Alumna Betty Ajok is the principal legal officer, under the Directorate of Education and Public Affairs (EPA), at the Judicial Services Commission (the Commission), in Uganda. Her work includes bridging the information gap between EPA and the Ugandan public. The Commission is an independent state agency that has oversight of the judicial services provided to Ugandans. Its mission is establishing and maintaining a separate and efficient machinery for the administration of justice for all Ugandans.
Betty’s work entails conducting civic education to empower the country’s citizens in their active involvement in the administration of justice in the country. She achieves this by participating in radio and TV talk shows, public information sessions and forums that are used to sensitise citizens. She is instrumental in ensuring that members of the public are aware of the laws, as well as the legal and policy issues of the country.
In 2017, Betty and her colleagues organised a community outreach campaign in the north-eastern part of the country, an area populated by the Karamojong ethnic group, who are nomadic pastoralists. The region is hard to reach, with poor road networks. While the campaign was directed at members of the public in general, Betty and her team made a deliberate effort to invite more women, children, persons with disability and the elderly. The reason for the emphasis on women and girls is because females are the main victims of sexual offences, domestic violence and gender-based violence. Overall the campaign reached over 2000 participants.
Members of the community, particularly women and children, face numerous challenges. The community engages in cultural practices which perpetuate gender-based violence, such as courtship rape as a requirement for marriage. Young girls are subjected to arranged marriages, resulting in high teenage pregnancy. There is also the practice of widow inheritance, where widows are required to marry a male relative of her late husband. Overall, women in the community are the victims of domestic violence; they are subjected to human rights violations and left with little social support to protect them.
The Karamoja outreach activities educated the community on human rights laws, sexual offence laws and domestic violence laws, which may be unintentionally violated because of cultural practices. Also, they created awareness on legal and policy issues in the country, such as those about gender equality and access to justice. ‘Our hope is for the public to become law-abiding citizens who can make informed decisions, respect the laws of the land, honour each other’s rights and execute their responsibilities,’ says Betty.
Betty’s work requires her to be well conversant and skilled in research, public speaking and critical analysis. She attributes her professional success to the skills gained during her studies at Flinders University. She could practise her research and public speaking skills because of the group participation activities at the university. ‘I have been able to rely on the skills that I gained, to pass relevant information to community members adequately, during the sensitisation exercise in the field,’ she says.
Betty believes that knowledge gaps lead to poor development, household poverty, human rights violations and poor service deliveries, as affected individuals cannot be active citizens. The importance of civic education is that it enables members of the public to know their rights as well as their responsibilities, to know the laws which govern them and to know how to enforce laws and policies which are being violated. Betty’s contribution and her organisation’s work aim to decrease cases of domestic violence and human rights violations that are being witnessed in regions such as Karamoja.