Human Rights Defender of the Month (August 2019): Alaa Satir

As an inspiring activist, illustrator, and graphic designer, Alaa Satir uses her art as a tool to promote women’s rights and justice in Sudan. “The challenges that we, women, have faced in Sudanese society have been enormous – we have been the main casualties of Omar al-Bashir’s regime,” Satir says. “Art makes people question things. It allows them to practice their freedom of speech. This way, art can create change.” 

The Sudanese artist graduated from university with a degree in architecture in 2012. Longing for creative freedom, she went into the field of visual art, digital illustration, and graphic design. “[Visual art] is a good venting mechanism, a way to cope with life, and the society that I live in,” she stressed. Most of her drawings depict women’s struggles – reflecting her own opinions on society, in the hope that other women would feel connected to them.

 

When the Sudanese revolution broke out in December 2018, women human rights defenders (WHRDs) became the face of the resistance – mobilising and empowering women and activists across the country. “The social system that prevailed in Sudan for years was masochistic and sexist – we now want to build a new system in favour of women,” Satir says. “When the Sudanese revolution started, I wanted to highlight women’s role in the revolution.” With her creative mind, she continues to fulfil that vision.

Though the media portrayed the female resistance in Sudan as something new, Satir emphasises that women have long been part of the country’s struggle for peace and justice. “In the revolutions of 1964 and 1985, women played a big role.” She points to social media and the Internet as key components in uncovering women’s battles in the current revolution, as pictures and videos of women’s activism went viral. 

“Does art really have a serious role in creating change? I would always ask myself that. Now, after the revolution, I can answer that it does. I will try to do my best to reflect the long journey of women’s rights in Sudan within my work, continue talking about our struggle and our demands.”

The use of art as a tool for justice should not be taken for granted in Sudan. Until recently, art, especially street art, was often viewed as vandalism, she points out. With the fall of al-Bashir in April 2019, the Sudanese revolution gained worldwide attention. “Beforehand, people just viewed it as ‘just another African country in conflict.’” In addition to global attention, the fall of the regime opened up space for art. “It was one of the best things that happened in the period – it transformed the revolution.” Since then, the artistic resistance has bloomed. 

Satir states that she holds street art very close to her heart. “It’s an amazing way to empower [..] you don’t need to have Internet access, or social media – street art is available for everyone.” 

For more information about Satir’s work, check out her Instagram and Twitter.

See more HRDs of the Month

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.

“I grew up in a society where ageism and sexism were so entrenched. As a young person, you weren’t supposed to give your opinion on public issues, especially if you were a woman. Women who dared to speak up were caricatured and branded as frustrated, unmarriageable prostitutes, all designed to shut them up,” she says.

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.

SHARE WITH FRIENDS: