UN Human Rights Day 2011: Women that Move the World

Consuelo Morales

In honor of United Nations Human Rights Day, Article 3 would like to pay tribute to the extraordinary work of women that have challenged the norm and faced grave adversity in the process. These human rights activists are paving a new path in the human rights landscape and are also working to preserve and sustain communities that have suffered at the hands of human rights abusers. Due to their resilience and compassion, we have chosen to highlight several extraordinary women-some more well-known than others- who have taken a fierce stand against gross human rights violations. They are a source of inspiration in their own communities, the international community and to us at Article 3. In honor of Human Rights Day, please take the time learn about the exceptional women that we have chosen to highlight today. Leymah Gbowee is a 2011 Nobel Peace Prize Laureate who led the Liberian women’s peace movement which heavily influenced the end of the most recent Liberian Civil War in 2003. A child of the previous Liberian War, Gbowee directly experienced the consequences of an unstable country rife with violent rage. Due to her own experiences she knew the value of peace and the important role that women play in maintaining that peace. Through the Women in Peacebuilding Network, she led women in peace building efforts and reflects on her Liberian experiences in her new book, Mighty Be Our Powers: How Sisterhood, Prayer, and Sex Changed a Nation at War.

Aung San Suu Kyi is the General Secretary of the National League for Democracy(NLD) and is the champion voice for freedom, democracy and human rights in Burma. She has been placed on house arrest multiple times for her so-called progressive politics. Despite being on house arrest in 1990, Suu Kyi and the NLD won 82% of seats in parliament. This was at the beginning of a 15-year house arrest term lasting from 1989-2010. She is renowned for her “Freedom from Fear” speech: "It is not power that corrupts but fear. Fear of losing power corrupts those who wield it and fear of the scourge of power corrupts those who are subject to it." She is also a Nobel Peace Prize Laureate who has won the respect and admiration of many human rights thought leaders, including Archbishop Desmond Tutu who declared his adoration and respect for her at this year’s Clinton Global Initiative conference.

Sister Consuelo Morales works tirelessly for citizens of Monterrey, Mexico that have been victims of human rights violations ranging from abuse in orphanages, forced displacement, torture, murder and the disappeared. Monterrey, a place saturated with drug cartels and gangs, is her hometown and her dedication to justice for the victims and their families is unwavering. For the past 18 years she has spearheaded a human rights organization, Ciudadanos en Apoyo de Derechos Humanos, and in 1992 she became a nun. Sister Morales is the 2011 recipient of the Human Rights Watch Alison de Forges Award for Extraordinary Activism for her work in Mexico.

Sussan Tahmasebi is a relentless women’s rights advocate and a Founding Member of the One Million Signature Campaign which seeks to change discriminatory laws for women in Iran. By rewriting the laws to align with international human rights, Tahmasebi is not only changing the legal framework, but also cultural ideologies. Through Tahmasebi’s campaign women have petitioned for equal rights and in the process have become a source of strength within their communities. Their stories along with Tahmasebi’s can be found by clicking here. Human Rights Watch honored Tahmasebi with the Alison de Forges Award for Extraordinary Activism earlier this year.

Tawakkul Karman, a Yemeni journalist and politician, is the youngest recipient to ever receive the Nobel Peace Prize for her dedication to women’s rights in Yemen. In her unique role as a political activist and a journalist she demands that women have access to texting and other communication services which are tightly controlled by the government. In 2005 she co-founded Women Journalists Without Chains, a human rights organization that promotes the “freedom of opinion, expression and democratic rights.” She continues to fight for her cause despite constant death threats and personal assault.

Samira Ibrahim is a courageous Egyptian woman who was subjected to a humiliating and degrading virginity test while in military detention, along with electric shock treatment. According to PRI’s The World, she and 16 other Egyptian women were detained for four days after participating in a demonstration. Ibrahim’s brave and bold response, suing the Egyptian Army for torture and abuse, is garnering support from all over the world. Human rights defenders maintain that her actions are especially heroic due to the conservative Egyptian climate where the topic of virginity tests is taboo to discuss. Ibrahim’s case will go to court in December.

Eve Ensler, Founder of V-Day, has taken her compassion for all things women to the Democratic Republic of the Congo where she founded the City of Joy. Her organization provides necessary resources for rape survivors including: leadership development, therapy, self defense, artistic outlets and sex education. Despite her recent battle with cancer, Ensler continues to fight for the independence of Congolese women and works vigorously to ensure that their transition back into their community is as seamless as possible.

Carmen Palencia heads the National Association of Victims for the Restitution and Access of Lands in Colombia and advocates for peasant land rights that have been revoked by the paramilitaries. She lost her own land after her husband was murdered and is fighting on the frontlines of the land right struggle. Her determination is unwavering; despite the high number of assassinated land right leaders and personal death threats she receives. As a result of her work, the Colombian government has issued a new policy, The Land Bill (part of the broader Victim’s Law), effective in January that will return 5 million acres of land to peasants over the next four years.

Photo credit from top to bottom: Michael Angelo/Wonderland, Chris Robinson, Tracy Wilkinson/Los Angeles Times, Arash Ashourinia, Reuters, Tahrir Diaries/YouTube, Brigitte Lacombe and Sara Rojas.