01 7 / 2014

by Shanthi Dairiam, IWRAW AP Founder & Board of Directors

Equity or equality is a current debate among women’s groups from around the world as they link up and prepare for the great UN debates and decisions that are taking place with regard to Sustainable Development Goals, the Post 2015 Development Agenda as well as the forthcoming celebration of Beijing plus 20 in 2015. Through the emails that are circulated on the subject, one can see the debates among women on the usefulness of supporting the concept of equality versus adopting the use of the concept of equity. The latter is seen as based on the principle of fairness and as addressing inequality and the realities of women’s lives; while the former is seen as merely promoting equal or same opportunities as that enjoyed by men. The conclusion is that equality may just continue to perpetuate inequality.

I would like to add to this discussion. In the debates by the women’s groups, the meaning that is given to the concept of equality is outmoded. The concept of equality that the CEDAW Convention prescribes and as used by the CEDAW Committee is substantive equality. This concept of equality goes beyond equal opportunities or what is known as formal equality.

Those who prescribe the concept of equity over equality do so because they say that equity requires that each person is given according to their needs; they believe that if you speak of equity instead of equality it will be clear that the objective is not treating women the same as men but more importantly, giving women what they need. Equality on the other hand they say, stops at giving same opportunities to women and men but does not guarantee that women will be able to access these opportunities due to pre-existing/ existing inequalities that women experience. This shows a misunderstanding of what equality means especially since the advent of the CEDAW Convention.

Under this Convention, substantive equality is the goal to be achieved in all spheres. To achieve this, the obligation of the State extends beyond a purely formal legal obligation of equal treatment of women with men. In fact under article 2 of the Convention, states have the dual obligation of incorporating the principle of equality in the law (formal equality) and ensuring as well, the practical realization of the principle of equality.  Hence a purely formal legal approach is not sufficient to achieve women’s de-facto equality with men, which is substantive equality. It is not enough to guarantee women treatment that is identical to that of men which is the provision of equal opportunities. Rather, biological as well as socially and culturally constructed differences between women and men must be taken into account and under certain circumstances, non-identical treatment of women and men will be required in order to address such differences. This includes a redistribution of resources and power between men and women favouring women.  (CEDAW Convention article 4.1 and General Recommendation 25) If this is not done then such inaction or neutral or identical treatment of women and men is discrimination against women under article 1 of CEDAW as the practical enjoyment of equality as a right would have been denied to women. Discrimination includes any treatment that has the effect of nullifying the enjoyment of human rights by women in all spheres, though such discriminatory effect was not intended. (Summary of article 1 of the CEDAW Convention).

Equality and the practical enjoyment of it by women, is a universal value, a legal standard and goal and a human right. In fact, without equality, human rights would have no meaning. It is equality that demands that human rights is for all regardless of sex, status, origin, descent, location, sexual orientation and gender identity. Equity is a not a standard or a goal. It is subjective, discretionary and arbitrary. It is fragile as a policy if used as a stand-alone concept without it being linked as a means to achieve the goal of equality.

It can also be used against women. During the debates when the Beijing Platform was drafted in 1994/1995, Muslim countries and the Holy See and its followers from Latin America strongly argued for the use of the term equity and resisted the term equality. For them, women and men could not be valued equally. They demanded the use of the term equity, as in their view, this term justified greater resources and power skewed in favour of men on the basis of their god-given and immutable responsibilities as providers and leaders.  Equity was used to give men according to their “need”. The determination of need itself is political and value driven. But the conservative forces did not get their wish during the Beijing Platform debates as the Human Rights Caucus argued heatedly and long against the term equity. The Beijing Platform adopted the term equality.  We will be retracting the hard won conceptual gains made in our understanding of equality twenty years ago if we now say the concept of equality is not useful. Equity cannot stand alone or be used interchangeably with equality.

(For an elaboration of this subject see “Equity or Equality for Women? Understanding CEDAW’s Equality Principles”. IWRAW Asia Pacific Paper Series. No.14.
http://www.iwraw-ap.org/publications/doc/OPS14_Web.pdf)

Reprinted with permission from the author.

19 5 / 2014

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When news of the abduction of nearly 300 school girls in Nigeria broke over four weeks ago, we, as the CAL Secretariat were deeply concerned. We were, and we still are concerned because this gross violation of human and children’s rights is proof of the degree that hegemonic patriarchal power manifests itself and especially on female bodies. We are concerned because as feminists and human rights defenders, this act, and the slow nature in which the Nigerian government has chosen to respond to this crisis is indicative of just how little women and girls’ lives matter, to majority male governments and oppressive male militia and military bodies. We are concerned because this issue is a microcosm of a bigger problem-commodification of female bodies and devaluation of female/feminine importance. We have asked, on Social Media-What Are Women’s Lives Worth?

Another reality worth considering is that girls and women go missing everywhere, and all the time. There are thousands of unaccounted for incidences where girl children have gone missing and these incidences go unreported. Sometimes for years and many time unresolved. In our daily newspapers we see a majority of girls and women reported missing, with little to nothing done by authorities to investigate these issues. Many patriarchal cultural constructions accord more importance to boy children than they do to girl children. This means that some families are least likely to report missing girl children than they are to report missing boy children. The same is said for women, as compared to men. Girls and women, today, still lie at the bottom of the social totem, and this recent turn of events in Nigeria shows that there is a deeper and urgent need for our governments, our communities and society as a whole to give female bodies the same importance that male bodies are often given.

Some statistics out of America (unfortunately these are the only extensive statistics that could be found) show as follows:
• An astounding 2,300 Americans are reported missing every day, including both adults and children
• The federal government counted 840,279 missing persons cases in 2001. All but about 50,000 were juveniles, classified as anyone younger than 18. This means that in 2001, over 790, 000 children were reported missing.
• Two-thirds of the nearly 800 000 victims are ages 12 to 17, and among those eight out of 10 are [white] females, according to a Justice Department study. This means that 80% of the abducted children were girls.
• Nearly 90 percent of the abductors are men, and they sexually assault their victims in half of the cases.

Source: http://www.crimelibrary.com/criminal_mind/forensics/americas_missing/2.html

This is important because, America is putting pressure and offering military help to find the nearly 250 missing school girls in Nigeria, while they too have a crisis going on as far as missing girl children go. With the current state of affairs between Nigeria and America, especially with regard to the rights of gender non-conforming and non-heteronormative African women and men, this offer, and indeed pressure from the American government, might do more harm than good. And this situation furthermore creates military and military related tensions on a continent rife with militarism and militant oppression-from both State and rebel actors.

In a recently published article in The Guardian, Jumoke Balogun writes: ‘Simple question. Are you Nigerian? Do you have constitutional rights accorded to Nigerians to participate in their democratic process? If not, I have news for you. You can’t do anything about the girls missing in Nigeria. You can’t. Your insistence on urging American power, specifically American military power, to address this issue will ultimately hurt the people of Nigeria. It heartens me that you’ve taken up the mantle of spreading “awareness” about the 200+ girls who were abducted from their school in Chibok; it heartens me that you’ve heard the cries of mothers and fathers who go yet another day without their child. It’s nice that you care. Here’s the thing though, when you pressure western powers, particularly the American government, to get involved in African affairs and when you champion military intervention, you become part of a much larger problem. You become a complicit participant in a military expansionist agenda on the continent of Africa. This is not good. You might not know this, but the United States military loves your hashtags because it gives them legitimacy to encroach and grow their military presence in Africa. Africom (United States Africa Command), the military body that is responsible for overseeing US military operations across Africa, gained much from #KONY2012 and will now gain even more from #BringBackOurGirls.’ This is a worthwhile article-do read it when you get the time to.

As a feminist collective, it is important that we speak to this issue, but more importantly, it is essential that we shift conversations, and shape dialogues around bigger and wider issues, to prevent, or at best attempt to prevent recurrence of such atrocities. We have to hold our governments, tasked with our protection, accountable for our safety and the safety of our children whether they inhabit female or male bodies.

