Women of conscience
By Tracy Sorensen
SYDNEY — About 80 people turned out to an Amnesty International public meeting on March 20 to hear accounts of women's social and political struggles around the world, and the repression against them. While many of the stories were harrowing, there was also hope in stories of survival and successful campaigns for the release of women prisoners.
The meeting, held in the Pitt Street Uniting Church, was called by the AI Women's Network as part of its 1992 special campaign to expose rape as a method of torture of women around the world.
According to Amnesty, rape is used to coerce, degrade, extract confessions and punish, while governments around the world refuse to recognise that such acts are serious human rights violations.
Women's Network member Vivien Langford told Green Left that the issue of rape as torture was a "hard subject to talk about" but that her group was strengthened by reports of success: last year, for example, AI was instrumental in the release of 60 women political prisoners in Syria.
South African-born actress Barbara Abrahams, soon to perform at Sydney's Belvoir Street Theatre, spoke of the enormous strength of South African women.
Robin Bowles, who counsels trauma and torture survivors, recounted the experiences of a Cambodian woman under the Khmer Rouge and her effort to create a new life for herself. "Sometimes the human spirit can survive the most awful events and tortures", said Bowles.
Labor MP Jeannette McHugh spoke of the day she had walked with 5000 women across the demarcation line between the Greek and Turkish parts of Cyprus. She said the "solidarity of women and the incredible power that's unleashed when women get together and try to do something" should never be underestimated.
The meeting also heard from the poet Anne Fairbairn, who gave a first-hand account conditions in Iraq after the Gulf War. Anyone interested in joining the Women's Network can ring Amnesty on (02) 281 4188 or Vivien Langford on 331 5986.