Tag Archives: women’s rights

Week 7 and 8 recap


Apologies for the delay of this post!

In Week 7 we watched a documentary that was made by the Guardian on FGM (Female Genital Mutilation). If you didn’t make it to the meeting, I recommend that you watch it, as it really explains the cultural reasons for FGM in more detail:

If you’re interested in reading more about it, here is an article by a Maasai woman, who went through FGM when she was 13 years old:

We also discussed the meaning behind some of the My Body My Rights art by Hikaru Cho that Amnesty International has commissioned. Take a look here:

In Week 8 we looked at some of the My Body My Rights campaigns, specifically the abortion ban in El Salvador which you can read more about and sign the petition against here:

Abi and Georgie
HRU Editors


A Turning Point for Human Rights in India?


The recent rape incident in New Delhi that caught the headlines worldwide really brought home the fact that women are extremely vulnerable in India.

Over the last four years I have considered India to be a second home to me, spending all of my summers there. I have always been aware of the dangers women face, as I too have been on the receiving end of mild forms of sexual abuse from men, having been groped several times and faced with aggressive sexual requests. I can’t help but feel very lucky to have escaped anything more severe after seeing the headlines over this last month.

This is the reality that Indian women face though, a reality of living in fear. The statistics show that rape is far from uncommon across the country. More than 220,000 cases of violent crimes against women were reported in 2011 alone, according to official statistics from the Indian government, with the actual number likely to be much higher as many go unreported.

This particularly brutal incident, which left the 23 year old with internal injuries and later led to her death, was to be the last straw. It has left the Indian nation feeling outraged and deeply saddened by the threat that their mothers, daughters and sisters may also face when they step out of their front door. The protests that ensued are not unique to India though, as countries such as Sri Lanka and Nepal are also asking for an end to sexual violence. This people’s movement is inspiring and powerful, showing that if the nations rise up, change will follow. However, in a nation full of anger and emotion, carrying placards stating “hang the rapists”, it is clear that the political and social reform needs to strike a careful balance. That is, in empowering women, they need to ensure that they don’t end up violating another fundamental human right as a result – the right to life.

India is not a nation known for its use of the death penalty, but with many serving on death row and the recent execution in relation to the Mumbai bombings, the Indian authorities must not let this wave of protests encourage a resurgence of the use of the death penalty.

India has the opportunity to face up to its critics by effectively implementing the resources and laws it already has in place to put an end to any further incidences of sexual assault, without creating yet another human rights issue.

This tragic incident is a clear case of the lack of rights women have across the globe, but it is also a promising case with a silver lining, as it is spurring change that will hopefully result in more rights for women, not only in India, but worldwide.


Amnesty International Society take to the Forum to petition for Women’s Rights in Afghanistan!


Twas the 5th December, and Exeter University campus was full of Christmas cheer, tinsel… and Amnesty demonstrators?

Last Wednesday, a group of keen human rights defenders descended on the Forum to highlight the issue of women’s rights in Afghanistan. Bearing placards of solidarity, members of Exeter Amnesty International society petitioned fellow students, asking the UK’s ambassador to Afghanistan to preserve the gains made for women’s rights as the UK withdraws its presence in the country.

For many people, the war in Afghanistan is an emotive and controversial issue. As an organisation, Amnesty International is not attempting to halt the withdrawal process, but it does insist that the hard-fought freedoms reclaimed by the women of Afghanistan should not be abandoned. Prior to the Taliban regime, Afghanistan held a progressive attitude towards women’s rights; women gained the vote in 1919, ten years before the UK, and the 1964 constitution enshrined gender equality in law. Though in practice women still faced discrimination and inequality, they were still able to work freely, including as government ministers, doctors and teachers.

The Taliban’s rise to power swept away such gains. Women faced daily oppression and discrimination: their movements were restricted, their education denied, their right to employment banned and they were often subjected to violence. Ten years after the Taliban regime, Afghanistan has made steady progress in restoring the rights of women.  From 2001 to 2009, the number of girls in education has jumped from a handful to over 1 and a half million. After the 2010 election, 27% of parliamentary seats were won by women, more than the current UK parliament, and 40% of those who voted in the election were female. But with UK forces preparing to withdraw, many fear that these freedoms will be lost if women’s rights are not put on the peace process agenda. According to Brad Adams, Asia Director at Human Rights Watch, “Afghan women need and deserve a strategy of their own for the protection of their rights in the perilous years ahead.”

With the withdrawal date fast approaching, it is paramount that an effective strategy for preserving women’s rights in Afghanistan is consolidated quickly. The UK government needs to know that the public is behind freedom for the women of Afghanistan. Exeter’s Amnesty members were certainly up for the challenge, and the past two weeks of being briefed on the issue and smearing paint all over ourselves, or ‘banner making’, everyone was raring to go.

