For Women’s Rights Defenders: Every Day is International Women’s Day

March 8, 2015


Each year on International Women’s Day, the world celebrates the acts of courage and determination of women worldwide.  It’s a global celebration of the accomplishments, legacy, and rights of women.

What International Women’s Day also highlights, however, is the continued struggle for women’s rights.  And no one knows that better than women’s rights defenders like Bahareh Hedayat of Iran and Norma Cruz of Guatemala.

For these women and women like them, every day is women’s day: every day, women are putting their safety and freedom on the line to defend and promote women’s rights in their communities.  And for many women, instead of being applauded by officials, they’re targeted, threatened, even imprisoned.

Take Norma Cruz of Guatemala, who leads Fundación Sobrevivientes (Survivors’ Foundation).  Norma and her team provide a wide range of services to women who suffer acts of violence. They run a crisis shelter for women, adolescents, and children. Over the course of 2009, for example, they sheltered around 110 people. They also offer legal support for those who take action through the courts to bring those responsible to justice.

Norma Cruz

Norma also campaigns for justice with the relatives of murdered women. Guatemala has seen a notable increase in the number of women killed over the last decade and the state has largely failed to investigate these crimes.

Despite the constant threat to her life and safety, Norma continues to be a women’s rights champion—even as she knows that working for women’s rights means putting herself on the line.

Bahareh Hedayat was arrested on 31 December 2009, shortly after mass arrests following anti-government protests on the religious festival of Ashoura. She was charged with several “offenses”, including “interviews with foreign media,” “insulting the leader,” “insulting the president,” and “disrupting public order through participating in illegal gatherings.”

 Bahareh Hedayat

In May 2010 she was sentenced to six months in prison for “insulting the president”, two years for “insulting the Leader” and five years for “acting against national security.” A two year suspended prison term previously imposed for her participation in the June 2006 demonstration calling for an end to discrimination against women in law was also implemented. An additional six month sentence was added as punishment for having written a letter, together with fellow imprisoned student activist Majid Tavakkoli, in December 2010, encouraging students to continue their peaceful struggle for freedom. Around the beginning of November 2011 Branch 54 of the Tehran Appeals Court upheld the additional six months sentence on the charge of “propaganda against the system.”

By taking a stand for women’s rights and the rights of all Iranians, Bahareh paid with her freedom.

Women like Norma and Bahareh are women’s rights champions and embody the spirit—and struggle—of International Women’s Day.

You can stand with them: Call on Guatemalan authorities to investigate death threats against Norma and ensure those responsible are brought to justice.  Call on Iranian authorities to release Bahareh.

Join me and Amnesty International in celebrating women’s rights this International Women’s Day and making women’s rights a reality every day.