Tag Archives: human rights

Standing up for Blind Women’s Rights in El Salvador

3 Oct


We spoke to Rubidia Cornejo – President of the Association of Blind Women in El Salvador (AMUCES) and named in One World Action’s list of One Hundred Unseen Powerful Women who Change the World – about the work of AMUCES and the obstacles faced by blind women living in El Salvador.


What does AMUCES do?


We help blind women in El Salvador exercise and demand their rights.

Blind women in El Salvador have specific needs. The biggest problem for people living with disabilities in El Salvador – especially in rural areas – is unemployment and a lack of resources. So these are the women that AMUCES tries to target. Many of the blind women we work with may have been taken out of school and have no way of earning an income. These women first need to have their confidence built up, and then need training so that they are able to organise themselves.

Giving blind women the opportunity to earn a salary is a priority for AMUCES – without it the women cannot take control of their lives.

How long has AMUCES been running?

We are quite young but are growing all the time – AMUCES has been running since 2006. I was always keen to focus on blind women and we took a lot of inspiration at the time from strong women’s organisations in El Salvador such as Las Melidas and Las Dignas.

Providing an income for blind women - Xpress Massage was set up by AMUCES at El Salvador's international airport

Which women have inspired you?

Internationally I have always found Hillary Clinton an inspiration, but here in El Salvador Eileen Giron has always been an inspiration to me because of her great leadership. I think it is important that women, including women with disabilities, have others around them who they can look up to.

How long have you been working for the rights of blind people?

I became a member of ASCES in 1989 but before that I was involved in other organisations. I was always interested in the subject of blind people’s rights and have been involved in associations and organisations since I was at university. When I considered the situation of blind people in El Salvador it was obvious that massive changes needed to take place – and still do!

What are you most proud of since being with AMUCES?

In just a few years we have become recognised within El Salvador and Latin America and have managed to include the opinion of blind women in national debates.

How can people learn more or help with the work you do?

XPress Massage

People can find out more by going to the website for the Association of Blind People in El Salvador (ASCES) – our sister organisation. AMUCES doesn’t have a website yet.

There are still huge amounts of work to be done in El Salvador to ensure blind people – in particular blind women – enjoy their rights as equal citizens. The main problem we face is getting funding for our advocacy work. This is increasingly difficult because international cooperation is being pulled out of Central America all the time. Being classed as ‘middle-income’ countries has not helped.

Other than getting funding, what is the biggest obstacle you face?

The biggest practical obstacle is delinquency. I live a long way from the office outside of the capital San Salvador and rely on public transport to get into work everyday. But because of crime and gangs extorting bus drivers, buses are often robbed, frequently cancelled, and always stop early in the evening. Delinquency is increasing in El Salvador and it can be very dangerous to make long journeys alone late at night, especially for blind woman.

Are you working with blind women? What are the biggest obstacles where you live and work? Tell us by leaving a comment below.


Made in Dagenham on point: Rights. Not privileges.

16 Aug

– Laura Ouseley, Campaigns Coordinator, One World Action

On Saturday night I finally sat down and watched Made in Dagenham. The film tells the story of the 187 women machinists from Ford’s Dagenham plant who, in 1968, bravely stood up and went onto the picket line to demand equal pay. At the time, it was the last thing anyone expected them to do. There aren’t enough feminist films around and this is a great one. At the end of the film I was struck by how this success story for women’s rights so closely reflects One World Action’s work over the last 22 years.

As the film shows, strong women’s leadership is essential for generating positive change for women. Celebrating and supporting women’s leadership in all its forms is something that One World Action has been doing for years, and getting to know so many inspirational women has led to our latest campaign to find One Hundred Unseen Powerful Women who Change the World. In the film, the role of the unseen powerful woman falls to Rita O’Grady (Sally Hawkins), who is stirred into action to lead the other women workers.