CAL would like to plan some action(s) that bring attention to these multiple, overlapping issues: issues of bodily autonomy, militarism, safety and security; issues of femicide, and the girl child and education; issues of accountability and governance. They all intersect and they all need a voice. This cannot be seen as a once-off, occurrence-there is a bigger picture here, and this conversation has to go on.

We welcome your thoughts on this-and any suggestions on future continued action around this are welcome.

Please send suggested actions to sheena@cal.org.za

The struggle continues. We still hope and wish for the safe return of the stolen school girls back to their homes and families. We demand that justice prevails for these girls and all the other thousands of abducted and stolen girls and women on the continent.

Reprinted with permission from http://caladvocacyblog.wordpress.com/2014/05/14/the-missing-girls-in-nigeria-there-is-a-need-for-critical-analysis-and-sustained-action-on-this/.

12 5 / 2014

by Geeta Desai

April 14, 2014, marked the Global Day of Action on Military Spending. UN Special Rapporteur, Alfred de Zayas called on all country governments to make cuts in military expenditures and increase investments in nutrition, health, environmental protection and other major sustainable development challenges, instead. The Rapporteur’s call to action could not have come at a better time because according to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI), global military spending levels are at an all-time high, reaching a total of $1.75 trillion in 2012.

Quite frankly, it blows my mind to think that most countries would have that kind of money to spend on the acquisition and deployment of weapons, given the competing responsibilities and demands within their country borders. Curious to know which countries placed such a premium on military spending, I decided to look it up. This is what I found: the United States spends the most (no surprise, there) with China, Russia, Saudi Arabia and France, in that order, rounding up the top five spenders. In terms of military spending as a percentage of GDP, Saudi Arabia spends the highest (9.3%), Russia is second (4.1%), the US is third (3.8%) and France and China are fourth and fifth, spending 2.25% and 2.0% of their respective GDP. As a percent of the world’s total military spending, the US is responsible for 33% of the expenditures, by far the largest slice of the pie.

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I expected the United States to be at the top of this list and I’m not exactly surprised that Russia is in the top five given that neither country has as yet outgrown its “Cold War” mentality. Additionally, the terror attacks against the US and consequent military engagements abroad, continue to shape its military budget. If the foreign policy pundits are to be believed, I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised to see China on the list given their contention that China is positioning itself to dominate the world. But, what explains the presence of France and Saudi Arabia on this list? According to a recent report, President Francois Hollande’s government has reviewed the recent conflicts in Mali and Libya and feels that its level of defense spending maintains the country’s ability to react to a terrorist attack. Saudi military spending has doubled in the last ten years, according to SIPRI and Carina Solmirano, a senior researcher at SIPRI, said: “It seems that for the Gulf region, internal or domestic problems or the likelihood of problems like the Arab Spring, might have led to countries reinforcing military spending by giving security forces more resources, as a way to make them more loyal to the government.”

Okay, I’ll admit that in the world in which we live, there are genuine security needs that require investments in weapons, military personnel and in the general maintenance of vigilance and preparedness for action. But when is enough, enough? And, who decides when enough is enough?

So, I think that there are two things to consider here.

First, in each of the countries listed above, there are critical numbers of people whose basic human needs are unmet: In the US, 47 million Americans live in poverty; in Russia 18 million live in poverty with the gulf between the rich and the poor getting wider each year; in France, one in six people or over 11 million people live in poverty and social exclusion; in China, a staggering 99 million people fall below the government’s established poverty line and in Saudi Arabia, a quarter of the native Saudi population lives in abject poverty. For these people, investments in militarization are irrelevant; investments in health, education, housing, food and other daily infrastructure supports make the difference between life, ill-health and death. Admittedly, military spending is a small part of the national budgets of these countries, but the dollar amounts are ridiculously large and all five country governments should reassess the actual level of military need as opposed to the desire to overreach with the intention of stockpiling.

Second, it is commonly understood that weapons that are stockpiled usually find their way into the wrong hands and are the greatest contributing factor for conflicts in several dozen countries. As a matter of fact, April 2, 2014, marked the first anniversary of the adoption of the United Nations Arms Trade Treaty. The Treaty adopted by the UN General Assembly for the first time set global standards for the transfer of weapons and efforts to prevent their diversion. It regulates all conventional arms within the categories of battle tanks, armored combat vehicles, large-caliber artillery systems, combat aircraft, attack helicopters, warships, missiles and missile launchers and small arms and light weapons. Among other provisions, the treaty – which will enter into force once it receives 50 ratifications – also includes a prohibition on the transfer of arms which could be used in the commission of genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity.

Of the five countries that lead in military spending only France has ratified the UN Arms Trade Treaty.

The UN has urged country governments to prepare national budgets that will implement the will of the people, based on representative opinion polling. We need to tell our elected officials that we want our taxes put towards the promotion of peace and sustainable development, not towards the purchase and stockpiling of weapons.

Geeta Desai is a member of the International Federation of University Women and has served as its representative to the UN. Currently, she is Advocacy Convener for Women Graduates-USA and writes a blog on the status of women. Additionally, as an Organizational Development consultant, she continues to provide capacity building support for international nonprofits.

Reprinted with permission from http://www.wg-usa.org/advocacyblog/2014/04/global-day-of-action-on-military-spending-invest-in-people-not-the-prospect-of-war/.

07 3 / 2014

On March 8th, the Center for Women’s Global Leadership (CWGL) joins the world in celebrating International Women’s Day. As we work together and reaffirm our commitment to reaching gender equality, we recognize the many obstacles that continue to face the world’s women. From poverty to gender-based violence, to struggles for democracy and human rights, women must play a central role in addressing the structures and systems that create inequality and be an integral part of the solutions. Gender equality can only be achieved when human rights are realized for all.

We also recognize that this day falls on the eve of the 58th session of the United Nations Commission on the Status of Women (CSW58). At CSW58, we join our partners in calling for the full realization of women’s rights in discussions on the economy, ending gender-based violence, peace, security, sexual and reproductive health and rights, and global development processes. If you are in New York from March 10th to the 21st, we invite you to take part in CSW58. Please take a look at our sponsored and co-sponsored events at http://cwgl.rutgers.edu/program-areas-151/coalition-building/csw58.

On behalf of the staff, we thank you for your ongoing support and wish you a happy International Women’s Day!

In solidarity,

The CWGL team

10 12 / 2013

by Savi Bisnath, Trinidad & USA

Question:  Shouldn’t activism to end gender-based violence be about more than 16 days? 

Answer: A valid question and one that is easy to answer: yes, and it is. 

Those of us working to bring an end to gender-based violence (GBV) are engaged throughout the year in advocacy, resistance and direct actions at the local, national, regional and international levels for its achievement. For us the annual 16 Days of Activism Against Gender-based Violence Campaign from 25 November to 10 December is intended to do so several things, including shine the spotlight on the causes and consequences of GBV, and remobilize efforts for its end. For many it is also a moment to reflect, reenergize, conduct actions in solidarity with and in support of activists in different countries, celebrate, mourn the loss of feminist activists, and feel part of a larger movement for women’s rights and gender equality.

The 16 days of the Campaign allows the Center for Women’s Global Leadership (CWGL) and partners around the world to bring attention to, and encourage greater participation in, actions to end GBV. In the recent past CWGL sought to highlight the under explored issue of militarism and its role in perpetuating gender based violence, and in particular violence against women.  Previous campaign themes have included a focus on women’s human rights defenders (WHRDs) and sexual and reproductive health and rights (SRHR). Important aspects of the Campaign’s DNA is its ownership by all activists and the organic space within which they are able to give voice to those messages that are both context specific and reflect their vision for a world free of violence. The campaign is a marker in the continuing struggle to end gender-based violence. As such, it is an important piece of the contemporary movement for the realization of women’s rights and gender equality. This is in part further reinforced by the recognition that violence against women is a human rights violation. 

