3,714,141 Thank Yous!

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LWM 2015 - AI Netherlands. Letter Writing Marathon at the Dutch Office Amnesty International The Netherlands Amsterdam. Every December, to mark International Human Rights Day, hundreds of thousands of people around the globe take part in the world’s largest human rights event: Write for Rights.

Amnesty supporters across the world wrote an astonishing 3.7 million letters, messages, emails, tweets and so much more as part of Write for Rights 2015, the global letter-writing marathon.

From Afghanistan to Zambia, dedicated campaigners, students, school kids and loads of others demanded change on behalf of people and communities suffering appalling human rights abuses. We at Amnesty International USA generated 312,205 of those actions and we are deeply grateful to each and every one of you who took part. SEE THE REST OF THIS POST

6 reasons why we still need International Women’s Day

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Malika 'La Slammeuse' photographed by Leila Alaoui in Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso, on 13 January 2016, as part of the My Body My Rights campaign.

Malika ‘La Slammeuse’ photographed by Leila Alaoui in Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso, on 13 January 2016, as part of the My Body My Rights campaign.

By Shiromi Pinto

Since 1975, 8 March has been a rallying point for feminists worldwide. Established by the UN, it has traditionally been a moment to celebrate women’s achievements while highlighting serious inequalities between the sexes. But 41 years later, is it still necessary?

The answer is yes. Women and girls may have scaled unimaginable heights in politics, science, arts, sports and business, but they are still struggling. Not just for equal pay, which is a concern on so many people’s minds today – but for their basic human rights. Nowhere is this plainer than in women’s struggle for their sexual and reproductive rights. Here are six reasons why we think International Women’s Day is more important than ever. SEE THE REST OF THIS POST

My Body, My Rights, My Call for Respect

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By Katie Bellamy Mitchell, Identity and Discrimination Unit Intern

This February 14th, I’ll spend Valentine’s Day with people I love. And when I say I love them — my friends and family ­— I mean I value them. I mean I have decided my life is better when they are a part of it. It’s easy to take for granted, yet people around the world are denied the right to decide the people they share their lives with—even denied the right to make decisions over their own bodies. They are forced to accept others’ decisions about their healthcare, their sexual orientation, and whether they get married or have children.

To live, love, and make decisions free from coercion and threat of violence is a human right. Love is a decision that always means respect: for my body, for my rights, and for the bodies and rights of others.


Write for Rights: A Chance to Change Our World

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By Purva Khanapure, Amnesty USA Student Activist Coordinator, Central New Jersey

A few weeks ago, I found myself stressed as I drowned in hours of homework. After deciding to take a break, I began to check my email. I opened a message about Write for Rights, Amnesty International’s largest event, and clicked over to the website to read about this year’s twelve Write for Rights cases.

The case involving young women and girls in Burkina Faso, a country in West Africa, looked interesting, so I began to dive further in. I learned that in Burkina Faso, thousands of girls and young women are forced into early marriage and must suddenly and unwillingly dedicate their lives to another man. In order for families to collect financial returns by marrying off their daughters and sisters, safety, human rights, and happiness are compromised. SEE THE REST OF THIS POST

Girls Should be Students, not Brides

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Shelter for survivors of forced marriage in Kaya city, northeast Burkina Faso.

By Naureen Shameem, Amnesty USA Women’s Human Rights Coordination Group

What is it that enables you to make your life your own? Could you meaningfully choose your own life if your sphere of opportunity had been cut off as a child?

Globally, at least 25,000 children are married every day. 1 in 9 marry before the age of 15. Although the prevalence of child marriage worldwide has received more coverage in recent years, the rates remain staggering.


The Devastating Impact of Child Marriage on Girls Around the World

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Shelter for survivors of forced marriage in Kaya city, northeast Burkina Faso.

October 11th marked the fifth year that the global community recognized International Day of the Girl Child, which the United Nations established to acknowledge girls’ rights and highlight the unique challenges girls face around the world. The list of challenges for girls is not short. Girls around the world are more likely to experience exclusion, discrimination, and gender-based violence than their male counterparts. They are also more likely to have unequal access to education and economic opportunities in the future.

The good news is that the world is paying closer attention to the rights of adolescent girls and, as a result, there have been some improvements over the decades. We have seen progress in girls’ education, and many countries have enacted laws to promote gender equality. At the same time, there are challenges for girls where change is insignificant or where progress is uneven: chief among them is early and forced child marriage. SEE THE REST OF THIS POST

“I Didn’t Know You Could Get Pregnant From Having Sex.” Breaking Barriers to Women’s Rights in Burkina Faso

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Young women hold hands in a shelter run by Nuns, these young women have courageously fled forced marriage or early and unwanted pregnancies. Ouagadougou. July 2014

Young women hold hands in a shelter run by Nuns, these young women have courageously fled forced marriage or early and unwanted pregnancies. Ouagadougou. July 2014

Imagine not knowing that sex could make you pregnant. Imagine finding out how to prevent a pregnancy only after you’d had your third or fourth child.

Now imagine knowing about contraception but being refused it just because you don’t have permission from your partner or in-laws. And even if you have permission, with clinics and pharmacies so far away from where you live, you simply can’t afford the journey there, let alone the contraception itself.

