Women & Human Rights: Part I

By Yuan Stevens

This is the first of two blog posts about the work of women in human rights.

 

All street art photos from Tatyana Fazlalizadeh’s project, “Stop Telling Women to Smile.” Photo by Tatyana Fazlalizadeh.


In this post, I’m going to tell you a bit about the work of Salini Sharma in Delhi, India and some thoughts on her organization’s work in relation to privacy. 
In my next post, I’m going to talk about the work of a civil rights activist in Morocco.

First of all, why (these) women? 

The organization I interned with, Equitas, held their 36th annual International Human Rights Training Program (“IHRTP”) this past summer.

The theme of the entire program was centred on how to better equip young girls and women to meaningfully participate in their societies. That very theme inspires this post. I’m writing about these women because I find their work fascinating and connected with them at the IHRTP.

Salini (pronounced Shaw-lini) Sharma, the first female in her family to obtain a bachelor’s degree, studied biotechnology engineering before working with Safecity in India.

11694357_10206727812335658_470220138_n

Me (left) and Salini (right), during Equitas’s International Human Rights Training Program.

Salini told me that she didn’t find it incredibly satisfying to work in biotechnology engineering — even though she absolutely loved studying it. Once she began working in the field, she was consistently given odd tasks she was overqualified for. The timing of her shifts were consistently very inconvenient. It’s hard not to attribute this to the fact that she was female in a very male-dominated field.

After months of volunteering with UN Women and a growing passion for working in the development sector, Salini is now the Program & Outreach Officer with Safecity, an amazing organization in India that fights against gender-based violence — primarily through their crowd-sourced map that reveals anonymous complaints of sexual harassment all over the country.

They advocate for change in urban planning and police enforcement through reports, their community-led campaigns, events, and through the sharing of digital tools that empower women.

According to BBC, the site was created just after a 2012 gang rape of a Delhi student.

harassing women masculinity

Photo by Pat Gavin.

An important feature of Safecity’s work is that they welcome and encourage anonymous complaints of all kinds of sexual harassment.

This of course results in some practical problems of accountability — but, as Harvard Berkman faculty associate Zeynep Tufekci argued in a recent Medium article, the ability to choose when to reveal information about ourselves — or not — is a necessary corollary to an “open and connected world.”

Tufekci wrote her article in response to Mark Zuckerberg and his family’s decision to share that his wife, Priscilla Chan, had had miscarriages before they had conceived their current baby to-come. (Congratulations to their family!)

Tufekci eloquently reminds us [emphasis added]:

 “Privacy, the bedrock of openness, is at its core about agency, about control and about the right to engage the world on your own terms (and with the name of your own choosing, too).”

 

On MLK

Photo by Graff Hunter via streetartsf.

 

The work of organizations like Safecity are emblematic of this same belief that we must first and foremost celebrate self-determined privacy and control. Only then are (a woman’s) decisions (to be open) meaningful. 

Safecity provides women with the ability to have meaningful control over their lives through community-involvement and advocacy about their needs to state decision-makers.

Tufekci ended her article the way I will end this blog post:

 

“Just like privacy, openness are connectedness are about agency and control — otherwise, they would be exploitative and become a violation. There is no contradiction between strong privacy and an open and connected world.

Privacy and openness, control and connectedness, agency and disclosure feed on each other, and can only be built on each other.

 
two women

photo by carnageflushx.

Les avantages d’une approche participative

2013 Linda Elhalabi 100x150Par Linda El Halabi

Lorsque je travaillais au bureau d’Equitas avant que le PIFDH (Programme de Formation en Droits Humains) ne commence, on m’a demandé de lire des évaluations des participants du PIFDH 2012, et de faire une analyse qualitative des réponses. Equitas place une importance particulière sur les évaluations. Les commentaires de toutes les personnes qui travaillent avec Equitas, ainsi que ceux des bénéficiaires des programmes d’Equitas sont toujours dûment notés et servent à constamment améliorer la qualité des programmes et services rendus de l’organisation.

De cette façon, durant chaque PIFDH, les participants reçoivent des questionnaires leur demandant leurs impressions sur chaque module de travail. Ils reçoivent ensuite une évaluation finale le dernier jour du programme, puis une évaluation 6 mois après le PIFDH, ainsi que 24 mois plus tard. En ce qui me concerne, on m’a donné les évaluations envoyées aux participants après 6 mois du PIFDH 2012. L’analyse que je devais effectuer servirait à mesurer l’impact du PIFDH sur le travail des participants, et de mettre en valeur les résultats positifs du programme pour les bailleurs de fonds et les sponsors.  Une des questions demandait aux participants quel était l’apprentissage ou l’habilité que le PIFDH leur a enseigné qu’ils ont trouvé le plus utile dans leur travail et qu’ils utilisent le plus souvent. De très nombreuses fois, les mots « approche participative » sont apparus devant moi. Ayant contribué à la traduction et à la révision du manuel du programme de 3 semaines qu’est le PIFDH, j’avais évidemment déjà vu cette notion d’approche participative, mais puisque le programme n’avait pas encore commencé, je ne comprenais pas vraiment  ce que ce concept voulait dire. Mais dès le début du PIFDH, j’ai compris l’importance de l’approche participative et comment elle permet d’avoir une expérience beaucoup plus enrichissante.

