Where There’s No Will, There’s No Way: State of the Union Ignores the World’s Poor

In last night’s State of the Union speech, we were presented with President Obama’s attempts to assuage our fears about the economy, about health care, about the state of public education, about the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Rather than try to reassure us, we want the president to refocus attention on human rights emergencies that pre-date the financial crisis and that have been left to fester by world leaders.  President Obama gave a nod to this principle when he said, “To win the future, we will need to take on challenges that have been decades in the making.”

But it’s not about “winning the future” or any other competitive impulse that leaves the majority of humanity behind.  It is about recognizing that the challenges we face are the direct result of policies crafted to benefit the few at the expense of the many.

Two of the greatest threats to women in the communities where MADRE works are the resurgence of the AIDS pandemic and climate change.  These are human rights crises that disproportionately affect the world’s poor, most of whom are women.  The AIDS pandemic has been drastically exacerbated by policies that privilege corporations’ patent protections over people’s right to health and access to medicines.  Climate change has been fueled by profit-driven energy policies that turn a blind eye to the impacts of unchecked carbon emissions on poor communities.

Yet, as daunting as AIDS and climate change may be, the biggest obstacles to combating these threats are not financial or technical.  The biggest challenge is getting the world’s powerful people to be accountable to crises that mainly affect the poor.

We know what needs to be done, and so does President Obama.  What’s missing is the political will from world leaders.  As one of the most powerful world leaders, Obama has the capacity to generate that political will, and he needs to act now.

For other critical responses to President Obama’s State of the Union address, see below:

Part of this statement derives from a quote provided to Michelle Chen of ColorLines for the article, “Halfway Through Term, Obama Still Hasn’t Earned His Nobel Prize.”

Job Opening at MADRE: Program Coordinator

MADRE is seeking a committed women’s human rights activist to coordinate our programs and partnerships with our sister organizations. Under the guidance of the Program Director, the Program Coordinator will work with MADRE staff to support the work of MADRE’s partners around the world in the areas of Peace Building, Women’s Health/Violence against Women, and Economic and Environmental Justice.

For more information, click here!

My New Role at MADRE: A Message to Our Supporters

After 14 years as part of the MADRE staff, I have the honor of being our new Executive Director. As a MADRE supporter, you understand what a unique and powerful organization this is. You understand that MADRE gives us a way to act on our strongest beliefs and connect with the world’s bravest women, who are working for peace and human rights against terrible odds.

And I hope you understand—as I do—how critical you are to this work. Not just because our sister organizations are counting on your financial support to fuel the life-saving programs they’ve created with us over the years. But because your participation, your presence in this work, is what gives our sisters hope. It lets them know that they aren’t forgotten and that you believe in their ability to make lasting, positive change—for themselves, their families, and the world.

MADRE is the engine of that change. Through the programs we build together, we can see that solutions to the most urgent challenges are within our grasp—because across the globe, our partners are making them a reality.

But none of it can happen without you. So I hope I can count on your continued support as I move into my new role in the leadership of MADRE.

I wouldn’t trade for anything in the world all the years that I have worked with Vivian, who is our outgoing director and now MADRE’s Senior Advisor, with our sister organizations and with you.  I’m looking forward to deepening our work and continuing to partner with you to make women’s human rights a reality across the world.

Thank you for being part of this important work.



For more information on my transition, click here.

Ex-Dictator Jean-Claude Duvalier Returns to Haiti

On Sunday, news broke that former Haitian dictator Jean-Claude "Baby Doc" Duvalier had just returned to Haiti after nearly 25 years in exile. Almost immediately, the Institute for Justice and Democracy in Haiti (IJDH) and the Bureau des Avo­cats Inter­na­tionaux (BAI) called on the Haitian government to arrest the ex-president, a demand MADRE endorsed. Today it was revealed that Duvalier has indeed been taken into custody by the Haitian police. Following is MADRE's statement about Duvalier's return to the country:

Breaking News: Jean-Claude "Baby Doc" Duvalier has been taken into custody by the Haitian police and waits in a courthouse for the decision on whether he will be arrested and what charges he will face.

MADRE endorses the call by human rights organizations for the arrest of Jean-Claude “Baby Doc” Duvalier.  Nearly 25 years after he was escorted out of the country into exile by the US military, the former Haitian dictator responsible for terrorizing his country and for countless human rights violations has returned to the capital city of Port-au-Prince.  Haitian human rights organizations, such as the Bureau des Avocats Internationaux, have long documented evidence of his crimes, and MADRE reaffirms their demands for an end to his impunity.

To read the request for Duvalier's arrest from the Institute for Justice and Democracy in Haiti (IJDH) and the Bureau des Avo­cats Inter­na­tionaux (BAI), click here.

