Urgent Action Fund-Africa’s grant making model enables women’s human rights defenders and organisations to act quickly, take advantage of unexpected opportunities, mitigate threats, and prevent backsliding in their ongoing work to advance women’s human rights. The organisation is rapidly redefining the traditional meaning of what it means to be a women human rights defender through its rapid response grant making model, which are mostly a lifeline to at-risk and vulnerable women in Africa, responding to unplanned incidences not covered by the long term funding. They respond to requests in as little as 24 hours filling that first responder role. The stories below demonstrates how this consciously feminist organising is changing the thinking around who should be defined as a women human rights defender across the world.
In March 2012, Amina Al Filali, 16, drank rat poison after being severely beaten during a forced marriage to her rapist. The girl’s rapist had sought to escape prison by invoking an article of the penal code that he would exonerate him if the rape victim was his wife. Under Moroccan law, rape was punishable by five to 10 years in prison, rising to between 10 and 20 years if the victim is a minor. Article 475 of the Moroccan penal code in French indicated that the ‘kidnapper’—a term that can refer to an attacker or rapist—of a minor cannot be prosecuted if he marries his victim. The Arabic version refers to the one who “kidnaps or deceives’’ a minor. In both the French and Arabic wording, the Article justifies the minor’s marriage and the ‘kidnapper’s acquittal.
In some societies, including several in the Arab world, the loss of a woman’s virginity outside of marriage is considered a dishonour to her family. Arrangements are often made for rape victims to marry their attackers. When Amina committed suicide, hundreds of women and women’s rights activists marched in Rabat in support of changing the penal code and staged a sit-in at the parliament. In the same year, the parliament rejected the banning of articles 475 in the penal code and article 20 a,d 21 in the family code. Many NGOs, human right defenders and women deputies expressed their disappointment regarding this decision and called for a strong mobilization to advocate for the reform or banning of these laws which legitimates impunity, rape and allows for child marriages. Union de l’Action Féminine (UAF) Morroco, received support from Urgent Action Fund- Africa to sufficiently mobilize public opinion against Parliament’s decision and agitate for the decision makers to ban this article and others of a discriminatory nature in the family code.
Through Urgent Action Fund- Africa’s support, UAF Morocco was able to successfully advocate for the repeal of the article. In January 2014, Morocco’s parliament unanimously amended this article proposing prison sentence of up to 25 years for perpetrators of violence against women.
In February 2014, Meriam Ibrahim, a 27-year-old Sudanese woman was arrested and charged for apostasy and adultery because of her marriage to a non-Muslim. Imprisoned together with her 20-month-old son while pregnant herself, Meerim was on 15th May 2014, found guilty of both charges and sentenced to one-hundred public lashings and execution by hanging. While incarcerated at Omdurman Women’s Prison in Khartoum, Meriam, now awaiting her execution, gave birth to a baby girl in shackles and without any proper medical attention.
This case was a reflection on the disproportionate and selective enforcement of the law to the adverse of women’s rights. Meriam’s plight mirrored that of many women suffering under the yoke of patriarchal systems particularly within a religious context. An appeal process would make valuable contributions to the setting of a legal precedent in Sudan shedding light on an overwhelmingly powerful structure with a track record of marginalizing women. We provided timely support to Strategic Initiative for the Horn of Africa Network (SIHANET) to engage and retain a qualified and capable legal team that would secure Meriam’s release. This came to fruition resulting in an order from the appeal court to release Meriam and cancel the earlier court ruling. UAF-Africa believes and supports the extraordinary efforts of women challenging patriarchy, fundamentalism, harmful traditional values or any other contextual factors that impact negatively on women’s rights. We know that indeed our personal struggles as women in a distinctly patriarchal and insecure context are a reflection
on the imbalances of power and gender inequality in public spheres and have potential impact on the collective cause of advancing and safeguarding women’s human rights. UAF- Africa has a pulse on the ground, to not only listen to the voices of women on the ground but to respond in a timely and effective manner. Never missing an opportunity to safeguard and advance women’s rights, UAF-Africa has invested heavily in a rapid response grantmaking model that is conversant with, accessible, and responsive to the urgent needs and priorities of women across the continent.
In 2016, Kvinfo, Copenhagen and Droit & Justice, Casablanca invited a women’s rights defender from Morocco to Copenhagen to talk about women’s rights and child marriages in Morocco during the Women Deliver event. While the WHRD’s planned to leave Morocco, word spread that she would attend the conference. She fled her ex-husband to go to Copenhagen, but her ex-husband intercepted her before she could leave and beat her up. None-the-less, the WHRD went to Copenhagen. The news was in the media; newspapers, TV and online.
The WHRD is a brave woman who believes that she needs to continue to speak up for other women in her situation. She was convinced about her actions but back home she was castigated for speaking out in Copenhagen. She and her six children have been living like outcasts since she took part in the conference. The WHRD feared for her life, and many times her ex-husband tracks her down and violently attacks her. She feels let down and appears suicidal at times. The WHRD received an eviction notice from her house and needed to find a safe space away from her ex-husband, father and brother–who are angry with her because she speaks out for women’s rights and because she went to Denmark for the Women Deliver conference and wants her to go back to her husband. The WHRD wanted to get away before her father and brother returns from their pilgrimage in Mecca. UAF-Africa stepped in quickly at this point and provided her with support she needs to escape from the looming danger. She was able to secure her life and those of her children and continues to be an advocate against early child marriages. UAF-Africa believes and supports the extraordinary efforts of women challenging patriarchy, fundamentalism, harmful traditional values or any other contextual factors that impact negatively on women’s rights. We know that indeed our personal struggles as women in a distinctly patriarchal and insecure context are a reflection on the imbalances of power and gender inequality in public spheres and have potential impact on the collective cause of advancing and safeguarding women’s human rights.
For more on the works of UAF-Africa visit www.urgentactionfund-africa.or.ke