Celebrating a Fearless Human Rights Defender, Jenni Williams

March 26, 2012

Jenni williams women of zimbabwe arise
Jenni leading protest march in Bulawayo, Zimbabwe, February 2012. Jenni was arrested for the 40th time that day. Photo courtesy of WOZA.

Every year on March 8th we celebrate International Women’s Day. I have been blessed to know many amazing women in my life: my mom, my sisters, my aunts, my friends. It’s nice there is a day of the year set aside to honor and remember strong, powerful women who make a difference in our world.

Ginetta Sagan was one of those women. Ms. Sagan, once a political prisoner herself, was a fearless and outspoken human rights defender who tirelessly worked to improve the lives of others. Amnesty International USA established a fund in her honor which annually recognizes a woman who, often at great personal risk, dedicates her life to improving the lives of others.

It was my honor and privilege to nominate this year’s winner, Jenni Williams of Women of Zimbabwe Arise. Jenni co-founded WOZA to inspire and educate women to embrace and demand their human and civil rights in Zimbabwe. The organization is now 80,000 strong; men and women who practice strict non-violence as they urge the Zimbabwe government to take measures to improve the lives of all citizens.

Perhaps the best testament to the power of Jenni and WOZA occurred this year on International Women’s Day. In past years, WOZA members often took to the streets that day, dancing and singing as they demonstrated and delivered their demands to government officials. This year WOZA didn’t march; however, on their Facebook page, WOZA commented the central business district of Bulawayo, Zimbabwe was full of riot police, anticipating a march.

And how did the riot police know it was International Women’s Day? Because Jenni and WOZA taught them. Commemorating the day by gathering in armed groups might not be the best way to celebrate, but because of Jenni and WOZA, the police spent the day thinking about powerful women struggling to make the world a better place. And that, my friends, is a victory.