With an ongoing armed conflict now lasting more fifty years, an alarming increase of its internally displaced population, and its social inequalities, Colombia still has a long way to go in bringing women’s issues to the forefront of its national priorities. However, Colombian women are strongly committed and persistently striving for their voices to be heard. When Charo – a vibrant Afro-Colombian woman activist- contacted us announcing that she was going to be a speaker at the 26th meeting of CEDAW, we were very excited.

Andrea Parra, Director of PAIIS Clinic, speaks at CEDAW.

Andrea Parra, Director of PAIIS Clinic, speaks at CEDAW.

Charo is part of the Proceso de Comunidades Negras (PCN), one of MADRE’s partner organizations in Colombia. She devotes her efforts to the advocacy of the human rights of Afro-descendent women and girls who face constant violence and discrimination because of the intersection of their condition as women and as part of an ethnic minority. According to Charo the Colombian State is “far from bringing tranformation of de facto racism and patriarchy that continues to treat Afro-descendant women  as second-class citizens.”

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Charo, as well as other women from MADRE’s partner organizations in Colombia who participated in MADRE’s recently released report, From Forced Sterilization to Forced Psychiatry: Report on the Violations of Human Rights of Women with Disabilities and Transgender Women, spoke before CEDAW regarding their experiences and the needs of the marginalized populations they represented. This time, the voices of representatives from some of the most silenced populations in Colombia, such as Afro-Colombian women, child soldiers, women and girls with disabilities and transgender women, resonated at a global level. As a Colombian woman, I feel enormously thankful and honored for being part of MADRE, this truly admirable team, as well as its beautiful process of building such powerful transnational alliances, bridging advocacy efforts from both organizations within Colombia and at an international level, and nurturing the worldwide fight against all discrimination against women.

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This post originally appeared on Women Under Siege.

On the same day in April that I listened to the harrowing stories of Syrian women over endless glasses of tea in Jordan’s Zaatari refugee camp, leaders of the world’s eight richest countries promised to take action against rape as a weapon of war.

During the bumpy drive out of Zaatari, I read with interest that G8 leaders had just passed a “Declaration on Preventing Sexual Violence in Conflict,” committing more forcefully than ever before to “address these ongoing crimes.” It was welcome news after hours spent talking with women who had fled their homes and braved bombs, snipers, militias, bandits, and exile to escape the threat of rape.

My interest was even further piqued by the specifics of the G8 declaration. The summit attendees endorsed international protocols for investigating and documenting rape in conflict. They called for support and protection of women human rights activists and women’s organizations doing vital work on the ground. And, best of all, they called on the international community, and the G8 itself, to provide critical funding for access to psychosocial and medical services for those targeted with sexualized violence.

These were some of the very demands that wartime rape survivors and human rights advocates had been making for years. In that sense, the declaration could be seen as promising. But the high-profile statement failed to offer a deadline, measurable metric, or concrete plan for a single recommendation it put forward.

This week’s G8 summit in Fermanagh, Ireland, is a chance for leaders to redeem themselves. But will the group—comprised of the world’s biggest arms dealers, most powerful donor states, and four out of five of the Permanent Members of the UN Security Council—offer more than lip service on conflict-related rape?

Click here to read the rest of the story.

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Our partners Rose Cunningham and Liduvina Gill of Wangki Tangni and Mirna Cunningham of CADPI discuss living well, women’s political participation, violence against women, and intercultural exchange in this video produced in partnership with UNDP:

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Please join Illygirl as they close their show, SWEAT + ASHES, this Saturday June 8th, 7-11 at Art for Change 1699 Lexington Avenue, NY, NY.

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In September Illygrl, an interventionist collective, touched down in Guatemala City, inspired by the need to connect– to render the invisible and hear their stories, their voices that had been filtered out of our culture of consumption. We came with questions that could only be answered by women maquila workers. With the help of MADRE we made contact with Sandra, head of the Women Workers Committee. For the next ten days Illygrl ventured to Barcenas, a community found between the town of Antigua and some 25 textile factories, between ruins and reality.

