This week marks the start of the 56th session of the Commission on the Status of Women (CSW) at the United Nations. As part of CSW, I took part in an open discussion on the Center for Women’s Global Leadership’s 16 Days Campaign.

The Campaign spans the 16 days between the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women on November 25 to Human Rights Day on December 10. It encourages activism from around the world in combating gender-based violence.

Last year, hundreds of organizations from over 150 countries participated in the 16 Days Campaign–its most successful year yet.

Now, I want to open the discussion to you – What do you think next year’s theme should be? How can we connect all the diverse organizations participating in the 16 Days Campaign? And how can we make sure to continue our committed activism against gender-based violence beyond the 16 days?

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Every morning, a young girl in rural Kenya goes on a scavenger hunt. It’s her job: to find and fetch potable water and cooking fuel—dung, weeds, brush, twigs.  It takes six or eight hours.  She might, instead, be home safe from the risk of sexual assault. She might, instead, be in school.

A simple stove can lift her burdens and change her life.

The simple stove is a solar cooker, fueled by the free heat of the sun.  A cardboard and mylar fold-up contraption, the “CooKit” panel cooker also pasteurizes water and milk. It sterilizes baby equipment and kitchen and hygiene utensils. It kills microbes in dirty water that cause cholera and giardia. It breaks our reliance on fuel that causes environmental degradation. Since 1987, when Solar Cooker International (SCI) was established, more than 30,000 solar cookers have found their way into homes in countries with plentiful sunlight.

The high-tech low cost (U.S. $25) “CooKit” was described at a panel event I attended at the 56th session of the Commission on the Status of Women at the United Nations, entitled “From Seeding to Feeding: The Role of Women and Girls Across the Life Cycle of Food.”

This effort is part of a larger pledge to support new initiatives that cut down on time spent gathering water and cooking fuel, and on environmental degradation—initiatives that MADRE and our partners are charting. In Guatemala, we are working with our partners at Muixil to help women establish micro-farms to feed their families and generate income.  In Nicaragua, our partner Wangki Tangni provides women with organic seeds and training in sustainable agriculture. In Sudan, our sister organization Zenab for Women in Development is also aiding rural women with tools, seeds and training.

The simplest object can have an enormous impact–a seed, a spade, a solar stove. “Give me a lever and I can change the world,” the old saying goes. And Aline Lederman, vice president of SCI, echoed the thought at the panel: with a solar stove, “we can change the contribution of rural girls to society.”

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On February 26, 2012, the Committee on the Status of Women (CSW) granted Mirna Cunningham the 2012 NGO CSW Woman of Distinction Award for her dedication to rural women’s and Indigenous Peoples’ issues.

MADRE congratulates Mirna, who was core to our founding in 1983 and remains a close and dedicated partner and friend today. Over the years, her tireless advocacy for rural women’s and Indigenous Peoples’ issues helped sow the seeds of landmark human rights victories, in Nicaragua and beyond.

Mirna, an Indigenous Miskita woman from Nicaragua, defied discrimination to become the country’s first woman Miskita doctor. She played an integral role in her community as a powerful organizer, leader and vocal advocate of women’s human rights.

Mirna rose to prominence as the first female Miskita governor of the autonomous region, brokering the negotiation of major peace agreements; including the Law of Autonomy of the Indigenous Peoples and Ethnic Communities from the Atlantic Coast of Nicaragua (1987) and the establishment of the first autonomous regional government. She served on the Autonomous Regional Council of the RAAN as well as the Deputy of the Autonomous Region of the North Atlantic Coast in the National Assembly.

Mirna is also a member of the Board of Directors of the Global Fund for Women and serves as an advisor to the Alliance of Indigenous Women of Mexico and Central America, the Continental Network of Indigenous Women and the International Indigenous Women’s Forum (FIMI). She is President of the Center for Autonomy and Development of Indigenous Peoples (CADPI) an organization co-founded by MADRE.

MADRE applauds Mirna for her lifelong dedication to women’s human rights. Her demonstrated commitment continues to empower and inspire women worldwide.

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The 56th session of the Commission on the Status of Women (CSW) began this week on Monday at the United Nations Headquarters in New York. It will last through Friday, March 9th.

CSW is the principal global policy-making body dedicated exclusively to gender equality and the advancement of women. Each year CSW focuses on a collection of themes. This year the main theme is the empowerment of rural women and their contributions to the fight against hunger and poverty. If you want to join in on the discussions, there are a number of panels that are open to the public. Click here for a full listing.

We also invite you to join MADRE and our sister organizations on Thursday, March 1 at 12:30pm to hear the strategies and stories of rural women. Hubbie Hussein al-Haji from Womankind Kenya will share information on women’s strategies to provide famine relief. Rose Cunningham from Nicaragua’s Wangki Tangni will speak on organizing to end hunger and violence. Zenab for Women in Development’s Fatima Ahmed will lead a discussion on how Sudan’s women farmers can work together to combat discrimination and climate change. And finally, KOFAVIV’s Malya Villard-Appolon will highlight the stories of Haiti’s  rural women displaced to urban spaces. The event will be held at the UN Church Center at 777 1st Avenue and 44th Street.

MADRE will be participating in three other events at this year’s CSW. For more information about these panels, click here.

We hope to see you there!

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In 2009 an anti-homosexuality bill was introduced in Uganda calling for the criminalization of homosexuality. Citizens were required to report homosexual activity to the police or else risk imprisonment. Gay people faced the threat of convictions resulting in sentences of life imprisonment–or even the death penalty. Following overwhelming international opposition, the legislation was shelved.

But attacks on the LGBTI community have continued. In January 2011, leading gay rights activist David Kato was bludgeoned to death. Frank Mugisha, Executive Director of Sexual Minorities of Uganda (SMUG), has been routinely threatened and harassed.

After failing to be adopted in 2011, the bill was once again  re-introduced this month by David Bahati, its author.

Just one week later, Uganda’s State Minister of Ethics shut down a human rights workshop. It was organized by  Freedom and Roam Uganda (FARUG), an organization that combats discrimination against the Ugandan LGBTI community. He claimed the workshop was illegal and raided the hotel in which it was being held. He also ordered the arrest of FARUG’s Executive Director, Kashsa Jacqueline Nabagesera.

These are just some of the appalling consequences of the bill. It not only promotes hatred and discrimination, but legalizes it. It reinforces and institutionalizes violence against the LGBTI community and human rights defenders.

MADRE stands in solidarity with Women Living Under Muslim Laws/Violence Is Not Our Culture (WLUML/VNC) and other human rights groups in condemning Nabagesera’s recent arrest and the shut down of the human rights workshop. MADRE calls on the Ugandan government to protect its citizens–including LGBTI persons and LGBTI rights defenders–and reject the Anti-Homosexuality Bill once and for all.

For more information about the anti-homosexuality bill, click here. More information about the Violence Is Not Our Culture (VNC) campaign can be found here.

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We have great news!

Women Deliver is searching for the top 50 inspiring ideas and solutions that deliver for girls and women. And they chose our idea—our Women-Centered Disaster Relief initiative—to advance to the next stage!

Here is what our idea boils down to:

Women are not passive victims in a disaster. They are pillars. They care for the most vulnerable, including children, the sick and the elderly. Their grassroots organizing builds durable social networks for disseminating aid and vital information. By empowering women, we enable recovery and build resilience.

If you agree, please vote for this idea. With your vote, you can help us shine a new light on women’s leadership in disaster relief.

Here’s how you can vote: Click here and find MADRE listed at #19 under Leadership and Empowerment Programs. Check the box and click “Submit” to vote!

For more information about our disaster relief work with our partners, click here.

For more information about our Women-Centered Disaster Relief Initiative in the Women Deliver 50, click here.

For more information about Women Deliver 50, click here.

Take Action:

Vote

Learn More:

Emergency & Disaster Relief Fund

MADRE’s Women Deliver 50 Nomination

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WHRDs are women human rights defenders. They are women who work to defend human rights and all who defend women’s rights as human rights. They advocate for gender equality, economic and environmental justice, sexual rights and more.

On June 8, 2011, Ana Fabricia Cordoba, a member of the Ruta Pacifica de las Muerjes, was shot dead by an unidentified gunman. She was a community organizer and an outspoken advocate for human rights. She continued her work even with the knowledge that her repeated warnings of the threats against her life were routinely ignored. She was a WHRD.

On May 11, 2011, Maryam Bahreman, a member of Iran’s One Million Signatures Campaign, was arrested. She suffered 71 days in detention and 55 days in solitary confinement. She remains in prison, despite an order from the Prosecutor’s Office for her release. Maryam Bahreman is a WHRD.

Violence against human rights defenders is gendered, with women defenders working on women’s rights at increased risk of being threatened and suffering sexual harassment, sexual violence and rape. The Women Human Rights Defenders International Coalition (WHRD IC) was created in 2005 to address the issue of violence again WHRDs.

Together with AWID (Association for Women’s Rights in Development) the WHRD IC Working Group on Urgent Responses, of which MADRE is a member, has released a series of publications that focuses on the specific needs of  WHRDs at risk. The series highlights resources available to WHRDs and offers steps toward eradicating violence against them.

“Ten Insights to Strengthen Responses for Women Human Rights Defenders at Risk” is the latest in the series. It seeks to contextualize the violence that WHRDs face so that practices to protect them can be implemented. Insights include widening the sphere of who is considered a WHRD, using the Human Rights Defenders framework to protect WHRDs and making sure they have both international and local support systems.

In addition to being a member of the coalition, MADRE works worldwide to ensure the safety of women who are threatened with violence through projects like the Afghan Women’s Survival Fund and the Underground Railroad for Iraqi Women.

You can download a PDF of “Ten Insights” here. More about women human rights defenders can be found here .

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The Farm Bill is up for reconsideration this year. Reviewed every five years, it’s a pivotal piece of legislation. The first round of Farm Bill hearings gets underway today, and we’ll be keeping a close eye on the developments.

What happens to the Farm Bill greatly impacts what we eat, what food costs and how safe our food is. It also affects international trade and climate change policy. Just in the past year, we’ve seen the devastating effects of food crises around the world – from Somalia, where thousands perished during the famine, to South Sudan, where worsening hunger threatens a massive food crisis. The new Farm Bill must respect the environment and help secure access to healthy food and clean water, in the United States and worldwide.

Unfortunately, insight into the deliberations already reveals a likely cut of 7 million acres from the Conservation Reserve Program. This decision would lead to 11.6 million metric tons of carbon that, usually absorbed by soil, would instead be released into the atmosphere, worsening the climate change threats of drought and famine.

But some have already pointed to two pieces of legislation worth rallying around: the Beginning Farmer and Rancher Opportunity Act that would invest in younger, sustainability-focused farmers and the Local Farms, Food, and Jobs Act of 2011 that would support small farmers and the local food movement.

The new bill will have to be ready by this summer in order to be passed before the 2008 version expires in September. As deliberations continue, we must demand a Farm Bill that supports sustainable development, addresses a worsening climate crisis and secures access to food for all.

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When she was just 14 years old, Sahar Gul was married off to 30-year-old Ghulam Sakhi, a former soldier in the Afghan Army,  for approximately $5,000. When her husband’s family tried to force her into prostitution and she refused, they locked her in the basement bathroom and tortured her.

It was five months before she was rescued by the police of Baghlan Province in northern Afghanistan.

Sahar Gul’s horrifying story is just one of the few that have captured international attention in the years since the beginning of the Afghanistan War. We’ve heard of Bibi Aisha, whose nose and ears were cut off by her in-laws when she tried to escape her abusive marriage. We’ve heard of Gulnaz, who was charged with adultery for being raped and sentenced to twelve years in prison. Their stories are evidence of the widespread and entrenched human rights abuses that Afghan women face on a daily basis.

Over a decade after women’s rights and humanitarian needs were used by the US government as reason for going to war, Afghanistan remains a dangerous place for women. 87% of all women suffer domestic abuse. A woman’s life expectancy is around 45 years. One is eleven women dies during pregnancy.

The US occupation has exacerbated the harsh conditions of Afghan women’s lives.  It has supported a government that passed a law that allows husbands to deny food and water to their wives if they refuse sex, grants guardianship of children exclusively to their grandfathers and fathers and keeps women from being employed unless allowed to do so by their husbands.

But Afghan women are bravely combating these conditions. Even in the face of assassination for advocating for their rights, Afghan women continue to do so. MADRE created the Afghan Women’s Survival Fund to help some of these brave women women escape to safety. It has helped one such woman, Naseema, to escape with her three children from her violent husband.

More information about MADRE’s Afghan Women’s Survival Fund can be found here.

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“In the network of broadcasters, I continue to find opportunities where I can develop myself professionally. In October, I represented the network in a meeting about political communication and the elections in Ecuador. Opportunities like these really help my work as an indigenous broadcaster.” – Magaly Rivera Huayta

In the village of Hercomarca, Peru, two women excitedly talk into a microphone in a crowded room. They are broadcasting the community’s only news program.

The broadcasters, Pelagia Gutierrez and Pio Mendoza, are part of the Voices for Justice radio program, conducted by MADRE’s sister organization CHIRAPAQ.

(c) CHIRAPAQ

Voices for Justice reaches hundreds of people in isolated Indigenous communities who do not otherwise have access to crucial news about health and human rights. Run by and for Indigenous women in Quechua and Spanish, the weekly radio program has expanded to more than 30 Indigenous communities in the Ayacucho region of Peru.

Recently, Voices for Justice held a launch event of the Anaconda Prize for Indigenous and Afro-Amazonic film. The event screened the film “The Image of all the People” and showcased an exhibition on forced sterilization of Indigenous women and on sexual and reproductive health. The exhibition also demanded that Peruvian law protect all women from human rights violations.

With MADRE support, CHIRAPAQ is able to strengthen an Indigenous communication network. While mainstream Peruvian media often marginalizes Indigenous Peoples and the issues they face, the broadcasters of Voices for Justice offer an alternative to that narrative.

By amplifying their voices, they work towards a future where the rights of Indigenous Peruvian women are guaranteed.

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