Indigenous Communities' Rights, Land and Resource Rights, Sub Saharan Africa, Uganda
Activists Resisting Restrictions, Honduras, Indigenous Communities' Rights, Land and Resource Rights, Latin America
Honduras, Indigenous Communities' Rights, Land and Resource Rights, Latin America
Approach, Guatemala, Indigenous Communities' Rights, Land and Resource Rights, Latin America
Indigenous Communities' Rights, Land and Resource Rights, Liberia, Sub Saharan Africa
Indigenous Communities' Rights, Land and Resource Rights, Myanmar, Southeast Asia
Makela needed an ally. A 60-year-old survivor of domestic violence, she now faced the prospect of losing her rightful home—in the middle of a global pandemic.
After years of abuse, Makela’s husband had abandoned her. When a judge granted them equal shares of their family land in the Mukono District of Uganda, he sold his portion, remarried, and left Makela with their children. Five years later, sick and strapped for cash, he returned to torment her. With their two older sons, he broke into her house and beat her, vowing not to stop until she surrendered her share of the land.
When the local authorities refused to help, Makela reached out to the Center for Domestic Violence Prevention (CEDOVIP), a women’s rights organization based in Kampala. There, she met Tina Musuya, CEDOVIP’s executive director and a fierce champion for survivors of abuse.
As COVID-19 surged, governments around the world responded with curfews and stay-at-home measures intended to limit community spread. In Uganda, the state issued a strict lockdown that severely limited movement. But for women facing domestic violence at home, lockdown entails its own life-threatening risks.
“Quarantine measures increased face-to-face exposure of victims to perpetrators,” says Tina. “The Uganda police registered over 3,000 cases of domestic violence in just one month.”
In response, Fund-supported organizations like CEDOVIP stepped in to provide crucial support to women trapped at home with their abusers.
After hearing her story, Tina helped Makela bring her case to the Nakifuma Magistrate court, which granted her a protection order that prevented her sons, her estranged husband, and his relatives from stepping foot on her property. CEDOVIP also offered Makela financial support, which she used to cover transportation costs to and from court, to install metallic doors on her house, and to pay for medical treatment after she sustained injuries in a violent encounter with her sons.
“When I reached out to CEDOVIP, they listened to my case and took all necessary measures to support me,” says Makela. “It has now been three months of calm and peace.”
With the Fund’s support, Tina and CEDOVIP have been able to help at least 300 survivors like Makela access the emergency services they need, including medical care and legal support. They’ve provided personal protective equipment to staff, other activists, and community members. And through their community engagement and advocacy, they’ve successfully lobbied the Ugandan state to respond to the escalating crisis of gender-based violence. In May, Ugandan President Yoweri Musveni spoke publicly about the increase in domestic violence.
“I feel proud that we were able to hold various actors including government departments accountable to protecting women and girls from violence,” says Tina. “As a result, the Uganda police force set up toll free help lines for survivors of violence to call for support and many other actors set up emergency response services.”
The Fund’s support has been a crucial resource during the pandemic, says Tina. “The Fund stood with us at this difficult time … and checked in with us to know how we were doing. This was true feminist sisterhood that kept us motivated.”
Uganda’s tough approach to COVID-19 has successfully slowed its spread, but the deleterious effects of strict lockdowns are likely to linger. “More than ever, CEDOVIP’s work is urgently needed to ensure that the gains made on gender equality in Uganda are not pushed back,” says Tina.
Makela’s story, like so many others, is a moving testament to the immense impact of local action. Across the globe, courageous frontline activists like Tina are fighting for the rights of people facing injustice, inequality, and hardship. The Fund is proud to provide the financial and strategic support they need to succeed.
Your donation will help local activists save lives and build back a better world.
In recent months, Nigeria’s #EndSARS protests have captured the world’s attention. The successful movement to disband the notorious Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS) has mobilized millions to march against police brutality—and the ensuing violent crackdowns have left scores of people wounded or dead.
As founder of the Fund-supported nonprofit Spaces for Change (S4C) and secretariat of the Action Group on Free Civic Space—a coalition of more than 60 organizations working to defend activists in Nigeria—Victoria Ibezim-Ohaeri knows firsthand what the country’s security forces are capable of.
