I Need to Move Forward – Mélanie Sonhaye Kombate

Melanie in a garden
Mélanie Sonhaye Kombate is the Executive Director of the West Africa Human Rights Defenders Network, based in Lomé, Togo. Photo: Civil Rights Defenders.

Across the world, women human rights defenders continue to speak up against human rights violations, and to call for justice, peace, and equality – despite facing immense challenges, including sexual harassment and violence, smear campaigns, and defamation. Meet one of many brave women human rights defenders from Africa. 

Mélanie Sonhaye Kombate is the Executive Director of the West Africa Human Rights Defenders Network (WAHRDN), based in Lomé, Togo. As an outspoken woman human rights defender, she encourages other women human rights defenders to continue reading, training, and learning as much as they can in order to continue the fight for human rights.  

We asked Mélanie about her work as a woman human rights defender in Togo. This is what she told us. 

Being a woman human rights defender in Togo 

“The very first time I was affected by my status as a woman human rights defender, I was working with the United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights in Togo. It was during the presidential elections and I was responsible for our helpline for reporting human rights violations in Togo. But many times, the calls were not from victims of human rights violations, but instead from people trying to intimidate me. They even called me in the middle of the night. 

Another example is from my work with the West African Human Rights Defenders Network. During a session of the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights, I was presenting a report on the human rights situation in West Africa. I was targeted several times by people in the audience and, being a woman, I was not only targeted because of my speech. I was also stopped backstage and they (people from the audience) tried to intimidate me with violence and verbal abuse. 

I can’t say that it does not affect me, but what I tell myself is that I am a strong woman and that I need to move forward.” 

What would you like to say to other women human rights defenders? 

“Women human rights defenders, I want to tell you this: You are the mothers of humanity – it is you who carry the humanity. I know that you are brave, but it is important that you continue to train yourselves. Do not sit back – read the books that have already been written, participate in trainings, strengthen your capacity, and continue your fight!” 

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