Forming the National Women's Rights Network

By Marsha Reid, Convenor of the WA Women’s Rights Group

Amnesty has done incredible work over the years championing women’s rights, and I was honoured to have the opportunity to strengthen the organisation’s work and commitment to women’s rights and consequently shape its strategic direction at this year’s National Annual General Meeting (NAGM).

NAGM is one of Amnesty International Australia’s most important decision-making meetings. It’s a chance to meet other supporters and members who make up the grassroots movement, learn more about Amnesty’s work and vision and acquire knowledge and new skills in governance. It’s also a chance to have a say in the organisation’s future direction — for example by electing board members, or asking Amnesty to consider taking a position or action on a local, national, or global issue.

Coming together for women’s rights

As Convenor of the WA Women’s Rights Group, I couldn’t bypass the opportunity to participate at NAGM and ask AIA to strengthen the organisation’s work advancing women’s rights. My desire to ask was driven by the challenges I faced building the WA Women’s Rights Group’s skills and capacity for robust grassroots activism and advocacy. The WA Women’s Rights Group felt that in 2017, it was important that AIA once again develop a dedicated women’s rights campaign (like it had in 2014 during the Stop Violence Against Women campaign) in addition to supporting our current activism and advocacy.

However, heeding the idiom ‘strength in numbers’, we decided early in the year to reach out to Amnesty women’s rights groups and activists from other regions — such as Victoria, the ACT, and Tasmania — to see if they a) had similar experiences, challenges, and opinions and b) wanted to work with us as a unified group and collectively ask AIA to strengthen its continued support and commitment to women’s rights.

We quickly discovered both consensus and excitement to have our voices heard collectively as women’s rights activists.

Subsequent conversations, networking, and burgeoning friendships led us to establish the AIA National Women’s Rights Network in April 2017. The Network is a forum for Amnesty women’s rights activists across Australia to communicate, collaborate, share ideas, and support one another as we promote and defend women’s rights locally, nationally, and globally.

Taking resolutions to NAGM

We drafted and submitted for consideration two resolutions asking AIA to support the Network and Amnesty women’s rights groups in our work defending women’s rights, effectively implement a clear gender mainstreaming policy to be applied to relevant AIA activities, and consult with the Network and other relevant stakeholders to create a national priority campaign for women’s rights following the 2020 Vision.

The process of drafting and submitting our resolutions to NAGM was truly a collaborative effort. Numerous email chains, phone calls, face to face meetings, and late evening (or early morning) teleconferences tell the story behind those resolutions!

But none of that prepared us for the incredible amount of respect and support that Network member Jen Guha and I received when we attended NAGM and presented the Network’s resolution to members, supporters, and the National Board. The interest in and enthusiasm for our resolutions was humbling, and when they were passed by consensus, it was the culmination of several month’s hard work and a huge win for Amnesty women’s rights activists.

A unified movement

It was over the course of NAGM that I realised NAGM is so much more than a decision-making meeting about the processes and structures of AIA. NAGM is about the incredible awe-inspiring people I met from all walks of life across the country, working together towards a common cause. It is these people who make up AIA’s amazing movement — a movement whose strength lies in its numbers and diversity, unified by its passion and commitment to defending human rights.

While I am honoured by the opportunity to attend NAGM and shape its direction with regards to women’s rights, I am even more honoured to be part of such a mass movement of people. And it all started because of the desire to ask.