Quick Post: “Israeli Airstrikes Increase Cycle of Violence”

MADRE just posted this statement to our website, in response to the Israeli airstrikes on Gaza, now in their fourth day:

MADRE condemns the latest Israeli airstrikes in Gaza and the on-going Hamas rocket-fire into Israel.  MADRE calls for a halt to all violence against civilians.  Both the Hamas rocket attacks and the Israeli airstrikes violate international law and further undermine prospects for a negotiated solution to the conflict.

Israeli airstrikes in Gaza, begun on December 27, have caused widespread damage and loss of life.  The death toll has risen above 370 people, a number likely to increase as airstrikes continue and more bodies are uncovered in the rubble.  The number of people injured is estimated to be some 1,500, and hospitals already weakened by the months-long Israeli blockade of supplies have quickly become overwhelmed by the wounded.

You can read the rest here.

Until Next Time!

This is just a quick post to let you know that our frequency of blog posting will be dropping off until the beginning of the new year.  We're looking forward to starting the new year here at MADRE, and of course we're excited to keep building this blog!  We're going to be working on a new interactive project for the blog: building a women's human rights agenda to present to the Obama administration in January.  We hope you'll visit and contribute your thoughts.  So until next time, we wish you all the best!

Take Part in MADRE’s Helping Hands Campaign

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Today, MADRE sent a shipment of medical supplies, contact lenses and eyeglasses to our sister organizations CADPI and Wangki Tangni in Nicaragua.  Thanks to the help of all of our donors, we were able to send valuable immediate relief to women and families in need. 

But we are not done.  We are collecting even more necessary items like antibiotics, pain medication, feminine hygiene products, sewing machines, school supplies and so much more.  Each of these items truly enables women to face immediate crises in their communities and move on to challenge the structures that deny them their basic rights.  To check out the full wish list of our sister organizations, click here.

You can help out by donating any of these items to MADRE or even better, by starting your own Helping Hands drive and collecting these items in your community.  For more information about how to get started, click here or e-mail helpinghands@madre.org.

Make Your Holiday Shopping Mean Something

It's great how much interest we've been getting in the MADRE Webstore recently. On the Webstore, we sell items hand-made by women from MADRE's partner organizations around the world. Each product is unique and provides an important source of revenue to the woman who makes it.

Many of the women we work with have little access to a market wider than the community they live in or the tourists who pass through seasonally. Marketing their products on the Webstore provides them with a larger opportunity to sell goods that help to support themselves and their families. 

Among the many items we have available, you’ll find greeting cards made with dried flowers by women in Colombia, working with the organization Taller de Vida.  You can also find beaded necklaces made by Indigenous Samburu women in Kenya, who are part of the Umoja Uaso Women’s Group.

The Webstore has only been around for a year, but we’re proud of what it offers the women we work with – not to mention what a wonderful opportunity it is for friends of MADRE to buy amazing and original gifts for the important people in their lives.

Ending Climate Change and Other Frivolous Pursuits

The refrain coming from world leaders at this year’s climate change negotiations, which wrapped up today in Poznan, Poland, is essentially this: “Don’t expect us to do much on climate when we’re facing a global recession.”  While not everybody expresses themselves as colorfully as Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, many leaders echoed his sentiments from earlier in November when he said, “It is absurd to talk about emission (cuts) when there is an (economic) crisis: it is as if someone suffering from pneumonia were to think about having a perm.”

Of course, these same governments weren’t really doing much even before the bad times hit. So far, their main response to the worst environmental threat ever has been to create an unworkable regime of trade in the very substance that is causing global warming. Carbon trading isn’t doing much to reduce emissions. It is, however, ensuring that the same corporations that brought us the climate crisis will continue to make money from any proposed “solutions.”

The claim that the world recession precludes effective action on climate change is especially galling when you consider that the two crises are actually one and the same. The “experts” like to present climate change as a purely technical or scientific matter. It’s actually an economic problem.

The climate crisis is rooted in the same free-market values that generated the current recession. Chief among them is the value of exalting short-term profit above everything else (including, apparently, life on Earth as we know it). Climate change, don’t forget, is mainly a result of the unsustainable use of fossil fuels.

No amount of carbon trading is going to change the fact that avoiding the worst effects of global warming is going to require using less oil. And because nearly everything that’s produced in our economy depends on using oil, combating climate change is going to require simply using less.

