By Ephrem Chiruza
“We will not stop until all human rights defenders enjoy their right to defend human rights by creating an enabling environment for this work to continue,” said Susan Muriungi, Protection International (PI) Africa Regional Director during the celebration of Women Human Rights Defenders Day held at the Dutch Embassy Liaison Office in Goma, in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC).
On 29 November 2021, over 50 women human rights defenders (WHRDs), international stakeholders and Congolese authorities joined Protection International to celebrate the outstanding work of Congolese WHRDs, as part of the International Day of Women Human Rights Defenders and the Sixteen Days of Activism against Gender-Based Violence, in Goma (DRC).
Two Congolese Human rights defenders pose nearby Yvette Neema photo portrait during the exhibition at the Dutch Embassy Liaison Office in Goma, in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC). Yvette Neema (left) is an HRD and member of the Coalition of women human rights defenders in DRC, supported by Protection International. Photo: Ephrem Chiruza/ PI
“I am here today because we are celebrating the International Day of Women Human Rights Defenders. In the DRC, for several years, this day went unnoticed. Therefore, it is a great opportunity for the community members to meet the women activists who are doing this special work,” said Passy Mubalama, a Congolese activist who attended the celebration event in Goma city.
As part of this celebration, PI DRC awarded 42 WHRDs’ organizations from the Congolese civil society in North Kivu and South Kivu provinces for their courage and commitment in defending human rights. These organizations received certificates of merit from Protection International.
In his opening speech, Edouard Biringanine, PI’s DRC Country Director, invited the participants who attended the event to pay tribute and respect for those defenders who have passed away—including a special tribute to Mambo Zawadi, a Congolese woman activist and former PI partner, who died in a plane crash in Goma three years ago.
While celebrating WHRDs Day, it is worth noting that the situation of women human rights defenders is far from enviable, and this applies to all WHRDs across the globe. Threats, prohibitions, misogynistic attitudes, acts of humiliation and stigmatization against women activists are only a few examples of the structural obstacles complicating their work.
Two Congolese Human rights defenders ( Julienne Lusenge and Amviko) pose for a photo during the celebration day of HRDs on 29 November 2021. Photo: Ephrem Chiruza/PI
“We are wives, mothers and activists in a society with a very patriarchal culture that does not make life easy for us,” declared Julienne Lusenge, Director of the Congolese Women’s Fund and 2021 Aurora Prize Laureate.
Madam Lusenge pointed out the difficult situation of women activists, who despite of their great contribution to advance human rights, are most of the time, forgotten when it comes to protecting their future. Julienne has seized this opportunity to advocate for organizations of women activists to have access to robust funding that could enable them to scale up their work toward communities in rural and remote, hard to reach areas.
In addition, Madam Susan Muriungi, has called upon the international community, all the institutions committed to human rights, and defenders to ensure these rights are upheld, to stay with African defenders by supporting protection networks that work across communities, countries and the African region. In November 2021, the DRC recorded 801 human rights violations and abuses, a sharp increase of more than 60 percent compared to October (498 violations) of the same year, according to the United Nations Joint Human Rights Office (UNJHRO).
As part of this celebratory day, Protection International conducted an exhibition of photo portraits from 26 WHRDs, who have demonstrated the courage to fight against human rights violations in North Kivu and South Kivu provinces in the east of the DR Congo. This exhibition has helped to convey great stories of women activists who, for years, have been promoting human rights in their communities.
This event has known the participation Jan Van Ranselaar, the Head of the Dutch Embassy Liaison Office in Goma and Prince Hangi, a Member of Parliament in North Kivu. Hangi is one of the Congolese parliamentarians who actively supported the adoption of the legal framework for the protection of human rights defenders and journalists in North-Kivu.
On 29 November 2021, Passy Mubalama, a Congolese Human Rights Defender (left) received Protection International’s Award certificate in the hands of Jan Van Ranselaar, the Head of the Dutch Embassy Liaison Office in Goma (middle). Photo: Ephrem Chiruza/PI
This activity was part of the project “Empowerment and Protection of Women Human Rights Defenders to Contribute to Civil Crisis Prevention, Conflict Resolution and Peace building in the Democratic Republic of Congo”, which is a three year project that was launched in 2018 with the funding from the German Federal Foreign Office via the Zivik Program.
In 2021, this project supported 42 organizations from Congolese civil society in North Kivu and South Kivu Provinces. Moreover, it has helped to create and establish, for the first time in the region, a Coalition of Women Human Rights Defenders— this network has played a crucial role in empowering WHRDs with skills related to physical security, protection, advocacy, gender integration and peacebuilding in North Kivu and South Kivu.