When negotiations concerning power transition in Mali were held in Burkina Faso 15-17 April, four Malian women peace activists participated. They presented a declaration that pointed out the problem with having so few women present, and that women’s input is needed to serve the greater good of the country.
- It is unfortunate that women, who make up 51,7 percent of the Malian population, are not well represented at these crucial moments of decision-making, stated Saran Keita, President of the women’s peace and security network REPSFECO/Mali and one of the four women present, reports UN Women.
It was on March 22nd that a military coup ousted Mali’s democratically-elected president Amadou Toumani Touré. The Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) immediately started negotiations and three weeks later Mali returned to civil rule, when a new interim president, the parliamentary speaker Dioncounda Traoré, was sworn in. But the northern parts of the country are still very unstable, since Tuareg rebels, in alliance with different Islamic militants, seized control of the area shortly after the military coup.
The women’s declaration at the transitional negotiations also mentioned the situation in the north, demanding an unconditional liberation of the northern territories. But it highlighted the need of resolving the conflict through dialogue rather than force.
And the women were able to get their main demands included as part of the final declaration. One of these reads that “the armed groups in the North of Mali are reminded of their obligation to protect the civilians and to scrupulously respect human rights; they are invited to put an immediate end to all forms of violence perpetrated against women and children.”, writes UN Women.
12 months transition
Still the final document of the negotiations was ”deliberately vague”, according to African Diplomacy, and mostly referred back to the agreement signed with the military coup-makers on April 6th. But in a follow-up meeting yesterday, the Heads of State and Government in West Africa decided on a 12 months long political transition period and “to extend the mandate of the organs of the transition, including the acting president, the prime minister and the government on this 12 month period to ensure continuity of governance”.
The Malian women mediators are continuing their advocacy work and has, among other things, drafted a plan of action for mediation.
Read more in Women come to the negotiating table for Mali’s peace and transition process by UN Women and ECOWAS calls for a 12-month transition in Mali by African Diplomacy.
Following the protests against the composition of the Constitution Committee in Egypt, an Egyptian court last week suspended the panel. The day after tomorrow lawmakers, politicians and the ruling military council will meet to discuss how to move forward, reports Bloomberg News.
Late March the Egyptian People’s Assembly announced the participants of the committee responsible for drafting the countrie’s new constitution. The appointments immediately caused strong reactions among independents and liberals, who claimed that the selection had been made in favour of islamists and that both women, young Egyptians and Christians were being marginalized. Only 6 of the 100 committee members were women.
About 20 committee members resigned and on April 15th an administrative court suspended the committee, questioning if the selection process hade been in accordance with Egyptian law. The court’s ruling thereby temporarily halted the process of Egypt transitioning from a military to a civilian rule that is scheduled to take place July 1st.
According to Bloomberg News, the upcoming meeting is a way to get the process back on track. Emad Abdel-Ghafour, head of the Egyptian Salafist Al-Nour party have been cited by the Middle East News Agency saying that the members of the committee now will be entirely from outside of parliament, instead of the 50/50 selection of the suspended panel.
Find out more in:
Egyptian women barred from new constitution
Egypt court suspends constitutional panel (Al-Jazeera)
Egypt Parties to Meet Tantawi on Constitution Committee April 22 (Bloomberg News)
The Kvinna till Kvinna Foundation recieved a blog post from one of our colleagues visiting women’s rights organizations in the Kurdistan region in Iraq:
“My hotel is brand new. The floors are gleaming and it feels like I am the first to ever sleep in the big bed with its embroidered bedspread. The town of Erbil resembles a gigantic construction site. New houses are popping up everywhere: hotels, businesses and homes – for those who can afford them that is. Erbil, the metropolis of the Kurdistan region in northern Iraq, wants to show itself to the world and there are many who want to establish themselves there. The unused oil deposits are working their magic on foreign investors and the war feels far far away, at least to an unknowing visitor. Spring has arrived in the Kurdistan region.
