2011’s Big Wins – Brought to You by Women

2011 was a year of transformations.

It began with thousands of people in the Middle East rising up to demand an end to repressive government and a say in their futures.

That spirit of transformation continued throughout the year. The world welcomed the new country of South Sudan, the culmination of a years-long peace process. A global network of activists sprang into action to thwart a policy that threatened Afghan women. The United Nations launched a new agency dedicated to guaranteeing women’s human rights worldwide.

What do all these things have in common? These successes, and others, were made possible by women—in their local communities and in global centers of power—who came together to demand change.

Women Grow the Seeds of the Arab Spring

The protests of the Arab Spring took the world by storm. They upended regimes that had reigned for decades, and women were at the center of it all.

Western stereotypes of Arab women portray them as one dimensional victims of oppression. But it was women, often young women, who sounded the call that brought people to the streets. In Egypt, Asmaa Mahfouz posted a video calling on people to demonstrate on January 25—and it went viral. It started a wave that could not be stopped. And that wave continued, day after day, spreading through the region, because women kept its momentum going.

Women know that their work is not over when an old regime crumbles. In Egypt, women have again taken to the streets to demand an end to the ongoing military rule. They have been beaten and assaulted, stripped and harassed. But they’re not stepping down. Our work ahead is to stand by the brave women who helped topple dictatorships and help them protect the gains they’ve made.

Working for the Peaceful Creation of South Sudan

A generation of Sudanese people grew up in war. Women bore the brunt, struggling to sustain their families through violence. But through it all, they organized to demand peace.

The years-long peace process peaked with the creation of the world’s newest nation in July—South Sudan. With communities still recovering from decades of conflict, many worried that the split would trigger a slide back into war.

But women’s organizations refused to let that happen. Leaders like Fatima Ahmed, founder of the human rights organization Zenab for Women in Development, educated voters, trained women as election monitors and spoke out for peace.

People are still at risk, and continued violent attacks have wracked communities. But peace is more than just a one-time win—it must be nurtured and lived. So the Sudanese women’s movement continues to work for peace and for protection of women’s human rights—on both sides of the new border. Now, Fatima is hard at work advocating for women’s human rights in the review of the Sudanese constitution.

Protecting Women’s Shelters in Afghanistan

Naseema knew that her abusive husband was going to kill her if she didn’t escape. Thanks to an activist-run network of women’s shelters, she and her children were able to flee the country—and save their lives.

But under a law proposed by the Afghan government earlier this year, Naseema could have been forced to return to her husband from the shelter.

The new law would have shifted control of women’s shelters from the courageous women’s organizations that now run them to government officials who could determine entry based on virginity tests and choose to send women back to abusive husbands.

Women’s rights activists, in Afghanistan and beyond, mobilized to prevent this terrible move. And we won: the bill was scrapped. Now, Afghan women still have the freedom to turn—no questions asked—to shelters where they can escape life-threatening violence and abuse.

Launch of UN Women

For decades, advocates fought for the full recognition of women’s human rights. The United Nations was a key site of this struggle. Yet women’s human rights endeavors at the UN were chronically underfunded. UN bodies set up to address women’s issues were small, disjointed and lacked authority.

All of that began to change in 2011 with the launch of UN Women, an agency dedicated to guaranteeing women’s human rights. For years, leaders like Charlotte Bunch, the founder of the Center for Women’s Global Leadership, organized a concerted campaign, strategized with activists worldwide and lobbied with UN representatives—all to make UN Women a reality.

Despite this milestone, many challenges lie ahead. Countries have been slow to direct funding to the fledgling agency. This is a serious blow to an agency mandated to improve conditions for half of the world’s people. But just as we fought to create UN Women, we must stand by the agency to keep it strong—for the sake of women worldwide counting on it.

Women Stand Up for Peace

Time and again, we see that peace cannot be won without the voices and leadership of women. In war, women are often specifically targeted with violence, including rape and sexual assault. What’s more, women often sustain the most vulnerable in their communities, including children and the elderly. Yet, too often, women are denied a seat at the peace negotiating table.

But in 2011, the Nobel Peace Prize was awarded to three women. It was a rare recognition of the integral role women play in demanding peace and rebuilding their communities.

In Liberia, Leymah Gbowee led a protest movement of women who held years of vigils for peace. They refused to be silent and demanded that militants lay down their arms. Ellen Johnson Sirleaf became Liberia’s first female president, paving the way to recovery. Another winner, Tawakul Karman, is a Yemeni peace activist. Her demands for greater press freedoms, the release of political prisoners and the removal of Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh finally led to his resignation.

A Global Call for Justice

2011 began with popular uprising in the Arab world. And as 2011 comes to a close, the uprisings have circled the globe. The Occupy Wall Street movement, in New York City and around the world, reveals a growing refusal to go along with business as usual. The 99%, suffering for years under neoliberal policies that benefit the rich and impoverish the poor, are taking a stand.

And the movement isn’t going away anytime soon. Its demands resonate in communities worldwide that are all too familiar with the destructiveness of economic policies that treat basic necessities as tradable commodities instead of as human rights.