L’approche participative consiste à faire en sorte que l’expérience, les perceptions et les contributions des participants soient au centre de leur apprentissage. Cette approche s’oppose à l’approche classique d’apprentissage qu’est l’approche des experts, où des conférenciers viennent pour donner des cours magistraux, et les participants doivent simplement écouter et prendre des notes. En utilisant l’approche participative, on fait en sorte que les participants aient un degré de contrôle sur le contenu du programme, pour assurer que les habiletés qu’ils ont le plus besoin de développer soient inclus. J’ai noté plusieurs avantages à cette approche.

D’abord, l’approche participative permet de faire en sorte que les sujets les plus actuels et qui ont un impact important sur le travail des participants soient couverts. Par exemple, cette année, il y avait de nombreux participants venant du Moyen Orient et quelques participants venant de la Syrie. Le programme, en tant que tel, n’avait pas prévu de session spécifique pour discuter de la situation de la Syrie. Mais de nombreux participants demandaient à leurs homologues syriens de parler de la situation de leur pays. En voyant l’intérêt des participants sur le sujet, les participants syriens ont organisé une session informelle avec l’aide d’Equitas et ont eux-mêmes préparé une courte présentation sur la situation du conflit, suivie par une période de questions-réponses et de discussions qui a permit à de nombreux participants d’en savoir plus sur le sujet, et d’explorer des moyens de créer des liens avec les organisations des participants syriens. Un autre exemple marquant est celui du sujet des personnes LGBTI. Malheureusement, même au sein de la communauté des défenseurs des droits humains, qui en principe devraient tous reconnaître et combattre la discrimination envers les personnes LGBTI, il reste toujours du travail à faire. Il y a plus d’une dizaine d’années, il aurait été difficile même d’avoir une discussion sur le sujet. Mais cette année, lors du PIFDH 2013,  il y avait de nombreux défenseurs des droits des personnes LGBTI, et la présence de ces activistes a suscité une curiosité saine de la part de nombreux autres participants qui auparavant n’avaient pas de notions développées sur le sujet. C’est l’approche participative qui a permit aux défenseurs des droits des personnes LGBTI de parler de leur expérience et de leur travail dans les salles de classe, et de créer des groupes de discussion informels qui ont eu un impact sur les perceptions des autres participants. L’approche participative rend ainsi chaque PIFDH unique car elle reflète le changement et permet aux participants d’enrichir leurs connaissances plus que s’ils étaient simplement obligés d’écouter des conférenciers à longueur de journée.

Un autre avantage de l’approche participative est sa contribution à la création d’une culture des droits humains au sein d’une organisation. Le but du PIFDH est d’habiliter des défenseurs des droits humains de toutes les régions du monde à créer une culture des droits humains dans leurs communautés et au sein de leur organisation. L’approche participative est un excellent moyen pour réaliser ce but. L’utilisation de l’approche participative implique que chacun des membres d’une organisation est précieux et a son mot à dire. Si chacun participe à la manière dont l’organisation fonctionne, et que l’organisation prend en compte les commentaires et les expériences de ses membres, alors l’organisation respectera toujours les besoins de ses membres et contribuera toujours à les habiliter.

De même, lorsque les défenseurs des droits humains utilisent l’approche participative durant leurs interactions avec leurs communautés, ils contribuent aussi au changement social. Dans chaque communauté, il y a toujours des personnes marginalisées dont l’opinion et l’expérience ne sont pas toujours pris en compte par la majorité. Utiliser l’approche participative permet au défenseur des droits humains de donner une voix à ces personnes marginalisées en les incluant dans la discussion. Ainsi, l’approche participative est un moyen d’habiliter les personnes marginalisées à partager leur perspective, et elle est aussi un moyen pour faire en sorte que la majorité soit exposée au point de vue des personnes marginalisées.

 

 

Why is the law still ineffective in protecting human rights defenders?