For months, she’s been part of a team fighting to end abuses perpetrated by these same state agents during the country’s COVID-19 crisis.
Since emergency preventative measures were introduced at the end of March, S4C has led a country-wide effort to monitor, document, and analyze the government’s response to the pandemic. Their COVID-19 Tracking Team maintains a database of state-perpetrated human rights abuses.
“Shortly after the Nigerian government ordered a lockdown,” Victoria says, “the country began to record a rapid increase in human rights violations.”
The government’s militarized pandemic response allowed security forces, including SARS, to operate with impunity and wanton brutality. Across the country, police and other operatives are accused of targeting civilians with overt violence.
In April, six member organizations of the Action Group on Free Civic Space, including S4C, launched a helpline offering free legal services to anyone whose rights have been violated during the lockdown.
With emergency support from the Fund, the legal teams at each organization combined resources to build a stable of attorneys ready to intervene and secure justice. On standby 24/7, the lawyers offer pro bono services including securing bail, giving on-the-spot legal advice, and providing representation in courts.
When Glory, a 34-year-old Edo woman in Lagos State, was arrested and detained for 12 days without charges, she called the Action Group Legal Helpline. Victoria sent a team of lawyers to secure her release.
“I was separated from my husband and two young children,” says Glory, who fell ill and suffered a miscarriage in detention. “If Mrs. Victoria had not intervened in my case, I might still be in detention now.”
By the end of June, the Action Group Legal Helplines project had intervened in more than 100 cases involving unlawful arrests like Glory’s, physical assaults, domestic violence, and even murder.
To resource their invaluable work, the Fund’s Enabling Environment Program awarded its first COVID-19 emergency grant to S4C. “Without the timely support of the Fund,” says Victoria, “the Legal Helplines Project would never have been possible.”
Although Nigeria has eased its lockdown—and SARS has been disbanded—Victoria is worried that many restrictions could become permanent and abuses will continue.
“Together with my team at Spaces for Change and members of the Action Group on Free Civic Space, we shall continue to spot and push back against emergency measures that are being repurposed to further close civic space,” she says. “We’ll stay focused on this mandate, during and beyond the COVID era.”
As tensions between preventative measures and fundamental freedoms linger, the work of human rights defenders like Victoria is more important than ever. The Fund is proud to provide Victoria with the flexible funding and strategic assistance she needs to effectively check government overreach and defend civic space in Nigeria.
Displaced by conflict at age 11, Naw K’nyaw Paw has traveled the world campaigning for peace in Myanmar.
As general secretary of the Fund-supported Karen Women’s Organization (KWO)—a leading women’s rights group of more than 60,000 Karen minority women—she’s advocated in Geneva, New York, and Washington for the human rights of her community. In 2019, the U.S. State Department presented her with its International Woman of Courage award for her unwavering commitment to building peace.
But alongside her lifelong dreams of peace and equality for the Karen people, she’s never lost sight of their basic needs. As she says, “It’s very difficult to just focus on training [activists] when people are hungry.”
When the novel coronavirus began to spread in Myanmar, preventative measures disrupted aid, restricted travel, and made earning a living impossible for internally displaced people (IDPs) and refugees living in camps along the Myanmar-Thailand border.
The government’s official line may have been “no one left behind,” but some in the camps say they’ve survived only because of K’nyaw Paw and the extraordinary work of KWO.
“When travel was under lockdown and restrictions were in place, my community was in big trouble,” says Naw Hser Eh, a 63-year-old Karen woman living in the Ei Tu Hta IDP camp, home to more than 2,000 Karen people who have been displaced by one of the longest ongoing civil conflicts in the world. “[KWO] really saved our lives.”
Myanmar’s central government has largely excluded ethnic minorities from their pandemic response, failing to even translate important health information into many indigenous languages. With the Fund’s support, KWO has stepped in to distribute thousands of masks, deliver hygiene products to women, and translate critical information about prevention and protection against COVID-19 into the Karen language.
