Posts Tagged ‘interview’

Kailash Satyarthi, the man who defends children

January 23, 2018

“There can be no keener revelation of a society’s soul than the way in which it treats its children.” 
Nelson Mandela, Former President of South Africa

 

 conducted the interview (excerpts): 

P.K:   Namaste Kailash ji! Thank you so much for taking the time to talk with India Currents. As a mother, as an Indian American, it is a matter of great pride to be able to do this interview with you today! Looks like you are back after a lot of travel?

K.S:   Yes. Once the Nobel Prize committee gives you a medal of peace, they take away your ‘peace’ for the rest of your life! (laughs) I am quite used to travel, having been involved in multiple causes, working across 140 countries. As the founder of two largest societal coalitions, Global Campaign for Education & Global Marketing against child labor, my life does involve a considerable amount travel.

……

P.K:   And now with the Nobel Peace Prize, you have a bigger voice, a further reach, a larger umbrella naturally. I looked up your biography online as research for this interview. Born in Madhya Pradesh as Kailash Sharma, subsequent change in last name to Satyarthi , the recipient of several awards etc etc… but I’d like to know about the ‘Man’ within these details.

K.S:   I don’t think of myself as a man – I still consider myself a child! (laughs) For me, childhood does not mean just the age factor. Childhood means so much more… transparency, thirst for learning, curiosity… all these are related to childhood. I feel strongly that there is a child inside each of us. But we keep suppressing him/her all the time and try to be more mature. And maturity brings artificiality, diplomacy, sometimes falsehood. A child does not care to do things only to make others happy. A child is very straight forward. This quality is something to be preserved. And it is my inspiration & learning.

P.K:   I’m looking at the list of awards you have received over the years, starting from 1993 – Elected Ashoka Fellow Award, the Robert. F. Kennedy Human Rights Award – to name a couple. Obviously the Nobel Peace Prize is a distinct honor. It is a matter of pride for India, for Indians abroad and for activists all over the world. Can you speak about how this award is helping to carry your voice?

K.S:   Yes, it has definitely helped me spread my message further. But I do not consider this award solely in my honor. The Nobel Peace Prize has been a major recognition for those most deprived, neglected and marginalized lot of humanity – the children who are enslaved & trafficked. I always say that I represent the ‘voice of silence’. They are my children who are hidden under the cloak of invisibility. So now that people have started to recognize my children – it is the greatest award for me!

…..

P.K:   What made you pick up the mantle as the person who speaks for children? Tell us something about the journey so far.

K.S:   When I started my work in 1981, there was never a question that I do anything other than what I chose to do for children s’ rights. It was a non-issue for me. The conventional wisdom was to collect money or help with charity. And it stopped there. I realized something more should be done. The denial of freedom and human dignity was so deeply rooted. It was non-negotiable. So this inspired me to give up my career. At that time no one was talking about child slavery and child trafficking. As a country, India did not have any laws to address these issues. Even on the international scene there was no legislation that provided me with a path to undertake. The U.N convention on the Rights of Children was adopted by the General assembly in 1989. So in 1981 I started fighting a lonely battle! I had the beginnings of a vision but had no idea about how to make it a reality. I faced total ignorance about these issues and when we brought in strong activism, ignorance turned into denial. People did not want to believe that this problem existed among them. We even faced opposition in the form of local mafia being set against us. So it was a long journey as you can imagine!

P.K:  How does your family, your wife Sumedha, your children – handle the dangers associated with your work? Obviously the values your have imparted have made a big effect on them.

K.S:  Sumedha was part of the whole movement right from the beginning. We did not have much money or materialistic wealth to give our children. There were dangers of course. When we finally got a telephone, it came with death threats made against me and my family! Slowly they gained courage and understood what my wife and I stood for. They helped with the children in the Ashram during their free time. That is how they grew up. My son Bhuvan is a lawyer and he handles most of the legal work for our cause. The cases he has handled have made a huge impact in the legal and judicial discourse in India.

…..

P.K:   Bharath Yatra was a massive social ‘wave’ which happened recently. Could we hear your thoughts on that movement?

