Tag Archives: Betty Makoni

Women Human Rights Defenders: Empowering and Protecting the Change Makers

16 Nov

On the 24th October, women human rights defenders from Colombia to Nepal gathered in London for a conference at the Amnesty International Human Rights Action Centre, hosted by Peace Brigades International. GAPS and our member organisations Amnesty International and Womankind Worldwide supported the event, and I spent two days learning from the shared experiences of some remarkable women.

Women human rights defenders are women who work to defend and promote internationally recognised human rights. They are defined by their actions rather than their profession, and they are journalists, lawyers, activists, students and community leaders. They are mothers, daughters, partners, wives, granddaughters and aunts. For example, Samira Hamidi, as the former Director of the Afghan Women’s Network, works with civil society groups, governments and the UN to advocate for women’s participation in the re-building of Afghanistan. Judith Maldonado Mohica works as a human rights lawyer in Colombia, providing support, legal assistance and accompaniment to farmers, trade unionists and displaced populations. Betty Makoni, a survivor of rape at age 6 and an orphan at age 9 founded the Girl Child Network. Working as a girl child rights activist in Zimbabwe, Betty challenged policies, attitudes and laws that allow child rape to continue with impunity, and supports survivors of child rape to transform their lives from victims into leaders;

‘I am not a victim. I am victory. I stand up. I speak out.’ (Betty Makoni giving the key note speech at the conference).

These are just a handful of the women who spoke at the event, and each of their stories deserves telling. All over the world, these women and their colleagues face considerable personal risk simply because they stand up against powerful interests for what they see to be wrong – the violation of human rights – and because they represent a challenge and an alternative.

The aim of the conference was to bring these women together to share and explore practical actions that the UK can take to support women human rights defenders as part of wider efforts to work on women, peace and security – encouraging peace and stability in fragile and conflict-affected states. I watched as women activists from Colombia, Mexico, Nepal and Kenya lobbied the UK government for change. The discussions at the conference were later taken to a roundtable event at Parliament, where the women activists, their translators, and members of the Associate Parliamentary Group (APG) on Women, Peace and Security, gathered to discuss the issues raised at the conference. Nicola Blackwood MP, chair of the Associate Parliamentary Group on Women, Peace and Security, led the meeting.

After just two months into my role here at GAPS, this event really gave me a sense of perspective. Having the opportunity to meet women who are constantly at personal risk for the work that they do really made me reflect on whether or not I would do this work if my life were at risk in the same way. I expect this is a common thought when an office worker meets someone who works on the ‘frontline’. But I realise all the work in the area of women’s rights, and explicitly women, peace and security, is vital, important and indispensible. Women human rights defenders embody the change that many of us want to see, and the importance of the network of international organisations that supports them and works with them became quickly apparent. In advocating the defence of women’s rights, promoting social norms and building capacity for responding to the rights of women and girls, we are stronger together. I’ll leave you with a quote from Naomi Barasa, working with Amnesty International Kenya;

‘Remember solidarity. At the end of the day, we are all human beings, and we need each other so that the journey is not too tough.’

Here we are, outside Parliament – GAPS, Peace Brigades International, Amnesty UK, with Nicola Blackwood MP and some of the women human rights defenders from the conference

// Rhiannon, at GAPS, November 2012

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