On Thursday 26th March 2020, a group of women street vendors who had been selling food items were attacked and beaten by law enforcement officials, police officers and Local Defense Units (LDUs). The attack took place not long after President Museveni’s directive,[1] which prohibits the sale of non-food items in markets. The conduct of the law enforcement officers is a blatant violation of the human rights obligations that the Ugandan Government has agreed to protect.

The government’s commitment to the principle of non-discrimination and equal rights of women and men is enshrined in Articles 24 and 33 of the 1995 Constitution of the Republic of Uganda. Our government’s commitment to uphold and protect these equal rights are further affirmed by the ratification of

the Convention on the Elimination of all forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW), the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, the Protocol to the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights on the Rights of Women in Africa (Maputo Protocol), and the adoption ofthe African Union Solemn Declaration on Gender Equality in Africa.

Like many governments across the globe, the Ugandan government has implemented measures designed to prevent and contain the spread of COVID-19. However, these measures only protect those who can afford to comply with them, leaving out a large portion of the Ugandan population. 80% of the Ugandan labor force is employed in the informal economy, of which over 75% are women. Measures of social distancing and staying at home are far beyond the reach and access of informal laborers. Many of these women informal laborers, who are often the primary providers for their households, live and work in conditions that are characterized by over-crowding and limited to no basic water and sanitation facilities.Given this state of affairs, women informal laborers, including the street vendors attacked yesterday, are in a particularly precarious and vulnerable position at the moment. Thus, it is particularly disturbing and unconscionable that these women, instead of receiving help in this time of crisis, have been brutalized by agents of their own government.

We, the undersigned advocates, activists and women’s and human rights organizations denounce in the strongest possible terms the violence perpetrated against these women and recommend that the Government provide alternatives for women working within this sector.

We therefore recommend that:

  1. The government put in place mitigation strategies and or economic alternatives for women working within the informal We propose a waiver of monthly market dues and daily fees for street vendors for the next three months; we also propose a directive providing loans and establishing extended payment plans in consideration of the economic hardships caused by COVID-19.
  2. The Presidential Directives and the numerous Directives that aim to ensure prevention and containment of COVID-19 be enforced in line with the Ugandan Government’s commitments and obligations to gender equality and human rights principles.
  3. The law enforcement officials who perpetrated this violence against these women be brought before the courts to face the full legal ramifications of their egregious acts. Holding the perpetrators accountable is essential for dissuading repeated occurrences of violent abuses of power by the LDU’s, law enforcement officers or police. Moreover, pursuing accountability will signal to the Ugandan people that their government did not condone these attacks and is honoring its commitments to equal human rights for all.
  4. The Ugandan government and law enforcement offices should issue a joint public apology for the conduct of their officers. Furthermore, the women affected should be accorded compensation in the form of full coverage of medical care costs, payment of lost wages for the subsequent days as they recuperate and heal, and an additional restitution payment for the emotional and psychological harm.
  5. For the small and medium enterprises, government should revise taxes in the wake of the pandemic, and grant tax holidays to banks and credit facilities so that they are able to reduce interest rates or be able to re-negotiate the loans or even suspend the loans for 3 months.
  6. The government should prioritise in-kind / cash  assistance for the masses of invisible and marginal women informal labourers in Uganda in view of the unprecedented nature of the COVID-19 crisis.  
  7. The Ministry of Disaster Preparedness must intervene and provide relief (particularly food items) to the elderly and vulnerable groups such as the women in the informal / marginal sector.

Signed by:

  1. Action for Women in Development (ACFODE)
  2. Coalition on Girls Empowerment (COGE)
  3. Femme Forte Uganda
  4. The Uganda Association of Women Lawyers (FIDA-Uganda)
  5. Gals Forum International
  6. Ruth Fund
  7. The Strategic Initiative for women in the Horn of Africa (SIHA Network)
  8. Women Human Rights Defenders Network (WHRDN) Uganda
  9. Women and Girl Child Development Association (WEGCDA)
  10. The Women’s Street Vendors Cooperatives in Wandegeya, Bwaise and Naguru
  11. Women and Rural Development Network (WORUDET)
  12. Mentoring and Empowerment Programme for Young Women (MEMPROW)
  13. National Association for Women’s Action in Development (NAWAD)

[1] “Therefore, whereas the government will not close markets, there will be some adjustments. With immediate effect, markets should only be used for sale of foodstuffs. We are talking about items like matooke, sweet potatoes, cassava, rice, beans, cowpeas, beef, chicken, vegetables, etc. Trading of non-food items in the markets is suspended immediately.”