Sammoda writes about Bodha’s (Chris Crowstaff) and his challenging work for a ‘Safe World for Women’.
In July 2013, Chris Crowstaff stood at the United Nations in Geneva, and dedicated an award she had just received to the memory of a young Pakistani women’s rights activist, who was murdered the year before. “It was surreal. Not just being at the UN in Geneva, but talking about a woman I had never met but who I felt very close to.”
The journey to the UN, and the dedication of the award, is a story of love. Not the love of romantic fiction, the love that happens when you open your heart to the world.
The story of The Safeworld International Foundation has many beginnings.
It may have begun seven years ago, when Chris’s baby Roderik died. It may have been a series of workshops at a retreat centre on the moors in Devon. It may have begun when a dying 87-year-old woman talked passionately about the potential of women to bring a different perspective to the world.
The practical beginnings are easier to explain.
In 2008, Chris and a friend in Spain set up an online community for women – Women for a Change. Its purpose: to bring together women from diverse cultures and backgrounds, to connect women in need with women who care. The community grew in many unexpected directions. In particular, friendships and contacts were made with women’s groups in Uganda and the Middle East, which led to Chris and I visiting Israel, Palestine, Jordan and the remotest regions of Uganda.
By 2010, the organisation had become ‘Safe World for Women’ – with projects ranging from advocacy and publishing, to giving a global platform to grassroots women’s groups in the developing world.
Through high profile campaigning work on social media, against gender violence and human trafficking, we developed an active following. And so, one day on Twitter, we received a simple message asking for help for a young American woman, Sarah Shourd, who was being held in solitary confinement in Iran.
What began as simple online advocacy grew to take over our lives. The story of Sarah and her activist fiancé and friend, victims of geo-political turmoil, became the story of our initiation into a darker world of intrigue and power-play. The challenges were enormous. Sarah was still being held in solitary confinement; Iran and the USA hadn’t spoken directly for decades and the families were struggling to keep the story in the public eye.
Working closely with the families, we made impassioned videos and campaigned ceaselessly. We spoke with Amnesty International, the United Nations, and experts in hostage negotiation, seeking information, advice and help. As the campaign gathered momentum, we arranged for two of the mothers to come to the UK and France for a media tour; and in the process connected with a world of people who wanted to help, from all walks of life, including reporters from mainstream newspapers and television.
The combination of concerned voices throughout the world, in the end, forced diplomacy to come into play. And so, in September 2010, we were able to watch, in almost disbelief, as television channels around the world showed Sarah finally coming off a plane in Oman into the arms of her mother.
The campaign for Sarah had opened our eyes to the fact that the seemingly impossible can happen. We now began campaigning for other prisoners.
Another highlight was the release of an Iranian teenage blogger on Christmas day. It had been expected that Sarah’s friends would be released soon after her. But that was not to be. Again, it seemed that something more was needed.
The following summer, we arranged a UK media tour for Sarah. When Shane Bauer and Josh Fattal were finally released a few weeks later, we also felt freed. And the next chapter in our lives was able to begin.
By now, we had grassroots field partners throughout Africa and Asia, including DR Congo, Afghanistan, Pakistan and the Thai-Burma border; each of them facing their own challenges.
Meanwhile, we had also expanded our advocacy work against gender-based violence, joining forces with other global organisations such as Oxfam and Women for Women International in specific high profile campaigns.
For International Women’s Day in 2012 our Field Partners organised celebrations throughout the world.
In May 2012, we were astonished to receive an email saying that we’d been nominated for a major award. A panel of experts would be watching and assessing us over the next several months.
The elation was short-lived. Barely six weeks later, we heard the devastating news that the co-founder of one of our field partners in Pakistan, SAWERA, had been assassinated. We had never met Farida Afridi but her passion for bringing education and empowerment to women in the tribal regions of Pakistan also empowered and inspired our lives. Her death was a reality call for us.
Our work with SAWERA was, in a way, in complete contrast to our high level campaigning and advocacy work for Sarah Shourd. The assassination of Farida Afridi went almost unnoticed by the world’s media.
Four months later when we heard that we’d been shortlisted for the Gender Equality award, we promised our friends in Pakistan that, if we won, we would dedicate the award to Farida.
In July this year, we received our award in the plush, busy, hectic world of power and diplomacy – the UN in Geneva. And we were able to keep our promise.
We were also able to pay tribute to the amazing work of some of our other field partners, through a short video that we’d been asked to make.
Our work continues to grow rapidly in many different directions. We are still on an unknown journey and we never know where it will take us next.
We get our inspiration from thousands of supporters and friends throughout the world. Our team of volunteers make the seemingly impossible happen. From raising money for urgent appeals for our field partners, to the day-to-day intricacies of running a large, online organisation.
Sadly the advocacy and campaigning work never stops. Just recently we were asked to take up the campaign of a woman journalist, Reeyo Alemu, who is imprisoned in Ethiopia.
And so the cycle continues.
The miracle is that everyone gives their time for free and our ‘base’ is a small cottage in rural England.
Chris Crowstaff took sannyas in 2007 and became Gyan Bodha. The following year she set up ‘Safe World for Women’. She is married with two teenage children who are both sannyasins. She lives and works with her husband Dhyan Sammoda (Andrew Sampson) in the depths of the English countryside. Sammoda took sannyas in 1982. He lived and worked in Copenhagen, Cologne, Munich and Pune during the Osho commune days. www.asafeworldforwomen.org