For women’s full participation in conflict resolution and peacebuilding

An initiative from Kvinna till Kvinna

No aid to Egypt without democracy and human rights, says EU Parliament

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The European Parliament adopted a resolution on March 14 requesting the European Union to stop financial support to Egypt if the country doesn’t make considerable progress in the fields of human rights, democracy and the rule of law.

The Members of European Parliament (MEP) asked the EU to set clear conditions for its aid to Egypt, applying the ‘more for more’ principle. High representative Catherine Ashton had been vague about the EU’s policy towards Egypt at a debate on March 13.

”While we have to show ‘strategic patience’ with the political developments in the country, we will not remain silent on issues like fundamental freedoms and human rights. At the same time we have to help meet the socio-economic expectations,” Ashton said.

With both subsidies and loans from European financial institutions taken into account, EU aid to Egypt totals 5 billion euros in 2012-2013. The European Parliament reminded the EU that part of this package is conditional on respect of human rights, democracy and economic governance, thus the EU should “set clear conditions for its aid to Egypt.” The MEPs wanted to see a focus on civil society, women and child protection.

Saba Nowzari, working with Egypt for the Swedish women’s rights and peace organization The Kvinna til Kvinna Foundation, stated, that “Egypt’s institutional channels do not work, the government itself is facing lots of challenges, so the allocation directly towards women’s rights could be difficult. But nevertheless the EU should always make demands regarding human rights and specifically allocate money for women, not only for their human rights, but also for their economic growth, job opportunities and access to public space.”

The European Parliament also expressed ”deep concern” about the rise of violence directed towards women in Egypt, especially towards activists and female protesters, and urged the Egyptian authorities to bring the perpetrators to justice. Another demand was the abolition of all laws allowing police and security forces to make unlimited use of violence and to pass a moratorium on the death penalty.

 

 

 

Preventing armed gender-based violence is part of historical UN arms trade treaty

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The landmark Arms Trade Treaty regulates the international trade in conventional arms, from small arms to battle tanks, combat aircraft and warships. Photo: worldislandinfo.com

The landmark Arms Trade Treaty regulates the international trade in conventional arms, from small arms to battle tanks, combat aircraft and warships. Photo: worldislandinfo.com

On April 2, the United Nations General Assembly voted for the first ever Arms Trade Treaty (ATT). This treaty would regulate the multi-billion dollar global arms trade and thus end the lack of regulations of cross-border conventional arms sales. Included in the treaty are binding provisions to prevent armed gender-based violence.

The treaty demands that conventional weapon-exporting states evaluate the risks of arms being used to “commit or facilitate serious acts of gender-based violence or serious acts of violence against women,” (article 7.4) or whether weapons will be used to break humanitarian law, for acts of genocide, war crimes or terrorism. It also requires states to prevent conventional weapons to reach the black market. It is the first treaty that recognizes that there is a connection between arms and gender based violence.

It took seven years to negotiate the treaty, and Iran, North Korea and Syria had blocked its adoption by consensus last minute in March. The treaty’s adoption required agreement by all 193 U.N. member states. British UN ambassador Mark Grant found a way to get around the blockade by asking Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon to put it to a swift vote in the General Assembly. There the member-states voted for the treaty by 154 votes to three, with 23 abstentions.

These numbers reflect the growing international sentiment that there must be some kind of a moral standard for weapons trade.

The treaty also establishes an international forum of states that will review published reports of arms sales and publicly name violators.

Before the treaty will come into effect, it needs to be signed and ratified by at least 50 states. There is no specific enforcement mechanism, the hope is that even nations reluctant to ratify the treaty will feel public pressure to abide by the agreement, and that the treaty’s standards will be used immediately as political and moral guidelines.

Lakshmi Puri, Deputy Executive Director of UN Women, welcomed the adoption of the treaty, stating that ”The global arms trade must not be a means of aggravating the already catastrophic levels of violence against women around the world, including during conflict and post-conflict. However, UN Women underscores that women are not just of importance to the Arms Trade Treaty as victims of armed violence, but also as peacebuilders and decision-makers. Women’s crucial role in promoting peace and security, recognized in Security Council resolution 1325 (2000) and subsequent resolutions, must be recognized in all mechanisms for the monitoring and management of the arms trade.”

