The call to protect women and children amplifies as the Global Summit to End Sexual Violence in Conflict comes to a close, militants threaten to gain control in Iraq and families in Nigeria continue to demand the safe return of their daughters.
Earlier this month, MADRE joined our sisters and survivors worldwide for the Global Summit to End Sexual Violence in Conflict, the largest convening ever on this issue.
The success of this summit relies on activists holding governments accountable to their pledges. Last year, 122 countries signed a declaration to end sexual violence in conflict, and this conference grew out of that stated commitment.
However, unless governments seize the opportunity to learn and change, we will not see the policy changes we need to protect women. And unless we confront sexual violence in conflict – by gathering evidence, providing services to survivors, and prosecuting offenders – the echoes of war will live on long after any peace agreement is signed.
Even with war raging, we can still challenge rape. Syria is a key example. Women’s rights activists there are working to prevent and document sexual violence, provide peer counseling and outreach, train and sensitize doctors to recognize rape and respond effectively, and more. They are passing out information cards and leaflets to checkpoint military guards warning them that sexual abuse, from forced prostitution to rape, is a crime under international law. This strategy works because assailants are not afraid of domestic prosecution. But they know what has happened to military who commit these crimes in other countries after conflict ends.none
A teenager is bullied by her classmates. They hood her head and beat her body. Then they post a picture of their attack on Facebook. Why? Because she is an Indigenous girl, brave enough and curious enough to seek an education at her neighborhood school.
How many civic ordinances, national laws, international edicts, basic human rights, and moral principles are violated when her teachers and local authorities ignore these cruel crimes, the pleas of her parents and aunt, and the injustice before them?
So MADRE brought this girl to the thirteenth annual United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues (UNPFII) to tell her story.
On Thursday, May 15, which on the Mayan calendar is a day devoted to justice, we sat in solidarity with 17-year-old Angelina (not her real name), a Mixteca girl from Mexico, as she chronicled her two years of violations at the hands of her peers and public authorities. Together, we heard her rights and all relevant laws explained at a symbolic tribunal we helped organize, the “Tribunal de Conciencia de Mujeres Indigenas” (The Indigenous Women’s Tribunal of Conscience), which was a side event of the Forum.Symbolic tribunals articulate and advance justice for people who have experienced crimes that go unpunished. The first was staged after World War II. It was organized by Asian women outraged that the international trials of war criminals in Europe and Japan failed to address sexual slavery as a crime against humanity. Since then, national and regional symbolic tribunals have been organized around the world by women and Indigenous peoples. They are “a mechanism for civil society groups to unshroud invisibility,” said Guadalupe Martinez, subcoordinator of the Alianza de Mujeres Indignas de Centroamerica y Mexico said at our tribunal, where we heard several stories like Angelina’s and shared strategies for holding these healing programs.
Mexican attorney Nuria Gonzalez Lopez acted the part of judge on behalf of the Mexican NGO Consejo para Prevenir Eliminar la Disrcimiacion de la Cuidada de Mexico (COPRED, Council for the Prevention and Elimination of Discriminiation of the City of Mexico), an organization that is advocating for justice for Angelina. Ms. Lopez detailed the rights that were violated when Angelina was tormented by her peers, ignored by the teachers charged with the safety of their students, turned away by local government officials, and disregarded by other authorities.
“The state’s obligation to protect its citizens was not met,” Ms. Lopez said. At least ten sets of legal documents exist in Mexico to protect the rights of children, she said, yet none was invoked. Nor was Angelina informed of them. Mexico has laws against discrimination, but the children were not chastised. They were not told they were breaking the law. Local, national, and international laws protecting children, women, and Indigenous people. Laws promising education and equal opportunity. All were violated, none were mobilized. The events violated the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.Any child who is bullied thinks, “It’s not fair.” Any child denied justice by the adults responsible for protecting her feels that unfairness. The rights enumerated by Ms. Lopez articulated the justice due Angelina. She smiled, ever so slightly, as she listened. Just hearing her rights was a vindication.
Angelina assumed a false name to speak the truth. She traveled to New York City without her father’s consent. “Today, I give my personal testimony. I sadly say to Mexico, enough is enough.” In full freedom, no bullies in sight, Angelina held steady on her international platform, declaring: “When children suffer, society suffers.”
“Angelina is like a phoenix,” Angélica García, subdirector at COPRED, said afterwards.
“We must be moved by love,” said Ms. Martinez of Alianza de Mujeres Indignas de Centroamerica y Mexico. “We want laws not to be dead letters. We must get justice for little girls.”
The tribunal was organized by MADRE, the Alianza de Mujeres Indigenas de Centroamerica y Mexico, and the International Indigenous Women’s Forum (FIMI); supported by Rosa Luxemburg Stiftung, New York City Office; and facilitated by United Methodist Women.none
Recently, our partner Tarcila Rivera Zea – President of the Continental Network of Indigenous Women of the Americas (ECMIA) and of MADRE’s sister organization CHIRAPAQ – sat down with UN Women to discuss her participation in the 1996 Beijing World Conference on Women and the rights of Indigenous Women.
