For women’s full participation in conflict resolution and peacebuilding

An initiative from Kvinna till Kvinna

Advocacy effort behind better representation for Libya’s women

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After a month long campaign Libyan Women’s Platform for Peace, LWPP, managed to change the proposed new electoral law for Libya to secure women’s participation, writes the Euro-Mediterranian Human Rights Network, EMHRN. The new law, that was passed on February 8th, guarantees women at least 40 out of 200 seats in the Constituent Assembly that will draft the country’s new constitution. It also binds requiring parties to alternate male and female candidates on their lists for the New Libyan Assembly. Because 80 seats of the 200-member assembly are allocated to party lists, 40 women will be guaranteed seats in the assembly.

The original proposition contained a quota of 10 percent representation for women. When it was announced LWPP organized protests and set up the draft of an alternative law with the help of legal experts. And the now approved law contains many passages with the language of the LWPP draft.

-It hasn’t been an easy battle, but we thank all the members of our legal team and all the civil society members and youth groups who joined protests in public squares all around Libya in favor of a more equitable and inclusive electoral law, said Zahra’ Langhi of the LWPP to EMHRN.

Read more on EMHRN and LWPP.

50 000 rapes – 30 prosecutions

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23 February the UN Secretary General presented the third annual report from his Special Representative on Sexual Violence in Conflict, Margot Wallström, for the UN Security Council. It contained some elements of hope, like the fact that over 150 members of the national army and national police of the Democratic Republic of Congo were sentenced for rape and other acts of sexual violence during last year. But Margot Wallström stressed the fact that, overall, these crimes are not being punished.

Margot Wallström

Margot Wallström, UN Special Representative on Sexual Violence in Conflicts. Photo: UN/Rick Bajornas.

- When I met with women in Bosnia and Herzegovina I thought we would be talking about the development and women’s role in politics. But 16 years after the war, what they wanted to talk about was the rapes they had been subjected to and kept re-living. The lack of redress and justice is staggering. An estimated 50 000 rapes has lead to just 30 prosecutions, she said.

- Yes preventive diplomacy is important, and yes zero tolerance policies matter. But ultimately rape must carry consequences.

Arguing over mandate

Many of the Security Council’s members applauded the report and gave it their support. But some countries representatives objected to what they called the Special Representative “overstepping her mandate”. This due to the fact that the report also mentions incidents of sexual violence taking place outside the  context of armed conflict – for instance women protesters in Egypt being arrested and subjected to so called virginity tests. But Margot Wallström withheld the importance of the Special Representative on Sexual Violence in Conflict being able to address also these crimes.

- The word that kept coming back in the debate was “prevention”. And if we want to do prevention we can not only focus on armed conflict, but we should look at post-conflict situations and of course that situations that are being discussed regularly in the Security Council, she said.

In the end the Security Council decided that there would be no restrictions in the mandate of the Special Representative on Sexual Violence in Conflict, and the Representative’s mission, that was due to end in March, was also prolonged.

List of perpetrators

Besides mentioning crimes committed, the report for the first time contains a list of the worst perpetrators. According to Margot Wallström this is an important tool to show everyone that it’s no longer possible to get away with acts of sexual violence.

- Yes preventive diplomacy is important, and yes zero tolerance policies matter. But ultimately rape must carry consequences. It has become more dangerous to be a woman fetching water or collecting firewood than a fighter on the frontline, she said.

Examples from the report:

  • In April 2009 the Constitutional Court of Colombia ordered the Attorney-General’s Office to pursue investigations into 183 specific cases of sexual violence against women and girls. To date only four of those cases have been brought to trial.
  • In Cote d’Ivoire an increase in rape and gang rape targeting civilians were witnessed during the resent post-election crisis. These crimes were committed by all parties to the conflict. Between January and September of 2011, 478 cases of rape were documented across the country. Only 13 arrests have been made and to date there have been no convictions.
  • In Liberia post-war sexual violence has taken on new characteristics, such as gang rapes and the sexual abuse of very young children. Between April 2010 and March 2011 only 38 of 903 reported cases of sexual violence reached trial. 17 of the 38 ended in convictions.
  • In Bosnia-Herzegovina (BiH), more than 16 years after the end of the conflict, only 30 cases of wartime crimes of sexual violence have been prosecuted. BiH’s definition of war crimes of sexual violence is also inconsistent with international standards, which results in leap-holes for perpetrators. And violence experienced during the war has manifested itself in increased and more severe cases of domestic violence in the country.
  • In the Democratic Republic of Congo several incidents of mass rapes by elements of the national army were reported. These were said to be acts of retaliation against the population for their alleged collaboration with the “enemy”. A total of 625 cases of sexual violence, with different parties of the conflict as perpetrators, were documented during the reporting period.

Download the 2012 annual report by the UN Special Representative on Sexual Violence in Conflict.

The first female presidential candidate in Egypt

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She’s the first women in Egypt running for the country’s highest office, the presidency. But she’s doing it on her own, without any campaign funds and without believing herself that she has any chance.
- I’m glad that people don’t oppose me, says Buthania Kamel.

Buthaina Kamel is a busy woman. Just a few minutes before she’s supposed to appear on a TV show, she arrives at the reception of the network company where we’ve arranged to meet. Behind her trails a tail of journalists and photographers and before she has to disappear into the studio she sits down to host an improvised press conference.

- Our revolution is not finished, she says before any of us have had a chance to ask any questions.
- Still nothing has changed, she continues and elaborates on the military council governing the country since February, when Mubarak was forced to step down.
- We don’t trust them. They belong to the same regime as Mubarak.

Buthaina Kamel surrounded by journalists and activists during a visit in the activists tent camps outside the military council's headquarters. Photo: Maria Jansson.

We’re a couple of hundred metres away from the Tahrir square, where only a few days ago demonstrators died from tear gas and rubber bullets. Buthaina Kamel is also couching from inhaling to much tear gas and on her t-shirt are the words of the revolution printed: ”The military council must go”. She sees herself as a presidential candidate for the activists and devotes all her time to the revolution.

- We have a declared state of emergency and 16 000 people are awaiting trials in military courts. So the military is supposed to decide if the death shootings in the Tahrir square should be investigated, when they themselves were the perpetrators. Of course that will never happen. And the military council has yet to prove that they have any other intentions than to just remain in power, she says.

Famous radio host
Buthaina Kamel became famous through her own radio show where she was an outspoken host who allowed Egyptians to discuss subjects that were deemed taboo, like sex and abuse. The show only run for a few years before it was forced off the air, though it was said to give Egyptians a bad reputation.

Buthaina Kamel then transferred to TV and became one of the country’s most well known news anchors. But after the scandalous presidential election in 2005, she decided to leave journalism to become a political activist. Since then she’s been active in several different movements critical to the regime, and has publicly questioned the corruption and lack of legal security and freedom of speach for the people.

- I have to be a candidate, it’s more important than ever, she says and nods in the direction of the Tahrir square. Especially when religious and extremist parties are trying to take over the revolution. I have to stand on the opposite side of that.
- Also I want there to be a female candidate running and if you demand your rights, you yourself have do your part.

Scarce campaign funds
It’s been difficult for Buthania to get her campaign funded. As a female candidate she has few supporters and no party has reached out to her, to hear if she wants to be their candidate. And in contrast to for example the former IAEA president, Mohamed El Baradei, she doesn’t have a hord of young volunteers lining up to do campaign work for her.

The Muslim Brotherhood has clearly, on religious grounds, stated that a female president is unthinkable. Other sees her campaign as a way for Egypt to improve its reputation. But Buthania doesn’t want to speak of her role, or her experience as a female politician.

- I’m proud of the courage women showed during the revolution. We have proved to the ones who believe that we should stay at home, that we want something else and that they are wrong. Noone else is going to fight for our rights, we have to do it ourselves.

Long history of male leaders
The women who demonstrated during the revolution gained a new level of confidence, and the young women from rural areas who participated in the actions, went back home looking at themselves and their rights in a new light, Buthania says.

With a long history of ”strong” men ruling the country, it’s evident that the next president also will be a man. In fact the Egyptian constitution states that the president has to be married to ”an Egyptian woman”, not just ”an Egyptian”.

Before the interview I ask a group of men in a café what they think of the idea of a woman being president.
- Of course we could have a female president, they say, puffing on their water pipes and raising their eyebrows at each other, as if to say ”sure, everything’s possible”.
- But he has to be the best candidate, one of them says and the others nod in agreement.
- He has to be strong, the man continues and raises a clenched fist.

Glad to be accepted
But Buthania Kamel doesn’t think that being a women has rendered her any special opposition.
-Yes, we’re living in a traditional country, she says, fully aware of people’s expectations.

She doesn’t want to hazard a guess on her chances, but she’s certain that she won’t be elected.
- I’m happy that people accept me as a candidate, that they’re not shocked that there’s a woman running for president. They don’t have to vote for me. I’m glad that they don’t oppose or ignore me.

Ultra-orthodox attacks on women in Jerusalem

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We recieved a blog post from one of The Kvinna till Kvinna Foundation‘s employees in Jerusalem, commenting on the reports of the continuosly harsher environment for women in the city, due to attacks from ultra-orthodox Jews. There is always a bigger picture…

This is the first time I write a blog… ever. So for this momentous occasion, I’ve decided to share my thoughts on the recent media reports of the ultra-orthodox community committing  acts of violence directed primarily against women for not being “modest” or for not complying with the community’s unspoken rules (i.e. sitting at the back of the bus while the men sit in the front). This has become such news that I even read an article about it in my parents’ local newspaper (the Herald-Tribune… not the International Herald Tribune…the Sarasota Florida Herald Tribune )!

While I think it is great that media is writing about the image of women in public spaces (or the disappearing image) and what impact conservative practices are having on women’s lives… there is still something that doesn’t feel right about all this sudden media frenzy. So I decided to have coffee with an Israeli friend to discuss.

Rina told me that she feels that what we are seeing is a response backed by liberal Israelis who need to show that they respect women’s rights so that they can keep proving that this is a modern, democratic society – the only democracy in the Middle East, according to Israel. Yet there is no real analysis coming out as to why these extreme acts against women are taking place nor what has made these groups so strong. There is no discussion about the fact that the state has supported them financially for years and let them live by their own principles in their own neighborhoods.

Rather than an open debate on root causes, the reaction has been to vilify the religious conservatives, to show how weird they are, that they are just a rare anomaly, and in fact, overall, Israel is still a modern, liberal society that respects women’s rights.

What am I trying to conclude by writing this? Well, that the international media attention against the ultra-orthodox is perhaps not painting the whole picture.

Linda Öhman, The Kvinna till Kvinna Foundation, Jerusalem

The war on terrorism – an attack on women’s rights

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When USA’s war on terrorism started it was accompanied by words like ”human rights” and ”democracy”. But, according to the report A Decade Lost, women and hbt persons have become the unseen victims.

More than ten years have passed since the attack on World Trade Center in New York, on the 9th of September 2001. The so called war on terrorism that followed has gotten a lot of attention from media and human rights activists, because of its violations of human rights, like torture and imprisonment without trials. Crimes committed by the US government on numerous occations. But when researcher Jane C Huckerby interviewed female relatives to Guantanomo prisoners, she realized that there were almost no material available on the affects of the war on women’s situation.

Lama Fakih and Jane C Huckerby

Lama Fakih and Jane C Huckerby. Photo: The Kvinna till Kvinna Foundation/Maria Zerihoun.

- We contacted the United Nations special rapporteur on human rights and counter-terrorism, Martin Scheinin, and encouraged him to write a report on gender and counter-terrorism for the UN, says Jane C Huckerby.

She and her team worked together with Martin Scheinin on the report, and in 2009 it was presented for the general assembly. The report suggested that women and hbt persons had become victims in the war on terrorism.

- To say that there were strong reactions is an understatement. Many governments were furious that Martin Scheinin had highlighted hbt persons situation and over the fact that he had used the gender concept in a way that didn’t concern biology but social stereotypes. Honestly I think they were mad just to hear someone with a counter-terrorism mandate speak about a gender perspective.

Study on USA’s counter-terrorism policy

But the research didn’t end there. For the last three years Jane C Huckerby and Lama Fakih have done an extensive study of USA’s counter-terrorism policy from a gender perspective, for the Center for Human Rights and Global Justice at New York University School of Law.

To get information on how the war on terrorism has affected women on grass-roots level, they conducted workshops in the Middle East, Africa and Asia.

- At the same time we devoted a lot of time to interviewing US government representatives, to get their thoughts about the gender perspective of their counter-terrorism work.

Fundamental violation of human rights

The combined results of these studies became the report A Decade Lost – Locating Gender in US Counter terrorism. It confirms that the counter-terrorism programs affects women’s situation in a negative way.

- The results were the same in all the cases we examined: women and sexual minorities had been the unseen victims of USA’s war on terrorism. So we call the report ”a decade loss”, because of the total silence surrounding this fundamental violation of human rights.

Increase of gender-based violence

“when it comes to negotiating treaties with terrorists and extremist groups, women’s rights are being sacrificed”

According to the report, the war on terrorism affects women in multiple ways. Gender-based violence has increased both in Afghanistan and Iraq, gender stereotypes have been reinforced and stricter border controls have rendered victims of human trafficing even more oppressed and vulnerable.

- Also, USA’s strict counter-terrorism laws have made it harder for both private persons and different types of bodies to support hbt and women’s rights organizations, since they often have to be small and secretive, and don’t dare to sign the counter-terrorism documents that USA demands.

The studies show that women are getting caught between counter-terrorism operations, acts of terrorism and states failing to protect them. And when it comes to negotiating treaties with terrorists and extremist groups, women’s rights are being sacrificed.

Aid focused on men

- Another thing we saw clearly was that the American aid has increasingly been focused on preventing terrorism, and men are seen as more likely to become terrorists than women. Therefore the resources have been put on programs for boys, even in places where girls’ needs are much bigger, says Jane C Huckerby.

The American military has engaged themselves in several non-military activities to make them more popular. Most of the time they haven’t consulted the women in the societies where they have been, but only the men in charge, thereby enforcing patriarchal structures instead of contributing to a democratic development.

- One example is when American military were building wells in a village in Kenya. They didn’t consult any women, although women almost always are in charge of fetching water. So the wells were placed at the wrong spots and then broke, causing the village’s whole water supply to dry up.

Surprised by the gender-blindness

Jane C Huckerby and Lama Fakih find it striking how gender-blind the war on terrorism has been.

- USA have constantly talked about democracy and women’s rights, but in reality women’s security has not been prioritized.

The researchers now hope that the US government will learn from the report. Their ignorance concerning the effects of the war on terrorism has been the most surprising finding in the studies, says Jane C Huckerby and Lama Fakih.

- But several of the officials we have spoken to, have realized their gaps in knowledge and shown interest in our report. We hope that this will lead to the use of thorough gender analysis in international actions. So they don’t continue to unintentionally punish women and hbt persons.



Iraqi Minister of Women introduces dresscodes

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In an official letter the Iraqi Minister of Women affairs, Ibtihal al-Zaidi, has told female state employees to start wearing ”suitable” clothes. Short skirts, tights, shiny blouses or see-through dresses are no longer welcome.

Grafitti on wall in Basra

"Women who don´t obey will be punished". Grafitti on a wall in Basra. Photo: The Kvinna till Kvinna Foundation.

According to women’s activists these dresscodes are just another way to weaken women’s rights in the country. Since it’s not really clear what’s considered suitable, they fear that the minister’s comments will lead to women being forced to cover their hair and wear more conservative clothes.

10 February women activists gathered in the capital Basra to protest against the minister’s decree. The activists have also called upon parliamentarians to take action.

Ibtihal al-Zaidi is not known for standing up for women´s human rights. In a recent interview she said that she doesn’t believe in equality between women and men. She also said that she need’s her husband´s approval in everything, since she is beneath him.