The 16 Days of Activism Against Gender-based Violence Campaign is a campaign that is part of a larger movement for the realization of human rights. Human rights movements often use campaigns to further goals, for example the anti apartheid movement in South Africa promoted the divestment campaign while the civil rights movement in the United States conducted the Montgomery bus boycott campaign. Similarly, women’s rights activists and allies participate in and support the 16 Days of Activism Campaign because of its particular role in the struggle for women’s human rights. It is important to note that at the local, national, regional and international levels there are other campaigns, including the International Campaign to Stop Rape and Gender Violence in Conflict, that aim to highlight issues related to violence against women in particular contexts. Together, these and other campaigns contribute to a mosaic of actions and a diversity of voices that are steadfast in bringing an end to gender-based violence and creating a world in which all peoples, and women in particular, can live without fear. 

As part of the complex and multilayered movement for the realization of women’s rights and gender equality, the 16 Days of Activism Against Gender-based Violence Campaign has contributed to feminist analyses and actions aimed at dismantling patriarchy and hetero-normativity, while promoting a world in which all peoples, and women in particular, are free from violations of their human rights. In the current moment where electronic media has contradictory roles in, and necessarily limited impact on, social movements and the cult of personality/celebrity promotes unsustainable actions, we must, as activists, remain steadfast in engaging in actions that result in social change. We must continue to challenge ourselves and our methods as we challenge our communities and governments to promote peace in the home and peace in the world and an end gender-based violence! 

This blog is dedicated to those who work for the realization of women’s rights and to a beloved human rights activist: Nelson Mandela.  

Savi Bisnath, PhD is the associate director of the Center for Women’s Global Leadership. 

09 12 / 2013

by Gro Lindstad, Norway

FOKUS - Forum for Women and Development works with partner organizations in 16 countries in Africa, Asia and Latin America. Gender-based violence is a major challenge in many of the countries where we provide funding and it takes different shapes and forms.

In Colombia, where we hopefully will have peace soon, FOKUS works with a number of women’s organizations and groups on issues of peace and security. The armed conflict still goes on and women face different forms of discrimination and violence, although there are no unified and reliable official figures on the situation. Some disturbing figures reflecting a lack of accountability from the State has been documented in connection with the shadow report that was prepared by Colombian civil society earlier this year on its obligations connected to CEDAW.

Between 2002 and 2011, 14,630 women were murdered; and in 2011 alone, 70,139 women were victims of family based violence, including 51,118 of these women who were beaten by their partner. That same year, 1,415 women were murdered. A current or former partner was the perpetrator in the majority of the cases.

Sexual violence against women is widespread, systemic and made invisible. Official numbers show that 40 percent of the registered cases regarding sexual assault are assaults on girls under the age of 14. The rate of impunity for these crimes is 98%. This figure goes together with a high percentage of underreporting, the invisibility of these crimes and the constant fear to denounce them. A large number of the perpetrators are members of security forces, paramilitary forces and different guerilla groups. At present it is estimated that somewhere between 4.9 and 5.5 million Colombians are refugees in their own country, while 80% of the internally displaced are women, girls and children and 43% of the displaced families are led by women.

What has struck me and what I want to highlight, especially during this year’s 16 Days of Activism Against Gender-Based Violence Campaign, is the lack of state accountability related to gender-based violence in conflict and post-conflict countries. In Guatemala, we have partnered with organizations like Conavigua, Moloj and Mujeres Transformando el Mundo (MTM). Brave women work there, often facing danger because they address the lack of accountability that is still a fact in many ways in Guatemala, after the civil war that lasted for 35 years. The State has yet to apologize to the widows of those killed, and discovered in mass graves. There is also a lack of any form of apology or attempts to pay reparations to the large number of indigenous women who were enslaved by the military. Many women still struggle with the traumatic stress that this has caused, and FOKUS has funded a project providing some of these women a place to meet, talk and try to heal. Talking has many times been impossible for the women to do at home, because their husbands and families feel so ashamed and guilty.

Women who are still on the barricades in Guatemala, like the first female state attorney Claudia Paz y Paz, are part of a complicated struggle. She is working to try to end the culture of impunity that has seen perpetrators throughout the spectrum of Guatemalan society get away with murder. It is a balancing act since the current President Otto Pérez Melina was a commander during the civil war during which a massacre took place. He will not encourage any court processes that might make his own crimes visible. This again hinders processes of state accountability.

MTM has for quite some time now worked on bringing the cases of 100 former sex slaves during the civil war before the Inter American Court. We need reactions on violence against women to be made a priority and for the courts to signal to governments that they will be kept accountable.

Looking at Colombia, now hopefully coming out of civil war, lessons need to be learned from countries like Guatemala. Women have to be at the table during peace talks, issues of impunity and state accountability have to be addressed in order to build and heal. Colombia has a number of strong women’s organizations and voices, and they are in the middle of a struggle that we have to support and push for our own governments to support.

Gro Lindstad is the Executive Director of FOKUS- Forum for Women and Development since 2011. Prior to that she was Chief of Intergovernmental Relations at UNIFEM HQ in New York. She has 8 years’ experience as a Political Adviser in the Norwegian Parliament, working on all issues connected to gender equality, equal rights and women’s rights, before taking on responsibility for defense and security, foreign policy and development issues. She also has more than 30 years’ experience working with and in NGOs. She studied law at the University of Oslo and holds a masters in international human rights from the same university.

07 12 / 2013

by Mirta Kennedy, Honduras

After four years of the coup d’etat in June 28th 2009, Honduras has become known internationally as the most violent country in the world with a homicide rate of 85.5 murders per 100,000 inhabitants and as the most dangerous for women. Women’s organizations and feminists have denounced the relentless increase of femicides. According to the National Observatory of Violence, violent deaths of women has tripled in these four years, with 606 victims in 2012. Impunity and the disastrous performance of the justice system increase the vulnerability of women to male violence.  Of the 3,124 violent deaths of women in the last decade, only 5% have been investigated and prosecuted. Femicide victims are most often young women between 16 and 30 years of age who have been killed with firearms.

The irruption of new scenarios and actors has made the solution of the problem more difficult. We find that added to the violence women experience in the couple, the family, and the most intimate sphere, we now have the public violence that occurs in contexts of drug trafficking and organized crime, migration, gangs, political violence, militarization, and the dispossession of territories.

The presence of networks of drug traffickers, gangs, hitmen, and bands of organized crime that control poor urban neighborhoods in the big cities and in the countryside does not allow in particular women to move freely to go to work, be with their families and work in their communities. They are afraid to become victims of robberies, extorsion, sexual assaults or targets of vendettas against third parties and recruitment of their children and themselves.

Instigated by the US war on drugs in the last four years, drug trafficking has become the main argument to reinforce the purchase of arms and militarization. Internal security has been put in the hands of the military and private security companies and the possession of arms. In Honduras, an individual can own legaly five firearms. The proliferation of weapons, private security companies, and the military occupation of urban and rural communities does not protect women, in the contrary, more reports link sexual assault, rape, abuse of authority, harassment, violent assaults, femicide, and the murder of youths to this presence of the military that puts women in mourning. The corruption inside the institutions in charge of fighting crime has forced recently the intervention of the police and the district attorney office and to discharge judges. This has made evident that the root of impunity is the infiltration of organized crime in the state’s institutions.

A new form of violence against women has emerged in the context of ultra neoliberal policies implemented by the post coup government that promote foreign investment and the exploitation of natural resources in detriment of local interests. National and foreign corporations are allowed to encroach the ancestral territories of the indigenous and Garifunas, and peasant communities for the large scale exploitation of monocultures, mining, hydroelectric plants, and tourism without previous consultation in violation of the 169 ILO Convention suscribed by Honduras. The communities and women suffer all kinds of repression and aggression in their struggles of resistance against the dispossession of their territories because of the intimidation and the use of force of private security guards, hitmen, and even the national police. Community leaders are criminalized, persecuted and imprisoned as well as the human rights defender that accompany them. Among the most  well-known and persecuted social activists are Berta Caceres, Magdalena Morales, and Miriam Miranda.