“KWO helps the most vulnerable people in our community,” says 54-year-old Saw Kler Paw, who also lives in the Ei Tu Hta camp.
In addition to health care, KWO also provided clean drinking water and food to families in the camps—five kilograms of rice per person, each month. “Due to KWO’s support, we did not go hungry” says Saw Kler Paw. “We did not starve.”
Alongside service provision in refugee camps, IDP areas and conflict-affected communities, KWO has continued advocating for peace and equality in Myanmar. Earlier this year, K’nyaw Paw successfully lobbied the Karen leadership to change discriminatory state laws that undermined women’s rights. “When these laws are implemented in our communities,” she says, “they will have a big positive effect on the quality of life for Karen women and children.”
But despite these great strides, the pandemic looms large in Myanmar and some fear that the worst may lie ahead. After a deadly second wave in October, COVID-19 cases are on the rise again. Humanitarian aid to Karen camps has been declining for years, limiting access to basic services. In August, flooding destroyed dozens of houses. And after a devastating drought during rice growing season, the crops that many Karen families rely on won’t last long.
“We are worried that this virus will come to our areas,” says Naw Hser Eh. “If that happens, how can we survive it? We still need K’nyaw Paw and KWO’s help.”
Like locally rooted activists around the world, K’nyaw Paw is a vital lifeline for her community, and a source of hope for tens of thousands of vulnerable Karen people who depend on KWO. The Fund is proud to stand with K’nyaw Paw and to ensure that the women activists of KWO have the resources they need to ensure the health, safety, and survival of their community.
When Aminita*, a 25-year-old Fula migrant living in Agadir, Morocco, was pregnant, she had no idea how to obtain a birth certificate for her baby. Without that critical piece of paper, her child would be unable to access services like health care and education in Morocco.
Then, at an information session for migrant women on reproductive health and family planning, she met Patrick Bogmis.
Patrick is the founder of the Fund-supported Association Lumière sur l’Émigration Clandestine au Maghreb (Light on Irregular Migration in the Maghreb Association, or ALECMA), a grassroots association of Sub-Saharan African migrants who advocate for the needs of their community in Morocco.
He helped Aminita and her husband understand their rights and navigate the process to obtain the document their baby was entitled to, ensuring the infant would have access to health care and other vital services during and after the COVID-19 pandemic.
“ALECMA has done so much to benefit migrants, especially woman and children,” says Aminita.
Aminita and her baby are two of an estimated 700,0000 migrants from Sub-Saharan Africa living in Morocco. Long a country of transit, Morocco has become a default destination for thousands of people migrating from Sub-Saharan Africa as entry to Europe has grown increasingly difficult.
Patrick understands as well as anyone the challenges that they face. Originally from Cameroon, Patrick migrated to Morocco in 2011. Along the way, he experienced firsthand the dangerous—and often deadly—conditions that migrants endure in pursuit of opportunity and a better life.
In 2012, Patrick formed ALECMA to raise awareness of the enduring racism and institutional violence that migrants from Sub-Saharan Africa experience. Composed entirely of migrants, the Rabat-based group has taken a bold approach to improving the lives of the migrant community in Morocco. With the support of the Fund, ALECMA works to improve access to basic social services, elevate their voices to influence policies that affect them, and provide vocational and other training to help them thrive in a new country and culture.
The COVID-19 pandemic has severely exacerbated already poor conditions for migrants. “The coronavirus health crisis has disrupted the daily lives of migrants who, for the most part, work in the informal sector,” says Patrick. And the loss of livelihoods has been compounded by barriers to accessing health services and overcrowded living conditions.
Thanks to support from the Fund this spring, Patrick and the activists of ALECMA have helped meet the needs of hundreds of women and child migrants in Rabat and the surrounding areas. As the Moroccan authorities issued preventative measures to stem the spread of COVID-19, ALECMA worked with other organizations to ensure that information was translated into multiple languages and readily available for migrant communities. They have also delivered food and sanitary kits that contain crucial items like soap, laundry detergent, and disinfectant wipes.