“After almost 20 years [since the Beijing Conference], we’ve been able to agree on the topic of violence. We’re united, indigenous women from all parts of the world, and also with the women’s movement. We’re certainly not alone! So this is a great step forward, and the foundation for the future.
Today, we indigenous women have our own identity, our own voice. And I believe that we’ve broken the silence. We’ve tried to break the silence in the most private arena: the home, the family, the community. And we’ve worked considerably over the years, at national and international level, so that now we’re not ashamed to call ourselves indigenous women…”
“Based on the progress in international and national policies, we indigenous women want to be recognized, respected and included in actions affecting our lives. We want to participate fully. We don’t want decisions about the future of our lands, territories, natural resources, the right to food, health and education, to be taken without reference to us.”
Read more here.none
For 30 years, MADRE’s strength has come from our sisters and allies. We are thankful and inspired each day by these incredible activists who have joined us to build lasting solutions for women worldwide.
When we celebrated our 30th anniversary, we were deeply moved by the photos and messages of support we received from our sisters. On this “Flashback Friday”, we’re sharing some of those messages with you.
Guatemala - Women Workers Committee
In this 30th anniversary of MADRE, the women from Guatemala are wishing you a happy birthday and let this year be full of hope and fulfillment for all of us.
Please receive this present from us. [Sings "Happy Birthday, MADRE!"]
Colombia - Taller de Vida
For those of us at Taller de Vida, to be a sister organization of MADRE is to feel that we are not alone. We have joined forces to transform the political violence in Colombia through processes which have a great impact on children and families. Our voice can influence international platforms to force the Colombian government to create programs and policies that offer a response conflict’s countless victims.
We are bonded by the solidarity of knowing that through MADRE’s support we can achieve change by using art as a form of resilience and to fight the silence of impunity.
At Taller de Vida, we are boys and girls who due to the conflict were never children. Sisters of MADRE, you have taken our hand, returned our dignity, and allowed us to advance and transform our history and our fears.
In your 30th year, we thank you.
Taller de Vida
Thirty years ago when MADRE started, the position of women in the world was very different. Thanks to the struggle and commitment of each of us, who have worked towards the realization of a change. We can say today that we have achieved significant progress. What, back then, was only utopias and dreams, today are realities.
Today, we celebrate together with MADRE the successes achieved in the defense of women’s human rights around the world. MADRE has always had its doors open to Indigenous women, who have always felt shelter in being partners with MADRE.
MADRE, today serves as an important point of reference for many of us, its actions have contributed to the creation of a better world, and for that we are grateful to its commitment, its sense of justice and its determination. And, looking to the future and to the next 30 years, we wish you much strength and success in all the steps that they continue to take.
Our alliance has contributed to improving our efforts towards the fight for the defense of women’s human rights in different parts of the world. For the International Indigenous Women’s Forum (FIMI), the sisterhood with MADRE represents the starting point for exchanges of experiences and mutual enrichment, solutions to the numerous challenges that we have to face everyday.
It is an honor to celebrate this day with you, MADRE.
Palestine - Midwives for Peace
Dear friends in MADRE,
We all send you congratulations for your 30th anniversary! We think of you warmly and wish you many more years of supporting women around the globe. In our region, we still feel great need to empower women and as a sister group, we see you as great supporters of us doing this!
Mexico – K’inal Antsetik
Queridas compañeras de MADRE,
Todas las compañeras de K´inal Antsetik les enviamos nuestro más cálido saludo desde Chiapas, México, uniéndonos a ustedes en espíritu en la próxima celebración que, tras treinta años de lucha y trabajo de MADRE, llevarán a cabo el próximo día 11 de marzo.
Enviamos hoy esta breve carta con el deseo de que cuando brinden en su próxima fiesta, sientan que también nosotras desde este lado del mundo, nos sumamos a ese brindis en reconocimiento de todas las jóvenes activistas que con MADRE suman día a día su esfuerzo, su ilusión y su coraje para construir un mundo con plena vigencia de los derechos humanos de las mujeres.
Brindamos con todas las que desde hace décadas combaten la inequidad y la injusticia contra las mujeres en todas las partes del mundo y con todas las que seguirán sus pasos, enarbolando esa bandera, llenas de arrojo y fuerza.
Abrazos fraternos para todas las compañeras de MADRE en sus 30 años!
Dear sisters at MADRE,
All of us at K’inal Antsetik are sending you our warmest wishes from Chiapas, Mexico. We join you in spirit during the next celebration of MADRE’s 30 years of activism and work.
Today we are sending this short message wishing that as you are celebrating in your next party, you feel that we – from our side of the world – are joinging you in toasting to all of the young activists who, with MADRE, are adding their efforts, their vision, and their courage to build a world where women’s human rights are fully respected and fulfilled.
We toast to all those who, for decades, have been fighting against inequality and injustice towards women all over the world and to those who will follow in their footstepts, raising the flag, full of courage and strength.
Sisterly hugs to all the colleagues at MADRE for its 30 years!
K´INAL ANTSETIK A.C
Sudan - Zenab for Women in Development
Salaam, hope you are doing well. Thank you so much to MADRE’s staff, volunteers, interns and supporters who have made a big difference in the lives of the most needy women.
