Defender of the month: Mohamed Farah

Mohamed Farah, 34, is a Somali human rights defender (HRD). He is the founder and chairperson of the Somali Disability Empowerment Network (SODEN). In addition to his work with the Somali Coalition of Human Rights Defenders as a steering committee member and Disabled Peoples’ International, Farah advocates for people with disabilities who face serious discrimination.

“Persons with disabilities in Somalia, as in many other countries in the sub-region, face numerous challenges that result in their exclusion from mainstream of society, making it difficult for them to access their fundamental social, political, and economic rights,” he says. “Many make their way through life impoverished, abandoned, uneducated, malnourished, discriminated against, neglected, and vulnerable.”

At the age of three, Farah contracted polio, which left him permanently disabled. Somalia’s disabled population is estimated at 15 percent, due in large part to disease, malnourishment, and the effects of decades of civil war and conflict. In 2011 Farah founded SODEN with the aim of promoting and uplifting the rights of disabled people in Somalia. Since then, he has met with both the Somali Speaker of Parliament and the former President to discuss national disability legal frameworks and the protection of those with special needs in the country. A 2015 campaign he initiated called ‘Open the Door’ aimed at making all public buildings in the country wheelchair accessible.

“In most of Somalia and the sub-region, disabled people face huge discrimination against their fundamental rights,” Farah say. “The government must ensure the rights of marginalized people, including persons with disabilities, in order to break all barriers against them and allow them to become a part of the society.”

Farah says the issues plaguing the disabled are most pronounced when it comes to economic, physical, educational, and psychological challenges, which can result in a vicious cycle of poverty and lack of access to the overall benefits of development. He says that in addition to the social and cultural stigma surrounding disability in Somalia, he has also faced threats of violence from non-state actors like Al-Shabaab – in 2017, the group was responsible for the death of Ali Osman, a disabled elder and community leader.

“In Africa, disability is sometimes viewed as a spiritual curse, despite medial explanations,” Farah says. “Disabled persons suffer from psychological challenges due to the way society views them. Disabled people are even stigmatised when it comes to marriage.  Superstitious beliefs frown at marriages between an able-bodied and a disabled person. It is regarded as a bad omen by the family.”

In June 2018, with support from DefendDefenders and ProtectDefenders.eu, Farah graduated from Kampala International University with a Master of Arts in Human Rights and Development, as well as a newfound commitment to continue the struggle for equal rights in both Somalia and beyond.

“My new studies will give me courage and spirit,” he says. “I will redouble my advocacy efforts and continue fighting against human rights violators. I will promote the rights of neglected people including people with disabilities.”

Follow Mohammed on Twitter.

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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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