K.S:   Bharath Yatra has been an unprecedented success! About a million people took to the streets to condemn and speak out against child sexual abuse. This has never happened before in India. They also demanded strong policy measures to be enforced. This was a turning point. Bharath Yatra’s preparation process began about a year ago before we launched it. The idea behind the Yatra was to take up the initiative and see how people’s response to something this large scale would be.

The most encouraging response came from the youth. Thousands of young girls and boys in schools and colleges across India marched with us. Some even came up to me to say “you are telling MY story”! Many appeared on the stage before hundreds of people and said they were breaking their silence to speak out about their own experiences. This was the most satisfying part of the Yatra for me personally. I consider this the beginning of my ‘war’ on rape.

……

The first incident was the rescue of a group of people which had children, men and women, in 1981. I had started a magazine titled Sangharsh Jaari Rahega – The Struggle Shall Go On – dedicated to educating the public about the problem of child slavery and the struggles of marginalized people. One day a man, Wasal Khan, knocked on my door in Delhi. He was a desperate father whose 15 year old daughter, Sabo, was about to be sold to a brothel. He told me how he, along with his wife and a few others from his village were ‘”taken to work with the promise of good salary and a good life,” to a place about 400 km. from his village in Punjab. The hours were long and the conditions were deplorable. So they ended up in slavery, no money, no freedom, working on brick kilns for close to 17 years. In these conditions, children were born, people lived and died. It was shocking that in the year, 1981, in the largest democracy in the world, people were being subjected to this sort of slavery!

I felt very strongly that I should not limit myself to simply writing about his case. I managed to raise a little money by mortgaging my wife’s wedding jewelry, gathered a group of people and went to the site. The poor man was caught by the owner of the kiln and I was thrown out of the compound along with my people.

I returned empty handed but not with an empty heart. With the help of a friend who was a lawyer we took the matter to the courts. And we managed to secure the release of all those men, women and children – including 15 year old Sabo. 36 people were freed that day! This was the first documented incident where children were freed from slavery through a private/voluntary initiative. And this gave me a clear path that I started charting. Within a few weeks after this incident, people started bringing other cases to my notice. And I never looked back.

The most recent one was only few months ago. This was the rescue of children locked inside bathrooms and held on roof tops in a factory in Delhi. The conditions were unimaginable. The children ranged in ages from 7 – 10 or 11 years. They were working – making toys. When I sat with them and asked about their working and living conditions, they claimed they were very happy, and I could see that they were simply repeating what they had been told to say. They were threatened that the police would come and arrest them if they said anything else.

When I asked the youngest child if he got a chance to play with the toys he helped make, he said no – he was not allowed to. If they made a mistake like that, they were beaten up. Apparently the last time he had played was in his village, with sticks and stones, which were his toys! He also said he missed playing with those stones! What was ironic was that in this day and age, when we claim to have made so many advancements in technology, these children were living in such deplorable conditions right in Delhi.

We conducted a second raid on the same day and also managed to free a bunch of children from a neighboring factory where they were sewing jeans. And they were brought to our ashram – Mukti Ashram – also in Delhi. The next morning we noticed these children were trying to shade their faces and eyes in the sunlight. That is when we discovered that for 3 years that they were kept inside a basement of the factory! They were forced to live, work, eat and sleep in that basement. And they had not seen daylight for 3 whole years! Imagine that!

……

P.K:   You also have the Bal Mitra Gram concept. Can you speak about that concept?

K.S:   Sure. It has been my dream to make the whole world child-friendly, which is easier said than done! Very often the village communities are where child marriages and trafficking etc take place. So the whole idea behind Bal Mitra Gram was to transform the community at the village level – to make them child-friendly.

The first condition is – all children are free from the fears of abuse and exploitation of any sort.

The second condition is – all children irrespective of gender, caste or community are enrolled in schools.

The third condition is – all village children have a chance to form a governing body – called Bal Panchayat. This helps shape them as responsible individuals and to solve their problems through positive governing methods. 

The fourth condition – that the Village Panchayat – the elected assembly of village elders – agrees to not just recognize the Bal Panchayat, but also work hand-in-hand with them, by inviting youth leaders to official Panchayat meetings and vice versa.

When these four important conditions are met, the whole village becomes child-friendly.

P.K:   That sounds idyllic! Have you implemented these four conditions? Are there villages that are truly child-friendly?

