She told me her husband was going to kill her in five days. I sat across from a survivor of domestic violence in Mongolia, listening to her tell me that her abusive husband was getting released from jail and that he threatened to find and kill her.
That moment brought home to me that our work at The Advocates for Human Rights not only changes laws, it saves women’s lives. She told me how she had explored every option possible for a domestic violence victim, but all doors were closed to her:
- Her husband had destroyed the marriage certificate, so divorce was out of reach.
- The police had lost all her paperwork, including her handwritten testimony of 20 years of violence, so criminal prosecution was not a viable option.
- An order for protection would not be effective because there is no one to enforce those orders once they are issued.
- She wanted to seek safety, but the nearest shelter was five hours away.
We worked with our partners in Mongolia to produce a hard-hitting report documenting stories like hers, to show the gaps and make recommendations to change the government response. Between this ground-up advocacy from within the country and our top-down advocacy at the United Nations, we applied pressure on the Mongolian government to change their policies. As a result, in 2016 domestic violence became a crime for the first time in Mongolia’s history.
The power of being an ‘upstander’
Working for The Advocates for 13 years has shown me the power of being an “upstander” and taught me how to take action in the face of worldwide injustices. We monitor and document women’s human rights violations, work to change laws, train stakeholders and advocate before the United Nations.
We work to break down the barriers that prevent women from accessing justice and equal protection of the law. We ensure accountability of perpetrators and, most importantly, we work to protect victims.
We’ve witnessed change in countries around the world, including Bulgaria, Croatia, Moldova, Georgia, and, of course, Mongolia. We have analyzed and provided commentary on laws in nearly 30 countries. We ensure laws contain effective core elements, such as an emergency order for protection or the removal of provisions that allow for mediation between the victim and the perpetrator.
We monitor and document how governments respond to violence against women. By interviewing judges, prosecutors, police, NGOs (non-governmental organizations), health care personnel, social workers, officials and survivors, we evaluate how governments fall short of the international standards.
Fixing the barriers
We identify the reasons why violations are happening and make recommendations on how to fix the barriers — such as the changes in domestic violence laws in Bulgaria.
After one of our domestic violence trainings in Moldova, a 20-year veteran prosecutor said, “We didn’t know how to apply our law. In three days, you answered many of our questions. I [am now] convinced that when a victim goes to the police, she is not lying.”
We believe it is critical to partner with women’s in-country NGOs. They know best the dynamics of their country, who their allies are and how best to drive change. This holistic approach has the most effective impact on changing, strengthening and monitoring laws and integrating best practices for the protection of women’s human rights. Change happens from the ground up.
We choose to be “upstanders.” We are committed to standing up for all women at every level — from our in-country partners to the United Nations council. By doing so, we amplify these women’s voices to the world and make it a better, safer place for all.
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If you’re interested in joining the discussion, add your voice to the Comment section below — or consider writing a letter or a longer-form Community Voices commentary. (For more information about Community Voices, email Susan Albright at email@example.com.)