Why Defending Human Rights Is Women’s Work
| By Rucha Chitnis
“It is important to celebrate these women who are building a more peaceful world that is open, just, and filled with love.”
Joye Braun recalls setting up her tipi in snow last April at the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation.
The camp founded by LaDonna Brave Bull Allard, a beloved elder Native woman, was named Iŋyaŋ Wakháŋagapi Othí, meaning Sacred Stone, which is the pre-Colonial name of the Cannonball River area. “Before colonization, women were traditionally equal to men in our society. What we have seen at Standing Rock is extraordinary—women reclaiming their rightful, sacred place in our community. We know our voices matter and our opinions have value, and it’s been powerful for both—men and women—to witness this,” said Braun.
“Women are inseparable from human rights defenders.”
The camps on Sioux treaty land are gone now. Last month, militarized police and bulldozers cleared them out. But the legacy of women-led resistance remains as women across the country make themselves central to protecting human rights and defending the environment.
“Women are inseparable from human rights defenders,” said Patricia Viseur Sellers, the special adviser on international criminal law prosecution strategies for the International Criminal Court. “We need to recognize women human rights defenders in the U.S. as well [as the rest of the world], because they are doing the honorable work of advancing democracy that affects the majority of Americans—whether it is our ability to have clean air and water, a living wage, healthy food, or education. In this humanity comes our strength,” she said.
While the U.S. has branded itself as a model of human rights, it has been criticized for dropping the ball on advancing women’s rights at home and overseas. While 187 countries have ratified the United Nations’ Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women, the U.S., along with Somalia and Iran, has refrained. “On one hand it is egregious and shameful, but the U.S. couldn’t pass the Equal Rights Amendment for men and women to have equal rights under the U.S. constitution and that puts things in perspective,” Sellers said.
Shalini Eddens is the director of programs for Urgent Action Fund for Women’s Human Rights, an Oakland-based group that makes rapid-response grants to women human rights defenders facing imminent threats. Eddens said the group has seen a palpable increase in grant requests from the U.S., where attacks are racialized and gendered in nature. “After the election results, we saw an increase in requests from LBTQI groups and gender-nonconforming activists in the U.S., who are experiencing severe threats for the work that they do. We are receiving requests to install security cameras in offices, which are requests we see from grantees in Eastern Europe or South Asia. This mirrors the experiences of women from repressive and conservative governments,” she said.
“We recognize our moral and ethical responsibility to support women and transgender human rights.”