Posts Tagged ‘traditional practices’

Sierra Leone anti-FGM activist Rugiati Turay wins German human rights prize

October 30, 2020

Campaigner Rugiati Turay has won the Theodor Haecker human rights prize for fighting female genital mutilation in Sierra Leone. [for more on this and similar awards see: https://www.trueheroesfilms.org/thedigest/award/23523519-3931-9E2E-2D4F-8F614F366500]

Rugiatu Turay, anti-FGM activist from Sierra Leone

When Rugiati Turay was 12, she was taken to an aunty together with her three sisters and a female cousin.

We were told it was just a visit,” Turay, now 47, recalls. “But I was grabbed and blindfolded and taken to a room. Women sat on me and held me down.”

Turay’s clitoris was then cut off. She still remembers the pain.

“I bled excessively and I almost lost my life. For one week, I could not walk,” Turay told DW. “All I knew was just the pain and the bleeding.”

Like Turay, some 90% of women and girls in Sierra Leone undergo female genital mutilation, or FGM. It is a cultural practice that involves the partial or total removal of the female genital organs, such as the clitoris or labia.

In Sierra Leone, the cutting is part of the initiation into secret women’s societies, known as Bondo, that prepare girls for marriage and motherhood.

When she was cut as a girl, Turay didn’t have the knowledge to express what had happened to her. She just knew it was wrong, she said in a telephone interview from Lunsar, a town some 120 kilometers (74 miles) from the capital, Freetown. Rugiatu Turay works to persuade traditional practitioners to lay down the tools used to cut girls

“I started talking to my friends, explaining to them what I went through,” she said. “Because we were all eager … to become members of the Bondo society. But when I experienced what I experienced, I thought it is high time to talk to others and not to be fooled.”

More than a decade later, Turay found herself in Kalia refugee camp in Guinea, where she had fled Sierra Leone’s civil war that raged from 1991 to 2002. In the camp, she was shocked that amid the hardship and insanitary conditions of the camp, mothers were still organizing for their daughters to be cut.

That was the moment when Turay, who had trained and worked as a teacher before fleeing the fighting, started on her journey to campaign to stop female genital mutilation in Sierra Leone.

The nation is one of 28 African countries where female genital mutilation is practiced

“I decided [that] we needed to engage these people. They needed to know that we have run away from violence committed to us by people  and we are now perpetuating that violence on us,” she said.

In 2000 while still in Kalia camp, Turay founded the Amazonian Initiative Movement (AIM), together with a group of like-minded women, to reduce the incidence of FGM among the refugees.

The name was taken from the “strong and fearless” Amazonian warrior women from Greek mythology, explains Turay, chosen because “looking at the issues I was determined to address and knowing [Sierra Leone] and the people where I came from, I knew it was going to be a rough battle.”

In 2003, when she returned home after the end of the civil war, Turay started up a branch of the grassroots organization in her hometown of Lunsar.

As part of their activities, Turay and other AIM activists visit villages to talk to those involved in FGM, from women and girls, to local chiefs and imams. They also seek out the soweis, the traditional cutters, who earn a living from the practices. They seek to convince them to stop cutting and look for alternative livelihoods for these women. AIM has held several public ceremonies involving hundreds of soweis who have vowed to lay down their knives and razor blades.

It has also held a large alternative rites of passage lasting for 14 days to replace the traditional Bondo bush ceremony that girls usually pass through during initiation  but without the cutting.

As well as running a safe house for girls fleeing from FGM and other violence such as forced marriage, AIM has built a school that includes a curriculum teaching about cutting.

Turay’s work hasn’t been easy. Initially, she couldn’t even rent a building for AIM as no one wanted to have anything to do with an anti-FGM organization. Luckily, her father supported her efforts, turning over his own house to use as her office.

She, and others involved in the organization, have also faced numerous death threats as well as being banned by the village chief – something Turay says has only hardened her resolve.

“When you threaten me and say you’ll kill me, I come back and I engage you,” she said.