A new hope arose in the light of the elections of November 24th, 2013 in Honduras. The women’s movement and feminists had been able to negotiate a platform of urgent measures with the only and first female candidate in the history of the nation. Unfortunately, as we have been able to witness the electoral fraud that most had anticipated seems to be a reality. November 25th, the International Day on Non-violence Against Women went unnoticed. The attention of the majority of the population is centered around the electoral fraud. Feminists are faced with the need to promote an agenda for a humane and integral security of the citizenship, demilitarization, a focus on the violence against women, an end to impunity under a new administration that continues the agenda of the coup d’etat and a military and police forces the emerge with greater strength.

Mirta Kennedy, is founding member of Centro de Estudios de la Mujer-Honduras (Center of Women’s Studies-Honduras), feminist and women’s rights defender, researcher, and consultant for national and international organizations. She has coordinated and participated in several research projects on prevention and violence against women in Honduras and the Central American region. She is author of numerous articles on the subject.

* Translated from Spanish to English by Breny Mendoza

Nueva Esperanza en Honduras?

por Mirta Kennedy, Honduras

A cuatro años del golpe de Estado el 28 de junio, 2009, Honduras  cobró notoriedad internacional como el país más violento del mundo, con una tasa de 85.5 homicidios por cien mil habitantes, y como uno de los más inseguros para las mujeres. Las organizaciones de mujeres y feministas han denunciado la incesante escalada de femicidios. Según el  Observatorio Nacional de la Violencia  las muertes violentas de mujeres se triplicaron en el período,  con 606 víctimas en 2012. La impunidad y la pésima actuación de la justicia acrecientan la vulnerabilidad de las mujeres ante la violencia sexista; de un total de 3124 muertes violentas de mujeres ocurridas en la última década, menos de un 5%  fueron investigadas y judicializadas. Las  víctimas más frecuentes de femicidio, son las mujeres jóvenes entre 16 a 30 años de edad y el principal instrumento de agresión es el arma de fuego.

La irrupción de nuevos escenarios  y actores ha complejizado el abordaje del problema.  A la violencia contra las mujeres  en el ámbito de  la pareja, la familia, y en el entorno cercano,   se impone ahora  la violencia pública en los contextos del narcotráfico y el  crimen organizado, la migración, las maras,  la violencia política, la militarización,  y el  despojo de territorios.

La presencia de las redes de narcotráfico, maras, sicarios, y bandas del crimen organizado, controlando  los barrios de los sectores populares en las grandes ciudades, y  áreas rurales no permiten en especial a las mujeres desplazarse libremente y desarrollar sus actividades laborales, familiares y comunitarias, por miedo a ser víctimas de robos, extorciones, hostigamiento y agresiones sexuales, o el blanco de las venganzas y cobros de cuenta contra terceros, y del   reclutamiento de mujeres y niños.

Alentado por la estrategia de EEUU de lucha contra las drogas, en los últimos cuatro años, el combate al narcotráfico ha sido el argumento para reforzar  el armamentismo y la militarización del país.  Se ha puesto la seguridad  interna en manos de militares y empresas de seguridad privada y la circulación de armas. En Honduras, individualmente se pueden adquirir 5 armas legalmente. La proliferación de armas,  de fuerzas de seguridad privada y  la ocupación militar de las comunidades urbanas y rurales, no significan seguridad para las mujeres, por el contrario,  son frecuentes las denuncias de abusos sexuales, violación, abuso de poder, hostigamiento, agresiones, femicidios,  y asesinatos de jóvenes, que se vincula con esa presencia militar y que enluta a las mujeres.   La corrupción en las instituciones públicas encargadas del combate a la delincuencia,  obligó recientemente a la intervención de la Policía y de la Fiscalía,  y a la destitución de jueces, poniendo en evidencia la raíz de la impunidad por la grave penetración del crimen organizado en las  estructuras del estado.

Un nuevo ámbito de violencia contra las mujeres  ha sido favorecido por medidas económicas ultra liberales tomadas por el gobierno pos golpe de Estado, que  promueven la inversión extranjera y la explotación  de los recursos naturales por encima de los intereses locales. Se permite el  avance  de las empresas nacionales e internacionales sobre los territorios indígenas  y garífunas  ancestrales,  y comunidades campesinas,  para la explotación de monocultivos, minería, hidroeléctricas y turismo a gran escala,  sin previa consulta, en violación al Convenio 169 de la OIT suscrito por Honduras. Utilizando la intimidación y la violencia de las fuerzas de seguridad privadas, sicarios, e incluso de las fuerzas de seguridad del Estado,  las comunidades y las mujeres sufren represión y agresiones de todo tipo, en sus luchas de resistencia a la desposesión de sus territorios. Las líderes de las organizaciones son  criminalizadas, perseguidas y encarceladas, así como las organizaciones y defensoras de los derechos humanos, que las acompañan. Entre las luchadoras sociales mas perseguidas están Berta Cáceres, Magdalena Morales, y  Miriam Miranda.

Una esperanza se abrió en el contexto de las elecciones en Honduras, el 24 de noviembre 2013. El movimiento de mujeres y feministas había logrado negociar una plataforma de medidas urgentes con la única y primera candidata mujer a la presidencia en la historia del país. Sin embargo, como hemos podido presenciar el fraude electoral que de antemano se había anunciado parece haberse hecho realidad. El 25 de noviembre, Día Internacional de la Eliminación de la Violencia contra las Mujeres, transcurrió en Honduras sin ninguna relevancia. La atención de gran parte de la ciudadanía está concentrada en la denuncian fraude y corrupción. Las feministas se enfrentan al reto de impulsar una  agenda por una seguridad ciudadana humana e integral, desmilitarización, atención de la violencia contra las mujeres, y alto a la impunidad, ante una nueva administración de gobierno,  con una agenda de gobierno de continuidad con el golpe de Estado y un aparato militar y policial fortalecido.

 Mirta Kennedy, es cofundadora del Centro de Estudios de la Mujer-Honduras, feminista,  activista por los derechos humanos de  las mujeres, investigadora y consultora de organismos internacionales y nacionales.  Ha coordinado y participado en diversas investigaciones sobre violencia contra las mujeres en Honduras y la región centroamericana. Es coordinadora de programas de prevención y autora de varias publicaciones en el tema.

06 12 / 2013

by Isabelle Geuskens, The Netherlands

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The Women Peacemakers Program (WPP) finds it important to apply a masculinities perspective in the work for gender-sensitive peacebuilding. Feedback received from women peace activists in our network initiated this work. They indicated that two main obstacles interfered with their peace activism: (1) society as a whole lacking a gender-analysis of violence; and (2) many men involved in peacebuilding lacking gender awareness.

This confirmed for us that changing cultures of violence requires not only investing in the empowerment of women; it also requires looking critically at men’s socialization. For UN Security Council Resolution 1325 to become a reality, we need to go to all the roots contributing to women’s victimization and marginalization before, during, and after armed conflict. This implies addressing the construction of male gender identities that support men’s dominance, violence and militarization. Hence, it means addressing the deeply gendered nature of violent conflict itself.

It is our experience that, when addressing the topic of gender-sensitive peace-building through men’s gendered experiences of violence and war as well, it is easier to connect men to the women, peace, and security (WPS) agenda. Next to paying attention to the privileges of men, this means discussing how men are also losing out from current hegemonic male gender roles in society; and in particular, how these gender dynamics exacerbate during armed conflict.

