Archive for the 'awards' Category

Viet Nam: profile of human rights defender Nguyen Thuy Hanh, arrested and charged

April 9, 2021

Responding to the arbitrary arrest of prominent Vietnamese human rights defender Nguyen Thuy Hanh on 7 April , Ming Yu Hah, Amnesty International’s Deputy Regional Director for Campaigns, said:  “The arrest of Nguyen Thuy Hanh is a blatant and politically-motivated attempt to silence one of the most respected human rights advocates in the country.  Nguyen Thuy Hanh is an inspiring activist who has worked tirelessly to support unjustly detained persons in Viet Nam. Despite police beatings and years of harassment, she has remained steadfast in her efforts to help and support those in desperate need. Vietnamese jails are notoriously overcrowded and fail to meet minimum international standards. It is a travesty that Nguyen Thuy Hanh is being targeted for her humanitarian work in support of unjustly detained prisoners. She should be celebrated and supported for this work – not punished. 

We urge the Vietnamese authorities to immediately and unconditionally release Nguyen Thuy Hanh and to end their relentless attacks on human rights defenders and peaceful critics. Authorities must respect, protect, promote and fulfil the rights to freedom of expression, peaceful assembly, and association.” [see also yesterday’s: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2021/04/08/worries-about-rsf-laureate-pham-doan-trang-jailed-in-vietnam/

Nguyen Thuy Hanh is a human rights defender from Ha Noi. She founded the 50K Fund in 2017, through which she fundraised support for the families of unjustly detained persons across Viet Nam.  In 2019 she won the Le Dinh Luong Human Rights Award an award given by the U.S.-based opposition party Viet Tan for her work supporting the families of prisoners of conscience.

She was arrested on 7 April 2021 and charged under Article 117 of the Criminal Code for “making, storing, or spreading information, materials or items for the purpose of opposing the State of the Socialist Republic of Viet Nam”, carrying a potential prison sentence of between five and 20 years.  

Nguyen Thuy Hanh is also a vocal advocate for human rights with a popular Facebook account, where she frequently discusses human rights issues. She has faced multiple instances of harassment in retaliation for her peaceful human rights activism. 

Nguyen Thuy Hanh nominated herself as an independent candidate for Ha Noi City in the 2016 National Assembly election. Since then, she has been subjected to harassment and intimidation on many occasions. Amnesty International recently called on the Vietnamese authorities to end their mounting crackdown on independent candidates and other critical voices ahead of the 2021 National Assembly election. 

In January 2020, when police raided the village of Dong Tam in Ha Noi, leading to a deadly conflict, Nguyen Thuy Hanh fundraised for the family of a village leader who was killed by security forces. In retaliation, her bank account was frozen, with her bank reportedly telling Nguyen Thuy Hanh that police forced them to do so.  

In June 2018, while engaging in a peaceful protest against the Law on Cybersecurity and the Law on Special Economic Zones, Nguyen Thuy Hanh was arrested and detained by police. She reported afterwards that she was severely beaten during the interrogation which resulted in injuries to her face.  Police have also interrogated Nguyen Thuy Hanh on her work relating to the 50k Fund on many occasions.   

Amnesty International’s 2016 report, Prisons Within Prisons, documented the widespread torture and other ill-treatment which prisoners of conscience are subjected to in Viet Nam. 

https://www.amnesty.org/en/latest/news/2021/04/nguyen-thuy-hanh-arrested-and-charged/

https://www.rfa.org/english/news/vietnam/award-12112019155718.html

Worries about RSF Laureate Pham Doan Trang jailed in Vietnam

April 8, 2021

Reporters without Borders (RSF) learned of the arrest exactly six months ago of Pham Doan Trang, a well-known Vietnamese journalist, was arrested at her Ho Chi Minh City home by plain-clothes policemen last October. There’s been no news of her since then. She’s not been allowed to talk to a lawyer or her family and she is facing up to 20 years in prison on a charge of “anti-state propaganda.”

