Agnes Leina Ntikaampi is an associate of FIMI, a MADRE partner organization. Here, she speaks to MADRE about pushing back against violence against women in Kenya and it’s many forms.

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Kenya’s elections are not until March 4, but violence is already rising rapidly across the country. The elections, which have been called “complex and pivotal,” will de-centralize power and will elect new leaders for both existing positions and newly created ones.

The New York Times wrote that:

Seven civilians were ambushed and killed in northeastern Kenya on Thursday in what was widely perceived to be a politically motivated attack. The day before, Kenya’s chief justice said that a notorious criminal group had threatened him with “dire consequences” if he ruled against a leading presidential contender. Farmers in the Rift Valley say that cattle rustling is increasing, and they accuse politicians of instigating the raids to stir up intercommunal strife.

The article also mentions a nine-month-old child who was nearly decapitated in a brutal attack, leaving a long scar on her neck.

The article emphasizes the ethnic rivalries within Kenyan society between the Pokomo and Orma tribes. But as was the case in 2007, as MADRE’s Executive Director Yifat Susskind said, “In the case of Kenya, tribal categories are a short-hand for describing people’s unequal access to political power and economic resources.” In an article entitled “Inequality, Not Identity, Fuels Violence in Kenya,” Susskind says:

Thinking of Kenya’s conflict as a class war rather than a tribal war reveals those aspects of the crisis that are about material things: a fight over access to farmland, housing, and clean water. But that explanation alone misses a more complex reality. Because identity is fluid, partial, and somewhat subjective, tribal or ethnic divisions can be calcified, even created, when identity is invoked to mobilize people for political ends.

A coalition of women’s groups formed to respond to the crisis and the misinformation around the violence presented these and similar findings before a mediation team that included then-UN Secretary General Kofi Annan. But with tensions escalating again weeks ahead of the elections, Kenyan women are preparing once again to deal with the realities of violence and unrest.

Our partner Lucy runs the Nanyori Shelter Network in Kenya, providing housing, education, and a safe haven from female genital mutilation and early marriage for young girls. In 2007, as a wave of violence around the elections swept the country, Lucy and her staff kept the shelters open over holidays and weekends. It was unsafe for anyone to travel, and with incidences of sexual violence and rape wide-spread, it was impossible to send the girls home to their families without putting them at risk. All told, 1,000 people were killed and 650,000 were forced to flee their homes. Women and girls reported 3,500 acts of sexual violence to the police.

Nanyori means “you are loved;” mothers of the girls who stay there named the schools themselves. Lucy and her staff are preparing to provide shelter for their students and others in the community once again as violence escalates ahead of the March 4 elections. MADRE is raising emergency funds to make this possible. You can read more about how we’re working to address the situation, and  go here to help us provide a safe space for women, girls and families throughout the crisis. We’re telling our Kenyan sisters, “You are loved.”

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On January 21, 2013, MADRE called on President Obama to ratify the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women. Throughout this week, we will be calling attention to instances in which CEDAW has made a concrete difference in the lives of women around the world.

In 2005, CEDAW was applied to the case of Rono vs. Rono in Kenya to greatly expand women’s right to inheritance and land ownership there under the law.

Prior to the decision, “customary law” held that women could not, in fact, inherit land, even from immediate family members like their father. Over time, that tradition had eroded. In Rono vs. Rono, however, male family members claimed a greater share of inherited land and argued in court that under customary law, their female relatives had no right to inherit at all and were under obligation to accept the male heirs’ judgment on the estate.

The decision found that, in light of CEDAW, women’s human right to land ownership and inheritance should be respected. In the specific case addressed, the women involved retained their land and their ability to feed themselves and their families. Across Kenya, women were given new standing to challenge customs and become landowners in their own right.

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I spend most of my time surrounded by donations to MADRE. As a Helping Hands Campaign intern, it is almost guaranteed that I can be found rummaging through boxes filled with donations. Some might find this odd – why is she always back there?

