Mervat El-Tallawy, Ambassador and Chairwoman of the National Council of Women in Egypt, who made the CSW57 agreement possible. Photo: Violaine Martin, CC
The 57th session of the Commission of the Status of Women (CSW57) is over. After two weeks of difficult and tough negotiations in New York, the participants of the world’s largest conference on ending violence against women and girls consented on the adoption of a global plan to eliminate and prevent
all forms of violence against women and girls.
UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said in a statement that he ”hopes that all the partners who came together at this historic session and others around the world will now translate this agreement into concrete action to prevent and end violence against women and girls.”
One third of all women experience violence
One out of three women experience violence in her lifetime. According to the World Bank, women between the ages of 15 and 44 are more at risk from rape and domestic violence than from cancer, car accidents, war and malaria. To put an end to this seems like an excellent idea – but apparently not to all countries.
Even in the year 2013, there are countries that try to impede an agreement that is not even legally binding, that apparently don’t go in for a world which is violence-free for women. At CSW57, the Vatican, Russia, Sudan, Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood and Iran had formed what some diplomats called “an unholy alliance” and objected to language in the draft communiqué, asserting that governments can’t use religion, custom and tradition as an excuse to their obligation to eliminate violence. They also objected to references to abortion rights and contraception, as well as to language suggesting that rape also includes forced intercourse by a woman’s husband or partner.
Last year’s conference ended without an agreement – and this was close to happening again. What made the alliance countries cave in is not known, but in the end it was only Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood who classified the draft as un-Islamic and warned it would lead to a “complete degradation of society.”
Agreement made possible by the courage of one women
It seems to be thanks to the courage of one woman that the final agreement was signed, besides Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood’s attempts to block it. The head of Egypt’s delegation, politician and diplomat Mervat Tallawy, ignored the members of her own delegation and announced that Egypt would join consensus. “Women are the slaves of this age. This is unacceptable, and particularly in our region,” Mervat Tallawy said afterwards. “It’s a global wave of conservatism, of repression against women, and this paper is a message that if we can get together, hold power together, we can be a strong wave against this conservatism.”
Religion, culture and tradition are no excuses anymore
The 16-page document agreed upon strongly condemns violence against women and girls, affirms that violence against women and girls is rooted in historical and structural inequality in power relations between women and men, and that this persists in every country in the world as a pervasive violation of the enjoyment of human rights, calls for gender equality and women’s empowerment and ensure women’s reproductive rights and access to sexual and reproductive health services.
The document reinforces furthermore the validity of all agreements and resolutions hitherto adopted, urges all states to condemn violence against women and girls and to implement effective national legislation and policies against it. It also recognizes violence against women as an impediment to the social and economic development of states, as well as the achievement of the Millennium Development Goals. Equal access to power and decision-making is also a demand.
“By adopting this document, governments have made clear that discrimination and violence against women and girls has no place in the 21st century, there is no turning back.” said UN Women.
Yesterday was election day in Macedonia. The picture shows Macedonian activists in the global manifestation One Billion Rising 2013. Photo: Kvinna till Kvinna |Johanna Arkåsen
In the run-up to yesterday’s local elections in Macedonia, violence and political tension have increased. And women who involves politically meet tough resistance. “It’s a male dominated political culture” says Emilija Dimoska, The Kvinna till Kvinna Foundation’s program officer.
Macedonia is characterized by political tensions between the two largest groups in the country, ethnic Macedonians and ethnic Albanians. The two groups are largely segregated – they live in different neighborhoods, go to different schools and have different curricula. Since 2011 tensions have increased, with several outbreaks of violence, to an extent that the country has not seen since 2001 when armed ethnic conflict rose between the ethnic Albanian National Liberation Army (NLA) and security forces in Macedonia.
Since 1999, The Kvinna till Kvinna Foundation has an office in Macedonia, in the capital Skopje. Program officer Emilija Dimoska gives an explanation to the current turmoil.
“The situation erupted over the controversial appointment of former ethnic Albanian rebel commander Talat Xhaferi as Macedonia’s new defense minister. The demonstrations, which begun on March 1, were started by ethnic Macedonians furious at the appointment of the new defense minister,” Emilija Dimoska says.
