Inter Press Service » Gender Violence http://www.ipsnews.net News and Views from the Global South Fri, 24 Feb 2017 23:36:10 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=4.1.15 St Valentine’s Day: Celebrating Healthy Relationships; Challenging Violencehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/02/st-valentines-day-celebrating-healthy-relationships-challenging-violence/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=st-valentines-day-celebrating-healthy-relationships-challenging-violence http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/02/st-valentines-day-celebrating-healthy-relationships-challenging-violence/#comments Tue, 14 Feb 2017 12:57:48 +0000 Bethan Cansfield and Lourdes Montero http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=148940 Bethan Cansfield, Head of Enough Campaign, (Oxfam International) & Lourdes Montero, Gender Justice Manager, Oxfam Bolivia]]> Richly embroidered cloth hearts at Heartworks, Cape Town. /Stephanie Nieuwoudt/IPS

Richly embroidered cloth hearts at Heartworks, Cape Town. /Stephanie Nieuwoudt/IPS

By Bethan Cansfield and Lourdes Montero
LA PAZ, Bolivia, Feb 14 2017 (IPS)

Today, many couples, in many countries will be celebrating Saint Valentine’s Day – or ‘El día de los enamorados’ (‘Day of Lovers’) in some Latin American countries.

Whilst a chance to celebrate the spectrum of healthy loving relationships; it is also an important opportunity to highlight a crisis affecting women and girls in every corner of the world – 30% of women will experience physical or sexual violence perpetrated by a current or former partner or husband.

This figure of 30% does not take into account coercive control – a pattern of domination through intimidation, isolation, degradation and deprivation, including psychological and economic control. So whilst the figure of 30% is shockingly – we know it is just the tip of the iceberg.

No single factor alone causes partner violence, however evidence shows that one of the strongest factors that predicts this form of abuse is discriminatory shared beliefs (social norms) about what is normal and appropriate in relationships. These can include that a man has a right to assert power over a woman or that a man has a right to discipline women. Societies across the world promote masculine jealously and control as a desirable way to demonstrate love. Films, music, soap operas reinforce these ideas, as can parents and friends.

Unhealthy relationships often start early – with young men and women thinking behaviors such as teasing and name calling are normal parts of relationships. The Government of Australia has just released a powerful advert demonstrating how these early notions of relationships between boys and girls can lead to other more serious forms of violence. In one scene, a young boy slams a door on a young girl, causing her to fall over. “He just did it because he likes you,” the mother explains.

Other identities can intersect with gender to influence what is considered normal and appropriate within a relationship. For instance, in Latin American cultures, ‘concepts of machismo dictate that boys and men should be tough, sexually assertive, and dominating, whereas marianismo stresses that girls and women should be submissive and passive in their relationships with boys and men.’

To address this the Colectivo Rebeldía, Oxfam Bolivia and the Women’s Coordinator are today launching a new campaign ‘ACTÚA, detén la violencia’ to tackle violence in young people’s relationships.

Bolivia has the highest rates of physical violence against women in Latin America and the Carribean – 53.3% of Bolivian women have experienced physical or sexual partner violence and every three days a woman dies because of femicide.

Oxfam Bolivia’s research has found that nearly half of urban youth (men and women) promote sexist beliefs that normalize violence. This includes “the way you dress provokes rape”, “jealousy is part of love” or “if you really love, you forgive violence”. The study also found that 9 out of 10 youths know a friend is suffering from violence from her partner and that the majority state it is better not to intervene – 33% said that if their friend beats their partner, they do not get in because it’s their private life.

Despite this apparent indifference, 43% of young people consider that violence can decrease if the whole society gets involved, 54% believe that the fight against violence is a priority for the development of the country and 85% of young people would be willing to act to stop the violence.

In its first stage, the ACTÚA campaign aims to tackle the indifference of the friend of someone in a violent relationship or perpetrating violence in a relationship. It will develop circles of friends that socially sanction violent behaviors and develop support networks for young women facing violence. Using public and peer pressure, the campaign hopes to decrease violence in young relationships.

Whether in Bolivia or anywhere else in the world, we all need to take a stand against notions of harmful love and instead promote positive and healthy relationships with our family, friends and colleagues.

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Human Rights For Rohingya Worsening, Warns Special Rapporteurhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/02/human-rights-for-rohingya-worsening-warns-special-rapporteur/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=human-rights-for-rohingya-worsening-warns-special-rapporteur http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/02/human-rights-for-rohingya-worsening-warns-special-rapporteur/#comments Wed, 08 Feb 2017 21:59:12 +0000 Tharanga Yakupitiyage http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=148862 Refugees Rohingya from Myanmar. Credit: IPS

Refugees Rohingya from Myanmar. Credit: IPS

By Tharanga Yakupitiyage
UNITED NATIONS, Feb 8 2017 (IPS)

A UN Special Rapporteur has expressed grave concern over escalating violence and discrimination against the Rohingya minority in Myanmar.

Following a fact-finding mission, Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Myanmar Yanghee Lee expressed concern over atrocities committed against the Rohingya, as well as the government’s denial of allegations.

“For the Government to continue being defensive when allegations of serious human rights violations are persistently reported, that is when the Government appears less and less credible,” she said during a press conference.

Lee added that this response is “not only counterproductive but is draining away the hope that had been sweeping the country,”

After half a century of military rule, Myanmar saw its first democratic elections when Aung San Suu Kyi led the National League for Democracy (NLD) to a majority win. However, she faced criticism for failing to protect Myanmar’s minority groups, namely the Muslim Rohingya minority.

Myanmar’s government disputes the Rohingya people’s status as Burmese citizens and have since enacted discriminatory policies including restrictions on movement and exclusion from healthcare, rendering the majority of the group stateless and impoverished.

The UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) previously described the Rohingya community as one of the most “excluded, persecuted, and vulnerable communities in the world.”

Violence once again reignited following attacks on border guard posts in October in Rakhine state, prompting Myanmar’s military to conduct an ongoing offensive.

According to a report by the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), cases of sexual violence, extrajudicial killings, torture and enforced disappearances by military and police forces have emerged since the retaliation.

In one incident, an eyewitness told OCHR that the military beat their grandparents, tied them to a tree and set them on fire. The UN office also found that more than half of the 101 women interviewed experienced rape or other forms of sexual violence, including pregnant women and pre-adolescent girls.

The attacks “seem[ed] to have been widespread as well as systematic, indicating the very likely commission of crimes against humanity,” the report stated.

Approximately 90,000 people fled the area since the attacks with an estimated 66,000 Rohingya crossing the border into Bangladesh.

Lee said the government’s response to her regarding the military attacks was that it had “rightly launched a security response.” Though authorities must respond to such attacks, Lee noted that the response must be in full compliance with the rule of law and human rights.

“I saw with my own eyes the structures that were burnt down in Wa Peik, and it is hard for me to believe that these are consequent to actions taken in a hurry or haphazardly,” she stated.

OHCHR found that hundreds of Rohingya houses, villages and mosques were deliberately burned down with one eyewitness noting that only Buddhist houses in her village were left untouched.

Human Rights Watch estimates at least 1500 buildings were destroyed, further driving Rohingya from their homes.

The government has denied these allegations, telling Lee that it was villagers who had burnt down their own houses in order to lure international actors to help build better houses. Authorities also said that this was part of the Rohingya’s propaganda campaign to smear the country’s security services.

“I find it quite incredible that these desperate people are willing to burn down their houses to be without a home, potentially displaced…just to give the Government a bad name,” Lee said.

“I must remind again that these attacks took place within the context of decades of systematic and institutionalized discrimination against the Rohingya population,” she continued.

Those that do flee face further challenges in host nations. Bangladesh has been one of the primary hosts of displaced Rohingya, but due to population pressure and security concerns, the South Asian country has been pushing back on refugees. According to Amnesty International, Bangladeshi authorities have denied Rohingya refugees asylum and have detained and pushed hundreds back to Myanmar.

The government had also proposed a plan to relocate refugees to an island.

“We cannot just open our doors to people coming in waves,” said Bangladeshi Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina. In a country of an estimated 160 million people, her government has its own share of issues to take care of.

The crisis has prompted international groups and leaders to call for actions including unfettered humanitarian access to all parts of northern Rakhine state.

Though Myanmar’s government announced the creation of a committee to investigate the situation in the border state, Human Rights Watch also urged the government to invite the UN to assist in an impartial investigation.

“Blocking access and an impartial examination of the situation will not help people who are now at grave risk,” Human Rights Watch’s Asia Director Brad Adams said.

In December, Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak also called on Asian neighbors and the international community to address the crisis.

“The world cannot sit by and watch genocide taking place,” Razak said while protesting violence against the Rohingya minority.

““We must defend them [Rohingya] not just because they are of the same faith but they are humans, their lives have values,” he continued.

In addition to accepting assistance from international actors, Lee encouraged the Government of Myanmar to “appeal to all communities…to be more open and understanding of each other, to respect each other instead of scapegoating others for the sake of advancing their own self-interests.”

“I stand ready to assist in the journey towards a more free and democratic Myanmar,” Lee concluded.

The Special Rapporteur is due to present her final report on her trip to the UN Human Rights Council in March.

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Pakistan Moves to End Impunity for Rapistshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/02/pakistan-moves-to-end-impunity-for-rapists/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=pakistan-moves-to-end-impunity-for-rapists http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/02/pakistan-moves-to-end-impunity-for-rapists/#comments Fri, 03 Feb 2017 13:06:20 +0000 Irfan Ahmed http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=148795 Protesters gather outside the Lahore Press Club in the capital of Pakistan's Punjab province on July 12, 2016 to demand justice for victims of sexual violence. Credit: Irfan Ahmed/IPS

Protesters gather outside the Lahore Press Club in the capital of Pakistan's Punjab province on July 12, 2016 to demand justice for victims of sexual violence. Credit: Irfan Ahmed/IPS

By Irfan Ahmed
LAHORE, Feb 3 2017 (IPS)

Amid a wave of reforms to tighten the country’s laws on honour killings and sexual assault, on Feb. 2, the Sindh Assembly passed a law making DNA testing in rape cases mandatory in the province.

It follows on the heels of a unanimous vote by Pakistan’s Parliament last October to plug gaps in the criminal justice system and boost the rate of conviction in rape cases.The conviction rate for rape in Pakistan has been less than four percent, prompting protests and legal reforms.

For long, the sole reliance on eyewitnesses and circumstantial evidence has benefitted the accused in rape cases and conviction rates have remained negligible in the country.

The new national law, called The Anti-Rape Laws (Criminal Laws Amendment) Act, also makes DNA evidence admissible, calls for verdicts in rape cases to be announced within three months, and allows filing of appeals within six months.

It also gives approval to holding of in-camera trials and use of technological aids to record testimony of victims and witnesses in order to save victims from humiliation. In the past, many victims and their families would not pursue cases for this very reason.

Another important feature of the law is that it tries to ensure protection of victims’ identity in the media. Those who violate victims’ privacy face jail terms of up to three years and fines. Mass media in the past has been criticised for disclosing names and sometimes even publishing the pictures of rape victims.

Fauzia Viqar, chairperson of the Punjab Commission on the Status of Women (PCSW), told IPS that the law will require police to collect evidence from rape victims in the presence of a female officer.

She added that stringent action has also been recommended in cases of custodial rape by police officers. Furthermore, the past conduct of a rape victim and her acquaintance with the alleged rapist will not imply that the sexual act was done with the former’s consent, as it would often happen in the past.

Cases “mishandled from the very start”

Amina Bibi, an 18-year-old from Pakistan’s Punjab province, was allegedly raped by four men on Jan. 5, 2014. All the accused were granted bail. A desperate Amina set herself on fire outside a police station on Mar. 13 that year and succumbed to her burn injuries the next day.

The Supreme Court of Pakistan took up the case and sought a report from police. The report was presented Apr. 21, 2014, only to be dismissed by the court. The report claimed that Amina had not been raped – something the court was not ready to believe, especially when it could find no other reason for her suicide.

Amina’s case trained the spotlight on the plight of thousands of rape victims in Pakistan who suffer due to flaws in the criminal justice system, socio-cultural inhibitions, the negative attitudes of investigators, police failure to collect evidence and the humiliation of victims in trial courts.

According to the National Police Bureau (NPB) of Pakistan, around 3,000 cases of rape are reported every year – 3,173 cases were reported in 2012 and 3,164 in 2013. The conviction rate, however, is less than four percent, according to a report released by the NGO War Against Rape (WAR).

“One of the foremost reasons for the poor conviction rate is rape cases are mishandled from the very start,” Asad Jamal, a Lahore-based lawyer who has represented several rape victims, told IPS.

He says very few police officials know how to collect scientific evidence in rape cases or record the statements of traumatised rape victims. Citing the example of a case he is fighting right now, Jamal says the police investigator concerned even forgot to preserve the clothes that the victim was wearing at the time of the sexual assault.

In the case of Amina Bibi too, it was found that police had failed to conduct timely forensic and DNA tests. Punjab Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif suspended several senior police officers and ordered the arrest of others in connection with the case.