 At the same time, when questioning hegemonic gender roles, it is important to also invest in alternatives. This includes looking - through a gender lens - at how society perceives and deals with conflict. Often, society frames conflict as something negative, to be solved through a win-lose approach (“power over”). A gender-sensitive nonviolent approach does not see conflict as the problem – as conflict is considered a part of life, and can even carry the seeds of positive change. The issue lies in how we as humans, and particularly men, are socialized and trained into accepting violence as a part of life and in particular a way to address conflict.

Investing in alternatives means investing in people’s skills to recognize and analyze conflict and injustice, as well as in how to address it by strategizing and working together (“people power” or “power with”). It is interesting to mention here that research increasingly argues that a strategy of nonviolence is more effective than violence in achieving policy goals. According to data analyzed by Stephan and Chenoweth, between 1900 and 2006, nonviolent campaigns were more successful in achieving their policy goals (53 % of the time), whereas violent campaigns only had a success rate of 26 %.

To illustrate what is meant by ‘alternatives’, we would like to share some of our lessons learned in terms of integrating a masculinities approach in our training work around gender-sensitive peacebuilding:

  • Investing in monitoring the impact of the work is important as to see whether the approach is relevant and effective. Our trainees informed us that the follow-up trainings they in turn implemented in their countries generated much positive response. They reached out to a diverse group of interested stakeholders; including NGO representatives, police officers, representatives from the media, government officials, lawyers, community elders, religious scholars, student representatives, youth leaders from indigenous groups, and representatives from the men’s movement. Beyond their own trainings, a far broader group was reached (at least 25,000 people), through:                                     - The use of media (radio programs) and the dissemination of articles on nonviolence, women’s rights, masculinities, and peace-building;  

          -The establishment of men’s groups/ programs in their community, to address men’s role in eradicating violence against women and wider violence in society, and to raise awareness on nonviolent conflict resolution;                                                          

 - Providing expertise to other organizations upon request (e.g. workshops);                                                                                    

- Integration of gender-sensitive nonviolence in their organisations’s work (from policy to program level);     

- Joining women’s lobby and advocacy initiatives for women’s rights;                                                                                              

- Sharing the concepts within other networks (incl. regional networks).

  • Trainees confirmed that training male activists to become trainers in gender-sensitive active nonviolence is very effective, since male trainers are often in a good position to reach out to male participants in a group. Equally important is including women in every step of the work. E.g., we always stress working with mixed trainer teams (female and male trainers); which according to our trainees results in powerful role modeling in their communities (“women and men working as partners for gender equality”).
  • Solidarity is very important, as our trainees shared that working for gender-sensitive nonviolence often means being a minority voice. Several shared facing ridicule;opposition; silencing; and even threats. It is therefore important to take time to discuss this reality with trainees, as well as how to deal with it collectively, so that it does not end up undermining one’s commitment.
  • There are no shortcuts; paradigm shifts take time. When we started our work on masculinities, we looked critically at how to build in accountability and sustainability. For us, this meant e.g. investing in thorough and strict selection processes; intensive training cycles (consisting of two trainings and a mandatory country-based follow-up training); and the trainings addressing knowledge and skills building as well as people’s commitment:The personal is political!
  • It is important to invest in the creation of constructive spaces for the “unsaid” and the difficult conversations; e.g. during trainings we create this space through the organizing of gender dialogue sessions, during which male and female trainees can address sensitive gender dynamics/issues.
  • When talking about masculinities and war, it is important to do so against the background of women’s long history of peace activism and organizing against militarism. It is important to raise awareness on the roots of the WPS agenda in the women’s movement;and to keep the masculinities work connected to this bigger picture. This is to prevent masculinities work from being narrowed down to a focus on male victims of war only; and to balance this by also pointing out how male privilege operates; the resulting costs for women; and the importance of women’s participation and leadership in peace-building. It is this “bigger picture” that will support men and women to work together, as partners,for gender-sensitive peacebuilding.


Isabelle Geuskens is the Executive Director of Women Peacemakers Program(WPP), based in The Hague, The Netherlands. Since 2010, Isabelle serves on the 16 Days Advisory Committee. Before working for the WPP, Isabelle worked with local communities and activists in Bosnia Herzegovina and Northern Ireland. She has a Master of Arts Degree from the University of Maastricht, the Netherlands.

05 12 / 2013

by madeleine kennedy-macfoy, International

Gender-based violence, especially against women and girls, happens in all societies, across time and space and to any type of woman or girl; it is indiscriminate. One out of every three girls born today will be beaten, forced to have sex or suffer some other type of abuse from an intimate partner during her lifetime. Violence against women and girls can be physical, emotional, sexual, or economic; it happens in private and public places, and in physical and virtual online spaces.

Feminists have shown us that the root cause of violence against girls and women is the deeply entrenched and historically unequal power relations between women and men, and the persistent discrimination against women the world over. Today it is widely recognised that the occurrence or threat of gender-based violence deprives women and girls of their basic human rights.

School-related gender-based violence (SRGBV) is violence perpetrated against children in and around the school setting. SRGBV is defined as acts and the threat of acts of sexual, physical or psychological violence that happen in or around school and educational settings. Both girls and boys can be the target of such violence, which may include bullying and cyber bullying, sexual or verbal harassment, gang-related reprisals and confrontations, non-consensual touching, rape or assault. Girls are particularly vulnerable to sexual violence and harassment at school, although little is currently known about the numbers of boys who also suffer such abuse in the school setting.

At first glance, it may not be obvious how militarism is linked to school-related gender-based violence. However, in recent years, schools and female students and teachers have increasingly been targeted by terrorist groups. When we consider the role that education plays in shaping young minds, we begin to get some idea of why they are a primary target for violent and militarised insurgents. Speaking about the situation in Afghanistan, footballer and women’s rights activist Khalida Popal has explained that: ‘uneducated youth represents a security issue as the uneducated are more easily recruited to terrorist groups because they won’t ask any controversial questions’. She further stated that ‘girls get poisoned in school’ in Afghanistan. We can see then, that the violence unleashed by terrorists on schools and students is clearly gendered: boys are potential recruits and girls must remain confined to the domestic sphere, so both must remain uneducated. ‘School-related gender-based violence’ takes on a particular connotation when seen in this light: the violence may not happen in or around a school, but it is undoubtedly school-related. And the terrorists will employ any means necessary to meet their objectives.

The atrocious attempted murder of Malala Yousafzai by the Taliban in December 2012 has become the most widely known example of this type of SRGBV: Ms. Yousafzai was targeted because of her activism and advocacy for girls to have access to education in the Swat Valley. In northern Nigeria, the terrorist group Boko Haram (meaning ‘Western education is forbidden’ in Hausa) have burned down more than 300 hundred schools since 2009, and in September of this year they gunned down as many as 50 students as they slept in their dormitories in an agricultural college in the north-eastern part of the country. Similar violent acts against girls’ schools and women teachers have been recorded in Pakistan since 2007. In the Education under Attack (2010) report by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) attacks on schools, teachers and students are documented from all over the world. Such attacks include, but are not limited to, mass and multiple killings, explosions, poisoning, and violence by armed groups.

As we focus on gender-based violence over the next 16 days, we must not overlook the violence that occurs in and around schools or the fact that schools are prime targets for militarised extremist groups that are hell-bent on preventing young people from obtaining an education. We must safeguard the provision of quality education because education plays both a preventive and protective role in the struggle against violence in and around schools, but also in the wider society. We must reclaim schools and ensure that they are safe sanctuaries where teachers can provide, and students benefit from, a quality education.

madeleine kennedy-macfoy works on gender equality issues at Education International, the largest global trade union federation, which represents 30 million teachers and other education employees worldwide.

