Survival, Perseverance & a Commitment to Women’s Rights in Uganda: Grace Acan’s Story

by Jo Rodrigues, Gender Consultant, Coach & Trainer for Humanitarian Aid Workers

I had the pleasure of meeting Grace Acan, Project Officer for the Women’s Advocacy Network – WAN Uganda at a meeting convened by Annie Bunting, Project Director of the Conjugal Slavery in War (CSiW) Research Partnership.  

Grace Acan and Jo Rodrigues
Grace Acan and Jo Rodrigues

Grace embodies both the meaning of her name and resilience. Kidnapped when she was a school girl (she was one of the Aboke girls), she escaped, completed her education and went to university. Her memoir was recently published and is available for purchase. She also spoke in detail of her experience and her escape during her interview on CBC’s The Current.

Grace is intent on creating hope and ensuring women impacted by the civil war have the support they need. She was a part of the movement to petition the Ugandan government for reparations for women who returned from captivity under the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA). The petition was signed by 600 women last year.

In the meeting we learned more about the work CSiW is doing and the challenges Grace and WAN Uganda are facing. One, of many, is a lack of political will from the Ugandan government to make sure women impacted by war have access to programs to support their recovery and reintegration into communities. We discussed strategies to address this including focusing on allies who could relay WAN Uganda’s message to people in positions of power in an effort to change the tide of political will to support these women.

Internationally, awareness and acknowledgement of their efforts is building. This is partly due to podcasts which have been popular with an international audience (They have been downloaded close to 80 000 times between January and February 2018), interviews like Grace’s on The Current and the newly published report Forced Marriage inside the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA), Uganda Country Report by CSiW.

I shared with Grace WPSN-C’s experience in slowly but surely making progress in finding allies to reinforce our efforts to be heard Grace and folksby the Canadian government, the lessons we have learned and the successes we have had.

I encouraged her to share petitions or other WAN Uganda initiatives with us so that we can support them (as long as there is an alignment with members’ missions and interests given our diverse group).

The meeting ended with a teaser: Annie shared that CSiW is starting work on a People’s Tribunal (similar to the Tokyo’s Women’s Tribunal). Closer to its launch we will learn more. The Canadian Museum for Human Rights will also be opening an exhibit based on the experiences of both Grace Acan and Evelyn Amony when they were captives of the LRA and their subsequent advocacy work for survivors.

It was a great opportunity to share experiences and learn more about the women’s civil society efforts in Uganda. You can learn more about future initiatives via the links below.

Women’s Advocacy Network – WAN Uganda

Conjugal Slavery in War (CSiW) Research Partnership