Something is wrong with our society when over one thousand people die in a sweatshop collapse in Bangladesh the same week thousands of people buy from the very companies that neglected those workers. The New York Times reports the engineer of the building was recently arrested, and the factory managers will also be prosecuted. But we seem to be missing that puzzle piece, the link to understanding that our daily lives and daily buys are intrinsically connected with the millions of working women and men that sweat, slave, and sometimes die while making our stuff. The threads we wear pass through many hands and cross many borders. These are the ties that bind us.

While corporations wish to make these ties seamless Illygrl is dedicated to tracing their threads; we are speaking to those that have been rendered silent and bringing their voice to the masses who have been misinformed.

“Uno se pone un pantalón, una camisa pero no se pone a pensar cuantos han sufrido para hacer un pantalón o una camisa. Cuantas lágrimas han llorado, muchos…cuantos gritos a recibido uno, cuántas humillaciones por un pantalón”

“Someone puts on a pair of pants or a shirt but they don’t stop to think how many have suffered to make a pair of pants or a shirt…how many tears they’ve cried…how many times they’ve been yelled at, how many humiliations for a pair of pants.”

~Rita: Mother, fighter, sweatshop worker

Sandra guided our search and made it possible for IllyGrl to interview nine women who have previously worked in maquilas, making clothing for large corporations like GAP, Walmart, POLO and American Eagle.

“Yo practicamente pedí favor al jefe que me despidiera porque estaba demasiado enferma de los nervios porque había mucha presión del trabajo. Porque como ellos va ellos nos ponían a nosotros una cierta cantidad, entonces ellos hacen un contrato verda con el cliente de que mes a que mes van a entregar el producto. Entonces nosotros tenemos que sacar una cierta cantidad al dia para la hora de que la fecha de exportación se llegara, sacar un dia antes o unas horas antes el producto verda pa que se fuera la exportación…a mi me pedian 1,800 piezas diarias si yo no sacaba esa cantidad…pero fue por eso que yo estaba demasiado, estaba demasiado alterada de los nervios.”

I practically asked as a favor that the boss fire me because I was so sick with anxiety because there was so much pressure from work. Because they, lets say they gave us a certain quantity, then they make a contract right with the client from what month till what month they will need the product to be turned in. So then we have to make a certain quantity per day for the time of whatever day the date of exportation was set, to get it out one day before or a few hours before, right, so that it would be exported…they had me make 1,800 pieces a day if I didn’t meet that quantity…but it was because of that that I was so, I was so sick with anxiety.

~Carmen

Carmen was the first woman we spoke to. A cousin of Sandra’s, she had left the factory three months prior to meeting us. What was clear from Carmen’s story was that the daily dehumanization of being constantly rushed to produce takes its toll, to the point she asked to be let go. Carmen worked thirteen years in garment factories, making fast fashion clothes for companies like GAP, Polo, Kohl’s and Walmart. While here in the U.S. people relish in the newest $10.00 trends we are ignorant to the 25-hour shifts- blood, sweat and tears imposed to produce – like machines – for the clothing companies’ bottom line.

The regular anxiety workers face carry a deep, psychological and physical trauma akin to war conditions. Most of the women we spoke to described regular nightmares about the factory, one even suffered insomnia for 15 days straight. They all describe an inability to relax even on their single day off, being ON became part of the job.

When we asked the women if they felt like people or machines, nine voices echoed maquila.

When she started the Comité de Mujeres Trabajadoras in Guatemala, Sandra committed to educating women in her community: to make them literate and better understand their labor and human rights. With the help of MADRE, her Comité has provided sex health information and contraceptives to working women. Fearlessly fighting against a broken system, we followed Sandra as she distributed condoms outside a sweatshop one afternoon, as the workers streamed out of the factories. Sandra and the Comité are an active part of the Barcenas community, which they live in.

