Human Rights Defender of the Month (July 2019): Gladys Mmari

Gladys Mmari is a driven Tanzanian human rights defender (HRD), and the founder of MAFGE (Male Advocacy For Gender Equality) – a non-governmental organisation (NGO) focused on women empowerment through educating both women and men. “So much of the work that I do is cultural conversation. We have grown up talking about these issues among women, but now, I have to work with men as well – making it more challenging,” Mmari stresses.

She fosters the idea that male voices should be heard, and educated, in women’s rights, and that it is important to establish an equitable understanding between the genders, while breaking down gender stereotypes. “We need to stop romanticising the idea of women empowerment, and co-empower one another to achieve the goals of an equal world,” Mmari affirms. 

After obtaining a law degree, she worked as a human rights researcher in Tanzania, with a focus on the African Court on Human and Peoples’ Rights and indigenous rights. Then, she worked for AfricAid, an NGO specialised in cultivating leadership in young women and girls. She recalls a young boy who, following one of her sessions, asked her why he could not participate in the dialogues. He also wanted to boost women and girls’ rights. “It was a turning point for me,” Mmari says. “The time has come to work together and empower each other to revisit the many socio-cultural constraints that have stopped us from equality.” Her organisation MAFGE was hereby born.

She pinpoints numerous challenges faced in her work. “It is challenging to mobilise men to join, to ensure impact to women empowerment.” Furthermore, “most organisations that deal with women empowerment want to fund women organisations. And they do not want to see men in women organisations.”

She also points out the political situation in Tanzania as a great hurdle. Political rallies in the state deviate and misconceive the importance of HRDs, putting them at risk. As she expresses a sincere concern for Tanzanian HRDs, she mentions that the government is currently registering all NGOs under a single entity. “Here there is potential importance of this initiative, as this could be used for something productive such as acting as a more centralised human rights platform allowing more structured approaches, information passage, and funding opportunities. It is a step forward, unless it is a political interest”.

Gladys will continue to fight for women’s rights. “Women are born into unequal societies, and their achievements are unacknowledged and their potential left untapped [..] I can imagine my children and grandchildren living in a world with equal rights, and that they’ll get the opportunities and securities that I missed as a woman. That’s what keeps me going.”

Through MAFGE, she is also running a crowdfunding campaign, to strengthen gender equality in Tanzania. 

See more HRDs of the Month

Human Rights Defender of the Month: Onyango Owor

In March 2020, Uganda’s Constitutional Court nullified the Public Order Management Act, 2013, a law that made arbitrary restrictions on freedom of assembly possible. One of the people behind the successful petition of POMA is Onyango Owor, a Ugandan lawyer with 15 years of experience in representing human rights defenders.

Human Rights Defender of the Month: Kadar Abdi Ibrahim

Kadar Abdi Ibrahim is an outspoken human rights activist and journalist from Djibouti – a country where journalists are frequently harassed, subjected to government-orchestrated intimidation and reprisals, and prevented from pursuing their work independently. Yet, Kadar continues to use his voice and pen as tools to promote justice.

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.

Human Rights Defender of the Month: Faiza Abdi Mohamed

The Somali activist Faiza Abdi Mohamed has promoted human rights in her home country for a decade, which has made her a target of verbal abuse, threats, and arbitrary arrest, forcing her to flee Somalia and seek exile in Uganda. Yet, she remains extremely vocal about human rights violations in her country. “I’ve lost so many of my friends due to cruelties, so I can’t keep quiet,” she says.

Human Rights Defender of the Month: Omot Agwa Okwoy

In Ethiopia, land grabbing and villagisation has resulted in severe human rights abuses, however, being vocal about these abuses can be extremely risky. Omot Agwa Okwoy, our human rights defender of the month for December 2019, has fought for land rights and the rights of indigenous people in the Gambella region in Ethiopia for almost 20 years – leaving him with visible and invisible scars.

Human Rights Defender of the Month: Brenda Kugonza

Brenda Kugonza has fought for women’s rights in Uganda for more than 13 years, and is currently the Executive Director of Women Human Rights Defenders Network-Uganda (WHRDN-U). “As a defender, you lose friends and family members – they don’t want to be associated with someone who brings them shame. We are viewed as women with bad manners and I struggle daily with discrimination,” she affirms.

Human Rights Defender of the Month:  Gladness Hemedi Munuo 

Gladness Hemedi Munuo is a journalist and an award-winning gender activist from Tanzania, with more than 20 years of human rights and media experience. “Shrinking space and crackdown on media causes huge problems in Tanzania – to me it’s a thing that needs serious and immediate action,” she stresses.

Human Rights Defender of the Month: Moses Kabaseke

Moses Kabaseke, a talented hip-hop artist and activist from the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), was forced to flee to Uganda in 2013 – at only 16 years old. Kabaseke, known by his stage name Belidor, has produced music since he was a child. “I use music as a weapon – music has power. I use music to promote human rights.”

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