Tag Archives: Middle East

The G8’s PR Strategy on Rape in Conflict

This post originally appeared on Women Under Siege.

On the same day in April that I listened to the harrowing stories of Syrian women over endless glasses of tea in Jordan’s Zaatari refugee camp, leaders of the world’s eight richest countries promised to take action against rape as a weapon of war.

During the bumpy drive out of Zaatari, I read with interest that G8 leaders had just passed a “Declaration on Preventing Sexual Violence in Conflict,” committing more forcefully than ever before to “address these ongoing crimes.” It was welcome news after hours spent talking with women who had fled their homes and braved bombs, snipers, militias, bandits, and exile to escape the threat of rape.

My interest was even further piqued by the specifics of the G8 declaration. The summit attendees endorsed international protocols for investigating and documenting rape in conflict. They called for support and protection of women human rights activists and women’s organizations doing vital work on the ground. And, best of all, they called on the international community, and the G8 itself, to provide critical funding for access to psychosocial and medical services for those targeted with sexualized violence.

These were some of the very demands that wartime rape survivors and human rights advocates had been making for years. In that sense, the declaration could be seen as promising. But the high-profile statement failed to offer a deadline, measurable metric, or concrete plan for a single recommendation it put forward.

This week’s G8 summit in Fermanagh, Ireland, is a chance for leaders to redeem themselves. But will the group—comprised of the world’s biggest arms dealers, most powerful donor states, and four out of five of the Permanent Members of the UN Security Council—offer more than lip service on conflict-related rape?

Click here to read the rest of the story.

Women Speak Out: No Arms for Syrian Rebels

MADRE released a statement today regarding the White House’s decision to send “small arms” to Syrian rebels:

June 14, 2013—New York, NY—MADRE, an international women’s human rights organization, spoke out today to oppose the Obama Administration’s decision to send arms to Syrian opposition forces.

“There is no question about the brutality of Assad’s regime,” said Yifat Susskind, Executive Director. “Its repression was exactly what drove Syrians to rise up in peaceful protests two years ago. First, these nonviolent organizers were sidelined by the armed opposition. Now, they are being sidelined again by President Obama, in favor of further militarizing a conflict that ultimately has no military solution.”

She went on to say, “The Obama Administration should be offering political and diplomatic support to people who share a vision rooted in human rights. This will mean creating space for Syrians to negotiate a peaceful resolution to the conflict, prioritizing women’s participation.”

MADRE noted that Syria is already awash in weapons that will be circulating in the area for years to come. Funneling more arms to the opposition will only intensify the war and further diminish chances of a democratic outcome for Syria.

For more information, click here to read MADRE’s Q & A on the War in Syria.


A Message of Support for Midwives for Peace

After we sent out a call asking for messages of support for our partners at Midwives for Peace, who are celebrating the organization’s 5th anniversary, our MADRE members responded as they always do: with open arms. We got permission to share this moving display of support below. As always, we thank you all for everything you do for MADRE and for our partners worldwide. The solidarity you demonstrate makes it possible for us to move forward, together, every day.

Dear Midwives for Peace,

Your work is SO important to the health of mothers and babies, and to the mental and emotional well-being of parents-to-be and parents of newborn babies.  I was blessed to have the expertise, knowledge, support and love of two wonderful midwives during pregnancy and at the very long and complicated birth of my child, Evalín/Ilanit, who, thank God, is 10 years old and healthy, and so I know first-hand the immediate and lasting value of what you do.  Attached is a recent picture of us with our friend’s puppies!

Thank you for reaching beyond borders and differences to serve all populations.  My respect for you is great, and I will support you/Madre through donations when babies are born to my friends and family.

Shalom/Salaam and Mahbrouk/Mazal tov on your anniversary,

Sherry Pachman

Vermont, USA

Hope and Happy Anniversaries in the West Bank

“As an Israeli midwife, I always wanted to talk to Palestinian midwives, to see their experience and exchange stories—that’s how we learn. We are neighbors, and with neighbors, you should talk. It’s unnatural that we don’t talk. So I came to the first meeting of this group. That was five years ago. Now we are more than neighbors. We are friends.”

Gomer, the Israeli coordinator of our sister organization Midwives for Peace, told me this on my recent visit to the West Bank. I was there to celebrate the group’s five year anniversary, a truly remarkable milestone.

Israel and Palestine are at a political standstill. The level of despondency in the region is as strong as I’ve ever seen it. And the lack of confidence in progress is widespread. As you can imagine, under these difficult circumstances, collaboration can seem impossible. Yet the commitment of our sister organization of Israeli and Palestinian midwives remains strong. Through it all, they continue to work together to learn from each other and to safely deliver babies in the West Bank, despite the conflict that surrounds them. What an inspiration!

