Amnesty International Campaign ManualOUTREACH
WORKING ON WOMEN'S HUMAN RIGHTS
AI's desire to reach out to the women's sector is motivated by its fundamental belief in the protection and promotion of human rights of both men and women, and in the important role women perform in pursuing this aim. Outreach to women has a distinctive dimension because of AI's commitment to raise the profile of women's human rights in its work in research, campaigning, on human rights education and awareness. AI's effectiveness in winning the support of women for all AI's concerns is closely linked to how AI can realize its commitment to support the struggles of women against gender-based human rights violations and integrating their human rights issues into all aspects of our work. This section looks at:
N Why outreach to women is important to AI / 236
N Developing a women's outreach strategy / 237
N Outreach in practice / 238
N Checklist: What you can ask women's organizations to do / 240
Dr Habiba Hasan calls for the release of
Ma Thida, a prisoner of conscience from Myanmar, at an event staged during the UN Conference on Women in Beijing, 1995.
© ai Why outreach to women is important
Half the world's population are women. They have established a myriad of organizations to defend and promote their rights, and constitute a mass worldwide force that AI must reach to be effective.
1995 signalled the beginning of the new UN Decade for Women. It marked another turning point in the lives and struggles of women all over the world as thousands of activists came to Beijing for the Fourth UN World Conference on Women.
1995 was also significant for AI's work on women's human rights. We launched an international theme campaign to highlight the issue of women's human rights in the lead up to the Beijing Conference. This was a great success in many respects, including the expansion of contacts between AI Sections and women's groups in their countries. The same year AI, through the International Council Meeting (ICM), committed itself to making women's human rights a top priority as the organization works towards the new millennium.
AI's outreach work to prominent women and women's groups and organizations is important for many reasons.
N Contact with women's organizations increases AI's awareness and sensitivity about issues relating to women's human rights.
N Many national women's organizations are part of international networks or affiliates of international bodies, providing opportunities for international action, including dialogue.
N Women's NGOs and prominent women are increasingly influential and effective in the international human rights arena.
N Many women's organizations and individuals are in a position to increase awareness of AI's concerns and generate action on them, including financial support for AI.
N Many women's organizations are a vital and influential part of local communities and national societies.
N AI needs to contact women's organizations to engage in dialogue for us to build a greater understanding of how AI can be most effective in promoting and protecting the human rights of women and men. AI could contribute to women's organization's use of the human rights language in their own work.
Outreach to the women's sector is not limited to women's organizations. Sections should identify other NGOs which although not exclusively focused on women may nevertheless have major concerns on women's issues or involve a substantial number of women members. Some of these groups may have a women's desk, women's chapter or women's committees within their organizational structure. These organizations and their women membership can be approached if they meet your Section's priorities and criteria for outreach.
It should be recognized that the documentation of and campaigning against gender-based violations against women were pioneered by women themselves in many countries. When approaching these women and women's organizations who specialize in these issues, care should be taken that we are not seen as imposing our particular knowledge and experience in human rights. What should be enhanced is the atmosphere of dialogue and learning from each other.
The following are some questions you may want to use when planning your outreach to women's groups.
Developing a women's outreach strategy
The questions below may help you develop a women's outreach strategy:
g Who are the influential women and women's organizations in your country? What impact could they have on the work of AI in your country? Which do you believe to have important contacts with the home government, other sectors of society or the media? Do these organizations have their own media? Are they able to mobilize large numbers of people? Do they have mailing lists of their supporters?
g What national women's media exist that may be interested in AI's concerns? What is the circulation of the different publications?
g If you have country coordination groups or country specialists in your Section, are they already in touch with women's organizations that have contacts in the target country?
g Which women's organizations have international influence? Do they have access to international structures or organizations? Do they have links or contacts with counterparts in target countries?
g Do women's organizations have the capacity to take up and act on AI's concerns or to promote human rights in general? Does the organization have an individual or a committee with specific responsibility for human rights? Can they contribute to AI's country or theme research?
g What is the best way to approach relevant individuals and organizations? Are they likely to already know or be open to AI's message? What are their current concerns and how do they relate to AI's? Are there creative ways in which AI can draw the links? Will it be necessary to invest a lot of time in making approaches?
g What is the potential for raising funds from organizations and individuals through targeted approaches?
g What resources will outreach require? Will special materials need to be prepared? Will organizations need regular contact? Will they need to receive AI materials regularly? Is AI able to dedicate these resources?
g During campaigns on specific countries, do women's organizations in the target country have an influence on AI's
g How can AI offer practical or moral support to women's NGOs campaigning against human rights violations? Are there women activists who could be invited to speak in your country as part of the campaign?
