By Guest Authors Anita McKone and Robert J. Burrowes
Note from Kathie MM: Anita McKone and Robert J. Burrowes are life-long peace and justice advocates. They were featured in Kathie MM and Tony Marcella’s recent series, dedicated to Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. , on peace activists. Today, Anita and Robert begin a guest series with inspiring stories of Nonviolence Charter members.
Ella Polyakova is the key figure at Soldiers’ Mothers of Saint-Petersburg in Russia. In Ella’s words: “When we were creating our organization, we understood that people knew little about their rights, enshrined in Russia’s Constitution, that the concept of ‘human dignity’ had almost disappeared, that no one had been working with the problems of common people, let alone those of conscripts. We clearly understood what a soldier in the Russian army was – a mere cog in the state machine, yet with an assault rifle. We felt how important hope, self-confidence and trust were for every person. At the beginning of our journey, we saw that people around us, as a rule, did not even know what it meant to feel free. It was obvious for us that the path towards freedom and the attainment of dignity was going through enlightenment. Therefore, our organization’s mission is to enlighten people around us. Social work is all about showing, explaining, proving things to people, it is about convincing them. Having equipped ourselves with the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and Russia’s Constitution, we started to demolish this dispossession belt between citizens and their rights. It was necessary to make sure that people clearly understood that, having a good knowledge of rights, laws, and situations at hand, they would be able to take responsibility and protect themselves from abuse.”
Lily Thapa is the inspirational founder president, in 1994, of Women for Human Rights, a single women group (WHR) in Nepal. WHR is an NGO ‘dedicated to creating an active network of single women on a regional, national, and international level. By working exclusively with and for them, WHR is dedicated to addressing the rights of single women and creating a just and equitable society where the lives of single women are strengthened and empowered. “Rejecting the label ‘widow’, WHR ‘issued a national declaration to use the term ‘single women’ instead of ‘widow.’ The word ‘widow’ (‘Bidhwa’ in Nepali) carries negativity and disdainful societal views, which leaves many single women feeling humiliated and distressed.” Working to empower women economically, politically, socially, and culturally in order to live dignified lives and enjoy the value of human rights, WHR works at the grassroots, district, regional, national, South Asian, and international levels. Lily has pointed out that there are “285 million single women in the world; among them 115 million fall below the poverty line and 38 million conflict-affected single women have no access to justice; these women are last.” Recently, Lily was awarded the South Asian ‘Dayawati Modi Stree Shakti Samman’, which is “presented annually to a woman who has dared to dream and has the capability to translate that dream into reality.”
Christophe Nyambatsi Mutaka is the key figure at the Groupe Martin Luther King, which promotes active nonviolence, human rights, and peace. The group is based in Goma in the eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) in central Africa, and focuses particularly on reducing sexual and other violence against women.