Inter Press Service » Gender Violence News and Views from the Global South Mon, 02 May 2016 16:54:45 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Compensation Hard to Ensure Sat, 30 Apr 2016 10:54:07 +0000 Shakhawat Liton By Shakhawat Liton
Apr 30 2016 (The Daily Star, Bangladesh)

The dead do not feel anything, but those who survive do. The horrendous experience of the insensitive test after rape. The courtroom insults during trial because a draconian law permits the accused to question the victim’s character. The families suffer no less humiliation as they wait for justice. While nations around the world have overhauled relevant laws with provisions that shield the rape victims, ours still favour the offender instead. Isn’t it time we were a little more sensitive towards the victims of a crime now regarded as a crime against society? In the wake of Tonu murder after suspected rape, The Daily Star tries to shed some light on all these aspects.
Today, we run the third and final instalment of the three-part series.

rape_4__She was gang raped by railway employees at the railway rest room in Kolkata while travelling in India on February 26, 1998.

The incident triggered outrage. Maitree, a network of 42 women’s groups and NGOs in Kolkata, moved to Kolkata High Court seeking compensation for the 27-year old Shefali Begum (name changed to protect her identity).

The Kolkata HC in 1999 gave her 1 million rupees compensation for the humiliation she had undergone. But the Railway Board, which was asked to pay the compensation, challenged the order in the Supreme Court.

The Supreme Court in January 2000 upheld the HC verdict and said: “Even those who are not citizens of this country and come merely as tourists will be entitled to the protection of their lives in accordance with the constitutional provisions.”

When the apex court ordered for the compensation, the criminal case against the rapists was still on in the lower court.

The judgement was very significant because such a huge amount was never given to a rape victim in India and that too awarded to a foreigner.

In numerous cases, Indian High Courts in different states and the Supreme Court have ordered the state governments concerned to pay compensations to rape victims for their failure to protect their dignity.

In India, the compensation process is independent of the trial process.

In Bangladesh the situation is different than that of countries like the UK and the USA. The government of Bangladesh does not need to pay compensation to a rape victim for its failure to protect the victim’s fundamental rights as a woman.

“As far as I know, there is no such case in which the government has compensated the rape victim,” said advocate Fahmida Akhtar, case manger of Bangladesh National Women Lawyers Association, an organisation that works for women who have been victims of sexual violence and abuse.

Asked, ZI Khan Panna, a Supreme Court lawyer, says they do not need to pray to the court seeking compensation from the state in sexual violence case as the offenders are made to pay compensation, if necessary.

“The court certainly will order the state to compensate the victims if the situation arises,” he told The Daily Star.

Advocate Fahmida Akhtar says special tribunals dealing with offences against women and children, in some cases, have ordered the accused to compensate their victims.

“But the path to the compensation is long, as the accused filed appeals with the higher courts against the tribunal’s orders. Disposal of the appeals takes a long time,” she told The Daily Star.

Eminent jurist Shahdeen Malik says many countries compensate rape victims. Bangladesh should also take responsibility for compensating the rape victims, he added.

“Jurisprudence in this regard should evolve,” he told The Daily Star referring to the practice in India.

The Supreme Court, in the State vs. Md. Moinul Haque and Others case in 2000, emphasised the need for compensating the victims for their rehabilitation.

It, however, observed that victims of rape should be compensated by giving them half of the property of the rapists should be given to the victims to rehabilitate them.

At present, the Woman and Child Oppression Prevention Act 2000 empowers tribunals set up under this law to hold trial of the sexual crimes against women and children for compensating the victims.

As per the law says, the tribunal may imposes any monetary fine on convicted persons and order the district collector to sell the confiscate the convicted person’s movable and immovable assets and sell them on auction. Then the collector will deposit the money to with the tribunal that will award the money to the victim as compensation.

But the completion of the process may take a long time if the convicted person files an files appeal.

So, there is no scope for a sex crime victim to get any compensation before the conclusion of her case.


A rape victim in UK is entitled to get compensation from the government. To provide the compensations to blameless victims of violent crimes including rape, the government has set up Criminal Injuries Compensation Authority–CICA.

People who have been physically or mentally injured can apply to the CICA for compensation ranging from £1,000 to £500,000.

A victim of sexual assault or rape has a right to claim compensation. The CICA in its official website says rape is a horrendous experience to endure and it can have a life long physical and psychological effect on the victim – although compensation will never put things right or reverse what has happened it can still come as invaluable financial help for treatment and counselling should you need it. Claiming compensation can help a rape victim gain back control and closure, it states.

In the United States, rape is generally prosecuted as a crime at the state level. U.S. The principal victim compensation programs for rape victims are found at the state level. However, the most significant victim compensation programs at the state level are funded by the federal Crime Victims Fund, which was established by the federal Victims of Crime Act of 1984.

A rape victim in Hong Kong is also entitled to get compensation from the state under the Criminal and Law Enforcement Injuries Compensation Scheme.

Under the Crime Victim Protection Act, a rape victim in Taiwan, a rape victim and victims of sexual assault crimes and family members of deceased victims get compensation.


In March, 2014, India’s Supreme Court has ordered the West Bengal government to pay 5 lakh rupees to a tribal woman who was gang-raped in January on orders of village elders.

The judges said the state had failed to protect the victim’s fundamental rights as a woman.

“No compensation can be adequate nor can it be of any respite for the victim but as the State has failed in protecting such serious violation of a victim’s fundamental right, the State is duty bound to provide compensation, which may help in the victim’s rehabilitation,” it stated.

In the Llatest case, in February this year, the Supreme Court directed all states and Union Territories to formulate a uniform scheme to provide compensation to the victims or dependents who have suffered loss as a result of such crime.

“Indisputable, no amount of money can restore the dignity and confidence that the accused took away from the victim. No amount of money can erase the trauma and grief the victim suffers. But this aid can be crucial in the aftermath of the crime,” said a SC bench headed by Justice MY Eqbal.

In this case, the court ordered the Chhattishgarh government to grant a compensation of Rs 8,000 per month compensation to an 18- year old blind girl who was subjected to sexual violence.

The SC also refused to stay the orders of Chhattishgarh High Court in which the convict was sentenced to seven years of rigorous imprisonment.

The trial court awarded him the accused seven year a jail sentence of seven years for raping a 18-year-old the blind and illiterate girl on the false promise of marriage. The order was upheld by the Chhattishgarh High Court.

The apex court said the states should consider and formulate programmes for such victims in the light of the scheme framed in Goa which provides compensation of up to Rs 10 lakh.

This story was originally published by The Daily Star, Bangladesh

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A long, Insulting Walk to Justice for Rape Victims in Bangladesh Fri, 29 Apr 2016 12:32:39 +0000 Tamanna Khan Raped, they drown in humiliation while seeking punishment to culprits ]]>

Raped, they drown in humiliation while seeking punishment to culprits

By Tamanna Khan
Apr 29 2016 (The Daily Star, Bangladesh)

The dead do not feel anything, but those who survive do. The horrendous experience of the insensitive two-finger test after rape. The courtroom insults during trial because a draconian law permits the accused to question the victim’s character. The families suffer no less humiliation as they wait for justice. While nations around the world have overhauled relevant laws with provisions that shield the rape victims, ours still favour the offender instead. Isn’t it time we were a little more sensitive towards the victims of a crime now regarded as a crime against society? In the wake of Tonu murder after suspected rape, The Daily Star tries to shed some light on all these aspects.
Today, the first two instalments of a three-part series.

rape_4__Her dark-circled, deep-set eyes gave her a hollow look. The eyes were full of fear and mistrust.

The girl gave sideways glances as she hesitantly walked into the office of the One-stop-Crisis Centre (OCC) at Dhaka Medical College Hospital last month. She looked afraid, and when she noticed a man sitting in the room, she immediately cringed.

She is a rape victim.

For about a week after her rescue, she hardly spoke, OCC officials recall.

Her trauma and fear is shared by another rape survivor, a married woman, who was rescued from a sex racket in India last year.

“It’s not easy to tell even your closest family members what has happened to you,” the woman told The Daily Star recently. Humiliation and shame initially prevented her from telling her husband about the sexual assault when he found her in a shelter home in India months after her rescue. Her husband later came to know about it from others.

But Joya (not her real name), a teen girl, did not need to tell anyone anything. When she was found lying unconscious beside a road by her cousin four years ago, the marks on her body said it all.

“My cousin took me to a hospital. I hardly remember anything as my mind was all confused,” she told this correspondent recently by telephone from a shelter home run by Bangladesh National Women Lawyers Association (BNWLA).

The Daily Star is withholding all the victims’ names.

In 2012, Joya was abducted by her stalker who “confined and raped her at gunpoint”. Later, her unconscious body was dumped by a road. When her family tried to seek justice, the alleged rapist and his cronies attacked her house and killed her father.

In between long pauses and painful sighs, she described the difficult path she had been walking to get justice. The first blow came at the police station where there were no women’s cells or woman law enforcers.

“I felt very afraid. I couldn’t trust any one of them. They were all men,” she described her feelings at the police station.

“I didn’t want to talk, I felt groggy… screams went through my head and my heart wrenched. I kept on wondering why no one could hear my cries or see my tears.”

Then came the time for medical examination — the two-finger test — and the girl, now 16, had no idea about its insensitive nature.

For the test, doctors use their index or middle finger to check the condition of the hymen and also to look for injuries on the vaginal wall.

So when a female doctor proceeded to do the test, the girl put up resistance at first. But eventually she had to give in because, as her aunt told her, there was no other way to get justice.

Adding to her ordeal, she had to narrate the sexual assault in details repeatedly not just to the police but also to journalists against her will.

“I felt very bad, embarrassed and hurt. But I told myself I needed to do this for justice,” said the girl, who is now in class nine.

Four years on, the hearing of her case has not started yet.

But for those who have gone through the trial, the court proceedings have been a nightmare: character assassination, insensitive and even vulgar questions, cross-examinations for hours are in the defence lawyers’ arsenal to further traumatise the victim.

Fahmida Akhter Rinky, a lawyer for BNWLA dealing with rape cases at the lower court for six years, spoke about the torment a nine-year-old girl went through during a trial recently.

“The child was only about four years old when she was raped. So the judge was careful and talked with the girl softly but the defence lawyer was shouting at her and accusing her of lying about how she was raped,” said Rinky.

This is despite the medical examination documents and other evidence clearly showing that the girl was raped.

“The child was so embarrassed and ashamed that she shrunk in fear,” said Rinky.

The girl recoiled from the humiliation in the courtroom full of people and kept on looking at Rinky.

“I felt so bad that she had to go through that,” said the lawyer.

Often, defence counsels “decidedly” choose a line of questioning aimed at maligning the victim in efforts to make the crime look like the victim’s fault, said Laily Maksuda Akhter, director of Legal Aid Unit of Bangladesh Mahila Parishad.

To save themselves from all this, especially the two-finger test which law activists vehemently oppose, many rape victims do not report the assault to the police.

“Many victims get so traumatised that they do not want to go through the forensic examination. Children in particular scream, because they fear they would get hurt again,” said Tahmina Haque, psychological counsellor at the OCC.

However, according to Bilkis Begum, coordinator of the OCC, there is no alternative to the two-finger test for women older than nine years. “It is part of any gynecological examination. Injuries cannot be detected without it.”

In many countries, including the UK and the US, doctors use the specula, a medical tool, for the test instead of fingers.

But the main problem lies in the report itself, said Ishita Dutta, project facilitator, SHOKHI, Bangladesh Legal Aid and Services Trust (BLAST). “It is not for the doctors to determine if a victim has been raped or not. But that is what they write down in the reports.”

This story was originally published by The Daily Star, Bangladesh

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Violence Against Women Journalists Threatens Media Freedom Thu, 28 Apr 2016 19:38:18 +0000 Tharanga Yakupitiyage A journalist from Radio Bundelkhand in India conducts an interview. Credit: Stella Paul/IPS

A journalist from Radio Bundelkhand in India conducts an interview. Credit: Stella Paul/IPS

By Tharanga Yakupitiyage
NEW YORK, Apr 28 2016 (IPS)

For women journalists, violence and intimidation don’t just happen in conflict zones, they are every day experiences.

“You don’t even have to be in a conflict zone to be violated anymore,” New York Times reporter and author of the Taliban Shuffle Kim Barker said Wednesday at the launch of a new book documenting the daily violence and harassment which women journalists experience.

After writing an opinion-editorial on her experience of sexual harassment in the field, Barker said that an online commenter called her “fat” and “unattractive” and told her that “nobody would want to rape you.”

The New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) chose to focus its 2016 edition of the Attacks on the Press book series on the gender-based online harassment, sexual violence and physical assault experienced by women journalists, because of the impact of this violence on press freedom.

“In societies where women have to fight to have control over their own bodies, have to fight to reassert their right in the public space—being a woman journalist is almost a form of activism,” said Egyptian broadcast journalist Rawya Rageh who also spoke at the launch.

Much of the abuse takes place online where attackers can hide behind the anonymity of online comments.

“Our words, our will, can prevent the silencing of voices, the violation of our freedom of expression…and we, as journalists, have a huge responsibility in this regard." -- Jineth Bedoya Lima.

According to the Pew Research Center, 40 percent of Internet users have experienced some form of online harassment. Though men are also subject to harassment, online abuse towards women tends to be more severe, including sexual harassment and threats of violence.

For example, one journalist reported to the The International Women’s Media Foundation (IWMF) that a troll had threatened to “human flesh hunt” her.

Alessandria Masi, a Middle East correspondent for the International Business Times, recalled the comments she received in an essay in CPJ’s book: “I have been hacked by the Syrian Electronic Army for writing an article that was critical of Syrian President Bashar Assad and asked how many people I have to have sexual relations with to get my article published.”

Online abuse is a symptom of deep-seated and pervasive sexism, many note. University of Maryland Law Professor and Author of “Hate Crimes in Cyberspace” Danielle Keats Citron stated that online gender harassment “reinforce(s) gendered stereotypes” where men are perceived as dominant in the workplace while women are sexual objects who have no place in online spaces.

But the threats do not just stay online, they also often manifest in the real world.

Deputy Editor of a Colombian Newspaper Jineth Bedoya Lima was kidnapped and raped in 2000 after exposing an underground network of arms trafficking in the country.

In 2012, after reporting on the dangers of female genital mutilation, Liberian journalist Mae Azongo received death threats including that she will be caught and cut if she does not “shut up.” She was forced to go into hiding with her nine-year-old daughter.

A year later, Libyan journalist Khawlija al-Amami was shot at by gunmen who pulled up to her car. Though she survived, she later received a text message warning her to “stop your journalism” or be killed.

Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender (LGBT) journalists also face similar threats, CPJ added. Most recently, Xulhaz Mannan, editor of Bangladesh’s only LGBT magazine, was hacked to death in his home.

However, many do not report their cases.

“It was almost like this dirty little secret, you didn’t talk about it…because you had to seem like you were just like one of the guys,” Barker said. She pointed to Lara Logan’s case as the dividing point.

While covering the Egyptian Revolution for CBS, Logan was violently sexually assaulted by a mob of men. During an interview on “60 Minutes,” she described how she was pulled away from her crew, her clothes ripped off, beaten with sticks and raped.

When asked why she spoke out, Logan said that she wanted to break the silence “on what all of us have experienced but never talk about.”

One key reason that many journalists do not speak out is the fear of being pulled out of reporting because of their gender or sexual orientation.

“It’s a catch-22,” said Rageh to participants. “I don’t want to reinforce this idea of who I am or what I am is going to curtail my ability to cover the story, but of course there’s an issue that needs to be addressed,” she continued.

CPJ’s Vice Chair and Executive Editor of the Associated Press Kathleen Carroll noted that the threat of sexual violence has long kept women out of the field of journalism. But there are ways to handle such threats that do not lead to the exclusion of women, she said.

Carroll stated that good tools and training should be provided to journalists, both women and men alike. IWMF established a gender-specific security training, preparing women to be in hostile environments. This includes role-play scenarios, risk assessments and communication plans.

Effective, knowledgeable and compassionate leaders are also needed in news agencies in order to help staff minimize threats, Carroll added.

Panelists urged for reform, noting that women are needed in the field.

“The more women you have out there covering those stories, the more those stories get told,” Barker said.

In an essay, Lima also reflected on the importance of women’s voices, stating: “Our words, our will, can prevent the silencing of voices, the violation of our freedom of expression…and we, as journalists, have a huge responsibility in this regard. Our words can stir a fight or bury the hope of change forever.”

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Cold-Blooded Lechery and Hushed Silence! Mon, 25 Apr 2016 06:31:20 +0000 Shah Husain Imam By Shah Husain Imam
Apr 25 2016 (The Daily Star, Bangladesh)

The photograph of a toddler in a Chinese street, published on an online portal, waving a steel pipe at an urban management force working to clear up pavements would itself have made news. But there was so much more to it with the infant actually shouting: ‘Don’t touch my grandma, go away’, to the appreciating, if somewhat amused, glance of onlookers.

toddler_It highlighted a child’s courage, his concern and love for a near and dear one standing up to a goliath-like adversary to defend his grandmother’s dignity against a perceived use of force.

Where a toddler could bravely resist what in his eyes looked like an imposition on his grandmother, you have a mob of grownups at Hatia in Noakhali and Sonagazi in Feni as silent, abetting bystanders to the reported stripping of two women of their clothes in broad daylight and being tortured mercilessly.

The victims are Shahana, 32, of Hatia and Wahida Khatun, 68, of Sonagazi in Feni a beneficiary of Adarshagram Ashrayan project at Chardarbesh union. The first woman failing to pay ‘subscription’ (toll) to Hatia pourashava was disrobed in public and beaten black and blue, allegedly by local thana dalal (collaborator) and Jubo League cadre Shahjahan. Her husband too, was detained briefly, for not complying with their extortionist demands. At one stage, when Shahana was carrying three and a half lakh taka out of sale proceeds from a plot of land, her purse and necklace would be snatched away.

When the video was put online it went viral and the police registered the case four days after the incident. And they said Shahjahan was not a thana dalal and that the police was getting a move on to arrest him.

The second victim Wahida Khatun’s fault, was to cultivate some vegetables in front of her room allotted under a shelter project. She was stripped, tied with her clothes to a tree by a goon named Sabuj, 38, in broad daylight.

Let’s pinpoint the core issues of such rabid-dog-like behaviour assaulting the dignity of women. Far from being macho, it represents the worst abomination of a woman’s person. And, are they not our mothers, sisters and daughters? This has happened in the rural outback where the reach of the law’s long arm stops short or is laid back or compromised by patently unequal power relations in the countryside. Why would that be so when the urban-rural line is fast disappearing through women’s empowerment in the garment sector, their local government representation and the women workers overseas sending in money to their relatives at home?

Here is an issue with trafficking behind which is a push factor of young women’s sense of insecurity in the country making them look for jobs abroad. And they sometimes land from the frying pan to the fire. Also, they become vulnerable to illegal trafficking such as the recovery of 250 women from the India-Bangladesh border has recently pointed to.

Hated as the women’s tormentors are the onlookers of atrocious scenes are equally to blame. The community did not raise a single finger or voice of protest, little realising that a single grunt of protest could have broken into a crescendo of resistance against the rowdies, freezing them on their tracks. Instead, they were watching as though a circus, leery-eyed at the baring of the women’s body. Rampant exposure to pornography and the culture of video-recording induced incidents for blackmailing are having all sorts of unsavoury consequences. This is why even governments in the liberal West are working to find remedies to a breakdown of old world family and social values.

Why must a majority be so afraid of a tiny minority of the wickedest? To explain this in terms of the thugs living off scare-mongering, notorious credentials, impunities from offences committed earlier on as though they are beyond and above law, is being pedestrian. For it amounts to abdication of the government’s responsibility and authority on the one hand and that of the community at large on the other.

In one of the human chains seeking justice to Tonu after a full month of simulated mystery surrounding her case, a placard read jarringly but insightfully “When alive we are a ‘commodity’ and when raped and murdered we become sisters”.

This sarcastic line is a razor-sharp pointer to a societal hypocrisy. We are casual with the living, dropping all our guards but chest-beating in delirium about the brutal end of a woman. To compound the burden of our unfinished agenda, a new brutality keeps kicking up the previous one into the long grass.

Let it not be lost on us that the sensitisation campaigns are mistimed in the aftermath, rather in the prelude to a pernicious occurrence when we would be in with a chance of preempting it. An infinitely less costly option that. In spite of the vociferous aftermath do we see any remission in the phallic fever?

There are two ways to be ahead of the problems: One, we have special units or task forces comprising law enforcers particularly women police, teachers, religious leaders, politicians, local body and NGO representatives to attend to the brewing and emerging issues of women’s or any vulnerable groups’ safety and security. The second option that could be a silver bullet is setting up communication help lines to hear out problems and arranging timely law enforcement intervention. The community policing by young Turks, with a small retainer allowance, could do the rest of the magic.

The writer is an Associate Editor, The Daily Star.

This story was originally published by The Daily Star, Bangladesh

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The Unknown Fate of Thousands of Abducted Women and Girls in Nigeria Fri, 15 Apr 2016 16:16:23 +0000 IPS Africa This 15 year-old Nigerian refugee at the Minawao refugee camp in northern Cameroon, was abducted by Boko Haram and spent four months in captivity. Photo credit: UNICEF/Karel Prinsloo

This 15 year-old Nigerian refugee at the Minawao refugee camp in northern Cameroon, was abducted by Boko Haram and spent four months in captivity. Photo credit: UNICEF/Karel Prinsloo

By IPS Africa Desk
Apr 15 2016 (IPS)

The plight of 219 Chibok schoolgirls abducted two years ago is all too common in Nigeria’s conflict-affected north-eastern communities, and up to 7,000 women and girls might be living in abduction and sex slavery, senior United Nations officials on 14 April 2016 warned.

“Humanitarian agencies are concerned that two years have passed, and still the fate of the Chibok girls and the many, many other abductees is unknown,” said Fatma Samoura, Humanitarian Coordinator for Nigeria.

At the hands of their captors, they have suffered forced recruitment, forced marriage, sexual slavery and rape, and have been used to carry bombs. “Between 2,000 and 7,000 women and girls are living in abduction and sex slavery,” said Jean Gough, Country Representative of the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF).

Women and girls who have escaped Boko Haram have reported undergoing a systematic training programme to train them as bombers, according to UNICEF. And 85 per cent of the suicide attacks by women globally in 2014 were in Nigeria.

In May 2015, it was reported that children had been used to perpetrate three-quarters of all suicide attacks in Nigeria since 2014. Many of the bombers had been brainwashed or coerced.

As the Nigerian military recaptures territory from Boko Haram, abducted women and girls are being recovered. Over and above the horrific trauma of sexual violence these girls experienced during their captivity, many are now facing rejection by their families and communities, because of their association with Boko Haram.

“You are a Boko Haram wife, don’t come near us!” one girl reported being told. Effective rehabilitation for these women and girls is vital, as they rebuild their lives.

Chibok Abduction Not Isolated Incident

Children have suffered disproportionately as a result of the conflict. The Chibok abduction was not an isolated incident, the UN reports. In November 2014, 300 children were abducted from a school in Damasak, Borno, and are still missing.

A UNICEF report, released earlier this week, states that 1.3 million children have been displaced by the conflict across the Lake Chad Basin, almost a million of whom are in Nigeria. Similarly, Human Rights Watch have reported that 1 million children have lost access to education.

Thousands of people, mainly women and children, are scattered across the arid land of Nguigimi, Niger, after fleeing Boko Haram violence in Nigeria. Photo credit: WFP Niger/Vigno Hounkanli.

