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: Sandra Aceng

Sandra Aceng is an outspoken and energetic woman human rights defender (WHRD). She is a gender and ICT researcher and policy analyst for Women of Uganda Network (WOUGNET) where she coordinates the Women ICT Advocacy Group, advocating for internet access for all. In addition, she writes on various platforms such as Global Voices, Freedom House, and Impakter Magazine. Her regular contributions to Wikimedia Uganda often focus on profiling WHRDs, female politicians, and journalists.

Human Rights Defender of the Month: Chantal Mutamuriza

Chantal Mutamuriza does not wait for problems to be solved. When the Burundian woman human rights defender (WHRD) encounters a problem, she will seek a solution there and then. When hundreds of thousands Burundians had to flee from political unrest in 2015, many of them were stranded in refugee camps with little economic opportunity or access to education. In her problem-solving spirit, Chantal felt compelled to act: she quit her job to put her skills and network to use and founded the NGO Light For All.

Human Rights Defender of the Month: Foni Joyce

Foni Joyce has engaged in humanitarian work since the age of 20, when she joined a refugee student organisation to amplify the voices of refugees. Originally from South Sudan, Foni grew up as a refugee in Nairobi, Kenya, but she makes it clear that ‘refugee’ is merely a legal definition: “I firstly define myself as a human being who has been uprooted.”

Human Rights Defender of the Month: Meskerem  Geset Techane

Meskerem Geset Techane has fought injustice since she can remember: as a child she was known to stand up for herself and others, whether against bullies, teachers, her parents or church. Fighting injustice and promoting human rights is a common theme in the lawyer’s life. “It’s a passion, promoting human rights is not something you choose to do for a living or as a career opportunity. It’s more of a calling for me.”

Human Rights Defender of the Month: Andrew Gole

Andrew Gole’s journey to become a human rights defender (HRD) was sparked by a small request: in 2015, a human rights organisation reached out to the trained software engineer about a digital security training. “I didn’t know much about the HRD eco-system or about digital security as an environment on its own,” Andrew says. “So, I did some research, and realised digital security support is just the basic support I used to provide in an internet café.”

Human Rights Defender of the Month: Onesmo Olengurumwa

Protecting human rights is Onesmo Olengurumwa’s passion. When his secondary school lacked access to water and was threatened with closure, Onesmo successfully rallied his fellow students together and protested for their right to education. While at university, he was the human rights association’s president. Becoming a human rights defender was not really a conscious choice, but just the natural course of Onesmo’s life.

Human Rights Defender of the Month: Malab Alneel

Malab Alneel was only 20 when Sudan’s revolution started in December 2018, but she knew it was the moment to get involved: “I grew up in a house that was very political. All of my sisters are activists, my parents are very involved. Activism has always been there. But for me it started with the revolution. It just felt like a time for change.”

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