Protecting Human Privileges: A Conversation with Zambian Women Human Rights Defender Mumbi Namwawa.

In October 2000, the UN Security Council endorsed the groundbreaking Resolution 1325 (UNSCR 1325) on women, peace and security (WPS). UNSCR 1325 responded to a raft of lessons learned over the previous decade or more on peacekeeping and peacebuilding.

The nature of warfare was changing, with civilians increasingly targeted, and women, in particular, often bearing the brunt of conflict. Women suffered a range of harms, from sexual and gender-based violence inflicted by combatants, to the loss of their spouses and families, to the loss of their livelihoods and personal autonomy. Furthermore, even during transitional and peacebuilding periods, it became clear that women continued to be marginalized, with domestic and international stakeholders overlooking their contributions and excluding them from peace processes.

There is now a growing understanding that sexual minorities and non-binary gender identities also face distinct vulnerabilities during conflict, which should be reflected in a broader framing of the WPS agenda. UNSCR 1325 called on countries to address the impacts that conflict had on women and girls around the globe and to systematically include women in peacebuilding efforts, including peace talks, peacekeeping and post-conflict reconstruction efforts. Over the last two decades, UNSCR 1325 has been complemented by an additional nine resolutions on women, peace and security . Together, these resolutions provide guidance to national and international actors on their roles in relation to WPS.

Word Smash Poetry Movement in partnership with Oxfam International is running a campaign called ‘Mwala’- The Rock which seeks to amplify Women Human Rights Defenders voices against suppression of their voices and celebrate the wins.

In this Session, Word Smash Poetry Movement engages Mumbi Namwawa, a Political Activist, Women Human Rights Defender, SRHR Expert and SHEntrepreneur from Lusaka, Zambia.

Mumbi, you were among the young people who protested in the bush, in the famed ‘Bush Protest’, when you were irregularly not permitted to host a peaceful protest in Lusaka. At that point in the protest, what were some of your concerns?

The concerns can be grouped threefold: inequality, injustice, and oppression that were being exhibited systematically and which further posed threats to the citizen’s freedoms and development of the country.

What was the main reason you needed that protest to happen and for you to be there? Also, why is your work as a human rights defender important in your community and country?

The protest was necessary to put an end to the process of shrinking civic spaces. With time, it was noticed that the more citizens were quiet to the matters of oppression, the more we had the oppressive regime becoming worse at threatening our freedoms. I needed to be there because not many young people seemed ready to defend their rights at the point which the oppression had reached; I preferred to defend our rights once and for all rather than to watch and let the future of young people be destroyed by the selfish and inconsiderate cartel of the old.

Human Rights Defenders’ work is important because it acts as a watchdog on the privileges of human beings that influence progress. Particularly for my country and community, it being a third world country, these freedoms are necessary to motivate innovation, patriotism, and development as they encourage free thought, choice, and speech of individuals which in turn capacitate citizens with abilities to demand and hold leaders accountable.

I have heard you speak, and I must admit that wisdom and clarity is like dew, it is not only for leaves, even roots get soaked in it. However, I can’t seem to wonder why the then Zambian Government wouldn’t let you be you, allow you to speak on your rights and demand their protection. Why didn’t they?

The previous regime had largely survived on the ignorance and the fear they induced in people for a long time. Tolerating youths like myself freely speaking meant that a lot of citizens would become aware of the state’s inadequacies and later become the major resistance to their oppression. Allowing us to speak out was a threat to their grip on power as well as oppression, hence denying us the privilege to enjoy this right.

Other than primarily saving lives, why is your work important in your community and country today? Why do you do it every chance you are at it again?

The work is important because it is the only weapon that citizens have to defend their privileges to lead better, free and developed livelihoods. It is only one that accords the enjoyment of choice both in their personal civic lives.

I do this work every chance I get today because there will never be a time when oppressors and exploiters will stop from doing their duty of injustice. I do it to normalize the conversation of keeping an eye on the safety of our freedoms and raising awareness of any injustices among citizens. Also, I do it to leave a foundation for the next generation to stand on both defending their rights, should injustices continue, and when they need to demand more and better rights than those that were found in previous generations. Above all, I defend human rights for the love of justice and equality.

How interested are fellow young women in participating in human rights defending work or activities? What should change to improve and increase participation?

Well, the interest among women is not so much in fact the numbers are very low. I must mention that with time, a few young women have joined the struggle but rarely continue with it when they get older.

Their participation is hindered by so many factors that do not have one solution. These hindrances are cultural, religious, economic, and political in nature. To improve and increase participation, one shoe that fits all is massive sensitization about human rights work and its importance, especially to women.

It takes a village to raise a child. How do you think men and the rest of society can aid your efforts and stand in solidarity with you in defending human rights?

Men and society generally can help if they become active players in emphasizing the need for women’s participation in these matters. As we talk about this we must look at how society raises female children, and how male children are raised to view women’s roles from family to national level. Further, closely engaging women in society, men and all active players of the community have a high potential of increasing the number of Women Human Rights Defenders. Enhanced responsive security is also a major factor as women are usually the easiest target for harm. 

For sustainable peace-building, how important is women and girls’ participation in human rights work and in the implementation of the Women, Peace, and Security agenda?

Considering the fact that women are mostly the easiest target, their involvement allows them to give direction on what they see as required in order for them to have peace and security. This must be contributed by the women themselves so that they make a tool that fully protects them in a way that they approve of and that which still allows them to enjoy their rights and carry out their work.

What did you come out of the ‘Bush Protest’ with, any lessons that only became apparent to you there in the middle of the live streams and not before?

Well, it became more apparent that powers that be actually feared the people because, after a long time, people chose their freedoms over the demands of oppressors. Further, the government after that seemed to be very willing to engage with young people and listen to their grievances. I cannot give an account of an apparent change while in the bush because we were not in the space to see things change or reactions from the public.

For other young women, in or outside Zambia, thinking to begin their journey in Human Rights Defender work, what would be your advice to them?

Go for it, the world needs you, your generation depends on you and the next generation of the future is tied to it.

In as far as women’s participation in human rights defending goes, where do you see Africa 10 years from now? What are some already existing opportunities that young women would maximize to contribute to this “10 years from now” vision you have of Africa?

I see growth in the number of women human rights defenders. Women must take advantage of the rough environment to announce their resistance to inequality and injustice in order to set a tone for interaction going forward. Further, Africa has not yet had a chance to show and experience the power of women beyond the domestic environment, we must take advantage of that gap and show the other side of equal participation in high-level civic matters.

ABOUT

Mumbi Namwawa is a Political Activist, Women Human Rights Defender, SRHR Expert and SHEntrepreneur from Lusaka, Zambia. She is currently pursuing a Bachelor of Science degree in Politics and International Relations at the University of Lusaka. Miss Namwawa is a member of the Youth 4 Parliament where she served as a resource person in the Central Command Team and Co-Lead of the Girls Gone Political Movement. Mumbi Namwawa is currently a team member at the Centre for Trade Policy and Development (CTPD) joining after previously serving at Alliance for Accountability and Good Governance in Zambia. Overall, she is an apologetic Women’s Rights Advocate and Vocal Activist.

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/ .

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