Katharina Andersen 

 

 

 

UN Secretary General’s 2013 report on sexual violence in war and conflict

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United Nations Security Council Meeting Room. Photo: Zack Lee

United Nations Security Council Meeting Room. Photo: Zack Lee, CC

Today, on April 17, the UN Security Council discusses the UN Secretary General’s 2013 report on sexual violence in war and conflict. The report highlights several emerging concerns, such as the practice of forced marriage by armed groups and the links between sexual violence and natural resource extraction.

“It is important that the UN Security Council continues to keep the focus on this issue. The Security Council plays a key role in preventing and combating the prevalence of sexual violence in war and conflict,” says Lena Ag, Secretary General of The Kvinna till Kvinna Foundation, and continues:

“But it is worrying that sexual violence used against political dissidents, as happened during the riots after the Kenya elections in 2007 and in Conakry in Guinea in 2009, is not mentioned in this year’s report, as it was in the last year’s. Nor can rape and serious sexual harassment Egyptian women recently suffered in Tahrir Square in Cairo be found in the report. Our experience is that sexual violence and the threat thereof is one of the most common obstacles for women around the world to get access to the public sphere and to gain influence in society.

This year’s report states that:

  • sexual violence is a serious war crime and elucidates that there is an evident connection to international peace and security;
  • sexual violence and the number of rapes in Mali have increased;
  • sexual violence is often used as a strategy to forcibly displace populations and for ethnic cleansing. One of the reasons is to get access to coveted natural resources or to facilitate drug trafficking. This happens for example in Colombia, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Syria and Libya;
  • in Syria, rape happens at some places and at certain times to such an extent that it could be classified as war crime and crimes against humanity. Jailed Syrian men have also been reported to be victims of rape and torture;
  • forced marriage and sexual slavery has become increasingly common. Militia and guerrilla leaders in e.g. Afghanistan, Mali, Sudan, South Sudan, the Central African Republic and Yemen abduct young girls, marry them for then be able to “legally” rape them. Other victims of sexual violence are forced to marry their abusers. This way the perpetrator gets away from punishment;
  • activists, opposition, local politicians and their families are particularly vulnerable to threat of sexual violence and sexual violence.

The report also provides recommendations:

  • women who get pregnant after being raped should be offered adequate care and access to safe abortion or emergency contraception pills;
  • impunity for perpetrators of sexual violence should be counteracted and prohibited;
  • efforts should be made for better monitoring and reporting on men as victims of sexual violence.

“In recent years, conservative forces with religious leanings take every opportunity to try to limit women’s rights. We saw this most recently in March at the UN’s

FactsAfter the UN Conference on Women in Beijing in 1995, the UN Security Council adopted in 2000 the Resolution 1325 “Women, Peace and Security,” which is about women’s rights and participation as actors in peace processes. It was followed by the Resolutions 1820, 1888, 1889 and 1960, which further strengthen articles of Resolution 1325 (1889), and specifically target sexual violence in conflict (1820, 1888, 1960).

Commission on the Status of Women. An unholy alliance between the Vatican and Iran amongst others used every opportunity to put a spoke in the wheel of the effort to reach an agreement to end violence against women,” says Lena Ag and continues:

“It is therefore an important signal that the powerful G8 countries, with British conservative Foreign Secretary William Hague at the helm, adopted a declaration in support of the UN’s efforts against sexual violence in conflict last week.”

Anna Magnusson | Katharina Andersen

Women from the Caucasus: Common Problems – common search for solutions

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The traditional pattern of the mother-in-law and daughter relationship became the subject of a spontaneous workshop on the "Forum Theatre" method.

The traditional pattern of the mother-in-law and daughter relationship became the subject of a spontaneous workshop on the "Forum Theatre" method. Photo: The Kvinna till Kvinna Foundation | Julia Lapitskii

A regional conference “Caucasus – our common home” took place from 23 to 24 March in Yerevan, Armenia. It brought together representatives of women’s organizations from the Caucasus region,  both from South Caucasus – Armenia, Abkhazia, Georgia, and the North Caucasus region of the Russian Federation – Adygea, Dagestan, Ingushetia, North Ossetia and Chechnya.

