We’re so excited to have some of our wonderful partners here in town for the United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues! Here’s some of what they’ve been up to:
Tarcila Rivera (CHIRAPAQ), Lucy Mulenkei (IIN) and Mirna Cunningham (CADPI)
One of the best things about the Permanent Forum is having the opportunity to see partners from around the world all in one place! It also allows our sisters to exchange advice and stories, and offer one another support. Here, Tarcila Rivera of CHIRAPAQ in Peru, Lucy Mulenkei of IIN in Kenya, and Mirna Cunningham of CADPI in Nicaragua, also a member of the Permanent Forum, attend an event.
Lucy at the working group on sustainable development goals.
Lucy attended a session where a Cape Verde speaker spoke out: “Africa should be given priority in post 2015 development agenda. Agriculture is at the heart of poverty eradication in Africa.”
Otilia Lux de Coti at the MADRE/RLS panel.
On Monday, MADRE and the Rosa Luxemburg Stiftung hosted Indigenous women from around the world who discussed and shared strategies for combatting violence against women. Read more about our work with RLS here.
My beloved coworkers have a saying: “You don’t have to be a mother to be a MADRE.” They’ll say it lightning-quick, in tones that range from reassuring to affirming to just plain old firm. And certainly we practice what we preach; most of us are not mothers – but we are MADREs.
I’ve been a big sister, a fairy godmother, a cousin, a daughter, a coworker, a friend, a best friend, a partner, a Wife, a Boston Wife, a Job, a teacher, a partner-in-crime and more, but I’ve never been a mother. In the most expansive set of the word, I’ve never mothered a single living creature. I can’t keep a plant alive, I’ve never been pregnant, I refuse to be independently responsible for the well-being of a pet, and my fondness for leather jackets and bacon says I’m not much of an Earth Mother, either. But I’m a MADRE.
If the coworkers, sisters, partners, interns and volunteers who make up our world are what I can measure a MADRE by, here’s what you need in your toolkit if you want to carry the mantle. You’ll need strength and compassion. You’ll need a big, loud voice and a willingness to use it when necessary. You’ll need patience: with systems, with other human beings, with the incredibly, devastatingly slow pace of progress. You’ll need endless reserves of determination and devotion to the overwhelming cause of making the world a better place for everyone who occupies it. You’ll need to believe in collective action and understand that the world is structured to advantage some and disadvantage others, and at the end of the day, you’ll need to believe unflinchingly that this ultimately disadvantages us all. Most of all, you’ll need hope. You’ll need hope when everything else in your toolkit fails, because you’re human, and building things is hard.
And in return for having these things and hanging on tight when it’s hard, which is almost every day, we all get each other. Like a mother, a MADRE is never alone – but unlike a mother, you can enjoy an uninterrupted night of sleep. Happy Mother’s Day, moms. May your breakfast in bed not begin at 6am.
The small town of Haweeja, where we work with our partners at the Organization for Women’s Freedom in Iraq (OWFI), has become one of the sites of increased violence across the northern part of the country as largely Shiite government militias engage with Sunni gunmen in a sectarian conflict.
The deadliest battles occurred near Hawija and Sulaiman Pek, northern towns near Kirkuk, and battles were still raging in the early evening. In Hawija, the army shut off electricity, and troops shouted through loudspeakers, urging civilians to evacuate, witnesses said. Government helicopters also fired at Sunni gunmen on the ground in Sulaiman Pek.
This is not the first time this small town has felt the impact of the legacy of violence left by the US invasion and ten year occupation. In 2011, OWFI discovered that children in Haweeja were suffering from unprecedented rates of birth defects, and disproportionately high rates of cancer were impacting the entire population. These health problems are potentially linked to a US base one mile away, where chemical munitions were regularly detonated and dumped. Since then, OWFI and MADRE have been working to bring adequate medical care to those in need and draw international attention to hold those who are responsible accountable for their actions. We have reached out to our partners there and will provide updates as the situation evolves.
