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.    

Gladness holds a bachelor’s degree in social arts and a master’s degree in public health, as well as a diploma in journalism. Her extensive academic and professional work experience, in addition to her large motivation to improve the situation for women and children, alongside free speech and press freedom, makes her an essential voice in Tanzanian civil society. 

Her work was recognised by GenderLinks who awarded her the Voice and Change Drivers 2019 Award. Having witnessed the many challenges women face while pursuing justice, especially in cases related to sexual and gender-based violence (SGBV), she started the organisation Crisis Resolving Centre (CRC) (Kituo cha Usuluhishi in Kiswahili). The organisation focuses on giving women free legal remedy, as well as educating citizens – both women and men – about women’s rights. 

Having practiced journalism for 20 years, she utilises her strength in advocacy and communication when conducting awareness raising activities about SGBV. “I have trained hundreds of journalists who later go out to educate millions of people through mass media in Tanzania. Also, my work at the CRC has supported and empowered many women,” Gladness emphasises

“I have trained hundreds of journalists who later go out to educate millions of people through mass media in Tanzania. Also, my work at the CRC has supported and empowered many women”  

However, promoting women’s rights in a patriarchal system is not a walk in the park. “In some areas there is a conflict between gender issues and our African culture. That is one of the big challenges I face – culture is a big problem […] We have bad culture and we have good culture, but bad culture tends to accommodate more people.” However, she also points to some improvements, especially in rural areas, stating that[i]t is very difficult to work with those [women living] in a patriarchal system, but slowly, slowly they are coming up.” 

Logistical issues, often due to scarce financial resources, is another hurdle, in addition to lack of data and documentation about gender issues, especially SGBV. “The main victims are in the rural areas and getting proper data and records of such cases is also a great challenge,” she states. Simplified materials to talk about the issues affecting women would be of great help, she points out, as [i]t would make it easier for people to understand when their rights are being violated.” 

“We have bad culture and we have good culture, but bad culture tends to accommodate more people.”

Gladness is of the opinion that regional and international actors should do more to support Tanzanian human rights defenders (HRDs). “We don’t have support for journalists. They cannot do investigative journalism, due to lack of funds, skills, and the dangerous environment […] We have a Swahili saying: if you do not protect the broken wall, then the whole wall will fall down” (usipoziba ufa utajenga ukuta in Kiswahili). 

Gladness was part of DefendDefenders’ delegation at the 65th session of the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights (ACHPR) in Banjul, The Gambia, where she together with DefendDefenders highlighted the human rights challenges in Tanzania, and the need to ensure the protection of Tanzanian HRDs. 

See also DefendDefenders report Spreading Fear, Asserting Control: Tanzania’s assault on civic space. 

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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