Pushing boundaries and changing the norm: the fight for gender equality Published in 2015 Pushing boundaries and changing the norm: the fight for gender equality The battle for women’s rights is a universal struggle that transcends borders, cultures, and communities. This year, Equitas’ International Human Rights Training Program is welcoming those who dedicate their lives to breaking down barriers that are keeping women from reaching their full potential. For many, it is a lonely and trying fight in their communities. It’s a way of life, a commitment, and a personal duty. Here is one of their stories: Adah Atoh Epse Mbah Muyang- Cameroon Adah, a mother of three and a teacher in Cameroon, knows all too well the struggle for women in a country where freedom of expression can be quite limited and often discouraged. That is why she founded Mother of Hope Cameroon (MOHCAM), an organization that works with women and young girls in various functions; namely in helping young mothers navigate the bumpy transition from youth to motherhood. MOHCAM also fights against any form of Gender Based Violence, due to the high prevalence of domestic violence in the community. “Mother of Hope Cameroon is my idea, it’s my passion, and it’s my life. It’s everything I want to do to be able to keep a legacy for other women to follow, because most of them are held back by the norms and cultures of the society,” she said. A victim of gender-based violence herself, Adah used her strength and courage to face her fears and uses her past to empower and transform the future of women and girls. “Being a victim of domestic violence, I have been in pain all through my life, but I learned to overcome it because I can now talk and share with others,” she said. Adah believes in preventative measures, such as reaching out to victims of domestic violence and their children, in order to prevent victims from becoming perpetrators themselves. Mother of Hope Cameroon enacts this vision through different community initiatives. They work within rural communities, and focus on educating women and girls about their sexual reproductive health. They also train women to master certain skills, like working with beads, and also the fabrication of reusable menstrual pads, all in the name of promoting sustainable growth. Adah says that many girls in rural communities in Cameroon often miss school when menstruating. They do not have access to the products that allow them to move around freely without soiling themselves. “We realized that the girls could not afford products for their menstrual needs. So we taught them in their schools through various gender clubs and communities how to stitch washable pads which they could use in times of crisis,” she explained. “That is a project which we are struggling to develop, because we want to create a market for it.” Photo Credit: Mother of Hope Cameroon Facebook Mother of Hope Cameroon faces the struggle of many small community-based organizations: a lack of funding. But Adah says that the women find ways to work around this hurdle. They visit groups where local women meet regularly, instead of spending money organizing their own meetings. This is where they hold their sensitization campaigns, like “Breaking the Silence” around menstrual hygiene. It is also a chance to speak and share experiences with other women. “We talk to them, we try to share basic experiences which we have difficulty in, and we talk as mothers and share our worries in order to be able to understand our young girls and provide a smooth transition in to motherhood,” she said. It has not been an easy ride for Adah, but she is determined to keep pushing her organization forward to ensure a better future for Cameroonian youth. She applied for the IHRTP in hopes to gain the skills to do so. “I want to learn skills that I can use to teach women about their rights. We do not know how to pin down our government to do the things that we want. So there is a lot of ignorance, a lot of corruption. The legal system is really expensive for the local woman to be able to find justice,” she explained. “So I want to get access, I want to get means or the techniques in which I can use to penetrate this difficult system.” During her three-week training, Adah was given the chance to meet fellow women’s rights activists. They brought their experiences and ideas to the classroom through the use of the participatory approach, which utilizes the participants’ experiences as the pillar for classroom discussion. Participants in action in the classroom They build knowledge around what they have lived and experienced, and facilitators help the participants analyze patterns. The resulting discussions open doors to new ideas and perspectives on human rights issues. Facilitators and resource persons introduce new knowledge and provide coaching to the participants as they plan how they will apply their learning to their day-to-day work. “I feel satisfied that I have been able to acquire more skills in regards to human rights education, and I’m now looking forward to replicate the techniques in my organizational work,” Adah said.