In Summary
  • By Chance – Video drama on Uganda’s Family and Children’s Courts [Sponsor – DANIDA]
  • SHARE – Video Documentary on efforts to end Domestic Violence in Rakai District: Safe Homes and Respect for Everyone Project. Rakai Health Science Programme.

FOR THE GOOD OF WOMEN. Soroti High Court Judge, Batema Ndikabona David Akky, is known for his passion for gender equality. This has earned him the title “Sister Batema” as well as accolades, writes SHEILA WAMBOGA

Tell us about yourself?
I am David Batema, a judge of the High Court currently serving as resident judge, Soroti. I am 56 years old, and married with children. I am passionate in establishing new trends in the delivery of justice, jurisprudence of gender equality, redefining concepts and legal principles.

We have heard you being called Sister Batema and you always respond. Doesn’t this bother you?
I am delighted to be called Sister Batema, I do not take offence. You know, I wasn’t always this passionate but just like the biblical Saul who became Paul, I also saw the light and it changed my perception of so many things.

Tell us more about this conversion?
In 2000, I was introduced to Women’s Law by the then inspector of courts, Flavia Munaaba Nabugere. (She later went into politics and even became a minister). During her inspections, she looked at my judgments and remarked that I was writing male judgments and needed to write from a balanced perspective.
She said the law is male and if a judicial officer applied male standards then, the women would not get justice. At that time I had dismissed a case of a woman who did not attend court on account that she was sick but did not have any medical records to prove so. The Inspector suggested that I go back to school to read Women’s Law.

I kept wondering what new thing I was going to learn. I was an advocate, with background as a state attorney and I was a magistrate. I had experienced law from different fronts.
I decided to ignore the recommendation. But that did not deter the inspector from converting me. After a while, she returned with a proposal that she was recruiting people to study Women’s Law. On her list were prominent people such as the Speaker of Parliament, Rebecca Kadaga, the Inspector General of Government, Justice Irene Mulyagonja, Court of Appeal Justice, Christopher Madrama, and High Court Judge Henrietta Wolayo. That raised my curiosity as well as the monetary incentives involved.
The Norwegian Agency for Development Cooperation sponsored the course, paying a night allowance per day for the six-month course.
I chose to go for the money. Little did I know that I would get lost in the forest of women’s law. It is like Paul who started out as Saul and got converted. I did a diploma in Women’s Law and it opened my eyes. In 2003, I went back for a Master’s degree.

How was it?
It was so enriching that all of us who did the diploma ended up pursuing a Masters as well albeit at different times.
Shortly after that, there was a regional conference for women judges. At that time, the late Justice Laeticia Kikonyogo was the president of the National Association of Women’s Judges (NAWJU). With Arlene Parch, the president of the International Association of Women Judges (IAWJ) at the time, they encouraged us to participate.

I was asked to write a play which would be made into a film on women’s rights. I chose to do something on domestic violence titled The Convict. That was in 2000, a time when Uganda did not have a law on domestic violence. This production was acted at the International Conference Centre, and the video CDs sold out. At that conference I became a full member of NAWJU and IAWJ.
Then I became a trainer of trainers. I was among the first eight in East and Central Africa training on a project called Jurisprudence of Equality Project (JEP).

Is that how you became Sister Batema?
Not really. When we became trainers of trainers we began training judicial officers on the JEP. Remember, gender equality was a new concept under the 1995 Constitution. In Uganda, we had never had a Constitution believing in gender equality. So, the Constitution required people to interpret what gender equality was.

I was a chief magistrate, training justices at the Supreme Court. During a conference at the Jinja Nile Resort, a male judge wanted to put me down. He said, “Miss Batema can I ask you a question.” I was very offended. I asked him why he referred to me as Miss. It was fast degenerating into a fight and that is when the chairperson (Justice Kikonyongo) of the session called for a tea break. In a strange twist of events, by the end of the tea break, as facilitators we had agreed that such men indeed needed the sensitisation on gender equity.
I came to the realisation that I am not a Miss but a ‘sister’ to all the women. That is when the other facilitators coined the honorary title “Sister Batema”.

Has the pursuit for gender equity been worth it?
Absolutely, previously, getting a 30-minute slot at a conference to talk about gender was a struggle. But now we can get a conference lasting four days discussing matters pertaining to gender.
I am proud to say our efforts have paid off in the Judiciary and anyone recruited as a judicial officer must undergo gender JEP.

How have you benefitted from this journey?
I am more enlightened than I was in 2000. I have also received a number of awards. On March 9, I received the national award of Independence Jubilee Medal, at the Women’s Day celebrations in Bunyangabu District.
Last year, I was awarded the Sudreau Global Justice award for Gender Advocate – presented by Pepperdine University and Judiciary of Uganda at the Women in Leadership Conference. In 2015, I got Life Membership in Fida – Uganda.

