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 can follow her @DoaaAbdelaal.

It will pass… a draft of a constitution that doesn’t represent Egyptians or their dreams. A draft that did not engage them in the dialogue for change, which passed just two before the referendum, without giving Egyptians the opportunity to discuss it. When the revolution started, Egyptians looked forward to a time where they could evaluate their beliefs and values, discuss them, even change them and reflect it all in a document that recorded the whole process. But this never happened.

It will pass… the constitution that neglected most of the Egyptians. I remember looking at my TV screen when the committee drafting the constitution was voting and asked myself, where am I? Where are half of my friends who are of different faiths? Where is my 63 year old mother? How could they pass all these articles in one night with unclear methods of voting? No one in this assembly represented me and when they wrote the draft they did not think of me or of many others. They drafted and voted on articles that represent the vision of the Muslim Brotherhoods, their allies of socially conservative groups and Islamists groups such as the Salafis.

The draft represents a vision that sees women’s perfect place as in the house as a wife and a mother while the state could help her if she becomes a widow or get a divorce. It refers in article (10) to the role of the State and the society in maintaining the authentic character of the Egyptian family, and how they should work on its cohesion, stability and protection and of its traditions and moral values (I hope that a husband beating his wife is not considered part of these values). While Article (68) had guaranteed the rights and equality of women and men in all sectors of society, including political, cultural, economic and social life “and all other fields,” the drafters felt the need to add “without prejudice to the provisions of Islamic Shari’a” which opens the door to many contradictory practices that claim to be based on Shari’a law.

Article (68) reads “The State provides the services of motherhood and childhood for free. The state ensures the women’s health care, social and economic rights and the right of inheritance and reconcile with her duties towards the family and her work in the society. The state provides protection and special attention of household, divorced, and widowed women and other women who are most in need,” so how about me? While I praise the drafters for considering the “personal status” of different women, I wonder why they have to define women as being part of a family or formerly part of a family and now “divorced, widowed.”

I could go on analyzing every article and their contradictions, but what I care about most is the philosophy embedded in the draft. A philosophy that praises conservative social norms for women, children, youth, ethnic and religious minorities; a draft that introduces a political system that would be hard to describe as democratic in which the military keeps its special political and economic gains; and an economic system that adopts many of the guidelines of neo-liberalism. Despite this philosophy the draft will pass and we have to think of “The Day After the Referendum”.

So if Egyptians who will say “No” to the draft and the groups who will boycott are aware that it will pass, what is the reason behind all these confrontations, sit-ins and demonstrations? The simple answer is: the revolution not over. Because we are still in the process of re-evaluating our values as individuals and as a whole society, the answer is that the president should be held accountable for mistakes and should be stopped if tried to turn himself into a “dictator”, and that democracy is not about a constitution, president and a parliament.

The solution is not having a new constitution that limits the powers of the president as claimed, or forgetting that “Morsi” failed to fulfill or even start to think about the aspirations of the Egyptian society. The protests against him are against his failure, his party (which no one can deny is the political arm of the Muslim Brotherhood groups), and their attempt to play to the ambitious of the Egyptian society while in power. The protests are reminders of the continuing revolution and the rights that were not fulfilled.

The revolution continues because those who are in power failed to defend the rights of many Egyptians which were violated for years under Mubarak’s regime and in the last two years while the Supreme Council of Armed Forces were running the country.

So we are not just looking for a system that solves the problems of the last two years but to go further than this and dig deep into the society and its problems. We are not looking for a dysfunctional democracy as was the case for the last 30 years where “Martial Laws” were effective all the time. We are not looking for a “Morsi” who could easily turn into a dictator supported by a party and a group defending his powers violently. We are not the “opposition” who just wants to halt “democracy.” We don’t want “this” democracy – this is not democracy.

I remember a friend from Honduras who has been in the opposition camp against the leaders of the coup d’etat since 2009; she told me, “One day your revolution will have the same slogan as us ‘Ni Olvido…. Ni Perdon’ which means ‘Don’t forget… Do not forgive.’” And it is the case now in Egypt. So I hope those commenters and analysts who call for us to give a chance to this so- called “democracy” stop such calls, because we need to go on.

