From the March and Beyond: The Enduring Pursuit for Climate Justice

Two days ago, I was one of 400,000 people in New York City–and one of many more worldwide–who took to the streets demanding climate justice.

[l to r] MADRE's staff: Program Coordinator, Sahita Pierre-Antoine; Executive Director, Yifat Susskind and Communications Director, Diana Duarte.
[l to r] MADRE’s staff: Program Coordinator, Sahita Pierre-Antoine; Executive Director, Yifat Susskind and Communications Director, Diana Duarte.
As we chanted and marched, ​big questions h​ung in the air​.

Can we rally around a definition of climate justice based on doing away with business as usual, including the economic models that created this crisis and the discrimination that puts some of us in greater danger from ​the impacts of climate change? Do we all understand that there can be no climate justice without gender justice?

M​any more vital questions​ will be​ ​asked in the days to come. As we mold the answers, I will continue to be inspired by the people I marched with on Sunday.

I saw an elderly man​ ​walking with two canes​. His son march​ed alongside him, ​carrying a folding chair. ​Each time the march pause​d​, the son would open the chair so that his father could sit and rest for a few moments. Over and over again, he stood up and kept marching.

I saw a young girl, maybe six or seven years old, shouting into her cupped hands, “The people united will never be defeated!”

I saw thousands of people lined along the sidewalks, carrying signs with words like “There is no planet B” and “Be kind to your mother” over a drawing of Earth.

All of us, including MADRE’s grassroots partners from all over the world, are determined to confront climate change and protect our communities. Today, world leaders are busy making speeches at the big UN summit on climate change. By turning out in force, we’ve put them on notice that we are watching.

Peace and Development: A Challenge for Humanity and for World Leaders

In commemoration of this year’s International Day of Peace, our partner Otilia Lux de Coti, Executive Director of the International Indigenous Women’s Forum (IIWF-FIMI), delivered a statement on the inextricable link between the rights of Indigenous Peoples, peace and sustainable development. 

Otilia Lux de Coti presenting at the International Day of Peace Symposium.
Otilia Lux de Coti presenting at the International Day of Peace Symposium.

Indigenous Peoples of Latin America and the world are united by ancient history and spirituality, cultures and ways of life, knowledge and wisdom. We are daughters and sons of Mother Earth and we are people with rights, with a vision of the world that is different from that of the cultures that have subordinated us. History, as a mother and as teacher, has taught generations of how all republics were formed in Latin America.

These republics were established as a State born of elites, rooted in racist, patriarchal, discriminatory, exclusionary and feudal pillars, accompanied by an ideological militarism that created violence, which continues in today’s societies. They are mono-cultural, corporate states founded on the exploitation and mutilation of Indigenous Peoples.

The Guatemalan Maya and Mesoamerican People have started a new B’aqtun, at the end and the beginning of time since the conception and thought of the Mayas. This new period means changes or transformations of human behavior towards a decent life and with high respect for Mother Earth. But the changes will not be possible if the conditions to create new states and new economic models that can sustain transformations that societies require do not exist.

The new states must break with these ignominious paradigms of exclusion and discrimination, inequality and poverty, which are an affront to the high values ​​of democracy, freedom, peace, order, justice, law, equity, development and progress.

From the perspective of women and Indigenous Peoples, to implement governance and peaceful democratic coexistence, you must have deep awareness and commitment to solve the big problems that the societies of our countries face.  This can only be possible with a vision of a plural state and rule of law on the part of governments, political parties and leaders, and societies. Additionally, governance and peaceful democratic coexistence are possible if they are based on cooperative processes and workable solutions.

When Indigenous People, including women and youth, address peace and development, we do it from our own perspective, approaching it from the reinvention of a new economic model, based on respect for the rights of Indigenous Peoples. We also analyze it from the perspective of a good life for all mankind. Moreover, our vision includes the respect for Mother Earth and natural resources or natural methods, which are the substantive axles of life of the people.

If these principles are the foundation of a good and harmonious life among human beings, nature, and the cosmos, this is enough to understand compliance with the norms of coexistence, and to understand and respect each other as human beings, respect Mother Earth and manifest respect for a right to life.

What do we mean, then, by harmonization of peace and development? Our response is guided toward the elimination of injustice, economic and political impunity, and the eradication of poverty and violence.  It is ensuring food sovereignty and security.  It is also ensuring life, the rule of law and governance with new models of human development and identity. It also focuses on inclusive, high-quality and long-lasting education models.

