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KENYA: Gender officials benefit from JHR’s media literacy training 

Fri, 11/05/2021 - 09:08

Officials from the National State Department for Gender attended JHR’s media literacy training held in SeptemberIn late September, JHR conducted training on effective media relations for 16 officials from the National State Department for Gender government. The training introduced the officials to the Kenya local media landscape and provided tips on how to build a lasting professional relationship with the media.

The National State Department for Gender officials are posted to various county offices. They are assigned to counties struggling with perennial issues of gender-based violence and other harmful cultural practices impeding women’s empowerment. The State Department for Gender plays a very vital role in gender mainstreaming in the national development processes and championing the socio-economic empowerment of women. It does this through gender policy management, initiation of special programs for women empowerment, community mobilization and development of policies and programs on gender-based violence (GBV). In essence, the gender officers coordinate all the local government departmental programs and activities relating to women’s empowerment in their counties.

Despite these important roles they play, there is not much media visibility for their work. According to Vincent Kayago Okeya from Kakamega County, this is due to distrust between the media and the government.

Speaking about the impact of the workshop, William Otago, Gender Officer from Homabay County, said he has learned about the important role the media play to educate the community to change attitudes and behaviours on gender-based violence. He said that with the knowledge acquired he will build a lasting relationship with the media that is anchored on the values of mutual respect and professionalism.

“I have learned paying journalists allowance always may be detrimental when you one time fail to provide the same. An important issue may not be reported because of failure to pay allowances,” said Otago.

Betty Chesi from Nairobi County echoes these views. She emphasized that she learned about the media landscape and how to use media to advance gender issues: “Building relationships with journalists, updating them, familiarizing them with what you do and networking with the journalists.  Also, I learned the need for responsible use of media especially social media.”

JHR’s Canada World: Voice for Women and Girls Rights in Kenya works to address these gaps through training and networking with journalists, chief strategy officers (CSOs) and the government to encourage data sharing and enhance cooperation between media, CSOs and the government to help amplify women’s voices across all walks of life.

The training with the government county gender officials was followed by a networking event with members of Nairobi City County Assembly, officers from Nairobi City County Department of Gender, Ministry of Gender officials, media and CSOs representatives. The networking event created a platform for the media and CSOs to discuss the ongoing development of the Nairobi City County Sexual and Gender-Based Management and Control Bill, 2019. Participants provided valuable suggestions that will go a long way in enhancing the bill.

The bill requires the county government to budget and fund the provision of safe houses for survivors and protect witnesses of gender-based violence. It also provides for an elaborate stakeholder collaboration in management of SGBV as well as a clear guidance on referral pathways.

This legislation is the first of its kind in Kenya, which has seen a rise in GBV cases since lockdown measures were introduced to mitigate the spread of COVID-19.


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Open Letter: Urgent Call to Action in Response to the Crisis in Afghanistan

Thu, 11/04/2021 - 10:47

November 1, 2021

The Right Honourable Justin Trudeau

 Prime Minister of Canada

The Honourable Sean Fraser

Minister of Immigration, Refugees, and Citizenship Canada

The Honourable Mélanie Joly

 Minister of Foreign Affairs


Urgent Call to Action in Response to the Crisis in Afghanistan


Canadians have broadly applauded the announcements that Canada is admitting and resettling Afghans who assisted the Canadian mission as well as vulnerable Afghans. This positive response reflects the best of Canadians; it is also the right thing to do. We stand with those who now lack protection in Afghanistan under the Taliban – women judges, journalists, female leaders, LGBTI individuals, religious minorities, and human rights advocates. This is who Canadians are and should strive to be.

There is no denying the complexity of the challenges that confront Canada after the fall of Kabul. There is also no escaping the human tragedy that unfolded around the airport and continues to this day.

We write to you now as individuals and organizations deeply engaged in Canada’s response to the Afghan crisis, including those involved in efforts to help evacuate vulnerable persons from Afghanistan in an effort to bring them to Canada. These are the individuals most at risk of violence and reprisals following the Taliban takeover in mid-August 2021.