The film was interesting in it showed how the women’s striking had an impact on their relationships with men and the challenge it made to traditional gender roles.. Breaking a gender stereotype was – and continues to be – one of the biggest obstacles to women’s political participation in every country of the world. Whilst women stood by their husbands when they were on strike, women going on strike was seen as somehow laughable and outside what was within the accepted boundaries of behaviour, particularly if men’s jobs were affected. Perhaps my favourite part of the film is when Rita is arguing with her husband Eddie about going out on strike. As Rita put is ‘you’re right actually. You don’t knock us about, you don’t drink, you don’t gamble, you do join in with the family. That’s-as-it-should-be! Try and understand that. Please. What you’re talkin’ about now, what I’ve been fightin’ for, the last few weeks. Same thing. Rights. Not privileges’.

One World Action has always been a proudly political organisation. It has supported low-paid garment workers and trade unions across the world for many years. Women home workers in India are now better represented and better paid since joining SEWA – a trade union movement of informal women workers supported by One World Action. SEWA believe that women’s human rights will not be achieved without economic empowerment and self reliance. The movement began in 1971 when a handful of women came together to protest against their unfair treatment by local merchants and it currently has over one million members.

But sometimes strong women’s leadership or trade union membership is not enough. Women still need men and women in positions of power who support women’s rights. Getting more women into positions of power was what One World Action’s last campaign was all about: the More Women More Power campaign called for more women in parliament – and asked women already in power to use their voices to amplify the voices of women who are fighting to be heard. In the late 1960s it was Secretary of State Barbara Castle’s (Miranda Richardson) support for the women’s demands for equal pay that secured their success.

Seeing women stand up for their rights in this film was inspirational, but let’s not forget that in the UK the full-time gender wage gap is still 15.5%. What’s more, women are paid less but they often have to work harder as well. There is no doubt that more men are doing their share of childcare and housework, but it can safely be said that these tasks remain firmly in the area of ‘women’s work’.

Despite the Equal Pay Act being passed in 1970, 41 years later women are still fighting for equal pay. In fact, there are currently 45,000 women in the UK taking equal pay claims to court!

I am not convinced that women being politically active has been fully accepted in the UK, so it gives me hope when I hear that 200 people signed up in the first 24 hours to attend the Feminist Summer Camp that took place last weekend. What’s more, UK Feminista is setting up a new activist group so that even more people can stand up and demand a more equal world – just like the 187 machinists from Dagenham.



Backup needed

10 Jun

– Emily Esplen, Women’s Rights Coordinator, One World Action

Yesterday One World Action was lucky to host four women Parliamentarians from Namibia for a frank roundtable exchange on women’s political participation. The women spoke candidly about the challenges they face in a country where women’s political representation is at only 24% – almost as low as the UK which lingers at around 22%. This is in spite of the commitment to reach 50% representation of women in politics by 2015 under the Southern African Development Community (SADC) Protocol on Gender and Development.

So why hasn’t more progress been made? One of the interesting things about Namibia is that what was once a vibrant women’s movement has since become relatively dormant as civil society organisations that were active in campaigning for women’s rights have followed donor funding fads and shifted their focus to HIV. And many of the women activists who championed women’s rights in the aftermath of Namibia’s liberation struggle have since retired from activism and taken up better paid work.  In the absence of a vibrant Namibian women’s movement, it is even harder for women representatives in parliament to have the courage and support to advocate for gender equity in a hostile, male-dominated environment. At the same time, it means that – despite a progressive Namibian constitution safeguarding women’s rights – there is no strong collective movement to hold the government to account for protecting these rights in practice.

Encouraging young women’s activism was seen as key to reviving dormant women’s movements – in the UK as well as Namibia. How to do this prompted a lively discussion – ‘getting trendy’ was one answer, for example by communicating to younger women through social media like Facebook, or even rapping feminist messages!

Whilst the feminist movement in the UK seems to be gaining pace – what can be done here to support feminist movements in other countries?