In the part of Erbil called Ankawa, I meet with Lanja Abdullah in the office of the women’s rights organization Warvin. She is a brave young woman who fight for women in the Kurdistan region to be able to exercise their rights. A controversial mission in a society with strong traditional and religious values. A society where violence against women is a huge problem. Threats and slander have become part of everyday life for Lanja, who never refrains from speaking her mind. At present she is involved in a legal battle with a highly placed mulla in Erbil, who she has accused of threatening her.
Reading the news on Warvins site is disheartening: ”A girl killed by AK 47”, ”A girl hangs herself” – the same theme repeats itself. According to Lanja suicides among women is a growing problem in Kurdistan, and she is trying to find out why.
- The only facts we can get hold of is the number of women who have died. I want to know why they died, why they decided to end their own lives. And I want to know if the suicides always are suicides. Every week I visit women with severe burns at the hospital in town and try to take their witness statements. Often our conversation is the last one that they have, since the burns are so bad. That affects me deeply.
Thinking of their children
Lanja describes how the women´s thoughts almost always are on their children, even during the last minutes of their lives. That is why they don’t dare to tell the truth about how they recieved their injuries.
- If they reveal that it was their husband who have set them on fire, he could end up in jail and then who would take care of the children? They take their worry and consideration with them to their graves.
Big changes are taking place in the Kurdistan region. Traditions are being challenged and new values are gaining ground. Women’s rights activists like Lanja are fighting for women’s right to their bodies and for them to be part of decision-making on the same terms as men. And they need all the support they can get.
Spring has arrived in the Kurdistan region, right?”
Park in Erbil. Photo: Anna Lithander/The Kvinna till Kvinna Foundation.
Improve women’s role in political and economical decision-making and enhance the fight against perpetrators of sexual violence walking free. These are the main points of a new partnership on gender equality between EU and UN Women.
The Memorandum of Understanding was signed by EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy Catherine Ashton and Commissioner for Development Andris Piebalgs for EU and Under-Secretary-General and Executive Director of UN Women Michelle Bachelet for UN Women, during EU Sustainable Energy for All Summit in Brussels, Belgium on April 16th.
EU and UN Women has a long history of working together, for example in the Increasing Accountability in Financing for Gender Equality Progamme created to help governments, donors and civil society in 15 countries to improve their work on gender equality. But the Memorandum “ensures closer collaboration”, writes the European Commission in a press release.
- Discrimination against women and girls remains the most pervasive and persistent form of inequality. Together with UN Women we will work to improve the role of women in political and economic decision-making. We will also fight impunity for perpetrators of sexual violence, ensure better protection of women and improve their access to justice. These are issues that need our full attention and this new partnership enhances our ability to work even harder to reach these goals, commented Catherine Ashton.
According to the press release the partnership will involve the two organisations working together on policies and programmes on gender equality and women’s empowerment, as well as them regularly sharing relevant information, analysis and strategic assessments in order to improve collaboration. How these efforts will manifest themselves in practice has not yet been presented.
The popular uprising in Egypt that led to President Mubarak resigning in February 2011, has not led to the democracy and freedom that the protesters were asking for. A recent study shows that, during the past year, demonstrations have brutally been crushed, participants arbitrary arrested and thousands of people prosecuted in military tribunals. At the same time human rights organizations are being persecuted by the authorities.
Protesters gathered in the Tahrir square, Cairo in November 2011. Photo: The Kvinna till Kvinna Foundation.
The study – Steady Deterioration of the Rights to Freedom of Association and Peaceful Assembly, Absence of the Rule of Law – was conducted by the Euro-Mediterranean Human Rights Network, EMHRN, and the Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights, Defenders, OPHRD, in February. The aim was to investigate the status of the right to freedom of association and the situation of civil society organizations in Egypt. And the result was disheartening.
”The political and social situation in Egypt remains tense one year after the revolution, and the underlying demands remain unmet. The situation of human rights and public freedoms has on the contrary deteriorated, according to several human rights organisations met during the mission.”, writes EMHRN and OPHRD.
