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.    

 As a young member of Tanzania’s sexual minorities community, Oliver watched with growing fury and exasperation as many of her peers were forced into marriages, pressured into heterosexual relationships, or ostracized, and denied family inheritance for failure to confirm.  

“Girls were being forced to drop out of school because of the emotional toll of the social pressure and harassment all around them. This is what led me into activism – to ensure that the next generation of women and girls does not experience the same abuse,”

In 2010, Oliver left her family to join Tanzania Lesbians Association, abudding organisation devoted to defending the rights of gender non-conforming women and girls. The organisation was committed to ensure that women and girls, regardless of their sexual orientation enjoy full protections of the law and access social services, particularly health programs pertaining their sexual and reproductive health rights.  

 In 2014, she formed her own organisation – Young Women Initiative, to tackle wider social challenges undermining the work of women human rights defenders (WHRDs) in Tanzania like lack of sufficient access to legal services, and lack of medical insurance. Her organisation also defends the rights of female sex workers and women living with HIV/AIDs. 

Now, after seven years of sustained organising and advocacy, Oliver and her team can point to some gains:  

“We have been able to secure a specialised gender desk within the police structure in the city of Dar es Salaam, with which we now engage to secure bail for sex workers or members working on issues of sexual orientation and gender identity whenever they get arrested. We have also developed a good relationship with the Network of women living positively, to whom we refer our members for proper health care in case they are exposed to the risk of HIV/AIDs or need SRHR counselling, “

Still, she says, challenges remain:

“Women still experience gender-based violence and other forms of abuse, including stigma and discrimination. People and institutions also need to start respecting our work as legitimate. Our work is still necessary and important,” She says.

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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