Making abstract legal rights a reality for women around the world

8 Apr

Hannah Davies, OWA's Director, talks to Helen Kijo-Bisimba from the Women’s Legal Aid Centre in Tanzania

– Emily Esplen, Women’s Rights Coordinator, One World Action

Women’s groups around the world have achieved remarkable progress in advancing women’s legal rights and entitlements. Most countries have ratified major legal instruments such as the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the 1979 Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women. At the national level, the number of equal rights and anti-discrimination statutes has also grown. Yet for many of the women that One World Action works with, these instruments are abstract and out of reach, and justice remains elusive. As women here in the UK also know all too well, equality in the eyes of the law – even where it exists – does not mean equality in practice.

Women’s access to justice was the focus of a One World Action event this week with UK legal professionals, hosted by Matrix Chambers. Helen Kijo-Bisimba from the Women’s Legal Aid Centre in Tanzania – one of OWA’s partner organisations – spoke eloquently about the many hurdles women face in accessing justice in Tanzania. Some of the obstacles are very practical, like a lack of time and money. In Tanzania, there are only 1,200 lawyers for a population of forty million[1], concentrated in the large cities. For women in remote areas, travelling vast distances to access courts, police and prosecution services is near impossible. Even for women in the cities, the lack of legal aid services in the country means costs are often prohibitive.

Other obstacles are social and cultural. Even where laws have been reformed so that women have access to justice, changes are slow to penetrate to the level of cultural traditions, beliefs, values and norms. Yet it is precisely these informal social and cultural systems which determine women’s access to the rights and protections provided through statutory laws. In Tanzania, where female genital mutilation (FGM) has been outlawed since 1998, 15% of girls still suffer the practice. This is a result of cultural beliefs about FGM acting as a control on women’s sexuality, guaranteeing their virginity before marriage and their chastity after marriage, improving their fertility, and enhancing their husband’s sexual pleasure. Although some cases have been taken to the courts, they are often withdrawn due to pressures from relatives and community.

Women victims/survivors of violence also come up against strong taboos which inhibit them from making such matters public. Many women remain silent out of shame or fear of retribution, including the risk of further violence at the hands of family or law enforcement officials. For women who are financially dependent on perpetrators, speaking out is a risky option. In other cases, women simply don’t recognise that their rights have been violated, or don’t realise that this violation constitutes a crime.

Aware that changing laws can only ever be the first step in guaranteeing women’s access to justice, One World Action works with our partners to make abstract legal rights a reality. The Tanzanian Women’s Legal Aid Centre (WLAC) is a pioneer in this regard, being the first legal organisation to establish para-legal units in Tanzania to support grassroots women access justice. WLAC also provides mobile legal aid services throughout Tanzania, reaching almost 40,000 women and children to date. In response to horrific levels of sexual and gender-based violence in the refugee camps in western Tanzania, WLAC has extended its work to promote the rights of refugee women and girls. It now has two fully operational paralegal units run by refugees themselves who provide legal advice and counselling, and undertake advocacy and human rights education in their communities. Strengthening women’s legal literacy is another key focus for WLAC; for example through setting up a popular legal radio programme which attracts large numbers of listeners keen to know more about their rights and about the services available to support people whose rights have been violated.

What is clear is that access to justice for women requires more than pro-women policies and laws. It requires that women themselves, and their families and communities, are able to break the hold of tradition and taboo so that legislative gains translate into changes in women’s lives. It requires shifts in the attitudes and practices of the police and other law enforcers to ensure that women who report injustices are treated with dignity and respect rather than being harassed or shamed. It requires that women have access to the resources needed to be able to seek legal assistance. Above all, it requires that women know their human rights and legal rights, and feel confident and justified in seeking justice when these fundamental rights are violated.

These challenges are faced not only by women in Tanzania or the other countries where One World Action works. They are challenges which are pervasive, faced by women the world over. We hope that forging greater solidarity between women in the UK and those around the world who are concerned with women’s access to justice can act as a crucial step towards creating a safer, fairer, more just world for us all.

[1]    Based on 2009 figures