However, despite the collective efforts of the signatories, and despite their identification within Canada’s Special Immigration Program and Special Humanitarian Program, few of the “at risk” Afghans identified have been evacuated to Canada, and a very large number remain in grave danger.

 In many cases, the Taliban are actively searching for these individuals: their time is running out. Evacuating them safely and relocating them to Canada has proven difficult for several reasons. A number of those factors are, however, within Canada’s control.

First, there is lack of clarity regarding which individuals qualify for Canada’s Special Immigration Program and resettlement to Canada as refugees. Second, there is a shortage of processing capacity to match both the magnitude and urgency which the current situation requires. Third, Canada ought to waive the requirement of UNHCR recognition and recognize the Afghan crisis as a prima facie refugee situation. Finally, in working with allies, Canada can exercise the leverage it collectively holds, in order to pressure the Taliban to allow at-risk individuals to safely exit Afghanistan.

At the outset, the signatories wish to make clear that we hold Canadian officials with whom the signatories have worked in this process in the highest regard. Without fail, those officials, and the political staffers engaged in this work, have shown deep commitment at all hours to achieving a humane and expedient response, and have done everything possible to assist. But officials can only do so much. There comes a point when political leadership is required, and when only Ministerial direction can provide the authority needed to move matters forward.

Now that the new cabinet has been appointed, the time has come for that leadership. The signatories therefore call upon Prime Minister Trudeau, Minister of Immigration, Refugees, Citizenship Canada Sean Fraser and Minister of Foreign Affairs Mélanie Joly to urgently address the following four major issues that must be resolved if Canada is to achieve its purpose in securing the safe and timely evacuation of the at-risk individuals from Afghanistan targeted through Canada’s special programs.

  1. Clarify Canada’s policy by defining its

“Assistance to Canada”: In July 2021, Canada announced the establishment of a program for Afghans who assisted Canada and pledged to protect individuals who exhibited a “significant and enduring relationship with Canada”. Canada set out simple procedures for applying to the program, through which Canada would facilitate their safe passage out of Afghanistan.

Canada announced that it would interpret the concept of “assistance to Canada” broadly, but it remains difficult to understand who might qualify.

Canada must clarify the policy as between Immigration, Refugees, Citizenship Canada and Global Affairs Canada. It must also continue to interpret the terms broadly in order to meet the spirit of the program announced in July 2021.

Accepted Categories: In August 2021, Canada introduced a second program for vulnerable Afghans including women leaders, human rights advocates, persecuted religious or ethnic minorities, LGBTI individuals, and journalists who helped Canadian journalists.

In the absence of UNHCR in Afghanistan, Canada wisely identified alternate organizations with a presence in Afghanistan – Frontline Defenders and Protect Defenders – to assist evacuees. The signatories understand that the intention with these referral partners is to create a fair, transparent, and equal system for processing on the ground in Afghanistan. However, these organizations have their own mandates – namely they are largely focused on human rights defenders – and this has drastically narrowed the otherwise broad mandate of Canada’s programs.

Once again, a lack of clarity has proven frustrating and has impeded progress for many who are trying to navigate the system. Canada must clarify who specifically can apply through its programs and through the referral partners.

Further, Canada must seek partnerships with other organizations on the ground in Afghanistan to ensure that individuals who otherwise meet the eligibility criteria for the special programs can be identified and processed.

  1. Devote Significant Resources Needed to Get the Job Done, and Permit Discretion for Decision Makers as

The work in Afghanistan is urgent and time-consuming. Receiving files, reviewing them, making decisions, and communicating with applicants, affected parties and their representatives cannot be treated as “business as usual”. Significant additional human resources must be committed immediately to enable Canadian officials to process and receive the large numbers of persons who cannot wait until their cases are considered “in the usual course”. While the signatories understand that some additional resources have already been allocated to this portfolio, the situation in Afghanistan urgently requires more. This includes additional processing staff. Further, where appropriate, Canada must permit discretionary decisions by case officers in order to proceed in an expeditious manner.

