Center on Reproductive Rights and Justice
University of California, Berkeley School of Law
2850 Telegraph Avenue, Suite 500
Berkeley, CA 94705-7220
Shana Swiss, MD, a public health physician, is the founder and director of Women’s Rights International (WRI). For the past 20 years she has worked with women and girls living in countries in conflict and political violence including the former Yugoslavia, Liberia, Haiti and Sri Lanka.
WRI supports the local documentation of human rights violations through a transformative process that enables rural women to be the documentarians and researchers of the health and social consequences of war. In this collaborative process local women are the initiators and owners of the research and link their documentation with the development of long-term programs that promote justice and healing.
Ethical and safety considerations are in the forefront of WRI’s work with communities. They have developed tools, such as data security and monitoring plans, for promoting ethical relationships between local, national, and international organizations that collect or have access to human rights data and other sensitive information.
Shana has co-authored “Rape as a Crime of War: A Medical Perspective,” and “Violence Against Women During the Liberian Civil Conflict,” (in Journal of the American Medical Association), “Supporting Local Efforts to Document Human Rights Violations in Armed Conflict” (in The Lancet), and “The One God Sent to Stop the Boys from Killing Me: Using Storytelling to Communicate Survey Findings about Liberian Women Living in Displaced-Persons Camps (in Feminism and Psychology).
Women’s Rights International and Voices In Empowering Women (VIEW), a group of nurse-midwives in Liberia, worked together during a decade of civil war. 14 years later, at the invitation of the Liberian Truth and Reconciliation Commission, they opened the Truth Commission’s Women’s Hearings with findings from surveys they conducted during the war. Attended by hundreds of Liberian women, the survey findings were presented first as dramatic plays and then as pictorial graphics so that everyone could understand them. Now VIEW is using those survey findings to advocate for policy changes at the Ministries of Health and Education.
The short film, True Heroes of Liberia, documents Liberian women’s creative and powerful participation in transitional justice mechanisms and shows how local documentation of human rights violations can lead to accountability, justice, and healing and can build a strong, vibrant, grassroots movement that can protect women's human rights (www.womens-rights.org).
In 2012, Shana will work in partnership with a consortium of local organizations in Northern Uganda to document the impact of the decades-long conflict and the healthcare and socioeconomic needs in the region. This information will locate where health interventions are most needed and ensure that the voices of survivors and their communities are heard in local and national discussions of accountability and reparations.