Leila and Mahamadi: Five Days for the Sheroes of Burkina Faso

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Photographer Leila Alaoui, who was killed in the Al Qaeda attack in Ougadougou, Burkina Faso, on Friday 15 January 2016. Mahamadi Ouédraogo her driver was also killed in the attack.

Monday 11 January – two people meet at Ouagadougou International Airport and their destinies become immediately and eternally entwined.

She – Leila Alaoui, 33, photographer, arriving on an early evening flight from Paris. She will be spending the next nine days in Burkina Faso photographing courageous girls and women for our 8 March ‘sheroes’ exhibition.

He – Mahamadi Ouedraogo, 42, driver and guide, coming to fetch Leila from the airport. He will be spending the next nine days accompanying her all over the country and assisting with the photo mission. SEE THE REST OF THIS POST

Sheroes: On the Frontline of the Struggle for Sexual Health and Rights in Burkina Faso

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

The statistics tell a sobering tale. Burkina Faso has the 7th highest rate of child marriage in the world. More than half of all women were married before the age of 18 and 10% before age 15. Some girls as young as 11 are forced into marriage. Burkina Faso also has one of the world’s lowest rates of contraceptive use – only 17% of women. Many are denied contraception or use it in secret, out of fear of their husbands or in-laws.

The end result is that by the time they are 19 years old, most girls are married, and nearly half of them are already mothers. They are raising children when they are still children themselves, in a country with one of the highest rates of maternal death in the world.

But within this bleak picture are spots of light, like candles in a dark room, moments of grace in the midst of a battlefield. These are the people – the women and girls – whose stories illuminate a landscape dominated by such stark realities. SEE THE REST OF THIS POST

Fleeing for Our Lives: Central American Migrant Crisis

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WATCH LIVE: Human Rights Implications of Protecting People on the Move in the Americas

Migration from Central America to the U.S. is not a new phenomenon, however the reasons, or push factors that are causing people to migrate or flee have changed. The Northern Triangle of Central America (“NTCA”), composed of El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras, is considered one of the most dangerous places on earth, which has caused unprecedented levels of migration. The United Nations High Commissioner for refugees has called this a humanitarian crisis. Many Central Americans are refugees who like Syrians, are fleeing for their lives.

A one-year-old from El Salvador clings to his mother  ( John Moore/Getty Images)

A one-year-old from El Salvador clings to his mother ( John Moore/Getty Images)

While the United States has seen a record in asylum applications in recent years, Central American countries are dealing with larger migratory flows from the NTCA within their borders. According a 2014 UNHCR report, Mexico, Belize, Costa Rica, Nicaragua and Panama  have had a 432% increase in asylum applications. 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

What It Takes to Defend Women’s Sexual and Reproductive Rights – New Report Released on SRR Defenders in the Americas

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Marlene was accused and charged with having an abortion in El Salvador after she had a miscarriage when she was 18 years old.

Marlene was accused and charged with having an abortion in El Salvador after she had a miscarriage when she was 18 years old.

By Christina V. Harris

Wasn’t the U.S. Supreme Court decision in Roe v. Wade made over 40 years ago now? And the landmark stance by the United Nations Human Rights Committee on the case of KL v. Peru made just around a decade ago? Sometimes in today’s climate, it’s hard to remember the answer is “yes” to both of these questions. Yes, women in the United States and internationally have been lawfully confirmed in their right to seek a safe, legal abortion and to make decisions and inquire into information about their bodies, their health, and their futures. SEE THE REST OF THIS POST

What El Salvador’s Total Abortion Ban Means for Women and Girls

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Portrait of Teodora Vasquez at her prison in El Salvador. She had been sentenced for 30 years after having an stillbirth out of suspicions of having had an abortion. In 2008, Teodora del Carmen Vásquez was sentenced to 30 years in prison for “aggravated homicide” after suffering a still-birth at work. Teodora, mother of an 11-year-old boy, was expecting a new baby when she started experiencing increasingly severe pain. She called the emergency services but her waters broke soon afterwards. She went into labour, and was unconscious when she gave birth. When she came round, bleeding profusely, her baby was dead. Police at the scene handcuffed her and arrested her on suspicion of murder. Only then did they take her to hospital where she could get the urgent treatment she needed. In El Salvador, women who miscarry or suffer a still-birth during pregnancy are routinely suspected of having had an “abortion”. Abortion under any circumstance is a crime, even in cases of rape, incest, or where a woman’s life is at risk. This makes women afraid to seek help with pregnancy-related problems, leading inevitably to more preventable deaths.

Portrait of Teodora Vasquez at her prison in El Salvador. She had been sentenced for 30 years after having an stillbirth out of suspicions of having had an abortion.

By Linda Veazey, AIUSA Board Member 

In 1998, El Salvador outlawed abortion under any circumstances, including cases where the life or health of the woman is at risk; where pregnancies are the result of rape or incest; and in cases of severe fetal abnormalities. El Salvador’s total ban violates the human rights of thousands of women and girls.

In cases like Teodora del Carmen Vásquez, some women have even been sentenced to several decades in prison even though they did not have an abortion!  In 2008, Teodora was sentenced to 30 years in prison for “aggravated homicide” after suffering a still-birth at work.  Amnesty found that Teodora was presumed guilty after she received an unfair trial in which her family could not afford effective legal representation. SEE THE REST OF THIS POST

50 Ways You Changed Lives in 2015

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In 2015, millions of Amnesty supporters like you pushed decision-makers to make change happen worldwide.

You helped to release journalists and activists. Change discriminatory laws. Compensate victims of corporate crime. Pardon survivors of torture. And so much more. As governments continued to crack down on dissent and free speech, your pressure was critical to protect people’s human rights.

The list below is just a snapshot of some of the many success stories and bits of good news that you made happen in 2015. Thank you for all your support – together, we are standing up for people risking everything to speak out. SEE THE REST OF THIS POST

Women are more than victims: they are peacemakers

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Members of a support group for survivors of sexual violence create a circle with their hands, Bogotá, Colombia, March 2011. The letters on the hands of the women in a circle form the words "No al abuso sexual" (No to sexual abuse). They are a group of women who have been victims of sexual violence in the armed conflict in Colombia who meet regularly.

Members of a support group for survivors of sexual violence create a circle with their hands, Bogotá, Colombia, March 2011.
The letters on the hands of the women in a circle form the words “No al abuso sexual” (No to sexual abuse). They are a group of women who have been victims of sexual violence in the armed conflict in Colombia who meet regularly.

By: Janine Aguilera, Identity and Discrimination Unit Intern

Rape and sexual violence against women have been used as a tactic of war in Colombia since the beginnings of the armed conflict, more than 50 years.

Colombian women have been systematically raped or sexually assaulted for variety of purposes, including intimidation, humiliation, forced-displacement, extracting information, and rewarding soldiers. Rape and sexual violence have been also used as a strategy to assert social control, and a weapon against women’s rights defenders who raise their voices in support of land restitution. SEE THE REST OF THIS POST

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