Several women’s organisations in Macedonia are informing women about the importance of voting and getting involved politically. They have also built a partnership with politically active women, to support them. Furthermore, they assist policy makers with information about how the situation for women in the country.
Before the election, the organisation Women’s Center Kumanovo – run by twelve women’s organisations of various ethnic affiliations – has worked with lobbying to get more women interested in politics. Representatives of Women’s Center Kumanovo say that parts of the Macedonian population will abstain from taking part in the elections due to the bad economic situation, the high unemployment rate, low pensions and increased living expenses. They describes the social situation in Macedonia as disastrous.
“There is a democratic political crisis in the country, which is of course negative, and the issue is that voters can decide only between two political parties. Moreover, political issues need to be addressed within the Parliament, and not out of it.”
What are the main obstacles for women who want to engage politically?
“Women are slowly winning the requested percentage on the candidates’ lists; however it is necessary to work on improvement of their representation in the executive bodies of the party where there are fewer women, both at local and national level.”
To get more women to vote and engage in politics, Women’s Center Kumanovo try to strengthen women and increase their presence in public. They also try to increase their debating and argumentation skills.
What do you think about the election? What are your hopes and fears?
“In our view, the 2013 Elections are essential for the public and the international community’s perspective about Macedonia’s EU accession. We hope the campaign will be fair and democratic and that the will of the people will win. Our fear is related to the different irregularities that might occur in certain areas of Macedonia,” representatives of Women’s Center Kumanovo say.
Emilija Dimoska explains that there are several obstacles for women’s participation in the elections, such as the existing gender stereotypes both in the society and among political parties’ structures.
“It’s a male dominated political culture including the lack of support of the political parties for women candidates, which is also evident during the pre-election campaign in which a very little space is given to the female candidates; and the lack of support to women by the public in general,” she says.
How engaged are women in general in the election?
“From the most recent list presented, the number of candidates running for mayors throughout Macedonia is 286 candidates total, out of which 28, or 10 percent, are women. At the moment, there are no female mayors in Macedonia. In addition, with very few exceptions, women in general have not been much visible during the pre-election campaign in Macedonia,” Emilija Dimoska says.
How are the women’s organisations working to make women more active in politics and vote?
“Women’s NGOs around the country implement activities promoting gender equality, including the importance of participation of women in politics that is crucial for building a democratic society.”
About 200 activists attended recently the second One Voice – New Horizons Women’s Conference in Tripoli, Libya, to discuss how to uphold and promote women’s rights in the new Libyan Constitution. The advancements, challenges and the security situation for women after Gaddafi were other discussed issues. The conference was co-organized by five women’s organizations, the attendants came from all over Libya and some international guests were also present.
Libya is deciding on the process how to draft its first democratic constitution after more than 40 years of Gaddafi’s dictatorship.
Women activists are afraid that Libya’s government might follow neighboring Egypt’s example, where women’s rights were ignored in the new constitution. Women’s advocacy groups are lobbying for equal-protection clauses, the right for women to pass citizenship to their children and equal inheritance possibilities, rights women were long denied in Libya.
Dr. Huda Gashut, Head of Department at the Pediatric and Maternal Child Development Center in Tripoli, who attended the conference, said: “The goal of the conference is to create a body that sets guidelines on women’s rights in the country to be included in the Constitution. We will not lower our guard until our demands are written in our Constitution. We will not allow any paragraph that in the least way revises the system of rights we defined.”
Female parliamentarians have formed a cross-party bloc with the aim to ensure fair female representation on the constitutional drafting committee. In the parliamentary election in 2012, 33 out of 200 seats went to women, 16, 5 percent of all seats. Even though this isn’t very much, by comparison to the USA for example, the number is not so bad: women there hold 17, 8 percent of the seats in parliament. Nevertheless, these number show that still most of the powerful positions are held by men. Not only in Libya.
A road to change in Georgia. Photo: The Kvinna till Kvinna Foundation
Giving birth is expensive – in Georgia it cost about an average monthly income. Many women can’t afford that, thus risking their own and their child lives by giving birth unattended. A woman’s organization succeeded now in getting the birth fee abolished in their region.