And the answer is that I honestly love being a member of Helping Hands for this very particular reason: to be entirely hands-on. I enjoy venturing out of the office to personally meet donors and pick up donations, and I like physically packing the boxes and bags that we send to our sister organizations in Haiti, Nicaragua, Kenya, and all around the world. That is what first drew me in as a volunteer for a shipment in June and attracted me as an intern for humanitarian campaigns at MADRE this fall – the personal aspect of the organization.

The epitome of this was a recent project when I packed a bag for Sunita – a friend of MADRE – to take with her to the Afghan Midwives Association in Afghanistan. This local organization works with 2,600 midwives helping women have healthy and safe births in often tumultuous circumstances. The Afghan Midwives Association aims to improve maternal health, promote gender equality and empower women in a country where women’s rights are so severely under attack. These incredible midwives unfortunately cannot always acquire necessary resources, so I was glad that MADRE’s donation supply could contribute.

Knowing the donation storage room better than my own apartment, I quickly gathered a variety of prenatal vitamins, OTC pain medications, gauze pads, alcohol pads, syringes, and other supplies that would be beneficial to the midwives.  I also packed the bag with diapers, bed liners, and infant bottles.  And wonderfully enough, someone had just generously donated a breast pump—an ideal donation for the Afghan Midwives Association!

I remember receiving those exact medical supplies from numerous donors.  I remember reading hand-written notes from donors expressing gratitude that their donations could be used by women in need.  I remember inventorying each medication and infant bottle.  I remember storing and organizing the prenatal vitamins.  And now I will remember the culmination of it all: packing the donations to send to the Afghan Midwives Association.

It is a daily reminder that this is exactly why I work with MADRE’s Helping Hands Campaign: the personal involvement in providing humanitarian aid to local women’s organizations doing extraordinary work in under-resourced areas.  And it is this personal connection that keeps bringing me back to the donation storage room every week.

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Many people now want to shop sustainably and ethically. But often, artisans, most of them women, sell their goods very cheaply to intermediaries, who turn around and make an enormous profit on huge mark-ups selling the goods.

That’s why SasaAfrica is so cool. Sasa aims to use new technologies to allow women artisans to sell their products directly to consumers continents away. Almost everyone in the world owns a cell phone, but not everyone has a smart phone. Sasa will allow artisans with “regular” phones to take pictures of their goods, upload them to the site, take orders directly from customers, pack them up and mail them, for which they will receive the vast majority of the price the customer pays – cutting out the many very, very expensive intermediaries that have been used in the past.

We’re all very excited about this could mean for women artisans worldwide. Check out the awesome video below for more information:

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Today is World Food Day, and this year’s focus is on agricultural cooperatives—powerful examples of active, life-changing community engagement.

Worldwide, women and girls are primarily responsible for feeding their families. Women are disproportionately, overwhelmingly impacted by the expanding global crisis of poverty. Climate change exacerbates food insecurity, causing droughts one year and floods the next, and forces people from their homes. These conditions all exacerbate poverty – and again, disproportionately impact women.

MADRE advocates for food sovereignty, meaning that every person has not only the right to food, but the right to choose what food we eat and an understanding of where that food comes from and how it is produced.

Today, we are highlighting three of our partners, whose work to promote food sovereignty allows them to feed their families and support one another through the many challenges they face. By embracing sustainable farming practices, women and their families have the opportunity to support themselves for generations.

In Sudan, Women Farmers Unite to grow the food their families need to survive and encourage young women to become farmers.

Unlike emergency food aid, Women Farmers Unite gives women the tools, resources and technical assistance they need to sustain their families for the long haul. With our Sudanese partner organization Zenab for Women in Development, we provide women farmers with organic seeds and supplies, including plows and a tractor. A special focus on young women helps ensure theirgeneration continues to provide a local, sustainable food supply.

Women gain the resources they need to grow and produce food, alleviating hunger, improving health and nutrition, and fueling local economies. By working together to grow crops, participants build a network of women farmers who share resources and boost their economic status. Elder women transmit skills and lessons to younger women. Many participants are using their increased incomes to pay for their daughters’ educations, breaking the cycle of poverty and increasing the chances for further political, economic and social empowerment.