The anniversary meeting gave the midwives a chance to celebrate, reflect and share their plans for the future. In 2014, the group hopes to send representatives to the International Conference of Midwives in Prague.

And this August, they are planning a group trip to the beach. You might be wondering what a day at the beach has to do with breaking down barriers between Palestinians and Israelis, but consider this: some of the Palestinian midwives are refugees whose families came from coastal villages, yet they themselves have never seen the ocean. As Aisha, the group’s Palestinian coordinator, said to me, “the friendships we are building as midwives, as women, are opening doors in our lives and in our hearts that the conflict had tried to nail shut.”

I’m always so moved to see the collaboration and friendship between our Israeli and Palestinian sisters. Our partnership with Midwives for Peace is something I am proud of every day. I was so grateful to be able to attend their anniversary event, and I look forward to celebrating their next five years.

Surge of Violence in Haweeja

The small town of Haweeja, where we work with our partners at the Organization for Women’s Freedom in Iraq (OWFI), has become one of the sites of increased violence across the northern part of the country as largely Shiite government militias engage with Sunni gunmen in a sectarian conflict.

According to the New York Times:

The deadliest battles occurred near Hawija and Sulaiman Pek, northern towns near Kirkuk, and battles were still raging in the early evening. In Hawija, the army shut off electricity, and troops shouted through loudspeakers, urging civilians to evacuate, witnesses said. Government helicopters also fired at Sunni gunmen on the ground in Sulaiman Pek.

This is not the first time this small town has felt the impact of the legacy of violence left by the US invasion and ten year occupation. In 2011, OWFI discovered that children in Haweeja were suffering from unprecedented rates of birth defects, and disproportionately high rates of cancer were impacting the entire population. These health problems are potentially linked to a US base one mile away, where chemical munitions were regularly detonated and dumped. Since then, OWFI and MADRE have been working to bring adequate medical care to those in need and draw international attention to hold those who are responsible accountable for their actions. We have reached out to our partners there and will provide updates as the situation evolves.

For ongoing updates about the situation in Haweeja, join the Haweeja Action Team and support the community as a member.

“It’s like you are living without your life.”

I’ve been in refugee camps where people are listless, resigned; where everyone seems suspended in a state of traumatized limbo. But Za’atari camp in the north of Jordan, where tens of thousands of Syrian refugees now reside, is different. Za’atari is seething.

People here give off a manic, restless energy. Some seem ready to snap from the sheer, relentless boredom. There are people who have been here now for more than two years, with literally nothing to do. “It’s like you are living without your life,” was how one young man described being a refugee. He was quiet, with a sad smile. But other men here exude pure anger.

Shortly after we left the camp, Jordanian police fired rounds of tear gas at a crowd of refugees. It’s become a common occurrence, rioting that’s often spontaneous; despair ignited by frustration.

An aid worker in the camp told us that “aggressive injury,” is the most commonly treated ailment in the camp’s clinics. Fights between the men break out almost every day. Given what everyone here has been through, it’s not surprising. But the fights are not just a reaction to life in the camp. The political rifts that are tearing Syria apart are palpable in the refugee camp as well. Za’atari is home to Assad backers as well as supporters of the opposition. People say that since the nearby border to Syria is open, fighters from the Free Syrian Army battling Assad’s government deliver their families to the relative safety of the camp, rest a bit, and then cross back into Syria to continue the war. Others stay in the camp to recover from injuries.

As we leave the camp, low-flying planes roar overhead in the direction of Syria. “More Saudi weapons for the opposition,” our driver says knowingly. “I don’t know how this war will ever end, with everyone throwing gasoline on the fire.”

Putting a Price on a Girl’s Future

In a refugee camp in Afghanistan, a six-year-old girl named Naghma has had her future traded away.

As the New York Times reported yesterday, her father wasn’t able to pay back a $2,500 loan. Now, as payment, he feels forced to give Naghma up to be a child bride to the lender’s son.

Child marriage and selling girls are against the law in Afghanistan. Yet, that’s not enough to protect Naghma.

This is such a stark reminder of a core lesson of our work. It’s not enough to have laws on paper to protect women’s rights. We need action to make sure the laws are implemented.

I’ve seen the power of that lesson firsthand in Haiti, where MADRE partners are organizing to pressure their government to take a stand against violence and discrimination.

This month, I’ll be traveling to a refugee camp where Syrian women and families are also struggling to survive. Some have made the same desperate decision as Naghma’s parents — to trade their young daughters away in marriage. I’ll be meeting with local activists who are speaking out against child marriages and organizing to create alternatives. I look forward to reporting back to you about what I hear from our partners there.

Update: An anonymous donor has reportedly paid the family’s debt, allowing Naghma to stay with her family. Across Afghanistan, countless other girls will not be so lucky.