Unique opportunity

In the region torn apart by ethnic tensions and “frozen” conflicts, this conference was an unique opportunity for women to meet and discuss common problems, share their experiences and thoughts on how to handle difficulties.

Gulnara Shahinian from the Armenian NGO “Democracy Today” opened the conference with the words:

“Our idea is to reach peace without mediators. We always talk via someone, but it’s time to speak to each other directly, to learn to say things right to each other’s faces, even if it is extremely tough. We welcome the efforts of international organizations, but in the quality of advisors and friends.”

Azerbaijani organizations were also invited to the conference, but, according to Gulnara Shahinian, they had to cancel the trip for administrative reasons at the last minute.
Anna Safaryan, Deputy Ombudsman for Human Rights responsible for women’s rights and family law in Armenia, stressed the complexity of the peace processes and women’s role in it.

“Peacemaking is not a matter of one day, it is a long process. But most of the effort is required to keep peace, and for this the dialogue between state and civil society, not least women’s organizations, is crucial. Women have shown many times that they are able to create the conditions for a peaceful existence.”

Return of traditions often means two steps backwards for women

However, before speaking about women’s political participation, which is prerequisite for taking part in the negotiation process, the basic rights of women are to be guaranteed. Speaking of problems, many participants mentioned traditionalization of the societies in the Caucasus region. The return of the tradition of bride kidnapping was testified by Alla Gamakharia of the “Sukhumi” fund in Georgia as well as by Inna Ayrapetyan from the “Sintem” women’s centre in Grozny.

“Once twelve girls were kidnapped during one night, we got crazy. We tell the girls that this is illegal, you can sue, but the girls’ family has a big impact. They say, ‘Who would want to marry you now?’ And unfortunately, their families often insist on marriage to avoid the ‘family disgrace,’” says Alla Gamakharia.

In order to somehow deal with the problem, the cultural and humanitarian activist fund “Sukhumi” holds informational meetings and training sessions for the general public as well as for the local authorities and the police in Kutaisi.

Women’s groups in Grozny witness the same issue.

“Thanks to the mobilization of women’s organizations and their efforts, a fine of one million rubles (around 25 000 Euro) was introduced in Chechnya for bride kidnapping, which significantly reduced the problem,” says Inna Ayrapetyan, head of the psychosocial center “Sintem”, which works to support female survivors of domestic violence.

Besides bride kidnapping, early marriage is getting more usual in Chechnya. The internal statistics of the center for 2012 show 116 cases of girls getting married at the age of 14-17 years.

Nino Modebadze from Women’s Information Center in Georgia says on early marriages:

“This is a problem in the villages of the Marneuli region. Girls are married off at 12-13 years, not having a chance to graduate from secondary school. According to some sources of statistics, as little as 10% of girls in the region reach the level of basic education”.

One of the participants from Dagestan witnesses about a number women’s rights abuse.

“In addition to bride kidnapping, which is increasing in Dagestan, the female circumcision gets more widespread. Circumcision is usually done by an elderly woman in unhygienic conditions; it is a terrible trauma for girls and certainly affects their sexual life afterwards. Another issue which concerns us are married girls who get into very difficult situations when they cannot get pregnant. Traditionally, they get labeled as “defective” and are often left by their husbands.”

Honor killings have also been discussed at the conference, when, under the cover of Islam or tradition, male family members murder their female family members who allegedly brought dishonor upon the family.

Common platform

As a result of the conference, the participants agreed upon creating a common platform with the aim to share experiences and give mutual support in the promotion of women’s rights in the region of the Caucasus.

Julia Lapitskii

You can find photos from the conference on our Facebook page.

”Important signal from some of the world’s most powerful countries”

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Special Representative on Sexual Violence in Conflict, Zainab Hawa Bangura, Foreign Secretary William Hague and Special Envoy of UN High Commissioner for Refugees Angelina Jolie launch G8 Declaration on Preventing Sexual Violence in Conflict, 11 April 2013.

