Women & Human Rights: Part II

2015 Stevens YuanBy Yuan Stevens

This is the second of two blog posts about the work of women in human rights. You can find my first post featuring Salini Sharma’s work with Safecity in Delhi, India right here.


mali logo


I want to tell you about the fascinating work of Ibtissame (Betty) Lachgar in Morocco. She is a clinical psychologist with expertise in victimology and criminology. 

In 2009, Betty (her preferred name) founded MALI (Mouvement Alternatif pour les Libertés Individuelles, or in Arabic, مالي؟ الحركة البديلة من أجل الحريات الفردية). They’re a radical civil disobedience organization and Betty claims that they are the only movement of this kind in the country.

MALI fights for civil liberties such as freedom of conscience, religion and expression, abortion rights and LGBTQI rights.

They fight for change in what has been criticized as an authoritarian and Islamic state where, for example, both pre-marital sex and homosexuality are illegal (see this Wikipedia page for details on the latter).



Betty, left, in one of MALI’s Facebook photos. Used with permission.


How does an organization like this do their work? 

Those in the MALI community initiate premeditated and strategic actions that fight for specific rights and in specific places.

MALI’s first action was in 2009.

In order to fight for freedom of conscience and from religion, Betty organized a picnic in the middle of the day during Ramadan, a Muslim holiday where those who partake don’t eat or drink except before dawn and after sunset.

The act was also a part of MALI’s struggle to repeal article 222 of the Moroccan penal code whereby anyone who is “commonly known to be Muslim” can be placed in prison for up to 6 months if they violate the fast.

The active was symbolic, Betty told a group of us during the IHRTP. She said the purpose of the action was not to provoke nor shock people, but to symbolically fight against the state religion which seeks to control citizens’ freedom of conscience. The MALI movement wanted to “create a buzz”; to get people thinking. Find out more about the picnic here.


mali 1

Part of an exhibit that MALI showed to the Moroccan embassy in the Netherlands in 2012. Taken from MALI’s Facebook page with permission.


Another key action of MALI was in 2013.

Betty organized a “kiss-in” in front of the Moroccan parliament building to protest the arrest of two teens who posted on Facebook a photo of themselves kissing in public. The teenaged friend who took the photo was also arrested — all of them for public indecency. Betty told us that this event caused her to fear for her life due to the death threats that ensued.

Finally, the last MALI action I want to highlight happened just this year in 2015.

MALI members decided to take a huge risk and stood in front of Moroccan parliament with gay pride flags.

This occurred in the atmosphere of two French Femen activists who were expelled from Morocco after they stripped to the waist with “In gay we trust” written on their chests and kissed in front of a 12th century unfinished mosque tower. The women did this in reaction to the court’s prosecution of three homosexual men.

Betty says this particular action was very hard — it was tense, dangerous. An army of police was there. The secret service were there. They waited for her, she said — but she said it was, in a way, nonetheless fun for her; it’s part of the game she needs to play to fight for people’s rights.


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Betty at Hamburg’s 2014 Pride Parade. Used with permission.


There is no doubt that MALI is a radical organization that is sure to make people feel uncomfortable — that’s part and parcel of the work they do.

Regardless of our stance on MALI’s initiatives, Betty is a role model for all of us in her courage and choices — as a human rights activist and in her context — to rally people together to fight for their civil liberties and sexual rights. 

You can find MALI’s Twitter feed here and Betty’s personal Twitter account here.

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.


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).”



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.

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