2013 Linda Elhalabi 100x150Linda Elhalabi

In 2013, it is still extremely dangerous to be a human rights activist. This is nothing new to anyone following the news, however during my experience as an intern for the International Human Rights Training Program, I gained an informed understanding of the legal protections available to activists, or rather the lack thereof. I had the privilege of speaking to human rights activists from all over the world who have lived through horrifying events in their lives because of their determination to fight for other people’s rights. The IHRTP is a chance for human rights activists to learn new skills useful for their work, develop a project that takes into account their learning during the program that they then have to implement back home, and to network with other activists. Workshops, seminars, and plenary presentations with distinguished speakers are meant to help them learn about new resources available to them. As an intern, one of my tasks was to help speakers update and translate their presentations, take notes and then post relevant material online for participants to review and discuss. This is how I started thinking about how vulnerable human rights activists still are today.

There was a presentation on the resources that the UN, specifically the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, has made available to activists. It was a very interesting presentation where the speaker talked about the different protocols and special procedures put in place to tackle issues that range from torture to food security. The speaker also addressed the Universal Periodic Review, an inter-governmental mechanism that allows UN state parties to assess the human rights situation within all countries every 4 years. The speaker then introduced the OHCHR website and taught participants how to use it. It was clear from the presentation that the UN had many ways to involve civil society in promoting and defending human rights. Civil society organizations for instance can provide their input on the human rights situation of their country as stakeholders, and their reports will be taken into consideration during the UPR process. There are also many opportunities for NGOs and civil society actors to cooperate with UN agencies and programs, and to submit reports to the different commissions. However, it became clear that there are no effective mechanisms put in place by the UN to protect human rights defenders.

During the Q&A period, a participant asked an important question: “If my life is in danger because of my work as a human rights defender, how can the UN protect me?” The answer to this question was very unsatisfactory to everyone. The speaker mentioned the Special Rapporteur on human rights defenders, who is the UN person mandated to receive complaints from human rights defenders. What the Special Rapporteur can do is send “urgent appeals” to the government requesting it to stop abusing the rights of human rights defenders. This is the extent of the protection the Special Rapporteur can offer. In fact, there is an international treaty to address this issue, the Declaration on Human Rights Defenders, but it is not a legally binding instrument, and it is still not ratified or implemented by all states. Although states are required to answer the letter of “urgent appeal” by the Special Rapporteur as soon as possible, they often take months to respond, which means that the human rights defender remains vulnerable until the government decides to acknowledge the “urgent appeal”.

Another issue that human rights defenders face today is the lack of security afforded to them online. There was a very enlightening presentation by a professional consultant that has helped many governments and civil society actors learn about how to use the internet to promote human rights. In some cases, she helped governments use digital technology to modernize their system and make it more efficient to better monitor human rights violations. In other cases, she helped activists evade governmental scrutiny by using safe online tools to help them communicate and organize their campaigns and events. It was clear from her presentation that in most states, including in the West, the legal framework surrounding emerging issues such as cyberbullying or “cyber mobs” is still very underdeveloped. This shortcoming in the legal system exposes human rights defenders to many dangers. In many cases, the state itself is responsible for threatening the security of human rights defenders online by collecting their information, monitoring their work and then using the information they found online to prosecute and persecute them.

One of the most memorable moments I experienced at the IHRTP was the ice-breaker the speaker organized at the start of her presentation. She had asked participants several questions, and asked them to go to one side of the room according to what their answer to the question was. First, she asked what online tools they used within their work. The vast majority of the participants moved to one side of the room to indicate that they extensively used many kinds of social media, including Facebook, Twitter, Youtube, Gmail, and other tools. She then asked them if they were ever arrested or threatened to be arrested by authorities online. Most participants moved to one side of the room again, indicating that most of them had in fact  been arrested or were threatened by the police. They all moved to the same side of the room again when the speaker asked if they were ever threatened to be killed or tortured online. What surprised me then was how diverse the actors who threatened human rights activists were. Of course, the government was the main offender, and everyone moved to the same side of the room when she mentioned the state. But I was surprised to know how many human rights activists were threatened and bullied online and offline by corporations, religious groups, churches, community organizations, and the media.  This is when I started thinking about the importance of programs such as the IHRTP. Although such programs cannot magically help human rights defenders be more secure, many participants later told me that this experience was very comforting, because through the IHRTP they were able to find support from other participants, often meeting activists from their own country or region, or in some cases finding out that they are facing similar challenges as other participants who come from a completely different region. Most importantly, they were able to learn that they are not fighting their battles alone.

My first week at Equitas

2013 Linda Elhalabi 100x150By Linda El Halabi

Today, it will have been exactly a week since I started my internship at Equitas. I feel very lucky to be spending the summer in Montreal. The city is so lively this time of year, with so many festivals and events to check out during the weekends, and beautiful scenery – and flowers – everywhere. Throughout this summer I will aim to share my thoughts both on the internship and life in Montreal during the summer.