During the 18 days of the first wave of the revolution, someone wrote on Twitter “US, Europe please keep to your business we have a democracy to build.” I can’t remember who wrote it, whether a she or a he but it was very optimistic that day when we were still fighting Mubarak’s security forces. But it was true, western governments were busy trying to stabilize the region talking about “reforms” and they still do even if the price is the blood of young Egyptian women and men whom no one is held accountable for. The Guardian editorial on December 8, 2012 which accused the Egyptian opposition of halting the democratic process in Egypt reflected this stand and disregarded all facts and incidents that the Freedom and Justice party, Morsi’s party, supported by Muslim Brotherhood group continues to hijack the scene in Egypt. That editorial and many others focused on the National Salvation Front and neglected that the front is not the only opposition group and that the streets are full with sit-ins and demonstrations for two years now reflecting the same position and demanding the rights of all Egyptians.

Let the day after the referendum come… Some people will think that the situation is under control then, even will call it stable, and maybe celebrations will be held. But we should also remember that Egypt had a constitution, a parliament and a dictator which Egyptians managed to topple. The constitution is not the answer but a real “democracy” where we all as Egyptians have a voice; a voice that reflects our diversity.

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Violence recently exploded in Gaza and Israel. In response, MADRE raised support for women and children in Gaza who had no other source of help. Our partners there are community health workers struggling to provide urgent medical care. Meanwhile, our friends in Mexico heard about our work and decided to help in whatever way they could. With their permission, we have re-printed their letter to us here.

Chiapas, Mexico
November 16, 2012

Dear Yifat and MADRE,

Greetings from Chiapas, Mexico, on behalf of all members of our association, K´inal Antsetik A.C. (“Land of Women”).

We are writing in relation to the emergency campaign MADRE is conducting for women and the Palestinian people in Gaza, who live now under threat of bombardment and ground intervention in a new spiral of violence in that place in the world where, as usual, women and children are the first victims of the conflict.

We know MADRE’s firm commitment to the women and children of Palestine, and to Middle East Peace.

In the past, in a very different political and geographic context, but also as women subjected to situations arising from armed conflict, we were fortunate and privileged to have the support of MADRE, then embodied in the figure of Vivian, who we remember with love and respect. The commitment and dedication she showed us is still present in our hearts, and that has continued in the work of Yifat and all the sisters at MADRE.

As friends of MADRE throughout the organization’s historical work for women in the world, and as feminists and internationalist women, we want express our solidarity with the suffering of Palestinian women and children, and to join this campaign. There is little that we can contribute with our words, but we will join all those MADRE fellows in the world and send it to our sisters in Gaza. We have collected some money, and though it is not much, we send it to you with love.

We send our embrace through MADRE to all the women who suffer through this conflict.

K´inal Antsetik A.C.

_______________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Chiapas, México

16 de noviembre 2012

Estimada Yifat, Estimadas compañeras de MADRE,

Les enviamos un fraternal saludo desde Chiapas, México, en nombre de todas las integrantes de nuestra asociación, K´inal Antsetik A.C. (“Tierra de Mujeres”).

Les escribimos en relación a la campaña de emergencia que MADRE se encuentra realizando a favor de las mujeres y el pueblo palestino en Gaza, que vive en esto días una dramática situación bajo bombardeo y amenaza de intervención terrestre, en un nueva espiral de violencia en aquel lugar del mundo donde, como siempre, mujeres y niños resultan las primeras víctimas del conflicto.

Sabemos del firme compromiso de MADRE con las mujeres y niños de Palestina, y con la Paz en el Oriente Medio.

En el pasado, en un contexto diferente, pero igualmente sometidas como mujeres a las situaciones derivadas de un conflicto armado, nosotras tuvimos la fortuna y el privilegio de contar con el apoyo de MADRE, encarnada en aquel entonces por la figura de Vivian, a quién tanto recordamos con amor y respeto.  Un compromiso y una dedicación que sigue presente en nuestros corazones, y que tiene continuación en el trabajo de Yiffat y todas las compañeras que integran MADRE.

Como amigas y compañeras de MADRE en su histórica labor a favor de las mujeres en el mundo, como mujeres feministas, internacionalistas y solidarias con el sufrimiento de las mujeres y niños palestinos, queríamos sumarnos a esta campaña. Es poco lo que podemos aportar junto a nuestra palabra que sabemos se unirá al de todas aquellas compañeras de MADRE en el mundo para hacerla llegar a nuestras hermanas en Gaza, pero hemos realizado una pequeña colecta entre las compañeras de K´inal.

Enviamos a través de MADRE nuestro abrazo a todas las mujeres que sufren este conflicto.

K´inal Antsetik A.C.

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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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Today on the International Day of Persons with Disabilities, we recognize the over one billion people, or 15% of the world’s population, living with a disability.  Often, they face discrimination and human rights violations that limit access to education, employment, healthcare, and more.

The United Nations recognizes these problems globally, through Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. The UN has proclaimed today to be an international day of awareness, encouraging communities to address the exclusion of disabled persons and recognition of the challenges they confront.