K.S:   We have about 560 villages where we have managed this to date! In many cases the youth leaders are the very children who have been freed from child labor. We have about 400 girls who have been elected as Heads of the Bal Panchayats! This is a matter of pride for us! It is my belief that if politicians, leaders, NGOs, corporate bodies, all come together and resolve to protect one generation, then there is no need to worry about the generations of the future.

P.K:   Now Kailashji, when you undertake the kind of work you have done, there is always equal parts reward and criticism that you will face. It has been said that your work is a case of altruism gone wrong, that the children are being freed against their will – because the money they are bringing in makes a huge difference to their families. That is is acceptable for the children to learn the trade the families engage in. How do you respond to things like this?

K.S:   There are micro and macro level issues –  At the micro level, we try to explain to the families of these children how their lives would change when their children can better themselves, with education, with vocational training. We also try to connect them with Government schemes that are already in place. We have volunteers and former child labor victims who take social messages to the villages through street theater staged using local dialects and languages to create awareness. So these are two ways in which we can sensitize the village population to see things differently.

We have a very strong argument that there is a direct relationship between adult unemployment and child labor. Globally 216 million children are engaged in economic activities. Out of this, there are about 152 million children engaged as full-time child laborers. If you draw a comparison with the existing number of youth/adult unemployed globally, the number is 210 million. It is a proven fact that 71% of children are working in the agricultural sector globally. And there is a direct correlation to the number of jobless, unemployed adults! This vicious circle must be broken.

In today’s digital economy, we cannot think of social justice, equality, growth or ways to get rid of poverty in personal or social life without an education. These 216 million children are being denied their chance at escape, by denying them education. So I have been advocating a triangular paradigm to show that – child labor, poverty and illiteracy – form a three way relationship. This is a cause and consequence relationship.

The criticism is part of my work. But the numbers speak for themselves.

….

https://indiacurrents.com/kailash-satyarthi-representing-the-sound-of-silence/

 

 

 

9 December, Human Rights Defenders Day, ‘celebrated’ in Uganda

December 13, 2017

In an article in the Ugandan paper The Independent entitled “Activists mark Human Rights Defenders day” (13 December 2017), Robert Kirenga, the Executive Director of the National Coalition of Human Rights Defenders in Uganda spoke to Flavia Nassaka about his perspective on international human rights defenders day and the general human rights situation in the country. He made some interesting points such as (excerpts):  Read the rest of this entry »

Interview with Karla Avelar, human rights defender from El Salvador

November 10, 2017

A former ISHR trainee, Karla Avelar defends the rights of LGBTI people. She is a finalist of this year’s Martin Ennals Award for Human Rights Defenders. In an exclusive interview with ISHR, on 6 November, she talked about her award nomination and what it means to be a trans woman and human rights defender in El Salvador. See also the THF film on her work:

 

see also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2017/05/16/trans-defenders-karla-avelars-life-is-under-constant-threat/

Video interview with Cleopatra KAMBUGU from Uganda

April 25, 2017

On 24 April 2017 the ISHR published this interview with Cleopatra KAMBUGU, grants administrator at UHAI EASHRI and transgender activist in Uganda. Cleopatra was featured in “Pearl of Africa“, a movie shown at the Geneva international Film Festival and Human Rights Forum and spoke  about the challenges she faces in her struggle to have transgender rights recognised in her country. More information on UHAI-EASHRI: http://www.uhai-eashri.org

Camara Salimata SY talks about human rights of women in Mauritania

February 18, 2017

Camara Salimata SY, is the vice-president of Association des Femmes Chefs de Famille (AFCF – Association of female family heads). She talked to ISHR about her work on women’s rights and political participation in Mauritania. She also highlights the risks and challenges facing her and calls for more respect from the African Commission and African States for their human rights obligations.

The interview above is only available in French

Interview with human rights defender Victor Nanklan Touré of Ivory Coast (in French)

February 13, 2017

Victor Nanklan Touré is the president of NGO ‘Club Union Africaine Côte d’Ivoire’ which is mainly working on statelessness and land issues. A human rights advocate for over 15 years he participated in the civil society training organised in Banjul from 15 to 16 October 2016 by ISHR, the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights and the African Centre for Democracy and Human Rights Studies. On this occasion he presented his work to ISHR and shared a message towards African political leaders.