Outreach in practice
Before undertaking outreach to women, it is important to have a basic knowledge and understanding of the role and status of women in your society and the situation of women's organizations in the country.
Women's organizations in your society are likely to have many different concerns and perspectives. Being familiar with these concerns can make outreach more effective and this will mean that you can:
N more accurately ask for support that they will be able to deliver;
N know what they are most likely to want to know about AI's work;
N acknowledge the significance of their work.
Do your homework and go prepared. Educate yourself about AI's concerns on women's human rights and be up to date with AI's reports and actions on women's human rights. Many AI Sections have found during women's outreach work that indifference to AI by women's NGOs is mainly caused by their lack of awareness about AI or their lack of understanding of the full range of women's human rights. In addition, familiarize yourself with the organizations you wish to work with. Obtain information about them from a library, attend their meetings, contact them for an informal get together. Outreach to women's NGOs provides an excellent opportunity for dialogue on human rights and women's rights.
Avoid being defensive about AI's narrow focus on women's human rights. AI's work to protect women from governments' violations is well known, even if limited. Remember that many women have been imprisoned, tortured, raped, abducted, made to disappear, killed or executed by government agents because they have been campaigning on broader women's rights. AI supports and contributes to the protection and promotion of women's right to advocate equality and an end to violence against women.
Sections have found that highlighting the cases of women that AI is working on, or the way in which women are affected by the violations against which AI campaigns, has been important in establishing AI's relevance to women's concerns.
In many countries, lack of access by women to protection by law is often linked to a wider pattern of discrimination and lack of compliance with international human rights standards that affect all citizens. Such a link should be explored with the people and groups from whom you are trying to seek support. This also helps raise the interest of women to act on behalf of other victims of human rights violations.
AI can also work with women's NGOs to put women's human rights at the centre of the international human rights agenda, including the various international human rights mechanisms of the UN and other intergovernmental bodies. We can work together to:
N promote public awareness of the importance of women's rights as guaranteed in the UDHR and other international human rights treaties and standards;
N campaign for the ratification of various international human rights conventions and other standards that are relevant to the protection of women's human rights;
N lobby home governments to follow up on their commitment to the UN Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action.*
N work around International Women's Day (8 March). The day is used by the international movement and by many AI Sections as an excellent opportunity to focus action on women's human rights.
Outreach to women's groups requires clear planning. It needs an assessment of women's issues and the women's movement in your country, and of your own capacity and resources. This allows you to prioritize your target contacts.
c Make sure where possible that cases and the human rights situation of women are properly reflected in all AI's public actions and media appearances. I'm worried that people will think we need to have a specific campaign on women to actually talk about women was a comment from Nalyni Mohammed, coordinator of the 1995 Human Rights are Women's Right campaign in Australia.
c Work with women's media. Prepare advertisements featuring women's cases and calling for support. These can be given to newspapers and magazines if they offer free placement as a form of support. Commercial magazines targeting the women's market may be interested in feature articles focused on women. These can be based on AI cases or human rights situations, women activists or girls and women involved in campaigning for AI.
c Invest time in working with youth and students. Start with the women's studies programs in universities and women's colleges and offer their libraries AI materials on women's human rights. Offer them a speaker to address classes. Explore whether you could hold some of your activities, especially during the International Women's Day action, on the campus. If you have AI groups in these universities and colleges, ask them to involve women's clubs and associations in AI actions on women's cases.
c When featuring women as victims of human rights violations in your campaigning materials, especially in publicity and fundraising, always take into account the sensitivity in language and images that women's groups in many countries would expect from a human rights organization such as AI. Make sure your women's network or committee, if they exist, are consulted. You can also ask your contacts in the women's organizations or in the women's media for advice.
Sections should promote AI's worldwide website, which has a section on women's human rights, during campaigning and outreach activities (see Chapter 2). The UN Division for the Advancement of Women also maintains its own website where UN documents on women can be accessed. Numerous women's organizations have their own pages on the Internet where AI Sections can contribute on subjects related to women's human rights.
what you can ask women's organizations to do
j Put AI on their mailing lists.
j Join the Urgent Action Network.
j Run articles or advertisements featuring AI's campaigns, highlighting women's cases and concerns, and asking for action.
j Support specific campaigns, such as by writing to governments in support of AI's calls.
j Display AI materials in their offices.