  1. Waive the Requirement of UNHCR Recognition, and Recognize the Afghan Crisis as a Prima Facie Refugee Situation.

We ask the government to waive the requirement of UNHCR recognition for Afghan nationals being resettled via private sponsorship. We further call on the Ministers to recognize the Afghan crisis as a prima facie refugee situation.

  1. Working with Allies, Demand Assurances from the

Canada and its allies should bring every possible pressure to bear in seeking assurances from the Taliban. The signatories call on Canada to exercise its international leverage with like-minded countries to pressure the Taliban to allow at-risk individuals to safely exit Afghanistan. Canada must continue to seek assurances that all individuals who qualify for its programs will be permitted to travel safely out of Afghanistan. Rather than act alone in this effort, Canada should join with its allies and like-minded entities to secure these assurances. This is a key tool Canada has at its disposal to assist the desperate individuals who are reaching out to Canadians on a daily basis and who fall within the mandate that Canada has accepted within both its Special Immigration Program and its Special Humanitarian Program.


Prime Minister and Ministers: this urgent situation requires an immediate, multi-faceted, and focused response. Afghans at risk, such as female judges, are in hiding and are being actively pursued by released prisoners, Taliban officials, and ISIS-Khorasan. Afghanistan continues to fall into a deepening crisis where individuals are left at the mercy of the Taliban, often without the essentials needed to meet basic sustenance needs.

The signatories further call upon Canada to clarify and fulfill its pledge to adopt an expansive interpretation of who has “assisted” Canada and its allies in Afghanistan and support – meaningfully, practically, immediately – those who supported us. The signatories also call upon Canada to clarify and fulfil its pledge to adopt an expansive interpretation of the accepted categories through the Special Humanitarian Program including women leaders, human rights advocates, persecuted religious or ethnic minorities, LGBTI individuals, and journalists who helped Canadian journalists.

Just days into the mandate of the new Cabinet, its members are called upon to deal with this crisis. Yet moments of crisis can offer extraordinary opportunity. They invite us to reveal who Canadians are. The effective and safe evacuation of vulnerable individuals from Afghanistan will help illustrate the values and priorities of the newly-elected government. It will also demonstrate the compassion and humanity of Canadians while invoking a collective sense of purpose.

As the new Cabinet begins its important work, the signatories eagerly await a meaningful response to this letter, and the signatories undertake to do everything they can to assist the government in the achievement of these vital goals.


Lloyd Axworthy, Fen Osler Hampson, Senator Ratna Omidvar, Allan Rock, World Refugee & Migration Council

Asma Fairzi, Adeena Niazi, Afghan Women’s Organization Refugee and Immigrant Services

Ketty Nivyabandi, Amnesty International Canada

Stephanie Valois, Association québécoise des avocats et avocates en droit de l’immigration

Aviva Bassman, Canadian Association for Refugee Lawyers

Ibrahim Mohebi, Canadian Hazara Humanitarian Services

Farida Deif, Human Rights Watch

Sally Armstrong, Wendy Cukier, Hila Taraky, Lifeline Afghanistan

Rachel Pulfer, Journalist for Human Rights

Warda Shazadi Meighen, Erin Simpson, Jacqueline Swaisland, Landings LLP

Grace Westcott, Peter Showler, PEN Canada

Kimahli Powell, L.L.D (Hons) Rainbow Railroad


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MALI: JHR supports amendment of outdated press laws

Sat, 10/30/2021 - 05:57

Participants of the national workshop on Mali’s press laws, held from October 11 to 14 – JHR Mali


Since the introduction of democracy in Mali in 1991, the country’s media sector has seen rapid growth. At the same time, the media landscape is marred with violations against freedom of the press and serious breaches of ethics and professional conduct. In 2000, the government passed a law criminalizing press offenses. This law has been used to stifle freedom of expression and dissenting voices. The amendment of current press laws is long overdue.