Brutal violence against protesters
Some of the examples of the worsened situation mentioned in the report are:
- In July 2011, the government set up a committee to investigate the foreign funds received by dozens of Egyptian and international NGOs, and threatened their employees with prosecution under the pretext that foreign funding constitutes a violation of Egyptian sovereignty. In December 2011, heavily armed security forces conducted raids in the offices of several Egyptian and international NGOs.
- In January 2012 a proposed draft law to further tighten the government’s already heavy control on civil society organizations, was released to the media by the government. The law had originally been prepared in 2009 under Mubarak. After heavy protests from civil society organizations and some parliamentarians, the government committée responsible for drafting the law is now said to weigh in the propositions of changes made by NGOs and the Muslim Brotherhood in its continued work. The final result is yet to be revealed.
- On March 9, 2011, during a demonstration on Tahrir Square, several protesters were arrested and subjected to ill treatment. Among them were seven women who endured degrading treatment and had to undergo forced ‘virginity tests’ conducted by male military doctors.
- On November 19, confrontations between protesters and security forces took place, following the violent break-up of a sit-in on Tahrir Square. These clashes lasted four days, with the police using lead bullets and live bullets against the demonstrators: 45 people were killed and thousands were injured.
- It is very difficult to know whether all those who were arrested during the demonstrations held in 2011 and 2012 have been released or whether they are being prosecuted. At the same time no investigation results have ever been made public about allegations of ill treatment inflicted when repressing demonstrations or in detention.
- Since the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces, SCAF, took over power on February 11, 2011, more than 12 000 civilians have been tried in military courts, thus being denied their right to a fair trial.
International support needed
EMHRN and OPHRD ends the report with calling upon the Egyptian government, the EU and its Member States, different UN bodies and the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights, ACHPR, to take different actions to immediately change the situation described.
Sexual violence and rape during conflict is a crime that hugely goes unpunished. To draw attention to this fact, the Women Under Siege project is trying a new approach. On its web site every single case of sexual abuse that is being reported in the ongoing conflict in Syria, is being mapped.
- Our mission is to show the world that each woman raped is a person who has been illegally brutalized against her will, that she is part of a family and a community that may now be shredded. We aim to show that this woman, wherever she is, matters, Lauren Wolfe and Catherine M. Mullaly from Women Under Siege write on the site.
Reporting in real-time
The Women Under Siege web site describes eight armed conflicts, from the Holo-caust to the war that is still going on in the Democratic Republic of Congo, with a focus on how sexual violence has been used as a way of warfare. The site also has a collection of women’s stories, testimonies of the atrocities they have been subjected to. But the project doesn’t rest there. To highlight that these are not just crimes committed in the past, Women Under Siege are trying a new way of showing that conflict-related sexual abuse is taking place right now – in Syria.
- We are gathering reports of rape, sexual assault, and groping—as well as the consequences of sexualized violence, including mental health issues and pregnancy. By utilizing Ushahidi crowdsourcing technology, which allows survivors, witnesses, and first-responders to report via email, Twitter (#RapeinSyria), or directly to the site, we are able to get these stories to you in real time. A map points to where the attack happened, while we give deeper context when you click on the report, Lauren Wolfe and Catherine M. Mullaly explains.
Stories from refugees
There are many stories of extremely cruel acts of rape and sexual violence being reported by refugees who have fled from Syria. It has been difficult to get reports from within the country since journalists have been stopped when trying to go to the areas involved in the conflict.
If you want to follow what has already been reported, or if you have an incident of sexual violence to report, visit the Syria crowdmap.
Find out more about the project at The cartography of suffering: Women Under Siege maps sexualized violence in Syria and about sexual violence during armed conflicts at Women and war.
The Women Under Siege project is an initiative from the Women’s Media Center.
- Lubanga is convicted, that’s good. But there are worse war criminals walking free, protected by the government. That makes it harder for us to trust in the legal system, comments Christian Sango from the Congolese organization CEDEJ – that works to strengthen young girls’ rights and opportunities – after the first conviction ever in the International Criminal Court, ICC.
Goma in Eastern Congo is one of the places where several war crime perpetrators are still living, having ordinary lives. Many of them have not yet been prosecuted. Photo: The Kvinna till Kvinna Foundation.