Many of MADRE’s programs support people living with disabilities in the communities of our sister organizations. In Haweeja, a community in Iraq, families are struggling to cope with increasing rates of children born with disabilities. For nearly eight years, US troops were present, reportedly dumping harmful munitions nearby.

This small community exemplifies the US legacy of war, one that will continue on to the next generation of Iraqis as children continue to be born with birth defects.  Today, we recognize the efforts of Iraqi families and that of our partners, the Organization for Women’s Freedom in Iraq, for their determination and work to help children live with disabilities, birth defects, cancer, and other health problems.

And tomorrow, the US Senate may finally ratify the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, recognizing and lending new weight to this international treaty—a welcome development.

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The city of Baghdad was just waking up on the morning of Wednesday, November 14 when a bomb exploded in the streets.

Damaging buildings and blowing out windows and doors, the area of the explosion was heavily shaken, including the Mousawat radio station, where our partners, the Organization of Women’s Freedom in Iraq (OWFI), run a weekly human rights radio broadcast. Fortunately, our friends at OWFI are in good health, but their work for peace has taken yet another set-back with the bombing’s damages to their equipment.

OWFI is a pioneering women’s organization that has worked to rebuild Iraq since the US war there began. They offer shelter and support to women facing violence. In 2009, OWFI launched a radio broadcast to reach out to women who felt isolated and alone. For just a few hours each week, women have access to airspace not run by religious or ethnic groups. They connect with other women to create a conversation about sexual violence, discrimination, and women’s human rights.

OWFI’s work in Iraq is plagued by lack of security. Death threats are common for OWFI director Yanar Mohammed. Yet, Yanar and the women of OWFI continue to fight for human rights, despite the violence that surround them.

In a letter from Yanar, she notes “It is not easy to have a say in a dangerous city like Baghdad, but we will continue until a better day comes.”

The blow to the Mousawat radio station was a heavy one. It has severely damaged facilities and the organization’s capacity to reach out over the airwaves to isolated women. MADRE is working to help OWFI rebuild in the wake of this explosion. We will continue to provide updates here.

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In late October, MADRE intern Bonnie Haskell wrote about collecting supplies to send to Afghanistan with our friend Sunita Viswanath, co-founder of Women for Afghan Women. The following post is Sunita’s account of her experience bringing those supplies to Afghanistan!

Afghan Midwives

On my recent trip to Afghanistan, I had the pleasure of meeting Sabera Turkmani, President of the Afghan Midwives Association (AMA). Sabera came to meet me at the main office of Women for Afghan Women, along with Saleha Hamnawozada, the Executive Director of AMA, because I had brought a large bag of midwifery supplies including a breast pump from my colleagues at MADRE in New York. The women were very glad to receive this gift and will put it to good use.

I am glad to share what I learned today from Sabera.

Sunita and Afghan Midwives with supplies sent by MADRE

AMA was founded in 2005, and today has an immense membership of 2,600. 40% of the membership attends the annual gatherings where voting takes place on major decisions. After Sierra Leone, Afghanistan has the second highest maternal mortality in the world. In fact, the highest maternal mortality in the world is in Badakhshan, a province in the northeast of Afghanistan. AMA is present in every single province of Afghanistan – in each of the 34 provinces, a Midwifery Training School has been established. Since the creation of AMA, 3,500 midwives have been trained, and 80% of them are actually deployed in their own provinces as midwives. Sabera is proud of this achievement but says that many more midwives are needed. Sabera told me that in this country, 85% of births are home deliveries by unskilled midwives. AMA’s goal is to improve the health of mother and child throughout Afghanistan.

Sabera worries about what will happen to her country and her work after the foreign troops leave in 2014. She is committed to staying in her homeland and working for her sisters as long as security allows her to. Her dream is that every Afghan woman should have access to a trained midwife, and that every Afghan child should have a healthy mother.

Manizha Naderi, Executive Director of WAW, and Huma Safi, Program Manager of WAW also met Sabera and Saleha. This was a wonderful opportunity for these brave women leaders to meet and share about the nature and scope of their work. Now that an introduction has been made, both organizations will remain connected and invite each other to relevant meetings and initiatives.

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The terrible violence in Gaza and in Israel continues to escalate. As of now, ninety-six Palestinians and three Israelis have been killed, and many more people are at risk. The Israeli military launched a strike against a media building on Sunday, where both Arab and Western media outlets had offices. The number of civilian causalities is rising, including entire families and children (see full articles at the Guardian and the NYTimes). MADRE continues to monitor and respond to the situation in Gaza and stand with our partners in Palestine and Israel against violence.

