Guest blog by ActionAid Australia Intern Vanessa Cavuto Sajben.
I dream about a world where everybody is treated equally and enjoys the right to a life of dignity and freedom from all forms of oppression.
Growing up in Brazil, I was able to see closely how social injustice brings down not only those directly affected, but also all of us. Violence and economic insecurity are just a few of so many other issues that the majority of people in the world face every day.
Another concern of mine is environmental injustice that affects mostly poor communities and, our future generations. It is how they say: only when the last tree has been cut down that we realise that we cannot breathe money. It really hurts me to know that while some of us are able to aim for a healthier lifestyle and intake minimum of 2 litres of water per day, almost 2 billion people in the world don’t even have access to adequate water to survive.
Another matter that has always brought me down is gender inequality. The way that our patriarchal society treats women with conventional patterns of marginalisation, means women are often challenged with power imbalances, exclusion and oppression. I remember being a feminist since I was a little girl. I didn’t have a word for it, but I knew how unsettled gender injustice was for me. Unfortunately feminism has been associated with negative stereotypes, but in reality, feminism is all about justice for everyone. Yet, as we see that women have been forever and often excluded, we have to name the problem – so it is not enough to be humanists, we should all also be feminists.
Eager to change
Wanting to have my voice heard and eager to contribute to changing this inequitable scenario, got me to pursue a Bachelor in Journalism and gave me the chance to be involved as an activist with community and volunteering work with underprivileged girls, women and indigenous people in Brazil and South Africa, as well environmental care in Australia and Europe.
Living in Australia for the last decade and being passionate about nature and human rights, I decided to do a Master in Cultural Studies. Focusing on gender studies and the environment, I have always wanted to work in an NGO that would address these issues, but I never thought I could be placed as an intern in such a suitable and perfect match as ActionAid. Guided by feminist values and analysis, ActionAid encompasses my beliefs, as it recognises that patriarchy and poverty are inextricably connected and accepts that a feminist approach is crucial to ending injustice and poverty.
The last couple of months, I have been learning and helping them through different tasks from various parts of the organisation, such as fundraising, researching, campaigning and communications, and it has all been an invaluable experience for me.
Among other tasks, I have been assigned to do research on women’s right and climate justice for the development of a policy brief, and from this assignment, I have had the opportunity to examine how much of a difference NGOs really make to the world. While drafting and writing the policy brief, I had the chance to analyse some case studies and data that showed me how much advancement and extraordinary achievements that NGOs, and especially ActionAid, have made in recent times. Particularly on the topic of human rights and climate justice, where women are mostly at the forefront of abuse in conflict situations, statistics have showed significant positive outcomes.
I was also able to be part of a lobbying trip to Parliament House in Canberra to meet with politicians and demand a Human Rights Watchdog. It was part of a national campaign promoted by ActionAid Australia to advocate for climate and economic justice for women. As for me, it was a great opportunity to speak out and to have the chance to represent the voice of so many others.
My time working with ActionAid Australia has been such an empowering experience and has really impacted me. Especially assisting with the final draft report of Undermining Women’s Rights: Australia’s global fossil fuel footprint, in which I’ve learned about the unacceptable situation of local women living in some mining areas, mostly in Africa, and the women’s rights implications of mining. Fossil fuel extraction is entrenching poverty and injustice for women, causing food insecurity, health impacts, environmental pollution, such as poisoning of water supplies and land degradation, increased unpaid labour, and sexual violence due to the influx of male workers.
While working for ActionAid Australia, I was able to confirm the great importance of NGOs in the humanitarian context. The advocacy of NGOs like ActionAid, giving impacted groups power to participate in decision-making and holding duty-bearers accountable to prevent actions that might impede upon human rights is what makes them a critical piece on the justice scenario of the world. Supporting the most vulnerable people to engage with policy makers and empowering them to take actions against those that abuse them is a human rights matter!
ActionAid’s commitment to the needs of those most impacted – in this case women, are not only efficient, but also a powerful way to achieve equality.
I am so grateful that I was able to be part of such an amazing organisation. This whole unforgettable experience definitely made me believe in people, in the power of togetherness. It made me see how we all can help and make things change, no matter how little your help is, it is important. Being surrounding by passionate and like-minded people, as well, seeing each of them achieving their respective and equally important roles, gave me not only hope, but left me inspired to continue to uphold women’s rights, environmental and economic justice.