To achieve a viable link between peace and development, we need to face major challenges, prioritizing the following because they ensure justice, peace and development:

  • Respect for the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, including among the priorities the right to Free, Prior and Informed Consent. The collective rights to land, territory and natural resources are clear examples of complementarity between individual and collective rights. As is well known, Indigenous Peoples are an intrinsic part of the land, where its history and their identity as people are inscribed. It is the basis of life and is why the right to land, territories and natural resources are key demands of the international movement of Indigenous Peoples and Indigenous women. 
  • Open and transparent dialogue among civil society, Indigenous Peoples and Governments with the private sector. The rule of law for all. 
  • Design, develop and implement public policies oriented in comprehensive security, intercultural health, inclusive quality education, basic shelter and capacity building. 
  • Strengthen justice, democracy and the rule of law.  Promote Human Rights, Women’s Rights, the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.

The new development model should be based on the values ​​of human relations in their healthiest forms: trust, cooperation, appreciation, solidarity and willingness to share. This will allow the promotion, growth and development of rural economies and of Indigenous Peoples including women and youth.

  • Ancestral knowledge of women and Indigenous Peoples should be a basis for sustainable development and climate change mitigation.
  • Multiculturalism and gender as critical approaches to implementing public policy and of the State. 

Coexistence, harmony and respect for all and a full understanding of different cultures within the framework of respect for human rights is the fundamental and universal principle that should prevail to achieve true peace and development for all people on the planet.

The UN must direct real commitments to address these challenges to maintain peace in the world.

Leer la declaración en español, aquí.

#AskYanar: An Iraqi Women’s Rights Activist Answers Your Questions

Thank you for participating in our #AskYanar campaign!

Our partner Yanar Mohammed, President of the Organization of Women’s Freedom in Iraq (OWFI), appreciates all of your questions on Iraq’s current crisis and how OWFI is working to protect families fleeing the surging violence. Keep reading to see her answers:


What actions are people in Iraq—especially women, LGBT folks and young people—taking to make change?

In spite of all disasters which fell upon us in the new millennium, there was one advantage which cannot be undone. The internet and media, including satellite television, has opened Iraq up to the world. Women, youth and LGBT have developed a new awareness, becoming connected to international movements against oppressive and patriarchal tendencies.

In addition, many Iraqis who had left the country during the long-lasting wars came back with a vision of how to connect with an international movement of human rights. Meanwhile, many of the older political activists who lived under decades of dictatorship began to work under different circumstances, where change is possible. In 2003, many of us set up our civil society organizations, where our understanding and expectations of a good future was passed on to a younger generation of women, men and LGBT who had aspirations to exercise their free will. Our hope was betrayed by the brutality of occupation, especially once the US made common cause with reactionary religious fundamentalists bent on destroying women’s rights.

In spite of the political mess of the ruling class, many organizations made use of the time, in order to train groups of activists.

Although OWFI has trained many young activists, we notice that the most driven and determined ones are those who had found refuge in our shelters and benefited from our programs: the woman who had a knife at her neck, only a few years ago, or the LGBT person who was denied all possibility of dignity or safety. As OWFI activists, they are now dedicating their life to change the reality around them to make it more tolerant for the next generation.

At our shelters and programs, older women activists accept the responsibility to mentor, care for the wellbeing, and provide human rights training to our residents, thus creating a new generation of human rights activists.

This team of activists takes this strong human rights message out to the society, through our radio station Al Mousawat 103.8 FM in Baghdad.  They broadcast messages that challenge the legislators and misogynists in ways which nobody else dares to do.

With the invasion of ISIS, and the division of Iraq into two parts, the central government took the opportunity to order the shut-down of many opposition media outlets, which had challenged their authority and oppression. Our radio was one of those who were ordered to shut down, thus leaving the airwaves with no challenging voice calling for liberation. We were told that our frequency might be given to a newly rising militia which wants to have its own media platform. This militia has been responsible for mass killings of women and LGBT people.

How do you console a heart and body having been victimized via war, patriarchy, rape, etc.? Thoughts? Quotes? Personal experiences?

We would speak warmly to a survivor of violence. But our main strategy to help their healing is to introduce them to fellow survivors who have overcome their distress. These fellow survivors are living a new life, with new goals to become strong enough to protect others from violence. They have experienced transformation into social and political activists. When a survivor of violence can see her options in life and can feel the success that others have achieved, that is their first step towards hope and empowerment.

