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MADRE Programs Combating Violence Against Women in Armed Conflicts

Posted on: Thursday, March 4, 2010

Keywords: Combating Violence Against Women, Afghanistan, Sudan, Colombia, Guatemala, Palestine, Iraq



In the past decade, nearly 4,000 women and young girls have been murdered in Guatemala. Many of them, including girls as young as 10, were tortured and raped, their bodies left in public places.  As a result, women have coined the term “feminicide” to describe these widespread, gender-based killings committed with impunity. Of the 383 women’s murder cases in 2003, more than 300 are still awaiting results from police investigations today. Feminicide occurs in conditions of social upheaval, armed conflict, violence between powerful rival criminal gangs and militias, rapid economic transformation, and the demise of traditional forms of state power.

In response to the murders, women in Guatemala are organizing to protect each other. MADRE's sister organization, the Women Workers’ Committee in Guatemala, has created neighborhood watch groups in their communities. MADRE has launched a campaign to provide whistles and flashlights for the neighborhood watch. According to Sandra Gonzales of the Women Workers’ Committee, "flashlights and whistles are essential to providing security for women and girls in our community," where there are no street lights and no reliable police protection.


Since 2003, communities in Sudan have been under attack by government-supplied janjaweed militias who kill entire families, systematically rape and mutilate women and girls, burn down villages, destroy food crops, and poison wells. MADRE and Zenab for Women in Development, a community-based women's organization in Sudan, work together to provide emergency aid to displaced women and families in Darfur.

Fatima Ahmed, the director of Zenab for Women in Development, recently traveled to Doha, Qatar in order to participate in the peace process talks for Darfur.  Fatima is part of an initiative to support the growth of a network of diverse Sudanese women committed to collaborating across boundaries of race, religion, ethnicity and geography to promote peace throughout Sudan.  The group was able to speak with most of the armed movements, as well as representatives from the Sudanese government.


Nearly four million Colombians (in a country of 42 million), have been driven from their homes in the decades-long three-way war between Colombia's military, paramilitary forces, and guerillas. The vast majority of displaced people are women and their children. MADRE works with Taller de Vida, an organization that provides critical services for displaced Afro-Colombian and Indigenous women and youth.

MADRE is currently preparing a shadow report to present before the UN Human Rights Committee in July 2010, addressing the impact of the conflict on women in Colombia.


Human rights abuses committed against women—most often by male relatives—in the name of "family honor" are called "honor crimes." These crimes, including murder, are intended to "protect the family honor" by preventing and punishing women's violations of accepted behavior, particularly sexual behavior. MADRE, along with the Organization of Women's Freedom in Iraq (OWFI), supports women in Iraq by creating a safe network of women's shelters, serving as an Underground Railroad to help these women escape honor killings. MADRE and OWFI programs advocate on behalf of women who are most marginalized, including those who are incarcerated, widowed, displaced or battered.

In the fall of 2009, OWFI launched Al Mousawat ("Equality") Radio to strengthen women's abilities to claim rights and play a positive role in rebuilding their country. MADRE is working with OWFI to create programming that offers listeners vital practical information on their human rights and introduces new perspectives that help to transform derogatory or harmful attitudes and practices towards women.


In Palestine, Israeli military violence, extensive road closures, military checkpoints, and protracted curfews prevent women in labor from reaching hospitals. Increasingly, women give birth at home, without a skilled birth attendant. MADRE is working with Midwives for Peace, a grassroots group of Palestinian and Israeli midwives, to ensure that women have access to reproductive health services and the right to a safe birth.

As a result, maternal and infant mortality have been reduced by "safe deliver kits" that MADRE has provided to midwives in the West Bank. Women’s access to family planning has also expanded. A MADRE delivery of 15,000 condoms has been distributed by midwives who offer workshops on preventing unwanted and high-risk pregnancies.


Afghanistan has been called one of the most dangerous countries in the world to be a woman. Afghan women who fight for their rights are being attacked and even murdered by the Taliban and other ultraconservatives. As a result, MADRE created the Afghan Women's Survival Fund to support an underground rescue network that provides shelter and transportation to safety for women who have been targeted because they dare to speak out for their rights.

Thanks to the Afghan Women's Survival Fund, a woman named Naseema and her three children are making their final preparations to escape a husband who has threatened her life. MADRE has been able to cover the costs of temporary emergency housing, transportation and passport fees for Naseema and the children. MADRE is now working with our partners and two different United Nations agencies to get Naseema and her family resettled in Tajikistan. From there, they will apply for refugee status so they can be placed in another country.




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