Honoring Feminist and Women Human Right Defenders Who are No Longer with Us
At the 12th AWID International Forum on Women's Rights in Development, AWID created a special exhibit to celebrate the lives of women who are no longer with us and whose contributions to the advancement of women's rights are very much missed. The tribute featured photographs and biographies of women¹s rights leaders from around the world, hung on delicately rotating prints in the Forum venue. Over 2.000 feminist activists participated in the Forum and many of them participated in the commemorative event on 21 April organized with Breakthrough Collaborative, which included an audiovisual presentation of the Tribute alongside music and poetry, as well as testimonies from Women Human Rights Defenders presented in Spanish, French, English, Arabic, and Turkish. The poem "Maati" was included in the Tribute program and translated into all the Forum languages.
This tribute to Feminist and Women Human Rights Defenders (WHRDs) commemorates and celebratesthe work and lives of women activists who have passed away since our last AWID Forum in 2008. In addition to paying homage to these incredible women,we seek toshed light on the plight of all WHRDs who have been assassinated or disappeared in an effort to silence and end their activism. We bring them all into our collective memory and carry their legacy of struggle as our torch in the feminists and women’s rights movements.
AWID received contributions from all over the world for this tribute. And while many of these women have passed away due to accidents, illnesses and natural disasters, aboutone third of those honored in this tribute were killed or disappeared due to their activism. Women like Marisela Escobedo Ortiz from Mexico, who was killed while peacefully demonstrating to demand that authorities take action to arrest her daughter’s assassin; South African organizer and LGBTI activist Noxolo Nowaza,murdered as a result of a hate crime; Natalia Estemirova,a journalist murdered for her work on human rights abuses in Chechnya; and human rights lawyer Concepcion Brizuela from the Philippines, who was forcibly disappeared for advocating on behalf of women, peasant farmers, and indigenous peoples. Not surprisingly, most of these crimes remain in impunity.
We honor our sisters and we denounce the high levels of violence against feminists and WHRDs across the world. These killings and disappearances are not isolated cases; they are meant to weaken our movements and stop us from challenging patriarchy, heteronormativity, and fundamentalisms that oppress women and prevent the realization of human rights for all. Increased militarization, strong presence of organized criminal groups, crises in democracy and governance, and growing tensions as a result of increasing inequality generated by dominant economic systems, are all contexts around the world in which women’s rights activism becomes more dangerous and at times deadly.
As we grieve, we also have much to celebrate and be proud of in remembrance of the legacy, passion and commitment of these WHRDs and feminists activists. Women like Wangari Maathai from Kenya who began an entire movement by planting trees; Adrienne Rich from the United States who inspired us with her poems and militancy, and brought the oppression of women and lesbians to the forefront of political and artistic discourse; Wedad Mitry from Egypt, a feminist activist who fought for independence and understood that national freedom was tied to women’s freedom and equality; and Dicle Koğacioğlu a Turkish scholar and feminist activist whose work on power, modernity, and bureaucratic forms of authority, influenced many during her brief life.
As feminists and women’s rights activists in all our diversity, we need to build solidarity across social movements and strengthen our collective capacity to respondto violence against WHRDs and violations of their rights. Recognizing that security, safety and self-caremust be a priority in all our political agendas is a crucial step to collectively respond to violence against feminists and WHRDs, and toensure the sustainability of our movements for gender equality, women’s rights, and justice for all.
AWID would like to thank the families and organizations who shared their personal stories and contributed to this memorial. We join them in continuingthe remarkable work of these women andforging efforts to ensure justice is achieved in cases that remain in impunity.
View the video that was presented at the event below:
Your mud-crusted arms smell of the earth
Your brow is beaded with sweat from the overhead sun
Your slender arms have the power and
Strength of many men
Even your shade comforts many
It is with your flute that you light the cooking fires
(women often blow into stoves with pipes to light them)
It is when you touch the strings that life moves
The sunlit crops are your ornaments
You are like the sun-baked earth
Your skin is the color of dusk
Through the long dark nights you are the light
While you stay awake like the candle that
Burns through the night
The winds salute you, the seasons hail you
The dust of the earth adorns you, you are the
Nurturing this earth
In your tired breath lie the sounds of conch shells
Hopes as blue as the skies have many wings
And their possibilities are reflected in your eyes