WILPF at CSW59: Women’s Rights to Dignity, Security and Justice: The Rana Plaza Disaster’s Human Consequences and Legal Accountability

Saturday, March 14, 2015
PeaceWomen Consolidated Themes: 
General Women, Peace and Security
United Nation Theme: 

Organised by: Pasos Peace Museum and the International Institute on Peace Education, sponsored by the Biosophical Institute, with the co-sponsorship of CONNECT, the Global Campaign for Peace Education, The Network for Peace through Dialogue, The Peace Education Initiative at The University of Toledo, Remember the Triangle Fire Coalition, Voice of Women for Peace-Canada, and World Council for Curriculum for Curriculum and Instruction, Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom

Panelists/Participants: Betty Reardon, founder and director of the Peace Education Center and Peace Education Graduate Degree Program at Teachers College, Columbia University; Robin Berson; Tiffany Millieon, Pasos Peace Museum; Janet Gerson, International Institute on Peace Education


The event began with an interactive viewing of the quilts commemorating The Rana Plaza Collapse and the Triangle Fire Disaster. Participants were handed a photo with questions to prompt them. While reviewing the two quilts, participants were asked to find the photo on the quilt and also think about the many more women workers who continue to be denied basic human and labour rights. Quilt viewing questions included: what thoughts occur as you look at the face of this person? What might her life been before and during her work in the textile factory? What might have led her/him to the work that cost so many lives? What do you know of the economic circumstances of such textile workers? What should citizens know about their working conditions? What should we look for and take into account when buying clothing produced in such factories?

This was followed by a panel on “Awareness, Education and Action for Justice and Accountability: Opportunities for Civil Society”. Robin Berson, who spearheaded the creation of both quilts, spoke on the background and international process of quilt production. “I didn’t want unrelieved horrors. I didn’t want only images of fire. Why would anybody look at that? I wanted to emphasize what had been lost. The youngest kid was 14; almost nobody was over 22. You just look at these pictures, and it breaks your heart.” Robin walked the room through the production of the quilts and significance of particular panels. Interspersed among a couple dozen portraits of victims are representations of a shirtwaist ad, a notice for a memorial march, pro-union quotes, lyrics for labor anthems such as “Bread and Roses,” and a rendering of families looking for their loved ones amid coffins in a temporary morgue. Robin reached out to fashion design students, who created individual panels for the quilts. The Rana Plaza sister quilt was particularly challenging to create as many of the victims were unable to be identified. In fact, many of the photos of the victims are slightly tattered, as they were taken directly from light posts and the sides of buildings remembering the lost victims.

Tiffany Millieon, from the Pasos Peace Museum, spoke on the process of quilt making in education for human rights and justice. She covered the variety of reasons and uses of quilts throughout history. She presented the Pasos Children’s Rights Quilt Project, which provides a real and virtual space for students from all over the globe to learn about the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child. Students are given the opportunity to learn about and use their human rights through the expressive, collaborative, and educative processes of quilt making.

Janet Gerson, from the International Institute on Peace Education, presented the “Possibilities for Accountability: Opportunities for Civil Society”. This was followed by a Q&A with the panel. Participants then broke into smaller groups to develop proposals for civil society education and action to achieve women’s labor rights and criminal accountability for their violation. These sharings with be reported in the Newsletter of the Global Campaign for Peace Education to broaden awareness on the issues and possible constructive process.