Jamal said sometimes police insist on including the names of fake witnesses to strengthen rape cases but such practices end up benefiting the accused, especially in appellate courts. “Ideally, scientific and DNA evidence should be enough to convict an accused, but unfortunately trial courts depend a lot on eyewitnesses for primary evidence,” he says.

Jamal pointed to another reality – rape victims often belong to disadvantaged sections of society while rapists are mostly powerful people.

He says crime data indicates that girls in the 9-19 age group from lower income families are most vulnerable to rape. “That’s why the number of domestic workers subjected to rape is on the rise,” he said.

Zia Awan, founder of the Madadgar National Helpline for women and children, told IPS, “The number of rape cases reported in Pakistan is only a fraction of the actual number.”

He receives a large number of calls from women who are undecided on whether to report the case or remain silent in order to avoid humiliation and life-long stigma. The impunity of rapists and the ordeal of rape victims deter the latter from seeking justice, he says.

“The shameful attitude of society, police and lawyers towards rape victims is the biggest hurdle in securing justice,” said Faisal Siddiqui, a Karachi-based lawyer.

His own client, a rape victim, had to seek psychological treatment for two years after appearing in court for cross-examination, he says. The defence lawyer, he says, asked her about the minutest details of the assault and made her recall the traumatic incident over and over again.

Unfortunately, he says, many lawyers deliberately confuse rape victims during cross-examination in order to get relief for the accused. “They ask shameful questions which no woman can answer.”

Sources privy to rape investigations reveal that due to socio-cultural mores police usually try to put the blame on complainants and prove that rape victims are women of loose morals. Their perception is that a woman who has really been raped would not dare to report the crime out of shame and fear of public humiliation.

If the victim has had any association with the alleged rapist or has been socially active or has a ‘modern’ lifestyle, police tend to believe that her allegations are fabricated.

In the past, legal provisions in Pakistan also made this possible. Shahid Ghani, a Lahore-based lawyer, cites such a provision: “When a man is prosecuted for rape or an attempt to ravish, it may be shown that the prosecutrix was of generally immoral character.”

He says this provision allowed for looking into a victim’s history to prove that she may not be innocent and may be sexually active.

Speaking to IPS in 2014, top police officials admitted that investigators needed to handle rape cases differently.

Inspector Amjad Naeem, master trainer at the Police Training College, Lahore, said there has to be an element of empathy in rape cases and special care must be shown by investigators in seeking information from victims.

“The victim has to be told not to change clothes, wash herself or go to the washroom before evidence is collected,” he told IPS. “In case it is necessary to go to the washroom, the urine and stool should be collected for later examination.”

Thanks to a project called Gender Responsive Policing (GRP), launched by the German development agency GIZ in collaboration with NBP, many policymakers have begun to believe that more women should join the police force and handle cases of violence against women.

Ali Mazhar, communication manager at GIZ, told IPS that a large number of policewomen have been trained under the programme to understand cases of violence against women.

Under the programme, he says, Ladies Complaint Units (LCUs) are being set up at police stations where women officers attend to women’s complainants in an environment that is free of harassment and fear.

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‘World Must Implement Pledges on Women’s Human Rights’http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/01/world-must-implement-pledges-on-womens-human-rights/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=world-must-implement-pledges-on-womens-human-rights http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/01/world-must-implement-pledges-on-womens-human-rights/#comments Tue, 31 Jan 2017 12:30:46 +0000 IPS World Desk http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=148739 Schoolchildren in Chowrapara, Rangpur, Bangladesh. Photo: UNICEF/Tapash Paul

Schoolchildren in Chowrapara, Rangpur, Bangladesh. Photo: UNICEF/Tapash Paul

By IPS World Desk
ROME, Jan 31 2017 (IPS)

“Women’s economic empowerment in the changing world of work” will provide concrete, practical and action-oriented recommendations that will cover significant new ground, on overcoming structural barriers to gender equality, gender-based discrimination and violence against women at work, a senior United Nations official stressed.

Speaking at a consultation in preparation for the Commission on the Status of Women, a body exclusively dedicated to promotion of gender equality and women’s empowerment, Lakshmi Puri, Deputy Executive Director of the UN Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women (UN Women), on Jan. 30 called for sustained commitment and leadership to ensure a successful outcome of the Commission.

“We are at an important [juncture] in the achievement of gender equality and women’s empowerment and women’s human rights,” she said.

Recalling the recent adoption of a number of far-reaching global commitments, such as Beijing+20 (the 20-year review of the implementation of the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action), the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), the Paris Agreement on climate change, the New Urban Agenda, and the New York Declaration for Refugees and Migrants, Puri added:

“Now it is about the normative of implementation – how do we implement different parts of the compact and how do we follow up and monitor the implementation.”

Puri was speaking at a multi-stakeholder forum, which has been organised to contribute to the preparations for the 61st session of the Commission on the Status of Women – a functional commission of the UN Economic and Social Council – that will meet on March 13 to 24 this year at the United Nations Headquarters in New York.

In particular, the Jan. 30 forum sought to raise awareness on existing commitments as well as to identify key areas and issues that should be considered by the Commission in the context of its priority theme, and to strengthen dialogue and galvanise partnerships to accelerate the implementation of the outcomes of the Commission.

“There is a dynamic new element of assessing how the world of work is changing due to technology, migration, and other factors and whether women can be enabled to leapfrog beneficially into this new context and not be adversely affected and left behind,” she added.

Puri also underlined important commitments such as those under the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development on gender equality and women’s empowerment and spoke of processes underway in different regions of the world to prepare for the session.

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The US War on Muslim Refugeeshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/01/the-us-war-on-muslim-refugees/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=the-us-war-on-muslim-refugees http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/01/the-us-war-on-muslim-refugees/#comments Mon, 30 Jan 2017 16:23:00 +0000 Salil Shetty http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=148723 Salil Shetty is Secretary General of Amnesty International]]> People from seven Muslim-majority countries have been banned from coming to the United States. Credit: Rebecca Murray / IPS

People from seven Muslim-majority countries have been banned from coming to the United States. Credit: Rebecca Murray / IPS

By Salil Shetty
LONDON, Jan 30 2017 (IPS)

The gloves are off. With today’s Executive Order on “Protecting the Nation from Terrorist Attacks by Foreign Nationals,” President Donald J. Trump has declared war on Muslim refugees around the world.

With the stroke of a pen, the President has – among other actions – banned Syrian refugees from the USA and has also effectively prevented anyone (including refugees) from Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan and Yemen from entering the USA. These seven countries have two main things in common: they are predominantly Muslim, and they are the countries from where the majority of people seeking asylum from serious human rights violations like persecution or torture are trying to escape.

Were it not so disturbing and dangerous, this Executive Order would be pathetic in its absurdity.

It is ludicrous because there is no data to support the view that refugees – Muslim or otherwise – pose more risk of committing acts of terrorism than citizens. A refugee is not a person who commits acts of terrorism. It is someone fleeing people who commit acts of terrorism. Under international law, perpetrators of these crimes are automatically disqualified from refugee status. Additionally, the US Refugee Admissions Program puts refugees through the most rigorous and detailed security screenings of any category of persons – immigrant or visitor – to enter the USA.

The Executive Order is preposterous in its irrationality. But no one should be laughing about it.

This is a deeply frightening document. Faced with a global emergency in which 21 million people have been forced to flee their homes, one of the wealthiest and most powerful countries on earth responds by obliterating one of their only avenues for hope: “resettlement.” This is a process whereby vulnerable people (such as survivors of torture, or women and girls at risk) trapped in dire circumstances in countries like Lebanon, Jordan, Kenya, and Pakistan, are allowed to move to a country such as the USA. In sum, this Executive Order abandons host countries and punishes the most vulnerable among an already vulnerable group.

Does the Executive Order explicitly ban Muslim refugees? No. But the anti-Muslim rationale is brazen. All the countries subject to these severe restrictions are predominantly Muslim. With this action, President Trump has sent a clear message that the USA needs to be protected from Muslim people, and that they are inherently dangerous.

Also, the text identifies one of the exceptions to the new restrictions as people with religious persecution claims, but only if they are part of a religious minority. A plain reading of this provision is that the Trump administration will resettle Christians fleeing predominantly Muslim countries. This provision cloaks religious discrimination in the language of religious persecution. It is even conceivable that this favoured treatment could accentuate a risk to Christian minorities in some countries where they face discrimination and violence on grounds of allegedly belonging to a foreign or American religion.

All in all, this Executive Order would function admirably as a recruitment tool for armed groups such as the Islamic State – groups keen to show that countries like the USA are inherently hostile to Muslim people.

Make no mistake: people will lose their lives because of this Executive Order. Countries hosting large numbers of refugees, feeling aggrieved and abandoned by the international community, will begin or increase their forcible expulsions of refugees. Vulnerable women, men and children who would otherwise be able to move to the USA, and who are trapped in unbearable situations, will “choose” to return home to a risk of torture or death.

It is important to remind ourselves who these people are. In 2016, 72% of the refugees resettled to the US were women and children. In my view, the term “refugee” doesn’t do justice to the people who have braved deadly seas, deserts, and human-caused dangers, in the hopes of restarting their lives in peace. I have had the privilege of meeting some of these people, and have always been humbled by their resilience in the face of almost unimaginable adversity. Any country, including the US, would benefit from welcoming them.

Your gloves may be off, Mr. President. But – in solidarity with the 21 million refugees in the world today, and the countless people and organizations who work alongside and for people seeking protection – so are ours.

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Protecting the Rights of Women Migrant Workershttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/01/protecting-the-rights-of-women-migrant-workers/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=protecting-the-rights-of-women-migrant-workers http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/01/protecting-the-rights-of-women-migrant-workers/#comments Thu, 26 Jan 2017 20:33:45 +0000 Prasad Kariyawasam http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=148689 Ambassador Prasad Kariyawasam is a member of the UN Committee on Migrant Workers]]> Women migrant workers. - UN photo

Women migrant workers. - UN photo

By Prasad Kariyawasam
UNITED NATIONS, Jan 26 2017 (IPS)

International migration is a complex phenomenon dealing with overlapping issues relating to the human rights of migrants, mixed migration flows, international protection, smuggling and trafficking, as well as other push and pull factors affecting migration.

But, the need of the hour is a rights-based comprehensive approach placing the human rights of migrants at the center of the discussion to halt and roll back overall deterioration of treatment of migrant workers, worldwide, in particular, women migrant workers and children.

Evidence suggests that the world is on the eve of far greater international mobility largely due to work force decline and population ageing, coupled with low birth rates in many industrialized countries. Migrants will be even more essential to address labour market needs and the sustainability of economic development in many countries.

But as we all know, migrants move due to a number of reasons. Migration is not only due to economic factors, but man-made disasters and conflicts can drive them in large number as we observe now.

And migration can be engendered due to poverty and lack of human development; gender inequalities; discrimination; abuse and neglect; gang violence; political instability; socio-ethnic tensions; bad governance; food insecurity; environmental degradation and climate change.

As underscored by many Human Rights defenders, human rights abuses play a crucial role in decisions to migrate, in particular by women.

Out of more than 244 million migrants throughout the world, half are women, and an estimated 20 percent are in an irregular situation. In some countries like Sri Lanka and the Philippines, female migrant workers leaving for work abroad are much more than half of those leaving.

And in overall, international migration is becoming increasingly feminized as more women are migrating on their own volition, seeking economic and social opportunities and empowerment through migration.

Most women contribute more than men in destination countries in professions, such as care-givers while contributing even more to the well-being of their families in their countries of origin. But, women migrant workers are particularly at risk of discrimination, abuse and exploitations.

They receive wages that are under the minimum baseline, and are victims of fraudulent practices, excessive working hours and even illegal confinement by their employers. Sexual harassment, threats and intimidation against them are rampant.

Meanwhile, number of women migrant workers committing suicide is on the increase. Abuses of women migrant workers are more intensified when their immigration status is irregular. They are often denied the most basic labour protections, personal security, due process guarantees, health care and, education for their children. They often face abuse and harassment at international borders based on race, identity and age. And often they risk being trafficked, enslaved or sexually assaulted.

Domestic female migrant workers are a most vulnerable group. According to the ILO, 53 million women and girls around the world are employed as domestic workers in private households. They clean, cook, care for children, look after elderly family members, and perform other care giving essential tasks for their employers.

Despite their important role, they are among the most exploited and abused workers in the world. They often work 14 to 18 hours a day, seven days a week, for wages far below the minimum wage. And their work is often not recognized as work under national labour codes.

Their work is not quantified in financial terms and therefore not adequately compensated. They may be locked within their workplace and subject to physical and sexual violence for lack of means for seeking formal protection normally available for other women in formal sectors of employment.

Therefore, policymakers and other stakeholders in every country must adopt a gender-sensitive and rights based approach in developing labour migration laws and policies in line with the core human rights treaties, and in particular CEDAW and CMW, as well as relevant ILO labour standards.

These human rights instruments relevant to migrants seek to achieve gender equality and protection for women and girls irrespective of age, sexuality, race, disability, migration status and other identity markers.

