Women of the Be Just Initiative

Claire Tixeire, European Center for Constitutional and Human Rights
September 22, 2015
https://berthafoundation.org/unbowed-letters-and-poems-from-the-women-of-the-bertha-justice-initiative/[ultimatesocial networks="facebook,twitter,linkedin" count="false" align="left" skin="round" url="" ]

Women Working Group of the Bertha Justice Initiative
Women Working Group of the Bertha Justice Initiative

The Women Working Group of the Bertha Justice Initiative has published a unique, bilingual English-Spanish collection of letters and poems. 

The book includes contributions from the Bertha Foundation, CALS, CCAJAR, CenterLaw, EarthRights, ECCHR, LRC, ProDESC, and SERI. ECCHR was proud to coordinate it from Berlin, where the Working Group was created and met for the first time last year.

Here is the foreword to “Unbowed-Erguida”  –


The people who have filled the pages of this collection with letters and poems talk about oppression, resistance, privilege, victory, loss, love, and pain.

The authors decided to form their own collective. They expressed the need to stop putting specific things in specific boxes. Human rights law belongs to law. Gender oppression belongs to gender issues. Political vision belongs to politics. Music belongs to art. Love, pain, fear, joy usually remain private. But we are whole and we are complex. We don’t always want to compartmentalize what we are looking at or who we are, for that is limiting. This publication is an effort to do away with these boxes and to give a more authentic testimony.

The authors are human rights lawyers. In these writings they deconstruct the strict parameters of their profession to build a personal and multi-layered approach that explains their political vision and why they do the work they do. They let the lawyer speak to the politician, the victim to the perpetrator, the human rights defender to her daughter.

The authors are women. How deeply our judgment and behavior are shaped by gender roles and gender conformity is not something we are born knowing or something that we grow up necessarily understanding, and it is something that some of us will never acknowledge. It takes exposure, but also distance and a critical eye to allow oneself to see that this is an omnipresent oppression. Combine that with institutionalized racism, oppressive class systems and the dictates of capitalist structures, and decide how to move forward. Do you try to get by and adapt to this environment, or do you resist and fight it?

When Alejandra Ancheita challenges some of the world’s largest transnational companies before a Mexican court for violating the rights of marginalized indigenous communities to defend their territory; when Ethel Avisado takes the case of a Filipino transgender woman allegedly strangled and drowned in a hotel’s toilet by a U.S. Marine after he discovered her gender; when Nomzamo Zondo, a black South African mother of four, gets arrested by Johannesburg police for assisting the implementation of an order by the Constitutional Court in favor of informal traders, they confront not just the law or the police, not just racism or oppression, not just gender conformity or sexual violence, not just militarism, capitalism, or patriarchy, but all of these together. And by doing so, they put themselves on the frontline, aware that heavy personal risks might follow.

The fourteen human rights lawyers who have authored these pages are women of the Bertha Justice Initiative, a network they belong to through their respective non-profit legal organizations, which the Bertha Foundation brings together and supports across the world. Women in this network seek to empower radical female lawyers to overcome gender discrimination, to learn from each other as to how to tackle challenges arising from living in a male-dominated profession, patriarchal and racist societies, and to advance issues of gender in their respective work and organizations. This publication gives form to the ways they chose to pass on these messages and to illustrate, in often very personal ways, what these can mean.

Read their words to get unique insights as to how these fourteen lawyers understand feminism, apply it in their legal work, align it with their political vision and live it in their private lives.

Read “Unbowed-Erguida” here.

Watch our film “Women. Radical. Lawyers” which features the authors of the publication.

Claire Tixeire, Director of Education Program at the European Center for Constitutional and Human Rights

Follow ECCHR on Twitter @ECCHRBerlin

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