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Women Fishers Decry Torture At Workplaces  

by Jacquiline Nakandi
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By Ritah Mukasa

The lake sustains many families, some headed by women. Majority engage in drying, smoking and selling fish while others get into the lake to catch fish. 

However, these women decry the life-threatening challenges they go through to put food on the table for their families.

One such is Grace Nakkazi, a resident of Lutoboka landing site in Kalangala district where she has lived and worked for the last 20 years. 

The first 15 years were good. She started off with selling silverfish before diversifying to Nile perch and tilapia. Nakkazi owned four boats and employed over 10 fishers. 

From the proceeds she managed to educate her seven children; four completed university.

Women fishers in a group photo with their leaders and stakeholders at the women gathering. Photos by Ritah Mukasa

On a sad note, she lost it all in 2019 when the army took over the lake. Nakkazi is now struggling to feed her last three children. 

“I now smoke fish but the army keeps confiscating it that it defies the standards but when you smoke fish it shrinks from the 10 and 11 centimetres they want,” she says.

Relatedly, Grace Akello who also lives in Lutoboka struggles to provide for eight children under her care after her silverfish business collapsed. 

Meanwhile, those kids were abandoned by their parents who fled the landing site, fearing to be arrested for illegal fishing. Akello took them on as the village chairperson of children’s affairs. 

“We sometimes go days without food. In fact, we now live of kind people,” she says. 

Moving on to Katosi landing site in Mukono district, Teopista Komaketch decries the brutality of the Fisheries Protection Unit (FPU) a marine section of the Uganda People’s Defense Forces (UPDF) which was formed by President Museveni in January 2017 to mitigate and end illegal fishing on water bodies.

“We have been beaten several times but we can’t leave the lake because we have nowhere to go,” she says. 

The taxes are also high, according to Komaketch.

Add to that the punishments they brave like confiscation of the boats and fishing gear, being flogged and imprisoned.  

These women and more shared their ordeals while at the national gathering for women in agrifood systems on April 12. It was organized by Food Rights Alliance (FRA) with other partners.

They added that there are also civilians who use FPU uniforms to terrorize them.

The injustices must stop — minister

To Lovin Kobusingye, president of Uganda National Women’s Fish Organization (UNWFO) fish business should be for everyone including women. They should also be free to export so long as they meet the standards. 

“Most women fishers have huge responsibilities but small incomes. They need support and a peaceful environment to thrive and grow,” she says. 

Margaret Nakato, executive director of Katosi Women’s Development Trust (KWDT) concurs adding that women fishers go through a lot on the lake.

Kobusingye and Nakato have persistently lobbied the government to support and protect women in fisheries activities. 

As a result of their advocacy coupled with the fishers’ cries, on March 6, 2024, fisheries state minister Hellen Adoa tasked the FPU to explain reports of civilians wearing the unit’s uniforms and terrorizing fishers on landing sites communities.

She said the act is criminal and must stop. She made the call while addressing the media on the ongoing issues in the fisheries sector at the Uganda Media Center in Kampala.

LEAD PHOTO CAPTION: Nyaketcho narrating what she goes through at the workplace.

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