Act as a resource or provide expert advice to AI members to promote their own awareness on gender and human rights issues.
It is particularly important when approaching women's organizations that you give the impression that AI is part of a community of human rights organizations, and that we believe each member of that community is doing important and valuable human rights work.
Violence against women: how to approach the issue
Many women's organizations are working on abuses against women perpetrated by private individuals. They may be frustrated by the fact that AI does not, as an organization, act on these violations. Human rights education activities around the UN Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women and on the Beijing Platform for Action provide them and AI with the opportunity to work together to inform the community that violence both by private individuals and by government agents is a human rights violation. Such activities allow them and AI to get the word out and to show how all of us can act to stop these abuses.
The experience of AI's outreach to women suggests that it is generally more effective and adds to AI's credibility if it is undertaken by women activists. However, do not give this work only to women in your Section. The work on women's human rights is for everyone!
Peru: a moving experience
The Peruvian Section launched the 1995 campaign on women's human rights with other women's NGOs attending. One NGO invited a Peruvian woman who had suffered human rights violations. She unexpectedly spoke about the effectiveness of AI's international campaigning on her behalf. Her account of her experience and of AI's support was very moving and touched everybody in the audience.
Pakistan: the benefits of cooperation
AI groups in Karachi collaborated with 19 major women's NGOs to launch AI's campaign on women in 1995. Their hard work and persistent dialogue with these groups eventually paid off. The 16-point joint NGO recommendations to the Pakistan Government on the Beijing Platform for Action contained most of AI's recommendations and was publicized at a joint press conference at the Karachi Press Club.
Future priority themes for the UN
Commission on the Status of Women
The following themes are useful to know if you or other NGOs are planning to go to the Commission on the Status of Women or wish to provide input into government discussions and preparations for the Commission.
N Violence against women
N Women and armed conflict
N Human rights of women
N The girl child
N Women and health
N Institutional mechanisms for the
advancement of women
N Initiation of the comprehensive
review and appraisal of the implementation of the UN Beijing Platform for Action 2000
N Comprehensive quinquennial review and appraisal of the implementation of the Platform for Action
N Emerging issues
Ghana: a groundbreaking conference
The Ghanaian Section held a groundbreaking national conference for women's NGOs in their country on the issue of female genital mutilation. It aimed to raise awareness about the abuse and to discuss how the issue can be addressed jointly by them at a national level.
When women are denied democracy and human rights in private, their human rights in the public sphere also suffer, since what occurs in 'private' shapes their ability to participate fully in the public arena.
Charlotte Bunch, Transforming Human Rights from a Feminist Perspective in Women's Rights, Human Rights, Routledge, 1995
Nepal: achieving a first
The Nepalese Section organized its first all-women's group in the foremost women's teachers' college in Kathmandu. From here, many AI activities on women's human rights originated and many women subsequently joined AI.
Working together, sharing resources
In March 1997 the Irish Section in association with the Irish Council of Civil Liberties and Irish women's NGOs organized a Working Conference on Women's Rights as Human Rights in Dublin. The conference was attended by 400 people from the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland. The focus was on the follow-up to the Beijing Platform for Action. After the conference, the Irish Section women's coordinator put together a list of all the conference participants _ the first of its kind in Ireland. The need for such a list was raised at almost every workshop at the conference whenever issues of networking, resources, solidarity between groups and the sharing of information were addressed.
*Most of AI's recommendations on women's human rights to the UN Fourth World Conference on Women were adopted in the final draft of the Beijing Platform for Action. AI produced Women's Rights are Human Rights: Commitments made by Governments in the Beijing Declaration and the Platform for Action and action advice (AI Index: IOR 41/06/96 and 41/05/96, respectively) as a follow-up to our work in this area.
Left: May 1997, activists make a commitment to eradicate female genital mutilation at a conference organized by the Tanzanian Section.
Below: Members of AI in Cape Town, South Africa, at an International Women's Day stall in March 1996.
See Appendix 2 for addresses of regional structures undertaking follow-up action to the UN World Conference on Women in Beijing.
Amnesty International Campaign Manual