04 12 / 2013

by Ayisha Osori, Nigeria

Imagine your young adult daughter out for the evening with friends. Sometime after 9.30pm she calls crying hysterically and in the background you hear raised voices. Through the noise she explains that she and her friends were forcibly abducted by members of the Abuja Environmental Protection Board (AEPB) and taken to the Area 10 Sports Complex. You rush there, calling every ‘important’ person you know in the FCT to see what can be done and you are shocked by what you find. A small airless room packed with almost 40 people and your daughter and her friends looking like extras for a horror movie. You try in vain to get them to listen: your daughter and her friends are not prostitutes and the boys in their company, who chased after the vans into which they were thrown, are not customers but friends.

A female policewoman carrying a rifle casually waves her weapon at them and asks ‘is this the way Nigerians dress?’ You look at her in her dirty black uniform with blouse bursting at the buttons and at the women in the room in several stages of undress. There are scraps of cloth all over the floor, like fabric confetti. Other rescuers are in various stages of negotiation with the officials of the AEPB and the discussion is getting heated. Suddenly one of the policemen jumps up and points his gun at a young man’s stomach and says ‘I will waste you here and nothing will happen’. Your phone rings and one of the government officials you had called on your way asks to speak to whoever is in charge…none of the abductors are willing to take the call. You start getting desperate. ‘What do you want?’ Someone pulls you aside. You know a good deal when you hear one; you pay up and know that no receipt will be offered. You are not disappointed.

The main objective of the AEPB is supposedly to ‘make the city safe and clean’. Yet for at least 2 years, the AEPB in collaboration with the Federal Society Against Prostitution and Child Labour in Nigeria (SAPCLN) and the Federal Capital Development Authority have worked with the Nigerian Police and the military to make moving around Abuja extremely dangerous for women. Reports say that under the pretext of ‘eradicating commercial sex workers in Abuja’, employees of the AEPB together with armed unidentified members of the security service have been abducting women from the streets at all hours of the day. Without asking for any form of identification these armed men, grab women, shove them into waiting buses, beat them when they try to resist and take them to pseudo law enforcement centers. There, those who can, buy their way out after being thoroughly humiliated, often only after spending a night without any food or water while those who can’t are tortured into admitting they are prostitutes. Then the real and forced prostitutes are forcibly transferred to an alleged rehabilitation camp for purported sex workers maintained by SAPCLN in Arco Estate, Sabon Lugbe.

SAPCLAN’s raison d’etre is getting prostitutes off Abuja streets and rehabilitating them…a job worth at least 5 million Naira for every 50 ‘rehabilitated’ women according to an African Outlook story written by Ovada Ohiare. And not even the lawsuits against the Minister of the FCT, Senator Bala Mohammed and the AEPB can stem their determination.

While the Nigerian Penal Code makes prostitution a crime, the definition of prostitution provides amongst other things that the person arrested must be found to be ‘persistently soliciting’. How many of these women abducted as they come out of offices, restaurants, houses, clubs or even sitting inside cars can be found guilty of ‘persistently soliciting’?

At the Nigerian Women Trust Fund (WF) while our primary objective is to increase the quality and quantity of women in government we understand that there has to be an enabling environment for the successful emergence of women. Violence affects one in three of all women and girls aged15-24 according to the Gender in Nigeria Report 2012.

Since October 8, 2012, when the WF released its first press statement about the activities of AEPB, there have been marches, petitions and even a mock public hearing arranged by the House of Representatives Committee on Public Hearing on March 7 2013. Mock because not only because of the jokes made at the expense of women but because although the Committee claimed it could not have a proper hearing without the Attorney General at the hearing, promised to reconvene and nothing more has been heard from them since.

The abductions and harassments have not stopped and neither has the work of the WF and all its most active partners such as the African Feminist Alliance to get justice for the women and get the AEPB and its stakeholders to stop the state sponsored terrorism against women in Abuja. If women cannot even exercise their rights to freedom of movement without fear, how will we increase the number of women confident and secure enough to take up the mantle of leadership?

 Ayisha Osori is a lawyer, writer and consultant with over twelve years’ experience in corporate & regulatory practice, change communications and gender advocacy. She is the founder of Advocates for Change & Social Justice and the current CEO of the Nigerian Women’s Trust Fund, a non-profit organization created from a public civil society partnership to increase the quality and quantity of women in decision making. She’s passionate about women girls being able to live a life where there are no limitations to what they want to achieve and believes changing the narratives about females and their role in society is critical.

03 12 / 2013

by Fikile Vilakazi, South Africa

Violence against lesbian, bisexual, transsexual, and intersex (LGBTI) people remains a huge challenge in South Africa. The minds and hearts of our people are hardened by oppressive violence. In 2013, the death toll of lesbian women in South Africa stands at 31 since 2003 whilst gay men continue to be brutally murdered in townships. This anecdote includes only cases that were reported to the police and/or made public through the media by LGBTI human rights defenders. There could be more other cases that we do not know about that have gone went unreported or did not receive public media attention. In addition to murder is the pervasiveness of rape against black lesbian women that continues unprosecuted even though it is reported regularly to the criminal justice system. It is said that for every twenty five men that rape, about twenty four walk free, and only one of them is likely to be prosecuted with ninety five percent chance of getting bail and having such charges dropped. It is a never ending battle, exhausting and infuriating.

They are not going to allow us to be who we are and live our lives freely. They continue to make it harder and harder, particularly for visibly masculine lesbian women and feminine gay men in black townships to live happily and joyously. The nature, extent and depth of violence is worse for people who are visibly in trans-(gression) and trans-(ition) from biological sex, gender and sexual orientation as assigned at birth and/or traditionally. We are perpetually seen as a threat to traditional masculinity and femininity and thereby weakening the arrangements of patriarchy and hetero-(norm)-ativity.

The backlash becomes that gruesome experience of violence. The thing about the kind of violence seen in South Africa is that it carries with it signs of intentional and premeditated torture, brutality, degradation and humiliation of people that are being violated. I am talking about things like disembowelment of bodies, insertion of objects into private body parts, mutilation of body parts and feeding of human body parts to dying sufferers. This is deeply disturbing,unacceptably cruel and unforgivable.

One wonders where does so much hatred emanate from? What happened to our own people? How do you kill and treat one of your own in such a terrible, brutal and inhumane manner? Where does this come from? What is it? What are we dealing with here? What happened to the concept of Ubuntu? Where is freedom and better life for all promised in the manifestos of our leading political parties? What happened to constitutional rights of equality for all.

The most wonderful constitution of South Africa with its equality clause did not protect all the dead victims of homophobia and hetero-sexism from being brutally murdered in the same way as it has perpetually failed to protect thousands of rape survivors (women, children, lesbians, gay men, elderly women and people with disabilities) on a daily basis. The world must know that our constitution is a token. It is not real, yet. We need real change in our country, a change of heart and mind, a kind of
transformation that is embedded in a shared sense of humanity, the fulcrum of all humanness, freedoms and justice. A bill of rights alone is not going to bring the desired change for South Africa. We need much more than that.

Much as it pains me to admit, the truth is that on matters of sexuality and gender, the majority of South Africans are still deeply trapped in a power battle of oppressive orthodoxy, hetero-sexism, sexism, ethnicism, traditions and religiosity. There is nothing wrong with choosing a life of orthodoxy, but there is definitely something very wrong about using such a personal choice as a universal normative and a tool of oppression against other people. Noting that women human rights defenders continue to be on the frontline of most human rights and socio-economic struggles in South Africa, regionally and internationally, it is not surprising that it continues to be women who suffer violence the most. The heat of oppression and violence burns a woman’s face hundred times more than it is likely to do a man. The multiplicity of being a girl, woman, lesbian, trans, mother, grandmother, housewife and a human rights defender makes it harder to fight the so many separate yet connected battles of our lives. Yet, the battle continues. No surrender until something changes!

Fikile Vilakazi is a former director of secretariat of the Coalition of African Lesbians. She identifies as a black lesbian feminist, activist and an emerging international development scholar. She has been
involved in different forms of activisms including civic, youth, women, gender, sexuality and poverty since she was 10 years old.

