‘I am that woman’ East African Women Human Rights Defenders

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This post highlights East African Women Human Right Defenders. The Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders (HRD) defines women human rights defenders as both female human rights defenders, and any other human rights defenders who work in the defence of women’s rights or on gender issues (A/HRC/16/44).

Typical challenges faced by WHRDs in East Africa both in urban settlements and grassroot level  include but are not limited to: harassment, arbitrary arrest, physical violence, intimidation, rape and murder. There is evidently a lack of formal security structures put in place for WHRDs that only intensifies the vulnerability threshold of WHRDs in East Africa. 

Here are three East African women human rights defender profiles hailing from Kenya, East Africa:

Wawira Njiru


Source: cnn.com

“A hungry child can’t learn”

Wawira Njiru

Out of 500 million school going children in Africa, 40% of the world’s stunted children live in Africa. Further analysis shows that in Kenya, 26% of children under 5 years old are suffering from chronic malnutrition, a condition that has many adverse consequences for child survival and long-term wellbeing.

Wawira Njiru, a kenyan philanthropist and human nutritionist founded the Food for Education organization that sought to find a solution to these growing statistics by integrating technology to provide low cost, nutritious meals to vulnerable school children every school day to end classroom hunger, improve school attendance and performance. 

Since the Coronavirus pandemic however, Kenyan schools have closed and a 7AM-5PM curfew has been implemented. Unfortunately, this is likely to increase the number of kids sleeping on an empty stomach and in response to this, Wawira and her team have implemented a strategic plan that allows the distribution of food packages and cash transfers to provide nutritional and financial support to families affected by the pandemic.

So far, 1,000,000 meals have been distributed with over ksh 1,500,000 distributed in cash transfers to kids and families, with more transfers expected in the coming months.

Janet Mbugua-Ndichu


Source: Janet Mbugua Instagram

Millions of women and girls struggle to manage their monthly menstruation safely, comfortably and with dignity. Menstruating girls and women face inadequate access to water and sanitation facilities, while they may lack the most basic materials needed for managing blood flow, such as menstrual and other relevant hygiene products. ‘Period poverty’ is a reality for many women and girls living in marginalised communities, incarcerated facilities and those with special needs and disabilities. 

Menstrual Health Management (MHM) is often overlooked within the framework of National development strategies and more so in pandemic response. 

Janet Mbugua is a well known Kenyan media personality and MHM advocate. She has been at the forefront in championing menstrual health and literacy through her Inua Dada initiative and recently published book: ‘My First time stories’. Janet recently achieved a milestone when she presented the now approved National Menstrual Hygiene Management (MHM) policy in parliament, that urged the government to put in place policies that will improve menstrual health management education. 

Janet is currently working to ensure deliberate effort is made especially during COVID-19 crisis to alleviate the impact of period poverty.

Hellen Nkuraiya


Source: Refinery29.com

“Don’t exchange girls for cows, give them education.” 

Hellen Nkuraiya

Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) is a life threatening procedure banned in Kenya back in 2011. However, certain communities continue to hold public ceremonies celebrating this illegal practice, unchallenged by the authorities in their area.

Hellen Nkuraya is an anti-FGM activist who has been married off twice by her father at an early age of 9, in exhange for cows, which, in the Maasai community, holds a greater value to money.

Hellen however managed to flee from her situation and has since set up a school Tepesua: Home One, a community based organization that aims to provide high-quality education to both boys and girls, while also serving as a refuge for young girls who have run away from female genital mutilation and forced marriages. 

Now more than ever, when schools in Kenya have been closed due to the COVID-19 pandemic and especially girls are required to stay home, concerns have been raised over the security of girls in specific communities that still glorify this act. Human rights defenders including Hellen are heavily increasing their approach to try to shed light on the situation and garner more public support over the FGM issue with the intent to save more girls.


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This blog post was written by Communications and Engagement intern, Rose Wanjuki, and edited by Education and Communications Associate, Sabrina Sanchez.

Featured image borrowed from The Times UK.

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