Women’s Organisation Network for Human Rights Advocacy (WONETHA) one of Uganda’s pioneer female sex-workers’ led organizations on 25th November 2016 held its fourth annual general meeting at their office premises in one of the city suburbs.
Close to 300 registered members of WONETHA and partners attended the meeting that was opened with a word of prayer from the friendly pastor of New Life Deliverance church an adjacent church to their premises. In his sermon, the pastor said he always feels at home whenever he is invited to preach at any WONETHA gathering and encouraged the organisation’s members to keep a close relationship with God; he also told them that the church doors were always open for them as they too are children of God. .
This was followed by the speech from the chairman of the area who has been supportive and embracing most of WONETHA activities. He encouraged sex workers in attendance to always emphasize on professionalism and be health conscious when doing their work.
Namusisi Allen who enrolled at WONETHA in 2014 as a paralegal officer was the day’s mediator and introduced the organization membership, the procedures followed for one to be a member, the benefits of membership, the membership fee and other guidelines.
Tumushabe Jona, the representative of sex workers on the Board of Directors at WONETHA read the official report for the financial year 2016. In this report, the chairperson remarked that WONETHA had achieved strong financial and program results in the financial year 2016 in spite of the fragile legal and political environment including the enactment of NGO Act 2016, the Anti-Pornography Act 2014 and the sexual offences Bill that was earlier this month tabled in Parliament.
Among the noted achievements was the growth of WONETHA’s membership to 818 registered members in comparison to the 587 members in 2015 and attributed the organizational growth to intensified collaboration with local and international partners.
On the Board of Directors, sex workers are directly represented by a member elected or appointed every five years at the Annual General Meeting while two professional members are appointed by the AGM every five years.
It was noted that the WONETHA board is embarking on a strategic planning process from 2017 to 2021 with an objective of transforming the organization from its current reach to national coverage. The Board noted that this has been greatly enhanced with the increase in the number of new collaborating partners who have come on board to address the rising needs of sex workers in Uganda.
Kyomya Macklean one of the leaders who took over the mantle of WONETHA’s leadership in its growing years narrated their journey as an organization and how harsh the environment was for the few that were brave enough to advocate for the rights of sex workers.
Daisy Namakula the current Executive Director for WONETHA thanked members for taking the organization to greater heights as well as the collaborative partners who have stood by WONETHA.
WONETHA also provides free condoms and lubricants to its members all across the country. Through the annual report, it was confirmed that a total of one thousand, five hundred seventy-four cartons of condoms have been distributed this year across the country to sex workers in their major operational hotspots. A total of nine million, nine hundred fifty thousand forty condoms have been distributed countrywide and this was a great reflection that sex workers mind about protecting themselves and their clients from acquiring HIV virus and other related STDs.
Daisy advised members to keep using protective measures in order to stay safe. She also affirmed that WONETHA through its partners who offer free and friendly health services to sexual minorities usually holds voluntary counselling and testing sessions about HIV/AIDS and other STDS in different areas and advised members to always take the initiative to know their health status.
It was confirmed that a total of 972 female sex workers had come out to test and know their health status and all this is coordinated with help from community peer educators who play the role of bridging the gap between health service providers and the sex work community in Uganda.
One of the remarkable achievements registered this year through the peer education system, WONETHA through its home visit and care services for its members, they have been able to reach out to 1,147 positive members to comfort and encourage them to embrace positive living by adhering to drugs and having good dietary lessons.
Through collaboration with Human Rights Awareness and Promotion Forum (HRAPF) an Organisation that provides free legal services to sexual minorities and other marginalized groups in Uganda, some WONETHA members were trained as paralegals and these have helped to sensitize the other members about their rights and how some laws affect them as sex workers.
She pointed out many achievements that have been registered as an organization this year and promised that the secretariat was still committed to delivering to its expectations come next year to a achieve WONETHA’s stated objectives in the next financial year.
At this same AGM, it was announced that auditors that had been auditing WONETHA’S books off accounts for the previous five years would end with this financial year in accordance to the set principles and guidelines of the Organisation.
Members discussed and presented their opinions about the reports that was presented to them by the treasurer, Executive Director, Auditors and the chairman Board of Directors for the financial year 2016 and these were later seconded by the set number as per the constitution.
Edward Mwebaza from HRAPF delivered conclusive remarks on behalf of Adrian Juuko the Executive Director from the same organization during his absence as the guest of honor for the event. Through his speech, he noted that WONETHA and HRAPF have been partners since inception and that both the two organizations started their operations in the same year in 2008 and that up to now these still collaborate to serve the marginalized groups in society.
He also thanked WONETHA for always being transparent and giving its members a platform to control the affairs of their organization by demanding rightful accountability of resources through the annual general meetings. Mr. Mwebaza affirmed that HRAPF is still committed to serving all sexual minorities and ensuring that they live in a free and just society.
The Women’s Organisation Network for Human Rights Advocacy (WONETHA) is a non-profit civil society organization and registered non-governmental organization (NGO) that promotes the rights and livelihoods of sex workers in Uganda.
WONETHA strives to improve socioeconomic opportunities for sex workers and to empower them to organize and advocate for equitable access to health care, legal and social protection services. Established in 2008 to address rampant discrimination in health care systems, social stigma and as well as to advocate against punitive and restrictive legislation and policies that encourage violations of sex workers’ rights, the organization has since grown into a registered membership of over 800 members and thousands of beneficiaries.