Eight different parties have taken the Kenyan government to court over its alleged failure to protect them from sexual violence in the aftermath of the post-election clashes in 2007.
Kenya’s national elections in December 2007 were followed by widespread ethnic violence. Women and children were often targeted and sexually assaulted. Up until now the Kenyan government has not prosecuted any of the sexual offenders of the post-election violence.
A group of Kenyan civil society organizations and victims of sexual violence are now suing the government in response to its failure to act and investigate the crimes and also for the lack of protection during the riots. The government failed to properly train and prepare police to protect civilians from sexual violence, they claim. 26 per cent of the recorded rapes from that time period were committed by police officers.
General Election in Kenya 2012The next Kenyan general elections will be held on 4 March 2013, electing the President, Senators, County Governors, Members of Parliament, Civic Wards and Women County Representatives. They will be the first elections held under the new constitution, which was passed in 2010. Many fear for another violent election.
Physical and sexual violence targeting women is commonplace in Kenya and widely tolerated. Contributory factors are, amongst others, the low status of women in society, patriarchal values, power structures focused on male dominance and a criminal justice system that is largely inaccessible, especially to poor women, according to a recent report Battering, Rape and Lethal Violence by Claire Mc Evoy.
Women in Damascus, Photo: Trilli Bagus
February 18th to 20th, Syrian activists and members of the country’s opposition met in Stockholm for a three days conference to discuss ”Women’s Influence and Participation in a Post-Authoritarian Syria.”
Issues like gender quota, human rights, the constitution, peace and reconciliation, psychosocial support and women’s empowerment were among the discussed topics. The conference resulted in the foundation of The Syrian Women’s Network, as the participants decided to work closely together in the future.
Organized work for women’s rights might be essential to break the pattern women experienced in the Arab spring countries: To be an equal part of the revolution, but when it comes to decisions and peace making, they find themselves excluded.
One of the conferences’ participants, a female activist from Syria who wanted to remain anonymous for safety reasons, shared her experiences of equality in decision processes at the beginning of the revolution and that this changed as the protests shifted to armed conflicts. Now women are the ones suffering the most under the ongoing humanitarian catastrophe and she was worried whether women will be able to overcome the devastating effects of war and violence and find the power to get actively involved in politics.
Now might be a good moment to start to shape the role women can have in a future Syria, as Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov called for negotiation talks on February 20th, after a meeting between Russia and the Arab League. Sitting down at a negotiating table is the only way to end the conflict without irreparable damage to Syria, he said. “Neither side can allow itself to rely on a military solution to the conflict, because it is a road to nowhere.”
Hopefully, U.N. Security Council Resolution 1325, which urges the inclusion of women in conflict resolution and peace negotiations, will be attended and women will sit at this negotiation table as well. This would increase the chance of lasting peace and might also be a possibility to address the question of sexual violence as a weapon of war. Until now, in only three ceasefires in the world sexual violence was ever mentioned.
Armenia is a country where one out of four women have experienced violence – mostly in their family environment. Nevertheless the government recently rejected a law against domestic violence.
“A woman is like wool, the more you beat her, the softer she will get” says an Armenian proverb. Domestic violence is not only a proverb but everyday life for many Armenian women. According to an Amnesty International report from 2008, over a quarter of women in Armenia have been hit or beaten by a family member and about two thirds have experienced psychological abuse. Nonetheless, Armenia has no specific laws against domestic violence. In January, the government of Armenia even blocked what could have become the country’s first domestic violence law and recommended amendments to other existing laws instead, claiming that amendments would make a separate law unnecessary.
Anna Nikoghosyan from Society Without Violence, Armenia. Photo: The Kvinna till Kvinna Foundation | Karin Råghall
Anna Nikoghosyan from the Yerevan based NGO Society Without Violence sees in the rejection of the bill an unwillingness of the government to recognize domestic violence as a serious issue and the lack of political will to promote women’s rights and gender equality. “While our government is rejecting the law on domestic violence, there are women who suffer, who are murdered, who undergo psychological, sexual or physical abuses, who do not know where to go and how to protect themselves.”
There is no state help for women who have experienced violence, their support has been left to NGOs. But being short of funds and the fact that domestic violence is widely regarded as a taboo and a private matter makes this a challenging task.
It is deeply rooted in the patriarchal society to justify domestic violence and Anna Nikoghosyan says that many women even believe that they themselves provoke men to beat or rape them through their behavior. If a woman gets raped, it is only to be blamed on her and leaves her stigmatized and a social outcast. At the same time, a woman has to submit to a man’s sexual demands.