Recognizing the systematically abusive conditions of the factories, Sandra serves as a resource when women are facing abusive bosses. She has archived each of the many cases women have filed against maquilas, seeking justice for her community. Sandra would love to build a library for the women to read more, to expand her classes and always keep the women empowered. She is a fearless leader.

Our final day in Guatemala we drove past many maquilas. Most looked like prisons, with seven foot walls laced with barbed wire. We filmed the factories, but what remained elusive was the history of how they got there. As Americans, we learn that some countries are underdeveloped “third world” nations, and what is left untold is how many countries were sabotaged by the U.S. for capital interests.

“Yo creo que Estados Unidos es el principal responsable de la guerra en Guatemala. No se permitió que Guatemala lograra una reforma agraria que estaba indicada para mejorar la situación económica de toda la nación. Estados Unidos derrocó al presidente Jacobo Arbenz porque él había iniciado una expropiación de fincas de la United Fruit Company. Pues entonces, tocó intereses norteamericanos que no le convenía a los Estados Unidos. A través de la participación de la CIA se derroca al presidente y se le roba a Guatemala la oportunidad de desarrollarse… Guatemala se convierte en escenario de la guerra fría.”

I believe that the United States is the main one responsible for the war in Guatemala. Guatemala was not permitted to achieve the agrarian reform that was proven would improve the economic situation of the whole nation. The United States overthrew president Jacobo Arbenz because he had initiated the expropriation of the factories of the United Fruit Company. It affected North American interests and was not convenient for the United States. Due to the participation of the CIA the president was overthrown and Guatemala was robbed of its opportunity to develop… Guatemala became a stage for the Cold War.

~Representante del Ministerio de Educación

Through Sandra, we met with a representative from the Ministry of Education in Guatemala, who did not wish to be identified. The representative and her/his family lived through the violent repression of Rios Montt. S/he recognized how different Guatemala could have been without the interference of the CIA’s support of Efrain Rios Montt. Underlying the unjust conditions women endure daily at the maquilas is the truth that Guatemala still writhes from the pains of dictatorships.

Montt was recently tried for Genocide and convicted, though the conviction has been overturned. We hope the pueblo of Guatemala stands firm on seeking justice but we in the states shouldn’t forget our government is also guilty. Montt was backed by the Reagan administration, supplied with close to $10 million in military hardware. The genocide of thousands would not have been possible without it. We will likely never see the C.I.A stand trial for crimes against humanity.

In trying to become “objective,” western culture made “objects” of things and people when it distanced itself from them, thereby losing “touch” with them. This dichotomy is the root of all violence.

~Gloria Anzaldua

Bangladesh and Guatemala seem worlds apart, but they are not. They are in your closet if you look. We are connected: Our dollars, Their blood, sweat and ashes. In light of the lives lost in Rana Plaza many companies are finally agreeing to support the Bangladesh Safety Pact. Companies will be legally bound to financially support unions to do regular inspections. This is largely because activists on the ground have not rested since Rana Plaza. Still, several U.S. companies like Walmart and GAP have refused.

We must remember Rana and also beyond it. Everything has its source, everything has its history. For those that live in the underbelly of globalization, democracy is a myth and their reality relics of war. We must extend ourselves beyond this notion of “American exceptionalism” and attempt to understand- to imagine- who it is at the nadir of this system, who bears its immense weight everyday.

We must see ourselves as citizens of this world. Bangladesh is a beacon, a possible beginning, beyond its borders reaching Barcenas; but we must do our part. Illygrl is an interventionist collective and we believe consciousness begins with sight, touch, memory. We believe now is the time to push back on these companies who seemingly have no heart. It is time to boycott.