The interview mentioned above is unfortunately only available in French.

Five Asian human rights defenders speak about anti-torture work in their region

February 2, 2017

The weekly video service of Just Asia of 26 January 2017 is a special focus on the regional meeting of Asian Parliamentarians & Human Rights Defenders Against Torture, held in Hong Kong in December. During the meeting focusing on modernizing criminal institutions, Just Asia interviewed several parliamentarians and human rights defenders.

Just Asia speaks to Dr. P. M. Nair, Chair Professor at the TATA Social Sciences Institute. According to Dr. Nair, institutions need to work together in India to combat torture, and he is confident that once this occurs, things will improve quickly. Dr. Nair also noted the importance of persons implementing laws and regulations to have a human rights perspective, which would particularly help vulnerable and marginalized sections of society.

Just Asia interviews Pakistani Member of National Assembly Imran Zafar Laghari, to learn his views on the rising incidents of torture and corruption in the policing and judicial systems.

In Nepal, the February 2017 deadline for the transitional justice commissions to complete their work is fast approaching. However, other than collecting over 60,000 complaints and starting preliminary investigations, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) and the Commission of Investigation on Enforced Disappeared Persons (CIEDP) have not succeeded in anything meaningful. Meanwhile, Nepal’s Anti-torture legislation is pending in the Parliament. With Colonel Kumar Lama being released by the UK court, there are nominal chances for the Parliament to pass the anti-torture legislation and put it into practice. Just Asia speaks to Mr. Dipendra Jha, a practicing lawyer at the Supreme Court of Nepal, for his views.

Indonesia also faces a rise in executions and the use of the death penalty. At the same time, the revision of the country’s penal code has been ongoing for over a decade. Member of the drafting committee and parliamentarian Mr. Arsul Sani speaks about his views on the penal code revision process and rule of law in Indonesia.

Bangladesh has seen considerable violence and political manipulation in the last year. Dr. Badiul Alam Majumdar, secretary of Citizens for Good Governance shares with Just Asia his views on free and fair elections and the Bangladesh electoral system.

See also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2017/01/16/amila-sampath-the-man-behind-the-video-service-of-just-asia/

For comments write to: news@ahrc.asia.

KIOS Foundation in Finland publishes video interviews with four human rights defenders from Asia and Africa

January 19, 2017

KIOS is perhaps not the best-known human rights foundation in the world but that is surely mostly due to the fact that it operates from a small base: Finland. KIOS was founded by 11 Finnish human rights and development NGOs. The representatives of the founding NGOs form the Board of KIOS. In Finland, KIOS raises awareness on the significance of human rights and the work of human rights defenders in developing countries. It also advocates for the development of good practices in Finnish foreign and development policy in support ofHRDs. KIOS focuses its external support on 3 countries in East Africa (Kenya, Rwanda and Uganda) and 3 in South Asia (Nepal, Sri Lanka and to Tibetan civil society organizations in exile). Some long-term partner organizations of KIOS are also supported in Bangladesh, Burundi, Ethiopia and Pakistan. Ulla Anttila is the Executive Director.

Ulla Anttila

On 17 December 2016 KIOS published four video links of interviews with human rights defenders from Asia and Africa (video links), available on You Tube:

Read the rest of this entry »

Interview with Hina Jilani, first UN Special Representative for Human Rights Defenders

November 9, 2016

hina-jilani-biography-1_940x430The Diplomatic Courier of 9 November 2016 carries a long and serious interview with Hina Jilani, First UN Special Representative for Human Rights Defenders (2000-2008). In 2006, she was appointed to the UN International Fact-Finding Commission on Darfur, Sudan.  In 2009, she served on the United Nations Fact Finding Mission on the Gaza Conflict. In 2013, she joined The Elders, a group of world leaders and human rights leaders, brought together by Nelson Mandela. A preeminent lawyer, Hina Jilani co-founded the first all women law firm in Pakistan and the National Human Rights Commission of Pakistan. Hina Jilani has been in the forefront of human rights in Pakistan beginning from Zia Ul-Haq’s dictatorship in the 1970s.

