Being an activist, organizer, and human rights defender is a tedious job, even more for women. Scovia Chelangat has had a fair share of this.
Scovia Chelangat is a 30-year-old Ugandan activist and organizer from the Indigenous Benet people along the slopes of Mt Elgon in Eastern Uganda. She has been at the forefront of the fight against the illegal evictions and land grabs that the Benet Indigenous people have suffered for many decades.
In Scovia’s words, “After seeing what we were going through, I had to join hands with my community to fight against UWA who were torturing us and we have been encouraging the women in our community to join the peaceful demonstrations because they have been gravely affected by the atrocities of the UWA such as rape, loss of property, and homes”. She also adds that through training and mentorship from Solidarity Uganda, they have been empowered as a community to speak up about their matters and strategically used non-violent tactics to wage against injustices.
When the Uganda wildlife Authority started burning homes, raping girls and women, shooting and killing people, they thought the Benet people would run away and leave their ancestral land. They were wrong. The people stayed. The torture only ignited a fire that would propel the Benet people into the struggle to get back their ancestral land. They started waging nonviolently against this oppression. Scovia joined other Benets to spearhead the struggle against this impunity. She has not only stood against the land grabs and forced evictions, but she has also publicly spoken against them. Scovia continues to stand against other injustices like domestic violence and Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) which disproportionately affect women and girls.
Scovia also serves as Secretary of the Ogiek Women’s Group (OWG) in the Benet community where women come together to defend their rights and promote economic independence. Women of OWG have launched a reforestation campaign by mobilizing women in Kween to plant indigenous trees where they have been destroyed by the UWA. Scovia continues to inspire women and girls to amplify their voices against injustices.
Because of their unwavering struggle against land injustices and corruption, the government recently ordered UWA to return over 8000 hectares of the land back to the Benet. Although this is a very insignificant part of their ancestral land, it has encouraged them to even push harder as they celebrate their small victories. The Benet people also occupied the UWA offices for over 5 months as they demanded UWA officials to permanently leave their land.