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.
The trial of former Guatemalan General Rios Montt, accused of human rights abuses and genocide against Indigenous Peoples, displacing nearly 30,000 Guatemalans and overseeing thousands of acts of sexual violence, is underway. Today, the defense asked that the trial be suspended. Follow the trial:
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.
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.
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.
Today, MADRE joins all those rising up against violence, as part of V-Day’s 1 Billion Rising campaign.
Every day, our sisters around the world rise. The women of our partner organizations have always used song and dance to denounce violence and to tap into their collective strength and joy. In Nicaragua, Kenya, Haiti, Colombia and more, they embrace creativity to imagine a world without abuse.
In Colombia, MADRE partners with our sister organization Taller de Vida to provide resources, rehabilitation, and healing through art to former child soldiers. When our partners gave a group of children the chance to express themselves through drawings, they spoke of their experiences and their hopes in their own unique voices.
Below are a few of their drawings and their thoughts. (Click on each image to enlarge.)
I do not want to go back to an armed group and experience how I spent my childhood. I do not want to go back and be in an armed group or stay on a mountain and endure the cold or listen to the helicopters of the army.
I want to take a few steps to teach me more about love, happiness, the most important thing for me is to lead a new life, watch the sun brighten more light my path every day. I want to help children and help them recognize the resources they have.
I do not want to go back and live what I lived through. I do not want to shoot others and make them suffer in the worst possible way and feel alone in the world.
The step I would like to take in my life is to take back what I never had. And now I would like to study to move forward and help my family and be happy which is why I do what I can to have moral and strength to be what I want to be: a nurse, and to always have my own thoughts.
I do not want to go back to the hatred, the resentment, to a river of blood, pain, violation. I do not want to go back and see a lot of young people in the war. “The world is full of obstacles that you need to know how to cross”
What I do not want to have to live again is to belong again to the armed insurgency group and have to go back to being separated from my family.
What I want most is to feel as free as the air to take a step forward. And to overcome everything I would like to take a step to enable myself and be a good person. And I hope that tomorrow I can tell my story without fear and without fear and dread.
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.