Spotlight on Yasmeen Hassan, Global Director of Equality Now

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Yasmeen Hassan

Equality Now is pleased to announce the appointment of Yasmeen Hassan to the newly-created position of Global Director. As a valued staff member for more than three years, she most recently served as Deputy Executive Director and Director of Programs in our New York office. Yasmeen is a lawyer with extensive experience in the international women's rights movement and understands in depth each of the organization’s activities on the ground. In her new role, she will be able to increase cooperation, extend knowledge and add efficiency. Below, Yasmeen shares some of her views on activism and Equality Now:

When did you first consider yourself an activist?

I think I always considered myself an activist. Even while growing up in Pakistan’s patriarchal society, I was never afraid to speak my mind. At the age of three, I organized a girls group in pre-school to fight back against the “big” boys who monopolized the playground equipment. The defining moment for me was when I was ten years old and a military dictator Islamized Pakistan’s laws, effectively making women second class citizens and facilitating many abuses against women and girls. I was inspired by the women’s rights movement that sprang up as a result and knew that I would be part of this at least at the national level. I went on to study Islamic law at Harvard Law School to counter the chipping away of women’s rights in the name of religion. I  authored the first study of domestic violence in Pakistan, which ultimately became Pakistan’s submission to the 1995 Fourth World Conference on Women in Beijing.

What do you find most rewarding about working at Equality Now?

I have supported Equality Now since I was first introduced to the organization in 1993, and served as the editor of our inaugural Words & Deeds report on discriminatory laws around the world in 1999. Through the years I’ve realized that Equality Now is the only organization I know of that is working to raise awareness, on an international level, about abuses suffered by women that are often seen as unchangeable parts of individual cultures. The organization is not shy about taking on difficult issues and steadfastly advocating for change, despite strong resistance. I was also drawn to Equality Now because it addresses an issue through the story of one woman, while also working to ensure institutional change for all women and girls. I am thrilled to be a part of this organization and contribute to its essential work.

Equality Now will be celebrating its 20th anniversary next April. What paths do you want to see the organization take in the next 20 years?

I can’t believe that Equality Now is turning 20 already!  Though, when I look at all the achievements over the last 20 years, including, getting women’s rights recognized as human rights; getting the United Nations to take on the issue of sex discriminatory laws and having numerous sex discriminatory laws repealed all over the world; raising international awareness of female genital mutilation as a human rights violation; and highlighting violations against adolescent girls as an international concern, to name a few, I think we have moved mountains.

My immediate concern, in light of the global recession, is the escalation of fundamentalisms around the globe and the resulting backlash against women’s rights.  I already see significant backtracking in several regions, so it is extremely critical that we remain vigilant so as not to lose the hard-fought for gains that have already been made. It is also critical that we not lose sight of the human rights framework, whether in the name of development or cultural relativism.

In the next twenty years, I hope that we will be able to accelerate the momentum for change in the promotion of gender equality by increasing our presence in the Middle-East, Asia and Latin America and by working with grassroots organizations in these regions to help elevate their issues to the international level. In addition, we hope to involve more people of different backgrounds (age, race, gender, economic status) in the call for gender equality around the world. We need to invest in a common language that resonates with diverse people and different ways of taking action that pull in more people. This is a movement that benefits everyone and, as such, everyone should participate!