Pentagon’s Links to Iraqi Torture Go Back Years

A new article in the Guardian, “Revealed: Pentagon’s link to Iraqi torture centres,” purports to bring to light the links between the Pentagon and Iraqi militias responsible for killing and torturing innocent civilians. The article refers to hundreds of incidents in which US military personnel were made aware of Iraqi forces torturing and abusing detainees and did nothing to intervene. But this news is not a surprise to many human rights groups–nor does it tell the whole story.

In February 2007, I wrote an op-ed ahead of the release of a MADRE report on gender-based violence in Iraq:

Since November 2005, OWFI has conducted a Women’s Prison Watch project and has found that, “Torture and rape are common procedure of investigation in police stations run by the militias affiliated with the government, mostly the Mahdi and Badr militias,” according to their summer 2006 report.

These are the same sectarian Shiite militias that are prosecuting Iraq’s civil war, the same militias that stepped into the power vacuum created by the US overthrow of Saddam Hussein, and the same militias that have been systematically attacking women in their bid to establish an Islamist theocracy. Since 2003, the political leadership of these militias has been handed control of the Iraqi state by the US, while the militants themselves have waged a campaign of assassinations, rapes, abductions, beheadings, acid attacks, and public beatings targeting women, particularly women who pose a challenge to the project of turning Iraq into a theocracy. As the occupying power in Iraq, the US was obligated under the Hague and Geneva Conventions to provide security to Iraqi civilians, including protection from gender-based violence. But the US military, preoccupied with battling the Iraqi insurgency, simply ignored the reign of terror that Islamist militias have imposed on women.

Even as the information is being brought back to light around the 10th anniversary of the invasion of Iraq, the critical link between the US’ role in training and funding this violence and the deteriorating status and increasing abuse Iraqi women have faced over the last decade is still missing. We have an obligation to the women of Iraq. We must continue to stand with them and help them build the peaceful nation for which they have struggled for so long.

Click here to watch my recent interview on HuffPost Live about conditions for women in Iraq.

CEDAW In Action: Egypt and Jordan

On January 21, 2013, MADRE called on President Obama to ratify the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women. Throughout this week, we will be calling attention to instances in which CEDAW has made a concrete difference in the lives of women around the world.

While almost every country has ratified CEDAW, it also bears the dubious distinction of having more reservations applied to it than any other treaty in the world. When legislative bodies implement reservations before ratifying, they choose not to comply with certain aspects – aspects that are sometimes at the soul of CEDAW.

In 2008, Egypt lifted its previous reservations on CEDAW. IN 2009, Jordan did the same. In doing so, both countries strengthened their commitment to the core principles of CEDAW, and to the task of insuring women’s equality. In both cases, lifting the reservations followed legislative efforts to allow women to travel more openly and live and work more freely, with less legal interference from the state or family structures.

US opponents of the treaty have tried to ensure that if it is ever ratified, the approved version will be so watered down as to actually endanger rights that women already have. In 1994, and then again in 2002, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee created a set of  RUDs – Reservations, Understandings, and Declarations – to weaken CEDAW. The 11 RUDs undid the treaty’s call for paid maternity leave and access to reproductive health care, including, of course, contraception and abortion.

Janet Benshoof, director of the Global Justice Center, explains how RUDs effectively transform CEDAW from a women’s equality treaty into a dangerous legal precedent for women all over the world:

Although the RUDs seemingly apply solely to American women, they eviscerate the core of CEDAW, the definition of equality and provide legal authority to those who want to undermine women’s rights….[T]his gutted CEDAW poses even more danger than continued U.S. isolation. The Senate should advise and consent to the ratification of a clean CEDAW unencumbered by reservations. They should not ratify a CEDAW that limits the full scope of women’s equality rights.

When we call on the President to be a vocal and visible proponent for a clean CEDAW, we are asking him to ensure that when CEDAW is ratified by the United States, the ratification will remain true to the treaty’s core meaning and principles, without senseless reservations designed to undermine women’s eqaulity rather than support it.

The Day after the Referendum

Doaa Abdelaal is an Egyptian Feminist specializing in producing knowledge, networking and lobbying for women’s issues. She has worked extensively with women in politics in the MENA region and is also a board member of Women Living Under Muslim Laws Solidarity Network. You can follow her @DoaaAbdelaal.

It will pass… a draft of a constitution that doesn’t represent Egyptians or their dreams. A draft that did not engage them in the dialogue for change, which passed just two before the referendum, without giving Egyptians the opportunity to discuss it. When the revolution started, Egyptians looked forward to a time where they could evaluate their beliefs and values, discuss them, even change them and reflect it all in a document that recorded the whole process. But this never happened.