National and local laws and policies should be evolved to guarantee that human rights, including labour rights, are enjoyed equally by men and women migrant workers and that migration legislation, policies and programmes must promote equality of opportunity and treatment in respect of employment and occupations with a view to eliminating any discrimination based on sex.

In this regard, female domestic workers must receive special attention, as they are most vulnerable group. The Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of Their Families is a robust and agreed legal framework for the rights of all migrant workers and their families in countries of origin, transit and destination.

The Convention sets out the best strategy to prevent abuses and address challenges faced by female migrant workers. It provides guidance for elaborating of national migration policies for international co-operation based on respect for human rights and the rule of law.

In addition to setting minimum obligations for the protection of migrant workers and members of their families, the Convention is a helpful tool for governance of migration. The Convention explicitly provides a framework for human-rights based policy-making on migration, including irregular migration and female migrant workers.

The treaty body of the convention, the “Committee on Migrant Workers” (CMW) seeks to encourage its State parties and all stakeholders to work towards reaching standard enunciated in this convention and other relevant international instruments. And CMW in its general comments have elaborated guidance as to how States can implement their obligation with respect to migrant domestic workers, in particular, females.

CMW regularly advises States to ensure that they develop effective pre-departure and awareness-raising programmes for female workers who have made the decision to migrate, with briefings on their rights under the relevant human rights treaties in force, including CMW, as well as the conditions of their admission and employment and their rights and obligations under the law and practice of the receiving States.

Among other measures, CMW encourage countries of origin to enter into agreements with States of destination for the establishment of standard, unified and binding employment contracts with fair, full and clear conditions and labour standards that are enforceable by systems of law in countries of origin and employment; and to ensure that consular offices are trained to assist female migrant workers, and to provide counselling and guidance for submitting complaints; and encourage States to regulate and monitor recruitment agencies to ensure that they respect the human and labour rights of women migrant workers.

CMW also advises States to repeal sex-specific bans and discriminatory restrictions on women’s migration on the basis of age, marital status, pregnancy or maternity status, including restrictions that require women to get permission from their spouse or male guardian to obtain a passport or to travel or bans on women migrant workers.

The issue of detention of female migrant workers is yet another punitive measure that is often abused by authorities in many countries. The convention attempts to make migration for work as a positive and empowering experience for individuals and their societies, contributing to economic progress and human development both at home and in destination countries.

Today’s dramatic migration crisis underscores the urgent need to begin a more honest discussion about the obstacles to ratification of the Migrant Workers Convention. The Convention at present has only 50 State parties, and most are States of origin of migrant workers, and destination countries by not ratifying the Convention are conspicuously avoiding the human rights standards of the Convention.

A clear vision of the need for migrant labour in destination countries, with more channels for regular migration, as well as for family reunification, would assist greatly in preventing the exploitation and other dangers faced by female migrant workers and to enable them to live a life in dignity.

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Trump’s Global Gag a Devastating Blow for Women’s Rightshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/01/trumps-global-gag-a-devastating-blow-for-womens-rights/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=trumps-global-gag-a-devastating-blow-for-womens-rights http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/01/trumps-global-gag-a-devastating-blow-for-womens-rights/#comments Wed, 25 Jan 2017 17:49:02 +0000 Erika Guevara-Rosas http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=148665 http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/01/trumps-global-gag-a-devastating-blow-for-womens-rights/feed/ 1 Harvesting Peace: How Rural Development Works for Conflict Preventionhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/01/harvesting-peace-how-rural-development-works-for-conflict-prevention/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=harvesting-peace-how-rural-development-works-for-conflict-prevention http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/01/harvesting-peace-how-rural-development-works-for-conflict-prevention/#comments Mon, 23 Jan 2017 13:18:59 +0000 Josefina Stubbs http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=148622 Josefina Stubbs is candidate for President of the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD). She has served in IFAD as Associate Vice-President of Strategy and Knowledge from 2014 to 2016 and as Director of Latin America and the Caribbean from 2008 and 2014.]]> Fair and regulated access to the Mount Kenya’s national Park helps diffuse tensions among the members of Mount Kenya’s neighboring communities competing for the forest’s natural resources. Credit: Anna Manikowska Di Giovanni

Fair and regulated access to the Mount Kenya’s national Park helps diffuse tensions among the members of Mount Kenya’s neighboring communities competing for the forest’s natural resources. Credit: Anna Manikowska Di Giovanni

By Josefina Stubbs
SANTO DOMINGO, Dominican Republic and ROME, Jan 23 2017 (IPS)

The year 2016 has seen a massive population flow, unprecedented in its range and reach. Millions of people have fled war-torn communities, natural disasters and violence, some overflowing neighboring countries’ refugee camps, some crossing perilous seas and walking hundreds of miles to reach safer grounds, others seeking refuge in countries half a world away. Thousands have died on their way to safety, countless more were victims of violence and abuse, among them many women and children.

Conflict and violence force people out of their communities, leaving them without resources or means to start afresh. They stall the lives of millions of people, depriving adults of their dignity and children of their childhood. According to the most recent UNHCR data available, 65.3 million people were forcibly displaced in 2015 and that figure has been growing at a rate of 34,000 people per day. Of these, 21.3 million are refugees and half of them under the age of 18. Refugees put enormous pressure on receiving countries, where this sudden population increases puts their host countries at risk of food shortages and competition for limited employment opportunities.

In rural areas, conflict has devastating consequences. Being more sparsely populated and more difficult to police, rural spaces offer relatively safe havens for violent groups to gain ground and base their operations, terrorizing rural communities in the process.

This is one way that conflict and rural development are related. In fact, the relationship between the two is complex and tightly intertwined. In addition to brutally affecting rural communities, conflict often stems from competition for land and natural resources, such as water. Poverty, lack of employment and opportunities of a better future fuels resentment and offers extremists fertile recruiting grounds. When conflict erupts, rural development becomes difficult, if not impossible. Conversely, prosperous rural areas are more resilient to conflict. Investing in rural areas with the aim to strengthen rural communities in food production, business creation, productive as well as basic infrastructure and conflict mitigation helps prevent conflict escalation, promotes stability and reduces food insecurity that results from massive displacement of famers.

In Burundi, a community-owned livestock project contributed to build solidarity and reduce conflict between village members despite a raging civil war. Credit: Anna Manikowska Di Giovanni

In Burundi, a community-owned livestock project contributed to build solidarity and reduce conflict between village members despite a raging civil war. Credit: Anna Manikowska Di Giovanni

The International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) has considerable experience in preventing conflict and buffering its impact through investments in inclusive, sustainable rural transformation in Africa, the Middle East and in Latin America. By investing in rural development, we can provide rural people the option to stay and the strength to resist the onset of violence. By focusing on agriculture production and rural business development, countries become more resilient to food shortages and natural resource degradation. This is particularly important in countries that heavily depend on food imports and who have little or no autonomy in food production. On the other hand, rural business development offers alternatives to farmers and producers to diversify their activities and income sources, and invest in their territories, making them more likely to survive bad harvest as well as natural or man-made disasters. Building rural centers of diverse economic activities is key to reducing the pressure from highly populated urban areas and to creating opportunities for youth to plan their future in the countryside.

Development is a complex process – a social, cultural, religious, political, economic and technological puzzle in which the pieces constantly change shapes. Investment in inclusive rural transformation strengthens the fabric of the society that will build the puzzle and hold the pieces together for years to come. In conflict zones, the coordinated work and investment of the international community is crucial and should be geared toward providing the tools and knowledge to rural organizations and local institutions to take ownership of their communities’ development. It should support local and national authorities how represent the people to create policies that favor sustainable and peaceful growth, and to gain the skills and tools to negotiate, enforce and maintain peace and security. While contributing to achieving Agenda 2030 for sustainable development, it is also a moral obligation.

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A Women’s March on the Worldhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/01/a-womens-march-on-the-world/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=a-womens-march-on-the-world http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/01/a-womens-march-on-the-world/#comments Fri, 20 Jan 2017 04:27:24 +0000 Tharanga Yakupitiyage http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=148588 Participants in the 2015 New York March for Gender Equality and Women's Rights. Credit: UN Photo/Devra Berkowitz.

Participants in the 2015 New York March for Gender Equality and Women's Rights. Credit: UN Photo/Devra Berkowitz.

By Tharanga Yakupitiyage
NEW YORK, Jan 20 2017 (IPS)

Just one day after the inauguration of President-elect Donald Trump, hundreds of thousands of women are expected to attend one of the largest demonstrations in history for gender equality.

Starting out as a social media post by a handful of concerned women, the Women’s March on Washington quickly transformed, amassing over 400 supporting organisations representing a range of issues including affordable and accessible healthcare, gender-based violence, and racial equality.

“It’s a great show of strength and solidarity about how much women’s rights matter—and women’s rights don’t always take the front page headlines,” Nisha Varia, Advocacy Director of Human Rights Watch’s Women’s Rights Division told IPS.

Despite the variety of agendas being put forth for the march, the underlying message is that women’s rights are human rights, Executive Director of Amnesty International USA Margaret Huang told IPS.

“All people must be treated equally and with respect to their rights, no matter who is in positions of authority and who has been elected,” she said.

Organisers and partners have stressed that the march is not anti-Trump, but rather is one that is concerned about the current and future state of women’s rights.

“It’s not just about one President or one candidate, there’s a much bigger banner that we are marching for…our rights should not be subject to the whims of an election,” Kelly Baden, Center for Reproductive Rights’ Interim Senior Director of U.S. Policy and Advocacy told IPS.

The health system also risks returning to a time when many insurance plans considered pregnancy a pre-existing condition, barring women from getting full or any coverage.

“It’s about women, not Trump,” she continued.

The rhetoric used during the election is among the concerns for marchers as it reflects a troubling future for women’s rights.

During his campaign, President-elect Trump made a series of sexist remarks from calling Fox News host Megyn Kelly a “bimbo” to footage showing him boasting of sexual assault. Though Trump downplayed his remarks as “locker room talk,” his rhetoric is now being reflected in more practical terms through cabinet nominations.

Huang pointed to nominee for Attorney-General Jeff Sessions who has a long and problematic record on women’s rights including voting against the reauthorisation of the Violence Against Women Act, rejecting anti-discrimination protections for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people, and opposing the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act of 2009 which addresses pay discrimination.

During her confirmation hearing, Nominee for Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos wouldn’t say if she would uphold title IX which requires universities to act on sexual assault on campuses.

According to the National Sexual Violence Resource Center, one in five women and one in 16 men are sexually assaulted while in college.

The new administration has also recently announced cuts to the Department of Justice’s Violence Against Women Grants, which distribute funds to organisations working to end sexual assault and domestic violence.

“There is no question that we’re going to have some challenges in terms of increasing protections for women’s rights over the next few years,” said Huang to IPS.

Meanwhile, Varia pointed to other hard fought gains that risk being overturned including the Affordable Care Act (ACA). The ACA, which U.S. Congress is currently working to repeal, provides health coverage to almost 20 million Americans by prohibiting insurers from denying insurance plans due to pre-existing conditions and by providing subsidies to low-income families to purchase coverage.

If repealed, access to reproductive services such as contraception and even information will become limited. The health system also risks returning to a time when many insurance plans considered pregnancy a pre-existing condition, barring women from getting full or any coverage.

“Denying women access to the types of insurers or availability of clinics that can help them get pre-natal checks and can help them control their fertility by having access to contraception—these are all the type of holistic care that needs to be made available,” Varia said.

The U.S. is one of the few countries in the world where the number of women dying as a result of child birth is increasing, Varia noted.

In Texas, maternal mortality rates jumped from 18.8 deaths per 100,000 live births in 2010 to 35.8 deaths in 2014, the majority of whom were Hispanic and African-American women. This constitutes the highest maternal mortality rate in the developed world, closer in numbers to Mexico and Egypt than Italy and Japan, according to World Bank statistics.

A UN Working Group also expressed their dismay over restrictive health legislation, adding that the U.S. is falling behind international standards.

Though the ACA repeal and potential defunding of Planned Parenthood, another key reproductive services provider, threatens all women, some communities are especially in danger.

Francis Madi, a marcher and Long Island Regional Outreach Associate for the New York Immigration Coalition, told IPS that immigrant and undocumented immigrant women face additional barriers in accessing health care.

Most state and federal forms of coverage such as the ACA prohibits providing government-subsidised insurance to anyone who cannot prove a legal immigration status. Even for those who can, insurance is still hard or too expensive to acquire, making programs like Planned Parenthood essential.

“I can’t even do my job as an organiser asking for immigrant rights if I’m not able to access the services I need to live here,” Madi told IPS.

Madi highlighted the opportunity the march brings in working together through a range of issues and identities.

“I’m going because as a woman and an immigrant and an undocumented immigrant as well…it’s very important to attend this march to show we can work together on our issues,” she told IPS.

“If we don’t organize with each other, we can’t really achieve true change,” she continued.

In its policy platform, organisers of the Women’s March on Washington also stressed the importance of diversity, inclusion and intersectionality in women’s rights.

“Our liberation is bound in each other’s,” they said.

