16 Mar 2020
Women of the IRCT: Aida Alayarian

To mark the 2020 International Women’s Day (8 March), IRCT wants to celebrate the achievements of the many women in the anti-torture and rehabilitation movement. These amazing women dedicate their lives to ensure that torture survivors can be healed and obtain a meaningful life after torture. Over the next weeks IRCT will feature some of these women and ask them what this movement means to them and what's it's like being a woman in the anti-torture sector.

The third in the series is Dr. Aida Alayarian. Aida is chair woman at the Refugee Therapy Centre in London, UK.


Women of the IRCT: Aida Alayarian

How did the Refugee Therapy Centre start?

"The Refugee Therapy Centre was established in 1999 in response to the growing need for a therapeutic service which respected, and worked with, the cultural and linguistic needs of refugees, asylum seekers and destitute who have endured torture and other forms of human right violations. Priority is given to children and young people. The centre main objectives are to provide a safe space in which people can rediscover their abilities and rebuild their confidence to be active members of the community they live in."

Why do you think working in this sector is important?

"The protection of basic human rights. Torture in detention during the interrogation is an archetypal human right violations and detainees are casualties and sufferers. There is a need to strengthen the work at local, national, regional and international level to prevent human rights violations. It is important to work towards all forms of torture prevention as well as rehabilitation. To address these issues effectively we need to look at the root causes of torture and human right violations. We can be effective when we address the economic, social and cultural root, to gain a greater understanding among influential actors and the types of action that can be taken to address these towards eradications and rehabilitations of torture. While we see with our work at the IRCT and other sister organisations progress is being made, we know much still needs to be done to help ensure that governments around the world and policy makers are aware of these factors. We need to continue to seek how best we can contribute to building understanding and to build partnerships with other human rights defenders to enhance not just government knowledge and responsibility, but also, the general public."

Why do you think these problems exist?

"Torture is a strategic means of limiting, controlling, and repressing basic human rights of individuals and communities that is often covert and denied by authorities. Deliberate infliction of pain and suffering, intimidation or coercion on children to obtain a confession or information, for punishment of real or perceived offences, on the basis of discrimination of race, ethnic or political affiliation, is practiced in many places around the world."

How did you become involved in this type of work? What inspired you to continue working for social change?

"Well, I grew up in a family who believes in human rights for all. I became aware of human rights treaties and their ratifications from early adolescence. In my formation years in school I also became aware that human rights violations exist in every corner of the world, and much more for women and more so for women in many Islamic regions. I witnessed women lacked equality, none-religious ostracized as they were perceived badly by the community, excluded and even persecuted and tortured for political views. So, no freedom for such people in general and for women, adding control and constraints. I am sure people hear and read in news about so called honor killing of young woman in Muslim community by their own father, brothers and cousins, and sadly in some cases mothers are also involved to protect the men in the family. So, I soon learned that even in developed countries, discriminations against woman exist. These types of discriminatory agendas combined with social and political repression can be seen in developed and developing countries. Further, we see backlashes against Lesbian rights in countries from Russia to Nigeria. Europe and the US have turned inward and hesitated and have difficulty to emphasize on what was known as the moral ground. Europe struggled with xenophobia in fear of its Muslim communities and US opened up for using torture after 9/11."

How long have you been involved in this work?

"Since I was a young student and more than four decades in human rights activity. I first learned about IRCT when I met with Inge Genefke in the early 90s. Later I was collaborating with Sonia Herrera, a very committed and passionate young woman in IRCT Brussels office and she encouraged me to become member of the IRCT, so, I become more closely involved with the IRCT as the Council Member level in 2006."

What are some of the approaches and methods you use in your work?

"In my clinical work, I have learned from many different theories and approaches’, but my main approach is based on psychoanalysis. I work interculturally and focus on people’s resiliency while also working with people’s vulnerabilities."

What are some of the problems you face in your work as a woman?

"I do not think this field is much different from other fields of work - sexism and gender discrimination exist. The important thing is to not give up but continue. Having said this, in caring professions there are more female than men."

What do you like best about this work?

"Best: is to observe the outcome of support I provide for people who have endured torture and whose basic rights and life is violated. Also, I very much enjoy togetherness and solidarity, love and respects with colleagues around.

Least: is the slow process of change and influencing the policy makers."

Do you consider yourself an activist?

"Well, if an activist is a person who stands up against inequality and campaigns for social change, I will say yes, I am a proud activist. I have been actively involved in protests for political or social cause. My primary concern in my social life has been to directly influence social change by attending public protests, calling for politicians and policy makers to mind the gaps in legislation. Living and balancing ethical ways of being requires compromises, especially when there is lack of power, time and finance to varying degrees."

What are the ways that young women can take effective action for change in the community?

"My message to young women is that you don’t have to wait to be instructed to become active and effective, you can stand against injustice. You can stand for yours and other people rights. You don’t need to wait to be told when you are an adult to become an active member of your community. Your judgement and attitude to justice matters and it should be counted, but only you can voice them for others to hear. Human rights, indeed woman rights, are only of use to you if you are informed about them, and demand for them, look and act on local issues surrounding you, learning what the issues are will help you to think and communicate with others to find solutions that will have an impact. Speak out when you know wrong is done to you or others. When you voice your view, you will find out there are many inspiring other young women like you around the world also wanting to make efforts and initiatives to create change for a better world."

What role do you think women can play in the type of work your organization does?

"Join in campaigning for human right for all. Bringing an issue that could be relevant to them; it might be a global issue that is happening other places. Hosting discussion groups to learn and share your perspectives and views with your peers; contact politicians and decision-makers. Getting connected to local organisations, you can be of great asset to joining a forum for the exchange of ideas."

For more information

International Women's Day (March 8) is a global day celebrating the social, economic, cultural and political achievements of women. The day also marks a call to action for accelerating women's equality.

International Women's Day (IWD) has occurred for well over a century, with the first IWD gathering in 1911 supported by over a million people. Today, IWD belongs to all groups collectively everywhere. IWD is not country, group or organization specific.

To read more, please visit: https://www.internationalwomensday.com/

"My message to young women is that you don’t have to wait to be instructed to become active and effective, you can stand against injustice. You can stand for yours and other people rights. You don’t need to wait to be told when you are an adult to become an active member of your community. Your judgement and attitude to justice matters and it should be counted, but only you can voice them for others to hear."

-Aida Alayarian, Refugee Therapy Centre

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