Human Rights Defenders of the Month (February 2019): Mildred Apenyo

Mildred Apenyo is a prominent Ugandan women’s right activist and feminist through her work as an entrepreneur, trainer, and writer. Apenyo is also the founder of FitCliqueAfrica, Uganda’s first female-only gym, aimed at empowering women and sexual minorities.

“In the [human rights] movement, a significant amount of people face trauma and burn-out due to the work they do,” she says. Apenyo says that she wanted to create a space where women feel safe – a place to heal and regain strength.

"It’s such a terrible waste of time that so many wonderful, powerful women are spending all of their lives fighting things that are obviously unfair, and fighting what obviously should not exist” 

FitCliqueAfrica is passionate about the wellness and safety of women, with a focus on women’s mental health and physical well-being. The organisation teaches women emotional and physical self-defence as a means to relief trauma and stress. “I didn’t know anything about fitness,” she says, “but I had a passion.”

“What inspires me is the vision, the idea, of a world where no one’s dignity has to be fought for. It’s such a terrible waste of time that so many wonderful, powerful women are spending all of their lives fighting things that are obviously unfair, and fighting what obviously should not exist” 

Apenyo was a 2014 Mandela Washington Fellow at the age of 24, and she has been featured in New York Times and BBC due to her work in protecting and empowering women.

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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