Photograph — RFI

Cameroonian women’s rights activist, Aïssa Doumara Ngatansou was awarded the Simone Veil International Prize held in France to mark International Women’s Day. She was recognised for her brave efforts towards promoting women’s rights in Cameroon.

Doumara runs an organisation that fights violence against women, including deprivation of rights and discrimination. Through intervention programmes, she facilitates a means of defending victims and survivors of violence. This often involves public power and local communities through information that promotes women’s rights like films on gender-based violence. She also supports victims of forced marriages and those who have been forced to flee their homes because of Boko Haram violence on Cameroon’s border with Nigeria. Thus, Domara fights to ensure that they have access to the same services and support as others.

The prize is in honour of iconic women’s rights activist Simone Veil, who fought for women’s legal rights in France in the 20th century. She introduced the right to abortion into French law in 1975 and was the first female president of the European Parliament. She passed away in 2017 and has become a real icon in France for women’s rights. Going forward, the ceremony will hold every year to recognize courageous individuals or organizations that are promoting women’s rights.

Kicking off the first edition, French president Emmanuel Macron presented Doumara with $122,000 for this year’s prize. The president praised her for “her commitment of over 20 years in the service of women, carried out in silence, sometimes in disapproval.” The award came two days after Ngatansou organized a mass marriage ceremony for 82 couples to ensure that women in the relationships are legally protected.

Originally from the far north of Cameroon, Doumara is a survivor of forced marriage. She was forcibly married at the age of 16 but escaped 11 years ago to finish her studies. Being a victim of women’s rights violation herself was a push for her to resolve to save the world.

“My own experience of gender discrimination has propelled me to become the activist for girls and women I am today,” said Aïssa Doumara.

Winning the Simone Veil Prize will empower Doumara’s organisation to achieve more. It will also enable them to care for displaced women and girls beyond the northern region, improving the lives of Cameroonian women.

Gender discrimination and gender-based abuse is a serious problem, especially in underdeveloped regions. These issues not only affect humans but also stand as an obstacle to social and economic development. There is great urgency to counter these problems and with the likes of Simone Veil, Doumara and braver women’s rights activists, there is hope for respect of women’s rights. With the right knowledge and distribution of gender-based information, more people will become aware and conscious of the problem.

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