Reflection on Living Courage in Bridgewater, Nova Scotia – by Sue Deschene
Thank you to KAIROS for bringing the “Women of Courage” tour to Bridgewater, Nova Scotia, on June 12 (and thanks to all who made this possible).
By Sue Deschene, Shelburne
Claudia, a human rights lawyer and advocate with the Popular Feminist Organization in Colombia, and Lucy, women’s project coordinator with the Wi’am Palestinian Conflict Resolution Center in Bethlehem, told us their stories, and in so doing exemplify women of courage. Undoubtedly at great personal risk, they stand up for human rights and speak publicly about the abuses that have taken place in their respective homelands. I have deep admiration and respect for what they and their agencies are doing to help people who are living in a climate of fear, uncertainty and violence.
For better or worse, Egypt has been in the news lately, and more at the forefront of my awareness. (The image of bulldozers crushing entire neighbourhoods is a hard one to forget.) But as Claudia pointed out, many people mistakenly believe that Colombia is at peace. We have not kept track of the abuses still taking place there.
Claudia’s organization has discovered a high incidence of sexual violence and rape inflicted by paramilitary forces, and yet not one member of a paramilitary group has faced a charge. In Colombia, it is the victim’s responsibility, not the state’s, to prove that they were victimized. So women there live in constant fear of being attacked. And, once they are, they are unable to bring any sort of legal action against their attackers. This allows the violence to continue unabated.
As it does in Bethlehem, where a terrible form of colonialism done in the name of security is reducing Palestinian homes to rubble. Summing up her thoughts on the plight of her people, Lucy noted that she is not asking us to choose sides, to be pro-Israeli or pro-Palestinian, but simply to be pro-human being.
As the women spoke, I was struck by something: There are distinct parallels between the experiences they related and the experiences of women the world over. The struggles of women, children, people of various ethnicities, religions, skin colours, socioeconomic classes, sexual orientations – anyone viewed as “the other” by a society – is in grave danger of losing his or her rights. To what extent this happens is a matter of degree, depending on where in the world we focus and which “group” is targeted.
So much of what Claudia and Lucy spoke about moved me and everyone in the audience. But what we found especially poignant was each woman’s answer when asked why they do the work they do. Their answers reflect the depth of their courage. Claudia’s reply: “It is better to live in fear than to stop living because of fear.” For Lucy, it was a Gandhi quote that forever changed her attitude about revenge: “An eye for an eye … makes the whole world blind.”