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Eight international human rights defenders currently studying at the University of York's Centre for Applied Human Rights (CAHR) spoke in recognition of International Women's Day on Saturday 2 March about their experiences as "Women of the Front Line".
Relaying their own backgrounds and the influences that encouraged them to begin defending Human Rights, the women spoke for over an hour on displacement of women and children in periods of conflict, inequalities of women's rights in their countries' legal systems, and on cases of domestic violence including beating and rape.
The speakers included, Karak Denyok Miakol, a social worker and the founder of Diar for Rehabilitation and Development Association (DRDA), Samira Hamidi, the Country Director of the Afghan Women's Network, Kultan Sh. Hassan, the human rights officer of the Women's Action for Advocacy and Progress Organisation in Somaliland and Lineo Tsikoane, a human rights defender from the Kingdom of Lesotho.
Challenging the traditions and cultures of society presents these women with constant challenges and threats; Lineo Tsikoane admitted how "on many occasions I do not sleep at home" for fear of being arrested by the government.
Questioned on the conflict between being a human rights defender and a mother, all acknowledged the challenge, but as Kultan Sh. Hussan stated, they accept that "we have a responsibility more than that". They also emphasised the importance of engaging men in their campaigns and ensuring that women had equal access to education.
They encouraged the use of letter writing, internet petitions and campaigns here in support of their causes as a source of solidarity and inspiration that their plight is being acknowledged internationally.
Sanna Eriksson, the Centre Coordinator for the CAHR, hoped that the event would foster a better engagement of these International Human Rights Defenders and the local community in York as well as raise awareness of International Women's Day.
The event also showcased poetry by the Human Rights Defenders, depicting personal insights on issues of female genital mutilation and the continuing oppression of women's voices around the world.