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: Onyango Owor

In March 2020, Uganda’s Constitutional Court nullified the Public Order Management Act, 2013, a law that made arbitrary restrictions on freedom of assembly possible. One of the people behind the successful petition of POMA is Onyango Owor, a Ugandan lawyer with 15 years of experience in representing human rights defenders.

Human Rights Defender of the Month: Kadar Abdi Ibrahim

Kadar Abdi Ibrahim is an outspoken human rights activist and journalist from Djibouti – a country where journalists are frequently harassed, subjected to government-orchestrated intimidation and reprisals, and prevented from pursuing their work independently. Yet, Kadar continues to use his voice and pen as tools to promote justice.

Human Rights Defender of the Month: Aluel Atem

Aluel Atem is an ambitious woman activist from South Sudan who plays a vital role in the promotion of women’s rights in the country. However, life as an outspoken feminist in a patriarchal country is not a walk in the park. “It’s not only about being a female, but a young female. You get undermined for being a woman in all-man spaces, and for being young in older spaces,” Aluel explains.

Human Rights Defender of the Month: Faiza Abdi Mohamed

The Somali activist Faiza Abdi Mohamed has promoted human rights in her home country for a decade, which has made her a target of verbal abuse, threats, and arbitrary arrest, forcing her to flee Somalia and seek exile in Uganda. Yet, she remains extremely vocal about human rights violations in her country. “I’ve lost so many of my friends due to cruelties, so I can’t keep quiet,” she says.

Human Rights Defender of the Month: Omot Agwa Okwoy

In Ethiopia, land grabbing and villagisation has resulted in severe human rights abuses, however, being vocal about these abuses can be extremely risky. Omot Agwa Okwoy, our human rights defender of the month for December 2019, has fought for land rights and the rights of indigenous people in the Gambella region in Ethiopia for almost 20 years – leaving him with visible and invisible scars.

Human Rights Defender of the Month: Brenda Kugonza

Brenda Kugonza has fought for women’s rights in Uganda for more than 13 years, and is currently the Executive Director of Women Human Rights Defenders Network-Uganda (WHRDN-U). “As a defender, you lose friends and family members – they don’t want to be associated with someone who brings them shame. We are viewed as women with bad manners and I struggle daily with discrimination,” she affirms.

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.

Human Rights Defender of the Month: Moses Kabaseke

Moses Kabaseke, a talented hip-hop artist and activist from the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), was forced to flee to Uganda in 2013 – at only 16 years old. Kabaseke, known by his stage name Belidor, has produced music since he was a child. “I use music as a weapon – music has power. I use music to promote human rights.”

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