Seeking to nullify the existing testimonies is a slap in the face to those who were the targets of genocidal violence in the years of Guatemala’s civil war, particularly the years of Rios Montt’s regime of 1982-1983. Indigenous Peoples, labeled as enemies, were systematically targeted by the military, and whole communities were destroyed. In the past month, people who survived this violence bravely stepped forward as witnesses to put their harrowing stories on the trial record:
The second woman to take the stand wept as she told the court that she had been raped by a series of men over three days in a military post in the Quiche department in the country’s heavily indigenous highlands region in 1982. “They tied my hands and feet,” and raped me, she said, “Not just me but my mother, too.” (Associated Press, April 2)
APR, from Chajul, weeped as she testified that in March 1982, soldiers came to her home and took away her husband, before returning and raping her outside of the house. The soldiers left her one-month old baby behind and set the house on fire, burning the infant alive. Crying throughout her testimony, JST testified that soldiers came to her home in April 1982, took her, her mother, and other women to a room in the local parish building where the soldiers tied them up, beat the, and raped them.
CBG wept loudly as she described being captured with her daughter by soldiers who came to Amajchel, San Gaspar Chajul, Quiche, after they fled to the mountains. She said that the soldiers raped her, beat her, stabbed her, leaving scars, and killed her child. Later, they forced her to prepare food for the soldiers. (RiosMontt-Trial.org, April 3)
Pedro Chávez Brito told the court that he was only six or seven years old when soldiers killed his mother. He hid in the chicken coop with his older sister, her newborn and his younger brother, but soldiers found them and dragged them out, forcing them back into their house and setting it on fire. Mr. Chávez says he was the only one to escape. “I got under a tree trunk and I was like an animal,” Mr. Chávez told the court. “After eight days I went to live in the mountains. In the mountain we ate only roots and grass.” (New York Times, April 14)
These are just a fraction of the testimonies that this ruling would seek to erase. Developments in this trial have moved at a rapid and sometimes dizzying pace, but here is one constant: Survivors have been waiting over 30 years for the justice that is their right.
Update: Judge Yasmin Barrios, who is overseeing the trial, announced that she rejects the decision to annul the trial.
For more information about how you can follow the developments in this trial, click here.
When I visited Za’atari camp, where Syrian refugees have fled by the thousands, I spoke to a woman named Hanan. She said the biggest problem in the camp is the toilets. They are far away from the tents and very dark at night. No woman or girl goes there after nightfall. And in the daytime, the women go in groups for safety. There is no way to lock the door, and they don’t feel safe.
One part of camp has lighting, but it’s only a small part, and the electricity is intermittent. “We need light,” the women told us. “It is too dangerous for us here in the dark.”
The camp is so big that some women have to walk an hour and 15 minutes to reach the area of the camp where there are services — clinics, feeding centers and schools. But services can’t keep pace with the exploding population, so people don’t have access to care or basic supplies.
We talked to Rima who is helping to distribute basic needs like diapers in the camp. She told us how the women help each other, even just by talking together. “This fills a huge need that we have — to share our pain and our strength,” she said. “That’s the support that women give each other here. We have no money, clothes or food to give, but we can give our ear to listen and our shoulder to cry on. I never cry when my children are watching. They have seen enough tears.”
We also talked with some NGO workers who told us that sanitation is a big concern. Because the toilets are so far, many families dig holes by their tents as toilets. In the winter, torrential rain spreads the contents of these toilet pits throughout the camp. Water is easily contaminated. And now that it’s dry, the dust that’s everywhere in the camp carries fecal particles that are also a health hazard, causing respiratory illnesses and other diseases.
Menstrual health and hygiene are also a challenge. Women don’t have access to sanitary napkins and have no appropriate places to change or dispose of their pads.
We did see one happy sight: a group of girls playing soccer and laughing together. “In Syria, we would never have this chance,” they told us. “Girls don’t play soccer at home. Everyone knows it is terrible here, but this is our one good thing.”
Somehow, these women and girls find opportunity in crisis. I’m so glad that through MADRE, and with your support, we can help give them the resources they need.
