She’s The First Hosts a Panel on Gender-Based Violence


She’s the First holds a discussion with activist Neema Namadamu on female perspectives of identity-based violence. (courtesy of Kat Timofeyev)

This past Tuesday, April 13, 2021, She’s the First Fordham hosted a discussion with Professor Elisabeth Wickeri and women’s rights activist Neema Namadamu. The panel was titled “Female Experiences of Identity-Based Violence: A Conversation About the Intersection of Oppressions in Violence Against Women” and centered on how we can be allies and prevent further harm. As it is genocide awareness month, the speakers also engaged in a focused discussion about the effects of the genocide in Rwanda.

The panel began with a brief introduction from Wickeri. She is the executive director of the Leitner Center for International Law and Justice at Fordham Law School and works to increase access to justice for vulnerable populations. Thinking from the international legal framework, Wickeri said it’s important to note the failures of the international community and make gender a focus. “To come out of that failure, the important focus will be partnering more with local groups,” she said. Wickeri then transitioned to Namadamu, who she described as undertaking extremely important work in tremendously challenging circumstances.

Namadamu began by telling her story. At the age of two, she contracted polio and was discarded as a lost cause by her community because she was no longer a candidate for marriage, which she explained was the role of women. “To be a woman is to hurt, to be a woman with a disability is even more [painful],” she described as she told attendees that in her country, someone in her position did not get to be called a name; she was simply called disabled. 

But Namadamu did not allow this to deter her. Instead, she credits her disability with allowing her to get an education, and she became the first woman with a disability in her tribe to graduate university. Her passion for activism shone through from her early days: she had her own radio show and promoted awareness for individuals with disabilities while she was in high school, was chosen to represent her province in Parliament shortly after graduating college and soon became the technical advisor for the Democratic Republic of the Congo Minister of Gender and Family. To top off an already impressive career of activism, Namadamu founded the Maman Shujaa Media Center, which empowers women to tell their stories.

Through her work, Namadamu aims to amplify women’s voices. She refuses to allow her disability to define her and uses her voice as her power. Now, she brings that brilliance to all women and teaches them to speak for themselves. When discussing horrific events, Namadamu said sometimes she gets so angry and upset at the grievances that female survivors have suffered that she doesn’t even want to speak: “Women don’t get to speak, they don’t have a voice, who gets to hear us?” she asked a gripped audience.

From there, the conversation shifted to the topic of violence, guided by a series of questions from Kate Leonard, FCRH ’22, and Camille de Carbonnel, FCRH ’22, both board members of STF. The first area of focus was the Rwandan Genocide, a horrific abuse that Namadamu eloquently articulated as “when human beings become animals to other human beings.” In reflecting on the atrocities, Namadamu said, “we all failed, the world failed. Everyone can feel guilty.” She explained that we must all take responsibility for the system that has allowed such massacres to occur. Namadamu emphasized that genocide impacts everyone. It is a global issue; thus, we must look for a global solution.

Weighing in on the issue, Wickeri referred to Namadamu’s words as an important reminder for those of us working from outside of these areas: “Anyone engaged in social justice or human rights cannot work in a silo.” She stressed the value of an intersectional approach. Wickeri also explained some of the grounding for international law, including the Genocide Convention. There has been an effort to further enact tribunals, which Wickeri says “if nothing else, signaled that the international community was serious about pursuing genocide as a crime … Clearly [there is] a gender dimension to those crimes.” She explained that gender analysis is only now starting to be introduced, largely due to the activism of women such as Namadamu.

The next question was also essential: How are men and other community members involved in conversations about female violence? In response, Namadamu expressed that when there is war, everyone becomes vulnerable. Women have always included men and tried to work with them because “it’s them who made the system.” Rape as a crime and a weapon of war is a very real threat, not just a distant possibility. Moreover, she said the system is not hearing the voices of women. It sees women as just tools for sex, and if there ever is an apology, it is far too little, too late.

The final part of the conversation addressed how we can be allies for one another and how awareness can be successfully turned into action from around the world. Wickeri highlighted the necessity of acknowledging our privilege as being in the West and recognizing that we do not have all the answers because we are not there. “Allyship has to mean not just partnership, but taking leadership from people on the ground,” she said.

Namadamu expressed the importance of working together to fight the system. In order to live in peace and be free, we must knock down the barriers that the system has put up to become human beings and “global citizens, global villages, together.” She stressed the importance of partnerships and relationships with one another, to become one, to “become sisters and work together.” She also said that we must remember each other in dignity and respect: “Those who passed away didn’t just go away; they are within us.”

There are plenty of ways to take action, even from seemingly so far away in the Bronx. Even just spreading the word can really help this cause. Visit to learn more and support Namadamu’s work. Also, check out and for more information.