“I ask, ‘Why do you really want to kill me? Tell me, what have I done? Have I killed anyone? No, I want to change your beliefs that are not progressive, that have killed so many people, that have kept others quiet but suffering in silence’.”

And so I use those threats and I talk to the leaders of the secret society and I engage them.”

Because of coronavirus travel restrictions, Turay will attend the awards ceremony on October 24, 2020 virtually. Turay was nominated by the German women’s rights organization, Terres des Femmes, for the award.

See also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2016/02/19/profile-of-fahma-mohamed-a-young-british-anti-fgm-human-rights-defender/


https://www.dw.com/en/sierra-leone-anti-fgm-activist-wins-german-human-rights-prize/a-55356392

Tabassum Adnan from Swat, Pakistan, tries to work within the Jirga system

July 31, 2020

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Khalida Niaz in MENAFN (Tribal News Network) of 29 July 2020 tells the story of Tabassum Adnan from Swat district of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa who has been nominated for the Women Building Peace Award in the US.

Tabassum is working for human rights, with particular emphasis on women rights, in Swat since 2010. He has the honour of being the founder of first women Jirga of Pakistan. For this effort, she won Nelson Mandela Award, International Woman of Courage Award and several other awards.

Tabassum said in a special interview with TNN that she has worked a lot on human smuggling, Swara, early marriages and share of women in ancestral property. She said she is now planning to work on the use of ice and other drugs by children to save their future.

‘When I arranged a sitting with women of my area, I realised that they are being denied their rights and they must have representation in the Jirga. Earlier, Jirgas only had male members and no one listened to the problems of women. A woman can better understand the problems of other women. I also used to raise voice for women’s rights by attending Jirgas of men,’ she told TNN.

Tabassum is the first woman in Pakhtun history who was invited to a Jirga of men which was hearing a case about alleged sexual abuse of a child in Swat. She said once a case of Swara (giving a girl in marriage to rival family as compensation to settle dispute) was given to her in which all the accused Jirga members were arrested. She said the family members of the arrested people were requesting her to forgive them, but she asked them to approach the court for this purpose. She said if the girl’s father has committed a crime then he, and not his daughter, must be punished for it. She said she also has a daughter and she can understand how the girls suffer due to this obsolete tradition.

The rights activist said she initially included eight such women in the Jirga who had the ability of public speaking and decision making. She said the number of women in the Jirga has increased now. She said her Jirga has resolved about 2,000 cases so far and many other cases are in process of being resolved.

About her personal life, Tabassum said she was born in Swat and then went to Qatar with her father. She said she returned to Swat for marriage and settled there. She said she started working for women’s rights after her divorce and set up Khwendo Jirga platform for women for resolution of their problems. She said she has three sons and a daughter.

Tabassum faced many hardships while carrying out her mission for women’s rights. Besides problems on local level, Jamia Ashrafia of Lahore also issued a fatwa (edict) against her by accusing her of spreading obscenity.

I never asked any woman to uncover herself. I only want to give them confidence to fight for their rights. There is no harm if a woman sitting in her home decides to raise voice for her rights,’ she said.

Tabassum said now men have also started contacting Khwendo Jirga for resolution of their domestic disputes involving women. She said men feel comfortable in discussing problems of women with women members of the Jirga. She said she is also the first woman member of Dispute Resolution Council of Swat Police Station where many women arrive for resolution of their problems. She said she also encourages young girls not to afraid and speak up for their rights.

The rights activist enjoys full support of family for her work, but she sometimes receives threats from those affected by the Jirga decisions. About major problems of women in Swat, she said the ratio of divorce is increasing and prostitution has also increased besides the property disputes. She said the practice of Swara has reduced significantly.

