It’s not easy being a woman these days, particularly under certain regimes that seem bound and determined to suppress women’s rights.
In February 2011, 30-year-old mother of four and housewife Miriam Isaura López Vargas was returning home after dropping her kids off at school in Ensenada, Mexico. Plainclothes soldiers seized her, blindfolded her, and took her to a military barracks, where they tortured her with electric shocks to the soles of her feet. They covered her nose with a wet cloth and shot a stream of water up her nose while pressing down on her stomach. Then they raped her, over and over again.
Eventually, exhausted and traumatized, Miriam signed a false confession claiming that she was involved in drug trafficking.
When it seemed no one else would or could help Miriam, the human rights group Amnesty International made her story public and fought for her freedom. In September 2011, a judge ordered her released due to lack of evidence. With Amnesty International’s assistance, Miriam has since lodged a legal complaint against the individuals responsible for her ordeal.
Miriam is just one of countless women and girls for whom Amnesty International has provided a lifeline.
Informally founded in 1961 when British lawyer Peter Benenson protested the imprisonment of two Portuguese students, Amnesty International has utilized such methods as letter-writing campaigns, legal support, criminal investigations and orchestrated lobbying and publicizing campaigns in order to achieve the release of “prisoners of conscience.”
Prisoners of conscience are individuals imprisoned and often tortured due to their race, religion, political views -- or gender.
Amnesty International’s guiding principles are contained in the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which states in part:
All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights… Everyone is entitled to all the rights and freedoms set forth in this Declaration, without distinction of any kind, such as race, color, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth or other status.
Amnesty International counts 3 million supporters, members and affiliated activists worldwide, spread across 150 countries. While its focus is not exclusively on women’s rights, Amnesty’s general human rights initiative includes many projects designed specifically to assist women.
Amnesty International specifically addresses gender-based violence, which it defines as “violence that is directed against a woman because she is a woman, or that affects women disproportionately.”
Such violations include physical abuse, rape, enslavement, sexual trafficking, “deprivation of liberty” and more.
Here are a few more recent examples of Amnesty International’s work with women:
Early in March 2013, Zimbabwean state-controlled television ran announcements implying that Jestina Mukoko, the director of the Zimbabwe Peace Project, was a fugitive from law enforcement. In fact, she was sitting at home at the time of the announcements, and turned herself in voluntarily.
Mukoko was then charged with “several counts including operating a private voluntary organisation without registration under the Private Voluntary Organisations Act.” This despite the fact that ZPP is registered under a deed of trust with the High Court, just like most other human rights groups.
Amnesty International has called for attention to Jestina’s case and a proper defense against these charges.
In March of last year, 16-year-old Amina Filali of Morocco killed herself after being forced to marry her rapist. Article 475 of the Moroccan Penal Code permits rapists to escape prosecution if they marry their victims. Thanks to pressure from organizations including Amnesty International, Moroccan authorities proposed a change to the article in January 2013. Amnesty continues to advocate for changes to the Penal Code that will better protect women and girls from rape and abuse.
For the past few years, and particularly since the Arab Spring uprising in the Middle East, Amnesty International has tracked a pattern of violence against Egyptian women and girls, including “the repression of women protesters, and sexual violence—including forced ‘virginity tests.’ ”
Hassiba Hadj Sahraoui, Deputy Director for the Middle East and North Africa at Amnesty, said, “Women have fewer rights than men in areas like marriage, divorce, child custody and inheritance, and the law says that a woman is required to obey her husband. The rights of women in Egypt are under threat.”
With offices in 80 countries around the world, Amnesty International is in the mix wherever the rights of women are under threat, advocating for a global shift in female empowerment.