Letter My People Go | Pittsburgh City Paper

Letter My People Go

Amnesty International writes for rights of women

The numbers are staggering, and the litany never seems to end. In Rwanda, the genocidal civil war of a decade ago saw the rapes of up to 500,000 women. In war-torn Darfur, Sudan, less-publicized horrors include the claiming of girls as young as 8 for sexual slavery. In a country that many Americans have never heard of, Swaziland, high rates of domestic and sexual violence, combined with economic, social and legal discrimination, have bequeathed a rate of HIV/AIDS infection that in 2002 hit 38 percent among pregnant women tested at pregnancy clinics. And Kosovo, from which the world's attention has largely turned, is now a major destination for women and girls abducted or coerced from their homes in Moldova, Bulgaria and Ukraine and sold into slavery or prostitution.


Mexico, Guatemala, Turkey, Spain, China -- these nations too harbor their own grim stories. Few human-rights issues are more commonplace globally than violence against women.


But the struggle against such violence continues, and one locally accessible front is the 19th annual Write-A-Thon of the Pittsburgh branch of Amnesty International. The event, part of Amnesty's Human Rights Day Campaign Against Violence to Women, asks volunteers to write one or more letters to appropriate government officials, seeking redress of such unacceptable conditions: help for Rwandan survivors of sexual violence, the implementation of anti-trafficking legislation in Kosovo, or resources for the special prosecutor investigating the deaths and disappearances of women and girls in two regions of Mexico. For the Write-A-Thon, held at Shadyside's Calvary Episcopal Church, Amnesty supplies pens, paper, envelopes and the information on which to base the letters; participants are asked to help with postage, and to witness this year's 8 p.m. candle-lighting ceremony, with representatives of local women's groups underscoring abuse cases.


The odds against effecting change in such matters might seem as high as the stakes. But human-rights activists -- allied with church, youth and school groups, and more than 1,100 national Amnesty members in the Pittsburgh region -- continue to tout the benefits of letter-writing. Letters written throughout the year, as well as in the convivial yet purposeful atmosphere of the annual Write-A-Thon, make countries aware that others are monitoring their actions. Moreover, prisoners of conscience for whom Amnesty groups have worked have subsequently been released, the group says.


Eve Wider, coordinator of Pittsburgh's Amnesty, says the campaign is "an international effort, dedicated to millions of women around the world who have suffered sexual and other human-rights abuses ... often hidden in silence."