Fighting for justice may require more than the capacity to organize and campaign. It can also demand courage and personal sacrifice. Here are just a few of the many women who have shown these qualities in recent times.
Patkar is a leader in one of the largest social movements in the world – the fight against dam projects that threaten the right to life and livelihood for the people of India’s Narmada valley. In 1985 Patkar began mobilizing massive marches and rallies against the project, and, although the protests were peaceful, she was repeatedly beaten and arrested by the police. She almost died during a 22-day hunger strike in 1991. Undaunted, she undertook two more long protest fasts in 1993 and 1994. With each subsequent summer monsoon season, when flooding threatens the villages near the dam site, Patkar has joined the tribal people in resisting evacuation and resigning themselves to drown in the rising waters. She believes that development ‘cannot be contained within national boundaries... We have had to fight that at the local and national level. We have to ally with friends across the world... We have to have joint plans and action.’
Her mother was illiterate, her father a bus driver in Dakar, Senegal. She was always a fighter, becoming involved in the student movement at the end of the 1960s.
In 1994 she moved to France with her two young daughters. There she got involved in the plight of fellow immigrants and began to organize. In May 1996, together with 300 African women, men and children, she occupied churches, went on hunger strike, held women’s marches and other actions in protest against new immigration laws which took away their right to stay. It was the start of the Sans Papiers movement. Today there are more than 24 Sans Papiers collectives across France, and sister organizations in other European countries.
‘At the beginning it seemed to be taken for granted that women would not participate in general meetings: it wasn’t necessary, since the husbands were there!’ says Cissé. But women went on to be at the forefront of the movement. ‘Every time the battle lost momentum, women met and found initiatives to re-launch the struggle.’
The French authorities responded by deporting her. Her appeal to the European Court of Human Rights failed and she is now working for an NGO involved with women’s development issues back in Dakar.
Hanan Mikhail Ashrawi
Hanan is not afraid to speak out: ‘I do not condone terror, no matter who carries it out. I think a terrorist is someone who uses means – whether physical, moral or mental – against civilians for the sake of achieving political ends. When you adopt the methods of the occupier, when you reflect the same nihilism, then you are lost.’
Dr Ashrawi’s father, Daoud Mikhail, instilled in his young daughter a belief that ‘women deserve equality by right and not as a gift condescendingly bestowed by men’ and that in order to ‘liberate yourself, you liberate the land’.
A Minister in the Palestinian Authority until 1998, she is currently Director of MIFTAH, a non-governmental organization that she founded to foster respect for human rights, democracy and peace. It is also concerned with supporting future Palestinian women leaders and encouraging youth leadership.
In spite of everything that has happened in her country, she remains hopeful: ‘Where governments fail, ordinary people can make a difference. I salute the International Solidarity Movement, and the many grassroots groups who risk their own lives for the sake of the Palestinian people. These voices are the conscience of people and they should make governments feel ashamed.’
‘They say I am a fighter,’ she says. ‘I agree, but I think that, for me, the fight comes after the dream.’
Source: The New Internationalist is a communications co-operative. With over 30 years of publishing under its belt, and more than 75,000 subscribers worldwide, the New Internationalist is renowned for its radical, campaigning stance on a range of world issues, from the cynical marketing of babymilk in the Majority World to human rights in Burma. Text for the above article on Tania Major is by Chris Richards. Others by Nikki van der Gaag.