Rebeca Gyumi has spent over a decade fighting for girls’ rights, and the UN took notice.
The 31-year-old Tanzanian lawyer is on her way to New York to receive the UN’s 2018 Human Rights Prize, CNN reports. The women’s rights advocate is in good company — Malala Yousafzai, Denis Mukwege, and Nelson Mandela have all been honored with the same prize.
"I was pretty much shocked. So shocked and caught unaware that I was even considered for such a prestigious prize," Gyumi told CNN.
Gyumi is being modest, and she has the awards to prove it. Her latest win doesn’t come as a surprise after she received the UNICEF Global Goal Award and was named 2016 Woman of the Year by New Africa Magazine.
Today I announced the 2018 winners of the @UN Human Rights Prize. I am proud to recognise the contributions of individuals & organizations that promote & protect human rights @RebecaGyumi@Asma_Jahangir Joênia Wapichana @FrontLineHRD Your work is an inspiration to us all #UN4ALL— UN GA President (@UN_PGA) October 25, 2018
Gyumi definitely deserves all the praise. She’s come a long way from volunteering with a youth program after witnessing her pregnant classmates expelled and forced into marriage, to winning her case to raise the age of child marriage for girls in Tanzania from 14 to 18 in 2016.
"The fact that I'm here today and doing what I'm doing is due to education,” Gyumi said.
Due to the prevalence of child marriage, and discrimination against pregnant young girls, women in Tanzania face many obstacles to attend school. The country has one of the highest rates of child marriage prevalence in the world, according to the organization Girls Not Brides, putting almost 2 out of 5 girls in the country at risk of stopping their education prematurely. And an estimated 8,000 girls drop out of school every year due to pregnancy, according to the advocacy organization Center for Reproductive Rights.
Despite Gyumi’s 2016 court win, an appeal from the Tanzanian government has kept the case on the high court and a verdict is still pending.
But Gyumi isn’t giving up. She also founded and runs Msichana Initiative, a Tanzanian NGO set up to empower young women.
"The change in the law is not the only thing we're advocating for. We need to make sure the law is implemented at a ground level. We need to teach girls around the country to stand up for their rights and continue engaging with communities," she said.