UPDATE: Since this blog entry was originally posted, there has been a further escalation in the violent threats targeted against our partners at KOFAVIV. More information here.

In the dark, early hours of August 23, unidentified armed men arrived at the home of Malya Villard Appolon, KOFAVIV’s General Coordinator, and fired several rounds of bullets into her front gate.

Malya in front of her gate, riddled with bullets.

Malya in front of her gate, riddled with bullets.

Although the police responded quickly, the assailants escaped. On September 4, three other KOFAVIV staff members were held at gunpoint near the KOFAVIV Center. The assailants sped away with the staff members’ wallets, cell phones, and the keys to the KOFAVIV car which the organization uses to transport rape survivors to the hospitals and to the courts. On September 15, Malya came back to her house to find that both of her dogs had been poisoned.

These attacks are the latest in a series of escalating threats against KOFAVIV workers and their families.

Since the shooting, MADRE has maintained daily communication with KOFAVIV, working closely with co-founders Malya and Eramithe Delva to enact a security plan. MADRE alerted members of the media, human rights networks and international partners about these threats. On September 4, MADRE staff traveled to Port-au-Prince to meet with Malya and Eramithe to hone legal and organizational strategies in response to the attacks.

MADRE will continue to support them through this difficult time. We’re thankful to be part of a strong community of organizations working on behalf of women human rights defenders in Haiti and around the world.

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Today, on the anniversary of the Stonewall riot that lit the spark of the gay and transgender civil rights movement here in the United States, MADRE takes a moment to pause and reflect on the momentous Supreme Court decision that struck down the legally enshrined inequality of the Defense of Marriage Act, and the change we see sweeping across not just one nation, but the entire world.

MADRE is based in New York City, just a few miles from the Stonewall Bar. We were founded by a courageous group of women who recognized that the oppression and inequality they faced was a mirror image of the oppression and inequality so many others faced worldwide. Today we stand on the shoulders of those women, and the view is very different.

Today, we and our family members, friends and colleagues have rights we did not have only a few days ago, and beyond the respect and dignity of being equal under the law, the security those rights afford to all of us, and our families, is tangible and real.

As we celebrate these victories with all our hearts, we see the work still to be done. In May, our New York City community was shaken when two gay men were attacked in Midtown, then another was murdered in the West Village, only to be followed by another assault in the same neighborhood.

In Haiti, we are supporting our partners as they cautiously, and at great risk to their own safety, begin to build a movement for equality in the face of brutal violence against those whose sexual orientations or gender identities do not conform to a narrow standard.

When President Obama spoke hopefully of the future of equality while visiting Senegal this week and of the inspiration he draws from the example set by former South African President Nelson Mandela, Senegal President Macky Sall stated publicly that he has no intention of de-criminalizing homosexuality in his own country, where being gay can result in imprisonment and torture.

As our thoughts are with Mandela now, whose country legalized equal marriage in 2006, we draw strength and hope from his words:

I am not truly free if I am taking away someone else’s freedom, just as surely as I am not free when my freedom is taken from me. The oppressed and the oppressor alike are robbed of their humanity.

This week, we have seen some of our humanity restored. To ensure that our humanity, equality and rights are kept safe across the globe, the struggle continues.

To find out more about MADRE’s work on LGBT rights in Haiti, click here

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I recently attended an event at the 57th Session of the Commission on the Status of Women, on “Women, Peace, and Security: Elusive Opportunity for Afro-Colombian Women in Conflict Zones.” It focused on violence against women and security in times of so-called peace and in times of war. The panel featured four women from four different organizations: Black Communities Process: PCN, Global Rights, The Center for Women’s Global Leadership, and AFAB (Association of Haitian of Women in Boston).

Carline Desire, the executive direction of AFAB, is dedicated to promoting Haitian women’s rights. She reminded us how instrumental the role of women was in the revolution that led to the independence of Haiti in 1804 yet how brutally they were and are treated. A strong wave of women’s rights protests emerged in the 1990s with thousands of women marching through the streets of Port-au-Prince demanding more political representation, only to be violently rebuffed. Rape has been used as a tool of political suppression and a virtual epidemic has emerged since the earthquake in 2010. Economic insecurity has also led to sexual exploitation, as women are forced to exchange sex for food.

Carline added, it is essential to raise awareness and work on providing education for girls, vocational trainings for women and gender education for young boys and girls in the school system.

This was a point of convergence between Carline and another woman on the panel: Charo Mina Roja, the director of PCN. She emphasized the disconnect that exists between different parts of Colombia. Colombia has the fourth largest economy in the Latin American region, yet there are rural areas that are disproportionately poor compared to very rich regions of the country. Colombia has signed all the international agreements on women and children’s rights yet minorities like Afro-Colombians (which she is a part of) are constantly marginalized, Afro-Colombian women are significantly unequal to non-Afro-Colombian women, and Colombian women in general are constantly assaulted. As Charo put it, “women cannot be women” because of the violence imposed by the paramilitaries who constantly use them as targets to prevent any political action.