“The restrictive measures prescribed by the authorities have increasingly contributed to the vulnerabilities they face,” says Patrick. And despite promised government reforms and an influx of international funding, conditions remain exceedingly poor for hundreds of thousands of migrants in Morocco and protections are woefully limited.
But the community has a courageous champion in Patrick. “ALECMA will continue to fight for the defense, protection, and promotion of human rights,” he says. “The basis of ALECMA’s work is hope.”
Across the globe, millions of people have survived harrowing journeys and overcome immeasurable hardship to seek safety, equality, and opportunity. As major political, economic, social, and environmental transformations continue to drive displacement, millions more will follow. The Fund is proud to have supported Patrick and ALECMA since 2014 with the flexible funding and strategic support they need to protect and promote the human rights of migrants in Morocco.
*Names have been changed to protect the privacy of individuals.
2020 has been a devastating year for world hunger. Across the globe, food insecurity—the lack of reliable access to sufficient amounts of nutritious food—is on the rise, exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic, disruptions to food supply chains, and climate change. According to a joint report by the World Food Programme and more than a dozen partner organizations, 135 million people are acutely food insecure and around 183 million more are at risk.
Out of necessity, however, comes innovation. And in response to hunger, Fund-supported activists around the world are pioneering new ways to feed their communities.
Miriam Miranda is the executive director of the Organización Fraternal Negra Hondureña (Honduran Black Fraternal Organization, or OFRANEH), a social movement supported by the Fund that protects and promotes the rights of Honduras’s Afro-Indigenous Garifuna people. As the elected leader of OFRANEH and a leading Indigenous rights activist, Miriam has witnessed the staggering effects of food insecurity firsthand.
Large-scale industrial and tourism-related development projects threaten Garifuna lands where Indigenous communities have fished and farmed for generations. Local activists accuse corporate interests and the national government of colluding to seize and exploit their territory.
“They’re taking land that we were using to grow beans and rice so they can grow African palm for bio-fuel,” Miriam said in a 2015 speech. “Food sovereignty is being threatened everywhere.”
The COVID-19 pandemic has severely aggravated food insecurity in Honduras. “This pandemic will starve us,” Yensi Velásquez, a mother of two, told the World Food Programme earlier this year.
But with the government’s capacity stretched thin and international aid falling short, local leaders like Miriam have stepped up to feed hungry families. And after years of hard-fought resistance to exploitative development projects, the Garifuna have developed innovative ways of ensuring access to food.
This spring, within days of the pandemic reaching Honduras, OFRANEH organized ollas communitarias—or community pots—in nearly 20 Garifuna areas. Building on a long-standing tradition of communal eating borne of economic hardship and scarcity, the community pots are a collective solution to a common problem.
“It’s not easy, and the risk of [food] shortages is high,” writes one activist from OFRANEH. “However, what little we have, we share.”
Inspired by this Garifuna tradition, other Fund-backed activists in Honduras have followed suit, establishing community pots in the capital city of Tegucigalpa. As the Garifuna say, “Aura buni, Amurü nuni”—me for you and you for me.
Beyond ensuring everyone in their communities has food on the table, OFRANEH has also coordinated a public health response. Community members have sewed fabric masks, made and distributed hand sanitizer, educated people on how to protect themselves from the virus, and provided medicinal tea and information on herbs and nutrition that can help boost the immune system.
While OFRANEH has successfully pivoted to provide much-needed immediate support to their communities, they continue to address and advocate against the systemic inequality and corruption that makes Garifuna people, and other minority groups, more vulnerable to the effects of a pandemic in the first place.
To this end, they are connecting with other groups serving Indigenous communities to help maximize complementary grassroots COVID-19 responses and speaking out via the media about the need for greater transparency in how aid and emergency resources are distributed throughout Honduras.
“Just as we managed to survive the extermination and exile at the hands of the British,” says Miriam, “we will survive COVID-19.”
The COVID-19 pandemic has disproportionately impacted minority communities, including Indigenous peoples like the Garifuna. But through times of crises, visionary leaders like Miriam work untiringly to ensure their communities have continued access to resources, relief, and their fundamental rights. The Fund is proud to provide Miriam and OFRANEH with the critical support they need to succeed.