What Affects One, Affects All

Recently, Amir Ashour, MADRE’s Iraq Human Rights Consultant, was invited to Lund, Sweden to discuss the increased persecution of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) Iraqis due to the country’s escalating conflict. During his presentation, he emphasized the need for the international community to raise awareness of the grave abuses committed against LGBT individuals and demand the protection of their lives.

The event was organized by Stolt i Lund, a Swedish LGBT advocacy group, as part of the city’s Pride festival.

Read part of his presentation below.

Amir Ashour, MADRE's Iraq Human Rights Consultant, presenting during a Pride event in Lund, Sweden.
Amir Ashour, MADRE’s Iraq Human Rights Consultant, presenting during a Pride event in Lund, Sweden.

Members of Iraq’s LGBT community have faced serious threats for almost a decade. Since 2006, there have been waves of killings of people who are perceived to be queer, especially in Baghdad. Simply wearing skinny jeans can make you a target.

These organized campaigns start with publishing the names of people who will be killed if they do not change their looks and behavior. Individuals suspected of homosexual conduct are sometimes burned alive, stoned to death or thrown off of high buildings.

Each year, there is at least one killing campaign. The most recent, was this past January.

Various reports underestimate the amount of people who have been killed and place the number at only a few hundred. But think about all of those who have disappeared or victims who were killed and the real reasons were never declared. The numbers do not reflect the reality of what’s happening.

It is now 2015 and no has been imprisoned for these murders. The government pretends it’s not happening, Iraqi society thinks of them as “honor crimes” they can’t interfere with, and the international community isn’t holding Iraq accountable for these crimes.

I’m asking you to speak out against what’s happening in Iraq. Let us use our voices to promote human rights for individuals who don’t have the same space and opportunities to advocate for themselves.

Whether you do it by posting on social media or talking to organizations and policymakers that you know or work for, you can make a difference.

We have to make a difference.

It’s 2015 and the world has never been more connected. Our generation is the most resourceful and powerful generation in the history of humankind.

If we don’t do it, who will?

Additional resources:

When Coming Out is a Death Sentence 

We’re Here: Iraqi LGBT People’s Accounts of Violence and Rights Abuses 

Why I Choose to Celebrate Mothers Through MADRE

Jane Kavaloski, a MADRE supporter since 1986, has for many years chosen to honor the mothers in her life through MADRE. Here’s why:

Jane Kavaloski 1“Mother’s Day became a national holiday in the United States over 100 years ago this May. The wish of founder Anna Jarvis was to set aside a day to remember those who have died in war and to work for peace. For years I have thought that the best way to commemorate Mother’s Day, and to honor my mother, sisters and daughters, was to make a donation to MADRE. MADRE is an organization that supports women and children living in the midst of war and violence around the globe.”

We thank Jane for her longtime support of MADRE and for her commitment and dedication to women’s human rights. Thank you, Jane!

myMADRE Link Roundup: Women Creating Solutions

What we’ve written, read, listened to, remembered, watched and been inspired by this month.

Nepal: Women First Responders in Action

Since Saturday’s earthquake struck Nepal, women first responders have been hard at work.

MADRE’s on-the-ground partners at the women’s group WOREC run a network of local activists. They are bringing emergency aid to women and families in the most hard-to-reach areas, including pregnant women and mothers with newborns.

Today, our partners are distributing 10,000 health kits for pregnant women and mothers with newborns. Kits include food, baby clothes, blankets, diapers, basic hygiene supplies for mothers and more.

See photos below of this distribution. Click to enlarge.

WOREC Health Kits Distribution 1

WOREC Health Kits Distribution 2

WOREC Health Kits Distribution 3

Help our partners continue to provide lifesaving aid. Donate here.

Women Confronting ISIS: How to Disarm Rape as a Weapon of War

Under even the harshest circumstances of brutal occupation by ISIS fighters, Iraqi and Syrian women are organizing to save lives and demand their rights. They are setting up shelters to protect women and girls, maintaining escape routes, providing humanitarian aid, advocating for international policy action, and so much more.

These women-led solutions must be spotlighted. That’s just what happened at a MADRE co-sponsored symposium with locally-based Iraqi and Syrian women activists and international experts who are addressing the crisis of women’s human rights under ISIS.

[Left to Right] Sara Ferro Ribeiro, Preventing Sexual Violence Initiative at the UK; Oula Ramadan, Executive Director of the Badael Foundation; Yifat Susskind, MADRE Executive Director and Ramzi Kassem, Associate Professor of Law and Director of the Immigrant & Non-Citizen Rights Clinic
During the symposium, Yifat Susskind, MADRE Executive Director, discussed the subtle but powerful shift in community responses to rape in Iraq and Syria and how this holds the potential to permanently disarm rape as a weapon of war.

“The real destructive power of the use of sexual violence in armed conflict is that it doesn’t only destroy the women who are targeted – it tears apart their families, it tears apart their communities because of these social norms around the stigma..What happens if those social norms are unsettled?…[Sexual violence] becomes a much less effective weapon.”

Watch Yifat’s remarks below.

Additional Resources:

For more information, read Yifat’s op-ed “What will it take to stop ISIS using rape as a weapon of war?” published in the Guardian.

Learn about the recent MADRE and WILPF co-organized conference between Iraqi and Syrian women’s human rights activists, here.