A woman in the audience posed a thought-provoking and inevitable question: what can we do to change these circumstances? The program director at the CWGL emphasized a principle that MADRE holds dear: she reaffirmed how important it is to partner with local groups and grassroots organizations to help women meet the needs on the ground that they themselves identify. Charo Mina Roja added that raising awareness is essential and international solidarity is very important. Carline ended by reminding us that NGOs cannot intervene in other countries by imposing their own frameworks: women need to be empowered, need to speak for themselves and should not let others speak on their behalf. We need, in other words, to make big international organization shift their paradigm and focus on giving women the help they say they need, not the help outsiders think they need.

The women at this panel were all incredibly inspiring in their commitment to promoting peace and security within their communities. Not only are they dedicated to women’s human rights but they are also proactively fight to give women a voice. As Carline put it, “We do not need charity but solidarity”. At MADRE, we fight every day with our partners around the globe to promote such solidarity.

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Recently, MADRE and IGLHRC co-hosted an event as part of a two-week convening of activists for women’s rights from all over the world.

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.

Panelists represented a diverse range of geographic and activist backgrounds: Rose Cunningham, founder and director of Wangki Tangni in Nicaragua, which works for the rights and resources of Indigenous women; Azusa Yamashit, co-director and editor of Gay Japan News, mediator of a national women’s network of tsunami survivors, and LGBTQ researcher and activist; Thilaga Sulathireh, LGBTQ community organizer and co-founder of Justice for Sisters, which provides legal support for trans* women in Malaysia; and Charlot Jeudy, president of KOURAJ, a Haitian grassroots organization that works to end discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity.

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.

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Since the beginning of this year, Helping Hands has already received over 100 packages from around the world containing contacts, toiletries, school supplies, and medicine. Each donation we receive helps communities meet their immediate needs, aiding in their ability to carry on their extraordinary work to advance woman’s human rights.

We work closely with our sister organizations to provide those items they need the most. Most of the donations we receive from our MADRE supporters are personally unsolicited. This means that people have come across the work that we and our sister organizations do and send in items that are urgently needed.

As a humanitarian aid intern, hundreds of packages come across my desk each month. The generosity I see, not just from the donation itself, but the kind words in the accompanying letters, are inspiring. In the midst of several dozen donations received over the holiday season, two arrived that exemplify the core of our work.

One package contained 72 whistles and lanyards and the other 100 whistles and wind-up flashlights, tools that provide safety and security to women in communities vulnerable to sexual violence. These items were sent in response to the broadcast of CNN Heroes that introduced

Whistles and flashlights for our sisters in Haiti made possible by generous donations!

hundreds of thousands of viewers to the work of KOFAVIV and Malya Villard-Appolon. Not only did these donors learn of the situation in Haitian displacement camps, but they sought out ways after the program to find out how to assist. To see so many people moved to action after viewing the telecast is a testament to the power of Mayla’s story and the courage of those in KOFAVIV.

There are many ways to support the work of KOFAVIV and the other programs of Helping Hands. Not only can you donate material or financial aid, but Helping Hands also calls upon volunteers when packing our larger shipments. That is how I began at MADRE, and it is work I continue during my time here. The other day I packed a bag full of flashlights and whistles to send to our partners at KOFAVIV thanks to our wonderful MADRE supporters. Every donation is not just an act of generosity but a sign of solidarity.

If you would like to donate to any one of Helping Hands programs, please visit our site with our list of requested items.

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Today is the 3rd anniversary of the devastating 2010 earthquake in Haiti that killed more than 300,000 people and left more than a million more homeless. Our partners at KOFAVIV have released a statement; we share it with you below.

A day like no other, an unforgettable day, a day of mourning, a day of pain, misery and torment. It is a day that we will never be able to forget, where we had to count the bodies of the thousands of our brothers and sisters who died in the January 12, 2010 earthquake. A day where hope had disappeared, a day where Mother Nature was in a fury against humankind.

January 12, 2013 marks 3 years since complete darkness fell on Haiti. We do not have the right to forget  the women who were fighting against violence endured by women in Haiti, especially the members of KOFAVIV who fell that day.  We salute the memory of these brave women, and we also want to take this opportunity to salute all of our friends and partners  who came to our aid :

MADRE, CNN, BAI/ IJDH, Massimo, Henry Mars, Digital Democracy, UNHCR, Heartland Alliance/We-Lead, Limye Lavi, IRC, Haiti Solidarite, Lambi Fund, Seksyon dwa Lom, Network, Beverly Bell and all of our other partners from the United Kingdom. We would like to thank all of our partners and we want to tell them that we would like to keep collaborating because the battle is not yet over.

KOFAVIV will keep fighting to forward the idea of a better tomorrow, to help victims get justice, and for impunity to end.

<< Men nan men san silans ak anpil tolerans nap kwape vyolans>>

Hand in hand, with a lot of tolerance, we’ll break the silence and put an end to violence

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The New York Times recently published an article on Haiti’s Silenced Victims. Our friend and partner Malya Villard-Appolon of KOFAVIV wrote to them in response. We have published her letter here.