Last year, I went to a teach-in organized by the International Center on Globalization in Washington, D.C. It was called “Confronting the Global "Triple Crisis": Climate Change, Peak Oil, Global Resource Depletion & Extinction.”  Not exactly a barrel of laughs. But there was one part of the program that was extremely funny—and smart and engaging. It was Annie Leonard’s short animated movie, “The Story of Stuff.”

I highly recommend it as a way to explore connections between creating more sustainable economic practices and advancing human rights.   As their website says, “It'll teach you something, it'll make you laugh, and it just may change the way you look at all the stuff in your life forever.”

Comment Policy

Any comment posted on this blog is the opinion of that commenter and not necessarily that of MADRE.  We reserve the right to edit or delete comments.  Anyone who uses offensive language or engages in personal attacks may be blocked from future commenting on this blog.  If you have questions about this policy, contact madreblog@madre.org.  

The Weird, Wonderful Problem of Winning

Here at MADRE, we’re hopeful about what an Obama presidency could mean for those of us who care about women’s human rights around the world. At the same time, we know that there are inconsistencies and challenges that we will face. He’s great on choice; not so great on the death penalty. Committed to (partial) withdrawal from Iraq; but plans to escalate the war on Afghanistan. Understands that combating AIDS in Africa requires science, not Christian dogma; but wants to further militarize the continent through AFRICOM. I could go on, but you get the picture.  

So the question is—and we want your help answering it—how do we relate to an administration that is our ally on some issues, but not on others?

Historically, US progressives haven’t had to grapple much with this question, especially not during Bush’s reign. That question is now paramount. In fact, I think that the way we answer it may determine how effective we are in winning the policies we want to see from Washington. 

After all, we can’t continue to act as though the White House is the enemy of all things feminist and human-rights oriented just because they don’t support our whole agenda.  If we do that, we forfeit a tremendous chance to engage and push for real change. And we will disconnect ourselves from a groundswell of people who recognize that this is, in fact, a moment of opportunity for progressives.

We also don’t want to be cheerleaders for the new administration. David Axelrod and Barack Obama would love to see their 10 million-strong email list become a giant rubber stamp sitting on the President’s desk. That would be a big mistake.

Fortunately, our options aren’t limited to total rejection or unconditional support. I want to suggest here that we adopt an approach that MADRE is calling critical cooperation. That means vocally supporting every positive move that the administration makes and demanding improvements to any US policy that doesn’t uphold human rights. Our opposition, when it’s warranted, can be constructive. But let’s not back peddle on what we know is right just because there’s someone in the White House who may meet us part-way.

It’s a strange and wonderful problem to have: figuring out what to do when our candidate wins.  This idea of critical cooperation is MADRE’s working proposal.  I’m putting it forward on the blog today because I’m writing a piece explaining critical cooperation towards the new administration. I would love to hear what you think as I’m sitting down to write.

So what do you think? You can post your comments below.

60th Anniversary of Human Rights Day

Today, on Human Rights Day, we reach the end of our blogging series, 16 Days 16 Entries.  Over these past days, you’ve read as Yifat, Natalia and Diana have shared some of the stories, ideas and solutions that have come out of more than 25 years of MADRE’s work.  We’ve seen how gender violence impacts communities worldwide and how women have organized to confront it. 

These stories are just a few among many.  While we still have a lot of work to do to end gender violence and to protect women’s human rights, we know that women across the planet are already forging a path.  On Human Rights Day, the 60th anniversary of the signing of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, we honor the work of human rights activists and we commit to continue our work in this global effort.

Here in the US, the latest election created new opportunities for progressive work, and we must seize them.  We must push the new administration to join the Human Rights Council at the UN and to finally ratify the Rome Statute, the treaty that founded the International Criminal Court.  We live in an age of global challenges—from the economic crisis to the reality of climate change—and these require global cooperation.  Such multilateral efforts have certainly not been the hallmark of the Bush administration, and that needs to change now.

MADRE has always rooted its work in the principle of partnership and cooperation with community-based women’s organizations around the world.  We’ve built connections that advance the agenda for human rights around the world and that make concrete changes in the lives of women and their families.  We have made women’s human rights our priority, and we expect the Obama administration to do the same.  We hope you’ll join us in making this call.