Pham Doan Trang has been awarded the RSF Press Freedom Prize in 2019 and the Homo Homini award in 2017 [see: https://www.trueheroesfilms.org/thedigest/laureates/fe8bf320-1d78-11e8-aacf-35c4dd34b7ba]
 
As she completed her sixth month in detention, several RSF Press Freedom Prize  laureates recorded video messages expressing their support for her in order to help draw international attention to her fate. All of them called for her immediate and unconditional release by the Vietnamese authorities. She continues to be held by the Vietnamese authorities and is exposed to the possibility of further acts of torture. We now fear the worst for her and we urge you to sign the #FreePhamDoanTrang petition demanding her release. Let’s save one of Vietnam’s most respected journalists. Every signature counts: SIGN THE PETITION

https://mailchi.mp/rsf.org/phamdoantrang-6months?e=2f43be35bd

Obituary for Innocent Chukwuma, a great human rights defender from Nigeria

April 6, 2021

Wole Ojewale (former Assistant Program Manager at the CLEEN Foundation) wrote on 5 April 2021 in saharareporters a very warm obituary for Innocent Chukwuma who fought for a liberated and egalitarian Nigeria.

“Like many friends, comrades and associates of Innocent Chukwuma; I received the cold message from my former colleague by 12:33am on Sunday morning about the shocking exit of a man considered by many as an iroko tree and a big masquerade in the organized civil society and democracy struggle in Nigeria. My initial contact with Innocent was sometimes in June 2015…[and led to] an extremely impactful relationship I have had with Innocent in the last six years. Innocent represents many things to the diverse individuals and groups he has worked with from his days as a courageous student union activist in the pro-democracy struggle at the University of Nigeria; to his adventure in the human rights movement and the Civil Liberty Organization where he possibly developed strong interest in police reform- a cause that led him to establish CLEEN Foundation in 1998 and a field where he would later emerge as a global thought leader, who is widely respected and sought after. See also: https://www.trueheroesfilms.org/thedigest/laureates/1bc54e6a-4a3a-40f4-b8a3-b0c83af62631

Innocent typified an exceptional breed of change agents imbued with the character, audacity, selflessness, humility and intellectual inspiration to transform a system and lead the society in an upward trajectory. Few stories would suffice to narrate these traits which Innocent was known for. Raised from a very humble beginning in Imo state. Innocent would pass as a typical child that would have been advised and warned by parents to face his study alone and “stay away from trouble”. However, he chose an alternative path to fight for the rights of the common man right from his secondary school days as a house prefect. He once narrated a story about how he led a protest against the school authority at the Holy Ghost College, Umuahia over poor meals served to the students. The heroic act led to his suspension with other students who participated in that protest. This and other daring experiences would later forge him as a gallant human rights activist with many confrontations with military dictators and their brutal state agents. Innocent risked his life many times and suffered wanton harassment alongside other critical voices as they fought steely against dictatorship in the grotesque days of military rule in Nigeria. Highly urbane, cosmopolitan and nationalistic in his intellectual devotion to state building in Nigeria; Innocent’s enduring impacts would be felt in his broader contributions to police reform in Nigeria and his unalloyed commitment to youth development in the country.

I often consider him as the dean of police studies due to his sheer contributions to knowledge production in police research and practice in Nigeria. One only needs to engage him for a few minutes to perceive his depth of knowledge on the subject. I recall two vivid examples that gave credence to this assertion. One of my learned friends who is also an emerging scholar in the field of criminal justice once confided in me that he found out from his literature review that “Innocent and Professor Alemika have permanently defined the research agenda on police research in Nigeria”. Another more profound instance came when I was approached by a senior police officer to seek my advice on his research topic for a strategic course at the National Defense College in Abuja. Having discussed the topic with me; I advised him to seek an audience with Innocent and interview him.

I graciously obliged him his contact and he travelled to Lagos to meet Innocent. The senior officer returned to Abuja and came to recount his experience to me at the CLEEN Office in Abuja. In summary, he noted Innocent was recommending books and research papers on police and policing to him at the maximum of five minutes intervals in the course of the interview. He said, ‘Wole, I concluded Innocent knows policing more than me- even as a police officer”. The senior officer would later retire as a Deputy Inspector General of Police. This account attests to Innocent’s profound intellectual exertion on diverse subjects ranging from policing to security, human rights and democracy.

