MADRE Articles

Violence Against Women: Sixteen Ways Women are Fighting Back

Posted on: Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Keywords: Women's Health, Combating Violence Against Women, Latin America and Caribbean, Africa, Middle East

On November 25, 2007, advocates around the world for women's human rights commemorated the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women and simultaneously launched sixteen days of action. These sixteen days—culminating on December 10, Human Rights Day—mark an opportunity for us to stand up in solidarity with women around the world and condemn violence against women.

The following sixteen examples illustrate not only the scope of this crisis, but also the active measure that women are taking to combat violence.

1. Iraq
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.

2. Palestine
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 the Palestine Medical Relief Society (PMRS) to ensure that women have access to reproductive health services and the right to a safe birth. The Safe Birth Project delivers supplies to clinics, trains community healthcare workers on how to assist women in labor, runs a network of mobile women's health clinics, and offers phone consultations to women during childbirth.

3. Guatemala
The women of Guatemala make up about 80% of the work force in maquilas, or sweatshops. These women endure unventilated workrooms, unsafe workshops, verbal and sexual abuse, pregnancy based discrimination, forced overtime, and arbitrary dismissal. Through MADRE's THREADS (Training for Human Rights Enforcement—Advocacy, Documentation and Support) program, the women of the Barcenas community in Guatemala City are learning to document and combat human rights abuses in their workplaces and communities. With THREADS, women are learning to identify and minimize occupational health hazards and build a social network needed to sustain a struggle for worker rights.

4. Haiti
Incidents of rape have escalated sharply in Haiti since the forced removal of elected President Aristide in 2004. Hundreds of women report rapes each month, and many more incidents of violence against women go unreported. To address these grave abuses of women's human rights, MADRE works with KOFAVIV to meet rape survivors' immediate needs and help them create long-term strategies to ensure their safety, health, and well-being.

5. Sudan
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.

6. Nicaragua
Nicaragua one of the poorest countries in the Americas. Malnutrition, inequality, unemployment, and maternal mortality are some of the threats that confront Nicaraguan women and children. In 2001, MADRE co-founded CADAMUC Clinic, the first women's health clinic on Nicaragua's North Atlantic Coast. Since then, MADRE's Medical Project has sent regular shipments of medicines, medical supplies and equipment for the clinic. Through Trainings for Change, MADRE has supported CADAMUC's workshops on reproductive health and the prevention of sexually transmitted diseases.

7. Kenya
In Kenya, MADRE works with the Indigenous Information Network to implement the 1995 Beijing Platform for Action in Indigenous communities, addressing a range of issues related to women and girls including health care, education and the rights to refuse early marriage and female genital mutilation. MADRE also supports the Indigenous Information Network's Breaking the Silence, a training program that provides information on HIV/AIDS, female genital mutilation prevention and reproductive health and rights to thousands of Indigenous Kenyan women.

8. Colombia
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.

9. Mexico
The 1994 North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) locked Mexico into serving as a market for US agribusiness by creating conditions in which Mexican farmers cannot compete with large US corn producers. As a result, over two million Mexican farmers have been bankrupted. MADRE and K'inal Antzetik work with Mexican women to insure reproductive rights and services, offer legal expertise and witness protection in human rights cases, and prepare Indigenous women to participate effectively in politics.

10. Kenya
In Kenya, Indigenous Peoples are fighting to retain their human rights, including collective control of their ancestral lands. Much of these lands have been seized for game parks, forest preserves, tourism, agribusiness, and military bases. Indigenous women in Pastoralist communities traditionally have no rights to property and, as a result, are more vulnerable to poverty and gender-based violence. MADRE works with the women of Umoja, a women-run village. The women have declared their village a violence-against-women-free zone, and are among a group of Samburu women bringing a case against the British military for the rapes of over 1400 Samburu women during the 1980s and 1990s.

11. Cuba
Women and children in Cuba endure needless sickness and suffering because of the US embargo. In violation of international humanitarian law, the embargo—explicitly aimed at destabilizing the Cuban government—prevents Cuba from purchasing urgently needed food and medicine. MADRE has worked with the Cuban Red Cross to deliver life-saving medicines and medical supplies to combat AIDS, breast cancer, pediatric diseases and other threats to public health in Cuba.

12. Nicaragua
On October 26, 2006, the Nicaraguan National Assembly outlawed therapeutic abortion in Nicaragua, eliminating all exceptions (including for rape or incest). While abortion in most cases in Nicaragua was already illegal, the previous penal code allowed for therapeutic abortions when a women's life or health was at risk. MADRE joined women's human rights activists and public health advocates around the world in condemning the legislation and its attack on women's sexual rights, and reproductive rights.

13. Colombia
The US has pressured Latin American countries to ignore internationally recognized labor rights, including freedom to unionize and freedom from sex discrimination in the workplace. In countries such as Colombia, where trade unionists are routinely assassinated, a trade deal that lacks enforceable labor protections will put more workers at risk. The US also wants to deny women who work in the region's free trade zones (mostly manufacturing goods for export) legal recourse for rampant sex discrimination in that sector, including forced pregnancy testing, sexual harassment, low wages, long hours, and unsafe working conditions. MADRE joined with sister organizations across Latin America to reject such a trade agenda.

14. Haiti
US policies block the sale of generic AIDS medicines, in the interest of pharmaceutical company profits, which will put life-saving prescription drugs out of reach for millions. Women are especially affected because they are among the fastest-growing group of people living with AIDS and because they are primarily responsible for caring for ailing family members. MADRE works in partnership with Zanmi Lasante, a community-based health care center and supports its innovative HIV/AIDS program, which provides life-saving antiretroviral medication to hundreds of HIV-positive patients. The clinic also has a mobile health care unit, which provides high-quality health care for women and girls who are unable to travel to the clinic itself.

15. Iraq
Recent news reports have documented the rapidly escalating trend of violence in cities like Basra, where 42 women were murdered between July and September 2007. In response to increasing sectarian violence in Iraq, MADRE supports a new program of the Organisation of Women's Freedom in Iraq (OWFI). ArtAction, an Iraqi youth peace project, hosts Freedom Space gatherings—public performance spaces where a brave group of young Sunni and Shiite artists and poets come together to share their poetry and music and demand peace.

16. Nicaragua
For Indigenous women, violence occurs in a context of ongoing rights violations against their communities as a whole. Indigenous Peoples have survived the systematic expropriation and exploitation of their ancestral lands, which are the source of their cultures, identities, and wealth. This attack has left Indigenous communities among the poorest and most marginalized in the world and has contributed to violence against Indigenous women in many ways. On Nicaragua's North Atlantic Coast, Wangky Tangni offers leadership development programs that address violence against women and promotes women's political participation and gender equity.


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