Most of the rapes in Armenia go unreported due to the social stigma attached to it. The official police statistic for 2012 lists 621 cases of domestic violence, 5 of which were murder. Those are only the reported incidents, the number of unreported cases is far higher. Violence often happens in the broader family context, by intimate partners or family members. To report domestic violence is equated in society with ‘destroying the family’ and is strongly stigmatized. Amnesty International suspects that crimes and violation of women’s rights “are both significantly under-reported and perpetrated with widespread impunity.”
Presidential Election in ArmeniaOn February 18 Armenia elected a new president. The only female candidate, Narine Mkrtchyan, was forced to withdraw her candidacy, according to Gulnara Shahinian from the organization Democracy Today.
Amnesty International quoted a woman who dared to say stop and break the silence: “I put up with his beatings for 14 years because that’s what’s expected here in Armenia. In the Armenian family the woman has to put up with everything, she has to keep silent. The fact that I did something about it, that I went to the police and divorced my husband – [made] people in my village point at me and say she’s crazy, look at what she did to her husband, she should have kept quiet.”
Many women who dare to file complaints often subsequently withdraw them again because of the social pressure or threats by their parents or husbands, or because the police tell them to handle that matter privately.
Corruption within the police and among judges is common, so women are often denied justice when they do take cases to court. “Because of the lack of legislation and absence of special regulation mechanisms, many domestic violence cases still remain unpunished or the court decisions are lighter than they could be in case of a separate law,” says Anna Nikoghosyan. The Armenian government’s refusal to recognize violence against women as a crime and implement a law against it is a key obstacle to justice.
Women continue to protest on Tahrir Square despite increased violence. Photo: The Kvinna till Kvinna Foundation | Saba Nowzari
At least 25 women were sexually assaulted or harassed during the Egyptian’s protests against the continuing injustice on the second anniversary of the revolution on January 25. The assaults are believed to be organized to prevent women from participating in the democratization process. ”Ironically enough, the revolution has led to a sharp cut-back of women’s rights in the country”, says Saba Nowzari, the Kvinna till Kvinna Foundation’s field representative in Egypt.
Violent protests flared up in several Egyptian cities at the revolution’s two-year anniversary that ousted dictator Hosni Mubarak in 2011. About 50 people have died and at least 1300 people were injured. President Muhammad Morsi declared a 30-day state of emergency and imposed a dusk-to-dawn curfew in three cities, a ban which has mostly been ignored.
Women’s rights organizations in Egypt have reported sexual assaults and harassment of about 25 women in Tahrir Square and its vicinity only during the anniversary.
According to Saba Nowzari, many claim that the attacks against women are organized, even though it is yet unclear who lies behind the assaults. The opposition party National Salvation Front (NSF) blames President Morsi according to the newspaper Ahram Online.
Several civil society groups tried to help the victims by patrolling on Tahrir Square. The volunteers encountered though different kinds of harassment themselves. A woman from Operation Anti-Sexual Harassment told the Guardian how she was surrounded by men who were touching and groping her while she was a part of a rescue team trying to help another woman.
Tahrir Bodyguard has now started to teach self-defense classes for women and on February 12 there will be a demonstration against women’s sexual harassment in front of Egyptian Embassies around the world. Women living outside the capital are in an even more difficult situation, as the organized women’s movement mainly works in Cairo. Their exposure to sexual violence remains thus undocumented.
The protests, which started on January 25, are mostly about frustration in wide parts of the Egyptian public. Continuing injustice, the dwindling economy and the police’s use of excessive violence against civilians, causing many casualties which nobody is hold accountable for, has led to strong dissatisfaction and massive protests, especially in Port Said, where the death toll was highest.
“There is an enormous frustration in the country about the lack of action against violence”, says Saba Nowzari.
People are also upset about the Muslim Brotherhood’s power-amassment, which has become apparent in different ways. Liberal and secular politicians in the committee drafting the new constitution left the committee in protest against the Muslim Brotherhood’s overrepresentation and their refusal to take other group’s demands for freedom and more rights into consideration. Even though the people voted for the new constitution, it has rather led to more political instability in the country, according to Saba Nowzari.
The new constitution is not a benefit for Egyptian women. Already when the constitution draft was leaked at the end of 2012, Egyptian women’s organizations warned that an adoption of the new constitution could mean a change for the worse for women’s rights.
The constitution is now approved, in spite of deep disagreement, lowering minimum marriage age for girls to 14 and making it possible to sell girls for sex without getting punished. The constitution contains no article that mentions women’s rights, as the proposed section about gender equality has been omitted, which opens the door for women’s discrimination.