Innocent also made a significant impact in youth development in Nigeria. Virtually all of us who have had opportunities to be trained by him in many ways had contact with him mostly in our twenties and early thirties. Innocent knew what everyone would need to succeed in the global development profession and encouraged us individually. My Ph.D. research benefitted immensely from such a generous scheme he put in place in CLEEN Foundation. On his twitter handle, Innocent prides himself as a lifelong learner and specialist in identifying gaps and opportunities to solving wicked problems! He piloted this idea and demonstrated how to innovate for radically greater social goods in the society. He challenged bad governance as a human rights activist, and also established Oluaka Academy- a social enterprise and world class centre for innovation, business incubation, skills and enterprise development with a mission to support development of technologies for solving social problems, growth of small businesses and vocational skills in partnership with private, public and social sectors.

Innocent left indelible footprints on the sand of time and many would continue to benefit from the shades of trees he planted. He maintained national impact and global relevance. From Southern America to the Middle East, Western countries, Africa and Asia, he maintained strong alliances with other human rights activists and scholars. In many instances, when  I have interacted with him, I found out that the intelligentsia I have probably read about are close allies whom he called friends and regularly compared notes with. The enigma around this aura is that most people who admire him have not even met him! But they all have great stories to share about him. Sometimes mentioning his name in international fora automatically confers respect and honour on me. I recall such experience I had in a meeting organized by the World Organisation Against Torture in Geneva in 2019 where I represented Nigeria in a working group meeting of human rights defenders. The Secretary General of the OMCT walked to me at the coffee stand and started a conversation about police brutality and human rights abuse in Nigeria. We discussed extensively and he alluded to the profound respect he has for Innocent albeit they have not met before! Such is the latitude of his impact and the scope of his sphere of influence. Innocent personified humility and dignity. He was highly strategic and inspirational in his approach to life. He was many things to some of us: a mentor, a senior friend and a comrade in the struggle for a better Nigeria. I will treasure the text message he sent to me on the 20th of December, 2020 as the last advice from a general. The text also came as an encouragement- an ideal he represented so well.

Innocent Chukwuma fought for a liberated and egalitarian Nigeria. The responsibility lies with us to pick the baton from him and complete the race he and his comrades started in their prime.

Rest in peace and power, Innocent Chukwuma- our departed hero!

http://saharareporters.com/2021/04/05/tribute-innocent-chukwuma-when-great-souls-die-wole-ojewale

David William McBride Is Nominated for Four International Human Rights Awards

April 6, 2021

This blog has a special interest in human rights awards and their laureates (see: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2021/02/02/digest-of-laureates-ready-this-blog-changes-orientation/)

Still, it is rare to see an item that so openly advances a candidate as in Newsfile Corp. of April 1, 2021. It states that recently, David William McBride was nominated for four international human rights awards: 2021 Distinguished Services to Humanism Award, 2021 FrontLine Defenders Award, 2021 Sydney Peace Prize, and 2021 Václav Havel Human Rights Prize. These four awards have all made outstanding contributions to the development of international human rights and have a good reputation and recognition.

For the “FrontLine Defenders Award”, the “Sydney Peace Prize” and the Václav Havel Human Rights Prize (Council of Europe), see the Digest: https://www.trueheroesfilms.org/thedigest

From 2014 to 2016, McBride successively provided the American Broadcasting Corporation (ABC) with information about the war crimes committed by Australian soldiers in Afghanistan, and reported the details in 2017. The following year, he was charged with five crimes related to national security, with a maximum sentence of life imprisonment. He was not guilty of every charge at the preliminary hearing in May 2019 and is still awaiting trial. In the same year, the “Brereton report” was released. The report found that the Australian Special Forces allegedly killed 39 unarmed prisoners and civilians in Afghanistan, and 2 of them were even tortured and killed. Severe condemnation of the incident was issued around the world. After the fact verification was announced, the Australian people and politicians began to call for the revocation of the prosecution against McBride. Previously, McBride stated that my duty is to “stand up and be counted”, and I did it. What has happened from now on is irrelevant in many ways. I did what I thought was necessary. My main enemy is not the command system, or even the police, but myself. When the reporter asked what he thought of the upcoming charges, McBride said, “They keep threatening me to go to jail. If I am afraid of going to jail, why would I become a soldier?”