Ours is a space of believing in oneself, willpower and determination. After 11 years, we have many role models at our women’s centers who are walking examples of the transformation from victim to fierce, uncompromising activist. They are the best experts to nurture the new survivors, as they have experienced the same pains.

Is there any protection for women in Mosul from the ISIS?

Recently, OWFI posted a message on our social media networks addressing the grievances of the women in Mosul, Telafar, Sinjar, and other western cities. We included our telephone numbers for those who are distressed and in need of a way out.

In the community of men who support OWFI, we’ve also managed to find inter-city drivers who make daily trips to Mosul and volunteer to bring women to our safe-houses in Baghdad and Kerbala.

One of the OWFI branches, in Hawija is in a community under ISIS control. This branch assists mothers with medical and physiotherapy services for their disabled children of this town. More than 600 children under 11 years old have physical disabilities resulting from environmental contamination by the US military. OWFI received donations for the physiotherapy equipment from MADRE.

After the invasion of ISIS in June, the militants came to our offices asking our representative in a hostile manner about the source of her financing. When they doubted her story and became angry, the residents interfered begging them to keep the center open, as their children’s well-being depends on it. The final say came from the cleric of the neighborhood, whose two children’s mobility were improving because of our services.

Today, the OWFI-MADRE health care center is open and serving the children of Hawija. Hawija has also absorbed many waves of refugees from the western cities of Tikrit and Mosul, and many were sheltered in our offices for weeks, until we re-located them to the houses of our membership. We distributed food baskets and clothes to 80 families in Hawija in the last two months.

Additional Resources: 

Help Our Sisters Who Need Us Most

Understanding ISIS: A Women’s Rights Perspective

Aid and Shelter for Women Fleeing ISIS

At Our Doorstep: Health Care as a Human Right for Latin American Children

In 2014, as many as 90,000 children from Central America are expected to attempt to cross the border into the US – more than double from last year. Many are without their families, without prospects or plans for the future. They have only hope.

This sharp increase in migration (primarily from Honduras, Guatemala, and El Salvador) is due to a dramatic rise in gang violence and drug related crime. US policies throughout the 1990’s and 2000’s to reduce such crimes in the US, deported thousands of members back to Central America, where weak and corrupt states allow them to become more powerful. What’s more, the US-led “War on Drugs,” which focused on breaking up large cartels primarily in Colombia, created a void in the drug market readily filled by smaller cartels in Central America. This created an unprecedented surge in violence as they vie for dominance of the drug trade.

The Honduran government is particularly vulnerable to such violence. After the 2009 coup toppled its democratically-elected president and installed the Porfirio Lobo administration, the state’s democratic institutions and security apparatuses crumbled. Despite Lobo’s usurpation of power and continued state repression, the Obama administration recognized his victory in a fraudulent election that took place months after the coup. Honduras now has the highest homicide rate in the world and an estimated 40,000 gang members.

El Salvador and Guatemala are not far behind. Children are especially vulnerable, often forced to enter the drug trade under threats of violence against themselves and their families. Many must choose between certain and intolerable violence at home, or the treacherous journey to the US.

The American reaction to the rise in immigration has created an additional obstacle for the young immigrants. In July, in Murrieta, California, dozens of Americans rallied in the streets, some bearing signs with slogans such as “Return to Sender.”

In contrast to those concerned about the burden that these children might impose on taxpayers, many in the global community, including the United Nations, maintain that this issue is not just a marked increase in migration, but a full-fledged refugee crisis, with all its attendant misery. Recognizing this as a refugee crisis would put more pressure on the United States to increase the number of Central Americans allowed into the country. The Obama administration is currently considering a proposal to grant hundreds of Hondurans refugee status.

One organization advocating for these young refugees is MADRE’s ally, Circle of Health International. Founded by midwife and social activist Sera Bonds, COHI aids refugees around the world. COHI has partnered with MADRE in bringing reproductive health care services to Syrian refugees in Jordan, as well as in Midwives for Peace, a coalition of Palestinian and Israeli women who provide reproductive health care to mothers in the West Bank. Other COHI projects include providing education on maternal health and child care in Tanzania, and providing care to pregnant women in Haiti.

COHI is now launching an initiative in McAllen, Texas to provide much-needed health services to the thousands of refugees arriving at the border town. The organization is planning to open a re-purposed abortion clinic in McAllen that will provide comprehensive services to Latin American children and families.