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After we sent out a call asking for messages of support for our partners at Midwives for Peace, who are celebrating the organization’s 5th anniversary, our MADRE members responded as they always do: with open arms. We got permission to share this moving display of support below. As always, we thank you all for everything you do for MADRE and for our partners worldwide. The solidarity you demonstrate makes it possible for us to move forward, together, every day.

Dear Midwives for Peace,

Your work is SO important to the health of mothers and babies, and to the mental and emotional well-being of parents-to-be and parents of newborn babies.  I was blessed to have the expertise, knowledge, support and love of two wonderful midwives during pregnancy and at the very long and complicated birth of my child, Evalín/Ilanit, who, thank God, is 10 years old and healthy, and so I know first-hand the immediate and lasting value of what you do.  Attached is a recent picture of us with our friend’s puppies!

Thank you for reaching beyond borders and differences to serve all populations.  My respect for you is great, and I will support you/Madre through donations when babies are born to my friends and family.

Shalom/Salaam and Mahbrouk/Mazal tov on your anniversary,

Sherry Pachman

Vermont, USA

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“As an Israeli midwife, I always wanted to talk to Palestinian midwives, to see their experience and exchange stories—that’s how we learn. We are neighbors, and with neighbors, you should talk. It’s unnatural that we don’t talk. So I came to the first meeting of this group. That was five years ago. Now we are more than neighbors. We are friends.”

Gomer, the Israeli coordinator of our sister organization Midwives for Peace, told me this on my recent visit to the West Bank. I was there to celebrate the group’s five year anniversary, a truly remarkable milestone.

Israel and Palestine are at a political standstill. The level of despondency in the region is as strong as I’ve ever seen it. And the lack of confidence in progress is widespread. As you can imagine, under these difficult circumstances, collaboration can seem impossible. Yet the commitment of our sister organization of Israeli and Palestinian midwives remains strong. Through it all, they continue to work together to learn from each other and to safely deliver babies in the West Bank, despite the conflict that surrounds them. What an inspiration!

The anniversary meeting gave the midwives a chance to celebrate, reflect and share their plans for the future. In 2014, the group hopes to send representatives to the International Conference of Midwives in Prague.

And this August, they are planning a group trip to the beach. You might be wondering what a day at the beach has to do with breaking down barriers between Palestinians and Israelis, but consider this: some of the Palestinian midwives are refugees whose families came from coastal villages, yet they themselves have never seen the ocean. As Aisha, the group’s Palestinian coordinator, said to me, “the friendships we are building as midwives, as women, are opening doors in our lives and in our hearts that the conflict had tried to nail shut.”

I’m always so moved to see the collaboration and friendship between our Israeli and Palestinian sisters. Our partnership with Midwives for Peace is something I am proud of every day. I was so grateful to be able to attend their anniversary event, and I look forward to celebrating their next five years.

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Sera Bonds, Founder of COHI, is a social justice, grassroots activist committed to working towards balancing the scales of access, equity, and availability in women’s reproductive health care. She has training in massage therapy, midwifery, a Bachelor of Arts degree in Women’s Studies, and a Master’s degree in Public Health. Her community organizing background ranges from reproductive rights to violence against women, to welfare and poverty issues to anti-war campaigns. She founded Circle of Health International, as U.S.-based NGO, with the hope of giving voice to conflict- and disaster-affected women’s reproductive health needs on an international scale.

She wants what we all want, what we all deserve: safety for her children, health for her children. Health and safety for herself, too. But now that she is a mother, that is an after thought.

Her eyelids heavy as they slowly open to begin a new day, she thinks almost immediately of her long list of tasks ahead of her. As do you. She rubs her belly, as big and hard as a mountain, she thinks, and places her strong, sturdy feet one after the other gently, quietly on the floor so as not to wake the ones still sleeping. As do you.