MADRE Applauds Latest US-Cuba Policy Changes

Recently, President Obama announced planned changes to US foreign policy towards Cuba. Yesterday, in response to the news, MADRE posted this statement on our website:

On Friday, President Obama announced changes to US foreign policy towards Cuba, particularly impacting longstanding barriers to travel and remittances to that country.  MADRE applauds this step as a necessary change to a failed policy that has undermined the well-being of Cuban communities and that has flouted international law for decades.

Since the introduction of the embargo and travel ban on Cuba beginning in 1960, the US has worked to seal off the country’s access to trade and external support, a move that has denied the Cuban people basic necessities like food and medicine.  Cuban families have been forcibly separated, and US citizens seeking to travel to Cuba have been blocked by a ban that prevents movement to the country.

Worldwide condemnation of repressive US policies towards Cuba has only grown in the many years since their implementation.  Every year for the past 19 years, the United Nations General Assembly has voted almost unanimously to condemn the embargo.

The new US regulations will:

  • Create expanded opportunities for travel to Cuba by religious, cultural or educational groups, provided they obtain a general license;
  • Return the regulations on people-to-people programs hosted by non-academic study organizations to Clinton-era levels;
  • Allow for individuals in the US to remit up to $500 every three months to persons in Cuba, provided the recipient is not a member of government or the Communist Party; and
  • Increase the number of airports eligible to serve as departure and arrival points for flights to and from Cuba.

These changes will become effective in the span of some two months, once official steps have been taken to publish the regulations in the Federal Register and once a predetermined waiting period has passed.

MADRE has consistently denounced the use of the embargo as a weapon to withhold food and medicines from the Cuban people.  MADRE calls on President Obama to join with the international community and move quickly to end the embargo and normalize relations between the US and Cuba.

MADRE Condemns Recent Shooting Attack in Arizona

From the MADRE website:

MADRE joins the many who mourn the tragic events in Tucson, Arizona just days ago, when a gunman opened fire on a crowd that had gathered to participate in a discussion with Congressional Representative Gabrielle Giffords.  Six people lost their lives, and 14 were injured.  These events have left many reeling in the attempt to understand how this could have happened. 

Last night, President Obama addressed a memorial service in Arizona, his comments broadcast through the nation.  He called for civility in the national political discourse.  While many have warned that an increasingly venomous and hateful political climate contributed to this attack, he distanced himself from the charge that thinly-veiled calls to violence made by far-right groups and echoed by their mainstream counterparts contributed to this attack. 

Yet, the call for civility sets a low bar.  Rep. Giffords and her constituents were brutally attacked as they exercised human rights codified in the US and internationally, such as the right of peaceful assembly and the right to freedom of expression.  Their intent was to engage in an act of participatory democracy, and they were violently cut down.   

In the face of seemingly senseless violence, we must do more than just be civil to one another.  We must come together to condemn any act that violates basic human rights and commit yet again to uphold them.

Our Message to KOFAVIV, Our Sister Organization in Haiti

Yesterday, to recognize the year that has passed since Haiti's earthquake and to express our ongoing committment to the women and girls of Haiti who have faced an escalating epidemic of sexual violence since the disaster, we sent this message to our sister organization in Haiti, KOFAVIV.  We wanted to share it with you so that we all can join together in honoring their work:

On the one year anniversary of the earthquake, MADRE stands with KOFAVIV and the women of Haiti as you bravely speak out against all forms of violence against women.

KOFAVIV’s tireless effort to ensure dignity and security for all Haitian women and girls is an inspiration to MADRE and our members worldwide. Your leadership in international women’s human rights advocacy strengthens this global movement and serves as a call to action for all people who believe in justice and peace.

We thank you for your courage, leadership and unwavering defense of human rights. We are grateful for the opportunity to work with an organization of such undeniable commitment. You are in our thoughts today and we will stand with you as you continue, through hope and hard work, to rebuild your lives and your country.

One Year After the Earthquake in Haiti

If you’ve read our last couple of blog entries and are keeping abreast on the news, you’ll know that today marks one year since the earthquake that devastated the nation of Haiti. One full year after the disaster, people in Haiti should not still face a faltering rebuilding effort and should not still be living by the millions in the camps for displaced people. But one year after the earthquake, Haiti remains under the rubble.

In the past year, Haitians have faced increasing political instability, a deadly cholera outbreak, and worsening conditions in the camps. Haitian woman and girls have been facing another crisis: an epidemic of sexual violence in the camps. In the past year, KOFAVIV, MADRE’s sister organization in Haiti, has documented 640 cases of rape in only 22 of the hundreds of IDP camps that currently exist in Haiti.

