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International Women’s Day: Digital Rights Advocate Gladys Mbuyah

International Women’s Day: Digital Rights Advocate Gladys Mbuyah

Gladys Mbuyah is a barrister and renowned human rights activist working in Cameroon. She has been part of Media Defence’s network for several years, having attended our digital rights litigation surgeries. She is currently part of our peer support programme for women lawyers in sub-Saharan Africa.

President of the Cameroon Bar Association Social Affairs Commission, Mbuyah splits her professional time between litigation and advocacy for the promotion and defence of women’s rights. 

Mbuyah is also president of International Federation of Women Lawyers (FIDA) Cameroon. In this role, she uses law and advocacy to protect the rights of women before courts and tribunals.

Mbuyah has been part of the “Global Voices for Women” radio show on Radio Beau in Cameroon for over nineteen years. The programme discusses women’s rights – including inheritance rights, property rights, economic rights, reproductive rights, and women’s rights to education. It also touches on topics such as violence against women and the protection of women human rights defenders.

Digital rights litigation surgeries and the peer support programme

Mbuyah attended Media Defence’s West Africa freedom of expression & digital rights litigation surgery in Lagos, Nigeria in 2018. More recently, she took part in our online West Africa advanced digital rights & online freedom of expression litigation surgery. She noted the following when describing her experience in attending the surgeries:

 “Thanks to Media Defence, I am now connected to many digital rights lawyers in various countries. The litigation surgeries have encouraged me and enhanced my knowledge on digital rights and strategic litigation. As a result, I have organised digital rights awareness-raising activities. Furthermore, I am now looking to file a public interest case requesting for unconstitutional laws and limits to the right to freedom of expression to be reviewed.”

 

Mbuyah is also part of our peer support programme for women lawyers in sub-Saharan Africa. The programme is designed for women lawyers with an interest in digital rights. It is the first initiative within our new project: Empowering Women in Digital Rights Advocacy (EWDRA). The one-year programme aims to provide a platform for newly trained women lawyers to build their expertise in collaboration with other more experienced practitioners.

“I find the peer support programme very exciting and important. It has created an opportunity to network with colleagues, as well as the opportunity to share my experiences and learn from others’ experiences. I am learning about areas of work in which lawyers can collaborate internationally.”

Cameroon’s anti-terrorism legislation

Mbuyah’s work is inspiring and crucial in Cameroon, where freedom of expression is being stifled by draconian laws applied arbitrarily. In 2014, the Cameroonian government introduced a repressive anti-terrorism law that is curtailing free speech both online and offline. While the government enacted the legislation under the guise of protecting national security and upholding public order, it has had a chilling effect on journalism and media freedom. The law has been used to suppress dissent and to arrest activists, opposition party members, and journalists.

The impact: stifling freedom of expression

Cameroon dropped to 118 out of 180 in RSF’s World Press Freedom Index in 2022. The barometer reflects the increasingly hostile environment journalists in the country are forced to operate in. In particular, journalists from Anglophone regions in the west of Cameroon are subject to state harassment. Additionally, they are often accused of complicity with a secessionist movement. This has resulted in journalists who report on issues in Anglophone regions to be exposed to threats, arrests, legal harassment, and even murder.

“When I speak about women’s rights, most people are receptive to the message. However, sometimes I worry about my safety when speaking out about freedom of expression. There are many examples of people being locked up and even killed for freely expressing themselves.” 

 

“The list of things to do is long”, she says, when we ask her whether she is hopeful for the future. However, this does not stop Mbuyah from continuing her fight for freedom of expression, digital rights, and women’s rights. She has given pro bono representation to hundreds of vulnerable women and prominent journalists before courts. Given the hostile environment for freedom of expression in Cameroon, it is even more encouraging that lawyers like Mbuyah do this fundamental work. We are honoured to have Mbuyah as part of our network.

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