Xolobeni activist Nonhle Mbuthuma at a presentation of a human rights report by Amnesty International. Picture: Getrude Makhafola / ANA

Johannesburg - Women activists across the world have been at the forefront of the battle for human rights in 2018, facing ''tough guy'' leaders trying to undermine rights and equality, the Amnesty International (AI) report on human rights released on Monday showed.

''They [leaders] sought to demonise and persecute already marginalised and vulnerable communities. But nowhere has the struggle for equality this year been louder or more visible than in the fight for women’s rights. In India and South Africa, thousands took to the streets to protest against endemic sexual violence. In Saudi Arabia and Iran respectively, women activists risked arrest to resist the driving ban and forced hijab (veiling). In Argentina, Ireland and Poland, demonstrators rallied in vast numbers to demand an end to oppressive abortion laws," Amnesty International said.

The report coincides with the United Nations Declaration of Human Rights adopted by the UN General Assembly on 10 December 1948. 

Millions of people in the USA, Europe and parts of Asia joined the #MeToo campaign led by women to demand an end to misogyny and abuse. In northeastern Nigeria, thousands of displaced women mobilised for justice for the abuses they suffered at the hands of Boko Haram fighters and the Nigerian security forces, said AI.

''The burgeoning power of women’s voices cannot be overstated. Spurred on by powerful cries for women’s rights to finally be respected, citizens of Ireland voted by a landslide to overturn the abortion ban. In Saudi Arabia, women were finally granted the right to drive. In Iceland and Sweden, new laws were passed recognising sex without consent as rape. In the USA, accusations of sexual misconduct sent shock waves through the Hollywood patriarchy, challenging decades of impunity.''

Despite the strides made by the courageous females, governments openly support policies and laws that subjugate and suppress women, read the report.

''Globally, 40 percent of women of childbearing age live in countries where abortion remains highly restricted, and some 225 million do not have access to modern contraception.  Gender-based violence disproportionately affects women, transgender people and gender non-conforming people; yet it remains a human rights crisis that politicians continue to ignore.''

''One in 10 girls worldwide is reportedly sexually assaulted by the age of 20, while only a third of EU countries recognize that sex without consent is rape. Elsewhere, in interviews with Amnesty International, women from conflict-affected areas of Nigeria, Iraq, South Sudan and Myanmar described the horrors of sexual violence they have faced, often by their country’s own security forces.''

The AI research noted that on the African continent, despite some progress, 2018 saw too many governments in sub-Saharan Africa continuing with brutal repression of dissent and restricting the space in which people can defend human rights. From Niger to Sierra Leone and Uganda to Zambia, governments used repressive tactics to silence human rights defenders, media, protesters and other dissenting voices. 

''But here were signs of hope, as in Ethiopia and Angola, as result of the change in leadership. The best news of all, however, is the extraordinary bravery displayed by ordinary people across Africa, including courageous women human rights defenders who exemplify resilience in the face of repression.''

One of the courageous women is South Africa's Nonhle Mbuthuma, an activist at the forefront of the fight for the preservation of the aMadiba people's ancestral land in Xolobeni on the Wild Coast, Eastern Cape. Mbuthuma had to live in hiding after receiving death threats. Last month, a high court order granted the community the power to refuse an Australian mining company the right to extract titanium in Xolobeni. The aMadiba are concerned about displacement from their homes and grazing lands, as well as environmental degradation brought by mining operations. Mbuthuma lost some of her fellow activists who died in mysterious circumstances.

She said mining is not an option for the future of Xolobeni.

“When you take my land, you take my identity. The land belonged to my grandparents, who inherited it from their parents. What am I going to leave for my children? Mining is not an option. They tried to intimidate us and they failed...I’m still standing. Nothing is going to separate us from the land.''

African News Agency (ANA)