Yesterday was International Women Human Rights Defenders Day, and I know I’m a day late, but I wanted to write about that for our part 2 of this series. “Bringing together women, peace and human rights movement to challenge militarism” is number one of the top five issues by the 16 Days of Activitism against Gender Violence campaign. As the campaign says, “for decades, women’s, human rights, and peace movements have advocated for the use of peaceful strategies to end conflict and violence and to achieve women’s rights. These movements challenge the socio-economic structures that allow violence and discrimination to continue.” These women are just ordinary people who respond in extraordinary ways to violence and abuses around them. Often they are standing up against people who have a great deal of power, and have used that power to oppress and kill. These women take on a huge risk to their lives and to their families when they decide to fight. They face the same threats as other human rights defenders, yet are often also at a greater risk than male defenders because of gender-based violence.
One such example of a Woman Human Rights Defender is Consuelo Morales, a Catholic nun who’s story was highlighted in the Los Angeles Times earlier this month (See the full article here: “Mexico nun is crusader for rights amid drug violence”). The life expectancy of a human rights defender in Mexico is awfully low currently, and many defenders have gone into hiding or are leaving the country. But not Sister Consuelo. The 63-year old nun refuses to listen to the many threats she has received on her life. Instead, she remains committed to her work, helping to bring justice to people and their families who have been victims of violence by the Mexican government or military. She continues week after week standing up to those in power and demanding accountability for what they have done. The article says,
“Mothers whose sons were last seen being hauled away by police seek her counsel. She leads marches and confronts state governors, prosecutors, detectives. She escorts victims past soldiers posted at government buildings and helps them file the kinds of complaints the authorities would rather not see: about the disappeared, the slain, the tortured, allegedly at the hands of police and soldiers.”
One sentence though really made me stop and think. As Sister Consuelo explained why she continues to do this work, she said, “Working in human rights allows me to confirm my faith, every single day. Human rights is the way I can confirm I believe in God.”
Instead of questioning the existence of God after seeing and hearing about so many atrocities, she finds that defending human rights is how she knows she believes in God. The public act of standing up to the powerful and saying, “these people are not expendable; they are not collateral damage in the midst of Mexico’s drug war, but real people made in the image of God” is her statement of faith. That is how she makes God known, and how she herself knows He exists. It’s a beautiful statement of faith and courage and hope. It has encouraged and challenged me to say no to fear, but to stand up against injustice, whatever the consequences may be. And for now, the least I can do is make her story known, and support those women and men who are defending human rights today.
What do you think we can do to better protect those who defend human rights? What can you do in your country, in your community right now to fight against human rights abuses? Comment below.