INTERVIEW: How we’re tackling sexual violence in Uganda – Activist

Tabitha Mparime recently in New York at the Global Citizen’s Movement Maker Summit
Tabitha Mparime recently in New York at the Global Citizen’s Movement Maker Summit

What sparks the movement that changes the world? This was the question that Global Citizen’s Movement Maker Summit sought to answer at the Global Citizen event held on September 25 in New York City.

At the event, three people working with different missions on changing their world received the Wailsitz Global Citizen Award.

One of the winners, Tabitha Mparime, a Rwandese who survived the 1994 genocide and is married to a Ugandan, won the second place award with a $50,000 cash prize.

After receiving the award, Mrs Mparime spoke with PREMIUM TIMES’ Ayodamola Owoseye about her foundation in Uganda. She spoke about what led her to the fighting for women and what she envisages for Africa at large in the fight against rape.

PT – What is the story behind EDJA Foundation?

Mparime: It started in the year 2015 when I travelled to Uganda to visit my husband’s home and site of his organisation. Upon arrival, I learnt that a 35 years old man had raped a nine-year-old girl that weekend. The adults around her knew of the incident but did nothing about it. She was in school the following Monday as if nothing happened.

I later learnt that a five-year-old girl in the village was raped by her grandfather and she was infected with HIV. Another 14-year-old girl in the neighbourhood was being repeatedly raped by her father since she was four years old. Unfortunately, she still resides with him till today despite efforts to seek help and safety.

I started the EDJA Foundation to not only send a message to all strong fighters out there that someone will stand by them but to tell the community, legal system and the abusers that ENOUGH IS ENOUGH!

PT- So what is the Foundation all about?

Mparime: Our big goal is to eradicate sexual assaults in the world. What we are doing now is provide free medical, legal counselling and education. We are getting the community, especially men and boys, to stop sexual assaults. We also support the survivors by the main message that the survivors want to hear, which is that “I believe you, what can I do for you and it is not your fault?”

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Unfortunately, this is not a rare occurrence in sub-Saharan Africa. Young girls are sexually assaulted frequently and justice is rarely served. I simply cannot comprehend this. When I learned of these sexual assaults, I was enraged. These children need more than another person lamenting angrily at their plight though. They need someone to stand up for them in their lives. They need a voice. They deserve a voice. As a survivor myself when I was eleven, I know where they are and I never got that. But I am hoping that no predators escape again.

The only difference is that these children, these young fighters, had the courage to tell someone and I did not. How can I encourage these girls to fight when I was not brave enough to fight for myself when it happened to me? That is why I have been inspired to start the EDJA Foundation.

PT- What has been the most touching story you ever handled?

Mparime: That was the five years old girl I was talking about, who was raped by her grandfather who was HIV-positive and left HIV-positive, that was because they couldn’t afford the PEP pill (Post- exposure prophylaxis). This means taking antiretroviral medicine (ART) after being potentially exposed to HIV to prevent becoming infected.

She became HIV-positive too. I could not really comprehend it. I am a mother of two girls (twins). I cannot imagine her mother’s pain of knowing that you could have done something but you couldn’t afford it or no one cares enough to put this man away. I do want to say that since we started, the grandfather got 32 years in jail. First story ever to have justice in this community!

We are right now still working in Uganda. Hopefully, one day we will be working everywhere. This should be a human right issue, there should be a repressive centre in every health department and there are not. Right now in Uganda, there is more to come now that we won $50,000.

PT- So how do you feel about winning the award?

Mparime: I am so excited because of how little it takes to save and change lives. For five dollars, this little girl would have been HIV-free by now. But with $50,000, we are going to open at least three more pricey centres. I am excited.

PT- Don’t you think the society has to do a lot more about the menace because, most times, you hear them blame the girls and women?

Mparime: That is one area our outreach programme is focusing. We are focusing on changing the stigma attached to this. We are changing where to put the shame; that it is on the perpetrators. It is never the victim’s fault that it happens to them.

We are using young men, older men, men who care, because there are good men in this world, to be the head of this movement. Because for women, we get it, we already know how these affect us, that we need men to be the one speaking up for us and for themselves too, especially the young ones.

PT – What has been the reception from the men, having to speak up against their fellow men, especially within the cultural African setting where they believe men do no wrong?

Mparime: Surprisingly, in just two years we have seen a whole turnaround. Before, they were saying: ‘Here comes this young girl who spends so much time in America and the school thing is ruining her.’ After seeing the change, how their girls are affected and how it affects the whole community, after three years, we arranged a walk to end social violence and over a thousand people showed up. Old men, young men, school, churches, preachers, mosques, it was incredible to see that all they needed was a voice!

PT- Has it been easy getting the religious bodies involved in the movement?

Mparime: I think everyone just has to get to a point whereby they get something to connect to. For the religions, we know that God and Jesus teach love and you cannot hurt somebody you love. So we start there. That is the thing, preaching God’s love. Whatever religious aspect that you are in, Allah, God, Jesus, Jehovah, whatever name, it preaches love. If you love your neighbour, protect your neighbour, how can you hurt a child, a woman, a boy? Boys get hurt too but they have not even started reporting. We start with where they are and the message that connects with their personal walk.

PT – What most organisations complain about that deters justice is that African laws are seen to be chauvinistic by nature. How have you been able to navigate that?

Mparime: It is not just the African world, it is globally. It’s all been a patriarchal society and we have people that have been fighting this for a long time, so I cannot even take credit for this. There have been a lot of women who have been doing this work way before we came along. So what we are doing is building on what they have been fighting for all this time. Our African mentality and culture are definitely making it that much harder, but times are changing. We are really in an exciting time where most women have done the hard work and we are just adding on.

PT- In the next five years, where do you see Africa in the fight against rape?

Mparime: I hope in the next five years I will not have to do this work. That would be the ideal way. When I know that everybody has got it, they finally got it. But being realistic, I hope at least we have a repressive centre in each and every hospital and that it is free and accessible.

PT- What is your last word for the perpetrators (those men who rape)?

Mparime: We are coming for you and this is going to end!

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