In Southwest Georgia, in the remote region of Samtskhe-Javakheti, traditional gender stereotypes and ideas about women’s role in society are prevalent. One of the huge problems women in the region are facing is the lack of access to health care and health education. If there are healthcare facilities, women usually can’t afford their fees, thus many women suffer from diseases that are curable or preventable.
The situation gets especially difficult for pregnant women. There is no education on birth, newborn care or the post-partum period with all its challenges. To give birth in the area’s only obstetric clinic until recently cost about 600 Georgia Lari, which equals the average monthly income in Georgia.
The Georgian Democrat Women’s Organization work in the field of women’s sexual health and women’s rights, women’s participation in local politics and it provides also support for women who were subjected to domestic violence.
The women of DWO have after a decade of hard work and lobbying succeeded in reaching an important goal: it is now completely free of charge to deliver at the hospital. This is not only a huge success for the persistent women who brought this about and for those who from now on will get medical help if necessary while giving birth, but also a wonderful example of how it pays off not to give up. Change is possible!
The ballots of the Kenyan general elections on March 4 are still being counted, but the election’s outcome for women is less unsure, as Kenya is a deeply patriarchal society. Until now, women had almost no say in politics.
The elections were the first ones held under the new constitution, which was passed in 2010. The constitution contains a provision that states that “not more than two-thirds of the members of elective public bodies shall be of the same gender.” This should change political representation for women radically – as women must now form at least one-third of any elective public body. But in December 2012, the Kenyan High Court decided that this provision should first be effective after the elections.
Only one of eight presidential runners was female. And, according to opinion polls before the election, only about one percent of Kenyans would have voted for her. Politics is still regarded as the preserve of men – women in authority are still mainly regarded as a curse to the community and as violating the tradition. “Society sees our place being the kitchen and the bedroom. Nothing beyond there,” parliamentary candidate Sophia Abdi Noor told Reuters.
Threat and smear campaigns
Female candidates were threatened with rape and violence and found themselves subjected to smear campaigns aimed to destroy their reputation. The parliamentary candidate Alice Wahome, for example, found her hometown littered with condoms with her name on them in an attempt, blamed on her main male rival, to portray her as promiscuous and thus not trustworthy.
Many women look with envy to Rwanda, where more than half of legislators are women, more than anywhere in the world.
But there is also a ray of hope: Before the March 4 elections, the two-thirds gender equilibrium had already been implemented in some offices: one-third of the members of the Supreme Court, the commission on revenue allocation, the commission for the implementation of the constitution and the salaries and remuneration commission were female.
Women were absent when the peace agreement in DR Congo was signed. Photo: The Kvinna till Kvinna Foundation | Ida Udovic
Eleven countries signed a peace agreement mediated by the UN to end war in the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo. But civil society is not elated.
The new framework agreement for peace and stability in eastern DRC was signed in the Ethiopian capital Addis Ababa on February 24, in the presence of UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon. Eleven African countries signed the agreement, which among other things regulates the deployment of a special UN intervention brigade to the eastern DR Congo with troops from Southern and Eastern Africa. The brigade is supposed to reinforce the UN peacekeeping troop MONUSCO, which already is in the country. The undersigning countries furthermore committed not to interfere in each other’s internal affairs.
“Rwanda and Uganda have been criticized for their support to the rebel group M23. With this agreement, this kind of support has to stop. But it remains to be seen what will happen,” says Ylwa Renström, The Kvinna till Kvinna Foundation’s coordinator for the DR Congo.
The violence escalates
Ylwa Renström sees it positively that there seems to be a will in the region’s countries to bring about a peaceful solution in DR Congo. At the same time, she continuously receives reports on escalating violence in eastern DR Congo. In early February, 30 women were for example raped in the Fizi territory in the South Kivu Province, brutal assaults which are believed to have been carried out by the FDLR rebel group. “This happens all the time! Sure, countries in the region can sign peace agreements, but it will be an enormous challenge to demobilize the rebel groups,” states Ylwa Renström.
