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Connection, Laughter, and Collective Visioning

For five days in July, representatives of women’s organizations, human rights groups, and community leaders from Equitas’ international programs came together for Equitas’ first International Learning Event in Montreal. Partners travelled from Burkina Faso, Haiti, Kenya, Senegal, Tanzania, and Tunisia to connect with Equitas staff for five days of collective learning. It was an intensive but joyful week and, while diving into good practices in human rights education to advance gender equality, everyone also had fun, laughed, danced, and connected with one another.  

Throughout the week, partners and staff shared the innovative practices that their teams are applying and cultivating in their respective communities with the goal of advancing gender equality through human rights education. These range from integrating a trauma-informed approach into human rights education activities that address gender-based violence, especially sexual violence, to incorporating gender-sensitive budgeting into planning to enable more meaningful participation of community members. The seven practices which were explored are works in progress and so, teams also reflected on lessons learned and emerging issues and opportunities in order to develop a vision of how they could move forward with their goal of sustainably advancing gender equality. 

Together, partners and staff sought to define the changes that they’d like to see in their communities and the role of human rights education within this. The conversation was framed around how we can take action to advance gender equality through human rights education. This is the key question that gathered 36 individuals from 12 international teams to share lessons and insights.  

When sharing what the main gender inequalities are in the countries of partners and staff; it was widely agreed upon that patriarchal norms are at the root of inequalities in any context. For example, these fuel intimate partner violence and sexual harassment in Canada. Patriarchal structures and norms perpetuate the belief that women are inferior and this manifests within spaces such as in households, schools, politics, and the media. As a partner from Tanzania emphasized, this societal belief reinforced by stereotypes makes women feel that ‘’they are nothing.’’ Over time, this view becomes internalized and they accept this lack of autonomy imposed on them. Many of the human rights activities carried out by the partners seek to dismantle these discriminatory social dynamics and aim to reinforce women and girl’s self-esteem and confidence. It is an often-overlooked aspect of pursuing gender equality – human rights education helps people to not only know their own rights but also to trust their own voice and capacity to demand equality. 

Partners and staff also collectively brainstormed the changes that they want to see and which actions are necessary for these changes to happen. For instance, many expressed that numbers and quotas are important but that one needs to advocate going beyond these to ensure that women are actually able to meaningfully and effectively participate in decision-making spaces. Additionally, it was emphasized that gender equality is not an issue that only belongs to women and girls, it also should also be held by men and those who don’t identify with this binary system. It is important that everyone is able to believe in and take ownership of gender rights, as patriarchal norms affect everyone. Human rights education can play an important role in facilitating this common understanding.  

Human rights education has been defined by the United Nations as being education about, through, and for human rights. But it’s more than just that. Human rights education helps to humanize experiences and identities, to build connections and support networks, and to collaboratively understand our diverse perspectives. Human rights education plays an important role in empowerment and liberation. During a discussion, one partner borrowed from Bob Marley’s ‘Redemption Song’ and stated: “Emancipate yourself from mental slavery because none but ourselves can free our mind.” This international learning event was emblematic of this transformative process of collective learning and empowerment and everyone left with a renewed sense of energy and hope.