Tabassum said she gets more recognition abroad as compared to Pakistan. Although she got a certificate from the district police chief, but she complains of not receiving much encouragement from the government.

https://menafn.com/1100562913/Pakistan-How-Swats-Tabassum-got-nominated-for-international-award

New Zealand funds much-needed human rights monitoring in the Pacific

August 22, 2019

Susan Randolph – Photo: RNZ Pacific / Mackenzie Smith

New Zealand is supporting a new rollout of human rights monitoring in the Pacific. Funding of $US400,000 will allow the Human Rights Measurement Initiative (HRMI) to expand its programmes in the region. The non-profit organisation which is holding workshops in Auckland this week said it would use the money to build data sets on economic and social rights in the Pacific. Its development lead Anne-Marie Brook said it was the first time they had accepted money from a government and a clause had to be inserted into its contract with New Zealand’s Foreign Ministry to safeguard HRMI’s independence.

[see also:https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2019/03/07/pacific-human-rights-defenders-can-do-more-to-deal-with-extractive-industries/]

Because human rights are so politically sensitive, it’s really clear that human rights needs to be measured independently of government because governments often face conflicts of interest,” she said. HRMI’s data on the Pacific is porous and often anecdotal, according to its economic and social rights lead Susan Randolph. The funding would allow more comprehensive data to be collected to help Pacific governments and civil society groups tackle human rights abuses, she said.

In Tuvalu, where the country’s first human rights institution was set up only late last year, the Chief Ombudsman Sa’aga Talu Teafa said they were still figuring out the best approach. “It’s very young, we call it very young. That’s why we are here to learn and to know what other institutions or what other human rights defenders are doing regarding human rights implementation,” he said.

It’s the same in Samoa, where recently the Ombudsman’s office, finding no data on violence, had to come up with its own to produce a report.

Tuvalu Chief Ombudsman, Sa'aga Talu Teafahome.

Tuvalu Chief Ombudsman, Sa’aga Talu Teafahome. Photo: RNZ Pacific / Mackenzie Smith

New Zealand Human Rights Commission’s Pasifika advisor Tuiloma Lina-Jodi Vaine Samu said the Pacific had a history of resistance to human rights monitoring because of faith-based systems. “Our religions, our faiths, our churches, are very, very important to us. But so are our traditional, cultural, ancestral beliefs as well,” she said. “At hui like this we are able to come together, fono, and talk about these issues, these mindsets, so that we can advance human rights forward.”

https://www.newsie.co.nz/news/160079-nz-funds-human-rights-monitoring-pacific.html

Profile of Tilder Kumichii, Human Rights Defender from Cameroon

May 13, 2015

Tilder Kumichii is Programme Coordinator at Gender Empowerment and Development (GeED) based in Cameroon.

On 21 April 2015 the International Service for Human Rights [ISHR] carried an interview with Tilder Kumichii, a human rights defender from Cameroon.

My motivation to do human rights work stems from my personal experience as a young woman growing up in a patriarchal system, which forced me to marry very young and become a very young widow’.  Tilder resolved to devote her life to support other women who find themselves in a similar situation like herself. Describing herself as a woman human rights defender, she stresses that she is involved in both teaching people to understand their rights, as well as seeking accountability for violations and abuses of human rights. Read the rest of this entry »

Human Rights Defenders help to reduce the number of bride kidnappings in Kyrgyzstan but what is the real number?

April 17, 2013

According to the ‘24.kg news agency‘ [only] 394 brides have been kidnapped in Kyrgyzstan in 2012. Ombudsman Tursunbek Akun said this at a meeting of the parliament Committee for Human Rights. He said that the number used to be much larger: “But the Ombudsman’s Institute, human rights defenders, journalists, and us – we all are working on it. We can see positive changes. Rate of brides kidnapping for forced marriage has decreased. A man who kidnapped a bride has been sentenced to 6 years with our assistance”.

However in the related article mentioned below from June 2012 number estimates are much higher: ” Since it often goes unreported, the actual number of bride kidnappings is unknown although Kyrgyzstan Ombudsman Tursunbek Akun estimates that more than 8,000 young women are kidnapped each year.”

http://eng.24.kg/community/2013/04/16/26656.html