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JASS Movements Newsletter

July 2015

Just like the moons and like suns, With the certainty of tides,                                                      

Just like hopes springing high, Still I’ll rise. - Maya Angelou

We open this newsletter with an excerpt from renowned poem, Still I Rise, which is filled with words that uplift our spirits and remind us to keep working to create a better world for all, even as the tides get steeper. It reminds us to pause, re-evaluate, and start again. An important message given the changing political landscape, where it’s becoming increasingly dangerous for activists who are on the frontlines of crises to speak out. From the US to Indonesia, Honduras, and Zimbabwe, the space to just be, let alone organize for change is closing. And while we see hopeful signs, we are also faced with intensifying backlash in response to the gains we have made in standing up against injustices. Threats and violence are intended to silence us, to make us give up. But instead, we are gathering our strength and becoming savvier in protecting ourselves even as we speak louder and more boldly about what we know to be true. We are re-committing to creating real change that is both transformative and sustainable.

As the awareness of these challenges resurrect, we are reminded of how urgent a task we face as JASS, along with our allies, to document and make visible what this “closing space’ means from women’s perspectives, what drives it, and what we are doing about it. We realize the need to continue to build networks for mutual safety and bigger influence that sustain and strengthen women’s activism. We need to continue pushing to re-open spaces for robust political debate with a range of voices and safety for those speaking out. At JASS, we support and stand with women under attack and build the capacity and resilience of movements for the long haul.

The stories below show us the various ways women are responding around the world as they defend their territories and rights. More than that, they show us the courage and power with which they continue to lead despite the risks they face. They inspire and give us hope. We are not deterred because we know that we will still rise, together.

As always, we thank you for your support and solidarity.

Lisa VeneKlasen & the JASS community

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Cambodian Women Land Rights Activists: “No one can silence us."

Kong Chantha, Cambodia
photo credit: HRTF Cambodia

Khmer tradition dictates that women should just stay at home...My passion is to make women claim their rightful place in society even if it takes being behind these prison bars to prove this point,” said Kong Chantha, land rights activist from the Boeung Kak community of Cambodia, while imprisoned, in December 2014. Cambodian women land rights activists are leading a struggle to stay on their land in the face of backlash. Threats, jail time and violence are a daily reality for Kong Chantha and other women land rights activists of the Boeung Kak community. Yet, despite it all, women pledge to continue fighting for their right to land and decent housing. “I think we are strong enough now and no one can silence us. We will continue fighting for our demand until the end,” Kong Chantha. Read more

Alquimia: an Innovative Approach to Indigenous Women’s Leadership & Collective Power

In the past few months alone, we have witnessed a new strategy that puts indigenous women leading struggles in defense of their territories at greater risk—legal charges for their activism and new kinds of aggression, even after charges against them are dropped. This growing trend of criminalizing activism has become the number one approach for silencing activists who speak out against the devastating impacts of extractive projects on their communities and livelihoods. In this risky context, strengthening indigenous and rural women’s leadership and exchanging strategies for resistance and safety is vital for their movements and survival. JASS Mesoamerica’s leadership training school, Alquimia, aims to do that and more—re-tool and re-energize activists with more confidence, effective skills, and new allies for a fast-changing context. “This training has been very important to me because it nurtures my struggle and I leave with greater knowledge as I fight to defend our territory and our rights as women,” said participant, Consuelo Castillo. Read more

Alquimia- indigenous women

We Drive the Debate & Push the Issues

Human Rights Council in Geneva
photo credit: My Travel

For human rights defenders around the world, the space for action and sustained activism is shrinking and under attack—this is especially true for women. “If I talk about the shrinking space for women human rights defenders (WHRDs) in India,” says Ritu Srivastava who works for the Digital Empowerment Foundation in Delhi, “It’s absolutely correct that there are fewer and limited spaces for women in India to talk. And when a woman in India becomes a human rights defender, they have even less space.” At the 29th Human Rights Council (HRC) session in Geneva this year (June 15- July 3), JASS Southern Africa’s Maggie Mapondera converged with activists from around the world to push states to recognize the urgent need to protect human rights defenders and activists, particularly those defending women’s, sexual and reproductive, and LGBTI rights. But activists will need to resist and counter this dangerous trend beyond the gilded hallways of the Palais des Nations if they hope to see lasting change. Read more