In Nicaragua, women farmers are Harvesting Hope.

MADRE partners with Indigenous Miskito women to promote organic farming and provides families with vegetable seeds. Harvesting Hope organizes a seed bank, through which women cultivate, save, and share local, organic seeds from one growing season to the next. The program emphasizes sustainable land use methodologies, safeguards traditional Indigenous knowledge of natural resource management, and strengthens women’s economic self-sufficiency and participation in public life.

Through MADRE’s longtime sister organization Wangki Tangni, Harvesting Hope organizes local farmers’ markets where the women sell surplus produce.  The markets have become a focal point for community cohesion, with Wangki Tangni hosting innovative culinary contests, games, and musical entertainment. The markets also serve as an opportunity for Wangki Tangni to distribute popular education materials about women’s rights, collective Indigenous rights, and women’s health. Women are earning much-needed income for their families, and are able to pay for necessities such as shoes and school books for their children. In the process, women are boosting their economic autonomy and sense of agency.

In Guatemala, women are Farming for the Future.

Indigenous Ixil women living in the Quiché region of the Guatemalan highlands endured 36 years of civil war. The Quiché region was the area most severely affected; nearly half of all recorded human rights violations – including the killing of 200,000 Indigenous People – occurred here.

Today, many widows and single mothers are the sole breadwinners for their families. MADRE has established small chicken farms as a source of food security and income. The project improves families’ diets by providing eggs, generates income for women, and builds participants’ technical and business skills, in turn creating more economic opportunities for young people in Quiché.Based on a community-centered model of micro-enterprise, Farming for the Future not only brings in money; it also creates opportunities for women to learn and then teach other community members about human rights.

Women are also now in a stronger position to negotiate the distribution of work in the household and provide positive role models for their daughters and sons. Nutrition is improving, which will ultimately boost maternal and infant survival rates and the overall health of the community. Indigenous women are strengthened as leaders come together to attend human rights trainings and plan future community development projects.

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Today is the first International Day of the Girl, and the theme is ending child marriage—an issue that MADRE confronts with our partners In Kenya.

Girls in rural communities there are often forced to marry in exchange for a dowry that their families need for survival. Often, families place a daughter into an early marriage because they believe it is the best thing for her, a more secure situation and circumstance than they can offer her themselves.

To prepare for marriage, they’re subjected to the harmful practice of female genital mutilation (FGM), which often leads to a lifetime of health problems.  And married girls—some as young as 10 years old—are forced to give up their dreams of an education and may face the health threats of early pregnancy.

Our partners in Kenya know firsthand the hardships that these young girls face in connection to child marriage. That is why we work with the Indigenous Information Network (IIN) to support the Nanyori Shelter Network. The Nanyori Shelter Network provides girls from Indigenous communities in rural Kenya with a safe environment where they can pursue their education, instead of being forced into child marriage.

The network is made up of six different long-term girls’ shelters that also serve as primary and secondary education boarding schools. The shelters meet girls’ needs for healthy food, clothing, clean water and other basic essentials.

The Indigenous girls who are fleeing forced early marriage often would not be able to obtain an education otherwise. The education provided at the shelters allows girls to become fully engaged members of society, make informed decisions, obtain productive employment, and play an active role in ending the cycle of poverty. Hundreds of graduating girls will become teachers, nurses, social workers and lawyers who elevate entire communities.

Access to education is an essential human right and no girl should be deprived of it. Young girlsneed to be given the opportunity, resources and access to grow into leaders in their communities.

Education is an essential tool in ending child marriage. Girls with a secondary education are six times less likely to marry young compared to girls with little or no education. Girls who earn a wage are less dependent on other people to provide for them, and they are viewed as leaders and as contributors to the local economy.

So today on the International Day of the Girl Child, as we educate ourselves about child marriage, we have an opportunity to educate others as well. We can begin to push back against the conditions that lead families to marry off very young daughters.

Most importantly we can reflect on the International Day of the Girl Child’s mission, “to help galvanize worldwide enthusiasm for goals to better girls’ lives, providing an opportunity for them to show leadership and reach their full potential.” And we can work to achieve this every day of the year.

