By Danny Kaufman, Development & Communications Officer, Urgent Action Fund
San Francisco, November 11, 2013
“No one should take a bullet for their ideas. You should live for them, not die for them.”
These were the opening remarks from the Seventh Annual Dublin Platform for Human Rights Defenders, organized by our long-time partner Frontline Human Rights Defenders. The three-day Platform brought together more than 140 human rights defenders from 94 countries to share their experiences, learn from each other, and come up with new and more effective strategies for their security and protection.
While I expected the Platform to be informative, I did not expect to be so profoundly moved by the courageous, formidable, and at times heartbreaking, stories that many of the activists shared over the course of three days. Stories like that of Ruth, a young women’s human rights defender in Kenya whose home was burned down by local militia after standing up for the rights of an adolescent woman to access reproductive health services; or Wazhma, whose spouse was kidnapped by the Taliban, never to be seen again, because of her efforts to increase women’s political voice in Pakistan; or Raisa, a lesbian activist from Kyrgyzstan who, along with her colleagues, was arrested, beaten and sexually assaulted by police for standing up for the rights of others to choose who they love.
Through listening to these stories, as well as discussions with Urgent Action Fund grantees and regional advisors, I developed a deeper understanding of the myriad of threats that women’s human rights defenders face, as well as some possible ways that we, as funders and allies, can better ensure the safety of those courageous individuals and organizations that put their lives on the line for the rights of us all.
- Community is key in preventing attacks. Activists spoke of the important role that local and regional networks play during times of escalating threat and violence. This was especially true for women’s human rights defenders, who reported being more vulnerable to threats than their male counterparts. As one young activist put it, “Afghanistan is a tribal community. As an unveiled woman, I have local communities to protect me. Without them, I would not be here today.” It is for this reason that Urgent Action Fund partners with over 100 women’s human rights leaders in the countries where we fund. These regional advisors not only help to ensure the efficacy of our rapid response grantmaking, they work to strengthen women’s human rights movements on the ground by connecting activists working on similar issues and in similar areas. In doing so, they are helping to build more sustainable communities of support so that these courageous women are better able to protect themselves when danger arises.
- Technology must be used carefully. During the Platform, many activists spoke about the benefits of technology and social media as tools to raise awareness and mobilize support. At the same time, several women’s human rights defenders raised concerns that technology also creates obstacles that prevent them from effectively carrying out their activism. This includes sexualized threats on social media, restricted access to reproductive health information, censorship, and tracking via mobile phones. As an Urgent Action Fund grantee from Chechnya warned, “…be very careful with technology, it is a very good tool, but also very easy access to find you as well.” This is why Urgent Action Fund, along with partners like Tactical Technologies, offers trainings on tools and strategies to protect individuals’ and organizations’ digital security. As one woman activist who attended a digital security training noted: “I’ve learned how to secure my information, to make sure I don’t share my information on the internet or the telephone.”
- We struggle in solidarity, not solitude. While the platform was primarily a space for activists to share their individual experiences, it also served as an opportunity for activists working on different issues, across different regions to come together in solidarity. Over the course of the three-day conference, there was an increasing sense that we were all in this together. As one activist summed it up ”The Platform is a great opportunity for us to unite our fight. When one is threatened, we all are.” This sense of solidarity was especially true among women’s human rights defenders, who are often times isolated, not only in their society, but also in their communities and families, as a result of their activism. As one female activist from Pakistan put it, “It is difficult for women to do this work. I am the only female activist working in my province. But listening to all of you here, I feel inspired. As women’s human rights defenders, we must work together to support each other.”
Despite all of the testimonials and panel discussions, perhaps most moving of all was the closing ceremony of the Platform. In traditional Irish fashion, the event was held at Dublin’s famous Jameson Distillery and featured live music by a local folk group. Shortly after the band started, activists began to get up and dance. Pretty soon, the entire room was filled with human rights defenders from Guatemala to Sri Lanka to Zimbabwe taking their turn at the Macarena, practicing impromptu salsa steps, even trying out the Irish jig.
This wasn’t just your average Friday night dance party. To many in the room, this was a unique opportunity to take a moment, if only for a few hours, to escape the dangerous and tumultuous realities that so many of these activists live on a daily basis. For a brief moment, these activists came together, irrespective of all of their differences, be it gender, culture, religion or issue area. For a moment, we all shared that feeling of community that so many activists had mentioned in their testimonies, and which has continued to resonate with me in the weeks that followed.
Upon reflecting on that night, it has dawned on me that at least some of these activists will most likely be injured, imprisoned or murdered by the time of the next Dublin Platform in 2015 as a result of their courage to stand up for the rights of others. It does not have to be this way.
Urgent Action Fund exists to protect and support women’s and LGBTQ human rights defenders facing critical moments. With your support, we can work together to ensure that these courageous individuals have the support, at the international, regional and community level, to the resources they need, when they need it, so that they may continue to stand up for the rights of us all. After all, no one should take a bullet for their ideas. You should live for them, not die for them.