There are viable alternatives to neoliberal policies. They have already been articulated by women who confront daily the heaviest burdens of economic injustice. These women are Guatemalan women factory workers who organize for fair labor practices and Iraqi women who take a stand against the takeover of their government by oil companies. They offer the solutions that we all need and that resonate with the calls of the Occupy Wall Street movement.

We enter 2012 into a changed world, one that has been remade by the committed work of women activists. With each win, the forward momentum continues. We’ll remember 2011 for its uprisings and revolutions. Let it be also a forerunner to new possibilities in 2012.

Event: Today at 5:30pm Join Women in Black in Zuccotti Park

Today at 5:30pm join Women in Black to support the Occupy Wall Street movement and call for an end to the occupation of Palestine. Read the message below from Women in Black for more information:

Dear Friends,

This Thursday, December 22, we will bring our “Women in Black: End the Israeli Occupation” banner, our posters, our enthusiasm, our flyers, and ourselves to Occupy Wall Street at Liberty Plaza (Zuccotti Park). So—

Please join Women in Black Thursday, December 22 at Liberty Plaza, from 5:30-6:30, as we declare, “Occupy Wall Street, NOT Palestine!”

Remember: Thursday, December 22, you won’t find us at Union Square, because we hope to bring our Women in Black vigil down to support Occupy Wall Street. Join us there! Bring your friends! Occupy Wall Street; NOT Union Square!


Liberty Plaza (Zuccotti Park) is at the Corner of Liberty Street and Broadway.

Nearby subways:

N/R to Cortlandt St

4/5 to Wall St‎

A/C or J/Z to Fulton St


M5 bus TO BROADWAY & THAMES ST Walk 0.04 miles (1 minute) North-East to Liberty Park

M15 bus to WATER ST & MAIDEN LANE; Walk 0.32 miles (7 minutes) North-West to Liberty Park

Women in Egypt Come Together to Protest Violent Attacks

Egyptian women played a pivotal role in the pro-democracy protests that ousted former President Mubarak in February. Now, they are being beaten and sexually assaulted for protesting to demand an end to military rule. But they’re not stepping down. This week, several thousand women marched through the streets of Cairo to denounce the military leadership and its violent tactics.

Recently, images surfaced of a woman being dragged through the streets of Cairo, her hijab ripped off and a military officer poised to stomp on her chest. These images sparked outrage throughout Egypt and across the world.

We’ve compiled a list of resources to keep you up-to-date on the ongoing protests in Egypt and particularly on the role of women:

UN official deplores reported attacks against female protesters, UN News (December 21, 2011)

Egyptians protest against beating of women, Al Jazeera (December 21, 2011)

Women in Egypt hold huge rally to protest violence against them, The Christian Science Monitor (December 21, 2011)

Mass March by Cairo Women in Protest Over Abuse by Soldiers, The New York Times (December 20, 2011)

Egyptian women march on frontlines of country’s revolution, MSNBC (December 20, 2011)

Egypt Uses ‘Startling’ Amount of Firepower in Charge on Tahrir, CNN (December 20, 2011)

Egyptian Women Defend Their Role in the Revolution, 10,000 March Against the Army’s Brutality, AlterNet (December 20, 2011)

Image of Unknown Woman Beaten by Egypt’s Military Echoes Around World, The Guardian (December 19, 2011)

Joint Statement: Egypt: Continued Militarization: Increased Violence Against Women Human Rights Defenders During Dispersal Of Cabinet Sit-in, Nazra for Feminist Studies (December 18, 2011)

MADRE Friends Co-Author a Guide for Activists

This year, thousands in the United States came together to exercise their rights by participating in the Occupy movement around the country. We put our constitutional rights to free speech and assembly into action when we speak out in dissent. We’ve seen how these protests have been met with violence and organized local government and police efforts to shut them down. But there are ways for people to protect their rights while protesting.

These are detailed in a new book, Hell No: Your Right to Dissent in Twenty-First-Century America. The book is co-authored by Margaret Ratner-Kunstler, MADRE’s long-time friend and Vice President of our Board, and Michael Ratner, President Emeritus at the Center for Constitutional Rights. It gives us a guide to defend our first amendment rights in the so-called “age of terrorism.”

The book was discussed at a recent event held by the Center for Constitutional Rights. ‘Hell No’ presents a history of government crackdowns on first amendment rights, such as the post-9/11 Patriot Act, and discusses FBI policing and monitoring of average citizens as a response to protests and activism. The authors also offer an activism guide for anyone wanting to join in protests and to speak out in dissent, giving valuable advice on how to lawfully react to authorities.

Read their book and exercise your right to speak out!

MADRE’s Webstore Party

On Wednesday, MADRE invited friends to join us in our office and shop for gifts handmade by our partners around the world. The evening was a huge success, and we thank everyone who came out and supported MADRE’s work. View the images below to see photos from the evening, as well as some of the products we sold. If you were unable to make it, click here to shop the MADRE store online.

