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.” 

Malab, who is now 22, is a conceptual artist and activist – an artivist. Her form of activism mostly takes place online and is hard to categorise. She works with various organisations and has several ongoing projects, both online and offline, but a lot of her activism simply consists of posting her views online. Especially older generations are sceptical about this, she says: “It can be risky to express certain ideas so openly, but doing that helped me find a mini community of people who are willing to take the risk in order to see change.

Art from Malab's Instagram account: "Spark a tire, fire up a revolution"

It can be risky to express certain ideas so openly, but doing that helped me find a mini community of people who are willing to take the risk in order to see change.

And Sudanese youth have certainly already achieved immense change. Sudan’s revolution was sparked by high school students protesting the steeply rising bread prices. Soon the whole country joined, with an average protester’s age between 17-23. Youth involvement, which includes anyone below 40 for Malab, had an immense impact on how effectively and strategically social media were used in the revolution. “Everyone went out with their camera ready to film and document everything,” Malab says. “In the beginning there were a couple of videos where you can hear people in the back saying: ‘they’re shooting at us, people are dying, why are you filming?’ But two months later no one was saying that anymore. You could see what effect documentation had: we were creating an online archive of everything that happened.” 

And who would have come up with campaigns like Mattar Blue,” Malab continues, Who would have come up with making profile pictures a way of fighting, if not youth? After the 3 June massacre, social media users worldwide changed their profile pictures to “Mattar blue” in honour of one of the victims, Mohamed Mattar. Protesters constantly came up with new campaigns, new hashtags. For many, Twitter was the most reliable source of information.

I receive hate online, threats, and very gendered backlash. But as a young woman, I am often not taken seriously. I try to be aware of that and actually use it, because I know I have some leeway to play around with. In this specific context, the patriarchy is actually working to my advantage, it’s a rare thing!

Working online creates a lot of visibility, which can manifest in hate speech or threats. Malab knows this all too well: I receive hate online, threats, and very gendered backlash. But as a young woman, I am often not taken seriously. I try to be aware of that and actually use it, because I know I have some leeway to play around with. In this specific context, the patriarchy is actually working to my advantage, it’s a rare thing! Seeing how quickly Sudan is changing and how outspoken her generation is, is what keeps Malab going: “There is a very big possibility for the future to be different. In a few years, these young activists will have more responsibility and a bit more access to power. That will make even bigger change possible.” 

See more HRDs of the Month

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.

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.

Human Rights Defender of the Month: Mariam Nakibuuka

On 26th July 2021, Mariam Nakibuuka, 35, breathed her last at Uganda’s Kampala hospital, succumbing to the rampaging Covid-19 pandemic. Mariam joined DefendDefenders as an intern in 2015, and rose through the ranks from being a fellow, to a Protection Assistant, and finally to a Senior Protection Associate, at the time of her death.

Human Rights Defender of the Month: Ana Taban

Ana Taban, which means ‘I am Tired’ in Arabic, was established in 2016 in Nairobi, Kenya out of frustration of South Sudanese artists with several issues related to the civil war in the country. This was after another conflict broke out at the Presidential Palace in Juba a few months after the signing of a peace deal.

Human Rights Defender of the Month: Jaqueline Mutere

Jaqueline Mutere’s motivation to establish Grace Agenda was a response to the post-election sexual violence of 2007 and 2008 in Kenya. Additionally, as a survivor of sexual violence which resulted into conception of a child, and following the experience of other survivors, Jaqueline identified the need to form an organisation that advocates for reparations for survivors of sexual violence.

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