This includes not only women in the U.S., but across the world.

“There’s definitely going to be an international voice in this, not just U.S. activists,” Huang told IPS.

Marching alongside women in Washington D.C. on January 21st will be women in nearly 60 other countries participating in sister marches from Argentina to Saudi Arabia to Australia.

“Women are concerned that a loss of a champion in the U.S. government will have significant impacts in other countries,” Huang said. Of particular concern is the reinstatement of the “global gag rule” which stipulates that foreign organisations receiving any U.S. family planning funding cannot provide information or perform abortions, even with funding from other sources. The U.S. does not fund these services itself.

The policy not only restricts basic right to speech, but analysis shows that it has harmed the health of low-income women by limiting access to family planning services.

The US Agency for International Development (USAID) is the world’s largest family planning bilateral donor.

Though the march is important symbolic act of solidarity, it is just the first step.

“We are also part of a bigger movement—we need to come together and be in solidarity on Saturday and then we need to keep doing the hard work [during[ the long days and months and years of organising that we have ahead of us,” Baden said.

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UN Meeting Says No to Anti-Muslim Hatredhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/01/un-meeting-says-no-to-anti-muslim-hatred/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=un-meeting-says-no-to-anti-muslim-hatred http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/01/un-meeting-says-no-to-anti-muslim-hatred/#comments Tue, 17 Jan 2017 23:49:48 +0000 Andy Hazel http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=148538 Anti-muslim hatred has been particularly targeted at women. Credit:  UN Photo/Tobin Jones

Anti-muslim hatred has been particularly targeted at women. Credit: UN Photo/Tobin Jones

By Andy Hazel
UNITED NATIONS, Jan 17 2017 (IPS)

The rise in anti-muslim attitudes around the world prompted a special UN meeting Tuesday, just days before the inauguration of US President-elect Donald Trump whose controversial policies have drawn on anti-Muslim sentiments.

As if to illustrate just how easily noble intentions are misinterpreted, co-opted and misused, the event’s hashtag #No2Hatred was quickly taken over by nefarious social media actors and became an outlet for angry political diatribe.

“Anti-muslim hatred does not occur in a vacuum,” said David Saperstein, American Ambassador at large for International Religious Freedom at the event. “The rise of xenophobia across the world creates challenges that focus our attention and the data leaves us no doubt that this is happening.”

Saperstein quoted studies showing a massive rise in anti-Muslim rhetoric and violence, France has seen a 223 percent increase in attacks on Muslims between 2014 and 2015, the British investigative group TELL MAMA reported a 326 percent increase in abuse and public attacks on Muslims in the UK over the same period. A 2016 study found 72 percent of  Hungarians admit to a negative view of Muslims.
"Most Muslim hate crime is against women and I would encourage everyone to consider the gender-specific aspects to this violence," -- Richard Arbeiter, the Director-General, Office of Human Rights, Freedoms and Inclusion, Global Affairs Canada.

“Underreporting is a very serious structural problem that obscures these numbers. The silencing effect is enormous and we must resolve to confront this,” Saperstein said.

“I sincerely regret just how necessary these deliberations have become,” said Richard Arbeiter, the Director-General, Office of Human Rights, Freedoms and Inclusion, Global Affairs Canada. “Most Muslim hate crime is against women and I would encourage everyone to consider the gender-specific aspects to this violence.”

Panels looked at civil society building how governments could best combat anti-Muslim discrimination, and positive narratives to promote inclusion. Several topics recurred for discussion; how best to engage with political actors and organisations of different beliefs, and how to counter misinformation online.

The American Jewish Committee’s Muslim-Jewish relations director, Mr Robert Silverman reinforced the idea of creating powerful messages by finding alliances and shared priorities with unlikely groups.

“Too often initiatives result in people speaking within bubbles to each other. In a country like the United States or in a place like Europe, we need to get out of our bubbles and reach out to the unlikely and unorthodox partners.”

“You should focus on the common ground,” he continued. “Don’t try to bring in an issue like climate change. Just focus narrowly on the common grounds.”

European Commission Coordinator on Combating anti-Muslim hatred David Friggieri outlined his meeting with the heads of Facebook, Twitter, Microsoft and Google where “open and frank discussion” lead to the enforcement of the European Union’s free speech laws in an effort to counter anti-Muslim sentiment. The ‘red line’ agreed to by the companies and the European law, he told IPS, was one of incitement.

“We have a law prohibiting incitement to violence or hatred based on race, religion, ethnicity or nationality,” said Friggieri. “We are monitoring the situation with them every few months. We have had our first monitoring and there are some improvements but we look forward to seeing more.”

“In terms of the really bad type of hate speech such as incitement to violence, we look at: how are they taking it down? How long before they take it down? What responses does the company give to individuals who notify and to trusted flaggers? Ultimately the aim is to take down (from the internet) the worst type of incitement to violence.”

In a similar effort to address the recent increase in hate speech and anti-Muslim rhetoric, Moiz Bokhari, advisor to the Secretary General of the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation spoke of the Center for Dialogue, Peace and Understanding a newly established website that provides foundations to deconstruct dangerous narratives. The site is aimed at addressing the potential for crimes, radicalisation and to “counter all types of radical extremist discourse in order to delegitimise the violent and manipulative acts committed in the name of religion, ideology or claims of cultural superiority.”

 The High Level Forum on Combating Anti-Muslim Discrimination and Hatred was dominated by discussion of how to address anti-Muslim sentiment and increase the  message of tolerance and inclusion. The forum was convened by the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation, the Delegation of the European Union to the United Nations and the Permanent Missions of the United States and Canada.

UN Secretary General Antònio Guterres used his introductory address to reaffirm the recently-launched initiative Together – Respect, Safety and Dignity for All. An outcome from the Summit for Refugees, the strategy is designed to strengthen the bonds between refugees migrants and host countries and communities.

Speakers throughout the day highlighted bipartisan interfaith success stories: the Canadian town that raised money to rebuild a mosque that had been burned down following the Paris terror attacks, the Norwegian mosque that was protected from attack by Oslo’s Jewish community, the power of positive stories of Muslims in the news and popular culture, and the success of Sadiq Khan who overcame a campaign rife with xenophobic rhetoric to become the first Muslim Mayor of London.

“Politics is moving against us, but local politics not so much,” said Catherine Orsborn, director of interfaith anti-Islamophobia campaign group Shoulder to Shoulder.

Several panellists highlighted the importance of establishing relationships with local political and law enforcement agencies so that any future instances Islamophobia could be dealt with more effectively.

Friends of Europe’s Director Europe and Geopolitics Alfiaz Vaiya ended the discussion on civil society and coalition building with an optimistic note: “The political climate is very toxic, but it’s about politicians being able to sell and be confident in selling a strong narrative on inclusion and diversity. I think youth are the way forward, we see how they vote we see how they follow progressive trends and we should encourage more youth to get involved in conversations like this.”

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Bring Back Our Girls Campaign Faces “Hope Fatigue”http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/12/bring-back-our-girls-campaign-faces-hope-fatigue/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=bring-back-our-girls-campaign-faces-hope-fatigue http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/12/bring-back-our-girls-campaign-faces-hope-fatigue/#comments Fri, 16 Dec 2016 21:32:35 +0000 Lindah Mogeni http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=148230 Bring Back Our Girls campaign co-founder Saudatu Mahdi with Gloria Steinem and Jane Fonda. Credit: Donor Direct Action.

Bring Back Our Girls campaign co-founder Saudatu Mahdi with Gloria Steinem and Jane Fonda. Credit: Donor Direct Action.

By Lindah Mogeni
NEW YORK, Dec 16 2016 (IPS)

The Bring Back Our Girls Campaign has experienced some successes but must now overcome the challenge of hope fatigue, Bring Back Our Girls campaign co-founder Saudatu Mahdi told IPS in a recent interview.

“There is the challenge of hope fatigue, especially when the expected timelines are not achieved and financial streams are low…however, the campaign remains faithful in its advocacy,”Mahdi told IPS.

However Mahdi also noted that, “Bring Back Our Girls has been one of the longest-standing campaigns in Nigeria and has been largely sustained by the horrendous nature of what the girls have gone through.”

On April 14th 2014, 276 female students in a boarding secondary school in Chibok, Northern Nigeria, were loaded into trucks at gunpoint and kidnapped by Boko Haram terrorists in the dead of the night.

The kidnappings sparked an international outrage which led to the foundation of the Bring Back Our Girls Campaign – an homage to the social media hashtag #BringBackOurGirls.

Mahdi who is also the Secretary-General of Nigerian women’s rights group, Women’s Rights Advancement and Protection Alternative (WRAPA) appealed for an end to the rampant violence against Nigerian women and girls and the release of the girls currently in Boko Haram’s captivity.

Fifty-seven of the kidnapped girls managed to escape in June 2014, two months after their capture. Two years later, in May 2016, one of the kidnapped girls was found clutching a four-month year old baby in the outskirts of Sambisa forest in Northeastern Nigeria- rumored to be one of Boko Haram’s strongholds.

More recently, 21 of the kidnapped girls, along with a twenty-month old baby born to one of the girls, were released by Boko Haram on October 12th this year after negotiations with the Nigerian government finally bore fruit.

Asked whether there are any plans in motion to rehabilitate the released Chibok girls, Mahdi told IPS that the Nigerian government and philanthropic organizations have been involved in “forming rehabilitation plans which specifically target survivors of Boko Haram.”

Mahdi also told IPS that, “I can confirm that the 21 recently released girls are currently in a government hospital where their health is being looked after and they have undergone a full regime of both psycho-social and medical examinations.”

“There is a dire need for the rehabilitation and reintegration of all girls as a responsibility of the Nigerian government,” said Mahdi.

“The recent release of some girls is only part of the deal and we have to be careful. There is hope and we can build on hope. There is still a window of opportunity that we will see all girls released…” said Mahdi at a Donor Direct Action panel discussion held in New York on December 8th.

Currently, the Bring Back Our Girls campaign is pressuring the Nigerian government to release results from rescue operations, said Mahdi.

Also speaking at the panel, prominent global women’s group’s supporters, Gloria Steinem and Jane Fonda, stressed the urgency of standing in solidarity with women’s rights groups by helping increase their funding.

“It is not about one person passing on the light but all of us being able to shine our own lights,” said Steinem.

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India Steps Up Citizen Activism to Protect Womenhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/12/india-steps-up-citizen-activism-to-protect-women/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=india-steps-up-citizen-activism-to-protect-women http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/12/india-steps-up-citizen-activism-to-protect-women/#comments Wed, 07 Dec 2016 14:34:28 +0000 Neeta Lal http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=148122 Red Brigade, a female-only collective, equips Indian women and girls with self-defence techniques and targets males who have committed sexual assault. Credit: Neeta Lal/IPS

Red Brigade, a female-only collective, equips Indian women and girls with self-defence techniques and targets males who have committed sexual assault. Credit: Neeta Lal/IPS

By Neeta Lal
NEW DELHI, Dec 7 2016 (IPS)

Last month, Delhi Police launched a unique initiative to check spiralling crimes against women in the city, also known dubiously as the “rape capital” of India. It formed a squad of plainclothes officers called “police mitras” (friends of the police) — comprising farmers, homemakers and former Army men — to assist them in the prevention and detection of crime and maintenance of law and order.

In another scheme, police chiefs launched their own version of “Charlie’s Angels” — a specially trained squad of crime-fighting, butt-kicking constables in white kimonos who take on sexual predators across the country. The 40-member women’s squad trained in martial arts guards “vulnerable” landmarks in the city such as schools and metro stations, while undercover as regular citizens."I carry pepper spray and a knife with me as I return late from the office." -- Shashibala Mehra, 52, an accountant in New Delhi

India, considered one of the world’s most unsafe countries for women, has lately seen a raft of innovative initiatives to safeguard women from sexual crimes. Ironically, despite increasingly stringent laws and a visible beefing up of police protection, crimes against women have surged.

According to a report by the Comptroller and Auditor General of India, such crimes (primarily rapes, molestations and stalking) have skyrocketed by a whopping 60 percent between 2010 and 2011 and 2014 and 2015.

A report by the National Crime Records Bureau found 337,922 reports of violence, including rape, cruelty and abduction, against women in 2014, up 9 percent from 2013. The number of reported rapes in the country also rose by 9 percent to 33,707 in 2014, the last year for which such figures were available.

In addition, sexual harassment on Indian streets or in other public spaces is a common experience for women. A survey by the NGO ActionAid found 79 percent of Indian women have been subjected to harassment or violence in public.

The rise in attacks on women has also led to a mushrooming of volunteer-led projects which provide a valuable social service. For instance, one such initiative — Blank Noise — in one of its campaigns #WalkAlone, asked women across the country to break their silence and walk alone to fight the fear of being harassed on the streets. In another campaign, women were urged to send in the clothing they were wearing when they were harassed which were then used to create public installations.

