Karima Bennoune on Women’s Human Rights

March 11th, 2019

Karima Bennoune on Women’s Human Rights

Don't miss Karima Bennoune at the 2019 Simmons Leadership Conference!

A longtime human rights advocate and former legal advisor to Amnesty International, Karima Bennoune made it her mission to shine a light on the many people of Muslim heritage—particularly women—who are working to combat both extremism and anti-Muslim discrimination.

Which female leader do you most admire? Why?

I admire many female leaders and wish I could list them all here. However, I want to mention one in particular whom I greatly esteem: Cherifa Kheddar, the President of Djazairouna, the Algerian Association of Victims of Islamist Terrorism. She also is active in the National Observatory on violence against women. I had the honor of telling her story, along with that of so many other women human rights defenders, in my book: Your Fatwa Does Not Apply Here: Untold Stories from the Fight Against Muslim Fundamentalism

As many as 200,000 people may have been killed during Algeria’s “dark decade” of the 1990s, many of them by fundamentalist terror groups like the Armed Islamic Groups (GIA), the Daesh of the 90s. The area where Kheddar lives was the hardest hit by that violence, and known as the “Triangle of Death.” Cherifa’s businessman brother Mohamed Redha and her sister, a lawyer, Leila, were both killed by the GIA at the family home after a terrible siege, targeted for their opposition to extremists. Rather than giving in to grief, several months later, with the families of other victims, Cherifa Kheddar founded Djazairouna. The objective was to stand in support of other families who were suffering the same way. At first, they attended funerals of those killed by armed groups en masse because sometimes no one went out of fear of being targeted themselves. 

Today, they continue the work of providing material support to victims, documenting the abuses of the 90s and continuing to call for justice, as well as carrying out human rights education work, including related to women’s rights. 

Cherifa Kheddar is brave and determined, looking to preserve the history of Algeria’s difficult past, but also to build a better future through participating with many other women in today’s pro-democracy protests.

What major issue do you think women should focus on to effect change?

To move forward on women’s human rights today, we have to confront the challenge of diverse forms of fundamentalism and extremism that are on the rise in so many parts of the world, including in the United States. Fundamentalist and extremist ideologies and the movements and governments that espouse them seek to roll back advances achieved in securing women’s equality, aim to block further advances, and try to penalize and stigmatize women human rights defenders promoting such critical efforts. 

Such anti-rights trends, whether on the part of States or non-State actors, must be met with a vigorous international human rights-based challenge. This must center on women’s human rights. There is no way to achieve gender equality by 2030, as committed to in the Sustainable Development Goals, without addressing the human rights impacts of fundamentalism and extremism. 

Fill in the blank. People would be surprised to know that I…

own a karaoke machine.

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