Tribute to Catherine Suggitt, Amnesty International worker and Children's Human Rights Network Commitee Member
Tribute to Amnesty International worker, Catherine Suggitt, nee Snowden, by Valerie Doulton
Catherine and I first got to know each other well in meetings to discuss Female Genital Mutilation many years ago, this was the first time this issue was raised at Amnesty. In discussing this article with her husband Phil Suggitt, I said to him that I remembered Catherine as a woman with a beautiful mind. He said she had possessed this at 16 years old, that she was shy and reserved, but underneath there was a wonderful personality.
When 16 years old, and both at school together in Sheffield, they decided they wanted to spend the rest of their lives together.
Catherine Snowden was born on September 16th 1955 in Arnold, Nottingham. Phil lived a few streets away, and in 1978 after further study, they married. They have two sons, Bill born in 1980, and Tom born in 1982. Catherine’s own mother died when she was only 12 years old of breast cancer, as Catherine was to aged 54. Left motherless at such a young age, Catherine determined to be a devoted mother to her own children for as long as possible. This then developed into a life-long dedication to working for children and became the focus of her work for Amnesty.
While at college she and Phil wrote letters on behalf of Amnesty, Catherine followed her dedication to children then, by taking disadvantaged children from Sheffield on camping trips. After both her children had started school, Catherine decided to develop her interest in Amnesty. Initially she volunteered stuffing envelopes for campaigns three days a week. She was a qualified Primary School teacher, but she wanted to have a wider social and International impact for children and so chose to work for AI. She was promoted quickly, first to a position in Training, and soon after to a position in HR in the International Secretariat where she worked until leaving the organisation in 1997.
Catherine was a key person in the IS in inducting people from all over the world into life in the U.K. when they first arrived here to work for Amnesty. However, her life-long concern for children led her to volunteer from 1990 onwards for Amnesty’s Working Group for Children, later renamed The Children’s Human Rights Network. A colleague at this time, Fred Shortland, writes, ‘Like several others I responded to the call to help resurrect the Working Group for Children (WGC), and strengthen Amnesty U.K.’s work on children and met Catherine for the first time. As business man not human rights activist this was a very different world to me and I was somewhat apprehensive about what I could contribute other than money. Catherine was the first to welcome us newcomers and it soon became apparent that she was the driving force at getting things done and the prime motivator. With David Maidment we took on key roles and really moved the WGC forward breaking new ground and staid conventions. Catherine was at all times at the very centre, motivating, encouraging, challenging, with a great determination and a wonderful warm sense of humour…. I see her smile as I write and remember her with great respect and affection,’
Colleague David Maidment describes Catherine as, ‘a passionate volunteer of WGC as well as a conscientious staff member of IS, giving during this period much time voluntarily to CHRN. Fred Shortland also writes, ‘Catherine always and without fail put others first and never took the credit she so richly deserved.’
Later she became a key member of the team which organised the AI International Children’s Human Rights Conference in Stoke-on-Trent in 1993. To this she invited, and got strong support from, Queen Noor of Jordan. She delivered a major presentation on the U.K. CHRN, its developments and proposals, and helped fashion the 10 resolutions that made up the ‘Stoke Declaration on Children’. (published March 1994).
Catherine also arranged for Efna Dorkenoo from Forward to speak at the conference, highlighting the major concern that she and I had met to discuss so many years earlier, the abuse of girls and young women, in particular in regard to Female Genital Mutilation. Sadly, we were not able to run a campaign on this within Amnesty at this time.
Issues discussed in CHRN meetings in the 1990’s with a view to taking action were, Children in Detention and Prison, Street Children, FGM, and Child Soldiers. Catherine was passionately concerned about all these issues. Her husband describes her as finding herself in mid-life through this work for Amnesty, and becoming stronger and stronger. She confirmed this confidence in herself at this time, by reverting to her maiden name. In the early 1990’s CHRN did much work on street children in Latin America with colleague Fred Shortland, who was then working for Casa Alianza. Then in the late 1990’s the cases CHRN were mainly involved with concerned the death penalty for young people condemned as juveniles and children caught up in conflict situations, (e.g. Gaza Strip/Israel). Finally a special focus was decided for the very substantial campaign CHRN ran with Amnesty in 1999 and 2000, which
focused on Child Soldiers. The whole group worked on this campaign together.
When Catherine left Amnesty she continued to work for children, teaching Yoga to pre-school children in Harlow. She also worked for Harlow Education Consortium supporting all aspects of early year and pre-school education.
The beauty of Catherine’s mind, understanding, and person, lives on in the legacy of all this work. Fred Shortland writes, ‘I had the privilege of working with a remarkable group of people, the AI U.K. Steering Group
for the Working Group for Children (WGC) for many years’. We all had the privilege of knowing and working with Catherine at this time. She died, Catherine Snowden, on November 16th 2009.
Valerie F. Doulton. Amnesty International’s Creative Writers Group.
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