Today is International Women’s Day and we celebrate the lives of Women Defenders. These are their stories:
Kenyan Woman Defender
2 March 2022: Coming from an Indigenous community is a challenge and privilege at the same time, especially being a woman. I wake up every day and face the challenge of addressing issues affecting my community, such as land rights, advocating for clean environment etc. It has been the biggest struggle for women since it was perceived to be men’s roles.
Being a young woman, with little knowledge, I decided to look for an avenue that will give me space to air out my views without being attacked in line with my gender. Chepkitale Indigenous People Development Project, who are fighting for issues of Ogiek community in Chepkitale, gave me this platform.
One of my roles is to hold meetings with women at community level. I make them aware of land struggles and their need to take an active role in the struggle, without fear. Currently, women have stepped up and most of them have capacity to advocate for Ogiek issues at any level.
I am part of an exchange programme sponsored by Forest People’s Program, which is currently going on in Chepkitale, where women from other Indigenous communities have visited Ogiek women to share their ideas, encourage each other and form networks on how to strengthen their advocacy for land rights issues, in both Kenya and other countries such as Uganda (with the Benet people) and Rwanda (with the Batwa people).
It’s a humbling experience. I believe, with time, most women will understand why they need to take part in community issues since they are the most vulnerable any time there’s an attempted eviction by different forces.
My work has built my capacity on various issues, ranging from resource mobilization, equitable distribution of resources by government and, most importantly, land rights issues.
3 March 2022: I am leading a project on mapping. This process is the best opportunity for me to understanding ancestral land of Ogiek community.
The mapping process involves the use of the Mapeo application that was developed by Digital Democracy, with experts on mapping from Forest People’s Program. Working under this consortium makes every day of my life a learning experience.
I’ve been taking the lead in the process where all resources ie land, rivers, schools, forests, are captured in the application and map developed. The map gives a clear reflection of how conservation is being adhered to – hence remedies to be taken in case of any destruction. Maps produced also are used as advocacy tools in courts and shows any government agencies why Ogiek community are the owners of Chepkitale since time immemorial. This work is continuous.
The daily process, and planning how to achieve this, builds a great passion in me to actively taking a position on community issues.
4 March 2022: They say you can only know where you’re going if you know where you’re coming from.
Documenting the history of the Ogiek community of Chepkitale made me realize who we are and the need to keep information for future generations.
Waking up every day to research who we are, gives me energy to do the task. History has helped me and many others to have a basis for our struggles, especially the elders who have been representing the community in courts. Through history documentation, I’m able to understand that our ancestors viewed the environment differently ie shelter, food, friend and source of medicine. These reasons were enough to conserve it. This explains the reason why the environment was never tampered with during their time.
My work has given me best platform to know who we are and what we want as a community.
Ugandan Woman Defender
10 January 2022: Dear Diary, we resumed work at my organisation today. I suffered great feelings of stress and anxiety before work resumed because of all the challenges civil society organisations suffered last year. Suffice to say that 2021 was hot! A bad hot! There were NGO closures – a whole 54 NGOs were ordered to close in August! Our partner organisations suffered office raids, arrests, detentions and other forms of harassment.
I was greatly distressed when this happened. None of us is safe when there is such harassment. I thought of getting trauma counselling, but I discarded the idea. I don’t want to let people know that I am scared sometimes.
Despite my initial anxiety, I had a great time catching up with colleagues and planning for the year when work resumed. Safety is also one of our 2022 priorities, thank God. I am praying for a safe and impactful 2022!
10 February 2022: Dear Diary, work has been great. I love my work because I get to be part of a team that makes a difference in people’s lives. Take today: I supported one of the communities whose land is being acquired for the East African Crude Oil Pipeline (EACOP) project to petition Total Energies and others to address the challenges the people are faced with because of the EACOP project.
The community was very happy and they promised to gift me with a cow! A whole cow! Haha! I said no, I do not want a cow. I help because I love to. Our policies also don’t allow us to accept gifts from communities. Regardless, it was heartwarming to hear the happiness in the voices of the people we helped.
We will continue to support the communities until they get justice.
1 March 2022: Dear Diary, three days ago, one of human rights organisations that we work with in Uganda on the EACOP project shared a message that gave me a scare. He informed us that his organisation’s office, as well as his family home, had been broken into by thieves. Office computers and a mobile phone had been taken, he said.
The robbery put me on high alert because we suspect that it had to do with our partners’ work. I was afraid that my home could be broken into too. Perhaps a killing, and rape could happen! Invaders in Uganda do rape women sometimes, you know! My mind throws up such scary scenarios sometimes. So traumatic.
I resolved to put into practice the various safety physical and digital tactics learned from various trainings. I will also continue to do my work, and to campaign for the safety of environmental and human rights defenders. This is important work, and it must not stop.