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: Kasale Maleton Mwaana

Kasale’s human rights activism precedes his years. The son of pastoralist parents from Ngorongoro district in northern Tanzania, he grew up seeing his parents and entire community having to defend their land and way of life against authorities who thought their lands could be put to better use. Now, at 25, Kasale is already one of the most recognizable advocates of his people’s cause, much to the ire of Tanzanian authorities.
“Our people’s struggle goes back many generations. It started with the pushing out of our forefathers from Serengeti to gazette Serengeti National Park in 1959, and then further evictions from the Ngorongoro crater to gazette the Ngorongoro conservation area in 1975. Since then, every generation has had to resist further evictions. It’s now my generation’s turn,” he says.

Human Rights Defender of the month: Pierre Claver Mbonimpa

Arguably no single individual personifies Burundi’s human rights struggle like Pierre Claver Mbonimpa. Born 72 years ago in the small East African country, Claver’s quest for human rights and justice is as old as his country’s modern history.

When his country was plunged into a civil war that killed an estimated 300,000 people following the 1993 assassination of President Cyprien Ntaryamira, Claver was one of its earliest victims. Then a close confidant (he was also a former driver) of the assassinated President, he was framed, and arrested, and would go on to spend the next two years between 1994 and 1996 in jail.

It is in prison that the ulcer of injustice bit him hard. There, he met inmates who had either been wrongfully imprisoned or who had been remanded for long periods without trial, all living in dehumanising conditions. “I was strongly revolted by the injustice. Here were probably innocent people whose years were being wasted away by an unfair judicial system, with no one to stand up for them. I swore that I would try to do something about it once I got out myself,” he says.

Human Rights Defender of the month: Kamau Ngugi

On October 7, 2022, Kamau Ngugi was elected Chairperson of the East and Horn of Africa human rights defenders’ network (EHAHRD-net), a stirring affirmation for the Kenyan human rights defender’s efforts in defense of human rights that go back nearly 30 years.

But it was not always this promising for her. Born 37 years ago in Grand Kru, Southeastern Liberia, Margaret had to do with a childhood of abuse, neglect, and want, after her, her sibling and her mother were abandoned by their father at an early age.

Human Rights Defender of the month: Margaret Muna Nigba

A human rights lawyer per excellence, Margaret is also an indefatigable woman human rights defender (WHRD) who has won the adulation of millions in her country for her impassioned dedication to defending the rights of women and girls in her native Liberia.

But it was not always this promising for her. Born 37 years ago in Grand Kru, Southeastern Liberia, Margaret had to do with a childhood of abuse, neglect, and want, after her, her sibling and her mother were abandoned by their father at an early age.

Human Rights Defender of the month: Mohammed Adam Hassan

Mohammed Hassan has known mostly conflict, displacement, and war all his adult life. As part of Sudan’s black population in the country’s region of Darfur, they were for long the victims of oppression by Khartoum, then under now deposed dictator Omar Bashir. Then, in 2003, when Mohammed was 19, Darfur’s black population decided to fight back. Two rebel movements – Sudan Liberation Movement and the Justice and Equality Movement launched a rebellion against Bashir’s government, seeking justice for Darfur’s non-Arab population. The response by Khartoum was chilling: Bashir’s forces launched a campaign of ethnic cleansing against the region’s non-Arab population, and thousands of families were displaced and herded into refugee camps.

Human Rights Defender of the month: Issah Musundi

At first encounter, Issah Musundi is a coy, if not shy, mostly reserved lad. But behind that quiet disposition is a steely character and an enforced existence.
Born 27 years ago in Kenya’s border district of Busia, Issah belongs to Kenya’s sexual minorities community, who have had to win majority rights that other Kenyans take for granted.

Human Rights Defender of the month: Agather Atuhaire

In late May this year, Agather Atuhaire, via her twitter account, broke the story that the Parliament of Uganda had spent a whopping Shs. 2.8billion to purchase two luxury vehicles for the Speaker and the Deputy Speaker.

Aside from the fact that the expenditure was unnecessary – both the Speaker and her Deputy already have two luxury vehicles for their official duties, the purchase flouted all public procurement procedures, and when Parliament’s contracts committee could not approve the procurement, the members of the committee were fired and new ones immediately appointed to approve the purchase.

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.

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