In early July, COHI performed a health assessment that confirmed the severity of the local health crisis. Most of the refugees arrive suffering from dehydration, malnutrition, poor hygiene, and psychological trauma. Like most cities along the border, McAllen is in great need of healthcare facilities, supplies, and professionals, as the city’s resources are unable to accommodate the spike in immigration.

COHI aims to meet these critical needs of Central American children. They are working to provide clinical and reproductive care, and to serve as a coordinator of the well-meaning but often disorganized volunteer efforts that are already taking place. “While the generous people and faith communities of McAllen have opened their hearts and checkbooks to care for the refugees, there is a great need for direct, clinical pediatric and adolescent health care,” explains Sera. This requires cooperation of local, national, and global actors with COHI’s efforts.

We congratulate our friends at COHI for launching this initiative to address an urgent human rights crisis right at our doorstep.

There is Still Time to #AskYanar

In response to the outpouring of questions for our partner Yanar Mohammed, we are extending the opportunity for MADRE’s supporters to connect with an Iraqi women’s rights activist. As President of the Organization of Women’s Freedom in Iraq (OWFI), Yanar has on-the-ground knowledge of how the country’s escalating crisis is impacting women and families.


Here’s how you can #AskYanar:

Email your questions to

Be sure to follow MADRE on Twitter and Facebook, and check our myMADRE blog in September to see if your question was answered by Yanar.

Please note that not all submissions will be accepted.

Also, please  take the time to learn how you can help protect Iraqi women and children from the surging violence.


Indigenous Women Farmers Gain Economic Autonomy

Kisalaya is an Indigenous village on the North Atlantic coast of Nicaragua. It’s also the site of Harvesting Hope, an organic community agriculture project supported by MADRE members. The project started with only 30 women, and there are now 90 participants–and Ester Tomas is one of them.

Yifat Susskind, MADRE's Executive Director, and Ester Tomas during a recent trip to Nicaragua.
Yifat Susskind, MADRE’s Executive Director, and Ester Tomas during a recent trip to Nicaragua.

When MADRE staff recently visited Kisalaya, Ester shared what Harvesting Hope has meant for her family. Their family’s diet has improved, from eating the healthy, organic produce. What’s more, she is able to sell her surplus of crops at the market. “I harvested 40 pounds of tomatoes this year. Because of MADRE, I can pay for my children to go to school,” she said.

Harvesting Hope is one way that MADRE partners with our sisters at Wangki Tangni to improve the health of Indigenous women and families. We provide Miskita women with vegetable seeds and teach them farming skills. Additionally, the project emphasizes the preservation of traditional Indigenous knowledge of natural resource management.

Today, thanks to this project, the women rely less on costly imported foods and have become leaders in their community.

Preventing Sexual Violence and Protecting Survivors

In June, I spoke on behalf of MADRE at a conference in the Dominican Republic amplifying the international call to end violence against women.

The forum, sponsored by the Global Foundation for Democracy and Development (GFDD) in solidarity with the Global Summit to End Sexual Violence, was an effort to bring speakers from different backgrounds to discuss strategies for combating violence against women and the various ways that it manifests, including in armed conflict and post-disaster scenarios.

Natasha in DR
Natasha speaking on MADRE’s work with our sisters in Haiti.

During my presentation, I highlighted MADRE’s work addressing post-disaster incidents of sexual violence in Haiti. Our partnership with KOFAVIV, a grassroots organization established by rape survivors in Port-au-Prince, is an example that sexual violence in conflict and post-disaster situations is often anticipated, and thus can and should be protected against.

KOFAVIV provides the women they serve with access to medical attention, counseling and human rights training. While MADRE’s support in providing capacity assistance, technical and legal advice demonstrates the need for the international community to pay attention when women’s lives are threatened and to demand accountability.

As MADRE continues our decades-long work supporting women NGOs and their struggle to claim autonomy in all its facets, we ask that you stand with us and support us.  Now is the #TimeToAct.

Natasha Time to Act
Natasha, third from the right, joining other presenters on calling for an end to violence against women.


Natasha Lycia Ora Bannan is a human rights attorney who practices both litigation and international human rights work, including the domestic implementation of human rights norms.  She has worked on gender and racial justice issues, including access to reproductive health, sexual violence and violence against women in conflict zones.


Genocide Survivors: “If we go forward fighting, we will find justice.”

We sang, we danced, we laughed and we celebrated each other. That’s how we started day two of the transitional justice conference with the help of our partner organization Taller de Vida. They led us in a group song and dance that left us all energized to start the day.