The winners of the four awards will be announced around April.

https://finance.yahoo.com/news/david-william-mcbride-nominated-four-095700067.html

2021 Per Anger Prize to South African housing rights defender Zikode

March 30, 2021

S’bu Zikode, co-founder of Abahlali baseMjondolo movement speaking at the Poverty Scholars Program: Poverty Initiative Strategic Dialogue, November 13, 2010. Image by Michael Premo,  (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0).

Nwachukwu Egbunike reported on 29 March 2021 in Global Voices that Sibusiso Innocent Zikode – an advocate for homeless people in South Africa – has won the 2021 Per Anger Prize.

For more on the Per Anger Prize and its previous laureates, see: https://www.trueheroesfilms.org/thedigest/awards/1E4D13EA-630A-4935-A4EF-674A51561F86

Zidoke was the co-founder, 16 years ago of Abahlali baseMjondolo (Zulu phrase that roughly translates as “the people of the shacks”), a South African movement that has been working to resist “illegal evictions and campaign for the right to housing for all,” especially for shack dwellers. The movement grew from a protest organised from the Kennedy Road informal settlement in the eastern city of Durban in early 2005 and expanded to Pietermaritzburg and Cape Town.

Zikode has said that “a shack without water, electricity, and sanitation is not worth calling a home,” according to a press statement from the Living History Forum. “On the contrary, it means life-threatening circumstances that are particularly harsh towards women, children, and minority groups,” says Zikode.

The housing problem and the attendant lack of sanitation have exacerbated the COVID-19 pandemic among the disadvantaged and vulnerable communities in South Africa.

South Africans are still divided along the lines of those with homes and the homeless, the shack dwellers. However, the 2004 “sequence of popular protest against local governments” across South Africa led to the emergence of Abahlali baseMjondolo (AbM), “an autonomous shack dweller’s movement,” according to Richard Pithouse, scholar in political and international studies at the Rhodes University, South Africa. AbM “emerged from this grassroots ferment and has since issued a compelling demand for organisational autonomy, grassroots urban planning and the right to the city,” says Pithouse.

In May 2005, residents of six shack settlements and local municipal flats in Durban had organized a protest of over 5,000 people demanding access to land, adequate housing, toilet facilities, and the end of forced evictions.

Nigel C. Gibson, British activist and scholar states that the protesters “presented a memorandum of 10 demands that they had drawn up through a series of meetings and community discussions.” This led AbM, in early 2006, to “organize a boycott of the local government elections scheduled for March of that year,” says Gibson.

But AbM’s fight for the vulnerable did not go down well with many.

In September 2009, the AbM movement’s original home in the Kennedy Road settlement in Durban was attacked by armed men, in full view of the police. The attackers were searching for Zikode, whom they threatened to kill.

The attacks which were reportedly carried out by “people associated with the local branch of the ANC” (African National Congress, South Africa’s ruling party), left two people dead, many injured and 30 shacks destroyed.

In the aftermath, S’bu Zikode went into hiding, and the police arrested 13 AbM members.

Human rights group, Amnesty International described the attack as “apparently politically motivated violence.”

Nonetheless, violence directed at AbM has neither deterred its leaders nor the movement. Rather, they have strengthened their resolve to continue fighting for the rights of vulnerable South African shack dwellers to live a dignified life.

https://globalvoices.org/2021/03/29/south-african-shack-settlement-activist-wins-the-2021-per-anger-prize/

https://www.iol.co.za/news/south-africa/kwazulu-natal/durban-shack-dwellers-activist-sbu-zikode-awarded-international-prize-for-human-rights-be0e48e6-c665-4746-90b9-20ae56687816

https://www.groundup.org.za/article/swedish-award-offers-some-protection-says-activist-living-in-the-shadow-of-death/

Bulgarian MEP Ilhan Kyuchyuk sanctioned over Sakharov Prize for Ilham Tohti

March 24, 2021


Bulgarian MEP Ilhan Kyuchyuk (file photo)
Bulgarian MEP Ilhan Kyuchyuk (file photo)

