Human rights defenders in York programme tell their story: Ruth Mumbi

January 22, 2015

On 16 February 2015 the York Press carried a feature story by Stephen Lewis about 5 human rights defenders in the temporary shelter programme at York University. The aim of the placements is to give those fighting for human rights around the world a breather, as well as the chance to forge contacts with other human rights workers and organisations around the world.As these are not the human rights defenders who figure highly in the news, I will in the coming days give you their stories. The first is Ruth Mumbi from Kenya:

York Press:
Ruth Mumbi

LIFE is tough in Nairobi’s Mathare slums in Kenya and “a lot of young people opt for crime so that they can have something to put on the table,” says Ruth Mumbi, who grew up here. There are small seeds of hope, however: among them the Bunge la Wamama Mashinani. It means the ‘grassroots women’s parliament’, says Ruth, flashing a smile. She helped found it, and now acts as coördinator.

We wanted to create a space for women to come together to discuss the challenges they are facing. Most women felt that we were not being fully heard.” The Bunge has few resources – not even a building. “We usually use small open spaces in the slums to hold our debates“.

The slum is riven by racial divides as well as crime – in 2006, fighting between rival Luo and Kikuyu groups saw at least ten people killed and hundreds of homes burned. But the young men who go out to rob, and rape, and kill, all have mothers or wives, Ruth says. “At the end of the day, they go back to their households, to their women. We should be talking with our kids to stop this.”

The Bunge also lobbies for better access to health care – and better access to justice for women who are raped or abused. The law can be an impossibly expensive business. “So we have been working with pro-bono lawyers and women’s rights organisations to provide free legal representation to women,” Ruth says.

As a human rights defender, she herself has faced harassment and intimidation. In 2011, she and a colleague were charged with incitement and remanded for two days in prison after leading a protest about the high death rates at a local maternity ward. [https://thoolen.wordpress.com/2013/10/15/kenya-rights-defenders-remain-under-attack/]. The harassment continues Ruth says: “Telling me to stop, sending threat messages, sending my mother messages telling her daughter to shut up or else.” And who is this shadowy ‘they’? “I believe they were the police.”

5 human rights defenders in York tell their incredible stories (From York Press).

One Response to “Human rights defenders in York programme tell their story: Ruth Mumbi”


  1. […] families in the Kairobangi neighborhood of Nairobi as the COVID-19 pandemic spread; [see also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2015/01/22/human-rights-defenders-in-york-programme-tell-their-st…%5DPakistan (artist: anonymous for security reasons) – the story of the abduction […]


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