MADRE cuffs, hand-beaded by women in Kenya
Visitors peruse the items, all from MADRE's sister organizations
Nicaraguan cornhusk dolls
A Nicaraguan cornhusk doll
Media Coordinator Stephanie Kung (left) and Communications Director Diana Duarte (right) sort through handmade bags from our partners in Nicaragua

A guest plays a djembe from our partners in Kenya
From left to right: Executive Director Yifat Susskind, Website and Online Membership Coordinator Erica Hellerstein and Program Coordinator Roxana Diaz

All photos (c) Morgan English

Today Is Not the End of the Iraq War

The end of the US war in Iraq was officially declared today. Yet, the destruction continues. As the troops return, we must ask what the US is leaving behind.

One million Iraqis have been killed in the past eight years. Over five million have been displaced. Tens of thousands of US soldiers have been killed or wounded. Iraq has been named the fourth most corrupt country in the world, and Baghdad the city with the worst quality of living worldwide. In a country where women once enjoyed more freedoms than in many neighboring countries, Iraqi women now face epidemic levels of violence.

Recently, our Iraqi partners at the Organization of Women’s Freedom in Iraq (OWFI) wrote to us about the Haweeja district in northeastern Iraq. Communities there have been used as munitions dumps by the US military, and families are now suffering alarming rates of birth defects and cancer. Haweeja exemplifies the US legacy in Iraq, one that will impact women, their families and their communities for generations to come.

The withdrawal of troops from Iraq marks the end of a war that should never have begun. But this withdrawal does not mean an end to US accountability. The US government must still be held responsible for its actions and compensate the millions of Iraqis who have been killed, wounded, disabled, displaced and impoverished.

An End to the War on Terror? Think Again

A new National Defense Authorization Act is expected to be passed today and signed into law by President Obama. But one section of the legislation—the McCain-Levin bill—is garnering strong condemnation from everyone from civil rights organizations to the CIA.

The McCain-Levin bill contains three main provisions. First, it would expand the military’s authority to arrest suspected terrorists anywhere in the world and hold them indefinitely and without trial. This would even extend to US citizens arrested on US soil.

Second, it would allow the military to detain anyone suspected of supporting a terrorist organization. The definition of “terrorist” is constantly changing and unilaterally defined by the military itself, so the term is hardly constrained to known members of Al Qaeda or the Taliban.

And last, the bill would impose new restrictions on the transfer or release of detainees being held in Guantanamo.

This is a complete turnaround from the policy Obama promised when he ran for office in 2008. Back then, Obama said he wanted to immediately close Guantanamo. But with his support of the McCain-Levin bill, Obama is effectively allowing anyone, anywhere, including US citizens, to be held indefinitely without trial. Currently, 88 of the 171 prisoners held at Guantanamo have been cleared of terrorist involvement but are still incarcerated.

The end to the war in Iraq was officially declared today, but the McCain-Levin bill goes to show that the so-called “war on terror” is far from over. The battleground is expanding to all corners of the world, with no end in sight.

Inaction at Climate Conference Brings World Closer to Climate Crisis

After days of discussions and deliberations, the 190 countries that participated in the United Nations conference on climate change finally reached a deal on Sunday. But don’t get excited yet. The plan they settled on fell far short of the action we need to effectively prevent climate crisis.

The deal, known as the Durban Platform for Enhanced Action, is not legally binding. It commits countries to continue negotiating on a new phase of climate policy—to be agreed upon by 2015 and to take effect by 2020. However, talks on the details of this new policy will not even begin until next year’s climate summit.

In the meantime, until 2020, each nation will cut greenhouse gas emissions based on their own voluntary pledges. We don’t have to guess what that means for the climate crisis. A report by the UN Environmental Program shows that so far, following voluntary pledges has led to an increase in emissions by industrialized nations.

Currently, the only legally-binding international framework to address climate change is the Kyoto Protocol, set to expire next year. This agreement requires 37 industrialized nations to reduce their 1990 carbon emissions by an average of 5% by the end of 2012. The United States, historically the world’s biggest polluter, never ratified the Protocol.

And we’re still moving backwards. Canada pulled out of the Kyoto Protocol yesterday. What’s more, the future of the Kyoto Protocol has been thrown into limbo until next year’s climate conference.

The failure at Durban to reach a binding climate agreement ignores the threat to women and their families around the globe, who face food insecurity, drought and famine because of the climate crisis.

We are already seeing what this means: from extreme drought and famine in Somalia to flooding in the Niger. And as 70% of the world’s poor, it is women who are hit hardest. It is women who must walk farther to fetch water and fuel, and it is women who eat last and least when crops fail.

It is time for the countries most responsible for climate change to make bold commitments to reverse it. We must take our cue from the women who are already charting the path: setting up organic farms, conserving clean water and speaking out when the dangers they face are ignored by political leaders.

Learn more about MADRE’s projects to demand environmental justice by clicking here.

Today is Human Rights Day

Today is Human Rights Day, a day to commemorate the creation of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights 63 years ago. It is a day to celebrate the achievements of the human rights movement and look forward to a world where every person enjoys their basic human rights.

Today also marks the end of the 16 Days against Gender Based Violence campaign. Throughout the 16 Days campaign, MADRE has been sharing posters recognizing the challenges women worldwide face and the solutions they have charted in response to these challenges. Click on the image below to download the last of MADRE’s eight flyers: