The Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders said, “In many countries, women who dare to speak out for human rights are stigmatized and called bad mothers, terrorists or witches, silenced and marginalized from decision-making and can even be killed. It is particularly worrying that the hostility they face comes not only from State authorities, but also the media, social movements, their own communities and even their family”. “Public shaming, attacks on women’s honor and their reputation, doxing or publishing their personal details on the internet, sexual violence and attacks against their children and loved ones, are used to silence women human rights defenders,” he added.
The Mwala Campaign as pioneered by Word Smash Poetry Movement in Southern Africa supported by #IMATTER through Oxfam International seeks to bring to prominence statements by women, girls and the LGBTQI+ communities in Zambia but have been displaced from their various areas due to war, political and economic deteriorating environments in DRC, Burundi Zimbabwe and the suppressed voices of young female activists in Zambia calling for Peace and Sustainable Peace. The project presents here a six part blog Series on the Successes and Challenges of Women Human Rights Defenders from Southern Africa with spotlight on Mozambique, Zambia, Zimbabwe and Malawi targeting SADC and AU Commission.
In this session, Word Smash Poetry Movement (WSP) had an interaction with Ms Kagiso Segage (KS), a Youth Activist involved in Peace and Security. A Rotarian at the Rotary Club of Hatfield. and a Social Entrepreneur . Below is the chat:
WSP: You have certainly come across a lot of interesting revelations about the human spirit along the path of human rights activism: our love, our dreams, our work, and our hope. From that, why are human rights worth defending?
KS: Human rights are fundamental rights that belong to all of us simply because we are human. They embody the core values of our societies. They recognize our freedom to make decisions about our lives and develop our potential as people. Defending human rights is synonymous with promoting peace in our societies
WSP: What is the attitude of your community and country towards women human rights defenders? Are they supportive or inhibitive and what makes them that way?
KS: Well, this has two sides: on the one hand, my country is very democratic and we have a constitution that is respected throughout the world. Therefore, it offers a safe space for human rights defenders to exist. On the other hand, we have the highest rates of gender-based violence and rape, including homophobia. Human rights defenders continue to fight for women’s rights. And the community and the country support women’s human rights because of the pandemic that is GBV, almost everyone is affected by this.
WSP: Obviously, the work you do is very important, truer now when there is a global searching for ways of improving peace and security. How can more women get interested and fully participating in human rights activism for sustainable peace-building to be achieved?
KS: One interesting thing I’ve learned recently is that peacebuilding is a process that anyone can follow, wherever they are in their personal, business, and professional lives. You can promote peace wherever you are, it starts with exposing the violation of your rights and the rights of your neighbor. Use your skills to meet the needs of the less fortunate. Including the marginalized in your projects or programs that normally don’t include certain groups of people.
More women can be more interested if they know and understand their basic human rights. [If they understand] how to defend and protect those rights and of course, their choices, knowing that you are not only defending the rights of others but also your own. Fortunately, the topic of women’s rights and peacebuilding touches all spheres of society so that the entrepreneur, the housewife, the mother, the aunt, the grandmother, and the career woman can participate in human rights activism to promote and maintain peace.
Effective communication, including storytelling, deep and active listening, are some of the basic principles that we can all practice in our daily lives to promote peace. People want to be seen and heard and this is one of the foundations for building peace with communities.
WSP: As a woman human rights defender, what have been some of your successes and what conditions necessitated them? Also, do you have any epic fails and what do you point at to have caused the failures?
KS: I think I’ve been privileged to have the support of men and women, especially women who have really supported me and my personal and professional goals that I can highlight so much that I’ve been through and say I did it with the support of women or men and this is simply because I am always open to meet new people, learn about them and listen to their stories. I started a mentorship programme for high school learners (girls and boys) and I can refer to it as my success because I encouraged them to see each other as equals and they do.
My epic failures would be the opportunities I missed because I was afraid I wouldn’t be taken seriously or respected enough because of my gender and the color of my skin, that’s because women are not safe and our rights are not always respected and Black people previously were largely excluded from economic opportunities, especially in my country, which is still the case today, so I often struggle with the ‘impostor’ syndrome.
WSP: How is your country engaging girls, young women and old women in knowing, enjoying, and defending their rights and those of others? How is the response of girls and young women to this call of human rights activism?
KS: Unlike in other countries where the rights of women and girls are not protected, in my country, women and girls are free to engage and participate in socioeconomic activities especially in the spaces of education, the education system of South Africa allows for women and girls to acquire education. In terms of economic activities, the government has a policy that promotes the inclusion of women in policy and decision-making processes as well as business opportunities. Various NGOs are working hard to level up the engagement and participation of young girls in careers and socioeconomic activities where the male domination is very high. It`s still a long way to go to create that balance, but we have started.
The response of girls and young women to the call for human rights is very positive in SA because women and girls are not safe, everyday a woman or a young girl is either is raped or raped or both are done to her, it is because of this that women, young girls, and old women participate in the activism of women human rights and those who are unable to participate support rather than inhibit those who are active.
WSP: I know you have a rich-across-Africa-involvement in University-Student Politics, and it is very commendable what your contributions have achieved. From your experience among student bodies, do you see a trend of increased women student participation in human rights activism particularly in South Africa as was fictitiously depicted in ‘Sarafina’, the famed South African Apartheid-era movie? Or have things just been like this from time immemorial?
KS: To be honest, that’s the way it was for centuries past. The history of South Africa points to women. However, women’s participation in South African politics and history has not been recognized in the past. I would not say that there is an upward trend, since the trend was there, it was simply not recognized.
Women who get involved in student politics do so knowing they have the strength and courage and are inspired by the women who came before, the women who marched to union buildings for their freedom of movement in 1960. Women who died while in political exile, women like Charlotte Maxeke, Ruth First, Lillian Ngoyi, Winnie Mandela and the list goes on.
I can say that despite affirmative action, South Africa is still a patriarchal society, but the participation of women in student politics is very commendable because that’s where they take their momentum and then take it out of university and so they see how much work is to be done to change the status quo and pave the way for other women.
WSP: Students and student unions globally have set sail some of the best and sustainable solutions to social chaos. What has South African student activism been doing right in advocating for human rights that the rest of the country and continent could model?
KS: Well, let us praise the South African student activists of the FEES MUST FALL 2015 movement. This movement has changed the policy on the higher education system in South Africa, forcing the system to include more marginalized youth. Through this movement, the government began to address social justice in the educational and economic sectors. We saw a new inclusive path called MISSING CLASS that anyone in need of education, regardless of their financial circumstances now has access to it.
Apparently, due to the protest method used, it was not 100% peaceful, the movement gained public support until violence against property became a serious problem. I think we also learned that we have to watch out for property damage. But I think other countries, in particular, can model the Fees Must Fall movement of South Africa.
WSP: There is no real peace until all the people, systems, and actions involved are in sync. That said, what opportunities can be explored and further reinforced to improve how women and men work together for a just human rights-respecting society?
KS: I think we have to be intentional and deliberate and absolutely honest and real with the dynamics of our society. Men still do not understand what feminism is about, they think and fear that when we talk about women’s rights, we mean that men and women cannot live and work together. They believe that society wants to change them and their cultural and traditional ways of doing things. We can start by harnessing our cultures and seeing what works and what doesn’t in the 21st century. And tap into individual choices so that we can respond to all equally.
WSP: What is your dream South Africa in as far as the fight for human rights goes? Since charity begins at home, how are you personally executing this dream at home among siblings and friends?
KS: My biggest dream for South Africa, which is also my daily prayer, is that women and men live together in peace, that I and other women can freely walk the streets, love a man and be with him without being afraid of my Life. Being able to follow stories on social media sites without a hashtag about raped and brutally murdered women. I want women and girls to feel safe around all men, from uncles and brothers at home to coworkers.
Well, fortunately, I have three biological sisters and a brother and four nephews, so my relationship with them is such that it shows a principle of respect. We don’t have gender roles at home, so everyone has to do housework except in those cases where physical strength or cultural/religious purposes require a man to do something, then I can ask my brother to do it. Since I love all my sisters, my brother, and their children, I am never able to choose my preferred gender, I just see all of us as people who deserve to live and defend our human rights. The same happens with my friends, acquaintances, and companions, they are of all genders including LGBQTI, we are discussing this issue almost daily in order to make this dream we share come true.
Ms Kagiso Segage is a Youth Activist involved in Peace and Security. A Rotarian at the Rotary Club of Hatfield and a Social Entrepreneur. She is based in South Africa.
Word Smash Poetry (WSP) is a creative free expression Southern African youth Artivists Social-Enterprise. Its main thrust is to provide a platform for young creative feminist activists, Women Human Rights Defenders, LGBTQI+ and artivists to speak truth to power through spoken word. As a social movement, Word Smash Poetry was established in August 2017 and was later legally listed as a social business in February 2019 for administrative purposes but remains fluid and an energetic Social Movement. We amplify the stage works on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/Wordsmashpoetrymovement / and www.wordsmash.poetry.blog/ .