Two days ago I blogged about a new report released by MADRE, the Institute for Justice & Democracy in Haiti (IJDH), the Bureau des Avocats Internationaux (BAI) and the IWHR Clinic of CUNY School of Law, entitled Our Bodies Are Still Trembling: Haitian Women Continue to Fight Against Rape. As articulated in the report, MADRE and our Haitian sister organizations demand that: 

  • Haitian women’s organizations be included in reconstruction efforts as required under international law,
  • Donor States release the money pledged to Haiti and be held accountable to the people of Haiti,
  • There be increased coordination between the Haitian government and non-governmental organizations (NGOs) in Haiti,
  • The international community recommit to a Haitian-led reconstruction process that upholds human rights, and
  • The United Nations, the government of Haiti, NGOs and Donor States uphold the recommendations of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights to ensure accessible medical and psychological care, implement effective security measures, respond to complaints of gender-based violence, end impunity to violence against women and ensure the participation of women in reconstruction efforts. 

By supporting MADRE and our sister organizations in Haiti, you can help demand that these recommendations be met. Over the past year, MADRE has also helped ensure that immediate aid be provided to the women of Haiti, including medical and legal assistance, humanitarian aid and tools like flashlights and whistles that give women and girls the means to deter rapists.

For more about MADRE’s programs in Haiti, click here.

Below, watch a very informative video of MADRE board member Marie St. Cyr discussing Haiti one year after the earthquake:

“Marching for Change” Rally

Tomorrow marks one year since the Haiti eathquake, which killed more than 200,000 people and displaced millions. One year later, the situation in Haiti remains dire. Millions of people still live in IDP camps with minimal shelter and inadequate security and lighting, and sexual violence has reached epidemic levels. Tomorrow, a “Marching for Change” rally will be held in New York City to highlight the unacceptably slow pace of reconstruction efforts and to demand that the Haitian government and the international community remain dedicated to helping the country and its people rebuild. The rally is being organized by our friends at Diaspora Community Services, and MADRE is a co-sponsor of the event.
If you are in the New York City area and want to partake in the rally:

The rally will be held from 2 PM to 5 PM, Wednesday, January 12, 2011
It will begin in Times Square at 42nd Street and Broadway. From there, it will proceed to the Haitian consulate on West 39th Street and Madison Avenue, and will end at the United Nations’ Dag Hammarskjold Plaza at 47th Street and 1st Avenue

For more information on the event, click here.

New Report On Sexual Violence in Haiti One Year After the Earthquake

Wednesday, January 12 marks one year since a 7.0 magnitude earthquake struck the island nation of Haiti, killing more than 200,000 people and displacing millions more. In the aftermath of the earthquake, as displaced people moved into overcrowded IDP camps lacking security and lighting, women and girls began to face an epidemic of sexual violence. Although gender-based violence (GBV) was already high in Haiti prior to the earthquake, after the disaster levels of sexual violence increased dramatically. Six months after the earthquake, MADRE, the Institute for Justice and Democracy in Haiti (IJDH), TransAfrica Forum and the Universities of Minnesota and Virginia law schools released a report, entitled Our Bodies Are Still Trembling: Haitian Women's Fight Against Rape, which documented the alarming levels of GBV in Haitian IDP camps – and the failure of the Haitian government, the United Nations and the international community at large in responding to the crisis.

In recognition of the one-year marker, MADRE, the Institute for Justice & Democracy in Haiti (IJDH), the Bureau des Avocats Internationaux (BAI) and the IWHR Clinic of CUNY School of Law released a one-year update on sexual violence in Haiti. The report, Our Bodies Are Still Trembling: Haitian Women Continue to Fight Against Rape, serves as a follow-up to the six-month report. This new report highlights the ongoing crisis of sexual violence in Haiti, and the continued lack of response. Despite Haitian women's tireless efforts to combat GBV in the camps, incidents of rape continue to rise. Events over the past year, including deteriorating conditions in the camps, a recent outbreak of cholera, political instability and persistent impunity for rape, have actually served to exacerbate insecurity for Haitian women and girls living in the camps.

MADRE continues to work with our partners in Haiti, KOFAVIV (Commission of Women Victims for Victims), to combat this epidemic of sexual violence. Through programs that provide rape survivors with medical care and counseling, along with legal support, safe spaces, and tools like cell phones, flashlights and whistles, women and girls can be more readily protected from the threat of sexual violence. In concert with our efforts, the Haitian government and the international community must recommit themselves to a reconstruction effort in which Haitian women play a lead role in the implementation of policies that promote and uphold women's human rights.

To read the full report, click here.