The Fight Goes On – Bernadette Ntumba

Bernadette in front of a tree
Bernadette Ntumba is a human rights defender living in exile in Uganda. 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. 

Bernadette Ntumba is from the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), but because of severe threats against herself and her family, she was forced to flee DRC and seek safety in Uganda. Bernadette has been in exile for four years. She believes that the world can change for the better, but it requires women human rights defenders to stand united and call for change.  

We asked Bernadette about her work as a woman human rights defender living in exile. This is what she told us. 

Being a woman human rights defender in exile 

“My name is Bernadette Ntumba. I am Congolese, but I am currently living in exile in Uganda. So, I am a woman human rights defender in exile. 

I have received many threats, but I will only give a couple of examples. I was visited by unknown persons carrying weapons and even military uniforms. They broke into my house and committed barbaric acts in there. This was during a night in 2017. They looted my house and we were saved only after some young people outside made some noise. The perpetrators ran off when they heard the yelling outside. 

I was also visited several times by a warlord – and this was enough for me to leave Congo and move to Uganda in 2016, with the help of REDAC. I did however need to return to Congo at one point, but once in the country, me and my children were subjected to attempted rape. 

Still, I gave it my all and I told myself that I cannot give up. I must not remain silent. I must continue. But seeing what I had lived through, I could not stay in Congo. I left with great sadness, because I felt I was abandoning thousands of women.”  

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

“The message I would like to give to other women human rights defenders is that the fight goes on and we must not give up. Where I come from, it is common that women, Congolese women, are discriminated against. As women, we must stand up and fight against all practices that are discriminatory against us. We must always stand up and raise our voices, because it is together that we can change things.  

Together we can call on others – women who started this fight before us and women who are with us now. We can fight for the respect of women’s rights and for governments to apply equal opportunity for women.”

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