Nicaragua’s Sewing Collective Continues to Grow

Rose Cunningham, Director of MADRE’s sister organization Wangki Tangni in Nicaragua, left New York City last week far from empty handed. She boarded her plane home bearing a suitcase filled with donations from MADRE’s Helping Hands program, which included bolts of cloth, needles, buttons, and thread. These goods will be brought to the Sewing Collective, an income generating cooperative comprised of 35 Indigenous Miskito women.

Rose with MADRE Executive Director Yifat Susskind

This Sewing Collective, specifically created to serve the Indigenous Miskito community, provides sewing classes and resources for the group to create clothing for their families and products that can be sold at local markets. In collaboration with Wangki Tangni, we hope that such an initiative will foster confidence and maintain self-sufficiency for the Indigenous Miskito women and their families. Whenever we ship donations to Nicaragua, we include various types of cloth and sewing materials that are sent directly to this community.

MADRE would like to sincerely thank Rose for making the 2,000 mile trek and honoring us with her visit. We would also like to thank all those that donated to this effort!

UN High-Level HIV/AIDS Meeting Concludes with Focus on Women’s Health

Thirty years after the first AIDS case was identified, the United Nations hosted a high level meeting on HIV/AIDS from June 8th to the 10th in New York City, where leaders from around the world reflected on both the progress made thus far and set goals for the future.

Among the newly adopted initiatives agreed upon by the United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS prevention was a commitment to cut in half sexual transmissions of HIV by 2015, as well as a pledge to halve the number of new infections from injection drug-users by that time. The initiatives will also work to make sure that no child will be born with HIV after 2015 by expanding access to antiretroviral therapy to all expecting mothers.

Yet, the goals set aside by the UN this June are by no means guarantees. The United Nations estimates that some $500 million dollars a year is spent in the world’s most affected countries to prevent HIV infections among newborns and that an additional $2.5 billion over the next four years will be needed to reach that goal alone by 2015.

The ambitious aims clash with the most recent worldwide pattern of AIDS spending.  Many wealthy countries have cut their donations to the Global Fund to Fight AIDS and the worldwide financing for AIDS treatment and prevention has remained stagnant for the past 2 years, at an estimated $16 billion.

Meanwhile, HIV is the leading cause of death among women of reproductive age and young women account for a quarter of all new HIV infections. While protecting mothers and children, the UN must also work to fund programs that educate women on how to have healthy sex lives and obtain access to sexual education, in order to undo the disproportional impact of HIV/AIDS on women.

The declaration released by the United Nations following the high-level meeting also contained the promise to eliminate gender inequality and gender-based violence. This pledge is a step in the right direction, recognizing the links between women’s vulnerability to HIV/AIDS and violence.

New York State Votes to Allow Same-Sex Marriage

Late Friday night, the New York State Senate voted to legalize same-sex marriage by a vote of 33 to 29. This vote makes New York the sixth and largest state to allow same-sex marriage and marks a significant win for the gay marriage movement. Advocates for gay rights hope that this win could spur other states across the United States to follow suit.

MADRE applauds the New York State Senate for passing this legislation, one step closer in our fight for equality. And while advocates hope this bill jump-starts a nationwide movement, we also know that this work is part of a global effort to recognize the rights and equality of all people.

Recently, we blogged about a historic resolution passed by the United Nations Human Rights Council, which recognizes the universality of human rights and aims to protect people against violence or discrimination based on gender identity or sexual orientation. This landmark resolution, coupled with New York’s decision to allow same-sex marriage, shows the achievements of dedicated organizers and human rights advocates. There is still much work to be done, both domestically and internationally, but these successes have given us the opportunity to celebrate the gains created by our movements.

US State Department Chooses Not to Defend Unarmed US Activists

Today, passengers on the US Boat to Gaza came out with a press release expressing their disappointment over a recent statement issued by the US State Department. The US Boat, named The Audacity of Hope, is preparing to set sail and join an international flotilla to deliver much needed humanitarian aid and supplies to Gaza. In a trip last year, a boat destined for Gaza was attacked by Israeli forces, killing nine passengers.

Instead of calling on the Israeli government to refrain from violence against the unarmed passengers of the Audacity of Hope, the US State Department advised US citizens against traveling to Gaza by any means, including via sea.