Thousands of people, mainly women and children, are scattered across the arid land of Nguigimi, Niger, after fleeing Boko Haram violence in Nigeria. Photo credit: WFP Niger/Vigno Hounkanli.

“The abducted Chibok girls have become a symbol for every girl that has gone missing at the hands of Boko Haram, and every girl who insists on practicing her right to education,” said Munir Safieldin, Deputy Humanitarian Coordinator for Nigeria.

More needs to be done by the Nigerian Government and the international community to keep them safe from the horrors other women and girls have endured. Safe schools are a good start, but safe roads and safe homes are also needed.

“We Cannot Forget the Girls from Chibok”

Marking two years since Boko Haram abducted 276 girls in Nigeria, a United Nations child rights envoy on 13 April reiterated a call to bring them back, stressing that the international community must “be their voice” and help give children of Nigeria and the region the peaceful, stable lives they deserve.

“It is up to us to be their voice and give them back the life they deserve,” said Leila Zerrougui, Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Children and Armed Conflict, in a message on the anniversary.

Two years ago, in the middle of the night, 276 girls were abducted by Boko Haram from their school dormitory in Chibok, in Nigeria’s northeast. Fifty-seven escaped hours later but what happened to the remaining 219 girls has been unknown.

In the past two years, the conflict has continued to grow and Boko Haram’s activities have spilled over into the neighbouring countries of Cameroon, Chad and Niger. More children have been abducted. Hundreds of boys and girls have been killed, maimed and recruited by Boko Haram.

Children Used as Suicide Bombers

In what has become one of the armed group’s most gruesome tactics, women and children, girls in particular, have been forced to serve as suicide bombers in crowded markets and public places, killing many civilians, according to Leila Zerrougui.

Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Children and Armed Conflict Leila Zerrougui (centre), meets displaced children and their families in northeastern Nigeria, in January 2015. Credit: UN

Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Children and Armed Conflict Leila Zerrougui (centre), meets displaced children and their families in northeastern Nigeria, in January 2015. Credit: UN

“It is no surprise that in the midst of such violence, families decided to flee to safer areas in Nigeria, and to neighbouring countries. With over two million people displaced, including more than one million children, often separated from their families, the UN has described these massive displacements as one of the fastest growing crises in Africa.”

In the past year, as the Government of Nigeria has retaken control of some territory in the country’s northeast, Boko Haram captives were liberated or have been able to escape, including many children.

“Girls and boys told distressing stories about their captivity, including how entire villages were burned to the ground, and recounted stories of rape and sexual violence, recruitment and use of children by the group, as well as other violations,” said the Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Children and Armed Conflict.

“These children yearn for the safety of their families, but going back to their communities can mean persecution and mistrust,” she said. “Girls who come back as young mothers face even greater challenges. These traumatised children require assistance and our support to fight stigma and rejection.”

Missing Out on Education

The conflict’s impact on education has been no less profound. Over 1,500 schools in North Eastern Nigeria have been destroyed and the teachers are gone. Hundreds of thousands of children are missing out on their education. The international community’s efforts to support initiatives to bring children back to school are essential and must be maintained.

Much has been done to help children reintegrate back into their communities and return to school, but the need far exceeds the resources available.

“It is our collective responsibility to keep shining a spotlight on these children in need and ensure they have a future in which they can overcome these challenges,” she said.

The abduction of the Chibok girls catalysed international action, including in the Security Council. In June 2015, Council members adopted resolution 2225 that made the act of abduction by an armed group or force a trigger to list them in the annexes of the Secretary-General’s annual report on children and armed conflict, she noted.

This means future acts of abduction, like in Chibok, can translate into a listing for those perpetrators and increase pressure on them by the international community.

“We cannot tolerate the abduction of children. We cannot forget the girls from Chibok,” she said.


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More Children Displaced, Used for Suicide Attacks by Boko Haram Tue, 12 Apr 2016 23:42:16 +0000 Tharanga Yakupitiyage A meeting session of the #BringBackOurGirls daily protest campaigners at Maitama Amusement Park, Abuja, Nigeria’s capital. Credit: Ini Ekott/IPS

A meeting session of the #BringBackOurGirls daily protest campaigners at Maitama Amusement Park, Abuja, Nigeria’s capital. Credit: Ini Ekott/IPS

By Tharanga Yakupitiyage

A dire humanitarian and security crisis continues to worsen in the Lake Chad Basin with severe consequences for youth, said Regional Humanitarian Coordinator for the Sahel Toby Lanzer.

“Boko Haram’s horror continues to wreck the lives of millions and millions of people,” Lanzer told press.

The Lake Chad Basin comprises of over 30 million residents from Nigeria, Cameroon, Chad and Niger. While visiting Northeastern Nigeria, Lanzer saw rampant poverty and food insecurity in the region with villages that were “completely deserted, completely destroyed.”

Children especially bear the brunt of this insecurity.

According to the UN’s children agency (UNICEF), of the almost 3 million people displaced by Boko Haram-related insecurity, 1.3 million are children. This is one of the fastest growing displacement crises in Africa, UNICEF noted.

In its new report, the UN children’s agency found that the number of children with severe acute malnutrition spiked in one year from 149,000 to almost 200,000.

Youth also continue to face threats of kidnapping and recruitment.

With the second anniversary for the Chibok kidnappings soon approaching, the majority of the girls still remain missing. However, Lanzer noted that this is just one case.

“The plight of the girls who were taken…that is one awful example, in a litany of awful examples,” he said, adding that the those who have been taken by Boko Haram now number in the thousands.

As they continue to disappear from the Lake Chad Basin, children as young as eight years old are increasingly used in suicide attacks.

One out of every five suicide bombers deployed by the terrorist group has been a child and are mostly girls, UNICEF reported.

“To me, that’s the epitome of evil,” Lanzer told reporters at a press briefing. “I cannot think of anything more horrifying.”

The report found that 44 children were used in suicide attacks in 2015, a ten-fold increase from 2014. Cameroon had the highest number of attacks involving children, reflecting the increased spillover of violence in the region.

Many kidnapped girls also experience sexual violence and forced marriage. In one account, Cameroonian 17-year-old Khadija told UNICEF that she was kidnapped while visiting her mother in Nigeria and forced to marry to one of the group’s militants.

“’If you don’t marry us, we will kill you,’ they said. ‘I will not marry you, even if you kill me,’ I responded. Then they came for me at night. They kept me locked in a house for over a month and told me ‘whether you like it or not, we have already married you,’” she recalled.

For those who do return home, communities often shun them out of fear that they will turn against their families.

Khadija revealed the discrimination she faced after escaping Boko Haram and arriving at a displacement camp.

“Some women would beat me, they would chase me away. Everywhere I went, they would abuse me and call me a Boko Haram wife,” she said.

Lanzer urged for a broader engagement in the Lake Chad Basin to address not only short-term relief, but also long-term development and security challenges to help stabilise the situation.

“More can be done,” he said. “I know that every donor capital at the moment is stretched…but when I see the scale of destruction and the level of suffering that stared me at the face…I haven’t seen anything worse anywhere recently,” he concluded.

So far, UNICEF has only received 11 percent of its $97 million appeal to provide lifesaving assistance to families affected by Boko Haram violence in the Lake Chad Basin.

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Sliding Scale Mon, 11 Apr 2016 21:49:16 +0000 Hajrah Mumtaz By Hajrah Mumtaz
Apr 11 2016 (Dawn, Pakistan)

That Pakistan is a hostile terrain for women is widely known. The vast majority of the poor have little choice but to carry on with life as best as they can, holding out in the hope that the state and its set of laws, law enforcement and justice systems will be able to protect their freedoms and dignity.

(And to be fair, Pakistan has over the years made sporadic but significant progress in this regard; in several areas, lawmakers` and the authorities` oft-claimed commitment to women`s rights has translated into concrete action, even if ugly ground realities will take time to change.) For the well-off women of the country, though, at least the niggling, everyday problems that are linked to being in Pakistan and being female are somewhat more easily solved. So it was that when an upscale mall in Karachi started getting complaints that female drivers were being unable to find parking spots, because they were overwhelmingly taken up by male drivers, it was prompt to respond.

Now, some two dozen parking spots located near one of the entrances of the mall are reserved for female drivers. Amongst the more privileged sections of the citizenry, this has produced a general sense of relief.

This is because `being unable to find a parking spot` is a sort of euphemism for a greater, much more endemic problem that every single female in the country, rich or poor, young or old, experiences but is little talked about due to its `everyday` nature because it has, in Pakistan as in most other countries, been `normalised.

The problem was not that there weren`t enough parking spaces in this mall, which has a massive parking lot; the problem was that when the place was crowded, parking spots could only be found further and further away from the entrances a risky business for women who fear being subjected to, at worst, some sort of violence in that long walk through echoing tunnels with silent, dark cars, and at best, the same walk past endless rows of men guards, drivers, parking attendants, cleaning and other staff all of whom the women see as harassing and intimidating with their eyes and language.

(Again, this sort of risk is by no means a Pakistani problem.) No wonder, then, that the move has been widely met with relief. Such gender segregation in public spaces is common around the world. Where Pakistan has its women-only sections in buses and mini-vans, so do India, Brazil, Russia and Japan. Recently, a German train operator introduced women only carriages, citing not sexual harassment but request for more privacy but that again appears the same sort of euphemisms insufficient parking spaces.

The idea has been floated even in the UK a survey of levels of sexual harassment and unwanted sexual behaviour on the Tube produced the shocking figure of one out of seven women experiencing it.

Gender segregation can be a good idea in the short term, and can indeed prove useful in protecting individual women, but it is deeply problematic in the long term and on the societal level. If women have to be shut away from men to keep them safe, where does it end? At the far end of that road lies a system of laws and restrictions on basic freedoms such as those that prevail in Saudi Arabia. And, further, from the male perspective, I would find the idea very offensive, underpinned as it is by the construction of the masculine as some sort of wild, visceral, uncontrollable being that cannot really be taught to behave.

Gender segregation works to further cement the `otherness` of women, their relegation to the margins where they exist as shadows, simultaneously the sufferers of violence and held by society to be responsible for its perpetration. To lower levels of violence against women, physical, psychological and emotional, what states need to do is teach men to lower their gaze and watch their hands. And the means to that is law enforcement.

Transport for London, for example, launched Project Guardian to eliminate unwanted sexual behaviour on public transport, which last year released the hard-hitting `Report It to Stop It` advertisement campaign. Look it up on YouTube; it is powerful, showing as it does the sliding scale going from the vague suspicion of being harassed to indisputable knowledge and helplessness. India ran a similarly powerful public interest ad campaign, carrying the face of Madhuri Dixit, against violence against women.

In terms of Pakistan, then, encouraging signs can be read into increasing levels of women reporting the transgressions of their rights. The poor must wait for the law and its apparatus to reach out to them. But the well-off women of the country can afford to resist measures that end in further marginalisation of their gender, and use their positions of power to lobby for long-term change.

The writer is a member of staff.

This story was originally published by Dawn, Pakistan

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Plan for Poorer Countries to Fund HIV Response Raises Concerns Mon, 11 Apr 2016 19:58:18 +0000 Lyndal Rowlands In Zimbabwe, four out of 10 sexually active girls aged 15-19 reported taking an HIV test in the last 12 months. Credit: Jeffrey Moyo/IPS

In Zimbabwe, four out of 10 sexually active girls aged 15-19 reported taking an HIV test in the last 12 months. Credit: Jeffrey Moyo/IPS

By Lyndal Rowlands

Calls for low and middle income countries to contribute an additional 6.1 billion dollars to the global HIV response by 2020 could see some vulnerable groups left behind, said HIV activists meeting at the United Nations last week.

A report recently published by UNAIDS, the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS, calls for low and middle income countries to increase their funding for the global HIV response by 6.1 billion by 2020, versus only an additional 2.8 billion requested from wealthy countries.

The proposed changes to funding could affect vulnerable groups, including adolescent girls in Sub-Saharan Africa who now make up 74 percent of new HIV infections in the 15 to 24 age group according to UNAIDS.

Annah Sango, from Zimbabwe, a Youth Advisor with the Global Network for Young People Living with HIV told IPS that these figures partially reflect how hard it is for young women to negotiate safe sex, even within a marriage.

“It leaves young women and girls vulnerable to STIs, vulnerable to unintended pregnancies, vulnerable to HIV, and also vulnerable to gender based violence,” she said.

Some 2000 girls and young women are being infected with HIV in Sub-Saharan Africa each week, Marama Pala Chair of the international community of women living with HIV global told journalists at the UN here last week.

A reduction in resources could see addressing the complex social and cultural causes of the rise in infections among young women in Sub-Saharan Africa become a lesser priority, said Pala.

Javier Hourcade Bellocq of the International HIV/AIDS Alliance who along with Pala co-chairs the civil society task force at the United Nations said that a reliance on domestic funding could see some vulnerable groups left out.

“The overarching question is would a government in Asia or Latin America be able to provide funding for a female sex worker organisation, for advocacy, for a watchdog (group)? — probably not,” said Bellocq.

However Bellocq said that domestic finances are an important part of a sustainable HIV response and that low and middle income countries have already been slowly increasing their investment.

“Often civil society organisations and activists have been perceived as putting pressure on international donors and wealthy and developed countries where in fact it’s not true, most of our work is putting stress on domestic funding,” he said.

Bellocq said that it was important not to presume that all governments with the same income classification had the same capacity to contribute to the HIV and AIDS response.

The classifications do “not reflect income inequalities and internal debt that many middle income countries currently face,” he said.

Jamila Headley, Managing Director of the Health Global Access Project, told IPS that UNAIDS analysis of the fiscal space used to justify the increased financing from low and middle income countries was based on inaccurate information.

For example, she said, “In Malawi the government has just had to cut several health care workers from the budget because they don’t have funds.”

Headley also said that the proposed changes “undercut our efforts to push governments in the West to support as much as they can.”

The Global HIV response has shown “unprecedented mobilization of solidarity across countries,” she said, “we’ve come so far and so to come to this place where we can actually see an end in sight and to then talk about scaling back that solidarity is hugely disappointing to us.”

In a statement provided to IPS, UNAIDS said that its approach is to encourage low and middle income countries to “increase country ownership by increasing domestic spending on HIV.”

“However, the international community ​​has a responsibility to ensure that ​HIV ​programs​ are able to reach the communities that are most vulnerable to HIV​ ​in countries that have the least ability to fully fund a comprehensive HIV response,” the statement said.

Meanwhile Headley said that the proposed changes in funding could affect groups requiring special attention including adolescent girls in Sub-Saharan Africa.

“The rising rates of incidence among women aged 14 to 25 in Sub-Saharan Africa is exactly why we need full funding to support targeted, high impact prevention,” she said.

Pala an indigenous woman from New Zealand living with HIV said that women can sometimes “get lost in the epidemic,” and that the response should be intersectional in nature. But she also said that activism by other more prominent groups affected by HIV has helped women, including herself.

“There is a very strong activism from the key populations and we needed that,” she said. “For myself living with HIV if that didn’t happen I wouldn’t have the medication and be alive today.”

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Debunking Stereotypes: Which Women Matter in the Fight Against Extremism? Wed, 06 Apr 2016 21:12:06 +0000 Sanam Naraghi Sanam Naraghi Anderlini is co-Founder & Executive Director, International Civil Society Action Network (ICAN)]]>

Sanam Naraghi Anderlini is co-Founder & Executive Director, International Civil Society Action Network (ICAN)

By Sanam Naraghi Anderlini

Violent extremism is the topic du jour, as government officials are busy developing plans of action on “preventing or countering violent extremism” (P/CVE). In these plans there is dutiful reference to engaging “women”. The more progressive mention gender sensitivity.

But scratch the surface, and it is clear there is widespread misunderstanding of what this means or how to do it. So they tend to slide back into an age-old axiom: women are victims, perpetrators, or mothers.

But this perception misses some of the most important women involved in P/CVE: women human rights defenders and peace activists working in Iraq, Pakistan, Syria not only countering extremism but providing positive alternatives and challenging state actions.

The simplification of women to victims and perpetrators is akin to the virgin/prostitute dichotomy that has littered history for centuries. The Yazidi girls epitomize the horrendous victimhood of women, while the teenagers in the UK joining ISIS, and the girls implicated as Boko Haram ‘suicide’ bombers, personify the perpetrator. It seems that, in the male-dominated world of security experts, men determine which women matter.

Their real fascination is with the women fighters especially ‘jihadis’. They are either evil because they have transgressed unsaid but deeply riven norms of femininity and joined ISIS. Or they are the ultimate symbols of self-empowerment, brave enough to fight, and heroic, like the women in the Kurdish militias. Yet women becoming fighters is neither news nor shocking.

Throughout history, a minority of women have joined armed liberation movements (and national armies). Like many men, they are attracted by the larger cause or vision, or for revenge and justice (as with some Kurds and now Yazidis), to feel the sense of belonging and protection. Daesh promises respect, agency and responsibility for women feeling stifled in traditional homes.

There is little discussion of the complexity of women’s experiences who may be simultaneously victims and perpetrators. For example, research on young women (many under 18) traveling to Syria, reveals a strong dose of online sexual grooming in the communications between them and their recruiters.

The media’s labeling of Boko Haram female ‘suicide bombers’ obscures the fact that many are young girls, who may have been brain washed or had no power to stop bombs being strapped to their small bodies.

Female victims are finally being recognized because it would be downright indecent if they were ignored. But as with victims everywhere, they are spoken about, but not given the chance to speak for themselves or provided with the necessary care to cope with the trauma or given the opportunity to continue with their lives.

The results are plain to see. Some Yazidi girls were subjected to virginity tests by Kurdish authorities. Many are committing suicide. It is as if the label of ‘rape victims’ is etched into their foreheads in perpetuity.

Reference to mothers as the panacea against extremism is the latest trend. Mothers, we are told, wield enormous influence. They can hold back their children and inform the police. Their influence is indeed noticeable but they can wield it both directions. In Pakistan, for example, an extremist radio-sheikh railing against state corruption and sympathetic to women’s concerns offered a vision of a purer Islamic society, and successfully targeted rural mothers, who sent their gold bangles to pay, and their boys to fight for the Taliban.

Now policy makers in Washington, London, Baghdad and New York want to mobilize an army of mothers to fight their cause. But they want mothers who do not challenge them. The motherhood paradigm packages women in apolitical and non-threatening ways according to traditional, and even biological norms of femininity — it is the image of the lioness protecting her cubs.

Of course there is overlap between the concerns of parents and those of the state. But by pressing them to act as frontline whistleblowers, governments are using women. As one Iraqi woman notes, “the government wants women to mop up their mess.” Not surprisingly from England to Iraq, many mothers find the overtures of governments offensive.

The simplification of women, excludes one critical group: women who become civic activists fighting for rights, peace and justice. They may be mothers, but their motivations and actions are not limited to their own children. They understand that extremism is growing because of deeper socio-economic and political problems. They see firsthand, how poor governance and state oppression fuel grievances and radicalization, especially when moderate civic activism and dissent are quashed.

They also know that simply ‘countering’ extremism is not enough: What is needed is a positive alternative to address the grievances and aspirations of those most vulnerable to the lure of extremist movements. From Pakistan to Nigeria, they are doing it. Many are working in their communities, developing tailored approaches to engage youth and religious leaders, not just women.

They address the wider ecosystem, combining religious teachings rooted in co-existence and non-violence, critical thinking, economic skills and socio-cultural activities. Among young men, they generate a sense of personal pride, offer belonging to groups that contribute to improving their community.

Women activists also understand the interconnectivity between the local, national and international levels. They provide acute analysis and uncomfortable truths of the impact of Western military policies on their communities. They bear witness to the consequences – good and bad- of US and European training of their police and military forces. They have the courage to criticize bad national and international policies, and the creativity to offer an alternative vision for their societies.

In fighting for their vision, they put themselves at profound risk. As the Iraqi woman notes, “When we try to mobilize civilians to hold the state accountable or transform our communities, the government accuses us of regime change.”

Do women’s peace and rights activists raise uncomfortable truths? Of course they do; because they are committed to eradicating the intolerance and violence in their communities – whether it is perpetrated by non-state extremists or by states. They are in it for the long haul, for a simple reason: The threats they face are existential to their way of life.

The international community stands at an important juncture. As the P/CVE action plans and policies are being developed, policymakers can limit them to victims, perpetrators or mothers, or they can recognize the agency, vision, and leadership of women who are courageously taking a stand against these ideologies.

This would require not only listening to women, but also heeding their advice gleaned from the experience of working and living in their own communities for decades. For many policy makers, this may be just too threatening.


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Violence at Home Mon, 04 Apr 2016 15:09:59 +0000 Asma Humayun By Asma Humayun
Apr 4 2016 (Dawn, Pakistan)

Amidst robust campaigning by liberal sections to activate the feminist lobby and strong criticism by clerics defending Islam’s endowment of women’s rights, there is a risk of overlooking the essence of what is a major human rights and public health issue — domestic violence.

violence-at-homeToday, domestic violence is recognised as a ‘global’ public health issue that is prevalent in high-, middle- and low-income countries. While the presentation of domestic violence may be culture-specific, it exists in all countries, cultures and religions. The reported rates vary; generally a third of all women suffer some form of domestic violence in their lives.

The aetiology of violence is best described by the model which proposes that violence is a result of factors operating at four levels: individual, relationship, community and societal. These feature low levels of education, poverty, witnessing or experiencing violence as a child, substance abuse, personality disorders, low socio-economic status of women; weak legal sanctions against domestic violence; and broad social acceptance of violence.

Research strongly suggests that domestic violence and mental illness go hand in hand. Domestic violence and depression are intertwined and part of a vicious cycle. In addition to depression, domestic violence is strongly linked with physical injuries, chronic poor health, homicide and suicide. Serious adverse effects have also been observed in children.

Domestic violence and mental illness go hand in hand.

According to the 2016 bill proposed by the Punjab government, violence is, “any offence committed against a woman including abetment of an offence, domestic violence, emotional, psychological and verbal abuse, economic abuse, stalking or cybercrime”. Although the bill proposes to address a broad array of violent crimes against women, both within and outside the house, the text fundamentally focuses on domestic violence.

Quite clearly, this is a complex issue where it might be difficult to implement the law.

The definition of violence in the bill is blurred as the term ‘domestic violence’ already includes physical, emotional (psychological, verbal abuse included) and sexual forms of abuse and controlling behaviour, such as economic abuse. More importantly, the prevalent aspect of ‘sexual abuse’ is missing here.

The bill offers protection from relationships through ‘consanguinity and marriage’. Therefore, it goes beyond partner violence and includes abuse from other members of the family. The protection order directs the defendant to ‘stay away’ or ‘leave the house’. This is already difficult to apply in cases where the defendant is the husband; but what if the defendant is, for example, the mother-in-law?

Criminalising the behaviour of the ‘defendant’ might be a deterrent in the short term, but certainly a more comprehensive conflict-resolution approach will be needed to address the underlying causes.

Many cases of domestic violence lack tangible evidence and are hard to verify. It is easier to have a court of inquiry when violence results in physical injury. Similarly, it might be easier to evaluate a single incident of violence in isolation, but domestic violence is usually an ongoing process where it becomes incrementally more difficult, even clinically, to assess the role of each partner in perpetuating violence over a longer period.

Many abused women choose not to report or leave their partners. The reasons may include fear of retaliation; lack of economic support; concern for their children or fear of losing them; lack of support from family and friends; stigma of divorce; or hope that the partner will change. These conflicts make it difficult for outside agencies including the legal system to intervene.