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As of June 28, 2012, the State Department’s new list of governments using child soldiers has been released. From South Sudan to Burma, children are being exploited as soldiers despite international pressure to cease such methods. The use of children as soldiers has been documented in at least 14 countries.

The U.S. has attempted to stem this growing problem through numerous bills, including the Child Soldiers Prevention Act, which prohibits U.S. tax money from aiding governments that use children under 18 in wartime hostilities. Despite this, the law has only been put into effect once in two years. What’s worse, the US has offered waivers allowing countries that use child soldiers to continue to receive military aid.

However, there is hope. On July 3, 2012, at an UN-backed meeting, Somalia – a country that has a long history of enforced recruitment of children – signed an action plan to end the use of child soldiers. As the UN News Centre details, “…the plan involves the Somali Government’s commitment to end and prevent recruitment of children in Somalia’s National Armed Forces; reintegrate all children released from the armed forces with the support of the UN; criminalize the recruitment of children through national legislation; and provide the UN with unimpeded access to military installation to verify the presence of children.” It’s an important step in the right direction, one that will hopefully be seen and felt around the world – especially by the governments that still call children to hostile action.

Human Rights Watch’s 2012 report, “No Place for Children” gives insight into what children must endure at training camps. From grueling physical combat training to witnessing brutal punishments and executions to forced marriage to fighters, training camps such as the one run by al-Shabaab in Somalia are horrific and violate basic human rights. The frontlines are, of course, no better as children are used as “human shields” and suicide bombers. The words of a 10-year-old boy from Mogadishu, who experienced such strife firsthand, perfectly summarizes the terror: “I was with al-Shabaab for three months in 2010….  They wanted to train us to fight and I was afraid. I didn’t want to kill people. I wanted to go back to school and learn.”

MADRE has been doing its part to protect children of war, most notably in Colombia. With the help of our local partner, Taller de Vida, MADRE works to counsel young children who have faced these harrowing experiences, using art therapy and recreational programs.

You can read more about MADRE’s work with Colombian child soldiers here.

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Girifna,” Sudan says – roughly translated, it means, “We have had enough.” On June 16th, female university students staged a spontaneous walk-out in protest of “astronomical” hikes in food and transportation prices. A few male students joined them, and when the protests moved off-campus, the police moved in, resulting in violence and arrests.

Two weeks later, the protests continue, expanding outwards until few of the on-going follow-up reports even mention the young women’s walk-out.

During 2011’s “Arab Spring,” Sudan was struggling to work out an internal split, to become two countries of North and South, and to divide the contested oil resources. Given the intermittent protests and ongoing instability, it seemed that the larger calls for sweeping change would not be heard in Sudan for some time to come.

According to Muftah:

The country’s economic condition, which has made for a dismal standard of living, has been the primary breaking point. The majority of Sudanese will not willingly continue subsidizing a regime that has plundered 60 billion US dollars in oil revenue during the current self-inflicted fiscal crisis. They are unwilling to make sacrifices while the government uses exorbitant taxation and others fees to finance ethnically and racially motivated civil wars at the cost of 4 million US dollars per day.

The government’s now defaulted 2012 budget included 82% spending on the security and political sectors, while 49% of total cross sector expenditures went to public wages and salaries, of which 88% was for these two sectors alone. The agricultural sector, which is the main source of livelihood for 80% of the population, received just 3% of total expenditure with health and education respectively receiving 2.4% and 2.3%.

As the protests have continued, the police crackdown has ramped up. Reporters have been evicted and police have arrested upwards of 1,000 people. They have broken up groups with rubber bullets and tear gas, at least once using it on protesters inside a mosque. One protester said that the movement started as a response to the price hikes and austerity measures; now it seems committed to bringing down the ruling party.

It has been two weeks and the protests seem to be gaining steam rather than losing it, but with increasing arrests and violence, the future is uncertain. What should not be forgotten is this:

Whatever you call it, this wave of protests, this revolt, this revolution, this sandstorm, women, young women, set the spark.

