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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: Aida Musa

In August 2011, Aida crossed into Uganda, pregnant, and barely able to communicate in another language other than Arabic. The transition was a difficult one, she says: “It was my first-time outside Sudan, and yet I did not know any other language. The first months were very difficult.”
In 2012, still struggling to find her footing in Kampala, Aida was introduced to DefendDefenders, where she was introduced to the organisation’s resource center, and assured, it (the center) would be at her disposal whenever she needed to use it.

Human Rights Defender of the month: Pamela Angwench Judith

For most of her life, Pamela Angwech’s existence has always been a defiant and simultaneous act of survival and resistance. In 1976 when she was born, the anti-Amin movement was gathering pace, and her family was one of the earliest victims of the then dictatorship’s reprisals in Northern Uganda. Her father, a passionate educationist in Kitgum district was one of the most vocal critics of the dictatorship’s human rights excesses, which made him an obvious target of the state’s marauding vigilantes.

Human Rights Defender of the month: Joseph Oleshangay

As a human rights lawyer and advocate with the High Court of the United Republic of Tanzania, Joseph Moses Oleshangay spends most of his time crossing from one court to another, litigating human rights cases, some with life-altering implications for ordinary people. It is a monumental responsibility, one he never envisaged growing up.

As a young boy born into a Maasai household in northern Tanzania, his entire childhood revolved around cattle: “Our entire livelihood revolved around cattle. As a child, the main preoccupation was to tend to cows, and my formative years were spent grazing cattle around Endulen. It a simple lifestyle,” he says.

Human Rights Defender of the month: Julia Onyoti

The situation of South Sudan’s women and girls remains one of those enduring blights on the country’s conscience. The country retains the unenviable reputation of having the world’s highest maternal mortality rate, and at 51.5%, one of the highest cases of child marriages. It is even worse with gender-based violence(GBV): A 2019 study by UNICEF found that one in every two South Sudan women have experienced intimate partner violence, while a recent UN study, alarmed at the widespread nature of conflict-related sexual violence in the country, in which women are tread as “spoils of war” described it as “a hellish existence for women and girls.

Human Rights Defender of the month:SHIMA BHARE

Shima Bhare Abdalla has never known the luxury and comfort of a stable and safe existence inside her country’s borders. When she was 11, her village was attacked and razed to the ground, sending her family and entire neighborhood scattering into an internally displaced People’s Camp, at the start of the Darfur civil war.

That was in 2002. Shima and her family relocated into Kalma refugee camp in Southern Darfur, where, alongside over 100,000 other displaced persons, they had to forge out a living, under the watch and benevolence of the United Nations – African Union Hybrid Operation in Darfur, known as UNAMID. It is here that Shima’s human rights consciousness came to life. She enthusiastically embraced whatever little education she could access under the auspices of the humanitarian agencies operating in the camp, to be able to tell the story of her people’s plight.

Human Rights Defender of the month: Martial Pa’nucci

Martial Pa’nucci is a child of what is fondly known as Africa’s second liberation. In 1990 when he was born, the Republic of Congo, like many other countries in Sub-Saharan Africa, was undergoing a transition from one-party rule to multi-party democracy, following the collapse of the Soviet Union.

Yet developments in ordinary people’s lives were not as optimistic. Pa’nucci was born in one of Brazzaville’s ghettos to a polygamous family of two mothers and 19 siblings, where survival was a daily exercise in courage. When he was two, his father died, followed in quick succession by many of his siblings. Pa’nucci did not start school until he was nine, and he had to do odd jobs – from barbering to plumbing to earn his stay there, lest he dropped out like many of his peers.

Human Rights Defender of the month: Veronica Almedom

Veronica Almedom is a poster child of successful immigration. A duo Eritrean and Swiss citizen, she was born in Italy, and grew up in Switzerland where she permanently resides. Her parents are some of the earliest victims of Eritrea’s cycles of violence. When Eritrea’s war of independence peaked in the early 1980s, they escaped the country as unaccompanied minors, wandering through Sudan, Saudi Arabia, before making the hazard journey across the Mediterranean into Europe. There, they crossed first to Italy, and finally, to Switzerland, where they settled first as refugees, and later, as permanent residents.

Human Rights Defender of the month: Omar Faruk Osman

Omar Faruk’s career, and the passion that drove it, were the product of his circumstances. He was born in 1976, in the first of strong man Mohamed Siad Barre’s two-decade rule over Somalia, which was characterized by gross rights abuses and barely existent civic space. He came of age in the 90s when those abuses and rights violations were peaking, as his country was engulfed by a ruinous civil war following the collapse of the Siad Barre dictatorship.