The organization Solidarité des Femmes Activistes Pour la Défense des Droits Huimains (SOFAD), who works for peace and to increase women’s participation in political decision-making, is not impressed by the agreement. “They consider it a desktop product, signed by high-level politicians without consultation of civil society. Because of this the have doubts of how effective the contract will be to lay the foundations for lasting peace,” says Katarina Carlberg, The Kvinna till Kvinna Foundation’s field representative in DR Congo, who has spoken with representatives of SOFAD.
Signees of the agreementThe peace agreement has been signed by Angola, Burundi, the Central African Republic, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Congo-Brazzaville, Rwanda, South Africa, South Sudan, Tanzania and Uganda. Signees are also the International Conference on the Great Lakes Region (ICGLR), the African Union, the Southern African Development Community (SADC) and the United Nations.
Katarina Carlberg also points out that the agreement neither mentions women’s rights nor women’s participation. Neither reflected in the agreement are the principles of the UN resolution 1325 on Women, Peace and Security, nor mentions it women’s inclusion in the different mechanisms of stabilization and peace building the agreement suggests. “The only thing the agreement contains is a brief reference to sexual violence,” says Katarina Carlberg.
The content of the agreement has been criticized from different sides for being too vague. 46 Congolese and international organizations from civil society wrote for example in a joint statement that if the agreement should contribute to a genuine peace, it must be supplemented by concrete measures, such as the appointment of a special UN envoy with a mandate to mediate in both Congo and the region and the inclusion of civil society in the peace process.
In the organizations opinion it is furthermore important that war criminals do not go unpunished, as it has been the case in previous agreements.
Text: Karin Råghall
Translation: Katharina Andersen
This is not the first time Shatha Naji receives recognition for her work. She has already received the Mimosa Italian Award (2009) and the Shield of the Baghdadi Woman from Baghdad's governance council (2010). Photo: UNAMI
Shatha Naji Hussein from the Iraqi organization ‘Women for Peace’ was recently honored together with four other human rights activist by the Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Iraq, Mr. Martin Kobler, during a ceremony to celebrate International Human Rights Day in Baghdad.
Every voice counts and can make a difference in society. Shatha Naji Hussein has raised hers to improve the situation of women and girls in Iraq. “The tireless efforts of those who campaign for justice, protect and support victims of violence, and work to ensure the political participation of people from all backgrounds, often go unrecognized,” Mr. Kobler stated in his laudatory speech. “I wish to draw particular attention to those ordinary Iraqis who have made their voices count by working to improve the lives of their fellow citizens,” he added. Shatha extended the honor to her colleagues at Women for Peace: “I feel each one of them deserve this honor more than me” .
In the seventies, Iraq declared full literacy for women, today the country is down to 40 percent. Before the 1980′s, Iraqi women were more visible and active in public life compared to other women in the region’s countries. A period of economic growth led to more education and employment possibilities. But the patriarchal structures and conservative moral concepts remained unchanged. Since then, women have been forced back into traditional roles and the overall situation in Iraq deteriorated after the invasion. In the war-torn and impoverished country, women now see themselves faced with stigmatization and marginalization from wider society. Sharia law has been introduced and honor killings, sexual slavery and domestic violence are serious problems. Until today, the law and custom allows male family members to “discipline” women with violence. The war has left many women widowed and with post-war trauma symptoms.
Against this background, Women for Peace was founded in 2003 to change Iraqi women’s conditions. Women for Peace works to empower women to bring change about in their own communities. According to Shatha Naji Hussein it requires a two-way process between civil movement and decision-makers to empower women and to secure women’s rights to build a safe future for women. “A nation’s development is measured by women’s development. If we want to build a nation that’s well-developed and prosperous, we must secure women’s rights to live a safe life”, says Shatha.
To reach that goal, women should also be included in the peace building process in the country, but are facing many enormous obstacles and challenges, Shatha points out. “It’s important to do continuous and diligent work in raising awareness about women’s legal rights in order for women to be more aware of their rights and to fight violence in all its forms. Moreover, the government has to work very hard to implement the UN resolution 1325 terms and make sure that women have an effective and real participation in all walks of life.”
Katharina Andersen | Afrah Nasser