By engaging not only perpetrators and victims, but also spectators and passers-by, Blank Noise, launched in 2003, relies on ‘Action Heroes’ or a network of volunteers, from across age groups, gender and sexuality to put forth its message. Effective legal mechanisms, staging theatrical public protests and publicizing offences help the organization mobilize citizens against sexual harassment in public spaces. Week-long courses are also offered to teach women how to be active in building safe spaces.

Schoolboys are sensitized about sexual crimes at a seminar in New Delhi. Credit: Neeta Lal/IPS

Schoolboys are sensitized about sexual crimes at a seminar in New Delhi. Credit: Neeta Lal/IPS

Although the Indian Parliament passed a strong anti-rape law while also making human trafficking, acid attacks and stalking stringently punishable, it hasn’t translated into diminishing crimes against women. Some women’s rights activists believe that women are inviting a counter-attack by claiming their right in public spaces.

“There’s a lot of media coverage, candlelight marches and social media angst if women are outraged but in reality little has changed, ” says Pratibha Malik, an activist with a pan-India non-profit Aashrita. “I feel the very presence of women in non-traditional spaces like offices, in bars, restaurants etc in a patriarchal society like India’s is responsible for this backlash.”

The trigger for much of legislative and police action was the December 2012 rape of a 23-year-old Indian medical student in a moving bus when she was returning from a movie with a male friend. The couple were attacked by a group of men, including one aged 14. The woman was raped several times and later died, while her friend was beaten with an iron rod. The incident sparked mass protests demanding action.

Following the episode, which created global headlines, a committee — Justice Verma Committee — was instituted and its report cited “the failure of governance to provide a safe and dignified environment for the women of India, who are constantly exposed to sexual violence.”

The three attackers in the 2012 rape were sentenced to death and within months the government passed a bill broadening the definition of sexual offences to include forced penetration by any object, stalking, acid violence and disrobing.

However, such actions by the State haven’t really resulted in much succour for the fairer sex.
They feel they have to take charge of their own security. Many women IPS spoke to, say they feel danger still lurks around street corners, especially in the big cities, where venturing out at night is still considered an `adventure’.

“I don’t feel safe in public places at all nor while using public transport. I know nobody will come forward to help me if I get into trouble,” says Rekha Kumari, 30, a cook.

“I carry pepper spray and a knife with me as I return late from the office,” says Shashibala Mehra, 52, an accountant in New Delhi. “Throughout my 40-minute commute back home I keep talking to my husband on phone just so that he knows when I’m in trouble.”

Laxmi Aggarwal, 27, an acid attack victim who has now become an activist championing the ban on the sale of acid in India, says the government has done little to prevent its sale. “Young, vulnerable girls are attacked in many parts of rural India,” she says.

Aggarwal has joined hands with an organization called Stop Acid Attacks to assist other victims of such attacks and also fight for their rights in local courts.

Realizing how some Indian law enforcement agencies can no longer be trusted for their safety, many women are also resorting to buying weapons and pepper spray, downloading security apps, signing up for self-defence classes, and joining self-help groups.

Campaigns which help victims of violence fight social stigma have urged the government to enforce stricter laws and promote gender equality. Red Brigades, a female-only collective, for instance, equips women and girls with self-defence techniques and targets males who have committed sexual assault. Blank Noise, another volunteer-led project, is working to tackle street harassment and change public attitudes towards sexual violence.

Such initiatives, say activists, are vital to safeguard Indian women who are stepping out of their homes to work, travel and lead a full life.

“We try to make erring men see reason after talking to the man and his parents. If he still doesn’t listen, we go to the police station,” says Usha Vishwakarma. “If he’s still adamant, we go into the action stage.”

An important part of the support Red Brigade offers involves helping victims get rid of the self-guilt that the violence they suffered was their fault.

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Selling Their Bodies for Fish and a Handful of Shillingshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/11/selling-their-bodies-for-fish-and-a-handful-of-shillings/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=selling-their-bodies-for-fish-and-a-handful-of-shillings http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/11/selling-their-bodies-for-fish-and-a-handful-of-shillings/#comments Mon, 28 Nov 2016 19:44:53 +0000 Diana Wanyonyi http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=147985 People at Gasi Beach in Kwale County, on Kenya's Indian Ocean coast, wait for fishermen to buy the daily catch. Credit: Diana Wanyonyi/IPS

People at Gasi Beach in Kwale County, on Kenya's Indian Ocean coast, wait for fishermen to buy the daily catch. Credit: Diana Wanyonyi/IPS

By Diana Wanyonyi
KWALE, Kenya, Nov 28 2016 (IPS)

It’s Saturday morning and Hafsa Juma* is seated on a traditional mat known locally as a mkeka under the scorching sun outside her homestead, located near Gasi Beach on the Kenyan coast.

Clad in a traditional Swahili dress known as a dera, complemented by a mtandio wrapped around her head, Hafsa, 15, says she has been suffering from flu and headaches for more than a week. She hoped the hot sun might ease her chills and shivering, since her parents are unemployed and too poor to pay for a doctor visit."As much as I don’t like what I do, I'm forced to do it because we need to survive.” -- Asumpta, age 14

Hafsa is one of many girls who barter their bodies for fish and a little money at Gasi Beach on the Indian Ocean, in Kwale County. The oldest of three siblings, she is the breadwinner for her family.

Living near the beach, she is easy prey for male fishermen. She said started sex work two years ago.

“I completed standard eight [the final year of primary school] in 2014,” she said. “My parents are not well and that is why there is no food to eat at home. I’m forced to go and look for something small to bring home. I leave at around 8 p.m. and I come back to the house at around 12 a.m. Every night, I have one client. After he agrees to my demands, he gives me 200 shillings (about two dollars) and half a kilogramme of fish,” she said, avoiding eye contact.

Hafsa described being forced by her parents, especially her mother, to provide food for her family by offering sexual favours to male fishermen.

“I usually go to Gasi beach every day,” the teenager said. “In a month, if I work well, I get 5,000 Kenyan shillings (equivalent to 50 dollars) and I don’t have a problem with that.”

Walking with Hafsa along the shore of the Indian Ocean, our conversation is interrupted by a green wooden fishing boat with fishermen from the deep sea approaching the shore, where women, men and children with baskets eagerly wait to buy fresh fish from the fishermen coming in from the night catch.

Most of Hafsa’s clients are fishermen from the neighbouring country of Tanzania, who travel to Gasi once a year during the northeast monsoon winds and stay there for three months, from December to March, to fish and sell their catch.

After the monsoon season is over, and the foreign fishermen go back home, her clients are mostly motorcyclists who carry passengers, locally known as bodaboda.

“When I want to go to any given place away from home, I just board a motorcycle. When I’m almost at my destination, the bodaboda rider agrees to have sex for money. He gives me 100 shillings, and I also do the same with different bodaboda men to return home.”

Iddi Abdulrahman Juma is vice chairman of the Gasi Beach Management Unit, and a beneficiary of training from a non-governmental organisation known as Strengthening Community Partnership and Empowerment (SCOPE) that works to end commercial sexual exploitation of children in Kwale County. Juma blamed parents and guardians for making children vulnerable by sending them to buy fish at the beach.

“We’ve been seeing like 10 children coming here to the beach to buy fish, which is also dangerous. Some of them are already pregnant and others infected with deadly diseases. The age group of children who indulge in commercial sexual exploitation is between 12 and 17 years old,” he said.

Twenty kilometers from Gasi, in the Karanja area of Kwale County, 14-year-old Asumpta Pendo* sweeps out a thatched mud shanty. She says it is a mangwe — a place where palm wine known as mnazi (a traditional liquor) is sold.

Just like Hafsa, Asumpta also indulges in sex for money with clients, often drunk, just to put food on her family’s table. She is also forced by her mother to sell mnazi.

“I dropped out in class seven because my mother was unable to educate me and we live in poverty. Life is hard,” she said. “Most of my clients are palm wine drinkers. In a day, I usually get one or two clients. Some of them prefer to use condoms, while others refuse. They usually give me money — between a dollar and 12 dollars a night.

“If I refuse to sell palm wine to male customers here at home, my mother beats me and goes to the extent of denying me food. As much as I don’t like what I do, I’m forced to do it because we need to survive,” Assumpta said.

A 2009 baseline survey conducted by the End Child Prostitution in Kenya network, an umbrella of various civil society organisations, found 10,000 to 15,000 girls living in the coastal areas to be involved in child sex tourism.

To address this problem, SCOPE has partnered with the organization Terre des Hommes (TDH) from the Netherlands to implement a programme aimed at ending the commercial sexual exploitation of children (CSEC) in Kwale County and three sub-counties, Matunga, Msambweni and Lunga Lunga.

The strategy includes creating awareness among the general community and calling on local citizen constituencies to raise their voices against these abuses.

The coordinator of SCOPE’s End Commercial Sex programme, Emanuel Kahaso, said that the problem is serious in Kwale County, popular with tourists for its clean, sandy beaches.

“In 2006, the United Nations International Children’s Emergency Fund (UNICEF) reported that there were more than 50,000 children in Kenya who have engaged in sexual exploitation and 30,000 who are selling their bodies along the beaches in coastal Kenya,” he said.

“As an organisation, we also found out that more than 15,000 children here in the Kenyan south coast are used for commercial sex work in tourism,” he said. “Because of traditions and taboos, parents do not talk openly with their children about reproductive health and some of the perpetrators who are found guilty of the vice are not arrested because of these taboos.”

Emerging hotspots such as drug dens, nightclubs and discotheques, as well as an increase in bodaboda transport, have lured many children into commercial sex. According to local sources, in many instances, early marriage and commercial sex work have been initiated by parents, as well as child sex tourism and prostitution along the beach areas.

The problem is further exacerbated by the cultures and traditions of the local tribes, which are gender-biased and support various forms of sexual exploitation of children. Illiteracy is high, the economy is poor and laws to protect children are rarely enforced.

At Msambweni Referral County Hospital, Saumu Ramwendo, a community health worker for SCOPE, empowers and counsels young girls on health matters and fighting commercial sexual exploitation. The group has so far been able to reach 360 children who are the victims of sexual exploitation and 500 others considered at risk.

*Names have been changed to protect their identities.

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25th November – International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Womenhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/11/25th-november-international-day-for-the-elimination-of-violence-against-women/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=25th-november-international-day-for-the-elimination-of-violence-against-women http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/11/25th-november-international-day-for-the-elimination-of-violence-against-women/#comments Fri, 25 Nov 2016 10:03:06 +0000 Lakshmi Puri http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=147954

By Lakshmi Puri
NEW YORK, Nov 25 2016 (IPS)

Each year on November 25, the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women is commemorated. A commemoration in essence is an opportunity to reflect on the challenges, prove that progress can be made and celebrate victories. It is also a reminder of the obligations and the responsibility we all must own at both the private and the public level to ensure that every woman, every girl, in all corners of the world lives in a world free of violence and fear. They must be enabled to enjoy their most fundamental right to physical integrity and security.

The reality today is grim. In every country, in every city or village, in conflict zones and refugee camps, in health pandemics like HIV or Ebola and humanitarian crisis due to cyclones or earthquakes, one out of three women are beaten, abused, stalked, assaulted, tortured, raped, trafficked and sexually exploited, coerced into slavery or becoming drug mules, so called honour killed, burnt alive for dowry and sold or forced into child marriage. This means over a billion women and girls of all ages are affected.

Globally, 47 per cent of murders of women are committed by an intimate partner or family member, compared to less than 6 per cent of murders of men. Women represent 55 per cent of victims of forced labour and 98 per cent of the victims of sexual exploitation. Globally, an estimated 200 million women and girls have undergone FGM/C in 30 countries and 700 million were married as children.

47 per cent of murders of women are committed by an intimate partner or family member, compared to less than 6 per cent of murders of men. Women represent 55 per cent of victims of forced labour and 98 per cent of the victims of sexual exploitation. Globally, an estimated 200 million women and girls have undergone FGM/C in 30 countries and 700 million were married as children
The necessary global norms and standards to end violence against women have been set. We have the Agreed Conclusions of the CSW 57 which set out a global plan of action on the elimination of violence against women and girls (EVAW), building upon the CEDAW, Beijing Platform for Action, the international Declaration on EVAW, the Regional Conventions – Belen de Para and Istanbul Conventions for example.

But the paradigm shift came as part of the Gender Equality compact in the first ever, universal, comprehensive and transformative 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development adopted at the United Nations last year. It declared EVAW as essential for the achievement of sustainable development and enshrined EVAW in all its forms as Sustainable Development Targets in SDG 5 on achieving gender equality and empowering all women and girls, with linkages to other SDGs including SDG 16 on just and peaceful societies.

We know what the underlying causes of this very complex and pernicious phenomenon is. Harmful traditions, customs and cultural norms, gender stereotypes and inequality and patriarchal political, economic and social structures manifest themselves in this most egregious violation of women’s human rights. This in turn creates and perpetuates an environment of impunity for perpetrators. Men typically indulge in violence as an exercise of their inherent power, entitlement, superiority and a sense of ownership of women by them. This is the mirror image of the sense of vulnerability, fear, shame, helplessness, resignation and dependence felt by women and girls who are victims and survivors of such violence.