Our partner Taller de Vida leading an energetic drum circle and icebreaker.
Our partner Taller de Vida led an energetic drum circle and icebreaker.

And the women needed this positive energy. Because today, we’d be hearing first-hand stories of the human rights abuses that they and their families have suffered. We heard the story of “Maria”, a survivor of the 1982 massacre of Las Dos Erres in Guatemala, where over 200 campesinos, many of them children including her brother and other family members, lost their lives during a wave of brutal violence under Rios Montt. She bravely shared her painful story with us, and how she fought for justice. Years later, she testified against the perpetrators of this violence in the Inter-American system, through regional human rights bodies. And thankfully, some of these men are now in jail.

And we heard from more women about the violence, threats, discrimination and displacement they and their families have faced. When I listened to these women’s stories, I was inspired by their bravery and by the shared fight for justice that has brought them all together here.

But what do we do when justice eludes us? What do we do when the police don’t investigate these crimes? What do we do when prosecutors don’t try these cases? What do we do when legislators don’t pass laws that protect women and families? How do these brave women seek justice?

When local and national channels fail, that’s when we go to the international system. And that’s what the second day’s training focused on. Lisa Davis and Cassandra Atlas of MADRE’s Human Rights Advocacy staff led a dynamic session on the tools and vehicles available to these women to bring their cases to an international stage. Not only does bringing your case to the international stage give visibility and voice to your issue, but it’s a vital opportunity to demand action from your government and a key moment to build coalitions and solidarity movements for justice.

Seeking justice in the international system is a long process, and it does not bring change overnight. But it is an important vehicle for demanding justice for these women. But as Maria’s story shows us, it can work. And as Maria said to the group, “I want to say to all the women who are here to not be afraid…because when we are scared, we are silent. But if we go forward fighting, we will find justice.”

One Woman’s Stand against Corruption in Guatemala

What kind of courage does it take to defy death threats in the name of justice? The kind of courage embodied by Dr. Claudia Paz y Paz.

This remarkable woman has been at the forefront of stopping organized crime and confronting human rights violations in Guatemala since she became the first female attorney general in 2010.

Claudia Paz y Paz via Nobel Women's Initiative.
Claudia Paz y Paz via Nobel Women’s Initiative.

Paz y Paz didn’t let anyone stop her in her pursuit of justice. She charged corrupt police officers, drug lords, politicians and other perpetrators of human rights violations. But Paz y Paz’s term was cut short. The reasons why speak volumes about the enduring impunity in Guatemala.

Paz y Paz began her term as attorney general when her predecessor was removed from the position 6 to 7 months after he started. Ricardo Sagastume, a businessman and corporate lawyer—whose father was the president of the supreme court when dictator Efrain Rios Montt was in office—argued on a technicality that Paz y Paz would fulfill her term in May as opposed to December because of her start date. The court ruled in favor of this questionable argument, cutting back her term by seven months. Paz y Paz was also excluded from running for a second term as attorney general during this election cycle.

Sagastume says he pursued this for non-political reasons, but the timing is very suspicious. The retrial of a monumental case was scheduled before the end of her term. Paz y Paz prosecuted and convicted Rios Montt for his role in the genocide against Indigenous Peoples during his term. Rios Montt was only president for a few years during a brutal 36 year civil war that killed over 200,000 people, and during this time, he received supported from the Reagan Administration.

One survivor of this violence, Rosa, shared her story with us and our partner organization Muixil. Both of Rosa’s parents were executed when she was five-years-old. She sat next to her parents’ bodies for two days, waiting for someone to come. When her uncle arrived, they hid in the mountains and ate grass to fight their hunger. Numerous women told similar stories about losing their loved ones during this terrible time.

The case against Rios Montt was a landmark in the quest for justice in Guatemala. Our partners told us that the mere initiation of these charges against the former dictator was validating. But two weeks after the decision, everything changed. On May 20, 2013, the verdict was overturned by the courts. Now 88-year-old Rios Montt will not face retrial until January 2015.

During her four years in office, Paz y Paz developed into a prominent political figure and brought significant change to the region. She became a voice for women, who now have laws acknowledging that violence against women is a crime. The overall crime rate also dropped by around nine percent.

Even though she has been forced from her position, it is clear that Paz y Paz’s role in bringing accountability to Guatemala’s judicial system will leave a lasting legacy for victims of violence and others standing up against human rights abuses.