I wish you and MADRE all the success for many years to come. I hope to celebrate the golden age of 50 years of MADRE together.
All the Best,
Fatima, president of Zenab for Women in Development
Kenya - Indigenous Information Network
The Indigenous information Network is happy to share photos of some of the women’s groups who joined us in demonstrating our appreciation for MADRE.
With MADRE’s support, communities now have clean water and livestock that has helped improve the health of those who have benefited. Also, IIN has hosted women’s human rights trainings to empower women who can now speak for themselves.
As we celebrate throughout the year, we can only hope that our appreciation will motivate MADRE to continue the great work.
MADRE, we thank you for supporting us. We are an Indigenous women’s group in the West Pokot community called Parakiror, which means kitchen garden.
We have benefited from learning women rights, which has further advanced our knowledge in decision making.
We pray that God continues to give you strength to empower many more. We look forward to the years to come.
On my first day of first grade, I cried when my father dropped me off in the schoolyard, scared to be left alone. In sixth grade, I worried about making friends in a new school. In eleventh grade, my knees shook when I stood up to speak at my school’s speech contest.
I was afraid, but my fears were not unusual. I was a young girl going to school, and my fears helped me grow up.
But I was never afraid that someone might kidnap or kill me.
Over 230 girls were studying for their final exams last month at a boarding school in Nigeria. When armed men arrived at their school and ordered them into trucks, the girls thought at first that it was an operation by the Nigerian military. But soon, they realized the danger they were in. The men revealed themselves as members of Boko Haram, a militant group ideologically opposed to education.
As war rages on in Colombia, children continue to be at high risk of recruitment. Young people from abusive or impoverished households are lured into joining armed groups in hopes of a better life.
Child soldiers are often victims of physical, psychological, emotional and sexual violence. Many grow up knowing nothing but a life of combat. Some manage to escape. For most, the trauma inhibits their ability to develop as healthy members of society.
Stella Duque Cuesta is a clinical psychologist and director of MADRE’s partner Taller de Vida. She recently visited New York for an event to present findings from a report called “Stop Hunting Children!” The report documents acts of sexual violence committed against children in the armed conflict. The event was organized by WATCHLIST and COALICO.
Researchers for the report used 15 government databases of registered survivors aged 12 to 18. One key finding indicates that, from 2008 to 2012, approximately 48,915 cases of sexual violence occurred in the context of the conflict. Out the total cases registered, 41,313 of the survivors are Afro-Colombian and Indigenous girls.
This data is incomplete data and sexual violence is often widely under-reported. There are likely thousands of children who were victimized but scared into silence.
Several civil society organizations in Colombia coordinated the report. This included Taller de Vida’s “Saquen mi cuerpo de la guerra (“Take my body out of the war”) campaign. This initiative uses art therapy to help children harmed by the conflict to overcome their trauma. Overcoming the stigma of sexual violence, the youth also organize community exhibits of their work.
Stella explained, “The girls and young women involved in the armed conflict want to participate in the transitional justice process, because they do not want other girls to suffer the same [trauma that they experienced].”
The campaign’s goal is to bring local and international attention to the issue of sexual violence against children.
They also want the Colombian government to be held accountable and forced to take action.
“We must demand zero tolerance of sexual violence by armed actors, and we must build the political will of civil society to end this practice,” said Stella.none
Have you heard the story of the healthy baby girl who was born during a MADRE women’s human rights training? No, it is not folklore. It is a real life example of a mother’s determination to provide the best for herself, her child and her community.
One day, in 2011, women from seven different Indigenous communities in Kenya participated in a MADRE human rights training. One of the attendees was Elizabeth, a pre-school teacher and local human rights activist. Wanting to learn how women like her could exercise their rights at home and in their villages, Elizabeth insisted on staying – even as the early stages of her labor progressed.
Later that afternoon, she gave birth to her daughter at a clinic across the path from the place where the training was held.
During a visit with the new mother and the baby, Yifat Susskind, MADRE’s Executive Director, was told the most touching news: Elizabeth decided to name her daughter Rose Mulenkei.
Her first name comes from Rose Cunningham Kain, our partner from Nicaragua who led the training. Her middle name was inspired by Lucy Mulenkei, the director of our Kenyan sister organization, the Indigenous Information Network (IIN).On the ride back to the village, Elizabeth expressed gratitude and relief that there would be clean water for her daughter to drink when she stopped nursing. She recounted the many people who became sick due to drinking water from a nearby spring, which was also shared by livestock.
Now, through the efforts of IIN and MADRE, there is a community-managed water purification system that has contributed to the decrease of waterborne diseases such as cholera and typhoid.
Elizabeth also shared that what she most wanted was for Rose to go to school. She told Yifat that many girls in her village were unable to receive an education. Instead, they were kept at home to work and then to get married, often before the age of 15.
Learning about the obstacles girls from Elizabeth’s community faced, Yifat wondered how she was able to receive early childhood training and become a teacher. Elizabeth responded by putting her arms around her mother, who was also in the car, and said, “Yes, because my mother also wanted a better life for me.”
There is nothing like a mother’s will.none