On 23 March, 2021 the RFE/RL’s Bulgarian Service reported that an ethnic-Turkish Bulgarian deputy at the European Parliament believes China imposed sanctions on him because he helped an imprisoned Ilham Tohti receive the Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought. Tohti is the winner of at least seven human rights awards -see: https://www.trueheroesfilms.org/thedigest/laureates/37AE7DC4-16DB-51E9-4CF8-AB0828AEF491]

“I think it’s because of my active role in nominating Professor Ilham Tohti for the Sakharov Prize,” Ilhan Kyuchyuk told RFE/RL when asked why he was among 10 European individuals blacklisted by Beijing on March 22.

China’s Foreign Ministry announced that Kyuchyuk was on its tit-for-tat blacklist list after coordinated Western sanctions were imposed against Chinese officials and companies over the abuse of the rights of the mainly Muslim ethnic-Uyghur community in the Xinjiang region.

In addition to Kyuchyuk, Beijing sanctioned four other members of the European Parliament – Reinhard Butikofer and Michael Gahler from Germany, Raphael Glucksmann from France, and Miriam Lexmann from Slovakia.

This should not surprise in view of Chinese earlier strong reaction on human rights awards: see: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2020/08/29/chinese-sensitivity-again-on-display-re-human-rights-awards/

as well as: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2012/12/06/china-and-its-amazing-sensitivity-on-human-rights-defenders/

https://www.rferl.org/a/bulgarian-mep-kyuchyuk-china-sanctions-uyghur-tohti-sakharov-prize/31165846.html

Aura Lolita Chávez Ixcaquic wins 2021 Oscar Romero award of Dayton

March 24, 2021

On Tuesday 23 March, 2021 the University of Dayton announced that Aura Lolita Chávez Ixcaquic, leader of the Council of Ki’che’ Peoples,is the winner of its Oscar Romero award.

Environmental and climate justice will be at the heart of a series of University of Dayton events to honour the legacy of Saint Oscar Romero. The series will culminate with the University bestowing its human rights award named in his honour to Aura Lolita Chávez Ixcaquic, leader of the Council of Ki’che’ Peoples which helps preserve indigenous lands against corporate exploitation in Guatemala.

As a result of her frontline advocacy work, Lolita has faced persecution and has lived in exile since 2017,” said Shelley Inglis, executive director of the University of Dayton Human Rights Center. “Her story brings awareness to the role of indigenous women in the fight for environmental justice despite the high levels of gender-based and other violence against them.

“Pope Francis has called for urgent action to combat climate change and protect our integral ecology. Yet, environmental and climate justice defenders remain under attack, with governments, corporations and financiers failing to protect their vital and peaceful efforts. The majority of the human rights activists killed last year were working on environmental, land or indigenous peoples’ rights, predominantly in Latin America.”  

The University will honour Chávez Ixcaquic April 20 during an event that will include Mauricio López Oropeza reflecting on Romero’s legacy. López Oropeza is a former executive secretary of the Red Eclesial Pan-Amazónica, which connects bishops conferences and church communities in the Amazon region.
All events in the series start at 3:30 p.m. ET, are free and open to the public, and will be held virtually. Register for and find more information about events here.

For more information on the award and its laureates, see: https://www.trueheroesfilms.org/thedigest/awards/E4828B37-A192-B1B1-6F4A-1A2D93C4F4B4

https://udayton.edu/news/articles/2021/03/romero_award_series.php

Possible grants for Protection of Human Rights Defenders and the Right to Defend Rights in India, Indonesia, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Thailand and Myanmar.

March 22, 2021

The NHRF is opening a specialised and limited call for concept notes for projects contributing to building resilience, adaptability and increased safety and security for human rights defenders and human rights movements. Projects focusing on digital security and new technological threats used against human rights defenders and projects that seek to give psychosocial and multifaceted support to human rights defenders will be prioritized. The applicant should explain how the initiative will lead to a positive change for human rights defenders in their local communities.