Former Child Soldiers Healing Through Art

Today, February 12, is the International Day Against the Use of Child Soldiers, also known as Red Hand Day.

Children living through war are often survivors of physical,  psychological, emotional and sexual violence. Some manage to escape. Many find it hard to overcome their trauma. Rehabilitation is especially difficult for girl child soldiers, since re-integration programs are often ill-equipped to address their needs.

Taller de Vida, our partner in Colombia, is working to change that.

With their “Saquen mi cuerpo de la guerra (“Take my body out of the war”) campaign, Taller de Vida uses art therapy to empower former child soldiers and survivors of sexual violence.

By using multimedia, the young girls share their devastating experiences.

Participants in Taller de Vida’s programs share a message for the International Day Against the Use of Child Soldiers:

“Que los niños y las niñas no tengamos que contar historias de guerra!” (Boys and girls shouldn’t have to tell stories of war!)


taller de vida 1

Silence stayed with me, they caught me. When I was 7 years old … I could not prevent them from taking over my body. Today, I am 17 years old. Never again will I let someone possess my body and I will decide who to love.

A message from Stella Duque Cuesta, clinical psychologist and director of Taller de Vida:

In Colombia, the war is not letting up, especially for the millions of boys, girls and adolescent victims of armed conflict who suffer its consequences daily: death, displacement, mutilation, sexual violence, and recruitment, among others, and who require progress in the peace process and care.


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I did not decide. My father decided for me. Instead of letting me go to the park, he gave me to the guerrillas. I turned wild … resentful … I was not a person. Why was everyone indifferent and did not look for me and rescue me? I was only 12 years old.

A message from Luna, a Taller de Vida participant:

This February 12, do not forget:

That the war in Colombia is a scourge that has disintegrated our families and has led us to be involved, used and to live a life of violence and sexual exploitation at an early age, also, it leaves us – boys, girls and youth – orphans. We want this to change and on this Red Hand Day we raise our voice and ask those who have the power to change our reality to act!!!

Because we have the right to be children, to dream and to build a future where no one decides for us and where we can live and grow overcoming the challenges of childhood and contributing to peacebuilding.



taller de vida 3

Innocence, silence and pain. We lived in the countryside, I was 7 years old, we were playing … but then the biggest horror of my life started. They began to touch me, and I did not say anything for fear of everything.

 Additional Resources:

Colombia: Protecting Children of War

Stop Hunting Children! Report on the sexual violence committed against adolescents in the armed conflict in Colombia

Creating a Conflict-Free Future for Colombia

How Do YOU Build Resilience through Your Giving? Lessons from 2014

Another year is fast drawing to a close! Now is a crucial opportunity to invest your giving in an effective, impactful way, so the change-makers you support can start the New Year strong.

But with all of the worthy options out there, how do you decide where to give? And how can you make sure that your gift makes the most impact for those in need? These are important questions to ask. But the answers aren’t always clear.

We’ve addressed this before, when we talked about the Three Steps to Build Resilience through Your Giving. When you’re choosing an organization for your donation, this is our advice:

  • Step #1: Make sure that those at the heart of the issue were consulted from beginning to end and that the organization provides services in a way that strengthens communities.
  • Step #2: Make sure that the organization relies on the voices of women and other marginalized members of the community.
  • Step #3: Make sure that the organization meets immediate needs and helps create long-term positive change.

What do you think of these steps? How do you decide where your giving will make the most impact? Share your thoughts below!

In 2014, we saw over and over again the wisdom of prioritizing grassroots women’s leadership. Bad news may grab headlines, but behind the scenes and in local communities, grassroots women activists are hard at work creating powerful, lasting solutions.

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When extremist ISIS militants swept into Iraq, our support to a local women’s organization meant that they could provide emergency escape, shelter and humanitarian aid to hundreds of women. They were there right away, even in places that large aid agencies could not go.

Frequent and persistent drought has tested the resilience of Indigenous women in Kenya—but by supporting the leadership of grassroots women, we can help make sure that they can face down this danger. They are innovating climate adaptation strategies like water harvesting to capture scarce rain and tree nurseries to provide natural cover for water supplies.

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And just this month, a typhoon struck in the Philippines. You may remember last year, when Typhoon Haiyan decimated entire communities. The news was filled with pictures of the devastation and updates on the rising death toll. And since last year, local women’s groups have been hard at work to rebuild more resilient communities. They made sure they would be prepared for when the next storm hits. And they put pressure on policymakers to respond quickly and effectively to disaster. When the most recent typhoon made landfall, communities were in a much stronger position to respond—and people survived.

Climate change is guaranteed to bring more fierce storms. And war will continue to devastate communities around the globe. But these examples teach us something urgent — we must support grassroots women’s organizations with solutions proven to work.

They are experts in the local and unique needs of their communities.

They are critical first-responders to identify and meet the needs of the most marginalized in their communities.

And they will stand by their communities for the long haul, chipping away at barriers like poverty, violence and discrimination that stand in the way of community resilience.

The answer to the question in the title is simple: when you stand with grassroots women leaders through your giving, you help build the resilience that allows them to save lives and create stronger communities. The events of this year repeatedly revealed that reality. And 2015 will give us even more opportunities to stand together with women to meet urgent needs and create lasting change.

To learn more about how MADRE and our grassroots partners build resilience, click here.