We can make a difference – Karen Mukwasi
Across the world, women human rights defenders continue to call for justice, peace, and gender equality – despite facing immense challenges. Still, or maybe because of that, they continue to fight. This week, we commemorate the International Women Human Rights Defenders Day 2023 and celebrate the remarkable work carried out by women human rights defenders worldwide.
Karen Mukwasi is the Director and Co-founder of the Pada Platform, an organisation that works with young girls and women human rights defenders.
Being a woman human rights defender in Zimbabwe
“The biggest challenge that we face is the context that we’re working within already. We’re in a country where patriarchy is very dominant. So as a woman, you’re expected to be seen but not heard. Every time a woman speaks up, it will be offensive to a certain group of people. Working in a repressive context is difficult because you’re not sure whether to speak out. So, it’s been challenging to be that woman who speaks out all the time but also to see other women who speak out be silenced, sometimes in very brutal ways. You’re not sure what risks you’re going to face if you do speak out, but at the same time, the decision to keep quiet is not one that you can afford to make,” says Karen Mukwasi.
Karen and her organisation work to promote the rights of women and young girls and be a space that brings women and girls to innovate, create, and speak up through the use of digital and media platforms.
“I did not decide to work with human rights defenders. I just found myself doing the work because of a gap I discovered, where the voices of women were not represented and a lot of issues concerning women were being silenced.”
Something that has never happened before
“One of the moments when I realised we could make a difference was back in 2021. A young woman, a girl really, she was 14, died in childbirth. She had been a victim of child marriage and she couldn’t give birth to that child. She was buried at a shrine without the authorities even knowing of her death. When we heard her story, we came together.
We tried to make sure that she got justice,
even though we had already lost her.
I did a petition addressed to the police. Within 48 hours, this petition had more than 80,000 signatures and we got support from all over the world. We even got a response from the Commissioner General of Police. The police were giving us updates – something that has never happened.”
“The police gave us constant updates on where they were in the case. I realised that if just one petition can make a difference, if it can bring women together, and if it can get so many results, it is very possible to make a difference.”
We can make a difference
Karen says that we need to keep going. “What keeps me going are the small wins. Sometimes you wake up in a context where you feel hopeless. Then something happens, and you get a small win. When you see the change that you’re capable of, you keep going because you want to see more small wins like that. Maybe one day there will be a big win.”
What would you like to say to other women human rights defenders?
“Never deliberately get yourself into unnecessary trouble, always be aware of the risks that you face and also look within yourself to be able to go on. Always re-energise yourself and take good care of yourself. As an activist, you can never pour from an empty cup, so it is important to make sure that you fill your cup by taking good care of yourself in terms of your well-being and in terms of your security,” says Karen. She concludes:
“We are all in this together. We could be in different countries or different contexts, but the fight that we fight is the same. We should be able to give each other solidarity whenever we can. And we cannot afford to give up.”
Read more about the remarkable work carried out by some women human rights defenders worldwide here.