Earlier this month, JHR and its partners La Maison de la Presse du Mali and the High Authority of Audiovisual Communication organized a four-day national workshop focused on the analysis of Mali’s media laws. Held from October 11 to October 14 as part of JHR’s Strengthening Media to Promote Inclusive Democracy in Mali project, the workshop brought together nearly 100 participants from media, civil society, academia, the public sector (public servants, judges and former ministers) and the private sector (communication agencies). The Minister of Communication, Digital Economy and the Modernization of the Administration and the Minister of State Rebuilding presided over the event.

The main goal of the workshop was to review existing laws and recommend a legal and regulatory framework aligned with the fast evolving local media sector and international standards. The ultimate goal is to create a legal environment that is conducive to press freedom and democracy.  Over the course of the workshop, participants were divided into groups to discuss three themes: press laws and  press offenses; legislation related to access to information; and laws related to the establishment of  advertising and communication agencies in Mali. Such issues as gender and rights of disabled people were included in all three discussions. The discussions resulted in recommendations for amendments to press laws. JHR will continue to support its local partners on the proposed amendments and to ensure that they are tabled in the upcoming parliamentary session.

La Maison de la Presse has been a partner of JHR since 2019, along with the Union des Radios et Télévisions Libres and the Bamako School of Journalism and Communication Sciences.

 En Francais:


La Maison de la Presse du Mali, en partenariat étroit avec la Haute Autorité de la Communication et JHR, a organisé du 11 au 14 octobre, un atelier national de relecture des textes régissant l’information, la communication et les médias au Mali sous la présidence du Ministre de la Communication, de l’Economie numérique et de la Modernisation de l’Administration accompagné du Ministre de la Refondation de l’Etat, Chargé des relations avec les institutions.

L’atelier a regroupé près d’une centaine d’acteurs composés des représentants des organisations professionnelles des média, des responsables d’établissements d’enseignement supérieur en journalisme, des représentants des services publics et privés concernés par les médias, du groupement professionnel des agences de communication, des organisations de la société civile, d’anciens ministres et de magistrats.

L’objectif de l’atelier est de doter le Mali d’un cadre juridique et réglementaire adapté aux exigences et à l’environnement national et international. Depuis l’avènement de la démocratie en 1991, cet environnement a évolué. Il a favorisé le pluralisme des médias et l’explosion de nouveaux métiers de l’information et de la communication. Par ailleurs, il est aussi caractérisé par des violations graves des libertés et des droits humains, des manquements graves à l’éthique et à la déontologie, l’instabilité politique et institutionnelle, les crises sécuritaire, sanitaire et socio-économique.

La relecture du cadre juridique et réglementaire des médias traduit la volonté des autorités faitières des médias et de leurs partenaires à doter le pays d’un environnement juridique propice au développement harmonieux des médias et à la consolidation de la démocratie.

Durant 4 jours, les participants repartis en 3 groupes ont travaillé sur 3 thématiques : la loi portant régime de la presse et délits de presse, la loi relative à l’accès à l’information, la loi fixant le régime de la publicité et des agences de communication au Mali. Le Genre et les droits des personnes handicapées sont restés des thématiques transversales.

Tous les textes soumis aux participants ont été relus ; des amendements et recommandations ont été proposés. Les participants ont remercié la Maison de la presse et ses partenaires, en l’occurrence le Ministère de la communication, de l’économie numérique et de la modernisation de l’administration, la Haute Autorité de la Communication et l’organisation JHR pour cette initiative d’amélioration de l’environnement structurel et opérationnel du secteur des médias au Mali.

Au Mali, la Maison de la Presse est partenaire à JHR depuis 2019 avec l’Union des Radios et Télévisions Libres et l’Ecole Supérieure de Journalisme et des Sciences de la Communication de Bamako.