 You served as the first mandate holder of the UN Secretary General’s Special Representative for Human Rights Defenders from 2000 to 2008 and shaped that seminal mandate. Please tell us some of the key aspects of that mandate?
Photo by The Elders.

HJ: Respect for human rights necessarily includes recognition of the legitimacy of the work of defenders. As a response to the deteriorating situation of human rights defenders, the United Nations adopted the Declaration on human rights defenders in 1998. On the one hand this was recognition of the dangers that human rights defenders confront and, on the other, a step taken by the international community to create norms for the protection of human rights activity. The Declaration makes it the primary responsibility of the State not only to guarantee the safety of human rights defenders, but also to ensure that conditions exist in which they can carry out their activities.  The mandate to oversee the implementation of the Declaration was established by the UN Secretary General in 2000. The mandate required the SRSG seek, receive examine and respond to information on the situation of human rights defenders and to establish cooperation and conduct dialogue with Governments and other interested actors on the promotion and effective implementation of the Declaration as well as on improving the protection of human rights defenders.

In a world where there is rising violent extremism and heightened crackdown on human rights defenders, please share some key challengers of human rights defenders around the world?

HJ: Establishing promoting and sustaining democracy, maintaining international peace and security and providing or advancing a people oriented agenda for development cannot be accomplished without the contributions that human rights defenders make. Defenders bring to the fore information on the realities of situations to be addressed without which national and international efforts would be ineffective. They contribute to poverty alleviation, humanitarian assistance, post-conflict reconstruction, and to improving individual indicators of development such as access to health care and adult literacy, among many other activities. In situations of crises, defenders can monitor an overall situation, rapidly investigate allegations of possible violations and report their conclusions, providing a measure of accountability. They also provide the international community with some independent verification of what is actually happening within an emergency situation, informing the process of taking decisions on possible actions. This was not easily done. Human rights defenders have suffered harm and face grievous threats to their life, liberty, security, independence and credibility. State apparatus, oppressive laws and other tools of repression continue to be used against defenders in attempts to deter them from the valuable work they contribute to the promotion of human rights. Human rights defenders all over the world continue to be subjected to assassinations, disappearances, illegal arrest and detention, torture, harassment and even exile.

 

……Can you speak of Blasphemy laws that target minority Muslim populations in Pakistan?  How did you face death threats and attacks on your family because of your struggles against Blasphemy laws and other human rights atrocities in an environment of impunity?

What are called “blasphemy laws” in Pakistan are provisions introduced in the Pakistan Penal Code by Zia’s regime, ostensibly to enforce respect for Islamic personalities and the Holy Quran. In reality this was a ploy to instill fear in the population. One particular provision disregards fundamental principles of criminal justice and makes mens rea irrelevant to a finding of guilt. It also prescribes a mandatory death sentence upon conviction. The law is not only flawed in legal aspects it has been used for malicious prosecution and has targeted religious minorities – not just non-Muslims, but also different minority sects of Muslims in Pakistan. Special laws were promulgated to restrict the freedom of religion of the Ahmediya community in Pakistan, that still remains a persecuted and threatened community in Pakistan. Any one raising their voice against this law is exposed to extreme violence at the hands of organized religious terrorists, who operate with impunity in Pakistan. The State has been both unwilling and unable to perform its duty to protect in cases where people are either threatened or have actually been harmed by these groups. Lawyers defending those who are accused of blasphemy, judges who have acquitted the accused persons and public figures who have pointed out the flaws in the law or the political and malicious use of the law have been killed. There is an apparent policy of silencing criticism through fear. There are, therefore, only a few voices that continue to be raised and these are people who remain extremely vulnerable to harm.

…….What is your advice to the new Secretary General of the United Nations?

