London, 17 July 2015
On Thursday 16 July the global equality community united as two equal rights activists Pragna Patel of UK women’s organisation Southall Black Sisters and Mauro Cabral of Global Action for Trans Equality were given the inaugural Bob Hepple Equality Award.
Established by the Equal Rights Trust the award celebrates activists whose recognition so far has not matched their outstanding contributions to equality.
On accepting the award, Pragna Patel said: “This award will help to renew our commitment to waging simultaneously, multiple, and overlapping struggles against inequality, hatred and violence and to safeguard the very ideals of social justice, equality and the rule of law, ideals that give human rights their true meaning and universality.”
For over 30 years Southall Black Sisters has led a number of campaigns which have seen the group advance black and Asian feminism in the UK. These campaigns have included supporting abused women who kill in self-defence, changing immigration rules which trapped non-British citizens in forced marriages, and withdrawing advice given by the Law Society to solicitors on the practice of gender discriminatory sharia law.
Likewise, Mauro Cabral has played an invaluable role in promoting equality over the last 20 years for a different community - that of trans and intersex persons.
Cabral was crucial in the process leading to the enactment of Argentina’s Gender Identity Law in 2012, a law which has been extensively cited in court decisions on gender identity cases, including the Indian Supreme Court, and which has inspired legislation reform in countries including Malta, the Netherlands and Sweden.
Last year, after its campaign in collaboration with other organisations, Global Action for Trans Equality helped reform part of the International Classification of Diseases by the World Health Organization which had classified trans and intersex conditions as illnesses.
“As many other intersex activists I started my involvement with the movement because of experiences that until recent times were defined as simply ‘medical’. After more than 20 years we have expropriated that definition, and are putting those normalizing procedures that mutilated our lives where they belong: on a horrific list of human rights violations,” said Cabral.
Both winners also reflected on the struggle ahead and the need to remain grounded, stating that these victories are marginal for what can be achieved in their respective communities.
This message was also emphasised in speeches given by Shami Chakrabarti, Director of Liberty, and Dimitrina Petrova, Executive Director of the Equal Rights Trust, who spoke on the challenges faced by human rights defenders in insecure environments around the world and current threats to human rights in the UK.
Dimitrina Petrova concluded: “The human rights and equality movements are under attack in many countries today and need to adjust their strategies in order to protect those most in danger. Although there are daunting obstacles, there are solutions. And we must reward small steps and partial victories, as these can lead to great change.”