Champion of Change: Krishanti Dharmaraj

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Krishanti Dharmaraj’s passion for human rights and social justice began with her experience growing up in Sri Lanka, country with civil unrest that later transformed into a civil war. She asserts that this experience with violence and conflict, including the looting and bombing of her own home, changed her life for the better. It showed her that advocating with and for those who face injustice is her only choice. Her purpose in life is to “advocate for human rights of women so that they may lead and govern to build a just and peaceful world”. 

After she received death threats, Krishanti left her home country and moved to San Francisco, California, where she joined Amnesty International as a volunteer, two weeks after her arrival in the U.S. Human rights became her sanity and the strategy to advance justice in Sri Lanka, U.S. and the world. In 1995, she attended the World Conference on Women in Beijing, where she realized the U.S. was one of the few countries represented that had both the privilege and the arrogance to ignore human rights within its own borders while demanding accountability from others. Krishanti decided to change it by starting one of the first domestic human rights organizations addressing the human rights of women in the U.S. She believed that women of color must be in the forefront of this movement. 

Since then, Krishanti has founded the Dignity Index, a human rights measurement tool utilized to ensure equity and inclusion to reduce identity-based discrimination, WILD for Human Rights (Women’s Institute for Leadership Development), the Sri Lanka Children’s Fund and initiated the U.S. Human Rights Network. Perhaps most notably, Krishanti led the initiative to enact the Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) in San Francisco in 1998. This was a landmark win making San Francisco the first city in the world to adopt an international human rights treaty at the local level. This has set a precedent for other major cities in the country to follow. Krishanti credits the success of this undertaking to the “feminist—predominantly women of color and immigrant women —, who were willing to be bold and take risks”. She stresses that the work for women’s rights in the U.S. must be done at the intersection of gender, race, and other identities, and by linking with global feminist organizing. 

Throughout her adult life, Krishanti’s message has remained steadfast: “Women’s rights are human rights, and how we practice that belief matters.” Krishanti currently serves as the executive director of the Center for Women’s Global Leadership.

Krishanti is one of the many inspiring people selected as part of our Champions of Change campaign, which honors individuals who have made a difference in the lives of women and girls in the Metro New York area or globally.

Mary Luke