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August 14 2021: Iraqi government promises to build three mental health centers

Sun, 10/10/2021 - 07:28

This week’s highlights

  • School for teen mothers in Kenya gets support
  • Iraqi government promises to build three mental health centers
  • Have you reserved your seats at Night For Rights? 
  • Webinar: COVID-19 & the triple threat of poverty, inequality and unemployment in South Africa

 School for teen mothers in Kenya gets support

 Greenland Girls’ staff and students pose with visitors at the school – Photo courtesy GGS’s Facebook page

A school for teen mothers in Kenya’s Kajiado County, Greenland Girls School, has received a boost in publicity and numerous pledges of support after journalist and JHR trainee Moraa Obiria interviewed its founder and CEO Purity Gikunda whom she met at a roundtable organized for civil society organizations by JHR’s Canada World: Voice for Women and Girls’ Rights (VWGR) program. 

In an article published in Nation Africa on July 23, Obiria and her co-author Charles Wanyoro describe the culture of discrimination against teenage mothers in mainstream Kenyan schools despite the enactment of national policies supporting their education, and highlight Greenland Girls as a rare, special school that “offers hope to teenage mothers”.  

Speaking about her school’s feature in the article, Gikunda said, “Seeing an article published in a leading newspaper [like] the Daily Nation was a joy. There was even more joy when I started receiving calls from organizations and individuals who pledged to support my school because we depend on donations to educate the girls and [care] for their babies. I have already received a call that soon we will get sanitary pads donated to us. All of this is happening because of the Nation story.” 

Gikunda says the school’s intake has also increased: “Many parents have started bringing their girls who are pregnant or gave birth to our school. I am happy they got to know there is a school that could give them a chance to continue with their education after early motherhood.” Read Gikunda’s full statement here


Iraq Ministry of Health announces
plan to build three mental health centres

Iraqi citizens have lived through four decades of wartime – and now a pandemic – with scant resources for mental health. As an article in Ayn Al-Iraq News by JHR-trained journalist Ja’afar Ali revealed,  Al-Rashad Psychiatric Hospital in Baghdad is the only mental health facility in Iraq and has received little to no support from the government after it was built 60 years ago. 

In the article, a member of the parliamentary committee on health admitted that mental health has not been a priority for the Iraqi government; however, he promised to push the government to allocate a portion of the federal budget to mental health care. 

In response to the JHR-supported story, the Iraqi Ministry of Health has announced a plan to build three centers for mental health in Iraq, adding that the ministry has also communicated directly with the cabinet to increase funding for the capacity-building of specialized medical staff and the overall development of the mental health care sector.

Help us continue this essential awareness-building work through JHR’s Mobilizing Media to Fight COVID-19 (MMFC) program. When journalists shine the light on human rights abuses and injustices, it leads to actual, life-changing impact. 

The above stories are part of the Mobilizing Media to Fight COVID-19 project funded by 

Have you reserved your seats
at Night For Rights 2021?

JHR is holding its annual Night for Rights gala dinner and party at the Brickworks Pavilion in Toronto on October 20, 2021, from 6pm to 8pm.  This year, mindful of potential public health concerns, we’re also offering our supporters the opportunity to join the party online with a fabulous virtual experience in the works!

Thank you to the Fisher family, Delaney family, Shelly Meadows, and our numerous other supporters for purchasing tables and tickets at the early bird rate. Tickets continue to sell fast and are available for purchase at at $1000 for a ticket and $8000 for a table of up to 8 seats.

We look forward to seeing you on October 20!

Webinar replay: COVID-19 & the triple
threat of inequality, poverty and
unemployment in South Africa

Last week, JHR’s MMFC program brought together a panel of economic experts to share their analysis of the South African government’s response to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic and where course correction is needed.  

The panel was moderated by journalist and JHR media trainer Azola Dayile, and featured data-packed presentations by Nicholas Ngepah, Professor of Economics at the University of Johannesburg and Isobel Frye, Director of the Studies in Poverty and Inequality Institute (SPII).

Professor Ngepah said that the government-imposed lockdowns were not effective in controlling the spread of COVID-19 or preventing deaths due to the virus — and that better international border management was needed. He added that lockdowns led to greater suffering of poorer citizens due to rising food prices, malnutrition and higher infant mortality rates, and suggested that the government create work opportunities close to the homes of poor citizens in order to effectively restrict the movement of the population during the pandemic. 

