Tilder Kumichii: Human Rights Defender from Cameroon

21.04.2015

Tilder Kumichii is Programme Coordinator at Gender Empowerment and Development (GeED) based in Cameroon, focusing on gender and human rights issues. 

Tilder Kumichii is Programme Coordinator at Gender Empowerment and Development (GeED) based in Cameroon, focusing on gender and human rights issues.

‘My motivation to do human rights work stems from my personal experience as a young woman growing up in a patriarchal system, which forced me to marry very young and become a very young widow’.

Tilder expressed that the process of experiencing widowhood at a young age was not easy. As young as 24 years old, she struggled to support herself and her 4 children. She stressed the need for support and solidarity during those years, and needing a network or institution she could turn to for help. In the end, certain individuals gave her opportunities to stand on her own feet.

‘I needed to have a strategic objective for myself, which was to work to support the women who need help’.

Tilder resolved to devote her life to support other women who find themselves in a similar situation like herself. Describing herself as a woman human rights defender, she stresses that she is involved in both teaching people to understand their rights, as well as seeking accountability for violations and abuses of human rights.  

‘I am seeking to promote social justice through gender equality and human rights based approach to social problems’.

Tilder has lobbied hard for a national gender policy, and is part of a group working on a draft family code in Cameroon to ensure that it is gender sensitive. A gender policy was put in place in November 2014, which she was also involved in the development of. Tilder conducts human rights education programmes in schools so that girls understand their rights from a young age.

‘The biggest challenge I face in my work is in relation to traditional and cultural contexts in Cameroon’.

Working within a patriarchal system, Tilder states that women are often regarded as property and that they must fit certain gender stereotypes. Women who transgress these boundaries and challenge these norms are seen as dangerous.

‘I have faced increasing incidents of intimidation and threats. These are directly related to my work, which involves bringing attention to cases of domestic violence and sexual harassment’.

In confronting these types of abuses, which often occur in private settings, Tilder faces backlash from anonymous individuals and members of her community. ‘If I was a man, I would probably still be attacked for my work but in a very different way. The attacks I face involve shaming and blaming, using my gender against me with the purpose of humiliating me’ states Tilder.

‘Cameroon has an NGO law, but it is very difficult to be registered under this law’.

However, there is a law from 1990 on the registration of associations. Under this law, if an organisation can deposit all the required documents to the regional authorities, they are given a receipt and are thereby lawfully able to function. The law on NGO registration needs to be improved, so that NGOs don’t have to register as associations.

‘There is also a need for a national law on the protection of HRDs with specific provisions for WHRDs that address their specific concerns’.

At the same time, existing laws that discriminate against women need to be reviewed to bring them in line with human rights standards, such as the law on adultery. However, without a clear strategy for implementation of some of the more progressive laws such as the national gender policy, nothing can change for us on the ground.

‘The future for human rights defenders in Cameroon is neither bright nor bleak’.

However, there are certain openings and opportunities that HRDs must make the most of. Tilder is a member of the National Human Rights Commission and the President of its Working Group 4 that looks into Special Issues, including the situation of human rights defenders. It is promising that the Commission has included a human rights defender to be part of its membership, and Tilder sees her role as one to bring the civil society voices.

‘I started engaging with the African human rights system some years ago when we were beginning to push for specific consideration of the situation of WHRDs’.

Since then, Tilder has been engaging with the Commissioners, especially the Special Rapporteur on Human Rights Defenders. She believed that most useful was the official country visit of the Special Rapporteur to Cameroon.  ‘It was powerful to have an African human rights expert representing an African inter-governmental institution coming to examine the situation of HRDs in Cameroon’ said Tilder.

‘It is vitally important for HRDs at the national level to engage with the regional and UN human rights mechanisms if they want to strategically advance their domestic objectives’.

‘Firstly, when HRDs come to this space, particularly the NGO Forum, we exchange and share experiences. There is mutual learning which informs our activities. We build solidarity in the continent. Secondly, we have the opportunity to meet with Commissioners and interact with them. When you can share your experiences and problems, it influences their discussions during the session. Thirdly, the outcomes of the ACHPR, such as the report on WHRDs to be adopted at the 56th session of the ACHPR, brings credibility to our work because it has come from independent experts but corroborates all that we have been saying. This report gives me tools to engage in discussion with so many stakeholders on protection of WHRDs in Cameroon – it has given me a framework to have discussions with parliamentarians, police authorities, etc.’ said Tilder.

‘One of the biggest problems I have is how to translate the African and UN human rights standards into local realities’.

At the national level, Tilder points out that there exist many different realities coexisting at the same time.

‘Many people don’t see themselves in these documents, it is not personalised. There is a need to simplify, localise and domesticate these instruments so that it touches the daily realities of the people’. 

Category:

Region
  • Africa
Topic
  • Human rights defenders
  • Women's rights and WHRD
Mechanism
  • African Commission on Human and Peoples' Rights
Country
  • Cameroon