In 2014, I got the Special Recognition award of the National Association of Women Judges of Uganda and in 2001 I was a recipient of the International Foundation of Women Judges Certificate of Recognition.
I wrote a script for Silent Culture, a film which informed Parliament to add sexual harassment as a punishable crime in the Employment Act.
After my diploma in 2000, I started part time lecturing at the School of Women and Gender Studies, Makerere University. I taught Gender and the Law as well as Gender and Human Rights to undergraduate students. I stopped teaching in 2014 because of the distance of my deployments. And when I left, the course was discontinued because they could not find a male lawyer who is a feminist.

As a result of my activism in 2014, I began working with UN Women to introduce gender in other institutions that work closely with the Judiciary such as Police. That is engendering the police through their syllabus and training. I spent a month in Moroto District doing research among the Karimajong to find out what the police needed to know to stop child trafficking, female genital mutilation and it worked for UN Women.

In 2015, writing the Gender Benchbook was advertised and I put in a bid and got the consultancy. We now have a Gender Benchbook in place. It promotes the use of conventions and international law and interpreting gender sensitive legislation and advocating for judicial activism.
I have got opportunities to represent NAWJU at international conferences.

What are you proud of most?
Being part of campaigns that have created impact stands out. For example, the Domestic Violence Act, it delayed to be assented to by the President. I led We Can, a campaign where we marched from City Square to Kololo, with other women activists and Uganda Police to say we want the Bill passed and it was signed. We also had other campaigns such as ‘She for he’, where men do role plays such as wearing high heels, carry firewood, carry children on their backs just to feel what women go through daily, and Walking a Mile For Her.
When you are a judicial officer, the norm is that you go and deliver a keynote address at a function but, I participate in the processes.
I realised that the struggle for women’s rights was not a war of women against men. It was and still is a struggle for justice.

Are there any regrets?
Yes, I wish I had done the course in Women’s Law earlier. When I did the course, I then learnt, that when women go into their menstruationperiod, they do not see a doctor. They will say I am sick but not seek medical attention and some have painful cramps. In my case, it did not call for me to dismiss the matter of the female litigant then turn around and say I am doing this in the interest of justice. The attitude counts. Looking at stereotypes, there are many myths around women and access to justice. Our culture, religion and even the old law is gender biased.

It would require someone with an engendered attitude to interpret the law. It is not God’s will for people to die in abusive marriages simply because some sects choose to misinterpret the Bible. If God unites two people he can equally separate them. I once asked some church leaders if by wedding a couple they become God and they said no. I told them that as judge I grant divorce in the name of God. God uses people to put people together and to also separate them. Scenarios such as girls not being heiresses still exist, as if it is a race for someone to be born a girl or a boy. For that reason, I would grant letters of administration to an able-bodied woman or girl. The law talks about a customary heir not heiress. The attitude would make you look at the law and apply it in context. We are teaching our judicial officers the pitfalls of the law.

What would you want to change in this gender crusade?
Gender studies should be compulsory in all schools because it is cross-cutting. There are some constitutional directives that state that Parliament shall make the necessary law to bring into effect affirmative action in different spheres such as banking, and engineering. We have laws on grass, insects but we have no law governing our human relations in a family. Family is the smallest unit of government and as such it should be regulated.

Do you get into situations where people turn to you to settle their domestic wrangles?
Unfortunately or fortunately, gender laws are mainly applicable in the domestic sphere. I never feel offended if people contact me to do so. The colonialists made laws for about anything but not laws to govern marriage. Customary marriages were left to each tribe. If you don’t tackle gender matters in the private family sphere, then where will you tackle it from?

People wrongly argue that this is a private matter then I respond by asking, what is private about a slap. When you hit your wife what is private about it? The assault in the private sphere is more dangerous than the one on the street. I am not disappointed that people approach me to help them sort out their matters.
Wherever I work, I share my contacts and sometimes women call me even in the middle of the night. I have learnt to help women in their private affairs. The culture of silence is not good for promoting gender equality. Violence is not a way of life. It is used by the weak opportunists to maintain the status quo of inequality.

What is your dream for the gender drive?
Our Constitution is gender sensitive, it simply needs implementation. The more we interact with decision makers of this country, the better it will be for our children.

Quick tips
•What does your wife say about your activism?
My wife, Betty Nalubwama, at first did not understand what I was doing. I took deliberate steps to tell her and teach her slowly by slowly. She is now very supportive.
•Anything you would like to do differently?
I hope to talk to the President about gender equity.
I would also love to recruit more men on this crusade. I know the Chief Justice is supportive. The head of Commercial Court, Justice David K. Wangutusi and retired Justice Edmund Lugayizi are some of those male champions. I don’t know what I can strike to get more male champions on board.

Justice Batemwa’s works
1.The Gender Bench Book: Women’s Access to Justice in Uganda, Judiciary, Kampala.2016
2.Administering Substantive Justice – University of Zimbabwe, Harare, 2000
3. Women’s Equality before the law: A Challenge for Judicial Officers in Uganda to fill Gaps - University of Zimbabwe, Harare, 2003
4. By Chance – Video drama on Uganda’s Family and Children’s Courts [Sponsor – DANIDA]
5. SHARE – Video Documentary on efforts to end Domestic Violence in Rakai District: Safe Homes and Respect for Everyone Project. Rakai Health Science Programme.