More information can be found here:

Images
The Guardian

The New York Times
Al Jazeera

Live blogging and streaming news
BBC
The Guardian
Al Jazeera

Additional Articles
The latest Gaza Catastrophe (Al Jazeera)
Aid agencies warn of humanitarian disaster in Gaza if conflict continues (Al Arabiya)
Live Report from Gaza hospital (Democracy Now)

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As clashes between the Free Syrian Army and Assad’s forces intensify in Aleppo, Damascus, and northern towns across Syria, the number of civilians displaced by the increasingly violent civil war continues to grow exponentially.

In March, the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) estimated that the number of Syrian refugees would increase to 100,000 by the end of 2012. That figure was surpassed in July when fighting reached Damascus, sending 30,000 Syrians into Lebanon alone over a single weekend. Since then, Syrians fleeing violence to neighboring Turkey, Jordan, Lebanon, and Iraq exceeded 100,000 during the month of August, essentially doubling the previous number of internationally displaced persons.

Up to this point, UNHCR has registered 352,714 refugees in neighboring countries, but both the agency and these national governments acknowledge that this number is much lower than the actual population of Syrians seeking asylum abroad. The majority of those are women and children.

As MADRE has seen in other disaster and conflict response efforts, women are often the most vulnerable, as they are removed from their social support system and are overwhelmingly responsible for the well-being of children and elderly relatives. With new UNHCR projections for Syrian refugees reaching 700,000 people by the end of the year, a sustainable response, one that supports women and their families, is urgently needed.

The UNHCR camps, as well as the national governments, are striving to meet the growing need of those in camps, but there are gaps in vital services. Medical attention, particularly for the hundreds of pregnant women and young children vulnerable to illness, is severely limited. Additionally, according to Human Rights Watch, survivors of sexual violence are crossing into neighboring countries with greater frequency, but local women’s organizations that provide counseling and community are struggling to reach the ever-greater numbers of affected refugees.

To fill these gaps, MADRE strongly believes in partnering with and supporting local women who have a clear understanding of the resources and services needed to affect long-lasting change. We’re organizing a team of midwives from the region to bring emergency aid to Syrian refugee women. We will provide updates as that work progresses.

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From our friends at Jewish Voice for Peace:

Jewish Voice for Peace (JVP) calls for an immediate cessation of the air strikes and naval bombardment into Gaza and an end to the ongoing siege of Gaza. JVP urges Israel not to exploit its asymmetric power to exacerbate the instability in the region. We urge President Obama to  take a stand against these attacks and to use the power of the United States to insist that Israel pursue all diplomatic measures possible for the sake of life, safety and security on all sides.  JVP also urges the end of  rocket attacks from Gaza into civilian communities in Israel, which we believe is never justifiable, and which only serve to derail efforts for a just resolution to the conflict. Read More.

You can find their actions for Gaza and further resources here.

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MADRE condemns the growing violence that has killed at least 18 people in the past days: 15 in Gaza and three in Israel. We assert that all attacks against civilians must end immediately.

Yesterday, Israel carried out a targeted killing of Hamas leader Ahmed Al-Jaabari, in violation of international legal prohibitions on extrajudicial assassinations. Subsequent attacks brought the death toll in Gaza to 15. Reports from Gaza indicate that at least 130 people are wounded. Three Israelis have been killed in a rocket attack that collapsed part of a building.

These latest assaults come after a period of escalating attacks and tension. In the week leading up to the assassination of Jaabari, the Palestinian Center for Human Rights documented the deaths of six civilians in Gaza due to Israel’s military activity. That same week saw repeated rockets attacks from Gaza into Israel, also in violation of international law.

In January, Israel will be holding elections, and some have suggested that the assassination and airstrikes are a bid by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to galvanize his far right base. Now that a ground offensive may be imminent, many more lives are at risk.

The people of Gaza already live under a US-supported Israeli military siege that denies them basic rights, like access to clean water and medical care. The current airstrikes not only risk civilian lives, they destroy essential infrastructure in Gaza still not rebuilt from the last Israeli offensive four years ago.

Today, MADRE Executive Director Yifat Susskind said, “By assassinating a man who has played a central role in past ceasefire negotiations, Israel’s leaders are further foreclosing the possibility of peace. That, in fact, is the essence of Netanyahu’s election strategy. And families in Gaza are paying with their lives for his political manipulations. The Palestinian and Israeli women we work with are committed to breaking the cycle of violence and ending Israel’s occupation and siege of Gaza.”

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