My role as an intern for Equitas is to help plan and implement their renowned 3 week long conference, the International Human Rights Training Program taking place in June. The program brings together participants who work in local human rights organizations in their countries. Participants come from all over the world, including West Africa, the Middle East, Eastern Europe, South America, and South Asia. They attend the program to learn valuable skills and make important contacts which they can then use to improve their organization’s programs and advocacy/lobbying efforts back home. I like the idea of the program because it is tailored to the needs of the participants and is meant to give them the necessary resources to work on their own grassroots level programs. Participants learn a lot – from the best ways to lobby the state for change, to how to deal with conflict arising during their training and advocacy sessions with the community they serve, as well as how to mainstream a gender analysis into their organization’s work among other things. The organizations represented at the IHRTP are very diverse both in terms of their religious, political, and ethnic backgrounds, and in the type of activism they engage in and the causes they defend.

Over the past week, I have started working on several tasks in view of preparing for the program. Every day has been interesting. My colleagues are all friendly and welcoming, and they are very helpful whenever I have questions about a certain task or about the program. I have learned a lot in only a week. The more I learn about the program, the more I look forward to the month of June. Before starting my law studies, I completed my undergraduate studies in political science and East Asian studies at McGill. I took several classes that focused on international development, and learned a lot about the successes and failures of the various international actors that work in the field. An important lesson from past failures is the importance for actors with resources – mostly actors from the North who wish to operate in the South – to respect the needs and voices of those they seek to help, and not to try to impose their own views of what the human rights issues are in the country’s context and how to best deal with them.  Throughout this week I have had the chance to learn about Equitas’ work culture, their goals and mission, and it is clear that the way the program was designed reflects this idea of respecting the needs of those you seek to help.

Those were some of the thoughts I had during my first week. I am looking forward to the rest.

Un mois à Equitas

Par Jeanne Mageau-Taylor

Je n’arrive pas à croire que ça fait exactement 4 semaines que je travaille à Equitas. J’ai réellement fait le saut en regardant mon calendrier. Chaque journée a passé si vite et était littéralement remplie d’apprentissages les plus divers. Voici un court aperçu du début de mon été.

À ce temps-ci de l’année, presque la moitié des employés d’Equitas travaillent à la préparation du Programme international de formation aux droits humains (PIFDH), qui aura lieu du 3 au 23 juin. Cette année, plus de 100 participants (employés d’organisations de droits humains) d’environ 60 pays viendront suivre une formation intensive sur l’éducation aux droits humains au Collège John Abbott, à Sainte-Anne-de-Bellevue. Le but du PIFDH est de renforcer la capacité des organisations de droits humains à mettre sur pied et à mener à terme divers projets d’éducation (campagnes de sensibilisation et de dissémination d’information, création de plateformes d’échange, etc.) qui visent à promouvoir une culture des droits humains.

Le PIFDH en est à sa 33e édition, et c’est définitivement un des programmes les plus intenses et enrichissants qui soient. En tant que stagiaire en éducation, mon rôle durant le dernier mois fut d’aider à la préparation des matériels d’éducation et de rédiger plusieurs analyses statistiques et qualitatives portant sur les caractéristiques des participants et de leurs organisations. J’ai donc mis à jour des textes informatifs sur les organes des Nations Unies ainsi que sur les différents traités internationaux de droits humains; j’ai mis à jour la Communauté virtuelle d’Equitas; j’ai fait de multiples analyses statistiques dont plusieurs membres de l’équipe PIFDH avaient besoin, etc. J’ai aujourd’hui terminé un rapport d’une trentaine de pages qui résume la situation des droits humains dans les pays où travaillent les participants, le tout basé sur leurs expériences et perceptions. Tous ces documents seront remis aux animateurs (les participants sont divisés en 8 groupes, avec un animateur par groupe) afin qu’ils puissent mieux cerner les besoins de leurs participants.

Demain est d’ailleurs le premier des 3 jours de formation des animateurs. Ce sera donc la première fois que je me rendrai dans nos locaux du Collège John Abbott. Ma collègue stagiaire et moi-même serons responsables d’assurer la traduction ainsi que de rédiger des comptes-rendus durant la formation.

Ce qui m’a le plus frappée à Equitas, c’est l’ambiance chaleureuse et le climat d’entraide qui y règnent. Après seulement 2 jours, j’avais déjà rencontré tous les employés et j’avais collaboré avec plusieurs d’entres eux. C’est une organisation où il fait bon vivre et où la conviction pour la cause des droits humains est palpable. Chacun travaille d’arrache-pied et ne ménage pas les efforts afin de mener à bien des projets créatifs et participatifs.

J’espère que tout va bien de votre côté et que vous rencontrez des gens incroyables! Je vous tiendrai au courant du déroulement de la formation des animateurs ainsi que du PIFDH, qui s’annoncent tous deux extrêmement stimulants!

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