Thomas Lubanga was one of the war lords fighting in the violent Ituri conflict in Eastern Democratic Republic of Congo. A reported number of 70 000 people lost their lives in the war that took place 2000-2003. This March Thomas Lubanga was convicted in the ICC for having recruited child soldiers to his armed group, Union of Congolese Patriots, UPC.
Prosecutes war crimes
The ICC was established in 1998, creating a way for the international community to be able to prosecute war crimes such as genocide and crimes against humanity. This is the first conviction ever in the ICC and it is internationally acknowledged as a mile stone in the fight against impunity after armed conflict. But at the same time the Lubanga case has been critizised for leaving out many of the crimes that the former war lord is suspected of.
- He is guilty of so many other atrocities, like sexual violence against women and abuse of kidnapped girls. But sure, the conviction is a signal, a warning to other criminals in DR Congo, says Aurelie Bitondo from the organization REFAMP.
No help for raped women
- For those of us who work with the victims, and to get the perpetrators prosecuted, this conviction is frustrating. I think of all the people who were killed in the war and the women who were raped. The women are alive today, but they have never gotten any help with health care or being payed damages. For them the conviction has little effect – many of them don’t even know about it, says Julienne Lusenge, who grew up in Ituri and now works for SOFEPADI.
Another leader still free
At the same time as Thomas Lubanga, Bosco Ntaganda – the leader of another armed group called National Congress for the Defence of the People, CNDP – was prosecuted. But Ntagandas case has not lead to any conviction. In an effort to stop the armed conflict in Eastern DR Congo, CNDP’s troups were merged with the Congolese forces, which suddenly made Ntaganda a commander of the national army. A fact that has upset many people.
- Ntaganda can visit restaurants, play tennis and lead a good life in Goma. He is protected by the government and President Kabila. To prosecute him is crucial for people to be able to trust in the legal system. He has many lives on his concience, he was called ”The Terminator” during the war in Ituri, says Christian Sango.
Thomas Lubanga’s sentence will be announced within the next couple of weeks.
The International Criminal Court (for Rwanda) was first with defining rape during armed conflict as a crime against humanity. More on this in women and armed conflict.
For the first time Lebanese and Palestinian women’s organizations have joined forces for women’s rights in Lebanon. In a two-phase demonstration, on the 8th and 25th of March, they protested in Beirut with the watchword “Towards the achievement of full equality and citizenship for women”.
Demonstration on the stairs of the National Museum in Beirut, Lebanon, 8th of March. Photo: Alexandra Karlsdotter Stenström/The Kvinna till Kvinna Foundation.
- We have planned these demonstrations since the beginning of the year. It was the first time that so many civil society actors and NGOs agreed to integrate other women’s rights demand, such as the rights of Palestinian refugee women, into a Lebanese women’s action, says Leila el Ali from the women’s rights organization Najdeh.
The demonstration on the 8th of March took place on the stairs of the National Museum in Beirut. Around 25 NGOs working for women’s and human rights gathered, and although the majority of the protesters were women, there were also men participating. The organizations had put together a 10-point list with actions necessary to meet their demand of full equality:
- Personal status civil law
- Women’s right to pass on the citizenship to her children and family
- Criminalization of violence against women and girls
- Women’s quota in the Lebanese parliament
- Reform of the electoral law
- Civil and human rights for Palestinian women in Lebanon
- The protection of women and promotion of their right in decision making
- Elimination of discrimination against women in the Lebanese Penal Code
- Gender equality in labour law and social security
- Gender equality in the tax system
Many Palestinian women from camps
On the second demonstration, the 25th of March, the protesters marched from Beirut’s Barbir area toward the Grand Serail in downtown Beirut. And this time even more people joined.
- Over 1 000 persons participated and half of them were Palestinian women from the camps, says Leila el Ali.
The action also recieved supporting letters and statements from other women activists and NGOs in the Arab world. Even Lebanon’s First Lady, Mrs Wafaa Sleiman, sent a statement supporting the protesters’ demands.