An initiative has been launched to end gender-based violence. Here two local ambassadors for the UN’s HeForShe campaign tell their stories
Since its launch in 2014, UN Women’s HeForShe movement has engaged men and boys to become advocates in advancing women’s rights. This spring, the central African state of Gabon became the latest country to embrace the programme in an initiative launched by the government-led program “Gabon Egalité” (Gabon Equality) and the country’s Sylvia Bongo Ondimba Foundation.
Two Gabonese students, Leddy Mansour Ogandaga and Jamilia Ntongone Assoumou explain how they got involved in the initiative.
Leddy’s story: “It all started when I saw an advertising awareness campaign on national television. The advertisement by the Gabon Egalité programme showed a woman beaten by her spouse until she, unfortunately, succumbed to her injuries. “Yes, seeing such a scene on national television shocked and offended some. But it made me realise the importance that must be given to protecting women’s rights.
“At the time I was chair of a local group of intellectuals called Gabon Intellect. We were preparing to stage the National Debating Championship, which brought together several universities and high schools in Gabon in an oratorical contest.
“My colleagues and I decided that for this year’s competition the theme should be the ‘Fight Against Gender-Based Violence’ in order to participate, at our modest level, in the all-out promotion of women’s rights.
“The contest was broadcast as a TV programme on the national channel and on social networks, and was a great success.
“At the same time, Gabon Equality was calling through social media for equality ambassadors who would help deliver a series of activities as part of the international ‘16 Days of Activism’ campaign against gender-based violence. “I applied, proposing an awareness campaign in all the higher establishments participating in the National Debating Championships, and was accepted.
“Our initiative had three distinct themes: the different types of violence against women; the various sanctions provided for by law to punish such violence; and the various means of denunciation available to victims and witnesses.
“This is how I ended up becoming part of the HeForShe campaign. The success of our awareness campaign meant Gabon Egalité and the Sylvia Bongo Ondimba Foundation chose me, along with several other young people who are equally committed to the defence of women’s rights, to become ambassadors for gender equality.
“When our President, H.E. Ali Bongo Ondimba, and the Regional Director of UN Women for West and Central Africa, Mrs Oulimata Sarr, launched HeForShe for the protection and recognition of women’s rights in Gabon it has become the focus of our work. “Hopefully, with pride and determination and through supporting the campaign by helping deliver its action kits to students, we are making a real difference to this important area.”
Jamilia’s story: “I am a Law student at the Omar Bongo University in Libreville. Last year, I was the first woman to run for Student Union President since the opening of the university more than 50 years ago. It was hard because I had to face prejudice and smear campaigns.
“I am glad I could count on the support and the encouragement of my classmates, friends and brothers who support the ideology according to which a woman, if she has the intellectual capacities and a strong leadership, can be at the head of a political movement and defend the interests of the greatest number of valid way.“Even though there may have been some good-natured teasing, my friends stayed by my side throughout the campaign. That gave me the strength to go all the way.
“In Gabon, it is true that we have women at the head of certain institutions but inequalities continue to be felt in the daily lives of the population. This is because many people continue to have a backward mentality and still cling to the idea that men are superior to women.
“That is why I am proud to be part of HeForShe. For me, it is more than essential because it calls on young men to engage with their sisters, mothers and female friends and let them know that they can enjoy their rights on the same basis as any man.
”The country’s governmental program Gabon Egalité is now running the six week nationwide HeForShe campaign with the deployment of key messages, tools and actions to raise awareness in support of women and equal rights. It is highlighting several milestones such as the Gabonese Women’s Decade from 2015 to 2025, the appointment of women at the top level of the government and the many key achievements spearheaded by Gabon Egalité, such as recent legislative reforms for the protection of women and girls through a national framework promoting equal rights.
“The campaign has seen Gabon’s President, Ali Bongo, awarded the HeForShe recognition by the United Nations for enacting policies in promoting women’s rights and gender equality agendas.”
On receiving the award, the President said: “This award will make us work even harder, and I dedicate this to all women victims and survivors of violence, as their numbers are still unfortunately too high. I, therefore, invite all Gabonese men and women to take full part in the HeForShe solidarity movement, the objective of which is to make men contribute fully to gender equality.”