Search
Close this search box.

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.

But rather than dissuade her, these negative cultural stereotypes fueled Esther’s passion for reform. At University, she immersed herself in understanding Ghana’s laws and Constitution, with the purpose of using both as tools for her advocacy.

“I read our (Ghanaian) Constitution and it unequivocally stated that men and women are equal. So why was social practice different? Immediately, I decided that this would be my calling – to correct these social injustices against women,” she says.

To actualize her mission, in 2011, Esther founded the Gender Center for Empowering Development, a non-governmental organisation focused on sustained advocacy and capacity development for Ghanaian women. Convinced that meaningful change needed to be instigated from the top, together with her colleagues, she started a program called the Young Women Political Leadership School, through which they set out to identify young, emerging women across Ghana’s political parties to mentor.

They also set out to sensitize women at the grassroots to demand accountability from their leaders at the local level, by equipping them with knowledge about how the budgeting process and the local government system work.

To further hold government accountable on their gender equity commitments, the Gender Center for Empowering Development developed the country’s first ever Maputo Protocol Scorecard, on which they annually appraise government on its performance regarding its commitments under the Maputo Protocol. This sustained advocacy has also seen Esther and her team achieve one of their much-sought aims – to have 30% of Ghana’s Local Government budget devoted to women initiatives and empowerment projects. Esther is also the coordinator of Accra/Ghana Ubuntu Hub City – one of the seven such cities under our Ubuntu Hub Cities Initiative through which we relocate at-risk HRDs so that they can stay #SafeButNotSilent.

“Our experience has shown that when you don’t back down, when you prove that you won’t be intimidated, you can achieve a lot of things,” she says.

As a result of their work, Fadia says that Sudanese now recognise forced disappearances as a state crime, and have gradually developed a consciousness and vigilance to look out for each other against state-inspired violence.

These efforts have not been without consequences. Fadia says she and her colleagues have been threatened together with their families, and that she continues to be randomly followed and her phones tapped. She says as women human rights defenders (WHRDs) in a deeply patriarchal society, they’re even more endangered because the society does not believe they should have any rights at all, much less a voice.

“While a man can go about his human rights work without worrying about anyone else, women must constantly worry about those in their care, like their children. So, WHRDs need more holistic support packages for their work, compared to their male colleagues,” she says.

Presently, Esther and her colleagues have completed a sexual harassment policy to protect women in the workplace against sexual abuse, and they are lobbying the Ministry of Gender to officially adopt it and have it implemented as part of Ghana’s gender laws.  Now a mother to a two-year old daughter, Esther says she is determined to leave behind a better world for her daughter and other Ghanaian girls.

“It is important that we leave behind a better world in which women and girls are free to contribute their quota to the development of their societies,” she says emphatically

See more HRDs of the Month

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.

Human Rights Defender of the month: Veronica Almedom

Veronica Almedom is a poster child of successful immigration. A duo Eritrean and Swiss citizen, she was born in Italy, and grew up in Switzerland where she permanently resides. Her parents are some of the earliest victims of Eritrea’s cycles of violence. When Eritrea’s war of independence peaked in the early 1980s, they escaped the country as unaccompanied minors, wandering through Sudan, Saudi Arabia, before making the hazard journey across the Mediterranean into Europe. There, they crossed first to Italy, and finally, to Switzerland, where they settled first as refugees, and later, as permanent residents.

Human Rights Defender of the month: Omar Faruk Osman

Omar Faruk’s career, and the passion that drove it, were the product of his circumstances. He was born in 1976, in the first of strong man Mohamed Siad Barre’s two-decade rule over Somalia, which was characterized by gross rights abuses and barely existent civic space. He came of age in the 90s when those abuses and rights violations were peaking, as his country was engulfed by a ruinous civil war following the collapse of the Siad Barre dictatorship.

SHARE WITH FRIENDS: