12 Mar 2020
Women of the IRCT: Esther Nabwire Waswa

To mark the 2020 International Women’s Day (8 March), IRCT wants to celebrate the achievements of the many women in the anti-torture and rehabilitation movement. These amazing women dedicate their lives to ensure that torture survivors can be healed and obtain a meaningful life after torture. Over the next weeks IRCT will feature some of these women and ask them what this movement means to them and what's it's like being a woman in the anti-torture sector.

The second in the series is Esther Nabwire Waswa. She is the Head of Program at the African Centre for Treatment and Rehabilitation of Torture Victims (ACTV) in Kampala, Uganda.

Women of the IRCT: Esther Nabwire Waswa

How did ACTV start?

"The Organisation was started in 1993 by a medical Doctor, the late Dr. Nsamba who was tortured during the early 1980s and realised that there was no place to access treatment. He then opened up his clinic to survivors of torture and started providing specialized services to them. Eventually ACTV was born officially in 1993 and now provides holistic rehabilitation to survivors of torture through medical treatment (including physiotherapy), psychological counselling, social services and legal services. The Organisation also advocates against torture."

Why do you think working in this sector is important?

"Working in the human rights sector and specifically on torture is important because torture dehumanizes an individual and takes away a piece of them. People are stripped of their humanity, dignity, and self-worth and remains but an empty shell. Building them to a semblance of who they were and helping them relate again is important. Of greater importance is ensuring that no one is ever subject to torture and the relevant laws, policies, plans and programs are in place and effectively implemented."

Why do you think these problems exist?

"At the personal level, we have lost humanity, in Africa what we call “Ubuntu” an ability to collectively come together and fight injustice, torture and, gender discrimination. The engrained belief that violence solves problems. The State is slow in implementing the Prevention and Prohibition of Torture Act, 2012, and limited resources are allocated towards fighting torture."

Do you think your work addresses the cause of the problem?

"I believe that the work I do is very critical in addressing the cause of the problem. Recognizing that both women and men have a role to play in the fight against torture, raising their awareness on torture, its effects and empowering them to speak out and report torture is paramount. However, since the State has not effectively addressed the holistic rehabilitation of survivors of torture, we have to fill the gap as we continue working towards a world free from torture." 

How did you become involved in this type of work? What inspired you to continue working for social change?

"I have always been passionate about helping the vulnerable and creating change and speaking out on the injustices around me. When the opportunity presented itself to work with survivors of torture I eagerly joined the team of amazing multidisciplinary professionals at ACTV that tirelessly provide rehabilitation to survivors of torture to help amplify the work that is being done in advocating against torture."

How long have you been involved in this work?

"I have worked in the not for profit sector since 2004 when I started my journey after completing University. First advocating for gender responsive budgets that address the needs of women and men equitably and since 2014 in advocating against torture."

What are some of the approaches and methods you use in your work?

"A victim/survivor centred approach, “nothing for us without us”. Letting the survivor tell their story in order to create change and influence policies and law. Working in partnerships and collaboration at the national, regional and international levels. For instance the partnership with IRCT has helped amplify the work that ACTV does in advocating against torture and streamlining data collection, storage, analysis and dissemination."

 What are some of the problems you face in your work as a woman?

"Striking a balance between home and work life. I am married with four children (3 boys and 1 girl) between the ages of 10 – 3 years. There are expectations from society that even though you are a career woman, you need to be able to effectively and efficiently balance the two.  However, I have a supportive partner who is not afraid to take on the gender roles that are usually ascribed to women. He gets the children ready for school, prepares their breakfast and does the laundry."

What do you like best about this work?

"Seeing the change in the life of a women or a man who was tortured, smiling again after receiving rehabilitation is rewarding. When a client writes a hand written note thanking the organisation for helping them regain hope after having given up on life."

Do you consider yourself an activist?

"I am humbled and privileged to be an activist who speaks out for the less fortunate and brings to the forefront the plight of survivors of torture. It is in the small things that I do that change starts; documenting a survivors story, ensuring the team documents it well in the data base, utilizing this information for advocacy purposes with state and non-state actors to  create awareness on the plight of survivors of torture."

What are ways that young women can take effective action for change in the community?

"Start where you are as a young woman since no one will give you the space to engage in this patriarchal society that we live in. It is important that women come together and encourage each other to speak out on the injustices around them.

Let us offer each other our shoulders to cry on when we are overwhelmed. Take up leadership positions and mentor each other to become better in all that we do."

What role do you think women can play in the type of work your organization does?

"It would be great to have more women speak out against torture because it affects us both directly as primary victims but also indirectly as care givers due to the gender roles assigned to us. Telling our story from a woman’s perspective, presenting our views to the various stakeholders and boldly occupying the spaces and rewriting the narrative to bring the plight of women affected by torture to the forefront."

 

For more information

International Women's Day (March 8) is a global day celebrating the social, economic, cultural and political achievements of women. The day also marks a call to action for accelerating women's equality.

International Women's Day (IWD) has occurred for well over a century, with the first IWD gathering in 1911 supported by over a million people. Today, IWD belongs to all groups collectively everywhere. IWD is not country, group or organization specific.

To read more, please visit: https://www.internationalwomensday.com/

"It would be great to have more women speak out against torture because it affects us both directly as primary victims but also indirectly as care givers due to the gender roles assigned to us. Telling our story from a woman’s perspective, presenting our views to the various stakeholders and boldly occupying the spaces and rewriting the narrative to bring the plight of women affected by torture to the forefront."

-Esther Nabwire Waswa, ACTV

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