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 the spotlight on Mozambique, Zambia, Zimbabwe, and Malawi targeting SADC and AU Commission.
In this session, Word Smash Poetry Movement (WSP) has an interaction with Kharono Michelle Carol (KMC), a member of the national youth council of Uganda representing the Mityana district as the secretary for female youth affairs. Below is our chat:
WSP: Being a women human rights defender, is it a blessing or a curse? If a blessing, what aspects of the work you do give you this much joy to overlook how dangerous sometimes it can be?
KMC: Being a woman human rights defender is an absolute blessing because I get to stand up for people who face injustice and discrimination. I am always filled with Joy when the victims to whom I undertake sensitization campaigns, especially female youth, understand their rights and undertake to protect the same.
It also gives me joy when I move policymakers to create reforms in policy that are gender-sensitive and cater for women’s rights like the right to health, discard gender-insensitive laws and initiate policy that creates room for women’s involvement in decision making.
WSP: On the ground, what would you point out as being the major hindrances women human rights defenders like yourself face?
KMC: HRDs especially those defending civil and political rights mostly demanding accountability and good governance, fighting corruption, tend to face more challenges from government and individuals in government offices because they work on sensitive issues that the state does not want to be shared nor discussed.
Primitive culture and customary norms in our areas of operation demonize females by classifying them as followers and never leaders. The act of women speaking up is seen as defying social norms. This makes activism amongst such societies really hard.
WSP: How interested are fellow young women in participating in human rights work or activism? What would their increased participation mean for the future?
KMC: Fellow young women are not yet attracted to activism or advocacy for women’s rights. Most young women want to go as far as society allows them.
In my community, persons below 30 years of age make up over 78 percent of the population, with females making the biggest percentage of this population, their eventual participation would increase awareness and thus empowerment.
WSP: The world over women who speak out and act against the status quo, which is often repressive and enslaving, are not celebrated. In most African societies women’s rights are in danger, how much more in danger are the rights and lives of women who defend others’ rights? What is your experience as a human rights advocate working in local communities?
KMC: There’s much more danger to women who stand up and do differently, they’re mostly stigmatized for their advocacy. Our society does not allow women to go as far as they desire. Women are still controlled by cultural beliefs, encouraging women to participate is viewed as counter-cultural and illicit.
WSP: In order to defend other people’s rights, you must personally know and be enjoying your own. What human rights are you personally not enjoying in full? How does this affect how you defend the rights of others?
KMC: The Government institution of the police mostly infringes on my freedom of assembly and freedom of expression through the Public order management act and the computer misuse act which impose requirements of prior authorization from the police in case of meetings, and also limit the scope of publication under the guise of offensive communication.
This affects my work because many other rights squarely rest on association and expression.
WSP: Society has a tendency of not embracing its women enough for them to add their minds and voices to decision-making on delicate matters. What do you think is wrong with how women human rights defenders are treated that in itself proves to be the hindrance to achieving sustainable peace and security?
KMC: Society has created a circle for women and not letting women go beyond it, we need to cut down the circle and let everyone know that we’re much more than what society has projected us to be.
WSP: We are at a time in Africa and the World when odds are stacked pro-men and anti-women, what are some of the skills you think have helped you and a lot of other women human rights defenders to do the work you do well? What skills and knowledge are required for this type of human rights activism?
KMC: The fact that am a politician and a good mobilizer has helped me use existing structures like the national youth council, the national women council, youth members of parliament, local government councilors, village local council’s, local radio stations, and Social media to address human rights issues, but also to bring together people and also to preach the gospel of peace and justice.
WSP: What gives you hope about today that tomorrow will be a better place in which both men and women will know, protect, and enjoy their human rights?
KMC: I am doing my best today, and also counting on other sisters such that tomorrow will be a better place because we carry on from people who have been before us so that people who come after us carry from what we build.
Therefore it is upon us to keep building on a good foundation in different areas and levels for a better tomorrow. [Therefore,] Doing my best today gives me hope.
Kharono Michelle Carol is a member of the national youth council of Uganda representing the Mityana district as the secretary for female youth affairs. She is also the director of the Michelle Carol foundation. Also, she is the founder and chairperson for Slum child Empowerment and Development Initiative. Above all, a woman human rights defender.
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/.