While we head towards International Youth Day on 12th August, Safecity is taking this opportunity to honour women peacebuilders through this series on Women Peacebuilders. We invited women peacebuilders to speak of their experience of using different tools towards peacebuilding in an attempt to showcase the massive change women leaders are bringing towards developing peace and to build collective learnings for those who want to be engaged in peacebuilding processes.
Series curated by Vandita Morarka
Edited by Renita Siqueira
Nishma Jethwa is a human rights lawyer and gender rights advocate. She is Director at Strategic Advocacy for Human Rights and heads its India team, working to improve access to formal and community-based systems of justice. She is also the Strategy Lead at Shiva Foundation, which supports systemic change to tackle human trafficking in the UK and in India.
She has experience working on issues surrounding gender and race, including working at the European Human Rights Advocacy Centre, the International Bar Association’s Human Rights Institute, South Asian Human Rights Documentation Centre and Aman Biradari. She is currently based between London and Mumbai.
- What got you started on your peace journey?
Nishma: Honestly, my interest in social justice work began after I graduated. I was in a privileged enough position to travel to many parts of the world which allowed me to experience and connect with the way different communities find peace and seek justice or freedom from within their own (often tumultuous) contexts. This sparked a series of questions for me around what I was contributing, what concepts like justice, freedom and peace even mean and how I might somehow play a role in that space. Over the years, these ideas have undoubtedly shifted. Something that has made think even more deeply about my role in peacebuilding is the overlapping identities I hold growing up in the Global North but being from the Global South. There’s a lot more to say on that topic but I’ll leave it there for now.
- How have you engaged with the law towards Peacebuilding?
Nishma: If I think about the concept of peacebuilding in my current work at SAHR (Strategic Advocacy for Human Rights), we try to root our work in the historically deep lived realities and daily experiences of the people we work with. This is actually less about the law and more about understanding the legacies of the international human rights frameworks more broadly and the historically settler-colonial logic they emerged out of in the first place. In that sense, it’s about working towards building peace by finding ways to creatively rethink the narrow, universalist, and presumptive logic of much of the existing human rights paradigm. In order for this to be possible, we believe that we must seriously consider what people’s senses of justice actually look like, feel like, and are measured by, beyond what the written law tells us. In short, we are engaging with the law towards peacebuilding by challenging the notion that there is only one way to seek justice and listening to those who seek peace in order to better understand what they need and how we can support that.
- What are the challenges you have faced?
Nishma: Two of the biggest challenges we’ve face is (1) the lack of substantial core funding for small women-led groups generally – we currently work on no core funding at all (2) striking a balance between challenging structures and systems which are often operating with a bias at multiple levels, whilst continuing to work within those same systems for much of our work, for example, the legal system.
- How do you think the law can be leveraged better in everyday life towards Peacebuilding?
Nishma: There are many answers to this but one area I am fascinated by at the moment is how community-based systems for justice might be leveraged better for peacebuilding. I’m thinking things like restorative justice, where people are brought together to look at the deeper roots of an issue with the hope that supported dialogue will genuinely build peace for individuals and communities, rather than only punish. I’d love to explore this further though, if anyone is interested.
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