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Dr. Susan Sage Heinzelman, Director 2505 University Avenue, A4900, Burdine Hall 536, Austin Texas 78712 • 512-471-5765

Austin Activist Guide

womens rights

An Internet search for “women’s human rights” organizations in greater Austin would likely yield few results; local groups often define their mission in the realm of social justice, or in specific topics such as immigrant rights, prisoner rights, or worker rights. Community groups might not describe their work as human rights for a variety of reasons. “Universal” human rights have been critiqued as a hegemonic, normative framework that privileges Western secular values.1 In the United States, human rights violations have often been used to criticize countries without the same level of economic or political clout,2 and they have increasingly been employed to justify military humanitarian intervention.3 Community organizations might also not define their mission as human rights because it tends to locate their activism within the legalistic realm, and many consider the law limited in its ability to foster transformative change.4 Given the many critiques of the human rights, local groups might determine that employing this framework could prove counterproductive in efforts to build grassroots movements.

However, despite the “dark sides”5 of rights-based advocacy, universal human rights has created an institutional mechanism with which to effect important change and to save persons from harm. For these reasons, the Embrey Women’s Human Rights Initiative (EWHRI) maintains human rights can remain a useful framework when:

1) international human actors seek to build collaborative dialogue with local groups and persons most affected by violations,

2) activists reflect upon their own positioning in relation to the those they seek to assist, and

3) they recognize how gender, race, class, and ethnicity often intersect in the creation of various rights violations.6

The Guide

The EWHRI Guide to Local Activism on Women, Gender, and Human Rights contains descriptions of Austin-based organizations that have instituted a vision of rights-based advocacy that the EWHRI upholds. While EWHRI endorses the activist methods employed by these organizations, it also continues to learn from them how to work for more equitable and safer communities. The groups listed in this guide demonstrate that EWHRI envisions a broad definition of advocacy that addresses women, gender, and human rights. To help readers navigate the list, the guide includes categories that describe how the EWHRI sees these organizations as working on these issues, and a description of how the categories have been determined. The guide also lists the organizations in alphabetical order and includes a bibliography of texts that support a critical engagement with rights-based advocacy.


EWHRI has created this guide as part of its continuous efforts to bridge academia with activism and to assist faculty and students in engaging in the contradictions often embedded in this type of work. As this guide continues to evolve, the EWHRI welcomes feedback and recommendations of community groups to add to the list. If you have a comment regarding the guide, please contact Dr. Kristen Hogan, Director of the EWHRI, at, or Lydia Crafts Putnam, Graduate Student in Women’s and Gender Studies at

1 David Kennedy, The Dark Side of Virtue (Princeton and Oxford: Princeton University Press, 2004) 18

2 Kennedy, The Dark Side of Virtue, 20

3 Karen Engle, “Calling in the Troops: The Uneasy Relationship among Women’s Rights, Human Rights, and Humanitarian Intervention,” Harvard Human Rights Journal 20 (2007) 189-226

4 Wendy Brown, Left Legalism/Left Critique (Durham and London: Duke University Press: 2002) 422

5 Kennedy, The Dark Sides of Virtue, 3

6 Combahee River Collective, “The Combahee River Collective Statement,” in This Bridge Called My Back edited by Cherrie Moraga and Gloria Anzaldua, (New York: Kitchen Table: Women of Color Press, 1981) 210-8

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