“Poverty is actually about deprivation, it’s about discrimination, it’s about insecurity and it’s about not having a voice,” she said. Khan used examples from her global experience to demonstrate why Amnesty considers poverty a human rights issue. In South Africa, a woman died at the hands of her abusive husband before she could file a protection order at her local magistrate because she could not afford bus fare. “If you look from the perspective of the survivor or the victim or the individual, then you get a very different understanding of human rights than when we listen to politicians or even when we read our human rights texts and treaties,” she said.

In Khan’s book, “The Unheard Truth: Poverty and Human Rights,” she argues that poverty is not about economics, but about power. Amnesty’s Demand Dignity Campaign is about empowering all victims of human rights abuses, including victims of poverty.

 “Human rights are really rules to regulate power,” Khan said. “It’s to regulate power for the benefit of all of us – and particularly for the powerless.”

Khan is the first woman, the first Asian, Bangladeshi and first Muslim to hold Amnesty's highest leadership position. She grew up in a relatively wealthy family in what was then the eastern, Bengali-speaking wing of Pakistan (now Bangladesh), which was racked by poverty.Khan's activist viewpoint was shaped by human rights abuses during the Bangladesh Liberation War, where Bangladesh achieved independence.

In her first year as Amnesty's leader in 2001, Khan reformed Amnesty's response to crisis situations and initiated a global campaign against violence toward women. Seventy percent of the world’s poor are women and girls, she said. Khan’s visit to the University was partly supported by the Office of International Education, Women Involved in Living and Learning and the Westhampton College dean's office, which collaborates with the Jepson School of Leadership Studies on occasional "women in leadership" programs.

The forum is an annual speaker series organized by the Jepson School of Leadership Studies.

Watch the video of Irene Khan's speech here


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