Human Rights Defender of the Month: Dibabe Bacha

Dibabe Bacha is a trailblazer on many fronts. Visually impaired, but unequivocally impassioned for human rights, she has devoted herself to defending and protecting human rights in her native Ethiopia, especially for women with disabilities.

10 years ago, Dibaba founded the Ethiopian Women with Disabilities National Association (EWDNA), with a primary aim of securing social recognition and legal protection for women with disabilities in Ethiopia.

 

“Disabled women face several challenges. First, socially, they’re discriminated against because of the enduring negative attitude towards people with disabilities (PWDs). This extends to state institutions where PWDs are perceived as receivers of charity and not like any other people entitled to necessary social services from the state or full protection of the law,” she says

Today, EWDNA represents over 10000 women with various disabilities across Ethiopia, providing a whole range of services.

“First, we offer psycho-social support, mainly group and individual counselling to make sure women have the confidence to leave their homes. We also provide vocational training, so women with disabilities can make their own living. We raise awareness of living with a disability and last, we lobby the government to increase the legal protection for women with disabilities as well as increase accessible infrastructure,”

 

Through sustained advocacy, EWDNA managed to get the Ethiopian government to ratify the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD). Still, Dibabe says a lot remains to be done, especially regarding developing a legal regime that is sensitive to the unique plight of women with disabilities. 

“For example, if a woman with a visual impairment is raped, they are still required to provide witnesses. This is a challenge bordering on abuse. The criminal laws need to be amended,”

With COVID19 and the associated countrywide lockdowns, Dibabe says the challenges for women with disabilities have been exacerbated.  

“Women with disabilities survive on informal economic activities like selling lotteries, soaps, and candles in churches. But when lockdowns were imposed, markets, schools and churches closed, including other small businesses, which affected their members economically,” she explains.

For Ethiopian women with disabilities, this challenge was worsened by the ongoing conflict in Tigray, which has spilled over to other parts of the country. Dibabe says because of their various handicaps, PWDs often fall victims in large numbers to conflicts because they cannot escape as easily and swiftly as their able-bodied counterparts.

Still, Dibabe remains optimistic that with constant engagement and advocacy, life will keep getting better. “Today is better than yesterday,” she says.   

See more HRDs of the Month

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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