Special Representative on Sexual Violence in Conflict, Zainab Hawa Bangura, Foreign Secretary William Hague and Special Envoy of UN High Commissioner for Refugees Angelina Jolie launch G8 Declaration on Preventing Sexual Violence in Conflict. Photo: Foreign and Commonwealth Office.

The G8 have adopted a declaration on preventing sexual violence in conflict. “The declaration is an important signal from some of the world’s most powerful countries that the G8 take a leading role in preventing and combating sexual violence in war and conflicts, says Lena Ag, Secretary General of The Kvinna till Kvinna Foundation in Stockholm.

On April 11, the G8 agreed on stepping up action against sexual violence in war and conflict. Zainab Hawa Bangura, the UN Secretary General’s Special Representative on Sexual Violence in Conflict, attended the meeting in London and welcomed the initiative.

The declaration reiterates the illegality of sexual violence in international humanitarian law, human rights and humanitarian law.

G8The Group of Eight is a forum for the governments of the world’s eight wealthiest countries. It brings together the leaders of Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Russia, the UK and the U.S. Please find the full declaration text here.

“The ministers make it clear that there is an explicit link to international security. The declaration stresses that there is a lot to do and that the work must be continued and intensified. The statement comes a week before the Security Council debate on the same subject, which is important,” says The Kvinna till Kvinna Foundation’s Secretary General Lena Ag, and continues:

“The G8 recognize clearly the role of civil society, pointing out that women activists and human rights defenders, who often are the ones who alert about the abuses, also can be at risk of becoming victims of violence and abuse. Special efforts are necessary to protect them.”

The Declaration also emphasizes the importance of women being involved and represented in peace negotiations, peace building and conflict prevention.

“The G8 declaration was initiated by the conservative British foreign minister William Hague, who has shown great personal commitment to this issue. The Kvinna till Kvinna Foundation hopes that the Swedish foreign minister will be inspired by his colleague and that we’ll soon see a Swedish initiative on the issue,” says Lena Ag.

Text: Karin Råghall

Translation: Katharina Andersen

Breaking boundaries: First Pakistani tribal women to stand for elections

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Badam Zari (right) campaigning ahead of the elections. Photo: Ashfaq Yusufzai/IPS

Badam Zari (right) campaigning ahead of the elections. Photo: Ashfaq Yusufzai/IPS

Badam Zari, a 40 year old Pakistani housewife, does what is but a dream for most of the Pakistani women: she is the first ever tribal woman in Pakistan to run for parliament.

Badam Zari is from the Federally Administered Tribal Area (FATA), a part of Pakistan which is in the hands of Taliban, where most women are uneducated and rarely allowed to leave the house without their husbands.

“I am extremely worried about tribal women, most of who stay in their houses, which has prevented them from making any progress. I want to reach the assembly to become a voice for women, especially those living in the tribal areas,” Badam Zari told on a press conference at the beginning of April. “This was a difficult decision, but now I am determined and hopeful society will support me.” At least she has the support of her husband, a teacher, who accompanied her when she announced her candidacy. She claims that she is not afraid and has not yet received any threats of Islamist militants.

Although all adults of FATA have a legal right to vote, many women were prevented from voting in the 2008 elections, as Taliban threatened tribesmen with bombing and other “severe punishments”, if they would not keep women away from the polling stations. If women are allowed to vote, they are expected to vote in accordance to men’s orders.

Pakistan was the first Muslim country with a woman, Benazir Bhutto, as head of state. Because of a quota system, women hold 16,3 percent of the parliament’s seats.

Badam Zari has not much chances to win, according to analysts, but whether she’ll win or not – she succeeded in breaking the taboo of women’s appearance in public. And, as a local politician said, her courageous candidacy is of enormous symbolic value.

Katharina Andersen

Young Women Caucasus Peace Award 2013 goes to women from Armenia, Azerbaijan and Dagestan

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The winners of the Young Women Caucasus Peace Award 2013 Zaruhi Hovanessian (Armenia) and Malikat Djabirova (Dagestan, Russian Federation). Photo: The Kvinna till Kvinna Foundation | Julia Lapitskii

The winners of the Young Women Caucasus Peace Award 2013 Zaruhi Hovanessian (Armenia) and Malikat Djabirova (Dagestan, Russian Federation). Photo: The Kvinna till Kvinna Foundation | Julia Lapitskii

The laureates of the Young Women Caucasus Peace Award 2013 were announced in Yerevan on March 25. The Azerbaijani journalist Khadija Ismailova, Zaruhi Hovanessian from Armenia and Malikat Djabirova from Dagestan were announced winners.   