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Doaa Abdelaal is an Egyptian Feminist specializing in producing knowledge, networking and lobbying for women’s issues. She has worked extensively with women in politics in the MENA region and is also a board member of Women Living Under Muslim Laws Solidarity Network. You could follow her on @DoaaAbdelaal.

The run-off for presidency elections in Egypt are this weekend – the first after the ongoing Egyptian revolution. The two candidates were the least expected to be at this stage: Mohamed Morsi, who represents the “political arm” of a group, the Muslim Brotherhood, that sees “Islam is the Solution,” and the other is Ahmed Shafik, who belongs to the Military that has been running Egypt for the last (60) years and still. Every one who is following the progress of events and incidents in Egypt is curious and everyone inside Egypt is worried, even if their decision is to choose one over the other or to boycott the run-off.

My main concern when I follow both candidates and their campaigns is how both approach women. From all my follow-ups of their public talks and press conferences I would say they simply do not see “women” or at best they see women in certain frames.

The first held a press conference last week to talk to women and about women’s issues; my conclusion after following the 30 minutes conference is that he talked about “women” in his circles that are usually dressed according to “modest” standards and are engaged in the different structures of the Muslim Brotherhood.

He sees women as mothers and wives who support their families, he played on the issue of economically disadvantaged women or female headed households whom his party is defending in the parliament by issuing them a special law of “health insurance” system, a law that will guarantee them minimal support of $40 for health services. But nothing more about an economic programme that benefits from their capabilities and guarantees them suitable living conditions. In most of his conference time, he compared Egyptian women to western “non-disciplined” women; the latter live in a society that violate them while in Egypt all the deficits of the west such as child abuse and ruined marriages don’t exist. He simply chose to ignore millions of children who live in streets in Egypt escaping abuse and molestations in their homes. He sees women as “Wives” and “Mothers” who need his protection from the evils.

As for the other candidate, I am not sure if he dedicated one of his press conferences to be about women. But in one of his this week, he kissed a girl with a disability who asked him to confirm his promises to support the people with disability in Egypt. A campaign gesture? Maybe. But it’s his attitude mixed of an army commander and a father that upsets me. I don’t want an army man running Egypt again, I am sure Egyptians didn’t and aren’t still sacrificing their lives for a democratic Egypt to be run by another man in a uniform. Especially if the army emphasis we see in big banners all around Egypt is that the relationship between the army and the people is a parental one: A soldier holding a baby “which is assumed to be the Egyptian people” with the famously mocked slogan “The army and the people is one hand.” A typical patriarchal attitude that the army has been practicing openly since of the Supreme Council of Armed forces took power in their hands after Egyptians toppled Mubarak on February 2011.

The two candidates for me are disconnected; while they are running from one press conference to another attacking each other most of the time, women in Egypt were busy with other things. Young women and men who are active on the different platforms of social media were leading a campaign against sexual harassment in the streets, work places and homes in Egypt, a phenomenon that is growing widely and systematically; I assume we all remember the famous picture of the stripped protestor to her blue bra. But they are not only on their keyboards but also in the streets and on mainstream media.

Women groups were busy for weeks advocating and lobbying for the representation of women in the assembly that will draft the constitution. They compiled names and profiles of diversified candidates who were simply neglected by the electing committee but results were far from disappointing. The percentage of women represented in the assembly is 7% (7 members) and three out of these seven belong to the Freedom and Justice Party, the party of the Muslim Brotherhood which has the majority in the parliament.

Whoever will win has to stop seeing women as an electoral bulk and start listening to them. I am not sure this could happen having seen both candidates’ profiles. But the lesson is learnt by women groups in Egypt who will continue and escalate their work as they have realized it is a long struggle. They understand that women are different in needs and in demands. And politics should be the zone for women to meet these demands and needs. A healthy sign of the movement is that it is diversified in age and in experience and space is given for newcomers to the movement who label themselves as women citizens who have specific needs and want to achieve certain demands.

Whatever the result will be of the run-off, the struggle now is for a constitution that guarantees a civil state (neither police/military nor religious) that respects personal freedoms. It will not be an easy struggle but it is time to have it.

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