The new constitution makes it also more difficult for women to make a career in the political arena. At the eve of the revolution a female quota bill for parliament was passed. This bill has now been annulled, so there’s no demand for the parties anymore to include women in their lists. Egypt is already one of the countries with the lowest percentage of women in parliament. Women represented 1, 8 percent of the now dissolved parliament.
”There is a deliberate discrimination going on of women in politics and their possibility to participate in decision-making processes,” says Saba Nowzari.
At the same time the women’s movement has never been that visible. Women’s organizations have never before been so good at getting their message out, and the situation of Egyptian women made a lot of headlines. Those groups who are fighting against sexual harassment are focusing now on opinion making and to get the government to act against the assaults.
Their work is aggravated by the lack of resources to coordinate their activities and to take care of all victims. Moreover, female activists encounter huge resistance. Threat and violence, often sexually tinged, is used to silence and scare women and to work against their political participation.
Text: Pavlina Ekdahl | Karin Råghall
Translation: Katharina Andersen
Mallika Dutt. Photo: The Kvinna till Kvinna Foundation | Karin Raghall
Ringing a doorbell can save women from violence, at least momentarily. To bring about a sustainable solution to end violence against women worldwide, men need to be included in the process. “Male violence can only change when men change,” said Mallika Dutt, Indian-American social entrepreneur and human rights activist, during her visit to Sweden.
After thirty years of experience in the field of human rights and cultural change, she expressed her surprise and delight about the great number of young people protesting in India and globally against gender violence and gang rapes, following the rape and death of the Indian 23-year-old student in December. In her opinion it is the very first time that even many young men are joining in the protests. “What do we do with this important moment in history?” she asks.
Through the work with Breakthrough she tries to answer her own question. Breakthrough is a global human rights organization, founded by Mallika Dutt, that uses the power of media, pop culture and community mobilization to promote human rights values and to bring about change and empowerment.
Breakthrough’s campaign ”Ring the bell” aims at men, working for changing the way millions of men in India think about and respond to domestic violence. It urges neighbors and passersby to take a stand against physical abuse through simple acts – like ringing the doorbell.
The campaign has been adapted to other countries and on March 8, the next phase will be launched: One million men. One million promises. Men and boys around the world are called to promise to take concrete action to address, challenge, and end violence against women.
According to Mallika Dutt, it is time to talk about the connection between male violence and the underlying patriarchic culture and masculinity narratives, as the women’s right movement matures. “It is time to bring men at the table as allies, not only to focus on the situation after occurred violence, but on violence prevention,” she says. She believes the world is close to a tipping point concerning gender violence, and regards it as important to use the current focus and collective energy to generate a global shift in norms.
Some of the demonstrating men in India were wearing high heels – to show their solidarity, to express that they can imagine how it must feel to be a women in a misogynistic culture. A global shift in norms might teach more men to walk in women’s shoes.
Katharina Andersen | Afrah Nasser
Representatives from nine women's and peace organizations met in Bukavu in November 2012 to mark the beginning of a three-year collaboration. Photo: The Kvinna till Kvinna Foundation | Anna Lithander
Politics and conflict resolution in DR Congo are areas reserved for men. But a new project, strengthening women at the local level, aims to break this pattern of discrimination.
Violence, harassment, slander and threats, poverty, corruption – the obstacles for women taking part in the daily life and future of their societies are many in the war-torn DR Congo. And the escalation of the conflict in eastern DR Congo the last couple of months, has once again made it evident that women are especially targeted. Several of the organizations in the region working with women’s rights and peace, have been subjected to violent threats and harassment.
In DR Congo, politics is not considered to be something for women to occupy themselves with. For many women the mere thought of participating on a political level is totally alien and women who do go into politics are at times even singled out as “rebels” and “prostitutes”.
Still there are many strong women in the country who are trying to increase women’s involvement. To support these struggles and to contribute to a more equal and sustainable peace, two Swedish orgainzations – The Kvinna till Kvinna Foundation and the Life & Peace Institute – have teamed up to finance a three-year-long project for women on conflict resolution.
The Life & Peace Institute has worked with peaceprocesses on a local level in eastern DR Congo for many years.
- For several years we have tried to get a gender perspective into our work, but we haven’t been able to do it systematically. With the help of The Kvinna till Kvinna Foundation and the Congolese women’s organizations that they work with, we hope to reach more women and make sure that their voices also are heard when local disputes are being resolved, says Zaurati Nasibu at Life & Peace in Bukavu, eastern Congo.
