Women’s rights as human rights: “Their eyes were ablaze”

The Amnesty International Council Meeting (ICM), currently taking place just outside of Amsterdam has placed women’s rights as human rights prominently on its agenda. This morning featured Nobel Laureate Shirin Ebadi, a panel of leading human rights and women’s rights experts, and an address by human rights advocate Kasha Jacqueline Nabagesera, the 2011 Martin Ennals award winner. While each woman has a unique story, they all send a strong message that women’s rights ARE human rights, that these two are inextricably linked.

Dr Ebadi spoke out fearlessly: “I have a dream of the globalization of the hearts of people. I see a world without poverty, despotism, prejudice or ignorance. Yes, I am a dreamer, [yet], many of humanity’s achievements began with a dream. Our challenge is to think idealistically, yet act realistically.”

Echoing Dr Ebadi’s vision of the future, a dynamic panel of strong women human rights leaders spoke out about their views on women and human rights. Panelists included Kate Allen, Director of Amnesty International UK, Radhia Nasraoui, a human rights lawyer from Tunisia, Fatimzahra Yassine of Morocco, and Hassiba Hadj Sajraoui, Deputy Director of the Middle East and North Africa. The mood of the panel was compelling: change is here, change will continue, yet there remains much work to be done. One theme of the panel was the recent ‘Arab spring’ in which many middle eastern governments were challenged and overthrown, and where women often played a key role.

What effect does the ‘Arab spring’ have on women and society? If women’s rights are increasingly accepted as human rights throughout the world, what does this mean for our global society? For the women in Egypt during the revolution, it was clearly empowering. Kate Allen spoke of the women’s passion, stating that “their eyes were ablaze.” It seems these women tapped into the power of social change, of being part of a movement greater than any individual.

Finally, in another stunning display of the power of women and human rights, and a testament to the dedication of many women advocating for human rights around the world, Kasha, stated that while she realizes that she may never see the future she is fighting for, it is nonetheless an honor to be a part of the struggle.

We live in exciting times for women, and for society. Social change is an ever-present phenomenon; an opportunity to be seized. Yet, with inspiration, we must also accept inherent challenges, complexities, and tensions. As Kasha implored today: how will we reach our brothers and sisters around the world without Internet access? How will we bridge the technological, economical, social, and cultural barriers that threaten to divide us? As Amnesty members, we must ask difficult questions: how are resources best spent? Why do we do the work that we do? Does human rights work, as David Kennedy has argued, detract from other liberation dialogues?

Yet, as one can see in the stories of our human rights friends from around the world, there is far too much work to be done to allow these complexities to stall our work. We must maintain a critical, thoughtful, approach. Ultimately, while the journey of human rights is long, it is one that must be undertaken together. Let us march forward fearlessly, let us allow human rights and the quest for human dignity and for justice permeate our very being and the ways in which we move in the world. Let the examples of the strong women who spoke today at the ICM be an example for us all. Together, we are strong. Together, we are a movement. As women’s rights as human rights become more and more strongly engrained into society, the benefits will be great. Social change is now. May we all work together towards a just and enlightened tomorrow.

Follow the event on Twitter via #AmnestyICM

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