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: Kasale Maleton Mwaana

Kasale’s human rights activism precedes his years. The son of pastoralist parents from Ngorongoro district in northern Tanzania, he grew up seeing his parents and entire community having to defend their land and way of life against authorities who thought their lands could be put to better use. Now, at 25, Kasale is already one of the most recognizable advocates of his people’s cause, much to the ire of Tanzanian authorities.
“Our people’s struggle goes back many generations. It started with the pushing out of our forefathers from Serengeti to gazette Serengeti National Park in 1959, and then further evictions from the Ngorongoro crater to gazette the Ngorongoro conservation area in 1975. Since then, every generation has had to resist further evictions. It’s now my generation’s turn,” he says.

Human Rights Defender of the month: Pierre Claver Mbonimpa

Arguably no single individual personifies Burundi’s human rights struggle like Pierre Claver Mbonimpa. Born 72 years ago in the small East African country, Claver’s quest for human rights and justice is as old as his country’s modern history.

When his country was plunged into a civil war that killed an estimated 300,000 people following the 1993 assassination of President Cyprien Ntaryamira, Claver was one of its earliest victims. Then a close confidant (he was also a former driver) of the assassinated President, he was framed, and arrested, and would go on to spend the next two years between 1994 and 1996 in jail.

It is in prison that the ulcer of injustice bit him hard. There, he met inmates who had either been wrongfully imprisoned or who had been remanded for long periods without trial, all living in dehumanising conditions. “I was strongly revolted by the injustice. Here were probably innocent people whose years were being wasted away by an unfair judicial system, with no one to stand up for them. I swore that I would try to do something about it once I got out myself,” he says.

Human Rights Defender of the month: Kamau Ngugi

On October 7, 2022, Kamau Ngugi was elected Chairperson of the East and Horn of Africa human rights defenders’ network (EHAHRD-net), a stirring affirmation for the Kenyan human rights defender’s efforts in defense of human rights that go back nearly 30 years.

But it was not always this promising for her. Born 37 years ago in Grand Kru, Southeastern Liberia, Margaret had to do with a childhood of abuse, neglect, and want, after her, her sibling and her mother were abandoned by their father at an early age.

Human Rights Defender of the month: Margaret Muna Nigba

A human rights lawyer per excellence, Margaret is also an indefatigable woman human rights defender (WHRD) who has won the adulation of millions in her country for her impassioned dedication to defending the rights of women and girls in her native Liberia.

But it was not always this promising for her. Born 37 years ago in Grand Kru, Southeastern Liberia, Margaret had to do with a childhood of abuse, neglect, and want, after her, her sibling and her mother were abandoned by their father at an early age.

Human Rights Defender of the month: Mohammed Adam Hassan

Mohammed Hassan has known mostly conflict, displacement, and war all his adult life. As part of Sudan’s black population in the country’s region of Darfur, they were for long the victims of oppression by Khartoum, then under now deposed dictator Omar Bashir. Then, in 2003, when Mohammed was 19, Darfur’s black population decided to fight back. Two rebel movements – Sudan Liberation Movement and the Justice and Equality Movement launched a rebellion against Bashir’s government, seeking justice for Darfur’s non-Arab population. The response by Khartoum was chilling: Bashir’s forces launched a campaign of ethnic cleansing against the region’s non-Arab population, and thousands of families were displaced and herded into refugee camps.

Human Rights Defender of the month: Issah Musundi

At first encounter, Issah Musundi is a coy, if not shy, mostly reserved lad. But behind that quiet disposition is a steely character and an enforced existence.
Born 27 years ago in Kenya’s border district of Busia, Issah belongs to Kenya’s sexual minorities community, who have had to win majority rights that other Kenyans take for granted.

Human Rights Defender of the month: Agather Atuhaire

In late May this year, Agather Atuhaire, via her twitter account, broke the story that the Parliament of Uganda had spent a whopping Shs. 2.8billion to purchase two luxury vehicles for the Speaker and the Deputy Speaker.

Aside from the fact that the expenditure was unnecessary – both the Speaker and her Deputy already have two luxury vehicles for their official duties, the purchase flouted all public procurement procedures, and when Parliament’s contracts committee could not approve the procurement, the members of the committee were fired and new ones immediately appointed to approve the purchase.

Human Rights Defender of the month: Esther Tawiah

In Ghana, Esther Tawiah is one of the loudest voices for women empowerment and gender. It is also why she is one of the most loathed. Born and raised in New-Tafo in the country’s eastern region, Esther grew up surrounded by a culture that frowned at the idea of women participating in public affairs, and witnessed firsthand, the backlash those who dared to challenge that cultural norm faced.

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