02 12 / 2013

by Norma Maldonado, Guatemala

Existen otras formas de maltrato contra las mujeres—como el abuso económico de las transnacionales, que transgrede el derecho fundamental a la subsistencia, al derecho a la tierra, a la vida, a la soberanía alimentaria, a la autonomía y dignidad.

La violencia contra las mujeres no sólo son los golpes y las agresiones verbales-también existen otras formas de maltrato. Las decisiones que están siendo asumidas por los gobiernos a través de las políticas energéticas, leyes, como los tratados comerciales y la economía verde
por el sistema de Naciones Unidas que garantizan el remate de todos los bienes públicos al mejor postor.

Se nos ha dicho muchas veces que las nuevas políticas Energéticas son para mejorar la calidad de vida, pero lo que observamos en las zonas petroleras, mineras o hidroeléctricas es más pobreza y contaminación. La realidad es que los bloques económicos mundiales intensificaron agresivamente su interés en nuestros recursos naturales y los gobiernos de nuestros países asumieron compromisos a través de los tratados de libre comerco (TLC’s). Por lo tanto ratifican y responden a esas alianzas estratégicas entre actores públicos y privados en lo local e internacional. En este marco, la Política Energética se enfoca en la planificación estratégica de largo plazo para la efectiva producción, comercialización y distribución de los recursos.

Los TLC’s o alianzas estratégicas público-privadas significan para nuestras comunidades el desalojo de territorios, despojo de nuestros bienes comunes, violencia, persecución, desarraigo y criminalización. Las mujeres líderes, sindicalistas, feministas, mujeres rurales, estudiantes, ciudadanas, ambientalistas vemos claramente como las grandes industrias extractivistas y capitales transnacionales se están instalando masivamente en nuestros territorios, con apoyo de estos tratados comerciales que trasgreden nuestras leyes nacionales. Además -discuten estos hechos en escritorios de empresarios en la Organización Mundial del Comercio (OMC)—en vezde tener cualquier participación ciudadana.

Nuestros pueblos están sufriendo una gran oleada de persecución, y re-militarización, los movimientos campesinos y comunidades indígenas se les tilda de terroristas o de oponerse al “desarrollo” porque no estamos a favor dela extranjerización del territorio.

A pesar de ser países con enormes riquezas naturales y culturales, se nos llaman países sub desarrollados y pobres, cuando en realidad hemos sido saqueados y empobrecidos desde que nuestro continente fue “descubierto.” No ha habido respeto a nuestras formas de vida, culturas e idiosincrasias, somos poblaciones con un enorme arraigo cultural y diverso. Este hermoso territorio que ha sido protegido por nuestros abuelos y nuestras abuelas, es el centro de origen de mucha biodiversidad, que ahora se ha convertido en botín de guerra de las empresas de agro carburantes, para la palma africana, caña de azúcar que en su afán de expandirse han deforestado las selvas y los bosques, secando los ríos y las fuentes de agua, obligando a miles de mujeres a sacrificar media vida en la búsqueda del vital líquido para sobrevivir. Las mujeres rurales del mundo están más vulnerables que nunca, nos han ido quitando las fuentes de sustento para desalojar a las poblaciones que no están en sus planes del llamado “desarrollo” y agro exportaciones. Ninguna meta, ningún desarrollo será sostenible, sin la participación de los pueblos. No es posible imaginar que después del 2015 tendremos la posibilidad de disfrutar de ningún derecho como mujeres, cuando hoy día está siendo repartido nuestro territorio en
feudos de grandes empresas.

Norma Maldonado is the founder of Asociacion Raxch’ och Oxlaju Aj, AROAJ, an organization of 12 communities Maya Q’eqchi’ of northern Guatemala. Maldonados been an activist all her life, and was also founder of the Integration of Indigenous Mayas IXIM in Los Angeles. She is an environmentalist and a native of Guatemala with a specialty in food sovereignty and indigenous territories. She has engaged in resisting neo-liberal policies and creating alternative.s since 2000.

30 11 / 2013

by Renu Rajbhandari, Nepal

Violence against women continues to be a challenge for post-conflict Nepal. According to available data two cases of rape are reported on average each day. WOREC Nepal, an organization working on violence against women (VAW) registered 1703 cases from August 2012 to July 2013. The survivors face numerous challenges due to the ever increasing impunity and lack of access to justice mechanisms in the country.

Despite this reality, the Government of Nepal has been applauded by the international community for its National Action Plan on UN Security Council Resolution 1325 to effectively address the increasing numbers of VAW in the country. Almost seven years have passed since the signing of Comprehensive Peace Accord (CPA) between the Nepal Communist Party-NCPN (Maoist) and the seven mainstream parties for ensuring peace and security. Although peace and security for the people was central to signing the CPA, implementation remains mainly unmet while the parties work to obtain power and maintain control over national resources.

Up to this period, the peace dividend largely remains with the leaders at the central level leaving the larger section of people powerless. Political instability has been used by the political party and the government to continue the culture of impunity. It is very important to note that reintegration of Maoist soldiers into the Nepal army was one among many other agendas such as constitution drafting, transformation of the country socially and economically, and truth seeking and justice for people affected by conflict . However, reintegration of the Maoist army has taken most of the time and has remained one of the highest priorities. This process has contributed to a deeper militarized mindset within society. The militarization process has affected the people’s collective mindset and the government’s priorities have contributed to the culture of impunity, making it difficult for women to access justice. The difficult, complicated and lengthy court process along with discriminatory laws compounded with unchanged attitudes and practices of security, judicial and health services has posed further challenges for women and those advocating for an end to gender-based violence and access to justice.

Similarly, extremist ideas such as demanding Nepal again become an officially Hindu country, the emergence of different religious groups, a faster rate of conversion to religion, and different forms of identity-based politics are being used to maintain the status quo among political parties. This has also contributed to the failure of the Constitutional Assembly (CA) in finalizing a constitution.  This situation has extended to the level that political parties couldn’t come to a consensus for the creation of the government, though they eventually agreed to bring the Chief Justice and retired bureaucrats to form the government. All this has largely impacted women and exacerbated the occurrence of VAW, which remains at the bottom of priorities for the government and the political parties. There is a lack of interest and effort to create the environment for access to justice for women.

Currently, with the announcement of the elections for a new CA, the militarization process has become more visible. There is a consensus and agreement among the political party and government to mobilize the army under the name of maintaining security during the election. This has largely ignored other issues which are key to addressing sustainable peace in Nepal.  Issues related to transitional justice and creation of mechanisms to address violence perpetuated against women during the conflict has not been given space for serious and thoughtful discussion
among political parties or within government.  

In this situation, the 16 Days of Activism Against Gender-Based Violence Campaign is a key space for women’s rights activists to bring issues such as investigation of cases of sexual violence against women during the conflict, and unresolved disappearances of their family members. The Campaign gives an opportunity to bring to attention the increased practice of gender-based violence and impunity, as well as the increasing difficulty to access justice by victims.

The question remains: Despite the militarized mindset of the government and the newly elected CA members, who will address these issues that affect women on numerous levels as a priority?

Renu Rajbhandari is a prominent human rights defender and medical doctor in Nepal and has been at the forefront of organizing communities to voice their concerns. She was appointed as National Rapporteur against trafficking in women and children under National Human rights commission and is the founder chairperson of the Women Rehabilitation Centre (WOREC), as well as other groups.

29 11 / 2013

by Amal Elmohandes, Egypt

Appalled by the sexual assaults that took place in Tahrir Square, and after attending a volunteers’ meeting for Operation Anti-Sexual Harassment (OpAntiSH), an initiative formed by volunteers in response to the mob sexual assaults that started taking place in Tahrir Square and its vicinity in November 2012, I decided to volunteer in the intervention group with OpAntiSH, in preparation for the June 30, 2013 demonstrations, calling for the ousting of Mohammed Morsy and dissolution of the Muslim Brotherhood, changing my mind from my earlier decision to volunteer in the safe houses’ group. The meeting was a part of the comprehensive plan that Nazra implemented in preparation for the June 30 demonstrations, in which mob sexual assaults were greatly expected. A massive response was needed from feminist organizations and others.

