20 March 2019

Cameroon: Aïssa Doumara Ngatansou - Winner of the First Simone Veil International Prize

Cameroonian women's rights activist Aïssa Doumara Ngatansou was awarded the Simone Veil International Prize for her commendable efforts in promoting the rights of Cameroonian women.

Cameroonian gender activist Aissa Doumara Ngatansou is the first recipient of the Simone Veil International Prize. She is the co-founder of a branch of the Association for the Elimination of Violence against Women (ALVF), which works with survivors and advocates with decision-makers to end early and forced marriage and other forms of gender-based violence. Through its partnerships, ALVF has provided relief, livelihoods and psychosocial support to women and girls affected by the Boko Haram insurgency in the region.

Speaking about the roots of her activism, Ngatansou was quoted by ALVF partner UN Women saying, "Through my own struggles I realised the main challenge is the patriarchal nature of our society. Gender discrimination and violence against women is rooted in our culture and religion. In our area, religion and culture are intertwined and men use religion for personal interest and to keep women marginalised. Women are simply not given equal importance and treatment to men."

Although the association has made massive strides in the support and empowerment of vulnerable women, child marriage and gender-based violence are still common in Cameroon, partly due to the activities of Boko Haram in the region.

"We have made considerable progress in sensitising women, traditional and religious leaders and families, but it's still not enough. Child marriage and the rape of young girls are still rampant in our society, and the Boko Haram insurgency has made it worse," Ngatansou has said.

"It has caused massive population displacements in the region and increased poverty and the school dropout rate of young girls. There is also a rise in rape and kidnapping of young girls by the terrorist group. This has made many parents marry off their girls early."

The Simone Veil International Prize honours the 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. When Veil died in 2017 at the age of 89, she became the fifth woman to be laid to rest in the Pantheon in Paris, alongside her husband.

According to a statement by the French government, the Simon Veil Prize honours people from around the world who are fighting for women's causes. Its main purpose is to showcase action to end violence and discrimination against women, improve their access to the education and knowledge that would promote their economic autonomy, their opportunities for entrepreneurship and their participation in leadership roles.

Doumara dedicated her award to "all women victims of violence and forced marriages, to all those who have escaped from Boko Haram".

President Emmanuel Macron of France presented Doumara with US$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."

"You were outraged and you didn't give way... This is an example of courage, of challenging the weight of legacies... Many women are in the frontline of this fight but the whole of society should mobilise, including men," he added.

The Simone Veil Prize will be awarded every year on 8 March on International Women's Day, with and additional €100,000 to finance any action in the field that is conducted or recommended by the prize winner.

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