We’ve heard from many women like Hanan, and we’re determined to act. That’s why we’re bringing solar lanterns to provide light for women and girls at night. You can be part of this effort. Click here to donate.
In a refugee camp in Afghanistan, a six-year-old girl named Naghma has had her future traded away.
As the New York Times reported yesterday, her father wasn’t able to pay back a $2,500 loan. Now, as payment, he feels forced to give Naghma up to be a child bride to the lender’s son.
Child marriage and selling girls are against the law in Afghanistan. Yet, that’s not enough to protect Naghma.
This is such a stark reminder of a core lesson of our work. It’s not enough to have laws on paper to protect women’s rights. We need action to make sure the laws are implemented.
I’ve seen the power of that lesson firsthand in Haiti, where MADRE partners are organizing to pressure their government to take a stand against violence and discrimination.
This month, I’ll be traveling to a refugee camp where Syrian women and families are also struggling to survive. Some have made the same desperate decision as Naghma’s parents — to trade their young daughters away in marriage. I’ll be meeting with local activists who are speaking out against child marriages and organizing to create alternatives. I look forward to reporting back to you about what I hear from our partners there.
Update: An anonymous donor has reportedly paid the family’s debt, allowing Naghma to stay with her family. Across Afghanistan, countless other girls will not be so lucky.
The event, “A Dialogue Between Movements: Women’s Rights and LGBT Activists Share Anti-Violence Strategies,” brought activists from the women’s rights movement and the LGBTQ movement together. We sought to break down barriers between our work and to share strategies for working against the gender oppression that affects us all.
MADRE Executive Director, Yifat Susskind, explains why these two movements have sometimes been separated in the past, and why MADRE and our partner organizations are committed to bringing them together moving forward:
The intersectionality of oppressions is central to MADRE, founded by activists working at the intersections of gender, sexual orientation, race, religion, class, and ethnicity.
Panel moderator and MADRE board member Blaine Bookey asked panelists to share successes, challenges, and lessons learned in their work against violence towards their communities. She also asked them to discuss the overlap between movements and what we can learn from one another.
Panelists discussed violence and discrimination they experienced, and—regardless of the population or the geographic location—the experiences were strikingly similar. They shared stories of violence based on a person’s perceived gender identity or sexual expression.
Some ongoing challenges were also common between movements: Mr. Jeudy and Ms. Sulathireh shared that travel and distance were key deterrents keeping activists from reaching their communities. Ms. Cunningham and Ms. Yamashirta both shared that a lesson learned from their work was the importance of building trust in relationships with allies.
Finally, panelists discussed the importance of recognizing overlap between their communities as a bridge to working together more closely. Ms. Sulathireh pointed out that many people are active and already working together, in more than one community, citing the labor movement in addition to rights for women and LGBTQ communities. Ms. Cunningham affirmed the need to include one another, stating that ignoring a community is another way of perpetuating violence against it.
Several activists from around the world were listening in the audience and affirmed Ms. Cunningham’s key take away from the panel “when we come to this space, we feel like we are with you and you are with us.” Our movements are linked by common experiences and common goals. Coming together in spaces like MADRE’s event reminds us all about the community we share.
As part of the United Nation’s 57th CSW Forum, there was an event on Tuesday, March 5th, aimed at raising awareness and eliminating Hate Crime: Violence Against Those with Disabilities. The discussion was led by Annette Lawson, the current chair of the Judith Trust, which she founded in 1997 with her family in honor of her sister. The session began with a short story about Jane, a girl with learning disabilities travelling on buses in London, who was jeered at in public for being disabled. The discrimination was so hurtful that Jane got off the bus, making her afraid to travel alone for years.
After this sad, but true, story set the tone for the panel discussion, Annette initiated a brief quiz for the audience, testing our knowledge of statistics regarding violence against those with disabilities. What began as a simple show of hands for yes or no responses quickly turned into heated discussion.
