“Being a human rights defender is challenging and personal. I have faced betrayals and disappointments…But it is worth it.” Alejandra Ancheita The Project on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, A.C. (ProDESC) Founder and Executive Director Alejandra Ancheita is an award-winning attorney and social activist who has championed the rights of immigrants, workers, indigenous communities and women. Her promotion of human rights takes place in Mexican areas that have long been fertile ground for abuses. For her efforts, Ancheita received the prestigious Martin Ennals Award for Human Rights Defenders in 2014. The Geneva-based program is designed to both honor and protect, through publicity, the exemplary human rights advocates whose work puts their lives at risk. “My journey as a human rights defender started when I recognized my privilege and access to a free university education in a country where the majority of people have little to no possibilities…” said Anchieta, who, in 2005, founded The Project on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, A.C. (known as ProDESC). She recalled how her father, an attorney, worked in very marginalized areas even now in Chiapas, Mexico’s southernmost state. “As a young girl, I would go with my father to meetings with indigenous communities who were collectively defending their territory,” she recalled. Anchieta lost her father when she was eight years old, but his example stuck with her. “Being a human rights defender is challenging and personal. I have faced betrayals and disappointments,” she said. “But it is worth it.” Anchieta pursued her goal of protecting marginalized people throughout her law school career, fellowships, postgraduate programs and other work in Mexico and the United States. At a small Chiapas nonprofit supporting indigenous women’s cooperatives, Anchieta saw how increased incomes empowered the women to stand up for their economic, cultural and social rights. “These three rights are the foundation of autonomy,” she said. “It was such a formative process for me, and I brought much of what I learned to ProDESC.” Along the way, Anchieta interned as a lawyer at the Center for Justice and International Law in Washington, D.C. In 2005, she became an international fellow at Columbia University’s School of International and Public Affairs in the program for human right’s advocates, focusing on the defense of economic, social and cultural rights. Later identifying the need for this defense work in her country, she founded ProDESC. Mexico City-based ProDESC focuses on conflicts over land use and ownership with transnational firms, as well as issues of fraudulent visas and forced labor in the United States. “I hope I can be an example for other young women,” she said of her human rights work. “It’s not all pain. It is a very challenging career, but there are many joyful, happy and fun moments in this work. “We must recover and remember that,” she added. “We must recognize those moments every chance we get. Integrate this into our experience as a human rights defender.”
The 32 HIPGivers recognized in 2016 are collectively altering the landscape for our country. They are pushing the envelope by asking for more – more consideration, more awareness, more compassion, more action, more giving.