Preparations also included printing flyers indicating the hot spots in which attacks take place, and distributing them to protesters in the square to avoid them, trainings conducted in First Aid skills and Listening Skills to survivors of rape and sexual assault, and liaising with private clinics for the provision of medical support to survivors. Planning also included the operation of the hotline of the Women Human Rights Defenders Program (WHRDP) and its coordination with OpAntiSH’s hotline numbers for receipt of calls of attacks. Lighting hot spots in coordination with 2 political parties and other feminist organizations took place, and some of Nazra staff members who volunteered with OpAntiSH in various tasks, including the accompaniment of survivors to private clinics and hospitals to ensure that appropriate medical support is provided, provision of psychological support, and Nazra lawyers following up on cases being reported to the police. Nazra’s Executive Director also received calls of hysterical survivors after they were assaulted.

 As the date of the demonstrations approached, I grew more anxious of the sexual assaults that would take place, but focused my attention on the tasks at hand. After learning about the sexual assaults that took place on June 28th, a decision was made for OpAntish (in coordination with Nazra and other groups) to start its operations on June 29th, rather than June 30th as originally planned. In a previous intervention training session I had made a conscious decision to opt for volunteering in Tahrir Square, after expectations were made that attacks in Tahrir would be far worse than those in the vicinity of the Itihadeya presidential palace. An aspect of my role in Nazra was coordinating with private clinics for the provision of immediate medical support to survivors. I would envision the complete scenario in my head: a survivor attacked, taken to a clinic, her feelings, the terror of having a physician examine her, reeling into her private parts and administering medication. I imagined the forceps, the shots, the horror, and as my fear grew, my conviction became stronger. I imagined myself backing out at the last minute, but as some friends kept advising me to change my mind, I grew more stubborn.

I struggled somewhat with whether I should dress as advised by the core group members (a one-piece bathing suit under several layers of t-shirts, and 2 pants on top of each other), and decided to do so after all. When no assaults took place on June 29th, I felt extremely confident and grateful that I did not have to witness or intervene in an attack. When getting anxious about the next day, I quickly diverted my attention by focusing on the victory of the assault-free June 29.

As I woke up on June 30th, I felt the anxiety seeping into my stomach. I secretly wished that the intervention group would be able to save all the survivors from the horror of rape even though we were told during training sessions that we would never be able to save all the women. The application of what we had learned in the trainings would be much more violent than its simulation in a training session. As I assembled with others in preparation for our positions, a phone call was received by a core member that four women were being sexually assaulted. I renewed my faith in God, and as we were making our way through the crowds, I kept thinking of these women while staring at another volunteer in front of me, making sure that I don’t lose sight of her. Moving through the crowds, I was perplexed with the contradiction of the loving and generous spirit of the volunteers, as opposed to the roaring crowds and aggressors we would soon face.

The night was long; going up 12 stories of a building that my colleagues and I were trapped in with the survivors as the violent aggressors tried to break into the building; other women being brought in; searching with a mother for her daughter; waiting with my colleagues for a naked survivor to come through the door so we can dress her; going back into the crowds and reaching for a woman being attacked on the ground while being groped along with my colleague. The woman slipped from under the metal gate of a shop she was pressed against and we lost track of her; a child who couldn’t find his mother; being stationed to keep a look out from the window of the building for any attacks taking place… As I viewed the crowds, roaring, chanting, screaming, waving their flags, I felt disconnected. I was closely searching for any attacks taking place while the crowds below ambivalently cheered none among them aware of the women being sexually assaulted or raped in their midst. I felt a sudden overwhelming surge of disgust, for the reality of these sexual assaults on the ground was far uglier than I thought. On that day alone, 46 sexual assaults, some of which were rape had taken place, and 186 sexual assaults had taken place during the period June 28 to July 7, 2013.

Amal Elmohandes works as the Director of the Women Human Rights Defenders (WHRD) Program at Nazra for Feminist Studies. Before joining Nazra, she worked at the Bi-National Fulbright Commission in Egypt under the Community College Initiative.

28 11 / 2013

By Michael Kaufman

For too long, women stood alone. The woman, alone in her kitchen, after her husband beat her. The woman, alone in her bed, after her boyfriend raped her. The woman, locked alone in a room, by the men who trafficked her. The girl alone, harassed by a schoolmate.

Forty or so years ago, women started saying to their sisters: “You will not be alone.” And so, with tenacity and courage, they stared abusers in the face and set up women’s shelters and crisis centers. They researched the problem and questioned the role of the media, religion, and the state
in allowing the violence. They pushed for better laws and training of police. They challenged harmful traditions. They provided a voice for those girls and women who, for too long, had been silenced. 

It took too long, but finally, men all over the world are now saying to our sisters, our mothers, our daughters, our wives, our friends, and to the women of the world: It’s time we stood at your side. And we are realizing that standing up to end gender based violence also means championing better ideals for ourselves.

There were three of us, inspired by the women around us, who started the White Ribbon Campaign in 1991in Canada where I live. At the time, it was unusual for men to speak out against men’s violence towards women. But now, two decades later, this little campaign has spread to about eighty countries. And it’s only one of the fantastic efforts that are now blossoming wherever you turn.

Our awareness-raising efforts aimed at men and boys have spread because women everywhere have said no to the violence. But these efforts have also spread because there are more and more men who want the violence to end. Although far too many men use violence in their relationships, the truth is that in most of the world, the majority of men do not. However, the problem has been the silence of that majority. Because of men’s disproportionate social, political, economic, and religious power, men’s silence amounts to tacit consent.

Recognizing this, many of our efforts are aimed at encouraging men who don’t use violence to speak out against gender based violence to their friends and workmates, and their fathers, uncles, brothers and sons.

In our work, we have learned that positive approaches to reach men and boys are most effective in ending our silence. We speak out in favor of equality between women and men. We speak out for new ideas of manhood that do not include violence. We speak out for better laws and for training of police and judges to implement the laws. We speak out for state support of services for women who are survivors of violence and want to leave violent relationships.

White Ribbon in particular has also spread because it is a campaign that believes that people in their own countries and communities, in their own workplaces, schools and religious institutions, know best how to reach the boys and men around them. No one “owns” White Ribbon. It is an idea and symbol we encourage all boys and men to embrace and make their own.

As a result, White Ribbon campaigns are incredibly diverse: from men in contingents at Carnival in Brazil, to sports teams raising money for women’s shelters, to work with religious officials in Pakistan (some of whom have issued a fatwa against violence towards women), to schoolboys writing chalk messages on sidewalks in Singapore, to leaders of the Australian army speaking out against sexual harassment in their ranks.

Those of us who have been doing this work among men are now also looking not only to raise awareness, but for long-term solutions. For example, our new MenCare campaign focuses on social policy and public education to reach the goal of men doing fifty percent of parenting work, and doing so in nurturing, non-violent ways. We see this as key for ending the cycle of violence and establishing caregiving, and not domination and even violence, as central to our practices and beliefs of what it means to be a man.

Not too long ago, it was only a handful of men here or there who were speaking out against this violence. Now, finally, at last, millions of men are echoing the words of our sisters: “You are not alone.”

Michael Kaufman is co-founder of the White Ribbon Campaign, a writer, public speaker, and long-time activist supporting gender equality. His latest book is “A Guy’s Guide to Feminism.” He is writing a book on international efforts to engage men to end men’s violence against
women, and another book, with Gary Barker, on the global transformation of fatherhood. We encourage you to read his blog at www.michaelkaufman.com. @genderEQ