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. “After Uganda’s January [2021] elections, many female politicians joined parliament. We want to increase their online visibility. For example, most of the profiles on Wikipedia  are on men, so we need to close the gender digital divide,” Sandra says.

After Uganda’s January [2021] elections, many female politicians joined parliament. We want to increase their online visibility. For example, most of the profiles on Wikipedia are on men, so we need to close the gender digital divide.

Having grown up in the digital age, the 27-year-old is a digital native and mainly focuses on defending women’s rights online. Her employer WOUGNET empowers women through the use of ICT for sustainable development. Their three main pillars are information sharing and networking, gender and ICT policy advocacy, and providing technical support to WOUGNET staff, beneficiaries, and members. As a Programme Manager, Sandra analyses internet and ICT policies to ensure that they are gender inclusive. She has noticed that oppressive patriarchal structures are shifting and perpetuating online. Part of her work is to document women’s rights violations and gather evidence, but she has also learned that it’s not enough to just talk about statistics. To truly understand the problems, it is important to talk to the victims and listen to find out what they face, she says.

Having experienced some forms of online gender-based violence (GBV) herself, she knows how stressful and draining it can be. On top of receiving non-consensual content, she also felt pressure to keep quiet, women are not supposed to complain, she says. As a WHRD, she is used to the subtle pressure that women not abiding by patriarchal gender norms experience. A continuous trickling of seemingly small questions can be rather stressful: “Why are you so loud and outspoken as a woman? When will you get married? How will you take care of your family if the authorities come for you? These kinds of questions make me feel uncomfortable, they make me wonder if I am doing the right thing,” Sandra shares, “but if we want online GBV to end we also need to end these harmful gender stereotypes. Establishing women’s rights is a slow process and keeping quiet won’t speed it up.”

Why are you so loud and outspoken as a woman? When will you get married? How will you take care of your family if the authorities come for you? These kinds of questions make me feel uncomfortable, they make me wonder if I am doing the right thing.

There is still a lot of work ahead of Sandra and her fellow Ugandan women’s rights activists. She recently researched digital rights violations during the COVID-19 pandemic and struggled to find female interviewees. Female journalists reporting on politically sensitive topics experienced reprisals like rape, but due to stigma and worries how this will affect their future, they were not willing to speak out. While male journalists on the other hand expressed themselves freely: men are often perceived as bold and brave, making it easier to speak out on reprisals and rights violations they endured.

But the more women speak out, the easier it gets, Sandra is convinced. “It really motivates me when I see that other women have faced the same kind of challenges with online violence, and they have dealt with it. Whatever I go through, it’s not the end of life. Hearing other stories helps me to keep working hard, to be a better version of myself and to go beyond the difficulties.” Fighting the digital gender divide is Sandra’s way to make sure that it gets easier for women to speak out and be loud.

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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