Elizabeth Nansubuga

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Elizabeth Nansubuga is a Demographer, holds a PhD in Demography/ Population Studies & is faculty at Makerere University, Uganda. I have a keen interest in civil registration and vital statistics systems in Africa. As an IUSSP Population, Ethics & Human Rights fellow, I focus on the ethical and human rights insights regarding exclusion of “fatherless” children from birth registration & national identity systems.

  • What is your professional and education background? How did you get interested in policy and research at the intersection of population registers, ethics and human rights?

My profession is all about the scientific study of human populations with respect to size, structure, composition, and distribution. As a Demographer and faculty at Makerere University with over 15 years’ experience, I contribute to knowledge generation and research studies in Population Studies and Demography. I hold a PhD in Population Studies obtained from North West University, South Africa; an MSc. Population & Reproductive Health and a BSc. Population Studies. 

In 2017, as a technical co-lead, I examined data on the prevalence, barriers and facilitators of birth registration in Uganda. Since then, I have participated in various policy and research engagements on birth and death registration. My field work visits exposed me to human rights’ insights, excluded populations and challenges associated with legal identity registration systems. To bridge the gap between research and practice, I engaged the policy makers at the National Identification and Registration Authority.  This led me to interrogate the legal frameworks governing identity registration in Uganda; and the related policy – practice gaps. Thereafter, I developed a keen interest and became an advocate for the excluded persons in registration processes. This incited my interest to further explore the relationship between population registration systems ethics and human rights. 

  • Through the IUSSP Fellowship on Population registers, ethics and human rights, you are undertaking an individual research project while resident at WiSER and ISER. Can you give us some background on that research project and explain how the fellowship is helping you to advance your project?

As an IUSSP fellow, I focus on the ethical and human rights insights regarding exclusion of “fatherless” children from birth registration & national identity systems. Fatherless children - persons whose biological fathers may be unknown or ‘absent’ for various reasons, are often excluded from legal identity registration systems. Such exclusion and marginalization has diverse ethical and human rights implications in addition to unreliable population data.  Using an innovative human rights and children’s rights’ approach, I will conduct an in-depth analysis and exploration of the ethical and human rights issues surrounding registration of fatherless persons. I also examine the identity registration frameworks in Uganda & South Africa with a key focus on the policy – implementation gaps. 

The IUSSP fellowship provides key expertise in the form of great mentors, opportunities and resources in terms of protected time off, library resources, fora for presentations (seminars), peer reviews, and also skills development that are critical to the advancement of my project goals and objectives.  I am also able to tap into the networks of both mentors, and the collaborating institutions. The peer review and mentors’ feedback has broadened/ sharpened my research insights and led to my adoption of an interdisciplinary approach of addressing registration issues. 

  • You are already 2+ months into the fellowship. How’s it going? What are you learning from your mentors and fellowship cohort colleagues? 

I have acquired commendable knowledge and skills from the mentors. In the shortest time, I have learnt about the identity management systems in South Africa, human rights advocacy and their potential impact on exclusion of fatherless children. This knowledge led me to conduct a comparative review/ analysis for both Uganda and South Africa population registration processes. I have also enhanced my conceptualization using an interdisciplinary approach and also the children’s rights and human rights frameworks as critical frameworks to engage in addressing the research objectives. 

The meetings are a source of constructive feedback which has also sharpened my research argument. From the mentorship, I have also learnt about the various global professional networks and civil society groups engaged in population registration advocacy, research and programme implementation. Through the mentors’ and fellows’ insights through shared country registration experiences. I am also on the path to enhance my knowledge and skills in analysis of policy - practice gaps. The mentors have also enhanced my knowledge and skills in Zotero, application of “leaving no one behind” analysis (LNOB), and access to credible information sources beyond academic literature. Last but not least, both mentors and fellows have provided a supportive learning environment. 

  • Has there been anything unexpected that has come up during your fellowship  to-date (e.g. an interesting area of the field that you are getting exposed to during a chance seminar or conversation, or some new insights from interactions from researchers at WiSER or consultations with South African civil society groups and researchers)? 

Two major issues come to mind in terms of the unexpected:

1. Prior to the start of the fellowship, I focused solely on Uganda. However, following the orientation week and interactions with human rights experts in South Africa, I got interested in the uniqueness of the South African population registration story. Additionally, the human rights’ issues to be explored, other key insights of research interest include:

  1. Fathers’ rights in birth registration processes in South Africa.
  2. DNA testing to prove paternity
  3. Deregistration after birth registration: Case of blocked IDs in South Africa. 
  4. Historical challenges: Role of Apartheid on current population registration systems in South Africa.
  5. Digital Transformation in Birth Registration & its potential negative effects on children’s rights. Issue of biometrics.

2. In Uganda’s case, the new insights relate to the:

i. Social construction of the fatherhood and “fatherless” in the Ugandan context.

ii. Embedment of patriarchy in legal frameworks and its implications on policy, implementation practices; and inclusion or exclusion of persons in civil registration processes. 

  • What are you hoping to achieve by the end of this 1-year fellowship? Are there specific research outputs that you will produce through this fellowship? Can you brief us on your expected research outputs and where you see your work fitting into the broader research and praxis at the intersection of population registers, ethics and human rights?

By the end of the fellowship, I envisage four key research outputs: a publication in an internationally peer reviewed journal, conference presentations (i. Population Association of America (PAA) – 2024, ii. African Identities conference – Uganda – September 2023), a policy brief and research seminar workshops (WISER, ISER, Makerere University & National Identification Registration Authority). 

My work advances knowledge for both policy, and practice for inclusive population identification and registration processes in Uganda, and elsewhere. It will also bring to the forefront the discussion of children’s rights and human rights programming approach, as well as enhance advocacy efforts of vulnerable persons – “fatherless children” in civil and population registration systems in Uganda. I believe this fellowship will put me on the right career of becoming a global advocacy leader in population and civil registration policy.

  • Would you like to share a fun fact about yourself or your time so far as an IUSSP Population Ethics, Human Rights Fellow?

Wow!!! As I walked through the gates of WITS University, I observed that the University had recently celebrated 100 years in 2022. What a coincidence that my alma mater & current workplace - Makerere University also celebrated 100 years in 2022. This resonated and felt the perfect choice to have the fellowship – a place where we share historic significance and longevity. This partly got me interested in exploring the South African population registration story! Similarly, it was not long into my fellowship at the University that students engaged in a strike. I note that it was much more peaceful than the case would be back home. This reminded me that strikes are part of the University culture in Africa and one of the ways students and faculty advocate for their human rights in this part of the world. 

On a lighter note - the time I had to sign a tenancy agreement which included a clause on ensuring the rights of the dog are respected. Hmmm!! I wondered if the dog was legally registered or whether the dog would also respect the tenants’ rights. I quickly took interest to learn about rights and ethics concerning animals in South Africa.