Geographical location: India, Indonesia, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Thailand and Myanmar. Regional initiatives that include human rights defenders from one or more of the listed countries are also welcome to apply.

Thematic area and target groups: Protection of human rights defenders at risk, the right to defend rights, digital security, psychosocial support, pressure on and repression of civil society. Initiatives with a strong gender focus will be prioritized.

Amount: 15-25,000 USD. Please note that the proposed project budget must be proportionate to the applicant’s current annual budget and must not exceed an amount that is more than double the current annual budget.

Project timeline: One year (12 months)

Project start date: End of 2021/beginning of 2022*.

Deadline for registration and concept note: 18 April 2021

(NB: This call is part of the NHRF’s resource mobilisation, and grantmaking is dependent upon positive response from the NHRF’s network.)

Priority will be given to:

  • Organisations that are led by the target group or that have a strong link to the community and have special competence in the thematic area of focus
  • Organisations that adapt an inclusive approach, for example for gender, minorities and persons with disabilities
  • Organisations that work with women human rights defenders, LGBTIQ- defenders, environmental defenders and trade union activists
  • Organisations that have proven experience from working in networks, both nationally and regionally
  • Organisations focusing on digital security and psychosocial support

How to apply

Organisations working within the thematic area are invited to complete the eligibility quiz and concept note form in the NHRF application portal. You will also be asked to upload an overview of a one-year budget of the proposed project. Applicants must adhere to the word limits within the submission form.

The NHRF will review submissions and then make a shortlist of applicants that will be invited to submit a full application. This process could take time – up to 6 months – so we ask applicants to please be patient with our processes.

Please visit the NHRF’s page for grantseekers for more information.

Nigerien President Issoufou gets 2020 Mo Ibrahim Prize

March 22, 2021

Nigerien President Mahamadou Issoufou, set to step down after two terms in office, was last week awarded the Ibrahim Prize for Achievement in African Leadership. [see:https://www.trueheroesfilms.org/thedigest/awards/a4b07020-ced4-11e7-8d59-7dc11e986512 ].

The chair of the Mo Ibrahim Prize Committee, Festus Mogae, a former president of Botswana and himself a recipient of the prize, said that Issoufou had “led his people on a path of progress.” The committee noted that Issoufou had faced “severe political and economic issues.” Niger in the best of times is one of the poorest countries in the world, facing recurrent, severe drought. It has been buffeted by jihadi terrorism, a host of economic issues, and COVID-19. Unlike many other African presidents, Issoufou did not try to remain in office beyond his constitutionally mandated two terms by amending the constitution or pursuing other extralegal means. Since its inception in 2007 the Ibrahim Foundation has granted the award to only seven other presidents. On eight occasions it found no eligible candidate. [see also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2018/02/12/mo-ibrahim-prize-2017-to-ellen-johnson-sirleaf/]

However, there is some criticism of this choice. e.g. from Sebastian Elischer, Associate Professor of Political Science, University of Florida, who writes that:

During his time in office, his regime has had a heavy-handed reaction to dissent. It also hasn’t upheld the law. In 2017 students protesting for better living and studying conditions were arrested and injured; there were even some deaths. The same is true for broader protests denouncing corruption and calling for improved living conditions. Hundreds of civil society activists found themselves in prison without due process…

In addition, Amnesty International identified a recent surge in human rights violations in Niger. For instance, journalists reporting critically on the government’s war against Boko Haram or on corruption within the state bureaucracy frequently faced expulsion or arbitrary arrest. When Issoufou took office in 2011, the World Press Freedom Index ranked Niger 29th worldwide. In 2020 Niger occupies position 57. This constitutes a significant decline.

https://www.cfr.org/blog/nigers-mahamadou-issoufou-awarded-mo-ibrahim-prize-excellence-african-leadership

https://theconversation.com/why-its-a-big-surprise-that-the-african-leadership-prize-went-to-nigers-issoufou-157291

Sandra Aceng, profile of a woman human rights defender from Uganda

March 19, 2021

In February 2021 Defenddefenders announced Sandra Aceng as Human Rights Defender of the Month 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.

https://defenddefenders.org/human-rights-defender-of-the-month-sandra-aceng/