Defender of the month: Dinah Nakuwa

Dinah Nakuwa works with the Loima Women Empowerment Initiative (LOWEI), a small organisation of some 60 women founded in 2010 to address social issues in the Turkana region of Northern Kenya. In this arid hinterland, geographically and traditionally on the fringes of Kenyan politics, civil society organisations are predominantly community-based and male dominated – Nakuwa and the women of LOWEI seek to change that.

“Culture is really an imbalance to women participation here. A woman is not supposed to participate in public when men are there,” she says. “When men see learned women or a girl in a leadership position, they know they’re coming to defend women at the grassroots. They see this as an unwanted challenge.”

Small conflicts and livestock raiding remain major sources of conflict in the region. Yet, despite often bearing the brunt of these tribal clashes, women are rarely involved in processes of peace or reconciliation. LOWEI seeks to train women in conflict resolution, acting as peace agents between warring factions through community dialogue and traditional methods of mediation.

“Culture is really an imbalance to women participation here. A woman is not supposed to participate in public when men are there. When men see learned women or a girl in a leadership position, they know they’re coming to defend women at the grassroots. They see this as an unwanted challenge.”

“Women are not involved in peacebuilding in pastoralist communities – the men will say that women cannot even defend themselves,” says Nakuwa. “But it is only women that can make men go through with peace.” Issues over land in the region are not always based on external conflict, but often initiated within families and clans, making them difficult to arbitrate. Since inheritance laws in Kenya are based in both customary and national law, land rights for women remain a major unaddressed issue. Nakuwa says that widows are often chased off their late husband’s land by his family, even if they have children and legitimate claims on property.

LOWEI also supports education for girls, notably by conducting research into why child marriage remains prominent, and how to stop them in the first place. Nakuwa says that creating a network of empowered women throughout the county has helped reporting and monitoring of incidents related to domestic violence. However, these actions often lead women human rights defenders (WHRDs) to receive threats of violence.

Nakuwa says that WHRDs are often stigmatised, even by their own families, who fear that their activities might get in the way of their domestic activities: “the domestic social sphere has not yet adjusted to women’s roles in human rights defence.”

 

“Women are not involved in peacebuilding in pastoralist communities – the men will say that women cannot even defend themselves. But it is only women that can make men go through with peace.”

Ultimately Nakuwa and LOWEI seek to create community-based solutions to greater social issues by focusing on the role women can play in peace making and advocating for children. Through cross-border peace initiatives, they hope to work with other grassroots WHRDs to promote lasting peace in a region beleaguered by avoidable conflict.

“My role is to make sure local women have identified their role in the community and have the help they need. If these women can be given a chance, they can be change agents and make the community grow,” she says. “When there is peace, there is development.”

See more HRDs of the Month

Human Rights Defender of the month: Alex Njenga John

Alex Njenga has always believed in egalitarianism both as a principle and as a tool for justice. As a result, he has always been suspicious of, and at times hostile to social prejudices that treat some people as “more equal than others,” – to use a line from George Orwell’s famed political fable, Animal Farm.

Some of the experiences that have shaped his social and political outlook have been personal. As an adolescent in Kenya’s Uasin Gishu County, Alex was stigmatised and denied healthcare after he identified himself as belonging to Kenya’s sexual orientation and gender identity (SOGI) community.

Human Rights Defender of the month: Abacha Ahmed Ibrahim

Abacha Ahmed Ibrahim is one of his country’s leading advocates for the rights of Persons with Disabilities (PWDs).

Born 34 years ago into a family of Eight, in Kajokeji County, East of Juba, the Capital of South Sudan, Abacha ’s passion for human rights was born out of grim personal experience. At birth, he was immediately neglected by his father on discovering that the little infant was visually impaired.

“My own father denied me access to education because he considered my disability a kind of misfortune brought to him by my mother,” he says.

Human Rights Defender of the month: Fadia Khalaf

Fadia Khalaf was not meant to be an activist. By her own admission, she was born into a conservative Muslim family – the first of six siblings. In Saudi Arabia where she was born and raised, the ruling ideology in the Kingdom was wahabbism – a puritanical version of Islam in which women are strictly expected to stay in the background and not play any public role. Yet even in that conservative setting, she managed to nurture a political consciousness:

“I think reading at young age helped build my awareness on concepts like justice and rights in general. I was exposed to concepts around human freedom, and that nurtured the rebel in me,” she says.

Human Rights Defender of the month: Mugisha Jelousy

As the rest of Uganda readies itself to finally get its oil out of the ground with the conclusion of the Final Investment Decision (FID), Mugisha Jealousy, 50, is one of those following the events with a mournful resignation.

A resident of Kasenyi village, Nile Parish in Buliisa district, Mugisha is one of those affected by the Tilenga project, a multipronged project by Total E&P. The project involves reservation and development of land in districts of Buliisa and Nwoya for oil exploration, setting up of a crude oil processing plant and related infrastructure to support Uganda’s oil production activities.

Human Rights Defender of the Month: Anny Kapenga

As a young student, Anny Kapenga used to cringe at the cult-like worship of Mobutu Sese Seko, the then Zaire’s President. By then, in the early 1990s, Zaire was still under one party rule, and calls were increasing for Mobutu to open political space to allow other parties to operate. In the meantime, however, all Zairians were expected to show affection for Mobutu wherever they gathered in public.

Students across Zaire’s schools were required to sing and dance adoringly before his (Mobutu)’s portrait every morning before they went to class, and all school scholastic materials were emblemed with his portrait. A young Anny never really appreciated the obsession:

Human Rights Defender of the Month: Fadwo Hassan Jimale

Women in Somalia are not supposed to be ‘loud.’ Historically, conservative religious traditions combined with a resilient patriarchal system ensured that women in the coastal nation remain veiled and meek, always in the shadow of their husbands.

Not so for Fadwo Hassan Jimale, Somalia’s crusading human rights defender. As a ranking member of Somalia’s Women Human Rights Defenders Coalition, Fadwo and her colleagues host regular capacity building sessions for current and emerging women human rights defenders (WHRDs).

Human Rights Defender of the Month: Oliver Rubama

As a lone girl in a traditionally patriarchal & heteronormative Muslim family in Tanzania, Oliver Rubama grew up with so much pressure to conform. She was expected to conform to socially expected patterns of female behavior and dress, and to aspire to get married to a man approved by her family.

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