by Kate Allen, Director of Amnesty International UK
Last year was a bad year to be brave. At Amnesty we know of 281 people around the world who were killed for standing up for what they believed in, but this figure is likely to be just the tip of the iceberg.
From Heather Heyer who died while protesting against a white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, to Daphne Caruana Galizia, a Maltese anti-corruption journalist who was killed in a car bomb in October —the world felt like it was an increasingly treacherous place to live in if you are a campaigner.
But the dangers faced by human rights defenders are nothing new. Since the UN Declaration of Human Rights Defenders 20 years ago, we know of at least 3,500 activists who have been killed — an average of 180 deaths a year — and the annual death toll shows no sign of diminishing.
But next to these depressing statistics I have recently witnessed a chink of light that has filled me with hope: and it’s in the form of the Suffragette Spirit campaign.
Nominate a modern suffragette from your community
To nominate an amazing woman in your local area, please visit www.amnesy.org.uk/suffragettespirit. All women must have carried out work to help others in their local area within the last 10 years. All successful nominees will be contacted to give consent prior to being placed on the Suffragette Spirit Map of Britain. This campaign has been funded by People’s Postcode Lottery.
Since Amnesty called on Britain to nominate the women continuing to campaign for change 100 years after winning the vote, I have been bowled over by the incredible cases put forward — all of whom are working to make very real, positive changes in their communities.
With headlines increasingly dominated by conflict, hatred and corruption across the planet — from the refugee crisis to an increase in hate crime — it can be easy to forget that there is much good being done on our doorstep.
From Glasgow to Portsmouth, Ipswich to Swansea, women embodying that fighting spirit a century on are using their powerful voices to help the vulnerable, stand up to bullies, fight racism, tackle abuse and save their local environment.
In fact, judging by the number of nominations we have been deluged with, there are literally hundreds of women human rights defenders up and down the country working to make their local area — and even the wider world — a better place.
One example is Anna Kennedy, a campaigner from Middlesbrough who has worked tirelessly to help people with autism. In her wide portfolio of work she has set up a two specialist schools, a residential home and campaigned for better diagnosis of the condition as well and helped tackle autism-related bullying in schools.
Another nomination is Mridul Wadhwa, who lives in Glasgow and has campaigned since 2005 for trans rights as well as helped to protect migrant women experiencing violence. For 12 years she has worked with some of society’s most vulnerable to ensure they have a voice and to help change attitudes towards them — and all because of her passionate belief that all human beings are equal and that no one should be silenced.
You might not have heard of these women until now because they are on the ground, busy effecting change for the people they care about most. But together these women — and countless others across the nation — are doing big things to champion human rights for all. And they deserve to be celebrated.
So what are you waiting for? Time is running out —nominate the amazing women in your community now before 26 February to ensure that your local Suffragette Spirit gets the recognition they deserve!