfully put the land in her name. She now has a safe place to live, food to eat, and earns a living from the crops she grows. She also advocates for other women in her community, including those with disabilities, and speaks about gender-based violence on a local radio station. 

“I do not want other women to go through what I went through”, she said.

Spotlight Initiative aims to eliminate violence against women and girls through comprehensive programming that addresses all key drivers of violence. This includes improving laws and policies that prevent violence, strengthening institutions, promoting gender-equitable social norms, and strengthening women’s movements and essential services to survivors of violence.

Spotlight Initiative and UN Women work with local organizations to help change discriminatory attitudes and support those at risk of, or experiencing, violence. Since 2019, almost 300,000 people in Uganda have attended community programming on women’s rights with Spotlight Initiative support.

Through Spotlight Initiative, UN Women has also supported advocacy to change legislation that advantaged male children in inheritance and land issues. In March 2021, the Succession (Amendment) Bill was passed by Parliament, formally recognizing the equal rights of women to own land.

“I used to feel uncomfortable speaking up, but after the training I felt empowered”, Muhindo said.