Robert Naiman, a passenger on the ship and policy director at Just Foreign Policy, was quoted in response to the State Department’s statement. “So far, US government officials have failed to use their influence to discourage Israeli authorities from ordering a physical assault on us,” he said, “Of course, State Department officials have an obligation to speak out against threats to attack us. It is deeply disappointing that they have so far failed to do so.”

To read the press release in full, click here.

It’s Hurricane Season Again, But This Time It Can Be Different

Hurricane season begins this month, and in Haiti’s displacement camps, people have begun to look fearfully toward the skies. For solutions, they must look to Haitian women.

More than a year after the earthquake, each day continues to bring life-threatening challenges to the hundreds of thousands of Haitians living in tent cities. Families that lost everything to the earthquake now struggle to feed themselves, to find clean water or to stay healthy in the face of dangerous illnesses like cholera.

Now, on top of all of this, the hurricanes are returning.

In 2008, Haiti was slammed by four hurricanes in but a few weeks in August and September. Hundreds of people were killed and thousands of homes destroyed by winds, flooding and mudslides. Today, as Haitian communities continue to reel from the earthquake, another hurricane would add to the misery.

Through decades of experience responding to disasters, women’s groups worldwide have learned indispensable lessons. We know that in the aftermath of disaster, women and girls confront particular challenges. They face increased risk of rape and violence. They lose access to reproductive health services. What’s more, aid distribution targeting male heads-of-household often leaves women out.

These threats are anything but natural. Instead, they fall along social fault lines that unload the worst burdens on the most vulnerable — especially poor women.

But there is more to this story. Survival of families and communities depends upon women standing on the front lines of a disaster. As pillars of their communities, women know how best to rebuild. These are the women who know which family has a new baby or which grandmother has been ill.

When floods in Pakistan displaced millions of people last year, women set up clinics in remote areas and made sure that aid reached the most vulnerable populations.

When Hurricane Mitch leveled Nicaragua in 1998, women directed crucial supplies like food, clothing and medicine to families most in need.

And in the year and a half since the Haiti earthquake, women there have worked tirelessly to rebuild communities and deliver life-saving aid long after the global spotlight moved elsewhere. When the next hurricane hits, no one will be better prepared to spring into action.

We can make this hurricane season different. We can’t stop the hurricane once it begins its swift path across the ocean, but we can protect communities in its wake. The best way to do this is by working with women.

Women in a hurricane’s path are demanding they not be forgotten. They are demanding a voice in disaster-response policies, so that they can help aid get to the most vulnerable. They are demanding the opportunity to use their expertise to rebuild stronger communities.

If we support relief efforts that include women and listen to these demands, we can save lives.

This piece was originally distributed by the National Women’s Editorial Forum

Obama Backpedals on Empty Promises to Afghan Women

Last night, President Obama took to the airwaves to announce the “accelerated” withdrawal of US troops from Afghanistan: 10,000 troops out by the end of the year and a total of 33,000 out by the end of next summer.

But if you spaced out for even a second, you might have missed it: Afghan women and girls were mentioned only once in his speech. As Obama spoke of transitioning responsibility for security to Afghans, he lauded those who are “creating new opportunities for women and girls.”

This after-thought is a far cry from the declaration of Laura Bush in November 2001 that “The fight against terrorism is also a fight for the rights and dignity of women.” This was almost 10 years ago, with the Bush Administration rallying for war in Afghanistan and hoisting the banner of women’s rights to pave their way.  In the past decade, Afghan women have come to see how little weight these words carried.

Removing the Taliban from power did create openings for women to exercise new freedoms. But when women rushed to fill these openings to work, travel or study, they were viciously attacked by the Taliban and other ultra-conservatives, including those in the US-backed Karzai government. Often facing death threats, these women saw first-hand that the US was not willing to risk more than sound bites in defense of their rights.

Soon, even the empty promises began to be discarded. By April 2009, just months into his presidency, Obama was already backpedaling mightily on women’s rights, saying “while improving conditions in Afghanistan is a commendable goal, people need to remember that the primary reason that US troops are fighting there is to protect Americans from terrorist attacks.”