We now have insights on how we can change and demolish these structures that breed violence and despair for both women and their families and communities, hold them back from achieving their potential and leave them behind in every way. UN Women has worked with the international community to set out guidelines and tools for implementing the Four Ps of EVAW – Prevention, Protection, Prosecution of Perpetrators and access to justice for victims and survivors and Provision of critical services from helplines to one stop multi service crisis centers and long term rehabilitation and empowerment support.

Enactment of Laws, policies and special measures and their effective implementation including through targeted institutions and interventions by governments is vital. Movement building for mindset change and change in social norms by all sectors of society including the private sector, women’s organizations, youth, faith-based groups and men and boys is a necessary complement.

All of this of course requires investment – of political will, social capital and financial resources. And it’s worth it both from the perspective of the heavy human and material cost and hemorrhaging of resources violence against women continues to exact otherwise and the enormous social and economic benefits that ending violence brings with it.

Apart from the immense emotional and psychosocial cost of violence against women and girls, there are high economic costs. Beyond the direct medical and judicial costs, child and welfare support, violence against women takes a toll on household and national incomes and budgets and poverty reduction efforts. This is on account of lost opportunities for education, income, productivity and employment of affected women and girls. Annual costs of intimate partner violence alone were calculated at US$5.8 billion in the United States and US$1.16 billion in Canada. In developing countries these are several fold and underestimated.

In Australia, violence against women and children costs an estimated US$11.38 billion per year. Domestic violence alone costs approximately US$32.9 billion in England and Wales. Conservative estimates indicate that the cost of violence against women could amount to around two per cent of the global gross domestic product (GDP). This is equivalent to 1.5 trillion, approximately, the size of the economy of Canada. It should come as no surprise that domestic and intimate partner violence cause more deaths and entail much higher economic costs than homicides or civil wars.

Experience has shown that when women are free from violence and have the power to make their own choices, the chains of poverty can be broken, families and communities grow stronger, peaceful and secure, children are better protected and their chances of a better life becomes more viable, environmental awareness deepens, and opportunities for civic and political engagement based on inclusivity and socially constructive values are able to flourish. Thus allocating adequate and significantly increased resources to ending violence against women is not only a legal obligation and a moral imperative, but a sound investment too.

This is true for all communities on every continent. Despite this truth, in many parts of the globe women still face multiple forms of discrimination and remain undervalued and underutilized, violated and aggressed against. The resources dedicated to addressing the issue do not match the scale of the challenge let alone the scale and scope of the multiple benefits it will yield. It’s a global public good that must be delivered and invested in.

This is the theme of this year’s UNiTE to End Violence Against Women Campaign and 16 days of Global Activism being kicked off on 25th November 2016 to end violence against women and girls around the world. Today we want stakeholders to put money where their conviction is but also where most benefit women and girls as well as to the whole of society and economy. They must heed our call for transformative investment in gender equality, women’s empowerment and EVAW projects so we are able to fulfill the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and truly build a future where no one is left behind.

With a focus on prevention, the UNiTE campaign last year involved over 450 events planned in more than 80 countries throughout the 16 Days of Activism in November and December. The UNiTE Campaign and its Orange Your Hood campaign was met with enthusiastic support from governments, civil society, media, and the public. Major monuments in several countries around the world were lit up orange to signal the widespread commitment to action to eliminate violence against women. The UNiTE and the 16 days of Activism reached 310 million people through social media in 2015—a tripling in comparison to the previous year.

While this represents a massive scale in terms of outreach and advocacy, today we want to translate this type of support into concrete commitments on investing in EVAW. Today we ask all stakeholders, to join forces with us and make use of the first-ever UN Framework for Preventing Violence against Women promoting a common understanding on preventing violence against women for the UN System, Member States of the UN, policymakers and other stakeholders.

UN Women has worked to develop a prevention toolkit for various sectors: media last year, the work place and sports sector in the coming year as well as Global a Guidance on Addressing School-Related Gender-Based Violence.

Today we want to encourage governments to place a stronger emphasis in improving national and regional capacities to collect internationally comparable prevalence data on violence against women in an ethical and methodological sound manner, according to available global standards. As UN Women has started to discuss a joint global programme with relevant UN agencies (UN Statistics Division, UNFPA, WHO and UNICEF) to build capacities of national actors to conduct these prevalence studies (and produce SDG target 5.2 indicators).

Today, we call on the international community to support UN-Women and other agencies and civil society work on the provision of essential services package for women and girls subject to violence. Through this programme, we are helping to develop global standards and guidelines, and tools for implementation, for quality service provision for survivors of violence, including domestic violence, across the health, police, justice and social services sectors. Another key initiative is the human rights- based safe city and safe public spaces programme aimed at preventing and responding to violence, including sexual violence against women and girls.

UN Women remains committed to drive a ‘conscience revolution’ thorough awareness raising and advocacy, to supporting changes in legal, political and social norms and their implementation, in building a solid data, evidence and policy based on what works in operationalizing transformative programs on the ground and in fostering strategic partnerships for movement building.

We need the international community to invest in our mission. We are the first generation in history with a real possibility to change the relations between men and women to create significant and lasting gender equality and end gender based violence. We are the first generation with a full understanding of the multiple and intersecting harm caused by violence against women and girls and their unacceptable cost – human and economic. We are also the first generation to have unprecedented and comprehensive political commitment and norms to develop the necessary strategies and tools and to have multi-stakeholder partnerships at our disposal to address this global pandemic.

We can and must be pioneers in demonstrating that violence against women and girls   – in homes, at work, in public spaces or even in the cyber world is not inevitable nor is the resulting harm, suffering and lost opportunity their inescapable destiny. We must ensure that all necessary resources are deployed and investments made to secure an Orange World and a Future free from the tyranny of violence against women and girls. This even as we must step it up for securing a Planet 50/50 latest by 2030.

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Let’s Unite to End Violence Against Women in Kenyahttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/11/lets-unite-to-end-violence-against-women-in-kenya/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=lets-unite-to-end-violence-against-women-in-kenya http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/11/lets-unite-to-end-violence-against-women-in-kenya/#comments Fri, 25 Nov 2016 01:48:16 +0000 Sicily Kariuki2 http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=147952 Mrs Sicily Kariuki, is the Cabinet Secretary for Gender, Youth and Public Service in the Government of Kenya, Siddharth Chatterjee is the United Nations Resident Coordinator in Kenya and Stefano A. Dejak is the European Union Ambassador to Kenya.]]> Rally against violence to women in 2014 in Nairobi, Kenya

Rally against violence to women in 2014 in Nairobi, Kenya

By Sicily Kariuki, Siddharth Chatterjee and Stefano A. Dejak
NAIROBI, Kenya, Nov 25 2016 (IPS)

Consider this. According to the 2014 Kenya Demographic and Health Survey of Kenya, 4 out of every 10 Kenyan women undergo some form of violence, whether physical or sexual. This figure is staggering and should compel us to pause and reflect.

Today, on the International day for the Elimination of Violence against Women, let us join together to say: enough is enough!

Gender Based Violence, including domestic and sexual violence, human trafficking and harmful practices, such as forced child marriage and Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) is still endemic in Kenya, despite the existence of legislation, administrative directives, judicial sanctions, and awareness-raising efforts by a variety of agencies and the government.

It is time for every man to start doing something to end the scourge of violence against women and girls in their homes and communities. A call to action was made by the President of Kenya, HE Mr Uhuru Kenyatta when he urged every citizen to join the government’s efforts to end violence against women and girls during the #HeForShe (a solidarity movement for gender equality) launch in November 2014.

The #HeForShe campaign aims to bring home the message that although laws exist to deal with gender violence and guarantee gender equality, every man must take personal responsibility to root out the vice of gender discrimination in his home. Only then can a society begin to take a stand together to bring to an end injustice committed against women and girls, denying them basic human rights such as a life in dignity, choice and freedom.

Did you know that gender inequality is costing sub-Saharan Africa on average US$ 95 billion a year, peaking at US$105 billion in 2014– or six percent of the region’s GDP – jeopardising the continent’s efforts for inclusive human development and economic growth, according to UNDP’s Africa Human Development Report 2016.

Violence and discriminative structures contribute to keeping women out of the workforce, thus dragging down women, their families, and entire communities for generations, in Kenya and elsewhere. For Kenya to reach the goals enshrined in Vision 2030 the potential of all Kenyans, women and men, have to be realized.

Kenya is at a demographic transformation. Fertility levels are declining gradually and Kenyans are living longer. There is reason for optimism that Kenya can benefit from a demographic dividend within 15 to 20 years. It is estimated that Kenya’s working age population will grow to 73 percent by year 2050, bolstering the country’s GDP per capita 12 times higher than the present, with nearly 90 percent of the working age in employment. (NCPD Policy Brief: Demographic dividend opportunities for Kenya, July 2014.)

For this to happen women have to join the work force. So improvements in health and nutrition status, especially of girls, women and children, is critical. Appropriate education and skills will enable them to participate in the economy and provide needed labor for its growth. In addition, studies have shown that girls’ education particularly secondary level, and empowerment will delay early marriage and slow adolescent fertility.

Cultural, social and economic barriers that hinder empowerment of girls and women must be addressed and we have to raise our voices to end the scourge of violence against women and girls.

Women are half of Kenya’s demographic dividend; if they are given the right tools and community support, they can not only become financially independent, but be the engines that fuel Kenya’s future growth.

So we need to continue to raise awareness – in Kenya, in the EU, and around the world – to provide information and raise awareness about violence against women, targeting the general public as well as professionals who can help change this situation: police officers, teachers, doctors, judges amongst others. And beyond raising awareness, Kenya has for the first time formulated a comprehensive framework encompassing practical interventions that we hope will drastically reduce cases of Gender-Based Violence.

We must, once and for all, say no to this clear violation of our fundamental rights. All women and girls should be able to lead a life free from fear and violence: in Kenya, in the European Union, and everywhere in the world.

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Violence Against Black Women in Brazil on the Rise, Despite Better Lawshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/11/violence-against-black-women-in-brazil-on-the-rise-despite-better-laws/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=violence-against-black-women-in-brazil-on-the-rise-despite-better-laws http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/11/violence-against-black-women-in-brazil-on-the-rise-despite-better-laws/#comments Thu, 24 Nov 2016 21:38:58 +0000 Mario Osava http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=147943 A group of black women take part in Black Awareness Day celebrated on Nov. 20 in the city of São Paulo. Gender-related violence has increased, in particular among women of African descent in Brazil, despite the passage of better laws. Credit: Rovena Rosa/ Agência Brasil

A group of black women take part in Black Awareness Day celebrated on Nov. 20 in the city of São Paulo. Gender-related violence has increased, in particular among women of African descent in Brazil, despite the passage of better laws. Credit: Rovena Rosa/ Agência Brasil

By Mario Osava
RIO DE JANEIRO, Nov 24 2016 (IPS)

Four months in hospital and a number of operations saved the life of Maria da Penha Fernandes of Brazil, but the rifle shot left her paraplegic at the age of 37. When she returned home, her husband tried to electrocute her in the bathroom.

It eventually became clear that the author of the first attack, the shot in the back while she was sleeping one night in May 1983, had also been her husband, who claimed four thieves had broken in, tied him up, and shot her.

She left the family home protected by a court order that gave her custody over the couple’s three daughters, and launched, from her wheelchair, a 19-year battle in court to bring him to justice for the two murder attempts.“The Maria da Penha Law stipulates that first you have to file a complaint with the police, in order for it to reach the judicial authorities, and we know that the police don’t protect black women. The obstacle is racism, and if this is not recognised public policies will not be adjusted to meet the needs of black women. We have to face racism, train civil servants, police as well as administrators, to treat us as human beings.” -- Jurema Werneck

After his lawyers managed to overturn two convictions in Brazilian courts, she turned in the 1990s to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, which in 2001 held the government of Brazil accountable for judicial tolerance of domestic violence in the case and recommended that it adopt more effective measures to combat violence against women.

Finally in 2002, the attempted murderer was sentenced to 10 years in prison. But he managed to walk free after just two years.

The main accomplishment of Da Penha, a bio-pharmacist in Fortaleza, capital of the northeast Brazilian state of Ceará, was to inspire a law that was named after her, adopted by the national Congress in 2006, against domestic violence.

However, gender-related murders continued to increase in Brazil, though at a slower rate.

From 1980 to 2006 the number of murdered women grew 7.6 per cent annually, while from 2006 to 2013 the rate dropped to 2.6 per cent, according to the Violence Map, produced by Julio Jacobo Waiselfisz, Latin American Social Sciences Institute (Flacso) coordinator of studies on violence in Brazil.

The Maria da Penha law, special police units for women and other instruments “are effective against violence, but the resources are insufficient,” Clair Castilhos Coelho, executive secretary of the National Feminist Network of Health, Sexual and Reproductive Rights, told IPS.

But there is an important reality in this Latin American country of 205 million people: results differ depending on skin colour.

“For black women the situation has worsened,” Dr. Jurema Werneck, one of the coordinators of Criola, an NGO that promotes the rights of black women, told IPS.

