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Human Rights Defender of the Month: Aluel Atem

Aluel Atem is an ambitious woman activist from South Sudan who plays a vital role in the promotion of women’s rights in the country. However, life as an outspoken feminist in a patriarchal country is not a walk in the park. “It’s not only about being a female, but a young female. You get undermined for being a woman in all-man spaces, and for being young in older spaces,” Aluel explains.

Since the civil war erupted in December 2013, the situation for women in South Sudan has worsened, Aluel explains. “We have had a lot of conflict in South Sudan, which is not going to be solved very soon. We have a lot of conflict that’s historical – going deep.”

To promote women’s rights amid the long-standing and brutal conflict, Aluel co-founded Crown the Woman, an organisation focusing on raising awareness about sexual and gender-based violence (SGBV), and fostering female leadership and mentorship for in South Sudan. She also represents South Sudanese Women at the Ceasefire and Transitional Security Arrangements Monitoring and Verification Mechanism (CTSAMVM) board.

“We’re not having constructive conversations about gender in South Sudan. Women get harassed and beaten for simply attempting to break away from the cycle. Information is key, and I think that’s something that’s lacking,” she says, while stressing that culture and norms are not valid justifications to treat women inhumanly

We’re not having constructive conversations about gender in South Sudan. Women get harassed and beaten for simply attempting to break away from the cycle. Information is key, and I think that’s something that’s lacking.

In 2017, she took part in the development of South Sudan’s National Action Plan 2030 on ending child, early, and forced marriage. The country was one of the 21 African countries which committed themselves to ending child marriage by 2030, in line with the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), when African Ministers of Education and Health gathered for a meeting in Cape Town, South Africa in 2013.  

In addition to women’s rights, Aluel is passionate about boosting South Sudan’s young generation. She stresses that the unawareness of female role models damages young people, especially girls and young women. “We have a lot of influential South Sudanese women, but young women do not know about them because they are not documented and talked about often enough.”

South Sudan has signed many regional and international legal instruments relevant to women’s rights. Aluel highlights that regional and international bodies to put more pressure on the South Sudanese Government, using frameworks like the Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) and the UN Security Council Resolution 1325 among others. “The instruments have become a piece of paper. South Sudan should be held accountable for their violations.”

We have a lot of influential South Sudanese women, but young women do not know about them because they are not documented and talked about often enough.

In addition to her work at the national level, she is an active advocate at regional and international fora. In 2019, Aluel took part in the UN Human Rights Council session as one of DefendDefenders’ delegates, where she highlighted the human rights situation in her country. She trains globally on conflict and gender transformation skills.

“There’s an idea that people fighting for human rights shouldn’t be women, it’s like women’s rights and human rights are two different things. Once, in a high-level meeting where I challenged men on their attitudes and perceptions on women, a man later pulled me aside and said that ‘you are not married and you are young, so you don’t understand.’” She refers to a generational gap in South Sudan, whereas young people are excluded from peace and decision-making processes amid the transition. “People are not finding creative ways to include young people and bridge the age gap,” she says. “Young South Sudanese need mentorship and dialogue.”

As for what keeps her motivated, her reasons seem clear: “the women themselves! The energy that South Sudanese women have, the commitment they have, despite the situation, is a motivation. It’s so many women and young people working so hard every day, so I know that I’m not alone.”

Visit Aluel Atem’s website, and follow her on Twitter and Facebook

See more HRDs of the Month

Human Rights Defender of the month: Apollo Mukasa

Apollo Mukasa’s journey into activism is deeply rooted in his commitment to advocate for the rights of persons with disabilities (PWDs). As the Executive Director of Uganda National Action on Physical Disability (UNAPD), Apollo is a driving force behind initiatives aimed at combating discrimination among PWDs. UNAPD was established in 1998 as a platform for voicing concerns of persons with physical disabilities to realise a barrier free environment where they can enjoy their rights to the fullest.

Human Rights Defender of the month: Leon Ntakiyiruta

As a child, Leon wanted to be a magistrate – whom he saw as agents of justice. Born in 1983 in Burundi’s Southern province, he came of age at a time of great social and political upheaval in the East African country. In 1993 when Leon was barely 10, Burundi was besieged by a civil war that would last for the next 12 years until 2005, characterized by indiscriminate violence and gross human rights abuses in which over 300,000 people are estimated to have died.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: 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.

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