Isobel Frye unpacked the government aid program (Social Relief of Aid (SRoD) grants) and made several recommendations for its improvement, notably that having short-term employment should not disqualify citizens from receiving social assistance. Watch the full webinar here.

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Meet Patrick Egwu, 2021-2022 JHR/Gordon N. Fisher Fellow at Massey College

Sat, 10/09/2021 - 08:32

The Gordon N. Fisher/JHR Journalism Fellowship at Massey College in the University of Toronto is an annual opportunity for a journalist from the Sub-Saharan Africa or the Middle East to participate in the William Southam Journalism Fellowship Program.

This year’s recipient of the Gordon N. Fisher/JHR Fellowship at Massey College is Patrick Egwu, a Nigerian freelance investigative journalist whose work on human rights, social justice, migration, and global health in sub-Saharan Africa has been published by Foreign Policy, NPR, Daily Maverick, Christian Century, America Magazine and elsewhere.

Patrick recently completed an Open Society Foundation fellowship on Investigative Reporting at the University of Witwatersrand, South Africa. He also has master’s and bachelor’s degrees from the University of Nigeria, Nsukka. In February, he won the 2021 International Center for Journalists’ Global Health Crisis Award for Covid-19 reporting.

We speak to Patrick to learn more about his goals for his fellowship.

What does receiving the JHR/Gordon N. Fisher fellowship at Massey College mean for you and your career?

I was really chuffed when I got the email back in June that I had been selected for this year’s fellowship. I’m quite aware how competitive the selection process is. So, I’m happy to be among the cohort for this year and the selection shows that my work, which highlights issues around human rights and social justice in Nigeria and sub-Saharan Africa, is recognized and appreciated by the esteemed judging committee. This is an honour that means a lot to me and will inspire my career and future projects. More than ever, with this fellowship, I am committed to continue reporting human rights and social justice issues not just in Nigeria, but elsewhere on the continent. 

What are you hoping to achieve during the fellowship and what are your future goals?

We are just a month into the fellowship and I feel like I’m currently having some of the best moments of my career. During this fellowship, I hope to do a deep-dive into social justice and human rights issues here in Canada, and their intersection with my work in my home country. I have already started this by taking some courses at the University of Toronto and the experience has been awesome. I have also been participating in events at Massey College and watching documentaries on Indigenous communities across the country. Last month, I attended the first annual National Truth and Reconciliation Day, which honours the children lost to residential schools in Canada. 

I have plans of doing some future projects on human rights and social justice because there is a litany of such issues in Nigeria and other parts of Africa. Some African leaders run repressive regimes and often clamp down on dissenting views and the civic space. For instance, protestors are shot and killed for demanding an end to police brutality, access to health care, clean water, better welfare, and good governance, among other issues. So, I want to continue reporting on issues like these. Specifically, I have plans of setting up a newsroom dedicated to reporting human rights and social justice among marginalized communities. I personally feel telling stories like these and seeing the impact they create is very important regardless of how dangerous they are and the threats we receive along the line. 

What do you wish people understood better about journalism in Nigeria?

Nigeria has a vibrant media landscape but is also a somewhat dangerous place to do journalism. There is media censorship. Newsrooms are raided by security forces, their websites and emails jammed and phones bugged while journalists are arbitrarily arrested and hunted for doing public interest stories that expose corruption and the officials involved. The civic space is currently under attack and about four months ago, the government banned the use of Twitter while citizens had to navigate the platform with VPNs. Three Nigerian journalists were killed between 2019 and 2020 while on assignments. 

However, despite this and the lack of funding and resources, Nigerian newsrooms are resiliently building a culture of journalism that can hold power to account. In addition, journalists in the country work under extremely poor welfare conditions and still produce some of the best quality journalism and projects that are recognized internationally and most importantly, shine a light on issues the ruling government wants hidden.



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