One of the award founders, Gulnara Shahinian, UN special rapporteur on contemporary forms of slavery and board member of the Armenian NGO ‘Democracy Today’, opened the ceremony stating that the award is granted for human rights work and peace promotion in the region. “These young women are activists in their societies, their potential to achieve change is enormous, “ she said.

“This award is a living body. It is not only celebration, there is much work behind it. We want to motivate and provide these women with the opportunity to participate in peace processes in the region.”

Neither award-winner Khadija Ismailova nor any representative from Azerbaijan were present at the ceremony.

“It is extremely painful that our colleagues from Azerbaijan could not come, though we arranged it in detail. However, we are fully aware that all these years we have been walking on thin ice, and we do our best to avoid slipping. It is our duty to protect each and everyone of the project participants,” said Shahinian. Since 1994, Armenia and Azerbaijan have been in the state of a “frozen conflict” with the territory of Nagorno-Karabach at stake.

The third award winner, Malikat Djabirova, leads a regional NGO “Mother and Child” in Dagestan, one of the Russian republics. Since 2005, she has been working to actively promote tolerance among youth, as well as working with young women and their rights.

According to her, the level of education in Dagestan is very low, that’s why “many women don’t have the slightest idea of their own legal rights”. The organization runs a clinic for women as well as provides women with legal and psychological consultations. “My work is in no way extraordinary, I only want the people of Dagestan to be happy and live in peace”, says Malikat. Since the 1990s, Dagestan has been a scene of low-level Islamic insurgency, occasional outbreaks of separatism, ethnic tensions and terrorism.

“I have never thought I deserve any kind of award, everything I do comes from inside of me. This award makes me move forward,” says Zaruhi Hovanessian from Armenia, who leads the civic initiative ‘The Army in Reality’. Together with other human rights organizations in Armenia, in particular the Vanadzor office of the Helsinki Citizens’ Initiative, they take part in the investigation of deaths in the army. “We are trying to get rid of violence and corruption in the Armenian army during peace times,” she said.

Last year’s award-winner Sophia Shakirova presented the award to the first winner from Azerbaijan, the investigative journalist Khadija Ismailova. Ismailova is actively working in the fields of human rights and democracy.

“A special topic of her investigations is corruption. She revealed corruption in the highest echelons of power, which does not go unpunished,” said Sophia Shakirova.

Last year, Khadija was at the center of international attention because of slander and blackmail she was subjected to. “Despite all that, she continues her journalistic work at ‘Radio Free Europe’, teaches young journalists investigative techniques and shares her experience with them, thus preparing change,” said Shakirov.

The Young Women Caucasus Peace Award  was founded in 2011 by Democracy Today (Armenia), Society for Women’s Rights in Azerbaijan (Azerbaijan) and Women’s Information Center. This award is the first of its kind and  has been established to acknowledge the exceptional role and leadership potential of young women in peace building, empowerment of their communities and working to prevent conflicts and to restore and protect human rights. It has been inspired by the work of the famous peace and human rights activist Anahit Bayandur (1931-2011), a winner of the Olof Palme Award.

Armine Martirosyan, Caucasian Knot
Julia Lapitskii

The Panzi Hospital in the DRC – a place of hope for women

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Dr. Grace Rehema Muhima

Dr. Grace Rehema Muhima from the Panzi Hospital presented the hospital's first Annual Report in Stockholm. Photo: The Kvinna till Kvinna Foundation | Katharina Andersen

One of the few functioning institutions in the war-torn Democratic Republic of Congo is the Panzi Hospital. Since 1999, about 30,000 women have been treated and cared for, and left the hospital empowered.

