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Irene Fernandez Our Sister in Struggle

The International Women’s Alliance pays its highest tribute to Irene Fernandez, our sister in anti-imperialist struggle as we mourn her passing. We honor the full life of service to the oppressed and exploited peoples of the world that she has led. We hope that her life and work inspires women of the world to struggle against injustice, discrimination, exploitation, and oppression.

As a fighter for the genuine national and social liberation of women she persevered in working with different women’s groups in Malaysia, the Asia Pacific Region, and internationally.

She led campaigns to stop violence against women in 1986. The All Women’s Action Society, of which Fernandez was president for five years, was established as a result of these campaigns. That same year, she was a founding member of the Asia Pacific Forum on Women, Law and Development (APWLD) where she served as director for ten years. She was the director and co-founder of Tenaganita in Malaysia an organization that protects and promotes women’s and migrants’ rights. Her organization rescues and provides services for trafficked women.

In 1995, Fernandez published a report on the living conditions of migrant workers, entitled “Abuse, Torture and Dehumanised Conditions of Migrant Workers in Detention Centers”. The report details the abuse of migrant workers that includes malnutrition, physical and sexual abuse and the appalling conditions that workers endure, and set out the facts about the detention camps where they end up and where many of them die. She was harassed—legally and otherwise, by the Malaysian government for 13 years because of this report, only having been acquitted in 2008. Despite this, her struggle was never hampered nor her principles blunted. She continued to participate in mass actions and actively took part in international work with other activists.

In 2005 she received the Right Livelihood Award, dubbed the ‘Alternative Nobel Prize’, for “her outstanding and courageous work to stop violence against women and abuses of migrant and poor workers.”

She was a juror in the 2005 Asian Women’s Tribunal that found the World Trade Organization (WTO) “guilty of numerous crimes against rural women”. She participated in many anti-imperialist struggles of women, migrants, peasants, and workers.

Her memory will forever be etched in the minds and hearts of the countless women and other marginalized sectors she has touched. May her life and work of anti-imperialist struggle and service to the world’s oppressed and exploited people find new life in the women, youth, indigenous peoples, professionals, urban poor, fisherfolk, peasants, and workers who continue to struggle for genuine national and social liberation.

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