International Human Rights Day may be on December 10, but there’s no reason why we shouldn’t celebrate the accomplishments of people trying to change the world all year round. Although these particular individuals might not be talked about in the media as much as Kanye West’s ill-chosen words on slavery, or Kim Kardashian’s latest naked Instagram picture, they are accomplishing incredible achievements in order to advance the quality of life for some of the world’s most marginalized communities. Here are 5 African human rights activists who have dedicated their lives to solving the world’s most pressing issues.
1. Kasha Nabagesera
In a country where the LGBTQ community faces severe stigmatization and where homosexuality is punished by prison sentences, Kasha Nabagesera exemplifies the epitome of bravery by launching her own non-profit organization in defense of LGBTQ rights in Uganda. Growing up in her home country, Nabagesera was the victim of numerous beatings, corrective rape, and punishment due to her sexuality. She founded Freedom & Roam Uganda in 2003, and has since been working to raise awareness on LGBTQ rights, sexual and reproductive health, and ending Ugandan myths and misconceptions about homosexuality.
2. Ilwad Elman
Perhaps the youngest person on this list but nevertheless equally as influential, Ilwad Elman is a staunch advocate for women and girls rights in her native country of Somalia. Her father was also a human rights activist before he was savagely assassinated in 1996. After living in Canada for over a decade, Elman returned to Somalia and discovered her home country more war-torn than ever. She founded a clinic for survivors of sexual and gender based violence alongside her mother Fartuun Adan, and has since remained a leading activist in the campaign to end violence against women and has also co-founded the organization Elman Peace.
3. Rose Mapendo
The subject of the award-winning documentary Pushing The Elephant, Rose Mapendo has used her own story of tragedy to inspire efforts of peace and reconciliation in other countries ravaged by war. Born into a Tutsi family in the Democratic Republic of Congo, Mapendo is a survivor of the Rwandan genocide that nearly killed her and her entire family. She gave birth to her twin children in a death camp, and escaped numerous attempts to end her life and the lives of her children. In 2009, she was named the United Nations Humanitarian of the Year, and has since founded the Rose Mapendo Foundation to call attention to the ongoing conflict in DRC.
4. Kumi Naidoo
Born and raised in South Africa, Kumi Naidoo spent his early years protesting against the Apartheid regime. He was imprisoned multiple times and ostracized by Apartheid supporters, leading him to live a brief life of exile in the United Kingdom. After Nelson Mandela was released from prison in 1990, Naidoo returned to South Africa to begin work on the African National Congress, and became the founding executive director of the South African National NGO Coalition. He has since maintained a prominent role in Greenpeace Organization’s efforts against environmental destruction and climate change, and was recently appointed as the new Secretary-General of Amnesty International.