Providing a toll-free number must be followed by effective response. Does our law-enforcement system have the capacity to respond to the huge number of calls that will inevitably come?

Then there is the big question of rehabilitating victims which is, rightly so, a part of the bill. Does the state have the capacity to support, train and employ them so that they can look after themselves and their children in the long run?

The bill proposes the appointment of women protection officers. If this materialises, it might turn out to be a large unwieldy taskforce considering how common the problem is. It might be more feasible if existing ‘public servants’ are trained in psychosocial interventions in order to handle the sensitive nature of these conflicts.

While the bill should be lauded for drawing attention to an important issue, it is equally essential to approach its implementation in a manner in which vulnerable groups find it easy to use it as an avenue of recourse. The initial phase of implementing this bill should focus on identifying families at risk and to provide early-intervention services, including legal advice; social and counselling services for marital discord and referrals for specialised interventions for serious mental disorders.

At the societal level, it is important to build coalitions of government, religious and civil society institutions focusing on behavioural principles and avoiding a confrontational approach that will polarise communities.

The writer is a consultant psychiatrist. Twitter: @Asma Humayun

This story was originally published by Dawn, Pakistan

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Are Indigenous Women Key to Sustainable Development? Mon, 21 Mar 2016 23:06:48 +0000 Valentina Ieri By Valentina Ieri

“We, indigenous women want to be considered as part of the solution for sustainable development, because we have capabilities and knowledge, ” said Tarcila Rivera, a Quechua journalist and activist for the rights of indigenous people in Peru, at a press conference on the Empowerment of Indigenous Women.

Tarcila Rivera Zea, President of the Centre for Indigenous Cultures of Peru (CHIRAPAQ) and a member of the UN Women Global Civil Society Advisory Group, addresses a press conference on indigenous women’s rights, March 2015. Photo: UN Media/ Mark Garten

Tarcila Rivera Zea, President of the Centre for Indigenous Cultures of Peru (CHIRAPAQ) and a member of the UN Women Global Civil Society Advisory Group, addresses a press conference on indigenous women’s rights, March 2015. Photo: UN Media/ Mark Garten

Rivera, like many other women who are fighting for the rights of indigenous people in parts of Central and Latin America, Northern Europe, Canada, Asia, Australia, New Zealand and Africa, is attending the 60th annual sessions of the inter-governmental body, UN Commission of the Status of Women (CSW60), which concludes March 24.

As a functional commission of the U.N. Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC), the CSW is meeting with representatives of Member States, U.N. agencies, international non-governmental organisations (NGOs) and civil society to discuss the status of women’s political, economic and social advancement and the elimination and prevention of all forms of violence against women and girls.

Opening the 60th CSW session, Secretary-General, Ban Ki-moon, who during his nine years in office has appointed over 150 women as Assistant Secretaries-General or Under-Secretaries-General — urged country leaders to take action to end gender inequality.

“In countries where children have “disappeared”, grandmothers stood up to demand justice. In areas ravaged by AIDS, HIV-positive mothers replaced stigma with hope. In homophobic societies, lesbian victims of rape survived and organized […] As long as one woman’s human rights are violated, our struggle is not over.”

In line with this year’s CSW theme —Women’s Empowerment and Its Link to Sustainable Development and the U.N. 2030 Agenda– indigenous women are demanding governments in their countries to recognise them as a driving force in achieving economic and social development.

In Kenya, it is mostly women who play a key role in supporting families despite growing up in a patriarchal society, explained Valerie Kasaiyian – an indigenous Maasai woman, lawyer and educator for girl’s reproductive rights.

There are indigenous women groups, such as those from Samburu, who for the past 20 years have provided alone for their entire community by building houses and schools. They also established self-sustaining economic activities by selling livestock or traditional jewels in order to get their families out of poverty, continued Kasaiyian.

Women from Marsabit, in the northern part of Kenya, developed sustainable farms, where they grew tomatoes and other crops in greenhouses, and then sold them to the community, without reliance on their male counterparts.

“Sustainable development is about preserving resources and the land for future generations. Indigenous communities, who for centuries have lived in isolation, have found their own system to work the land and to preserve it. It is in our ancestral culture and identity,” Kasaiyian told IPS.

“Yet we assist to a systematic ethnocide of our indigenous culture by the government […] where young indigenous women are meant to be homogenised and integrated into the mainstream culture,” she added.

Since the implementation of the 1995 Beijing Declaration and Platform of Action, along with the U.N. Resolution 1325, on the importance of women in peace negotiations and peace-building, and the 2007 U.N. Declaration of the Rights of Indigenous People, there have been several important steps to highlight the voices of indigenous women in the international arena. But at a slow pace.

Indigenous women and girls- who are not to be confused with rural women – have their own identity, defined by their own specific language, education, traditional knowledge and socio-economic values, remarked Rivera, who is the founder of the Center for Indigenous Cultures of Peru (CHIRAPAQ) .

However, they are mostly excluded by government policies, as they are not fully treated with human dignity, said the Peruvian activist.

“Many programs look at us as subject of assistance. But we don’t want to depend on these kind of food programs. We are trying to be considered as subject of change, and development from within, (through) our capacity,” she said.

Despite the lack of thorough national statistics, indigenous women suffer from high levels of discrimination, sexual and domestic violence, extreme poverty, trafficking, lacking in access to land rights and education and poor maternal and infant healthcare.

Myrna Cunningham Kain, member from Nicaragua of the Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues, briefs journalists on highlights of the twelfth session of the Forum on Indigenous Issues, taking place in New York from 20 to 31 May, 2013.Photo: UN Media/Evan Schneider

Myrna Cunningham Kain, member from Nicaragua of the Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues, briefs journalists on highlights of the twelfth session of the Forum on Indigenous Issues, taking place in New York from 20 to 31 May, 2013.Photo: UN Media/Evan Schneider

Myrna Cunningham, an indigenous Mixteca woman from the Waspam community in Nicaragua, told IPS about the problem of data disaggregation in certain countries, where indigenous people are not counted or excluded from certain indicators.

“When talking about statistics” – said Cunningham, who is President of the Center for Autonomy and Development of Indigenous Peoples (CADPI), and former chair of the U.N. Permanent Forum of Indigenous Issues – “self-identification, should be the main indicator, which can be used complementarily to other types of info-gathering questions. Also, government statistics should use more culturally sensitive indicators, which will help to define public policies and implement them.”

With the adoption of the U.N. Declaration of the Rights of Indigenous People, the U.N. set a framework that will foster the partnership between members states and indigenous communities, through dialogue, proposals and projects, in order to further implement the Declaration and recognise and protect indigenous women, Chandra Roy-Henriksen, Chief Secretariat of the Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues, told IPS.

Kasaiyian said: “We will strongly push for a U.N. Declaration of the Rights of Indigenous Women specifically, so that women can prosecute in case of violation of their rights in international tribunals.

Indigenous women must bridge the gap between academics, professionals and activists, by establishing their own jurisprudence and theories of law regarding the eradication of violence against women and to empower future generations.”


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It’s Not Just Poverty Sun, 20 Mar 2016 14:55:25 +0000 Laila Khondkar A still from Afia Nathaniel’s Daughter.

A still from Afia Nathaniel’s Daughter.

By Laila Khondkar
Mar 20 2016 (The Daily Star, Bangladesh)

You give dowry and I receive it, why are you bringing government into this?”said a woman in a village in Rangpur district during a discussion on women’s status. I had the opportunity to facilitate the session, and have thought of this many times since hearing several years ago. The comment reminds me that it is extremely challenging to get rid of a harmful practice if it is socially accepted, even when it is prohibited legally. Law is important, but not enough to bring social change.

Recently there have been several discussions about child marriage, since there were reports that the government might lower the minimum age of marriage for girls. Like many others, I strongly believe that the minimum age of marriage for girls must remain 18 years, and any move to change this is a serious violation of child rights. But today’s article is not about this. I would like to reflect on why the rate of child marriage (64 percent) is so high in Bangladesh, even when we have the Child Marriage Restraint Act of 1929.

Child marriage is one the most significant reasons for girls dropping out of school, and marks the end of childhood for them. This increases the risk of domestic violence to the girl children. Due to physical and mental immaturity, married adolescents are sometimes unable to perform responsibilities according to the expectations of their in-laws. This makes them vulnerable to abuse. In extreme cases, there is divorce or separation. Married adolescents are also not able to participate in the decision making process of their family, and thus the patriarchal norms continue. Child marriage leads to early pregnancy, and adolescent girls are not properly prepared for parenthood. Adolescent mothers are more likely to suffer from birth related complications than adult women. Malnutrition is also very common for them.

All of us are aware that poverty, social insecurity of adolescent girls, lack of education and vocational skills development opportunities for girls, natural disasters, social acceptance and weak enforcement of law are some of the reasons contributing to child marriage. I want to emphasise on something that is usually missing in child marriage discourse. Gender inequality is one of the root causes of child marriage. The society places disproportionate emphasis on women’s reproductive and caring roles, and they are often not viewed as individuals with the right to realise their full human potential. Thus, marriage becomes the most important and central event for a girl or woman (across all socio-economic groups), and parents consider it to be their major responsibility to ensure that their daughters are married off. So when they find a ‘suitable’ groom, they arrange marriage for their daughters, even when they are under-aged and/or have not completed their education. When a boy drops out of school, even poor parents take initiatives (for example, enrolling him in vocational training or giving him money to run a small business) so that he can be economically productive. But when a girl drops out of school, most parents will arrange their marriage. Parents believe that they need to ensure that their son gains the capacity to generate income, but they do not hold the same belief for their daughters. This does not only happen in poor families. Many parents from well-off backgrounds do not understand the importance of continuing education of girls or their full participation in the workforce. That is why they do not hesitate to arrange the marriage of their daughters in the middle of their university education.

In her novel Motichur published in 1904, Begum Rokeya wrote:

“We shall do whatever is needed to be equal to men. If we have to earn independently in order to gain independence then we should do that…Why shouldn’t we earn? Don’t we have hands, legs, and intellect? Can’t we engage in business with the amount of energy that we spend in household work in the husband’s place? […] Why do we cry if our girls are not married off? Educate your daughters properly and let them enter the workplace; they can earn their own livelihood.”

We have not been able to live up to the vision of the revolutionary Begum Rokeya in creating an environment where women’s economic emancipation is valued and celebrated. More than a century ago, Begum Rokeya wrote that women are suitable for any profession, including being a judge, magistrate, barrister and even viceroy. Wouldn’t she be upset to learn that even now parents ‘cry’ when they are unable to marry off their daughters? Marriage is critical for maintaining one’s family and social life, but that is relevant for both men and women. Why should only women’s lives revolve around marriage? Why do they have to ‘sacrifice’ their academic and professional ambitions to maintain a family life? Don’t most of them face gender stereotypes in choosing a career? We shall not be able to address child marriage until we truly confront these issues.

Child marriage is one form of sexual violence and is a major challenge of our time. So what should be done to prevent this? Integrated programmes, instead of disjointed projects, addressing the structural causes should be implemented to address child marriage in a holistic way. The enforcement of legal processes, proper birth and marriage registration, strengthening social safety net programmes to increase parents’ income, improving girls’ safety in communities, including through national and community-based child protection systems are needed to address child marriage. Men and boys should be involved as key agents to prevent child marriage. But most importantly, parents should be educated on the rights of girls to education, health and protection. Their capacity should also be developed in treating boys and girls equally. There must be attitudinal changes in the ways parents and the community, in general, view girls and women. A social movement is required to achieve true gender equality. There must be full economic, political and social empowerment of women; we must learn to celebrate their achievements beyond their roles as wives and mothers.

Let us have the same aspirations for our boys and girls. Let us raise our girls in a way that they become confident about themselves, and can realise their dreams to the fullest.

The writer is Director of Child Protection, Save the Children.