This is the reality for many women and girls in Burkina Faso, where most are already married and have more than one child by the time they are 19. SEE THE REST OF THIS POST

A Social Movement To Be Reckoned With In Africa

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Fadel Barro, one of the leaders of Y'en a Marre (We're Fed Up) movement and Oscibi Johann, one of the leaders of Burkina Faso's Balai Citoyen (Citizens Broom) at a press conference in Kinshasa on March 15, 2015 before several activists were detained. (Photo: FEDERICO SCOPPA/AFP/Getty Images)

Fadel Barro, one of the leaders of Y’en a Marre (We’re Fed Up) movement and Oscibi Johann, one of the leaders of Burkina Faso’s Balai Citoyen (Citizens Broom) appear at a press conference in the Democratic Republic of Congp. Youth activists were detained following this event on March 15, 2015. (Photo: FEDERICO SCOPPA/AFP/Getty Images)

We are not plotters or terrorists, we are a new generation of committed young Africans.

We who hold the destiny of the continent in our hands must not be deprived of our freedom.

We are a new civic movement that has just emerged in Africa. We will not be intimidated by long detentions, harassment and repression.


African Activists' Struggle to Improve Maternal Health

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Activist Juliette Compaoré says the MDG summit will have an impact in Burkina Faso © Amnesty International

New UN statistics released last week show that world leaders are struggling to keep their promise of cutting the maternal mortality ratio by 75 per cent by 2015. For activists in Sierra Leone, the slow progress is no surprise.

Many people don’t understand that maternal health is a human rights issue and so many other factors contribute to these deaths. Discrimination, lack of facilities, domestic violence and poverty… if these underlying issues aren’t addressed, it will undermine the good work that is being done,” says Victor L Koroma, an activist based in the capital Freetown.

Koroma’s small organization, the Campaign for the Promotion of Health and Human Rights Activities, campaigned to abolish medical fees in Sierra Leone. In April, the government took the landmark step of introducing free healthcare for pregnant and breastfeeding women.

However, Koroma warned world leaders gathering this week in New York to discuss progress on the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) that more still needs to be done.

“We need to go beyond free healthcare because there are lots of problems. Many midwives are not properly trained and drugs and blood are not available. Nutrition is completely ignored. Drugs are unevenly distributed and there is discrimination – whether on the basis of tribe, gender, social status or political affiliation.

“World leaders, donors, the UN and the World Bank all need to do their bit if a country like Sierra Leone is to be saved from the ravages of pregnant women dying every day.”

Koroma paints a harrowing picture of the scale of the maternal health crisis facing MDG decision-makers.

“Sexual and gender-based violence is rampant; women and girls as young as five are being raped. Many then become infected with HIV. Yet the government does nothing. In the last year only two people have been sentenced for violence against women out of probably thousands of cases,” he says.

The UN statistics show an average annual decline of 2.3 per cent since 1990, falling way short of the 5.5 per cent decline needed to reach the 2015 target. Although a woman is no longer dying every minute, the new statistics show that one woman is still dying every minute and a half.

Severe discrimination and the low social status of women also fuel the high rate of maternal deaths in Sierra Leone, where women’s health needs are given low priority by their own families and community leaders.

Most maternal deaths in Sierra Leone take place in rural areas cut adrift from hospitals. Most women die in their homes. Some die on the way to hospital; in taxis, on motorbikes or on foot.

Speaking Out for Maternal Health in Detroit

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On April 17, Detroit hosted the second stop of the maternal health speakers tour. In this post, Reuben Metreger, a law student at Wayne State University and Amnesty International state legislative coordinator for Michigan, looks back on the event.

As I reflect on the Deadly Delivery Detroit event I am reminded of what long time Detroit co-group 78 leader and new area coordinator Ken Grunow said. In Detroit we will all need to become midwives and mid-husbands to deliver the rebirth of our city. Amnesty International leaders from around the world gave us a good first push. As we begin to demand dignity and take on poverty it seems clear that a common problem is inequality for women and minority groups and that it is people power, not technology that will make it happen.

As if on cue the technology failed us. The sound system went out, but our leaders did not skip a beat. They were able to communicate the old fashioned way, from the heart.

Larry Cox, executive director of AIUSA, told us that although we are the richest country in the world, we still rank behind forty other countries in terms of lifetime risk of dying in pregnancy or childbirth.

Silvia Rosario Loli Espinoza, executive director of AI Peru, told us through her interpreter that although her country is considered a middle income country, they are the third worst in Latin America when it comes to maternal mortality. Unfortunately, there is still a lack of resources and women are not even provided with basic needs like food and transportation. Other problems have to do with discrimination against indigenous people and women in the country which contribute to poor outcomes. She described a technique called vertical delivery where women give birth while standing; indigenous women often prefer vertical delivery, but too many Peruvian health professionals are unable to facilitate the technique, or even actively discourage it.

Yves Boukari Traore, executive director of AI Burkina Faso, told us that his country is one of the economically poorest in the world. Poverty is a leading cause of maternal mortality, yet the problem is more than a lack of resources — it is a lack of will. We watched an inspiring video of women on the Amnesty International caravan delivering the message that maternal mortality is a serious problem and that when the community joins together to demand dignity, the government will have to respond.

The most hopeful news of the day came from Brima Abdulai Sheriff, executive director of AI Sierra Leone. Although he told us that Sierra Leone facing many of the same challenges as Burkina Faso, his government has announced that health care will be provided free to pregnant women in his country!

It was inspiring to get to see first-hand Amnesty activists from around the world and to recognize that our problems have much in common. We all need to come together to join Amnesty International and demand dignity for all people! As Ken said, we all need to help support pregnant women to ensure that birth is a joyous occasion that we can all celebrate.