2013 Women PeaceMakers
Rehana Hashmi, a development professional and human rights defender, knows well the stark differences between the remote expanses of Pakistan and its bustling cities. Born in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (formerly the North-West Frontier Province) and raised in the sparsely populated province of Balochistan, she now alternates her work between Pakistan’s capital of Islamabad and the remote regions of her childhood.
At a young age Hashmi saw her father jailed for political activism and soon followed in his footsteps, leading student protests as Pakistan went through political upheaval. When the police came to her door threatening her arrest, the teenage Hashmi was given two choices: stop the protests or leave town. But she would not be silenced.
In the 25 years since, Hashmi’s activism has centered on the defense of human rights, especially for women. She became a development specialist in the district of Chitral; the work involved organizing women of diverse sects to come together to improve their livelihoods. It was a challenging task, as women in this region had never before been allowed to form organizations or make decisions side by side with men.
Hashmi has also created two national networks to support women taking control of their rights. As the national manager of the Women Political School Project under the Ministry of Women Development, she trained over 25,000 elected women leaders to support their political engagement. Hashmi also formed the largest health worker’s network in the private sector to provide services in reproductive health, linking over 3,000 paramedics to reach 2 million women.
Through her leadership of Sisters Trust Pakistan, Hashmi has worked tirelessly to help victims of domestic violence and women and girls breaking free of religious fundamentalism and forced marriages. However, her defense of human rights has come at a price: A regular target of threats, Hashmi must frequently move locations, occasionally going into hiding. But this does not deter her. Declining opportunities to settle abroad due to her committment to stay and be part of the struggle for change, Hashmi leads women and those marginalized in Pakistan society to fight for their rights and create a country that will defend them.
Sabiha Husić, a psychotherapist, Islamic theologian and interreligious peacebuilder, is the director of the nongovernmental organization Medica Zenica in Bosnia-Herzegovina. Medica provides psychosocial and medical support to women and children victims of war and post-war violence, including rape and sexual violence, domestic violence, torture and human trafficking.
Husić first learned of the organization while displaced from her hometown of Vitez to the city of Zenica, where she and her family had walked over 13 nights in 1993 during the wars in the former Yugoslavia. Medica was working in the refugee camps, and Husić recalls that “the approach toward women which I saw there gave me the reason to live, and my willingness to help other people was even bigger.” She became a volunteer, working directly with women survivors in areas where rape was used as a deliberate tactic in the war — oftentimes at great personal risk. Husić eventually became a staff member and then director of Medica in 2007. In 2010 she established the first institutionalized network of psychological support for victims and witnesses testifying in war crimes cases.
Before the conflict, Bosnians, Serbs and Croats were “very good neighbors, friends, and celebrated religious holidays together. The war divided them overnight.” In this post-war climate, Husić urges reconciliation, bringing together women from all communities for workshops on stress and trauma, dialogue and conflict resolution. Along with two women from Switzerland, she leads the European Project for Interreligious Learning, which gathers Christian and Muslim women from five countries to promote understanding and tolerance. In Bosnia, this includes Serbian Orthodox Christians, Catholic Croats and Muslim Bosnians.
In 2009 Husić was recognized by Volonteurope with the Active Citizen of Europe Award for voluntary activism and professional work with Medica Zenica, and was a featured speaker at the 2013 World Justice Forum — recognition that affirms her life’s motto: “I believe that small steps bring significant changes, no matter how small they seem to others.”
Currently the chairperson of South Sudan’s Civil Service Commission, Philister Baya Lawiri was first a war child. At the age of 10, she and her family walked for 35 days through the forests of southern Sudan to what is now the Democratic Republic of the Congo to escape the violence of the first civil war in Sudan. She traces her desire to build peace to her years in Uganda as a refugee and then in Sudan’s capital, Khartoum, where she was living as an internally displaced person (IDP) when the second civil war broke out in 1983.
In the suburbs of the capital, gross human rights violations were committed by state security personnel against IDP women and children, including physical beatings, harassment, forced labor and imprisonment for breaching Sharia law. Appalled by the situation, Lawiri became a human rights monitor and trained women in the camps how to identify their perpetrators and document the violations so they could file for redress in court.
Lawiri and 10 other IDP women established Southern Women Solidarity for Peace and Development, a network of women’s groups established to assist women displaced by war. The group went on to write the book The Tragedy of Reality: Southern Sudanese Women Appeal for Peace, which was distributed at the Hague Appeal for Peace Conference in 1999.
Prior to the secession of South Sudan in 2011, Lawiri led the push for a 25 percent quota of women in Sudan’s election law, and was then appointed as one of only two women on Sudan’s National Electoral Commission, the nine-member national body appointed to oversee the 2010 general elections.
As someone who is well-known for “always believing not only in peace, but also in diversity as a source of power,” Lawiri serves as the South Sudan focal point for the bi-national Coalition of Women Leaders, supported by the Institute for Inclusive Security. The group of more than 200 women from Sudan and South Sudan works to advance women’s engagement in the ongoing peace process.
Human rights lawyer and social activist Rutuparna Mohanty is the fourth daughter of freedom fighter followers of Mahatma Gandhi. From her childhood she learned that she lived in a society “where women are treated as secondary citizens, where in every five minutes a woman is either assaulted or abused and exploited, where women are grossly deprived of their participation in the socioeconomic and political floors, and where women have … no voice against the violation of their human rights.”
To support women standing up to injustice, Mohanty began working with nonprofits and became the secretary of Sanjeevani, a large organization in her state of Orissa. There, she was especially affected by the plight of unwed mothers who faced discrimination, poverty and alienation, and were already victims of or became subjected to trafficking and prostitution.
Mohanty created Maa Ghara (Mothers Home), which provides a shelter for rehabilitating trafficked and sexually exploited women and girls. Through rescue, care and legal protection, the home has served 5,000 women since 2004.
As the legal dimensions of many of the girls’ situations became evident, Mohanty returned to school to become a lawyer to defend their cases. As she earned a reputation for fearlessly defending women’s rights, Mohanty took on high-profile human rights cases from which other lawyers had shied away: defending the rights of slum dwellers from government eviction, sexual harassment cases against powerful politicians and prosecuting perpetrators of gang rape.
But Mohanty has not stopped there. Maa Ghara has become a “people’s movement” to protect women’s rights, and includes community “vigilance groups” that prevent human trafficking. She publishes a weekly newspaper, Janani (“The Voice of Women”), which is “of the women, by the women and for the women,” and is working with police and politicians on policy reform and training that will better protect women and girls. Mohanty is fighting for nothing less than a state where there is “zero tolerance to violations against women.”