HJ: The work of the United Nations for promoting peace and improving security of people living in different parts of the world can not be completed without due attention to the respect for human rights, the UN must ensure better coordination of its political and human rights policies and strategies. I would also strongly recommend that the UN Security Council and the UN Human Rights Council seriously consider making reference to the protection of human rights defenders and to the importance and legitimacy of their work in all their resolutions relating to the maintenance of peace and security. None such resolution so far mentions this very critical aspect of the protection and promotion of human rights…

For earlier posts on Jina Jilani: https://thoolen.wordpress.com/tag/hina-jilani/

Source: Interview with Hina Jilani, First UN Special Representative for Human Rights Defenders – Diplomatic Courier

Conversation with Yanar Mohammed on trafficking in Iraq

May 19, 2016

The Organization of Women’s Freedom in Iraq focuses on protecting women’s human rights, including fighting against trafficking of women and girls, and operates six safe houses for women survivors of violence. The Global Fund for Women interviewed its President, Yanar Mohammed who speaks about her work and the impact from the conflict with ISIS.

Yanar, you’ve been an activist and a defender of women’s rights in Iraq for over 13 years. What do you think are the main challenges women in Iraq are facing right now?
We focused in the last year on working against trafficking in women and girls and expanding a new network, the Network of Anti-Trafficking of Women in Iraq. We started the network in 2013, barely nine months before ISIS began gaining ground in Iraq. As ISIS grew, they started their attacks against women in the north of Iraq, including against the women of Yazidi faith. They trafficked them in broad daylight.

Trafficking in women and girls is now a tactic used by opposing groups in instances of sectarian violence in Iraq. Women and girls are looked upon as the representatives of a community’s honor, and so the sexual exploitation of women and girls belonging to a certain community is seen as the most effective way to humiliate and break it. Unfortunately, it is therefore not a surprise that the so-called Islamic State, ISIS, as a Sunni group, has targeted non-Sunni Muslim women and girls such as Shi’a Muslims, Christians, and Yazidis. Retaliations ensue and wars are led on women’s bodies.

When ISIS began to enslave women, we found that this was the time when we should rise to the occasion and highlight the issue of trafficking in society and the government. This is an issue that needs to be addressed by laws, practices, programs, and by some understanding from the society as to what it means that a woman gets compromised, gets exploited, and gets enslaved. So we set up this network, which is now about 40 NGOs working together on the issue. We began to talk about trafficking in women and girls, especially sexual exploitation, and address it as something that’s not only happening under ISIS but also happening in Iraq more broadly, without anybody daring to give it any importance.

Beyond ISIS, orphans and widows of war in Iraq who are extremely impoverished have fallen prey to sexual exploitation. They are being used and exploited and violated daily in Iraq, without anybody thinking of it as a human rights issue. So this is our focus; we have decided we will work on this until we get the government to pass laws that make the suffering of these women less, and also that open the way for us to protect the women from this kind of violence.

Is there any legislation right now against trafficking?
We demanded that the government pass a law for the financial support of Yazidi women when they step out of their enslavement. When they come back to areas of Iraq that are not under ISIS control, they should be compensated just like prisoners of war for the sufferings they went through. And we were so happy when it took only a few months and the Iraqi government decided to give monthly stipends for survivors in May 2015. That was the first success of the network. At the time nobody else had demanded this kind of support for ISIS survivors, so we felt that we were on the right track and that we should proceed to the rest of our demands that we needed in order to address violence against women.

What would you say is the level of public awareness around the issue of trafficking?
We have struggled a lot to make many words and terms debatable in our society—to remove the taboo. I will give you an example: in 2003 when we began to talk about honor killings and how it needs to stop, everybody was disgusted with us and saying that women’s groups should refrain from speaking about taboo and sexual issues, and that we do not address women’s rights in a way that they find acceptable. It took us almost 5 years to make discussion of honor killings a mainstream argument. Now when you go to Iraq, the issue of honor killing has become such a regular thing to talk about. There are so many NGOs that are standing against it, talking about it, are lobbying against it. Whenever we have an issue like this, we find ourselves the first ones on the front lines to address it until, it becomes a mainstream argument. Now as we talk about trafficking and discuss sexual exploitation of women and girls this issue is a very taboo and difficult issue to address.

How many women and girls in Iraq are at risk of being trafficked?
The dilemma of displacement in Iraq is huge because of ISIS. The number of displaced people is two million, going to three million. Most of these are women, because the men are either in the Iraqi army fighting ISIS or have been recruited into militias also heading to fight ISIS, or stuck in the cities defending them. It may be impossible to give the exact number, but we can estimate that out of the 1.5 million women who are displaced, half of them are between ages 16 and 30—the biggest age group at risk of trafficking. So I would say not less than 100,000 women are being trafficked at this point in Iraq.