This however is where many of our paths diverge from the woman living in the economically developing world. Some of us mamas walk into our bathrooms and turn on a tap that brings us potable water, where we leisurely brush our teeth, wash our faces, and contemplate a new moisturizer. This mama dresses in the dark, and heads out alone for a walk of some distance to wait, with the other women, for clean water. Her baby heavy in her belly, she knows the time is coming for this new one to make its appearance. This thought, while it fills her heart with love, also overwhelms and ignites a candle of fear in her: what if this one is like the last one, she thinks. It lasted so long, it took all she had, and she was scared. She focuses on the way her fingers wrap around the plastic handle of the water container now heavy in her arms as she walks back to her home. I will focus on this load of water, she thinks. This, I can control.

This mama goes through her day, slowly lifting, filling, washing, holding, nursing, and breathing. In and out, she thinks, this I can control. As she lifts her toddler, her breath catches in her throat, her belly becomes tight, her back seizes a bit, and a gush of water pours out from between her legs. It is beginning, she thinks. This I cannot control. She breathes in and out. This I can control.

The midwife is called for, and she comes. She remembers this woman from before. One of her longest laboring women last year, it lasted two full days. She was frightened, she knows that birth is not something she can control. She greets the laboring mama with a warm, calm grin, and begins to attend her. This–the tending, the care, the support–that she can control.

This mama, the midwife thinks, she is already so tired. If this labor is like the last, she may not recover so quickly. She breathes deeply, this breathe, this she can control.

The labor begins to look very much like the last; prolonged, strong back pain during contractions, vomiting. The midwife makes a decision that this mama needs more care than she can provide in the small village where they live. This is a dreaded situation, for so many reasons. But one that before the most recent fighting in the region would have been different. The midwife tells the husband that they must transport her. They both sigh. Heavily.

There are few services available anymore in this war-torn part of the country much less an ambulance, a driver, and safe passage to the closest hospital. Her husband resists this. It will be so dangerous: the check points, the violent targeting of hospitals. The midwife breathes, the mama labors, the husband decides.

The ambulance arrives, the driver and the husband load the laboring mama into the vehicle. Her young children watch as she is taken away, no goodbyes. They are young, but most of them know that this thing, this bringing of babies, it is not something anyone can control. They are scared. Almost as scared of this as they are of the missiles and the rockets. Almost.

The drive is long, two hours, over bumpy roads with lots of stops and starts. Shelling is their soundtrack as they drive. There are two checkpoints. At one checkpoint, the soldiers are kind, they quickly look through the car, and wave them along. The second checkpoint is armed by men who have little empathy for this laboring mama and require her to get out of the car while they ask her husband a long list of questions and look through their belongings. The anxiety this mama is feeling is so high, she weeps, it is all she can do, and continues to breathe. This, she remembers, she can control.

At long last they arrive at the hospital, and find a room recently vacated by a soldier who’d been injured. There is dirt and blood on the floor, but this mama does not care. She is immediately seen by the on-call midwife volunteering with an international organization, and she cannot communicate with her through any language that they share beyond that of labor. The midwife recognizes the delay in labor to be a posterior presentation and has the mama labor on her knees, on all fours, and on her side. She is also able to administer a labor-inducing drug to intensify the contractions and to encourage the baby to move through the birth canal. Within two hours of arrival, the mama delivers a healthy baby girl, the intact placenta follows shortly after.

This mama lived. This we can control through access to transportation and medicine when needed.

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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.

On May 10, 2006, Colombia ended it’s previously total ban on abortion. Under the new law, abortion is permitted in cases of rape and incest, if the mother’s life is at risk, and if the fetus is no longer viable. Being allowed to abort in instances where the fetus cannot or has not survived is essential to women’s health and futures. The decision brought Colombia’s law in line with most of South America, where access to abortion is often difficult to come by but is largely legal when the mother’s health is at risk.

The case that changed the law was brought forward on the strength of Colombia’s ratification of CEDAW. CEDAW guarantees a number of other reproductive health freedoms and allows women to pursue their rights with the weight of international human rights advances.

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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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