On International Day of the Girl, we cheer on the bravery of young activists who are taking action to advance the rights and opportunities for girls everywhere.
This week, the US military expanded its bombing campaign to Syria. Advocates for peace and human rights have spoken out to confront this escalation and to call for rights-based solutions that do not deepen violence. Below are a few links with more information about this crisis.
Phyllis Bennis reminds us in Foreign Policy in Focus that the US bombing in Syria is in violation of international law.
And Jon Queally at Common Dreams highlights how, once again, civilians in Syria are paying the price for escalated bombing.
Even the New York Times has recognized this bombing campaign as a “wrong turn.”
Take Action: CODEPINK released this action alert calling on Obama to cease bombing Syria and Iraq.
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.
As we chanted and marched, big questions hung 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?
Many 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 marched alongside him, carrying a folding chair. Each time the march paused, 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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.