YAOUNDE, CAMEROON - Cameroon is celebrating women's rights activist Aissa Doumara Ngatansou after she won France's inaugural Simone Veil Prize for helping victims of rape and forced marriage.
French President Emmanuel Macron gave Ngatansou, 47, the $112,000 prize, named after the iconic French women's rights activist.
Nganasou said she is dedicating the award to all female victims of violence and forced marriage and survivors of the Nigerian militant group Boko Haram.
She also said she is very happy that many people now stand up for their rights, unlike past years when people were scared of denouncing violence against women and girls for fear of being persecuted by men.
The award was named in memory of Simone Veil, the person said to be most responsible for advancing women's legal rights in France during the 20th century. Veil fought in the French parliament to legalize abortion in 1975.
Ngatansou escaped a forced marriage at 11 years old, fleeing her home and continuing her studies. She has since braved numerous threats to save hundreds of girls and women from the same fate. She currently runs the Association for the Fight Against Violence on Women and Girls, and cares for 23 girls she rescued from Boko Haram insurgents.
Alima Foutsou, 18, is one of them. She was forced to marry a suspected Boko Haram fighter, then was raped and abandoned on Cameroon's northern border with Nigeria.
Foutsou said that, thanks to Ngatansou, she learned her rights and will never be indifferent when women and girls suffer. Some men in the far north region of Cameroon still think girls are objects to be used and dumped at will, she said, but she will work hard to make sure such traditional practices of forcing girls and women to marry against their will are stopped.
Marie Theres Abena Ondoua, Cameroon's minister of women's empowerment and the family, said Ngatansou has helped women suffering in the northern part of the country find legal assistance and social services instituted by the government. Cameroon should be proud that it has a woman who showed people that women and girls should not be treated inhumanely, Ondoua said.
The award came two days after Ngatansou organized a mass marriage ceremony for 82 couples to ensure that women in the relationships are legally protected.