Human Rights,  Misogyny

Gita Sahgal: Amnesty suffers from “ideological bankruptcy” and “misogyny”

In an interview with The Observer, Gita Sahgal, the former head of Amnesty International’s gender unit, has some harsh things to say about AI.

In her first newspaper interview since leaving the charity altogether, Sahgal delivers a withering critique of her former employers, describing the modern Amnesty’s leadership as suffering from “ideological bankruptcy” and “misogyny”. Although Amnesty is still one of the best known advocates of women’s rights in the world, Sahgal told the Observer that an “atmosphere of terror” prevailed inside the organisation in which debate is suppressed and staff are cowed into accepting the prevailing line.

“I think the leadership is ideologically bankrupt, as has been shown in the handling of this,” said Sahgal. “There have been systemic failures even before I went public. Questions need to be asked of the political and senior leadership. There is a deep misogyny in the human rights movement and the kinds of issues that women have to face tend to bring that out.”

Sahgal was born in Bombay and is the daughter of novelist Nayantara Sahgal and great-niece of former Indian prime minister Jawaharlal Nehru. She became part of a feminist network that fought against rape and dowry laws. She moved to London to study, becoming heavily involved in Southall Black Sisters, the London-based group that campaigns against domestic violence, sexism and racism.

She became head of Amnesty’s gender unit in 2003. The explosive falling out in one of the world’s leading human rights organisations took place after the publication of an e-mail Sahgal sent to the leadership, complaining that Amnesty had become too closely linked to a “pro-jihadi group”. The email appeared in a national newspaper in February. Sahgal claimed the charity’s links with Moazzam Begg, a former inmate at Guantánamo Bay, and his group Cageprisoners were undermining its campaign for women’s rights.