The Panzi Hospital in Bukavu in the Democratic Republic of Congo was founded by Dr. Denis Mukwege in 1999, mostly to assist pregnant women. But the hospitals first surgical patient was a woman who had been raped and then shot in her vagina. This woman was to be the first of about 30.000 survivors of sexual violence who have been helped at Panzi. Beginning with the war of 1996, sexual violence in the DR Congo increased enormously and rape became a weapon of war. A study from the World Bank amongst others shows that 12 percent of the Congolese women have been raped at least once.

The Survivors of Sexual Violence Project

Experiencing so much misery, the hospital started ‘The Survivors of Sexual Violence Project’ in 2004, with the objective to provide holistic care to survivors of sexual violence. Dr. Mukwege saw the necessity of not only repairing the physical damages of rape, the psychological traumata are oftentimes more difficult to heal. Care is required that goes far beyond clinical treatment. Thus, the hospital provides counseling and guidance, psychosocial, legal and socio-economic help.

As Jan Egeland, European Director of Human Rights Watch, puts it: “Panzi Hospital and its founder, Dr. Denis Mukwege, serve as a beacon of hope for thousands of victims of rape and sexual mutilation, ranging from children to grandmothers.”

No public health facilities

The DR Congo used to be known for its well-functioning health care system; nowadays public health facilities are more or less non-existent, which affects women especially hard.

The high prevalence of rape and the fact that contraception is either too expensive or only sold to women who can prove that their husband consented to birth control, contribute to that Congolese woman have on average six children. Having been pregnant many times or being very young when getting pregnant increases the risk for serious pregnancy or birth complications.

Women’s health is furthermore threatened by the lack of educated midwives, unattended births, the enormous distances and bad road conditions, oftentimes preventing women from reaching a hospital; and last but not least widespread poverty, which makes it impossible to pay a hospital bill. Maternal mortality in the DR Congo is thus among the highest in the world.

Treatment at Panzi hospital is free for survivors of sexual violence, malnourished people and HIV/aids patients, the most vulnerable groups. “Health and human rights go hand in hand and health should be an assurance for all mothers, not just for those that can afford the services, “ says Dr. Mukwege

The UN Millenium Development Goal (MDG) 5A has the target to reduce maternal mortality by 75 percent before 2015 – but with only two years left until deadline, only 50 percent are reached. Still, every day, almost 800 women die in pregnancy or childbirth, and for every woman who dies, 20 or more women experience serious complications, like obstetric fistula.

Fistula ‐ a devastating childbirth injury

Panzi hospital also provides care for women with fistula ‐ one of the most devastating childbirth injuries. A fistula develops when the head of the child during prolonged labor presses on the tissues of the vagina, cutting off the blood supply to the bladder or the rectum, which causes a hole in the tissue, through which urine or faeces pass uncontrollably.

Women with fistula are often abandoned by their husbands and family, their communities ostracize them and force them to live isolated. A successful operation at Panzi means that these women not only are cured, but get back a social life.

Dr. Grace Rehema Muhima presented the first Annual Report

Panzi Hospital’s first Annual Report was recently presented in Stockholm. Dr. Grace Rehema Muhima from the hospital traveled to Stockholm to tell about the situation on the ground after the assassination attempt on Dr. Mukwege in 2012. He had to flee the DR Congo, but decided later to return, as the hospital is the place where he is needed, Grace Muhima says. He was welcomed back like a hero, thousands of women were waiting to greet him – and promised to protect him. “These women have been mistreated and raped for a long time, their rights have been violated, but they have remained courageous,” he said upon his return. “Thus, I am comfortable staying at their side to help heal them, no matter the consequences.” Local officials and MONUSCO, the United Nations Stabilization Mission in the DR Congo have promised increased protection for Dr. Mukwege.

The situation is very unsafe, but the hospital staff continues the work, Dr. Muhima said. She stated furthermore that the hospital needs help of the international community for capacity building and for further development to be able to help even more women. More trained midwives for example would have a tremendous impact on reducing maternal mortality.

In a misogynic country like the DR Congo, Panzi hospital is a place where women are offered the experience: somebody is on my side, somebody cares and somebody helps. Here women are not outcasts, not stigmatized.

One of the cofounders of the hospital, the surgeon Dr. Nfundiko, says: “… often people come in and have lost their hope. It is always satisfying to watch them recover and regain their hope, determination to heal and will to live.”

Katharina Andersen