3 Brave Women Who Risk Their Lives for Justice
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Danuweli has advocated against violence against women, keeping vigil outside the courthouse where perpetrators were being tried as well as beginning an “intergender dialogue to end violence” with separate sessions for men. Although some of the stories she has to tell are gruesome and disturbing, including every kind of brutal killing imaginable, she told me that telling them brings “healing, relief, self-esteem.”
Her own story is particularly painful. Journalist Debra Nussbaum Cohen, who was at the luncheon, relates it:
Danuweli told her a story that she repeated for the benefit of the luncheon audience. As part of Liberia’s reconciliation efforts, she met with a man who began telling her about the man he had murdered and then cut up along every joint in his body. It was Danuweli’s stepfather. His disjointed body parts were given to her sister in a plastic bag to take home for burial. When she recognized that it was her own family’s story and began crying, the murderer said, I don’t care, and just walked away, she related. “He thought he was talking to somebody else, not the victim. People should hear what is happening in Africa. We live with the pains” of the bloodshed, Danuweli said.
Liberia’s president, Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf, represents progress, but Danuweli, who works with the West Africa Network for Peacebuilding, believes that with all-male power structures still in place, Liberia remains in danger of backsliding into conflict.
“Don’t think because a country signed a peace accord things are okay,” she told me. Without strong efforts at repatriation and changed norms, “patterns start repeating.”
Protecting human rights in war-torn Guatemala
Her work with Guatemala’s Human Rights Defender’s Protection Unit aims to protect peacemakers, human right workers and civilians from the threat posed by oligarchs, an army and warlords in a region recovering from a decades-long civil war, genocide against the indigenous people and an epidemic of femicide. In some regions, women who speak out on politics are accused of having a “pact with the devil” Samayoa told the audience, saying “The price of war is paid on our bodies."
Her work has put her under serious threat of bodily harm before. Her car has been tampered with and she has had to flee. Samayoa told me that her activism has always arisen from a feeling that what she was doing was “never enough.” With every campaign, she asks herself “to invent what has not been invented. What else can be done?”
When she receives a threat, she remembers that her efforts are working. “What they want is conflict,” she says. “Every time we get attacked it’s because something is changing.” And the double impact of gender discrimination persists. In every class, ideology and sector, Samayoa told the audience, sexism and harassment are prevalent. “We need a culture change,” she said.
At home, whether we're occupying Wall Street, campaigning for an end to domestic violence, or fighting for immigrant rights, we have so much to learn from activists around the world who have put their safety on the line for a better future for their families.
And it's no coincidence that they're all women.
"Women have a role to not only promote human rights and women's rights," Khin Omar told me, "but to bridge gaps. There are different experiences, but when we come together we have strength."