Tag Archives: Peace and Security

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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A new batch of Peaceworkers…

7 Sep

Welcome to P.O. Box Peace!

This blog is a manifestation of the work that Quakers are doing towards building a more peaceful world. It has been voluntarily set up by the 7 current Quaker Peaceworkers for 2012 to enable us to share our stories of peace work from across the world – see more info. on our ‘about us’ page.

We come from varied backgrounds, and have spent the last two weeks together in preparation for our new roles before stepping out into the big wide world of peace work. Meeting on a Tuesday morning over breakfast at the Penn Club, we started our preparation with a busy first week at Friends House in Euston, London. Here, we spent our days learning about the broad work of Quaker Peace & Social Witness (QPSW), trying to get a grasp of the nuances between different strands of Quakerism worldwide, meeting with various international peace organisations, meeting our soon-to-be managers over Skype, and exploring our common ground within our shared values of peace, equality, simplicity and truth. One of the most useful parts of the week was having the chance to connect with the current outgoing Peaceworkers, to ask them questions, and hear about their year and where they are off to, now…it helped to put everything in perspective for me.

After collapsing at the weekend and re-couping some energy, I met with the others at Woodbrooke, the Quaker Study Centre in Birmingham, for our second week of preparation. The emphasis here was to take stock, reflect on the year to come, and relax. I particularly enjoyed the depth of our sessions with Woodbrooke Tutor Michael Eccles, where we looked at our activism; the meaning of Peace, conflict and non-violence; took inspiration from our forebearers and explored our commitment to this work. After spending 5 days enjoying the company of the other Peaceworkers, with plenty of time to read, sleep and play outside in the sun, and a cheeseboard at every meal, I floated out of Woodbrooke well fed, nourished and ready to start the next part of the journey. I can’t speak for the others, but I’m sure something along those lines was the general consensus of our time there.

Some of us have started work this week, and I have started my post as Campaigns and Policy Officer at Gender Action for Peace and Security UK! GAPS UK, established in 2006, is a network of NGOs who work in the fields of gender, peace building, humanitarian, development and human rights issues. Perhaps it’s not one that you have heard of before. We are an expert working group on issues of gender, peace and security, providing support to policymakers and practitioners who are engaged in work surrounding women’s rights in conflict affected countries. We do this by building on key policy instruments like UNSCR 1325 on Women, Peace and Security through advocacy, collaborative research and campaigning. Perhaps that sounds a bit jargonny – my posts will become more detailed as we move through the year and I really start to know what I’m talking about. All I do know, is that I’ll be building on the GAPS campaign No women, No Peace.’, and doing some policy, advocacy and research work. I’ve spent most of this week learning the ropes, finding my space in the office, reading up, and working out what my role will be in the coming year. I’ve already been down to Parliament for a meeting with some GAPS members, formulating a strategy that will aim to raise the profile of Afghan women’s rights on the agendas of key UK diplomatic vehicles. And this morning, I spent some of this sunny Friday with our friends at Amnesty International UK learning about campaign strategy, the importance of collaboration in campaign work, and getting clearer about our aims and objectives.

If our carefully crafted plan works, another of the UK Peaceworkers will be writing a post next, so I’ll leave you in their capable hands!

// Rhiannon at Gender Action for Peace and Security, UK

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