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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: Apollo Mukasa

Apollo Mukasa’s journey into activism is deeply rooted in his commitment to advocate for the rights of persons with disabilities (PWDs). As the Executive Director of Uganda National Action on Physical Disability (UNAPD), Apollo is a driving force behind initiatives aimed at combating discrimination among PWDs. UNAPD was established in 1998 as a platform for voicing concerns of persons with physical disabilities to realise a barrier free environment where they can enjoy their rights to the fullest.

Human Rights Defender of the month: Leon Ntakiyiruta

As a child, Leon wanted to be a magistrate – whom he saw as agents of justice. Born in 1983 in Burundi’s Southern province, he came of age at a time of great social and political upheaval in the East African country. In 1993 when Leon was barely 10, Burundi was besieged by a civil war that would last for the next 12 years until 2005, characterized by indiscriminate violence and gross human rights abuses in which over 300,000 people are estimated to have died.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: 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.

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