Limited participation in political and public life; gender based violence; lack of education; Female Genital Mutilation (FGM); poverty, lack of production and fulfilment of human rights, are some of the major challenges activists campaign, and raise awareness for in Africa, and around the world. For our second #TeakisiWoman feature this month, we speak to Tabitha Mpamira-Kaguri, a child abuse, sexual assault, and domestic violence activist.
Who is Tabitha Kaguri?
Tabitha: I would describe myself as a Rwandan woman, wife, mother of four, activist, seeker of knowledge, and carrier of light.
What’s a typical day like in your life?
Tabitha: I do not have a typical day. I do not like routine, and anytime my life sets into a routine for over a week, I start to panic and find a way to change it. I like staying open to possibilities, and I feel that routines keep me stagnant. But generally, no matter where I find myself, if I am not traveling, my morning will start with a devotional/meditation. Packing lunches and making breakfast for the kids, and taking them to school. The middle part of my day looks different everyday. Sometimes, I have meetings, a yoga class whenever I can, a bit of work here and there, or attend to a speaking engagements. Then I would pick up my kids from school, help with homework or go to extra curricular activities, like swimming or taekwondo. I would then prepare dinner, eat as a family, worship, give them baths, read to then, before putting them to bed. Once they are in bed, I would then get a chance to respond to emails, catch up with more work – be it my own school work or EDJA’s.
What is Edja Foundation, and how did it come about?
Tabitha: I founded EDJA Foundation in 2015 to combat child abuse, sexual assault, and domestic violence in rural Uganda. EDJA began after a nine-year-old primary student was raped by a 35-year-old man. Although the adults around her knew about the rape, they did not know how, nor have the resources to help the young girl. Since then, EDJA has grown to support many girls and women from the ages of 4 to 38, who have been sexually assaulted. The program provides FREE counseling, legal advocacy, and medical services in two districts of Southwest Uganda, Rukungiri and Kanungu. EDJA combines its efforts with Nyaka, an organisation which is run by my husband. In 2018, EDJA Foundation and Nyaka determined that the best way to address sexual assault in Uganda was to merge the two organisations. Through the sharing of resources, we are able to expand on programs, allowing the support of more communities.
Why did you think it was important to start your organisation?
Tabitha: I knew it was imperative that I started my organization because, I knew that without it, the cycle would never be broken. I saw a 9 year old being told that she was worth a goat, that she could be raped and nothing would happen to the perpetrator. This burden was being left with this child, and the consequences of the trauma for the rest of her life. I saw what it had done to me, and many others. The feeling of having no one or nowhere to turn to, is the worst one of all. So, the message from within or above, was clear, “why do you get the luxury to wait to do something, when they are hurting now?”
In your experience with the work you do with EDJA, what is the number one leading factor that prohibits victims of rape and sexual assault from reporting the abuse?
Tabitha: I don’t know if we can rank factors, because they all intersect. For one, there is the rape culture of blaming the victim, that is embedded in society. Poverty plays a big role too. This is especially witnessed in how differently cases are handled, when people are of a different social class.
It’s been reported that inequality is one of the leading causes of poverty, and rural Uganda is poor. How does this affect the work you do, and how do you go about addressing it?
Tabitha: Poverty is one of the reasons EDJA was needed in this community. As an example, because of poverty, police officers would take a bribe from a perpetrator, instead of protecting the child whose been assaulted. Poverty would lead a mother to accept a goat as an apology for their child getting raped. Now, this situations are becoming less because we are there, teaching and supporting the families and communities.
What measures can African governments put in place to combat abuse on children and women?
Tabitha: I think it is much bigger than measures. A lot of governments have the right measures on paper, but the cultural mindset still needs to be changed. We need a paradigm shift in order to see real change. Governments need to appoint more women in positions of power, hold men accountable, change the education of our children – so that they understand consent, women’s rights embedded in every classroom, et cetera.
In your opinion, has the #MeToo movement changed the way the media reports on rape and sexual assault of women and girls?
Tabitha: I think it has improved but nowhere close to where it should be. They are covering stories more, but still focus too much on the perpetrator, and how they will be affected by the case. Coverage has increased for sure, and hopefully this will creates an opportunity for the conversation to continue, and hold media companies accountable.
What keeps you awake at night?
Tabitha: Thinking about all the kids who might be hurting, but have no one to turn to. All the women who feel helpless, due to lack of resources and support.
What are you thankful for?
Tabitha: I am mostly thankful for having a relationship with God, for my supportive family, especially my husband who believed me when I finally spoke about my own personal trauma, and got behind me to get EDJA to where it is now.
Which African women inspire you? (Name 5)
Tabitha: Edith Mpamira (Mother)
chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
Ellen Johnson Sirleaf