School of Law alumna is championing human rights and gender equality in Uganda and beyond

Angella Asiimwe, Mandela Washington Fellow, 2022/2023 UK Chevening Alumni from Uganda, and graduate in International Human Rights Law LLM is advancing human rights, particularly for women and girls.

On this World Day of Social Justice, we are very proud to share the story of one of our alumna, Angella Asiimwe (LLM in International Human Rights Law, 2023). Last year she was recognised by the Mandela Washington Fellowship for the Young African Leaders on the 2023 International Day of Social Justice for her work in advancing human rights and helping women and girls. The Mandela Washington Fellowship for Young African Leaders is the flagship program of the US Government’s Young African Leaders Initiative (YALI).

Angella is committed to advancing human rights, influencing policies to address gender-based violence, and defending the rights of women and girls. Her interest in justice and the impact of laws on society partly stemmed from her background as a survivor of sexual harassment and her experience of becoming a mother at 15 years old due to problematic legal systems. As such, she sees her legal education and the law to advocate for rights of women, children, and other marginalized groups, ultimately contributing to a fairer and more just society.

I pursued my International Human Rights Law LLM to get a better understanding of global theories, of issues and practices in human rights law while making a clear connection with my nation (Uganda), ameliorating my profession and constructively contributing to communities of marginalized people and the country in areas of human rights violation and gender inequalities.

Angella chose the University of Leeds’ School of Law for several reasons including its reputation, academic standards, critical approaches and globally renowned professors and lecturers such as her personal tutor Professor Fiona Smith. As she explains, her time at the School allowed her to gain a better understanding of current systems of human rights legal protection while developing practical legal skills that have been useful in her professional endeavours.

My time at the School of Law influenced my career through providing me with the much-needed knowledge, skills, exposure, and in-depth understanding of the challenges for human rights and gender inequalities around the world. It trained me to identify responses to problems through legislation, policy, and practice to become a dynamic international human rights lawyer who can ably advocate for the rights of marginalized groups.

During Angella’s time at the School, she also had the opportunity to participate in multiple projects and events both in Africa and beyond. To illustrate, she participated in the 2023 FORWARD UK Tuwezeshe Women’s Leadership Training in London, focusing on how to end violence against women especially for minority groups in the United Kingdom. Similarly, she took part in the 2023 United Nations (UN) High Level Political Forum on Sustainable Development at the UN Headquarters in New York by presenting recovery measures aimed to address impacts of COVID19 pandemic on the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and exploring actionable policy guidance for full implementation of the 2030 Agenda and the SDGs at all levels.

Other notable roles include acting as a representative of Young African Women Leaders at Heads of State Men’s Conference on Positive Masculinity to end violence against women and girls in Senegal; representing Uganda Youth Leaders in Civil Society at the global level during the UN High Level Political Forum at the UN headquarters in New York; leading the #UgLoveMovement charity campaign which provided basic needs, psychosocial support, legal aid and sexual reproductive health rights services for over 120 teenage mothers and 40 babies alongside other Leeds students; and pioneering the Giving Rise to Ugandan Indigenous Direction & Experience (GUIDE) program by USAID/Uganda Civil Society Strengthening Activity (CSSA). Here, she implemented a program to support over 350 teenage girl survivors of sexual harassment and to support students, and community leaders to break the silence and access justice through the #GirlsAgainstAllOdds Campaign in Uganda, among others.

Since leaving the School, Angella has worked with several international human rights organisations like Forward UK, an African Diaspora and women-led advocacy and support charity. Their work focuses on safeguarding dignity and advancing human, sexual and reproductive health rights, such as female genital mutilation (FGM) of African women and girls living both in the United Kingdom and in Africa.

Angella has also continued her work as CEO of Voice Consults Limited and Team Leader Ug Love Movement, where she is responsible for leading the strategic vision, among many other tasks such as business development, client relations, financial management, guiding legal services, shaping media strategies, driving advocacy for women, girls and other marginalized groups, public representation, and fostering innovation. As such, her role demands a blend of legal acumen, business leadership, a commitment to social impact and bridging the realms of academia and human rights activism.

The most effective strategy in bridging academia and human rights activism is by staying very informed on cutting-edge legal and social developments, engaging in interdisciplinary collaboration, and leveraging research to inform human rights activism and advocacy. Also deliberately building networks within both realms helps in creating a synergistic approach, ensuring academic insights contribute to practical activism and vice versa.

Naturally, her career path has come with certain challenges. As she explains, some of the greatest challenges have involved navigating complex legal cases and adapting to evolving regulations. Additionally, managing high-pressure situations and balancing multiple responsibilities as a single mother, human rights activist, CEO and Team Leader of her organisations has proven to be a challenge.

Nevertheless, she has learned to balance her life with the use of the wheel of life tool which acts as her personal development action planner to live a more balanced life. This involves several aspects of her life such as her career, family, friends, finances, fun, spiritual health, physical health, and mental health. This strategy allows her to set up goals, actions, resources needed and accountability partner or mentor for each category. 

For students aspiring to become activists without prior experience, Angella recommends that they start by identifying a cause which they are passionate about. Secondly, looking to engage with relevant organizations, attending events, and networking with experienced activists. Additionally, she highlights the importance of staying informed through research, volunteering, involving family and friends in their activism and leveraging media to amplify voices and activities.

It is very important to seek internships or volunteer opportunities with human rights organizations because practical experience is invaluable in this field. Deliberately build a network and connect with human rights professionals… engage in discussions because networking can open doors to opportunities and provide mentorship. Sometimes human rights work can be challenging so it is important to develop resilience, stay passionate, and remember that even small contributions can make a difference.

When looking forward in her career, Angella aims to reach her fullest potential socially and professionally by establishing centres of excellence at Voice Consults, Ug Love Movement, the UN Women’s African Women Leaders Network (AWLN) Uganda Chapter, and in her local community. She aspires to become a transformative leader, an expert human rights lawyer, and a global influencer advocating for human rights and gender equality in Uganda and Africa, shaping policies and laws on local and national levels. In her personal community, she envisions herself building a powerful force or movement of women and girls who can advocate for their rights and dismantle patriarchal systems that lead to sexual violence.

Without doubt, Angella’s contributions to social justice have had an admirable impact. As her personal tutor, Professor Fiona Smith, recognises,

Angella’s work is making a real difference to advancing human rights in the world and championing the victims of gender-based violence. She is an inspiration and everyone in the School is so proud of her achievements.