The conflict resolution method used by Life & Peace is based on long-term work to resolve local conflicts, with as many parties as possible involved in achieving peace. So far, however, too few women have been present and active.
- We advertise about information meetings, but not many women come. Clearly we have to have a different approach. Perhaps we should invite women separately? says Loochi Muzaliwa from Life & Peace.
- We women’s organizations also work with women’s peace issues, but we lack strategies and we don’t have the right connections. In this project we can all come together with our different points of view, but with the common idea that women are central in achieving lasting peace. We are very positive about this collaboration, it feels really important, says Gege Katana from the women’s rights and peace organization Solidarité des Femmes Activistes Pour la Défense des Droits Huimains, SOFAD, in Uvira.
The project kicked off in November 2012, when men and women from nine different women’s and peace organizations from eastern Congo came together in a two-day-meeting held in Bukavu. They discussed everything from how traditions discriminate women, to what the UN resolution 1325 on women, peace and security really means.
“Can we talk about women’s rights and participation at the same time?” one of the participants asked himself and initiated a loud discussion. “People have no idea that there even is a UN resolution on women in conflicts – education and training will be needed,” another person around the table said. “Women make up half the society and are the war’s main victims. They must be part of the work otherwise the peace won´t last,” a third participant pointed out.
The meeting ended with the participants listing the concrete tools they thought they would need to be able to work more systematically with peace and women’s participation.
The peace organizations expressed a desire to learn more about what a gender perspective really means and of legal and other documents that support women’s rights. The women’s organizations wanted to learn more about mediation, negotiation techniques and conflict analysis.
- In AFEM (Association des Femmes des Médias) we support women in rural areas and often help out as mediators when women who have been raped have been disowned by their families. We need to learn more about good mediation techniques, so that we really can help people reconcile, says Julienne Baseke.
The next participants meeting will take place early 2013. After that a pilot project related to Life & Peace’s conflict resolution method will be launched in one of the villages in the region that currently is dealing with a conflict. With the help of women’s organizations participating, the hope is for more women to be able to share in the talks to reach a solution.
Text: Anna Lithander
Translation: Malin Ekerstedt
Lena Ag, the Secretary General of the Swedish women’s rights and peace organization The Kvinna till Kvinna Foundation, made this blog post available for Equal Power – Lasting Peace.
Last weekend, Egypt saw again violent demonstrations against the new regime. Instead of celebrating the revolution’s second anniversary, the Egyptians took the streets in mass protests against president Morsi’s administration.
Preparing for the demonstrations, local women’s rights organizations like Fouada Watch and Tahrir Bodyguard, searched via Twitter for male volunteers to help to protect demonstrating women. A little over the top? Hardly, considering what happens to female activists who raise their voices.
During the protests in Tahrir Square in 2011, which led to Mubarak’s fall, the square was for a short while a sexual harassment-free zone for women. This free zone doesn’t exist anymore. On the contrary, assault and sexual harassment of women and young girls have instead been systematized, as many reports showed during the weekend.
Our partner organization Nazra for feminist studiespublished an account from a very courageous woman who was harassed by the mob on Tahrir Square last November. She wanted to tell what had happened to her and felt sorrow and grief when she heard that the assaults unabatedly continued. It is a harrowing read.
She described how she was surrounded by a thick wall of men, ”There was no way out.” She felt how hundreds of hands stripped her naked and then the same hands started sexual attacks: “They said that they wanted to help me, but all I felt was the finger-rape, from the front and from the back; someone was even trying to kiss me… Every time I cried for help, they increased their violence and assaults.” Finally, one of the men she beseeched for help had pity on her. He suddenly took his belt and started to beat everybody around him while screaming: “I will protect her.” “I don’t know how I managed to appeal to his conscience, but then I could crawl to the field hospital and get help.”
Fouada Watch and Tahrir Bodyguard tweeted about their opinion that violence against women in the demonstrations aims to restrict women’s access to public space. Men forming physical circles of violence around women, which are impossible to escape from, have found a method they think will be effective to keep women from participating in politics and from being visible in public spaces.
But this must not happen! And it seems as if our partner organizations are not intimidated. In this question, they even have many men on their side.
That’s why it feels so encouraging to read the conclusion of the testimony: “I decided to write my testimony, so that everyone who bury his head in the sand will know that what is happening is a terrible crime that may happen to your mother, sister, daughter, friend or girlfriend. […] We will not be frightened; we will not hide in our homes!”
Translation: Katharina Andersen