When a woman here in Haiti is raped, it is very difficult for her to find justice. I am a rape survivor; my friend Eramithe is a rape survivor; many of our friends and family members are rape survivors. But we have found resilience and strength, and learned to fight back. Eramithe and I co-founded KOFAVIV, an organization by and for survivors of sexual violence. In partnership with MADRE, an international women’s human rights group, we help provide medical care and counseling, and work to improve Haiti’s criminal justice system. And we are seeing progress. A new bill that we have worked on would create real changes in the way sexual assault cases are handled, providing relief for women like the one who inspired this article. We need support from the international community to make sure our government does the right thing and passes this bill into law.

Malya Villard-Appolon, KOFAVIV, 2012 CNN Hero

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Over the holiday season, some of our long-time MADRE members have written to us telling us MADRE means to them. Violeta is the community service coordinator and lower school Spanish teacher at St. Hilda’s & St Hugh’s. It is her fourteenth year at the school. Violeta is originally from Argentina and grew up in New York. We’ve shared her thoughts with you below.

I learned about MADRE many years ago from a friend and colleague who had donated her late father’s belongings and medicine to MADRE. As the community service coordinator at my school, I am always searching for good organizations to partner with.  It is actually very hard to come across organizations interested in what I believe to be super useful and valuable items (used eyeglasses, shoes, clothing, books, furniture). In MADRE I not only found an outlet for all of these goods from my school, but I learned about an excellent organization that has become a long time friend. Who else could orchestrate helping me to empty three floors worth of school furniture in a single afternoon? Thanks to MADRE, my school was able to send desks and chairs and cabinets across the world for further use. Through MADRE’s website and newsletters I learned more about their endeavors and even my (then six year old) daughter got involved, raising funds for earthquake victims in Haiti. MADRE never says no to me or to my school and I will never say no to them! I am so grateful to have learned about such a perfect organization to partner with!

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On Human Rights Day, MADRE celebrates the hard work and dedication of human rights activists worldwide and across history–including our many sister organizations. This day commemorates December 10, 1948, when the United Nations adopted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. The Universal Declaration has been translated into 380 languages and dialects worldwide, officially making it the most “universal” document in the world.

This year, Human Rights Day celebrates the rights of all persons-“women, youth, minorities, persons with disabilities, indigenous people, the poor and marginalized”-to have their voices heard. MADRE’s local and international advocacy is one part of the work we do every day to advance human rights and equality for women and girls. This department, where I have interned for three months,  aims to put the knowledge and power needed to change policies and practices in the hands of women and girls experiencing violence and oppression,working to create a world where “people have a meaningful say in policies that affect their lives.”

We work at both the international level supporting human rights policies in the UN and with governments around the world, and at the grassroots level, pushing for international human rights policy to make real change in the daily lives of our partners and the women and girls whom they support.

For example, we are currently working in groundbreaking ways with two of our partners in Haiti and Iraq to translate international human rights policy into rights and resources for women and girls.

In Haiti, MADRE partners with KOFAVIV, an organization that supports and advocates for rape survivors in Port-au-Prince. Working with KOFAVIV leaders, MADRE hosts workshops and conferences that teach Haitian women’s rights activists in Haiti how international UN human rights policy can protect the lives of women and girls there. Our next workshop with KOFAVIV will take place this February 2013.

MADRE is also working with our partners in Haiti in their advocacy for a new draft law that would be, if passed, a landmark in legislation addressing violence against women and girls in Haiti.

In Iraq, MADRE partners with The Organization of Women’s Freedom in Iraq (OWFI)-which has been working since 2003 tosecure rights for women and girls there. OWFI provides comprehensive shelter services for women, providing safety and support to women confronting violence. MADRE also supports OWFI in their current expansion of these shelter services to protect and support LGBTQ individuals in Iraq experiencing violence and discrimination.

This year’s Human Rights Day theme reflects the work that MADRE and our partners are doing around the world: advocating for the voices of marginalized people-whether rape survivors in Haiti, or women and LGBTQ persons in Iraq-to be heard, included and respected.

December 10 is one day, but MADRE and our partners live the message of Human Rights Day year round.

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On Sunday December 2, the hard work of KOFAVIV and MADRE staff and the incredible, overwhelming support that our members have offered to our partner Malya finally came to fruition at the 2012 CNN Heroes Gala. It was an amazing night. Seeing Malya and KOFAVIV’s work in Haiti honored was so rewarding, and being in the company of the other heroes was inspiring. I feel so lucky to have been a part of this special moment – and so thankful to our wonderful membership who made the night possible.

L-R: Malya's daughter, Malya, and Eramithe with Malya's 2012 CNN Hero award!

Malya on the red carpet with Maria Bello. Maria, who holds the honorary title Ambassador for Haitian Women, presented Malya's award.

L-R: Malya, Sahita, Eramithe, Malya's daughter backstage at the CNN Heroes Gala.

Malya and Pushpa Basnet, 2012 CNN Hero of the Year. Congratulations Pushpa! Your tireless dedication and hard work are such an inspiration to us at MADRE.

CNN's 2012 Heroes with Anderson Cooper

Malya and Anderson Cooper, all smiles at the 2012 CNN Hero awards.

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