This story was originally published by The Daily Star, Bangladesh

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Not Enough Women At the Peace Table, Say Arab Activists Thu, 17 Mar 2016 16:22:35 +0000 Tharanga Yakupitiyage By Tharanga Yakupitiyage

“When it comes to peace talks, women have a special stake,” said Gloria Steinem while discussing current peace talks in the Middle East.

Steinem, a prominent activist, joined the 60th annual session of the UN Commission on the Status of Women (CSW) as part of Donor Direct Action, an NGO connecting women’s rights activists to donors.

Partnering with Karama, a non-governmental organisation (NGO) focused on violence against women in the Arab region, the two organisations highlighted the need to include women not only in politics, but also in peace processes in conflict nations.

“Women should not be in the corridor, but actually at the table,” Karama founder Hibaaq Osman told delegates.

According to the International Peace Institute (IPI), between 1992 and 2011, just 2 percent of chief mediators and 9 percent of negotiators in peace processes were women.

However, in conflict, women continue to bear the brunt of causalities, gender-based violence and livelihood insecurity.

Despite the unanimous UN adoption of Resolution 1325 calling for the increase in women’s representation in conflict management and resolution, little has been done to enforce and implement it.

No woman has ever been the chief or lead mediator in an UN-led peace negotiation.

In an effort to include more women, UN Special Envoy for Syria Staffan de Mistura established a Women’s Advisory Board, the first of its kind.

Though it is a monumental step towards women’s participation in peace talks, Mouna Ghanem, the founder of the Syrian Women’s Forum and member of the Women’s Advisory Board, stated that this is only the first step.

“This is not what we are aspiring for. What we are aspiring for is not only participation,” Ghanem told reporters.

“We are aspiring to be the decision makers, and we have a long way to go,” she continued.

The ongoing Syrian negotiations, which are on their fifth day in Geneva, have invited two parties to the table: Assad’s government and the main opposition bloc High Negotiations Committee (HNC). Though the Women’s Advisory Board will express their concerns and provide recommendations to the delegations, it is unclear how much influence they will have.

While criticising the lack of female decision-makers, Ghanem asked: “Why are [men] making the future of Syria? Why aren’t women also making the future of Syria? Are we going to let those who destroyed Syria and committed huge human rights violations to women and children…are we going to let them decide the future of Syria?

She added that the two-party negotiating system will not bring the best interests of Syrians, especially women.

Sahar Ghanem, the head of Civil Society Organisations Affairs Unit in the Yemeni Prime Minister’s Office, painted an almost identical picture, noting that the Yemeni peace talks also did not include women. She disclosed that women were “sacrificed” from the talks in order to bring the two reluctant parties together to negotiate.

Instead, in October 2015, a coalition of Yemeni women met with the UN Special Envoy for Yemen Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed to consult on the political situation.

Director of the Libyan Women’s Platform for Peace Zahra’ Langhi noted that mediation must go beyond just the representation of women, adding that the UN-led mission failed to do this.

“They can bring some women in a segregated track and tick the box and say ‘we have women’, but women were not respectively engaged in the process,” she told IPS.

“The peace [the UN peace envoy] aim to achieve is fragile peace…it is a peace that does not engage local communities that women are the heart of,” she continued.

Langhi also asserted that in order to have sustainable peace, a ceasefire is insufficient, and they must tackle with the root causes of the conflict.

Among the causes are militarisation and the arms trade which, in Libya, has contributed to the systematic violence against civil society representatives, especially women.

Since the country’s revolution in 2011, there has been a wave of seemingly politically-motivated assassinations. In June 2014, prominent human rights lawyer and politician Salwa Bugaighis was shot to death in her home.

A month later, Fariha al-Barkawy was gunned down in broad daylight. In February 2015, civil society activist Intisar al-Hassairy was found dead in the trunk of her car.

“Because of the militarization and the assassination of these women, other women…decided not to be part of civil society anymore,” Langhi told IPS.

Echoing similar sentiments was Syrian Women’s Advisory Board representative Ghanem who said that the international community is simply giving Syrian refugees a “painkiller” without addressing why they are refugees in the first place.

“We should ask what the disease is and the disease is distributing arms to all these groups who are fighting in Syria,” she stated.

The three women highlighted though it is important to have a 30 percent quota for women in politics, the inclusion of more women in peace talks must involve investing in local communities. This will lead to long-lasting “sustainable” peace, they remarked.

Research from the Philippines and Colombia has shown that including women and men in peace processes significantly increases the likelihood of reaching and sustaining an agreement.

Citing the case of Liberia, where a group of women began a nonviolent campaign for peace which effectively ended the Second Liberian Civil War in 2003, Steinem pointed to the power of women in matters of peace and security, stating: “Now if they could make such a difference outside the room and away from the peace table, imagine what women could do in the room and at the table if we were half of every group.”

Though a new administration has been established after more than a year of UN peace talks, violence persists in the country and the peace deal remains weak.

Similarly, the peace deal between the Yemeni government and Houthi rebels is on the verge of collapse as negotiations continue to stall.

Syrian peace talks also teeter following disputes with the HNC and the Kurdish party who plan to announce a federal system in the Northern Kurd-dominated region of the country.


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Tribute to a Slain Environment Activist Tue, 15 Mar 2016 07:20:11 +0000 Amantha Perera Berta Cáceres on the banks of the Gualcarque River, in the Rio Blanco region in western Honduras that she fought so hard to protect. Photo Credit: Goldman Environment Prize

Berta Cáceres on the banks of the Gualcarque River, in the Rio Blanco region in western Honduras that she fought so hard to protect. Photo Credit: Goldman Environment Prize

By Amantha Perera
COLOMBO, Sri Lanka, Mar 15 2016 (IPS)

Berta Isabel Cáceres Flores, was in her early 20s when she co-founded the Council of Popular and Indigenous Organisations of Honduras (Cophin), a group that campaigned for the rights of indigenous communities in the Central American nation.

Influenced by a mother, who took in fleeing El Salvadorian refugees, Cáceres was fully committed to her cause. She told friends and colleagues that her struggle was against ‘deadly powers’ that put profit before the rights of her people. In the last two decades, she saw colleagues being threatened, attacked and killed, but her work only got bigger.

Twenty three years after she formed Cophin, Cáceres paid the ultimate prize. She was gunned down in her home after assassins had stormed it around 1 am on March 3.

Before her death, Cáceres had received dead threats and had in fact moved house for safety. Recently, she had been in the forefront of protests against one of the biggest hydropower projects in Central America. The envisioned four dam Agua Zarca project on the Gualcarque river was being built by a local Honduran firm DESA but initially had the backing of China’s Sinohydro and the World Bank’s private sector financier International Finance Cooperation (IFC).

Both pulled out following the protests and Cáceres and others had been publicly calling for other backers like the Dutch Development Bank, the Finnish Fund for Industrial Cooperation and Germany’s Siemens and Voith to follow Sinohydro and IFC.

Her work won worldwide recognition. “With her people she made the World Bank withdraw from Honduras. It is precisely because of this struggle of Cophin led by her and for more then 20 years of resistance to new colonial powers that she won the Emma Goldman Prize in 2015,” Tatiana Cordero, executive director, Latin America at Urgent Action Fund, an international organisation that works for women’s rights, told IPS.

Such global accolades only strengthened Cáceres’ resolve to campaign more vigorously against the dam project, but they obviously need to give her more protection. Less than two weeks before her assassination she led a massive march in Rio Blanco that ended in a confrontation with government security personnel and employees from DESA.

“She was a global voice for the rights of indigenous people to water, food, land and life. She bravely challenged those in positions of power to do what was right — instead of what would result in the most profit,” said Terry Odendahl, President and CEO, Global Greengrants that has funded over 3,000 grants in over 145 countries to the tune of over $45 million said.

The brazen murder of a high-profile activist sent shockwaves through the global environmental rights community. UN Special Rapporteur on the rights of indigenous peoples, Victoria Tauli-Corpuz said she was horrified at the murder. Tauli-Corpuz had met Cáceres during a visit in November 2015 and had been personally appraised on the threats.

Tauli-Corpuz said that the international community should work together to bring such wanton violence faced by indigenous activists to a stop: “It is time for the nations of the world to bring perpetrators to justice and to protect indigenous rights activists peacefully protesting the theft of their lands and resources.”

That grass roots environmental activists are under threat across the globe has been known for awhile now. Global Witness found that in 2014, 116 environmental activists were murdered, almost double the number of journalists killed in the same period. Over 40 per cent of the victims were from indigenous communities while three quarters of them were from Central or South America. Between 2002 and 2013, at least 903 citizens engaged in environmental protection work were killed world over.

“The case of Cáceres is emblematic of the systematic targeting of environmental defenders in Honduras. Since 2013, three of her colleagues have been killed for resisting the Agua Zarca hydro-dam on the Gualcarque River, which threatens to cut off a vital water source for hundreds of indigenous Lenca people,” Global Witness said soon after the murder. The organisation also found that such attacks do not get much attention in the international press.

Activists say that the international community needs to understand the real dangers faced by the likes of Cáceres and the impunity enjoyed by the perpetrators. “There is a difference between realising the danger and holding the people and systems accountable. This assassination took place because of the Honduran government’s inability to ensure indigenous people and women can carry out their legitimate work without fear.” Odendahl said.

Aleta Baun, an Indonesian activist from the western half of Timor, who has been campaigning on behalf of her Mollo people can relate easily to the Cáceres predicament. Baun, who also won the Goldman Environmental Award in 2013, has survived at least two assassination attempts.

“You feel completely alone when such attacks happen,” she said of an attack in when she was waylaid by 30 men. She said that there has been no serious pressure brought on by local governments and international players to curb such attacks.

Suryamani Bhagat an activist with Save the Forests of Jharkhand Movement in the eastern Indian state of Jharkhand also shares these sentiments. “I work with a lot of women, so I feel safer,” she said.

But once they are alone, that protective shield shatters and leads to deadly consequences.


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UN Says it Shattered Glass Ceilings Creating a Carpet of Shards Tue, 08 Mar 2016 23:38:51 +0000 Thalif Deen By Thalif Deen

In the 1960s, when gender discrimination was widespread at the United Nations, there was a story doing the rounds of a woman candidate who had applied for a mid-level professional job in the UN Secretariat.

She was armed with a Master’s Degree from an American university and perhaps eminently qualified for the job she was seeking. But at the end of the interview, she was asked: “But can you type?”

In a chauvinistic male-dominated Secretariat of a bygone era, women were being stereotyped and earmarked mostly for secretarial jobs while the men held all, of most, of the decision-making jobs in the UN hierarchy.

Last week, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon cited a famous memoir, appropriately titled “Never Learn to Type,” written by Dame Margaret Anstee, a former senior UN official.

Anstee, who served at the United Nations for over four decades (1952–93) was the first woman to break the glass ceiling and rise to the rank of Under-Secretary-General (in 1987) and appointed head of a UN peacekeeping mission.

At that time, Ban said, most of the jobs available for women was that of a secretary, endlessly pounding on typewriters (and perhaps picking up coffee from the cafeteria for their male bosses).

“So you have to know how to type,” said the Secretary-General, who described Anstee’s book as “quite inspiring and moving.”

But the United Nations has come a long way since the days of gender discrimination in the 1960s and 1970s: a landmark international conference on women in Mexico in 1975 and the adoption in December 1977 of a General Assembly resolution declaring an annual “UN Day for Women’s Rights and International Peace.”

The secretary-general claimed he appointed the first-ever female Force Commander of UN troops and pushed women’s representation at the upper levels of the Organization to “historic highs.”

Women are now leaders at the heart of peace and security — a realm that was once the exclusive province of men, he noted.

“When I arrived at the United Nations (in January 2007), there were no women leading our peace missions in the field. Now, nearly a quarter of all United Nations missions are headed by women — far from enough, but still a vast improvement.”

“I have signed nearly 150 letters of appointment to women in positions as Assistant Secretary-General or Under-Secretary-General. Some came from top Government offices with international renown, others have moved on to leadership positions in their home countries. All helped me prove how often a woman is the best person for a job.”