In 10 years gender-based murders of black women increased 54.2 per cent, reaching 2,875 in 2013, while murders of white women dropped 9.8 per cent, from 1,747 in 2003 to 1,576 in 2013, according to the Violence Map.

“Racism lies beneath this contrast. Mechanisms to combat violence do not protect the life of everyone in the same way,” said Werneck.

“The Maria da Penha Law stipulates that first you have to file a complaint with the police, in order for it to reach the judicial authorities, and we know that the police don’t protect black women,” she added.

“The obstacle is racism, and if this is not recognised public policies will not be adjusted to meet the needs of black women. We have to face racism, train civil servants, police as well as administrators, to treat us as human beings,” she said.

Demonstrators call for full enforcement of the Maria da Penha Law against domestic violence in Brazil, 10 years after it was passed. One of the signs reads: ”When you remain silent, violence speaks louder.” Credit: Tony Winston/ Agência Brasília

Demonstrators call for full enforcement of the Maria da Penha Law against domestic violence in Brazil, 10 years after it was passed. One of the signs reads: ”When you remain silent, violence speaks louder.” Credit: Tony Winston/ Agência Brasília

A more effective application of the Maria da Penha Law would be to take the complaints directly to the offices of the public prosecutor and the ombudsperson, which would require a larger number of public prosecutors and public defenders rather than more police officers, said Werneck, who pointed out that this is already being done in some neighborhoods in the southern city of São Paulo.

It is also necessary to combat “institutionalised racism”, which permeates many law enforcement bodies, for example, and “to work together with society to value black women,” who have historically been marginalised in Brazil, she said.

Another accomplishment by women was the adoption in March 2015 of a law that establishes stricter sentences for femicide, defined as the murder of a woman due to gender-related motives.

Brazil thus became the 16th country in Latin America to adopt a law against femicide. According to the Violence Map, Brazil ranks 7th in the world with respect to the number of femicides: official figures indicated in 2015 that 15 women a day were the victims of gender-related killings.

However, violence against women includes other forms of aggression that affect the female population in their daily lives.

Nov. 25, the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women, kicks off 16 days of activism.

In Brazil, murders of men and boys represent 92 per cent of a total that is reaching 60,000 murders a year, a figure that only compares to the numbers seen in war-stricken areas.

But with regard to specific kinds of violence, such as physical, psychological and economic abuse, rape and abandonment, women tend to represent a majority of victims.

In 2014, a total of 147,691 women who had suffered some kind of violence were treated in Brazil’s Unified Health System, two times the number of men. That meant 405 women a day needed medical care because they were victims of violence.

The last National Health Survey, which is carried out by the Ministry of Health and the Brazilian Geography and Statistics Institute every five years, found that 2.4 million women were victims of physical aggression at the hands of someone that they knew, against 1.3 million men.

With regard to rape, the Brazilian Public Security Forum’s Annual Report registered 47,646 cases in Brazil, 6.7 per cent fewer than in the previous year. But the drop, which is based on documented cases, does not reflect a trend because experts believe that at least two-thirds, or up to 90 per cent of cases, go unreported.

”Violence against women may be increasing due to the new stronger role of women, who in the past were submissive in their homes and were used to suffering in silence. But with the old patterns broken, with women achieving rights, working, voting and reporting abuse, the oppressors respond with more violence,” said Castilhos.

There is also an increase in complaints as a result of gains achieved, such as the Maria da Penha and femicide laws and regulations that make reporting cases of abuse obligatory in the public health system, she said.

In her opinion, ”the greatest violence against a woman in the last few years in Brazil was the removal of former president Dilma Rousseff (Jan. 1, 2011 – Aug. 31, 2016), who had committed no proven crime to justify it, by a parliament where the majority of its members are accused of electoral crimes and corruption.”

The political environment generated by the new government headed by Michel Temer, Rousseff’s former vice president, ”paves the way for more violence against women, due to its misogynistic nature,” she said, pointing out that no ministry is headed by a woman and complaining about proposals to reverse previous progress made in empowering women.

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Speaking Out on Sexism and Violence Through Hip-Hophttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/11/speaking-out-on-sexism-and-violence-through-hip-hop/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=speaking-out-on-sexism-and-violence-through-hip-hop http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/11/speaking-out-on-sexism-and-violence-through-hip-hop/#comments Wed, 23 Nov 2016 15:46:51 +0000 Lyndal Rowlands http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=147909 Johnna Artis, 20, first apprentice and Maria Fraguas Jover, 24, rehearsal director at the Hip-Hop Dance Conservatory pictured at the United Nations. Credit: IPS UN Bureau / IPS.

Johnna Artis, 20, first apprentice and Maria Fraguas Jover, 24, rehearsal director at the Hip-Hop Dance Conservatory pictured at the United Nations. Credit: IPS UN Bureau / IPS.

By Lyndal Rowlands
UNITED NATIONS, Nov 23 2016 (IPS)

Young women are beginning to find their voices around issues such as sexism and violence, including through hip-hop, an art-form which has a long tradition of fighting oppression.

Johnna Artis, 20, a first apprentice of H+ the Hip-Hop Dance Conservatory told IPS about how she has learnt to express herself and gained confidence through dance:

“Hip-hop has allowed me to realise that I can speak, and that my voice can be heard, and if my voice can’t be heard, my movements can be heard, so I have multiple ways to talk to people,” said Artis.

Growing up Artis says she felt that she often silenced her own voice, but she has become more confident to speak out, particularly she says, since she has learned that sharing her own experiences can help others.

“I’m talking more and I’m interacting more, so it’s a process, but I’m getting out of the silence,” she said.

Artis, originally from Brooklyn, New York, is one of 25 hip-hop dancers at the conservatory, who rehearse for four to six hours, six days a week.

“(Hip-hop) has been a voice for the oppressed always,” -- Maria Fraguas Jover

Artis’ teacher Maria Fraguas Jover, 24, Rehearsal Director at the Hip-Hop Dance Conservatory told IPS that while female dancers like Artis are learning to express themselves through hip-hop this is not how it has always been.

“Hip-hop was created by men, dominated by men, just the way the world has been. It’s a patriarchal society, so really hip-hop is just a microcosm of that.”

“So for (Johnna) to have that voice and use that voice both verbally and physically also opens up for other women to have that voice too and to continue to evolve hip-hop culture,” said Jover.

Hip-hop has a long tradition of addressing oppression, although it has traditionally also been a largely male art-form.

“(Hip-hop) has been a voice for the oppressed always,” said Jover, including Caribbean immigrants in the U.S. and other Black Americans, only historically these have mostly been male voices.

By involving more women, the conservatory has been able to add sexism to the issues they address, added Jover.

“When you come to our performances that’s pretty much all we’re talking about: racism, sexism, misogyny, and we do it in entertaining ways too, to open up the conversation.”

“(Women) having a voice in hip-hop means that we can speak to men in hip-hop and tell them that we don’t feel safe, and you’re not a terrible person but this is what you need to do and it is in your power to change this.”

But she noted that it is not only up to women to address gender-based violence.

“Us having a voice does something, but the people who really do have the power to change their own oppressive powers and mentalities are men, so then that goes to men speaking to other men (too).”

Members of the conservatory attended a special event at UN headquarters ahead of the International Day for Eliminating Violence Against Women which is celebrated on 25 November each year.

The event, organised by UN Women, focused on young people, who due to their age and often less independent economic status, are particularly vulnerable to gender-based violence. This is in part because at this stage in their lives they are yet to learn to express themselves or to know what a healthy relationship should look like.

Safi Thomas, Artistic Director and founder of the Conservatory told IPS that adults often discourage young people from having a voice.

“We often silence them, through authority bias, through diminishing their words, by not listening to them, by not giving credence to their words,” he said.

This means he says, that young people can find it difficult to feel safe to speak out when they are experiencing violence “be it bullying, be it abuse, be it sexual assault, be it rape.”

As Artis describes, speaking out could mean simply being able to discuss different ideas about what a healthy relationship should look like.

“Having people talk about different relationships and how we can interact with people is very important because if we only know one thing we don’t know that there is something else possible,” explained Artis.

Finding a voice is particularly important for young women many of whom fear speaking out because society continues to blame victims rather than the perpetrators of sexual violence.

Although young women are increasingly speaking out against gender-based violence, progress is slow and in some cases, countries are still moving backwards.

This past week legislators in Turkey were considering a bill, which could see girls who are victims of rape forced to marry their rapists. The bill was knocked back following protests.

Meanwhile, in the U.S. men, and particularly young white men, are being radicalised in online discussion groups to hold both sexist and racist views, as observed by writer Siyanda Mohutsiwa on Twitter following the election of Donald Trump as U.S. President.

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Children of the ‘Others’, Sons of Minor Godshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/11/children-of-the-others-sons-of-minor-gods/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=children-of-the-others-sons-of-minor-gods http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/11/children-of-the-others-sons-of-minor-gods/#comments Tue, 22 Nov 2016 14:23:49 +0000 Baher Kamal http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=147885 UNICEF campaign on Zika response © UNICEF/UNI183007/Quintos

UNICEF campaign on Zika response © UNICEF/UNI183007/Quintos

By Baher Kamal
ROME, Nov 22 2016 (IPS)

In December 1946, “faced with the reality of millions of children suffering daily deprivation in Europe after World War II,” the General Assembly of the United Nations created the UN International Children’s Emergency Fund (UNICEF), to mount urgent relief programmes.

In keeping with the ethos of the United Nations, UNICEF’s mandate was—and still is, to provide aid “without discrimination due to race, creed, nationality, status or political belief.”

It is so that the sole condition made by Maurice Pate upon his appointment as the organisation’s first Executive Director was “that it include all children” from both Allied and “ex-enemy countries.”

Seventy years later, as Europe copes with a refugee crisis not seen since it was founded, the organisation remains an ever-present advocate for children’s rights, UNICEF reminds.

“It is uniquely positioned among humanitarian and development agencies to respond not only to the needs of children displaced by disaster and armed conflict, but also to work for a better future for all children.”

And in spite of the growing shortages of funds to the United Nations system at large, this New York-based organisation strives to alleviate the huge suffering of hundreds of millions of children trapped in wars, violence, abuse, exploitation, smuggling, sexual violations, trade of vital organs and death.

UNICEF believes that there is hope for every child. “The conviction that every child is born with the same inalienable right to a healthy, safe childhood is a constant threat through the history of the organisation. Its continued viability depends on applying past lessons learned to the challenges ahead, and harnessing the power of innovation to solve tomorrow’s problems. “

As envisioned by current executive director Anthony Lake, this will require a “willingness to adapt and find new ways to realise the rights and brighten the futures of the most disadvantaged children around the world.” “UNICEF understands that the spiral of poverty, disease and hunger stifles global development and leads to violations of children’s human rights.”

Children and adults fleeing from ISIL-controlled areas in rural Raqqa. More than 5,000 people have fled their homes over the past week to escape the fighting. © UNICEF/UN039551/Soulaiman

Children and adults fleeing from ISIL-controlled areas in rural Raqqa. More than 5,000 people have fled their homes over the past week to escape the fighting. © UNICEF/UN039551/Soulaiman

So far, so good. But not enough. Recent facts show the increasingly dramatic situation children face worldwide. UNICEF’s Statistics and Monitoring report mentioned in July this year, some key findings:

16,000 children die every day, mostly from preventable or treatable causes.

• The births of nearly 230 million children under age 5 worldwide (about one in three) have never been officially recorded, depriving them of their right to a name and nationality.

2.4 billion people lack access to improved sanitation, including 946 million who are forced to resort to open defecation for lack of other options.

• Out of an estimated 35 million people living with HIV, over 2 million are 10 to 19 years old, and 56 per cent of them are girls.

• Globally, about one third of women aged 20 to 24 were child brides.

• Every 10 minutes, somewhere in the world, an adolescent girl dies as a result of violence.

Nearly half of all deaths in children under age 5 are attributable to undernutrition. This translates into the unnecessary loss of about 3 million young lives a year.

Marking this year’s UN Universal Children’s Day on 20 November, UNICEF Executive Director said “When we protect their rights, we are not only preventing their suffering. We are not only safeguarding their lives. We are protecting our common future.”

Iraq 2016: A girl looks out through a hole in a wall at a damaged school in Ramadi, in Anbar Governorate – which has been especially hard hit by conflict, violence and internal displacement. Some 3.3 million people in the country are currently displaced and over 10 million are in need of humanitarian assistance as a result of the country’s ongoing crisis. About 1 million school-aged Iraqi children are internally displaced; 70 per cent of them have missed an entire year of education. © UNICEF/UN/Khouzali

Iraq 2016: A girl looks out through a hole in a wall at a damaged school in Ramadi, in Anbar Governorate – which has been especially hard hit by conflict, violence and internal displacement. Some 3.3 million people in the country are currently displaced and over 10 million are in need of humanitarian assistance as a result of the country’s ongoing crisis. About 1 million school-aged Iraqi children are internally displaced; 70 per cent of them have missed an entire year of education. © UNICEF/UN/Khouzali

Established on 20 November 1954, UN Universal Children’s Day promotes international togetherness, awareness among children worldwide, and improving children’s welfare.