The panel focused primarily on the difficulty of collecting data regarding gendered violence against those with disabilities, as it is hardly ever disaggregated by gender or by disability. The panel also suggested that attitudes of the police force need to be altered so that they understand better how to handle situations like Jane’s experience in the future. They also discussed the prevalence of insult and ridicule against those with disabilities in the workforce. The Women’s Empowerment Principles were suggested as a requirement for businesses to eliminate violence against those with disabilities. Ultimately, their message was that people with disabilities must be seen in a gendered perspective in order to move forward in eliminating discrimination and violence against them.
Emna Fitouri of the World Association of Girl Guides and Girl Scouts opened with a passionate description of the results of a recent nationwide survey of violence against women in her home country of Tunisia. The survey, which was distributed to women and girls in Tunisia, revealed that 55% of respondents believed that violence against women was normal and that violence was a sign of masculinity.
Angela Lauman of the World Young Women’s Christian Association provided global statistics on violence against women and concluded with a few remarks on how to combat recent trends, including three programs that the World YWCA promotes – Her Future (global), Young Women’s Leadership (Asia/Pacific Region), and Safe and Respectful Sex (locally in Australia).
Talat Pasha, medical doctor from Karachi, Pakistan, gave a harrowing montage of a woman who suffered violence throughout her life from infancy to adulthood. Based on real life accounts of babies, children, girls and young women, the story illustrated both the pervasive threat of violence at every stage of a woman’s life and her steadfast resilience.
Violeta Bunescu of UN Women detailed violence against women in her home country of Moldova and provided nationwide statistics on women’s behavior around, attitudes towards, and beliefs about domestic violence. According to data collected throughout the country, 90% of calls made to the national domestic violence hotline came from women accusing men of abuse. Still, more incidents of violence against women and girls go unreported for several reasons – many in society believe that women are the cause of violence, even more believe that violence is normal, and survivors are ashamed. The problem, Bunescu said, is that violence against women is considered a private issue. “How, then,” she asked, “can we begin to change the situation [and empower women] if violence against women is taboo?”
Kate Brady Kean of the Manukau Institute of Technology concluded with a presentation on psychosocial counseling for survivors of trauma. Stressing the importance of cultural sensitivity, Kean suggested that the best way to empower women and girls is to provide them with options. “The worst thing you can do is take away her power to make her own decisions.” Kean also provided examples of primary, secondary and tertiary interventions for the prevention of violence against women and girls from preschool through adulthood.
A new article in the Guardian, “Revealed: Pentagon’s link to Iraqi torture centres,” purports to bring to light the links between the Pentagon and Iraqi militias responsible for killing and torturing innocent civilians. The article refers to hundreds of incidents in which US military personnel were made aware of Iraqi forces torturing and abusing detainees and did nothing to intervene. But this news is not a surprise to many human rights groups–nor does it tell the whole story.
In February 2007, I wrote an op-ed ahead of the release of a MADRE report on gender-based violence in Iraq:
Since November 2005, OWFI has conducted a Women’s Prison Watch project and has found that, “Torture and rape are common procedure of investigation in police stations run by the militias affiliated with the government, mostly the Mahdi and Badr militias,” according to their summer 2006 report.
These are the same sectarian Shiite militias that are prosecuting Iraq’s civil war, the same militias that stepped into the power vacuum created by the US overthrow of Saddam Hussein, and the same militias that have been systematically attacking women in their bid to establish an Islamist theocracy. Since 2003, the political leadership of these militias has been handed control of the Iraqi state by the US, while the militants themselves have waged a campaign of assassinations, rapes, abductions, beheadings, acid attacks, and public beatings targeting women, particularly women who pose a challenge to the project of turning Iraq into a theocracy. As the occupying power in Iraq, the US was obligated under the Hague and Geneva Conventions to provide security to Iraqi civilians, including protection from gender-based violence. But the US military, preoccupied with battling the Iraqi insurgency, simply ignored the reign of terror that Islamist militias have imposed on women.
Even as the information is being brought back to light around the 10th anniversary of the invasion of Iraq, the critical link between the US’ role in training and funding this violence and the deteriorating status and increasing abuse Iraqi women have faced over the last decade is still missing. We have an obligation to the women of Iraq. We must continue to stand with them and help them build the peaceful nation for which they have struggled for so long.