ICRW Announces Stella Mukasa as Director of Gender, Violence and Rights

Article Date

16 April 2012

Media Contact

Anne McPherson

Vice President, Global Communications email [email protected]

Stella Mukasa joined the International Center for Research on Women (ICRW) to direct its research and programs on gender, violence and rights. In this role, Mukasa will lead the organization’s longstanding work to prevent violence against women by building research evidence on programs and stronger, more effective policies.

A Ugandan national, Mukasa is a lawyer with 20 years of experience in gender and human rights. Her career spans government, international development and academia. In the following Q&A, she discusses what shaped her passion for women’s rights and how she plans to lead ICRW’s work in the future.

Q: What inspired your passion and conviction to promote and protect women’s human rights?

Mukasa: A few factors inspired me. I grew up going to a girls’ only boarding school from the age of 6 to 18. In a sense, I was largely protected from the reality of gender inequality until I got to university, where I realized I had to prove my worth as a female law student in the same class with male students. After receiving my master’s in law in development, I joined the legal team of the Uganda Ministry of Gender and Community Development, which significantly enriched my perspective. Women need intermediaries to give them a voice to access justice on an equal basis with men. And I saw this through my work with women who encountered horrendous manifestations of gender inequality. In addition to my legal aid work, I had the opportunity to work on a community-based paralegal program as one strategy to support poor women in accessing justice.

In 1993, I attended the World Conference on Human Rights to present a testimony at the Global Tribunal on Women’s Human Rights. Until then, my experience had been limited to Uganda, but it was there that I realized violence against women cuts across countries, race, class and religion. When I left, I had a strong resolve to go back home and do more about the plight of women and to make a difference with the resources at my disposal. I have never looked back.

Q: While at the Ministry you engaged with policy makers in law reform processes and delivered services to women in need of legal aid. Did these national level reforms bear fruit for the women you were helping in the provinces and villages throughout the Uganda?

Mukasa: I saw firsthand how legal aid made a difference to the individual women I represented. The majority of cases I successfully handled involved protection of widows from “property grabbing” by families of their late husbands, and the provision of maintenance by men who had neglected their families. This experience later informed my work on research and programming towards a more structured and equitable approach to delivering these services to women in Uganda. While I was with the Ministry of Gender, we championed a process that created one of the most progressive constitutions in the region in terms of integrating gender equality principles. Upon that foundation, women of Uganda have advocated for other protective legislation and have won constitutional petitions on principles of gender equality.

Q: In addition to Uganda’s constitution, you have also worked on Rwanda’s national constitution to ensure it was gender responsive and advised on the implementation of Uganda’s Domestic Violence Act of 2010. Have these laws proved to be enough to bring about real, lasting change?  If not, what else needs to be done to ensure this happens?

Mukasa: Having a gender-responsive constitution has greatly contributed to the Rwanda’s progress – it is the foundation. Amidst the country’s great gains in poverty reduction, primary school enrollment, child and maternal mortality, Rwanda has recorded the highest representation of women in parliament in the world; in fact, they are the majority.

The major challenge with laws and policy, however, are gaps in enforcement and implementation. I believe the next step is to invest in programs that demonstrate how to translate supportive policies and laws into practice in order to deliver substantive changes in the lives of women.  

In Uganda, enforcing the Domestic Violence Act has hardly commenced. This is one area where the enforcement gap must be addressed going forward. I am excited about opportunities to work with ICRW partners such as Centre for Domestic Violence Prevention (CEDOVIP) and MIFUMI in Uganda on enforcement of the Act.

Q: In your view, what is the critical link between research and advocacy? What key areas of research do you hope to pursue as ICRW’s new director of gender, violence and rights, and why?

Mukasa: Research provides the evidence to back advocacy. A lot of the work on gender equality is women focused, and rightfully so. However, there is a significant contribution that could be made by working with the beneficiaries of patriarchy – the men. ICRW continues to build a body of knowledge around “working with men” that I find insightful. And I look forward to advocacy opportunities to share the knowledge and resources developed by ICRW on working with men. I believe it would enrich ongoing efforts, particularly in addressing gender-based violence.

In terms of research priorities, I want to continue to build ICRW’s evaluation and implementation research on work done by women. Many women’s organizations are doing work to better women’s lives. They have the quiet confidence that some strategies are working. But they lack empirical evidence to prove it because they lack both the skills/capacity and resources to generate this evidence. And without convincing evidence, their advocacy will be limited or not taken seriously. I hope to continue to support women’s organizations, especially in Africa, in order to have their experiences contribute to the field of knowledge.