Life Onboard LAST UPDATE  August 9, 2010
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July 6, 2010 Keeping Women and Children Safe – Morita Yuri
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One of Morita Yuri's workshops included a demonstration of techniques that can be implemented to help children feel safe and protected.

Morita Yuri has spent most of her life fighting to prevent the abuse of women and children around the world. She is the founder of the Empowerment Center, an institution in Japan where people learn about violence, racism and discrimination. For nearly three decades, Ms Morita has been helping professionals gain the skills needed to protect victims and identify abuse. She has travelled extensively throughout Japan, the United States and Latin America where she met scores of people who had been affected by violence. "These victims have been deprived of their basic human rights," she said. "For me, these rights are about having the power and opportunity to be safe, strong and free."

Ms Morita joined the 69th Voyage from La Guaira in Venezuela, to Puerto Quetzal in Guatemala. She held a series of lectures about the causes of violence and how it can be prevented. This included workshops that taught women and children about ways in which they can protect themselves from abusers. "Those who are the victims of violence often think that they cannot do anything to improve their situation because they feel depressed and powerless," she said. "But we should always fight to protect ourselves, and we must raise our voice against those who want to deny us of our rights."
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Activists in Guatemala have improved the living standard of women by pushing for workplace reform. Employers are now obligated to pay for medical insurance for female employees because of their campaigns.

In Puerto Quetzal, Ms Morita was part of a Peace Boat group that stayed with a remote community in an area called Tecpan. During this tour, she learnt about how Mayan women were working to empower themselves and gain more rights. Women make up about 70 per cent of Guatemala's population, but are seriously underrepresented in the workforce and government. Many of the families living in Tecpan are Mayan and live below the poverty line. Ms Morita said that it was a great opportunity to learn about women who live in highly oppressive societies. "Usually it is not easy to get to know the lives of people living in situations like this, but their lives are open to us right now."

It was an emotional return to Guatemala for Ms Morita, 35 years after she experienced a terrifying ordeal. She first became involved in the campaign against violence after her life was threatened while travelling through the country when she was 26. At the time, Guatemala was embroiled in a civil war and she was targeted by soldiers who stormed her bus. They yelled at her to get off the bus with them, but Ms Morita feared that she would be raped or killed if she did. It appeared that no one would come to her aid when suddenly a pig came charging from the back of the bus and spooked the soldiers so badly that they fled. She realised that a small boy was carrying the pig and he had released it to save her. It was at this moment that Ms Morita decided to help others who were being threatened by violence.
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Ms Morita believes that there are fundamental human rights which would help protect women and children in economically disadvantaged areas. She wants women to fight against discrimination wherever it is encountered.

Ms Morita said it was very meaningful that she visited Guatemala for a second time. "It is so important that women work together to improve their lives, especially in places like this where they face so much discrimination." She said it is crucial that they organise themselves and try to shape society. "Women must learn that we have the power, knowledge and ability to generate better communities where there are equal rights for everyone."

But there is a stronger message to Ms Morita's work, that does not just apply to the indigenous women of Guatemala. Throughout history women have been told that they are just helpers who should support men. "But women can be a main power, capable of achieving great things and creating a sustainable world," Ms Morita said. Her goal is for women to play an important role in changing the status quo around the globe. "Now is the time for women to instigate change which is critically needed in so many places."