To ensure this very real progress is lasting, he said, the UN has built a new framework that holds the entire United Nations system accountable.

“Where once gender equality was seen as a laudable idea, now it is a firm policy. Before, gender sensitivity training was optional; now it is mandatory for ever-greater numbers of United Nations staff. In the past, only a handful of United Nations budgets tracked resources for gender equality and women’s empowerment; now this is standard for nearly one in three, and counting,” he said.

“I changed the landscape,” he said last week.

Still, the General Assembly, the highest policy making body at the UN, has elected only three women Presidents: Vijaya Lakshmi Pandit of India (1953), Angie Brooks of Liberia (1969) and Sheikha Haya Rashed al-Khalifa of Bahrain (2006). The rest, 67 in all, were men.

But there hasn’t been a single woman as UN Secretary-General since the founding of the Organization over 70 years ago. Currently, there is a campaign to ensure that the next UN chief be a woman. But whether this will be a political reality is anybody’s guess.

In a message on International Women’s Day, March 8, the Secretary-General warned women still continue to be victims of the world order (or disorder).

“Maternal mortality is one of many preventable perils. All too often, female babies are subjected to genital mutilation. Girls are attacked on their way to school. Women’s bodies are used ss battlefields in wars. Widows are shunned and impoverished.”

He said “we can only address these problems by empowering women as agents of change.” For more than nine years, he said, “I have put this philosophy into practice.”

“We have shattered so many glass ceilings we created a carpet of shards. Now we are sweeping away the assumptions and biases of the past so women can advance across new frontiers,” he added.

UN Under-Secretary-General and Executive Director of UN Women Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka said the UN’s post-2015 development agenda and the 17 Sustainable Development Goals include a specific goal to achieve gender equality.

This goal aims to end discrimination and violence against women and girls and ensure equal participation and opportunities in all spheres of life. Important provisions for women’s empowerment are also included in most of the other goals.

In conjunction with the adoption of the 2030 Agenda, more than 90 governments have answered UN Women’s call for action to “Step It Up for Gender Equality”.

She said heads of State and Government have pledged concrete and measurable actions to crack some of the fundamental barriers to the achievement of gender equality in their countries.

“We draw strength from this solidarity as we face world events such as severe population displacement, extreme violence against women and girls, and extensive instability and crises in many regions.”

“To arrive at the future we want, we cannot leave anyone behind. We have to start with those who are the least regarded. These are largely women and girls, although in poor and troubled areas, they can also include boys and men.”

She pointed out that women and girls are critical to finding sustainable solutions to the challenges of poverty, inequality and the recovery of the communities hardest hit by conflicts, disasters and displacements.

“They are at the frontline of the outbreaks of threatening new epidemics, such as Zika virus disease or the impact of climate change, and at the same time are the bulwark to protect their families, work for peace, and ensure sustainable economic growth and social change.”

The writer can be contacted at

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Alcohol Harm a Gender Empowerment Issue Tue, 08 Mar 2016 17:57:38 +0000 Kristina Sperkova Kristina Sperkova is President of IOGT International, a global temperance movement.]]>

Kristina Sperkova is President of IOGT International, a global temperance movement.

By Kristina Sperkova
NEW YORK, Mar 8 2016 (IPS)

International Women’s Day is a chance to celebrate the social, economic, cultural and political achievements of women around the world – often against great odds and all too often remaining invisible.

But women and girls worldwide are change makers and leaders for a better world. Role models are many.

Kristina Sperkova

Kristina Sperkova

It’s this perspective and understanding that makes us both hopeful and concerned. We are hopeful because we’ve seen considerable progress and vast achievements in gender equality and women empowerment. We are concerned because we also face major challenges not only to the achievements made but also to the health and well being of women and girls in general.

Last September, world leaders adopted 17 Sustainable Development Goals, including SDG5 “Achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls.” The Agenda2030 is a remarkable achievement, holding tremendous potential for sustainable and transformative change.

But there, too, are massive obstacles. Alcohol harm is a crosscutting obstacle to achieving the SDGs, as it negatively impacts 12 out of 17 goals, including SDG5.

Alcohol harm is clearly a Women’s Rights and gender empowerment issue. The world faces three major challenges for achieving gender equality, in the form of three global epidemics: Non-communicable diseases, HIV/AIDS, and Gender-based violence.

Each of these three global epidemics is disproportionately burdening women and girls, especially women in low- and middle-income countries and they have one common risk factor: alcohol use.

Alcohol is one of four major risk factors in the global epidemic that are non-communicable diseases. NCDs are the leading cause of death globally. A staggering 35 million people die every year from NCDs, of which 18 million are women. NCDs represent the biggest threat to women’s health worldwide, increasingly burdening women from developing countries in their most productive years

Secondly, alcohol is also a risk factor in the global epidemic of gender-based violence. Every third woman is subjected to violence at least once during her lifetime. In some parts of the world gender-based violence can be related to alcohol in up to 80% of the cases. And alcohol marketing plays a role in perpetuating prejudices and stereotypes of women; alcohol ads often depict women in de-humanized, sexualized and objectified ways. Alcohol marketing fuels gender-based violence and erodes women empowerment.

And thirdly, alcohol is a risk factor for HIV/AIDS because it increases the likelihood to engage in risky sexual behavior – like unprotected sex, frequent change of partners or violent sex. Alcohol weakens the immune system making it more susceptible for the HI-Virus and it makes adhesion to medication for people who are HIV-positive more difficult. In many aspects of the HIV/AIDS epidemic, women are disproportionately burdened.

It is with this on mind that we urgently encourage and support the world’s governments to apply the tools of high-impact and cost-effective alcohol policy in our joint efforts for women empowerment.

Alcohol policy measures, such as the Three Best Buys of increasing the price, reducing the availability and banning advertising – as described by World Bank, World Health Organization and World Economic Forum (among others) – are crucial tools for harnessing the potential of the Agenda2030 in general and the Gender Equality Goals (SDG5) in particular – including 4 of the targets under SDG5.

The three best buys of alcohol policy can contribute to bring about transformative change for women and girls, in helping to end all forms of discrimination, to eliminate all forms of gender-based violence, and to facilitate women’s full participation in public life.

We have the evidence. We have the political tools. We have societal momentum. Now we need political will and leadership.

What better day is there than International Women’s Day? What better moment in time, only a few days ahead of the 60th Commission on the Status of Women can there be – to stand up, together, for using all tools available for advancing gender equality.


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Time Out of Joint Tue, 08 Mar 2016 16:48:52 +0000 Nazish Brohi By Nazish Brohi
Mar 8 2016 (Dawn, Pakistan)

The obsession with women is evident in Friday sermons across the country, in the Council of Islamic Ideology’s fixation on regulating women’s bodies, in society’s vigilance of women and in the preoccupation with women’s dressing, holding it responsible for earthquakes and expediting the Day of Judgement.

Nazish Brohi

Nazish Brohi

But those predicting that women’s behavior will trigger the end of the world are not entirely wrong. The world they know is actually crumbling.

While growing up, I thought ‘mod’ was an Urdu word that meant disreputable women. I didn’t figure out that it was an abbreviation for ‘modern’ till much later. It explains the moral panic around women though.

Women and through them, the home, were the last bastion against modernity. Initially ushered in through colonialism, in people’s experience, with mass schooling came mass arrests; with long-distance roads came long-distance weapons; with premium on rationality came the dismissal of tradition. Liberating laws were in tandem with obstructive bureaucracies, the consolidated state simultaneous with decimated lifestyles.

A solution was needed that allowed benefiting from colonial engagement while also keeping cultural purity and personal identity intact. So men would wear pants, speak English and seek employment and representation, while the women would study religion and morality inside the home and raise children inculcating in them the value of traditions. This vein continues. Global economic, political and material integration will not subsume us as long as women as transmitters of identity are kept uncontaminated.

But now the inner sanctum has been breached. More women are studying and working outside homes and making marriage choices than ever before. Fertility rates are declining and the age of marriage has been moved forward. They have entered gender-bender fields from corporations to parliament, from sports to driving trucks. Laws have been introduced that regulate the private domain such as prohibiting anti-women customs, addressing domestic violence, allowing divorce and dismissing the consent of guardians. The state is extending social protection to the poorest of women and offering incentives for their economic participation.

And there’s the blowback. Not only is ‘customary’ violence like ‘honour’ killings increasing, but emerging forms are breaking with the past patterns of confining violence against women to the privacy of ‘chaar divaari’. Gang rapes, public stripping and parading, circulating videos of coercive pornography are not just bodily violations but have an important function of broadcasting public warnings. For others, the velocity of social change is signalling the ‘qayamat’ they believe can be stalled by calcifying women in status quo.

The hostility to human rights as a framework is the aftershock of a seismic change. The moral compass has upended. The move from the collective as a unit to the notion of individuals was nothing less than an inversion of the earth’s poles that apparently happens every couple of millennia.

The collectivities, the tribe, the caste, the ethnicity, the biradari, the village, the family, were all sustained by a political economy that made joint livelihoods and identities necessary. Even now, across rural Pakistan I find women unable to use the singular ‘I’; it is always ‘us’ and ‘we’. They don’t conceptually differentiate between personal and family interests. It is in this context that honour killings, forced marriages, use of women in conflict mediation (swara) and child labour occur, where the detriment of the individual is to the benefit of the group. ‘We’ masks the injustices that the ‘I’ uncovers.

Some things that indicate the old authentic pre-modern are new — the hijab for instance. Other things that look new, hence modern, are old conventions — women in leadership positions for instance.

In the search for authenticity, a sort of neo-archaeology of the indigenous, a hybrid reality is created. South African visa regulations required me to get written permission from my husband allowing me to travel alone. They said it was in keeping with the local culture. I argued that no authority in Pakistan had ever asked for this. It turned out that it was about minimising honour crimes asylum claims.

Women across Pakistan, meanwhile, continue to face an old ultimatum: they can either claim citizenship of the state or membership of the community. Appealing to the former means expulsion from the latter. Once you go to the police or courts or shelters, there is no going back into the family fold. Until recently, the reverse was also true: women within the fold of their communities were out of bounds for the state. But the gendered premise of citizenship is changing.

As the state was contested, it did not have the social legitimacy to assert monopoly over violence. So instead, it ‘democratised’ violence by creating enclaves of impunity: the state had the right to use violence in the public sphere and men had the right to use it in the private sphere. As the state gains acceptance and consolidates its monopoly on violence, it has started to challenge men’s impunity in the private sphere. This changes the terms of the social contract itself. This is why there is such a strong reaction to domestic violence laws.

Women’s lives are both, indicators of change and its collateral damage. The violence they face is in the public’s knowledge but mostly beyond public consciousness. But change happens anyway, whether willed or not. So where does that leave me?

A woman in a remote village on the border of Sindh and Balochistan was trying to understand what I did as I explained my research and advocacy work. Her ancestors were the traditional mourners of the Talpur rulers, women who were paid to wail about death and misfortune, communicate suffering and provide collective catharsis.

She rolled her beedi and had her eureka moment. “You do the same thing,” she said while smirking, “You’re the new generation rudaali.” I laughed. Then I agreed.

The writer is a researcher and consultant in the social sector.

This story was originally published by Dawn, Pakistan

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A Different Honour Tue, 01 Mar 2016 18:02:09 +0000 Bina Shah This story was originally published by Dawn, Pakistan]]>

This story was originally published by Dawn, Pakistan

By Bina Shah
Mar 1 2016 (IPS)

Sharmeen Obaid Chinoy`s record second win at the Oscars for her short document ary A Girl in the River: The Price of Forgiveness is proof that lightning can actually strike twice. Hardly four years ago, Chinoy was standing at the same stage in Los Angeles, accepting an Oscar for her documentary Saving Face, about Pakistani victims of acid attacks. Chinoy`s current Oscar winner examines a no less painful subject, honour killings in Pakistan.

