Law graduate, human rights educator and the youngest person to have been elected as a board member of Amnesty Algeria (2016), Ikram says that her mission in life is to take action to fight injustice and to stand up for human rights. Here, she shares her journey into human rights with us, and explains the importance of inspiring stories for activists who want to make a change.
Ikram’s journey into human rights began the summer she graduated from high school. Still unsure what she wanted to do next, she started noticing more and more human rights violations around her, in her hometown of Oran, Algeria. “I was spending the summer at home and suddenly, I started noticing a lot of harassment against women, women being mistreated, their rights being violated. That summer I also streamed the movie ‘The Lady’, about Aung Sung Suu Kyi, the political prisoner that Amnesty International had worked to release. I got goose bumps watching that movie; it was empowering to see such a big movement all around the world, working to bring justice for one person. I thought, I wish we had Amnesty in Algeria – I had no idea that Amnesty Algeria even existed.”
The inspiring story behind the film led Ikram to joining an Amnesty reading club based in Canada. Speaking to fellow readers and activists, she soon discovered that there was indeed an Amnesty section in Algeria and immediately joined the movement, sending them a message to express her interest. She was invited to her first human rights training in Algiers, and has never looked back since.
The human rights facilitator training was unlike any learning experience Ikram had had before. “What I learned in those trainings cannot be compared to what I learnt at university. I felt like I had discovered what I really wanted to do, what my purpose was in life: educating people about their rights, fighting injustice, standing up for those who cannot speak about their rights, the oppressed and isolated.”
Through role-play, debate and discussion, these first trainings helped Ikram empathise with stories of human rights violations and consider how she could help make a change, especially in her own country of Algeria. “Different ideas were brought to the table. It opened our eyes to see things differently, and to understand how much work there still needs to be done.” Empowered by her first human rights training, Ikram returned to her town and created a group of youth activists in her university. At first, Ikram was the only female member, leading a group of all-male activists. One of her proudest moments was getting more women on board. In just one month, the group grew from just five to 70 activists. She facilitated many national trainings, making sure more young people, and especially women, joined the Amnesty movement. Many of the participants were activists from national organisations that had never heard of Amnesty’s work. “We tried to organise trainings to help them understand the refugee crisis, learn more about international human rights laws and to help them see the world from another angle, which they might have never considered before.”
Ikram continued to attend workshops and training sessions. She applied the exercises she has learnt to the workshops she led with youth activists in Algeria. Some of her favourite exercises include the “stereotype” exercise, where learners are shown images of various individuals and asked to share their first impressions with the rest of the group. The first time Ikram did this exercise, at a regional training of trainers organised in Tunisia by Amnesty International’s Regional Office for the MENA region, she was surprised at how easy it was to fall into the trap of misjudging people based on how they look. Another moving and powerful exercise for Ikram was the role play exercise, where learners would create role-plays to imagine a Syrian refugee’s often dangerous journey to safety. “This exercise was a touching, emotional moment for all of us. We tried to travel in their shoes for a second, and be in their position. Doing the role play really shows you that anyone could find themselves in that position, and reminds you that these people didn’t choose this path for themselves.”
Challenging prejudices and promoting empathy are especially important in Algeria, as Ikram explains, “I have witnessed a huge racism campaign led by some Algerians against Sub-Saharan migrants in recent months, which was followed by the government deporting hundreds of them out of the country.” Determined to raise awareness of the importance of being inclusive and welcoming to refugees, Ikram is currently writing a book about the Syrian refugee crisis. “I am gathering stories from Syrian refugees to open the minds of Algerian people, to show them that anyone could find themselves in the situation of a refugee.”
After Ikram’s trainings, she was called by some Amnesty Algeria colleagues to run for AI Algeria’s executive board elections. “At that time I was just the coordinator for my youth group, I hadn’t even thought of being on the executive board, it was really overwhelming but it was amazing to have so many of my colleagues believe in me.” As a member of the executive board, she says she wanted to continue adding value to people’s lives, especially through promoting human rights education for the youth of Algeria. For Ikram, the empowering training sessions she had taken part in were key to preparing her for her new leadership role. “The training sessions built my confidence and motivated me to take on a leadership role. It is empowering to work alongside other youth activists who are all passionate, motivated and determined to make change. Each one of us had a story to tell and these stories are what make us activists who want to change the world.”
Ikram’s upcoming book is just one of many projects she is involved in, with the aim of raising awareness of human rights violations and promoting human rights education all over Algeria. Her choice to study law was motivated by the same wish to make a change in her community. She hopes to combine her two interests, law and human rights, and become a legislator in Algeria, to influence policies and make sure lawmakers take into account the needs of the most vulnerable. “I have this philosophy in life: as human beings, we can be a source of sadness and struggle for one another, or we can be a source of happiness and empowerment. I chose to be in the latter category, because that is the kind of energy our world needs.”