The term ‘human rights defender’ sounds very official, but you, in fact, might be one without even realising it – and if you aren’t, it’s something you could be at any moment.
A human rights defender is someone who, either alone or together with others, helps to fight for, uphold and protect the human rights of others – particularly those who are unable to fight for themselves. There isn’t one specific definition or set of actions that defines a human rights defender, as they can be anyone, acting at any time, to protect human rights in any way. In fact, human rights defenders are identified more by what they do, and not what they are, and they’re needed in every community in South Africa.
Human rights defenders:
- Spread awareness of human rights through actions, activities, events and sharing information
- Implement and uphold human rights, and encourage others to do the same
- Call out human rights violations and react to them
3 ways to fight for human rights in your community
1. Join a local group, or start one
You have the power to change the world, with just a few people! Joining or creating a group is an excellent way to meet like-minded people and galvanise your community into action. Never doubt the power of small groups of individuals to change the world. Often, big change is the result of a few people creating awareness, driving important issues and continually championing change.
According to Amnesty International, you should try to meet regularly, and have a regular activity, like writing letters on behalf of people suffering abuse. These letters should be sent to people with the power to take action. Inspire your group with films, literature, music and speakers, and if you can, try to organise public events. Join up with musicians, comics and other performers to tap into their followers and drive your message even further.
2. Meet your local politicians
Politicians are the people who have the power to evoke change. They can raise issues at local and national government level, and help put pressure on decision-makers for real, positive change. Email or write to your local politicians, outline the issue(s) you wish to raise, and what you want and need from them. You could even invite them to one of your events. Once you’ve met, follow up within a week to make sure they do what they say they will. Keep following up if you need to.
3. Get disruptive
The best way to grab attention for your cause is to create an event that disrupts people’s apathy. One of the most effective things to do is to create an outdoor, public and/or street event that will make the media and authorities stop and pay attention! It’s also an excellent way to explain the issue you’re raising, and help the public, as well as your supporters and volunteers, to understand it.
Amnesty International suggests thinking of a single point or message you want to get across and making sure it’s easy to understand, as your time will be limited. Then, think of how you’ll communicate the message in an eye-catching, engaging and riveting way. Do you need props, costumes, banners, powerful slogans, etc?
Make sure you have enough people on board – the more people, the more powerful. Allocate roles to different people to give them a sense of purpose, and to ensure they show up on the day – for example, people to take photos, hand out flyers, talk to the crowd, and so on.
Your community needs YOU – and you have the power to create change
Abused women and children in your community may not have a voice, but you do. Become a human rights defender and use your intelligence, compassion, drive and passion to help those who need it most.