It will pass… the constitution that neglected most of the Egyptians. I remember looking at my TV screen when the committee drafting the constitution was voting and asked myself, where am I? Where are half of my friends who are of different faiths? Where is my 63 year old mother? How could they pass all these articles in one night with unclear methods of voting? No one in this assembly represented me and when they wrote the draft they did not think of me or of many others. They drafted and voted on articles that represent the vision of the Muslim Brotherhoods, their allies of socially conservative groups and Islamists groups such as the Salafis.

The draft represents a vision that sees women’s perfect place as in the house as a wife and a mother while the state could help her if she becomes a widow or get a divorce. It refers in article (10) to the role of the State and the society in maintaining the authentic character of the Egyptian family, and how they should work on its cohesion, stability and protection and of its traditions and moral values (I hope that a husband beating his wife is not considered part of these values). While Article (68) had guaranteed the rights and equality of women and men in all sectors of society, including political, cultural, economic and social life “and all other fields,” the drafters felt the need to add “without prejudice to the provisions of Islamic Shari’a” which opens the door to many contradictory practices that claim to be based on Shari’a law.

Article (68) reads “The State provides the services of motherhood and childhood for free. The state ensures the women’s health care, social and economic rights and the right of inheritance and reconcile with her duties towards the family and her work in the society. The state provides protection and special attention of household, divorced, and widowed women and other women who are most in need,” so how about me? While I praise the drafters for considering the “personal status” of different women, I wonder why they have to define women as being part of a family or formerly part of a family and now “divorced, widowed.”

I could go on analyzing every article and their contradictions, but what I care about most is the philosophy embedded in the draft. A philosophy that praises conservative social norms for women, children, youth, ethnic and religious minorities; a draft that introduces a political system that would be hard to describe as democratic in which the military keeps its special political and economic gains; and an economic system that adopts many of the guidelines of neo-liberalism. Despite this philosophy the draft will pass and we have to think of “The Day After the Referendum”.

So if Egyptians who will say “No” to the draft and the groups who will boycott are aware that it will pass, what is the reason behind all these confrontations, sit-ins and demonstrations? The simple answer is: the revolution not over. Because we are still in the process of re-evaluating our values as individuals and as a whole society, the answer is that the president should be held accountable for mistakes and should be stopped if tried to turn himself into a “dictator”, and that democracy is not about a constitution, president and a parliament.

The solution is not having a new constitution that limits the powers of the president as claimed, or forgetting that “Morsi” failed to fulfill or even start to think about the aspirations of the Egyptian society. The protests against him are against his failure, his party (which no one can deny is the political arm of the Muslim Brotherhood groups), and their attempt to play to the ambitious of the Egyptian society while in power. The protests are reminders of the continuing revolution and the rights that were not fulfilled.

The revolution continues because those who are in power failed to defend the rights of many Egyptians which were violated for years under Mubarak’s regime and in the last two years while the Supreme Council of Armed Forces were running the country.

So we are not just looking for a system that solves the problems of the last two years but to go further than this and dig deep into the society and its problems. We are not looking for a dysfunctional democracy as was the case for the last 30 years where “Martial Laws” were effective all the time. We are not looking for a “Morsi” who could easily turn into a dictator supported by a party and a group defending his powers violently. We are not the “opposition” who just wants to halt “democracy.” We don’t want “this” democracy – this is not democracy.

I remember a friend from Honduras who has been in the opposition camp against the leaders of the coup d’etat since 2009; she told me, “One day your revolution will have the same slogan as us ‘Ni Olvido…. Ni Perdon’ which means ‘Don’t forget… Do not forgive.’” And it is the case now in Egypt. So I hope those commenters and analysts who call for us to give a chance to this so- called “democracy” stop such calls, because we need to go on.

During the 18 days of the first wave of the revolution, someone wrote on Twitter “US, Europe please keep to your business we have a democracy to build.” I can’t remember who wrote it, whether a she or a he but it was very optimistic that day when we were still fighting Mubarak’s security forces. But it was true, western governments were busy trying to stabilize the region talking about “reforms” and they still do even if the price is the blood of young Egyptian women and men whom no one is held accountable for. The Guardian editorial on December 8, 2012 which accused the Egyptian opposition of halting the democratic process in Egypt reflected this stand and disregarded all facts and incidents that the Freedom and Justice party, Morsi’s party, supported by Muslim Brotherhood group continues to hijack the scene in Egypt. That editorial and many others focused on the National Salvation Front and neglected that the front is not the only opposition group and that the streets are full with sit-ins and demonstrations for two years now reflecting the same position and demanding the rights of all Egyptians.

Let the day after the referendum come… Some people will think that the situation is under control then, even will call it stable, and maybe celebrations will be held. But we should also remember that Egypt had a constitution, a parliament and a dictator which Egyptians managed to topple. The constitution is not the answer but a real “democracy” where we all as Egyptians have a voice; a voice that reflects our diversity.