20 November also marked the day in 1989 when the UN General Assembly adopted the Convention on the Rights of the Child, a human rights treaty that changed the way children are viewed and treated as human beings with a distinct set of rights instead of as passive objects of care and charity.

Lake called on the world to confront the “uncomfortable truth” that around the planet, the rights of millions of children are being violated every day.

“[Children’s rights are] being violated around the world, in every country, wherever children are the victims of violence, abuse and exploitation, violated wherever they are deprived of an education.”

“[Their rights are violated] wherever they are denied the chance to make the most of their potential simply because of their race, their religion, their gender, their ethnic group, or because they are living with a disability,” he added.

Lake cautioned on the long-term impact of these violations in how children may view the world when they grow up and how they will perceive others’ rights when their own rights are violated.

“These children are the future leaders of their societies […] the future parents and protectors of the next generation.”

UNICEF’s total resources for the period 2014–2017 amount to 26,700.7 million dollars. Please consider that the world spends 1,7 trillion dollars a year on weapons.

In either case, these amounts come out of citizens’ pockets. Should they not choose whether their money should be spent to saving children or producing death machines that kill children, women and men?

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Rape as an Act of Genocide: From Rwanda to Iraqhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/11/rape-as-an-act-of-genocide-from-rwanda-to-iraq/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=rape-as-an-act-of-genocide-from-rwanda-to-iraq http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/11/rape-as-an-act-of-genocide-from-rwanda-to-iraq/#comments Thu, 17 Nov 2016 16:37:19 +0000 Lindah Mogeni http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=147804 Zainab Bangura, Special Representative of the Secretary-General on Sexual Violence in Conflict. Credit: UN Photo/Loey Felipe.

Zainab Bangura, Special Representative of the Secretary-General on Sexual Violence in Conflict. Credit: UN Photo/Loey Felipe.

By Lindah Mogeni
UNITED NATIONS, Nov 17 2016 (IPS)

The governments of Rwanda and Iraq have agreed to work together to fight rape as a weapon of genocide, noting disturbing similarities between sexual violence in Iraq today to the Rwandan genocide twenty years ago.

Just as targeted rape was as much a tool of the Rwandan genocide as the machete, an estimated 3000 Iraqi Yazidis under ISIL’s captivity are currently facing acts of genocide and targeted sexual violence, including sexual slavery.

Given Rwanda’s experience with sexual violence during the Rwandan genocide, Iraq’s permanent mission to the UN has signed a joint communique, an official statement establishing a relationship, with Rwanda’s permanent mission to the UN.

The joint effort will be aimed at sharing action plans to rehabilitate women victims and reintegrate them into their communities.

Rwanda was the first country where rape was recognised as a weapon of genocide by an international court. This court case was the subject of a documentary, The Uncondemned, which recently premiered at the UN.

The documentary is centred around the case of Jean Paul Akayesu, the mayor of Taba in Rwanda between April 1993 and June 1994, who was brought before the International Criminal Tribunal of Rwanda (ICTR).

Akayesu was found guilty of nine counts of genocide and crimes against humanity, including the landmark conviction of rape as an act of genocide, in 1998.

“I decided to shame the act, I decided to put it out there, I wanted the truth to be known, but most importantly I wanted justice." Rwandan Witness "JJ".

Prior to the film screening, the Special Representative of the UN Secretary-General on Sexual Violence in Conflict, Zainab Bangura, described the importance of recognising rape as an act of genocide.

Bangura paid tribute to the Rwandan women who testified in the Akayesu trial as well as two Iraqi Yazidi women, one of whom is an ISIL rape survivor, present at the screening, and praised them for “giving other women the confidence to emerge from the shadows.”

A report to the UN human rights council has found that ISIL – also known as ISIS – has committed the crime of genocide against the Yazidis, an ethnically Kurdish religious group.

“The film demonstrates that only when survivors and civil society come together and join forces with investigators, prosecutors and policy makers, that justice can be delivered in its fullest sense,” said Bangura.

“The silver lining in these encounters is the exceptional courage and resilience of the rape victims to overcome their traumatic experience…they defied traditions and taboos by standing and speaking up, despite the fear of stigma and rejection or retribution from perpetrators,” said Jeanne D’arc Byaje, the Charge d’Affaires to the Permanent Mission of Rwanda to the UN.

Thousands of people were targeted with sexual violence during the Rwandan genocide, said the UN Secretary-General’s Special Adviser for the Prevention of Genocide, Adama Dieng.

According to Byaje, in a span of 22 years since the genocide, Rwanda has “been able to reverse the deplorable situation by eliminating gender-based abuse and violence to increase the capacity of women and girls to protect themselves.”

Byaje called for “an international community that is a partner and not a bystander…and that is willing to work towards long-term efforts to promote unity and reconciliation.”

Iraq’s Permanent Representative to the UN, Mohamed Ali Ahakim, similarly appealed to the international community for help with the dire situation faced by Yazidi, as well as other minorities, women and children currently under ISIL”s captivity.

“Young women and children have been specifically targeted by ISIL and are being systematically sold in slave markets sometimes for a dollar or a pack of cigarettes…this is a tragedy that has not been experienced before in any of Iraq’s diverse communities,” said Ahakim.

However, Ahakim said that the problem is not confined to the current situation – “it would be easy to work with a coalition of 65 countries to defeat ISIL militarily.”

“The main problem is what we are going to do next once we liberate Iraq and free the young women and children…I don’t have the ability to comprehend the difficulties that will be faced trying to infuse normality into these communities,” said Ahakim

From the testimonies given at the UN, after the film screening, by the Rwandan witnesses at the Akayesu trial and the Yazidi rape survivor, it is evident that justice is the most crucial component of any next-step action plans for survivors.

“I decided to shame the act, I decided to put it out there, I wanted the truth to be known, but most importantly I wanted justice…what happened to us was horrible but we are still here…and that is because of justice” said one Rwandan witness, known as “Witness JJ”.

Yazidi rape survivor of ISIL, 18 year old Lea Le, who escaped her captors by tying scarves together and using them to climb out of a window along with some friends, said that “we should not hide what happened, it is very important for justice to be carried out…it is unfair that survivors have to wait so long for justice.”

Asked about the impact of the Akayesu case on other war crimes trials, Ambassador Pierre R. Prosper, the lead prosecutor during the Akayesu trial, admitted that there have been some subsequent prosecutions as result of the international precedent set by Akayesu’s case.

However, “we have lost the momentum, the political will to deal with the issue of not just rape but other genocide atrocities in general…we are waving the flag of saying this is wrong but we are not acting,” said Prosper.

Prosper called for governments to direct resources to relevant entities to pursue accountability and ensure justice.

“We need to re-energise ourselves,” said Prosper.

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Release of Chibok Girls Rekindles Pressure to Free Last 196http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/11/release-of-chibok-girls-rekindles-pressure-to-free-last-196/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=release-of-chibok-girls-rekindles-pressure-to-free-last-196 http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/11/release-of-chibok-girls-rekindles-pressure-to-free-last-196/#comments Fri, 11 Nov 2016 12:50:36 +0000 Ini Ekott http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=147721 Hundreds of people gathered at Union Square in New York City in May 2014 to demand the release of some 230 schoolgirls abducted by Boko Haram insurgents in Nigeria. International pressure helped lead to the release of 23, but most remain in captivity. Credit: Michael Fleshman/cc by 2.0

Hundreds of people gathered at Union Square in New York City in May 2014 to demand the release of some 230 schoolgirls abducted by Boko Haram insurgents in Nigeria. International pressure helped lead to the release of 23, but most remain in captivity. Credit: Michael Fleshman/cc by 2.0

By Ini Ekott
ABUJA, Nov 11 2016 (IPS)

The Nigerian military announced the rescue of a missing Chibok schoolgirl Saturday, bringing to 23 the number freed since Boko Haram seized 219 girls from a secondary school in the country’s northeast in April 2014.

The latest rescue came about a month after the Islamist group released 21 girls in a deal with the government. Earlier in May, Amina Ali became the first amongst the missing girls to be rescued.Boko Haram has also abducted hundreds of men, women and children. But the abduction of the Chibok girls drew international attention, galvanized with the Twitter hashtag #BringBackOurGirls.

The releases riveted people around the world, and the government has flaunted them as political coups. But they have also rekindled demands from activists campaigning for greater government action for the release of nearly 200 girls still in captivity.

“It’s day 933 of abduction; 197 girls (are) still in captivity under your watch Mr. President @MBuhari. Time to bring them home,” Maureen Kabrik, a member of the BringBackOurGirls group, tweeted to President Muhammadu Buhari days after 21 of the girls were released early October.

The BringBackOurGirls group, set up to publicise the plight of the girls amidst international outrage in 2014, announced it would release on November 14 a report of a six-week monitoring of the government’s effort to rescue the girls.

The group accuses President Muhammadu Buhari of not doing enough to rescue the girls despite his electoral promise a year ago. Alongside other campaigners, the group has held protest marches in the capital Abuja for months.

Between August and September, it staged 78-hourly marches on the presidential villa and threatened to increase the pace to 48-hours in November. Now, it is promising to do even more to press for the girls’ release.

“Our obligation to demand (the) rescue of the rest 197 of our Chibok Girls is ever stronger,” said former Education Minister and World Bank executive Oby Ezekwesili, who co-founded the group.

Boko Haram, which has waged a seven-year insurgency aimed at carving out an Islamic caliphate in the northeast, seized more than 276 girls from their school in April 2014. The group opposes Western education and has killed over 20,000 people, among them teachers.

In September, U.S.-based 21st Century Wilberforce Initiative and the Stefanus Foundation said in a report that 611 teachers died as a result of the crisis since 2009. The report said 19,000 teachers had been displaced, 1,500 schools closed down, and 950,000 children denied the opportunity of accessing education.

Boko Haram has also abducted hundreds of men, women and children. But the abduction of the Chibok girls drew international attention, galvanized with the Twitter hashtag #BringBackOurGirls.

President Buhari campaigned on the promise of fighting corruption, defeating Boko Haram and rescuing the Chibok girls. But rights campaigners have long criticised the administration’s pace at getting the girls home.

In September, under pressure from activists, the government released details of its attempt to swap the girls with Boko Haram fighters. Information Minister Lai Mohammed said talks began barely two months after President Buhari took office in May 2015.

He said the swap deal failed to go through at the last hour even after Buhari assented to the “difficult decision” of freeing the militants. The president believed that “the overall release of these girls remains paramount and sacrosanct,” Mohammed said.

An attempt to restart the process in December 2015 also failed, in part due to a leadership crisis in Boko Haram’s ranks.

Cold comfort

After 21 girls were released in October in a deal brokered by the Red Cross and the Swiss government, the Nigerian government assured that some 83 more would be freed “soon”. Presidential spokesperson Garba Shehu said talks had reached an advanced stage.

But as weeks passed by with the girls still in captivity, the demands have intensified, and the initial euphoria has gradually given way to disenchantment.

“It is cold comfort that 197 of the girls are still in the den of their abductors more than 900 days after,” the country’s Guardian newspaper said in an editorial on Nov. 1. “No one can be fully relieved of the terrible bruises inflicted on the girls, their parents, this nation and its foreign friends, until all the girls return.”

The BringBackOurGirls group said while there has been some improvement, the government still must do more to rescue all the girls.

Daily, the group circulates on social media figures reminding the government how long the girls have been in captivity, and how long they have been held under the Buhari presidency.

“Day 939 of #ChibokGirls‘ abduction. 196 still in captivity. Day 529 under President Muhammadu Buhari’s watch,” it posted on Twitter on Nov. 7.

The government says it is not relenting. “Whatever it takes to get the Boko Haram situation under control, we will do it because there are still more girls in captivity,” Information Minister Mohammed said last week.

The government has also undertaken full responsibility for the girls rescued so far. “Aside from rescuing them, we are assuming the responsibility for their personal, educational and professional goals and ambitions in life,” President Buhari said while receiving the 21 girls. “These dear daughters of ours have seen the worst that the world has to offer.”

Experts warn that the girls face stigmatisation following their ordeal at the hands of Boko Haram.

“Frequently, returning to their families and communities is the beginning of a new ordeal for the girls, as the sexual violence they have suffered often results in stigmatization,” said a statement by the UN children’s agency UNICEF.

But the presidency denied the girls had been abused or raped during their during two-and-a-half years’ captivity.

On Wednesday, Thompson Reuters Foundation quoted a confidential report prepared based on interviews with the girls as saying that while they were all encouraged to marry the militants, they were neither forced into doing so or converting to Islam.

Reuters Foundation reported that 61 had married Boko Haram militants, while those of them who did not agree to marry were used as servants.

Security analysts have also warned about the possibility of the girls being indoctrinated.

“We are concerned by reports that dozens of the girls may have been indoctrinated and do not wish to return to Chibok,” said Cheta Nwanze of SBM Intelligence, which provides analysis of the Nigerian socio-political and economic situation. “We are optimistic the second batch of the release would provide more intelligence about the condition of the remaining girls.”

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