MADRE never believed that the war on Afghanistan would “improve conditions” for women or anyone else. Nor, for that matter, did we believe that it would “protect Americans from terrorist attacks.” A war is no way to bring about either human rights or human security. Maybe the Administration is doing us a favor by dropping the façade about women’s rights: one less false rationale to debunk.

Last night, Obama pointed to future peace talks and the need to include the Taliban. He set forward the conditions that any participants in these talks must renounce violence and abide by the Afghan Constitution. Yet, none of his conditions offer any promise that women’s rights will be protected. The US-brokered Afghan Constitution, for instance, contains no meaningful guarantees of women’s rights or any prohibition on gender discrimination.

Meanwhile, Afghan women, like all women living in conflict zones, suffer disproportionately from war. They shoulder the responsibility of caring for the most vulnerable, including children, the wounded and the elderly. And when foreign military intervention emboldens fundamentalist forces who claim to defend their homeland and whose vision of Afghanistan depends on denying women’s rights, women come out the losers.

Perhaps President Obama hoped to soothe critics on the left by claiming to accelerate the troop pull-out. But if he follows through to remove 33,000 troops by the end of next summer, the US troop levels will not even have returned to what they were when Bush left office. For Afghan women and families, there is no end in sight to years of living with war and military intervention.

For more information, click here to read “Pressing Reset on the Afghanistan Debate: Towards Ending the War and Upholding Women’s Rights”

A Message to MADRE Supporters from Yanar Mohammed

Watch the video below of Yanar Mohammed, President of MADRE’s sister organization, the Organization of Women’s Freedom in Iraq (OWFI).  In it, she discusses how MADRE support has helped her organization guarantee safety and human rights for women in Iraq, especially in light of the recent attacks on OWFI protesters in Baghdad.

Click on the links below for updates on the current situation in Iraq:

Iraqi Human Rights Activists Are Sexually Assaulted and    Beaten »

Women from Around the World Condemn Attack on Peaceful Protesters in Iraq »

Updates on the Use of Repressive Tactics against Peaceful Protesters in Iraq »

US Boat to Gaza to Set Sail This Week

The US Boat to Gaza, named The Audacity of Hope, is scheduled to set sail as part in a flotilla leaving from Athens later this week. The flotilla, which will consist of 10 ships from around the world, is destined for Gaza, where they will be delivering much-needed humanitarian supplies. In Gaza, movement is severely restricted, and many families cannot access critical supplies and services, including clean water, education, or health care.

Last year, the Israeli military attacked a Turkish ship delivering humanitarian aid to Gaza, killing nine people on board and wounding several others.

For more information on the US Boat to Gaza and the Freedom flotilla, click here. Passengers will also be keeping “video journals,” one of which will be released every day. To watch these videos, click here.

UNHRC Passes Historic Resolution on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity

For the first time ever, the United Nations Human Rights Council today passed a resolution on sexual orientation and gender identity. This resolution only narrowly passed, with 23 member states voting in favor of the resolution, 19 against and 3 abstentions.

The resolution, which was presented by South Africa and Brazil, recognizes that human rights are universal – regardless of gender identity or sexual orientation – and serves to protect people against violence or discrimination. As articulated in a press release by the International Service for Human Rights,

Today’s resolution is the first UN resolution ever to bring specific focus to human rights violations based on sexual orientation and gender identity, and follows a joint statement on these issues delivered at the March session of the Council. It affirms the universality of human rights, and notes concern about acts of violence and discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity. This commitment of the Human Rights Council sends an important signal of support to human rights defenders working on these issues, and recognises the legitimacy of their work.

MADRE applauds this landmark decision. This will give a new tool for all advocates working towards a new era in which discrimination and violence based on gender identity and sexual orientation is no longer tolerated and treated with impunity.

MADRE Celebrates Indigenous Activists

Recently, the 10th session of the United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues, a major international gathering of Indigenous activists, took place in New York City. Since our founding, MADRE has worked with Indigenous women and communities from around the world, and we invited our friends and partners to the MADRE office to celebrate their work and their achievements.

Below is MADRE Executive Director Yifat Susskind’s message of welcome to everyone who attended the party.

To learn more about MADRE’s projects with Indigenous women, read about our work in Guatemala, Kenya, Nicaragua and Peru.