Today is the day we celebrate YOU- women, girls, activists, program implementors, and fellow supporters- in the 16 Days of Activism campaign! November 29th is International Women Human Rights Defenders Day. While this day focuses on the work of women who defend the human rights of women and girls, we also like to take this time to recognize each of you that work towards that effort, acknowledging that we are few. By playing your part you have bolstered efforts to ensure that women realize their human rights to safety, dignity, and access to information, services, and resources. Thanks to all of you for the work that you do with women and girls. Thank you for sharing information about violence against women and girls, defending women’s human rights, and supporting such important work in the ways that you do. Finally, thank you for helping us to increase our own awareness about the complexities and challenges that come with defending the human rights of women and girls.
International Women Human Rights Defenders Day began in 2004, to recognize and protect the people who work as activists advocating for women’s human rights. Through their efforts, women human rights defenders promote the realization of human rights for all people. We hope that today you will reflect on the women and girls you know who are committed to ensuring women and girls realize their human rights. This day recognizes the specific violations that women human rights defenders face as a result of their advocacy or gender and appreciates the work of these advocates. Many people are not aware that these women face tremendous risk to move this important work forward.
Below are some examples of how our grantee partners are contributing!
300,000 girls and boys used the skills we teach to prevent rape in Kenya and Malawi. Please view our video at https://www.nomeansnoworldwide.org/.
In Uganda, the prevalence of gender-based violence (GBV) is high compared to both regional and global averages. More than 62% of women and 58% of men have reported an experience of physical or sexual violence since the age of 15, which is almost double the average prevalence rate both globally and in Africa.[i]
In Kamwenge District, where Building Tomorrow Fellow Namata Tendo works, rates of GBV are also high, especially for young girls. The district reports that almost 49,000 girls below the age of 17 years—representing about one third of the total female population—already has at least one child and is vulnerable to other instances of abuse.
However, despite the high prevalence of GBV, both formal and informal support structures for survivors of such violence are limited. Formally, Tendo describes both the distance and costs of reporting GBV violations through the male-dominated legal system as a major barrier for recourse. The nearest magistrate court in Nkoma sub-county is between 60-100 kilometers away, depending on where in the district you are located, and costs 60,000 UGX (about $15 round trip) to reach. Therefore, for rural women who often earn less than $1 per day, such formal recourse is simply out of reach. As a result, most cases of GBV are reported to traditional courts, where women are not even allowed to attend sessions and make their voices heard.
Some girls do not even get that far. While not a physical or financial barrier, Tendo says that tradition is just as powerful of a barricade to justice. Cases of abuse are often viewed as defilement that brings shame upon a girl and her family, and the prevailing attitude to deal with one who has experienced such defilement is to confine her quickly to marriage and home-based duties.
Trauma from violence can trigger depression in women. Women who suffer from depression find it harder to earn a living. The day-to-day work of providing education and proper nutrition to children can become overwhelming. Their own physical health can suffer. StrongMinds provides life-changing group talk therapy to African women. Seventy-five percent of the women who enter our twelve-week therapy groups are depression-free at the end of the program. That means they can go on to focus on lifting themselves out of poverty and improving conditions for their children. Learn more at www.strongminds.org.
Sadly, in places like the DR Congo, women are aggressively assaulted on a regular basis. Their bodies have become weapons of war. They are not valued by all…yet. These Sexual Gender-Based Violence (SGBV) groups, through our partner, World Relief, provide our beautiful sisters with much-needed community, assistance with owning and sharing their stories, opportunities to give back by providing for new sisters who join the groups, and the encouragement to help change their culture one step at a time as they share their stories with children in local schools. They are generating hope one word at a time.
During a trip to the DRC, we attended an SGBV meeting where all thirteen women stood tall and each shared her story. Each woman spoke of moving from despair and a lack of hope to strength and new hope. Each woman spoke of finding a new reason to live.
Lastly, and most importantly, these groups are self-sustaining. Adama*, pictured in the back row with the huge smile, leads one of these groups and most of the women present pointed to her and said she was the reason they had found their new community of women.
One day, all women will be valued.
*Adama’s real name was not shared to protect her privacy.
Learn more about the international campaign to defend women defending human rights here: http://www.defendingwomen-defendingrights.org/