Though the Forum was initially quieter than usual, most students were highly supportive of the campaign. As Amnesty member Charlie Mackay told us, “I found people really willing to sign the petition as soon as they understood what it was about. … So many people wanted to get involved as well- it was inspiring to see just how much support is out there for the women in Afghanistan.”

Taking part on the day, I can personally testify that students’ enthusiasm concerning the campaign was incredibly “inspiring”. And this enthusiasm translated into 400 signatures in merely an hour – a fantastic achievement for a supposedly quiet afternoon. Looking at the photographs of the day, I can certainly say that the passion of Amnesty members for Afghan women’s rights must have been a factor. Let’s hope the UK government is as equally willing to stand in solidarity with the women of Afghanistan.

Amy Deakin

For more information on this campaign, check out Amnesty UK’s website!

No Women, No Peace: Women’s Rights in Afghanistan

Having voted to make women’s rights our next campaign topic, we were going to focus on maternal health rights in Ghana and Sierra Leone and help ensure that the the UK government’s promises to maintain its development fund are kept. But then we went to the Student Conference, and there was a change of plan. Women’s rights in Afghanistan is currently one of AIUK’s main campaign topics, and so in the interests of priorities we’ve decided to switch to this.

Some background, for the sake of dispelling some myths. We hear a lot today about the binary between the ‘civilised’ West and ‘backward’ Islamic countries. In fact, Afghanistan in the post-war period was one of the most liberal places in the Middle East, and for a while more so than in the West. Women gained the vote in 1919 (a decade before the UK) and were involved in drafting the 1964 constitution which granted equal rights to women and men. There were no clothing restrictions and many women were in high-level business and government jobs years before this became commonplace in UK or USA.

Western troops are currently engaged in a protracted ‘handover’ period with the Afghan governmental forces. Because of the recent Taliban resurgence this means, in some cases, cutting deals with Islamist militants. Amnesty wants to make it clear to the UK government and others that, in these negotiations, women’s rights are not sacrificed for an easier withdrawal. Crucially, we’re pushing for women’s involvement with the peace deal, which has been severely lacking – the slogan for the campaign is ‘No Women, No Peace’.
So, we’ll be running a petition-collecting session on campus on 5th December, putting pressure on the UK government to honour their promises. We hope you join us!
James Bartholomeusz

Human Rights Or Cultural Imperialism?


This week our Amnesty society decided to take a step back and address the question we are frequently asked – what right do we have to make a judgement or interfere in the way other cultures function?

15 year old Malala Yousufzai was shot in the head by the Taliban on October 9th in north-western Pakistan, whilst participating in a protest for women’s education in Pakistan. So we asked ourselves whether we have the right to interfere with Pakistani culture and demand that they allow women’s education, or whether this is imposing our own western values on others. Furthermore, is Britain and the United States’ involvement in eastern countries’ affairs cultural imperialism or the upholding of basic human rights?

The core conclusions we drew where these:

–          Western involvement in eastern affairs is legitimate so far as they do not send troops in but simply attempt to end the violence: a human right is to live in safety and peace and without constant fear of attack, thus ending conflict (not fuelling it by providing more troops) is an action worth taking.

–          Arms embargos and attempts at aiding diplomacy or protecting the people whose safety is in jeopardy are legitimate acts of defending basic human rights.

–          Cultural imperialism only occurs when a culture is forcing its own ethics and beliefs onto another system. However there are basic human rights that exist beyond culture and are rooted in our integral needs as human beings.

  • The right to choose the lifestyle we wish to lead
  • The right to live free from oppression
  • The right to not endure bodily harm from another person or governing body
  • The right to practise our religion in the way we wish.

Malala’s argument for women’s education was supported by many others in her country (including two other girls who were also injured in the attack) thus proving supporting her cause is not forcing one culture onto another, but supporting a cultural change which the inhabitants of the culture believe necessary. The Taliban claims that they are the voice of the Muslim world, but Malala and her companions are Muslim and disagree with the Taliban’s decisions and therefore they cannot be accurately representing the entire Muslim conscience.

Our protection of Malala while she resides in Birmingham hospital recovering is a protection of her right as a human being to free speech and control over her own life. The Taliban has breached these human rights through their violent attack on a 14 year old girl.

It is a fine line to tread between cultural imperialism and simply protecting human rights but in order to defend these rights it is necessary to negotiate it.

In summary:  every human has the right to not be shot in the face for requesting an education.

Joely Harris