The story centres around 18-year-old Saba, who fell in love with a man of her own choice; her father shot her in the head and threw her in a river to avenge the family`s `honour` Saba incredibly survived her ordeal and went to court against her family. Today, she stands as a powerful witness against these abhorrent crimes as one of the few to actually escape death at the hands of a family intent on avenging their slighted honour with a blood sacrifice.

The amount of global conversation about the movie and its subject is uncomfortable for many Pakistanis to bear. They don`t like being singled out as the country where women are killed for honour and perpetrators get away because of legal loopholes that permit a victim`s heirs to `forgive` the murderer. Yet if we can manage to bear our discomfort with the same grace and patience that Saba must bear the scars on her face, we might be able to enact a real change in Pakistani law, if not the attitudes behind the criminal act of honour killings.

Chinoy has stated in interviews that her real hope for this film is to see it put enough pressure on Pakistan`s government that it will enact an anti-honour killing law that has been languishing in the Senate since 2014.

This particular law, according to senator Sherry Rehman, herself an ardent champion of women`s rights, was passed in the National Assembly but is still in committee, meaning that it can`t yet be considered legal in Pakistan.

Meanwhile, women are still being killed for honour every day, in the name of tradition; 1,000 women a year, says Chinoy, are killed in Pakistan in honour crimes.

Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif took notice of the Oscar buzz surrounding Chinoy`s film and hosted a special screening of the movie in late February, the week before the Oscars.

Afterwards, he promised to make real efforts to eradicate the loopholes that allow perpetrators to escape unpunished for this crime.

Given the amount of injustices that exist in Pakistan today, would that a film could be made about each one that might be nominated for an Oscar. Then perhaps our government might pay attention to all the problems with the laws that on paper address theseissues but in practice are so ineffectively implemented.

Chinoy`s film and its Oscar win may be the push the government needs to enact an allencompassing law against honour killings. It comes within days of the Punjab government enacting the Punjab Women`s Protection Bill 2015, a landmark ruling that comprehensively penalises particular crimes against women including domestic violence, emotional, economic and psychological abuse, cyber crime, stalking and abetting of offenders.

This law is different from previous iterations in that it also proposes mechanisms to implement the laws, including violence against women centres, toll-free helplines, and restraining orders that can be enforced by fitting perpetrators with GPS tracking devices to ensure they stay away from the women they are terrorising.

For the first time in our society, the government has spelled out the various ways inwhich women are not just physically but also emotionally and mentally abused. And it has placed itself firmly on the side of the victim ratherthanthe aggressor, a sea change in our heavily patriarchal society.

Don`t expect societal attitudes towards gender-based violence to change overnight. Assoon as the women`s protection bill was passed, the religious right-wing was out making statements in the newspapers and appearing on television to protest the destruction of the family and the weakening of men`s standing in society. But for the first time, their protests rang hollow.

With more Pakistanis growing aware of women`s right to live in peace and safety, what is seen as religiously sanctioned male supremacy can no longer act as a cloak under which all these crimes remain hidden forever, in complete opposition to Islam`s true stance of protecting women from them.

No doubt there will be people who dismiss Sharmeen Obaid Chinoy as a `traitor` or an `agent` bent on disgracing Pakistan with her important films. To them, she has besmirche d their honour by bringing worldwide attention to a major injustice in our society. But if it helps to do away with the rot in our system that allows women and girls to die in the name of `honour`, the Oscar spotlight would be welcome in our darkest corners.

The writer is an author.

Twitter: @binashah

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Of the Same Ilk Sat, 27 Feb 2016 20:26:03 +0000 Aasim Sajjad Akhtar This story was originally published by Dawn, Pakistan]]>

This story was originally published by Dawn, Pakistan

By Aasim Sajjad Akhtar
Feb 27 2016 (IPS)

IT has been almost two weeks since the beginning of a protest movement of students, teachers and the wider democratic community in and around Delhi`s famed Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) that represents arguably the biggest challenge that Narendra Modi`s BJP government has faced since coming to power. Perhaps unsurprisingly, we in this country have scarcely paid attention to the whole af fair, even though it tells us much about India, its politics, and, indeed, just how similar our two countries are.

The story begins with the head of the JNU student union publicly denouncing the secretive manner in which Kashmiri militant Afzal Guru a convicted `terrorist` was executed three years ago. Twenty-eight-year old Kanhaiya Kumar is doing a doctorate in African Studies at JNU, and is associated with the All-India Students Federation, the student wing of the Communist Party of India (CPI). Needless to say, Kumar does not harbour any ideological sympathies for Guru, but he nevertheless is entitled, like all principled opponents of organised power, to ask questions about the state`s `counterterrorism` juggernaut.

History teaches us that it is precisely these types of principled questions that most threaten established structures of power because they expose the ideological foundations of domination. On cue, Kumar was arrested on sedition charges and sent to jail, with other student leaders put on a blacklist amidst a widespread propaganda drive denouncing Kumar and his associates as `enemies of India`.

The arrests and vilification campaign were met with outrage, and thousands of students mobilised at JNU as well as numerous other campuses across the country against the Modi regime. Indeed, students were already up in arms following the suicide of Hyderabad University PhD student Rohith Vemula a few weeks earlier in protest against the discrimination meted out to him by the university administration on account of his Dalit activism. Kumar`s arrest only confirmed that the BJP government is hell-bent on reinforcing India`s worst traditions of Brahmin supremacism and state authoritarianism.

And herein lies the rub. For all of the insistence ofstateideologues on bothsides of the border, India and Pakistan are far more similar than they are different. And here I am not referring to our shared cultural traits and dispositions but to the legacy of colonial rule that continues to shape how our states think and act.

The decision to accuse Kumar of fanning `anti-state` sentiments is hardly an anomaly.

The Indian state has not hesitated to lodge sedition charges against dissidents in the past, and its propensity to do so is unlikely to be diminished by the current episode.NationalistsinKashmir,AssamandNagaland, caste activists, leaders of ecological movements all have suffered the state`s wrath, their only crime being their willingness to speak up for their legitimate rights.

The Pakistani state is of the same ilk. It could even be argued thatit has outdone its Indian counterpart over the years inasmuch as anti-state charges are bandied about even more liberally in this country than next door.

Yet it matters little which state is better at criminalising dissent because both do it well enough to be considered virtually indistinguishable.

Of course there are also stark differences in our respective political contexts. The very fact that educated young people have carried on a mass protest against Rohith`s suicide and Kanhaiya`s arrest confirms the fruits of democracy students in Pakistani varsities have not even had the right to elect their own representatives for more than 30 years sinceZiaul Haq banned unions in 1984.

In this country the army remains a sacred cow which guards the `ideological frontiers` of the state a power that is unmatched by any institution in India.

Indeed, one could not countenance the creation of military courts through a con-stitutional amendment in Delhi as happened in Islamabad in January 2015.

So while we in Pakistan feel outrage at the nationalist jingoism currently on show in India, we are also a little bit envious at the democratic means available to those who function as the conscience of Indian society to resist state power. There is little doubt that democratic forces in India face a pushback from right-wing zealots today unlike anything they have ever faced before the fact that a party espousing `Hindutva` as its guiding ideology is running the government at the centre indicates just how far the religious right has come. But progressive traditions in India run deep, and it is these traditions that inspire radicals on this side of the border in our evolving struggle against the establishment and the forces of reaction.

In the final analysis, Indians and Pakistanis share the same future, just as we share the same past. If this future is to be a democratic, plural and egalitarian one, it will be in spite of rather than because of the states that we have inherited.

The writer teaches at Quaid-i-Azam University, Islamabad.

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Dealing with Security Threats Thu, 25 Feb 2016 23:07:10 +0000 I.A. Rehman This story was originally published by Dawn, Pakistan]]>

This story was originally published by Dawn, Pakistan

By I.A. Rehman
Feb 25 2016 (IPS)

The Lahore Literary Festival has ended in a blaze of success. The uncertainty about its being held at all and the doubts about the people`s capacity to defy fear and much else made the event all the more enjoyable. But the issues regarding the ways of dealing with security threats that it gave rise to still need to be seriously addressed.

The Punjab government has a good record of guaranteeing security at religious and cultural events that have been held in the provincial capital since the beginning of November 2015. The three-day Thaap conference on history, art and culture was held on private premises without bothering the lawenforcement agencies. Then there were three big events at Alhamra: the Faiz Festival, the Khayal Festival, and finally, the Lahore Arts Council`s own literary extravaganza. Only a few days before the LLF was to begin a Faiz Aman Mela was held at the Open Air Theatre. Since Lahore has never been free of threats from extremists the administration could claim credit for extending security to all these functions.

One is at aloss to ñnd a reasonfor the panic the authorities created by going to the extent ofundermining a festival that not only the city of Lahore but the country as a whole had begun to feel proud of.

Assuming that the threat-makers had a special reason to target the LLF guests or the crowds how did the authorities calculate that security could be guaranteed at Avari and not at Alhamra and how did they fix the number of foreign guests they could protect? Any precise answers to these questions would imply that the authorities knew more of the extremists` plans than is ever possible.

While faced with such a situation the authorities are required to deliberate on two interrelated points: the significance of the event under threat and the cost of asking for its cancellation. The first question was answered by the crowds the LLFattracted. No elaborate thesis is needed to demonstrate the role literature, art and culture play in enabling any people to realise themselves, especially to retain their sanity in times of conflict and despair.

Thus, LLF should have been treated as an essential activity that needed to be protected and encouraged.

As regards the cost of disallowing a major undertaking such as LLF, the cost caused to the people, in addition to the increase in the expenditure borne by the organizers, can be judged from the consequences of the change of venue and curtailment of activities.

Many people felt that the change of venue from a cultural complex open to the public to a hotel meant for the rich made the festival less foll(sy an affair.

The compulsion to trim the festival programme from three days to two led to dropping some of the activities. It is to be regretted that activities related to Punjabi language and literature had to be sacrificed and that was a huge loss. That the literary treasure and tradition of Punjab should not figure prominently in a literature festival held in Lahore is simply unthinkable. The Punjab government should be brave enough to accept at least a part of the blame.

A more important matter is the need to evolve a rational theme for dealing with terrorist threats. It goes without saying that each threat should be taken seriously, whether the target is a public figure, a state establishment or a private institution. It is also clear that the government and the targeted citizens should cooperate with each other in developing as dependable a security cover as possible. A serious cause of concern to the public is the casualness with which the authorities sometimes pass on the entire responsibility for security to the party under threat.

The orders to banks and petrol pumps to pay for security plans devised by the administration, the way schools are being ordered to meet the securityneeds, or some people are being told to go abroad are only a few illustrations of this approach.

One apparent flaw in the fight against terrorism is the absence of the role of the community/neighbourhood in protecting itself. There were times when communities threatened with communal riots or armed gangs of criminals used to organise collective defences. Similar actions were reported in the recent past from some tribal areas. We no longer hear of such initiatives in cities or villages.

Are local communities unaware of the need or justification for fighting terrorism? The mosques and shrines have been the targets of terrorist attacks. Is it impossible to develop these mosques and shrines as the nuclei of resistance to extremism? If the lawenforcement personnel and the targets of terrorists do not have the cushion of community/neighbourhood support the danger to them is much greater than is generally reckoned. Here is one of the most unbearable consequences of not having a counterterrorism narrative the inability to mobilise the people at large to take up the fight against terrorism as their own rightful cause.

Above all, there has to be a limit up to which normal life can be allowed to be paralysed by extremists` threats. Suppose the authorities receive information about a possible attack on the civil secretarlat in Lahore or the parliament house in Islamabad.

Will these institutions be closed down? Let us not forget that each time a public function is cancelled because of threat to security, or a school is closed or a public figure is told to go into exile the terrorists are handed over a victory they do not deserve. There has to be a balance between the steps that citizens and public/private institutions must take by way of precaution and what the state must do to protect its citizens. surely a state that does not promise its citizens freedom from fear in fact denies them the right to life in its real sense.


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