Vivian Stromberg

Continue reading 60th Anniversary of Human Rights Day

Fighting Feminicide: From Iraq to Guatemala

The term feminicide refers to the sum total of various forms of violence against women, characterized by impunity for perpetrators, complicity of local or state authorities and a lack of justice processes for victims. Feminicide occurs in conditions of social upheaval, armed conflict, violence between powerful rival criminal gangs and militias, rapid economic transformation, and the demise of traditional forms of state power. Those conditions apply to quite a few of the communities where MADRE works. Feminicide is happening in Iraq, for example (though it’s been off the media radar for most of the US occupation). And feminicide is happening in Guatemala, where more than 2,500 women have been murdered since 2001.

I’ve talked before about what happens when feminicide occurs in the Middle East; namely, that many people in the US assume that this violence derives somehow from Islam. Identifying Islam as the source of violence against women serves to dehumanize Muslims and justify US aggression against them. It also deflects attention from factors (like politics, economics, and militarism) that influence the prevalence of gender–based violence in every society. And finally, that racist assumption obscures the ways that US actions have exacerbated the very conditions that give rise to violence against women.

That’s not to say that there isn’t a cultural dimension to violence against women. There is a cultural dimension to every human behavior, including gender-based violence. The point is that culture alone explains very little. It’s a context, but not a cause or a useful explanation for violence, whether in the Middle East or anywhere else.

It makes much more sense to examine gender—a system of power relations whose number one enforcement mechanism is recourse to violence against women. There is nothing "Muslim" about that system, except that its Muslim proponents, like their Jewish, Christian, and Hindu counterparts, use religion and culture to rationalize women's subjugation. In fact, shifting the focus from culture to gender reveals a system of power that is nearly universal.

Which brings me to Guatemala. A 2005 Amnesty International Report on the mass killings of women in Guatemala could easily refer to Iraq when it describes a “notable sense of insecurity that women in Guatemala feel today as a result of the violence and the murders in particular. The resulting effect of intimidation carries with it a perverse message: women should abandon the public space they have won at much personal and social effort and shut themselves back up in the private world, abandoning their essential role in national development.” This passage also captures the intent of Iraq's Islamists, who have little in common with the perpetrators of feminicide in Guatemala, other than a rigid adherence to a gendered system of power.

MADRE’s programs in Guatemala work to transform the conditions that give rise to violence against women by strengthening women’s economic autonomy, community organizing, food security, and political participation. As the global economic crisis hits Guatemala, these programs are becoming even more critical to safeguarding women’s rights, including their right to a life free of violence.

You’re invited to see these programs in action. MADRE is organizing a delegation to Guatemala in February 2009.  Keep an eye on this blog for more information in the coming weeks. Consider joining us and tell your friends!

Continue reading Fighting Feminicide: From Iraq to Guatemala

Women Farmers and Economic Empowerment

With all the news about the financial crisis that has rocked Wall Street in recent months, the on-going food crisis has become secondary in many news reports.  But as we know from the testimonies of our sister organizations, the crisis continues and many are still grappling with food shortages.  Yet, in an age in which the food crisis has undermined food security for communities around the world, solutions are readily available.  To find them, we need only turn to the people who produced the majority of the world’s food: women farmers.

Earlier this year, MADRE and the leaders of a group of our sister organizations presented these solutions in a letter.  We talked about the need for sustainable agriculture, which can help combat climate change, preserve biodiversity and provide enough food for the global population.  And women farmers are already at the center of small-scale, organic agriculture worldwide.

You may wonder why we’d include this in our series of blog entries on violence against women.  Across the globe, women make up a disproportionate percentage of poor people.  Women who lack economic opportunities are vulnerable to manipulation, coercion and violence by those they rely on for financial security.  A woman who faces violence in her home is less likely to leave an abusive partner if her economic opportunities are limited.  When women are able to ensure a financial foundation for themselves—including in agriculture—they become self-sufficient and better able to avoid abusive situations.

Many of our sister organizations are working to create these alternatives for women.  In Sudan, Zenab for Women in Development has created a women farmer’s union, a body that will allow women to demand support for their agricultural projects from the government.  This all-women’s union is the first of its kind in Sudan.  In Nicaragua, Wangki Tangni runs the program Harvesting Hope, which provides women with seeds, tools and training to run their own small-scale farms and provide food for their families. 

These initiatives are changing the lives of the women who participate in them and expanding the range of possibilities at their disposal.

*Picture credit: Elizabeth Rappaport

Continue reading Women Farmers and Economic Empowerment