So the political instability caused by ISIS is increasing the threat of trafficking for women and girls, even if ISIS is not doing the trafficking directly.
Yes. ISIS has created the most ugly reality of trafficking, where they defend it as a religious right. They say it is their right to enslave the “spoils of war” who are not of Muslim faith. They describe them as faithless and as less of human beings whose enslavement makes them better, makes them closer to Islam. ISIS has brought an example that has totally shocked the region and shocked it in a way as to taking us back to a time when people had no human rights, basically. And they are trying to make it a fact to force on the people of Iraq, Syria, and maybe other places if they are allowed to expand.

Can you tell me about the shelters that your group runs?
Our shelters are currently keeping safe women who survive trafficking. They are also getting educated; our shelters are not only a place for women to rest and be safe, they are also schools for social transformation for women to turn from victims into defenders of women. We only had one shelter until 2008; since then we have expanded to have six shelters all over the country. We also have a pipeline from the southern city of Busra, to direct violated women to our shelters in Baghdad. And we have many supporters in the network of the 40-plus NGOs, who are our eyes and ears in more than nine cities in Iraq and are guiding women who are in need of shelter to us. I like to put it in a very short story: our organization was able to spread its wings over most of the Iraqi cities in the last few years.

However, the Iraqi government is not facilitating our undertaking of women into our shelters. And it boils down to one point—we need a piece of legislation from the Iraqi government to provide legal status to shelters that are run by NGOs or other private sector groups. Although the government does not have a law that says that our shelters are illegal, they do have a law that allows the ministry of social affairs to determine if they should stay open. So some of the tribal and misogynist officials did tell us in the past that we are doing an illegal thing, but they did not shut us down.

So, although we are protecting women from trafficking and domestic violence and all that—although we are doing the duty of the government, the duty the government is not taking seriously and do not want to move on, and although they should be supporting us and applauding us for doing their job, in reality they confront us, telling us that our sheltering of women is promoting promiscuity, that it is encouraging women to go against their families and have full sexual freedoms and come stay in our shelters. So some governmental officials have intimidated us in the past, telling us we are doing something illegal, when we are protecting women.

What can the international community do to help Iraqi women be empowered and experience less violence?
We are asking the international community to ask the legal committee in the Iraqi parliament to legislate for the legal status of our shelters. Letters that are addressed to the Iraqi parliament—and specifically to the legal committee of the Iraqi parliament—asking them to legislate for the legal status of women’s shelters that are run by the NGOs. This would be a great help to us.

Would you say that action now is especially important to protect women? Is right now a critical moment?
Right now is a very critical moment because ISIS is at the point where it can be defeated. It has lost the social support of those among the Sunni groups in Western Iraq that were supporting it because people saw the atrocities that ISIS can commit against them. It is a very special moment in time to act against ISIS, but is the kind of action we are seeking a military one, where we have more US army in Iraq? No.

Our experiences of the last 13 years tell us that US intervention in Iraq never brought us anything good. It always has caused more deterioration. Now is the time to have a political intervention, and to ask the Iraqi government to stop its sectarian, politics that gave way to ISIS, as well as empower the Iraqi army so that they can regain the cities that were taken by ISIS.

What are some of the other forms of violence that women come up against in Iraq?
We have many kinds of violence we undergo, and we know what is making this kind of violence worse, which is Islamist extremist parties reaching power. Some of these parties have shown us a terrible example of what they want to bring to Iraq, including legislating for Jaafari law. This law allows the marriage of a 9-year-old girl to an adult man—in other words it legalizes pedophilia in Iraq. It also allows men to be polygamous, and allows for getting rid of wives if they are not sexually pleasant for husbands.

The amount of humiliating material in this law against women is incredible, and out of this era. It’s something that modern humanity cannot even bear to hear of. We must keep this legislation outside of parliament, because the law was not passed, but it is still waiting for us. The Islamist political parties are just waiting for some stability and for the moment when they feel stronger to bring back this legislation. And that would really be the end for Iraqi women.

Source: In Conversation: Yanar Mohammed on trafficking in Iraq – Global Fund for Women