For women’s full participation in conflict resolution and peacebuilding

An initiative from Kvinna till Kvinna

Using the church to increase women’s rights

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We received a blog post from Ylwa Renström, coordinator for the Democratic Republic of Congo at the Swedish women’s rights and peace organisation The Kvinna till Kvinna Foundation, who recently met with women’s rights activists in DR Congo and Burundi.

“Sitting outside the airport in Kigali, I think back on the last few days that I’ve spent in Burundi and in Uvira in DR Congo. In Burundi, I met women from the organisation MIFA (Ministère de la Femme en Action – “Ministry for women’s rights activists”).

One of them was Dina. Like some other members of our partner organisations in DR Congo, she was exposed to serious threats from unknown groups and had to leave her hometown of Uvira. I met her, her children and some other members of MIFA at the place where she now is living. Despite the threats, Dina is determined not to give up her struggle to improve women’s situation in DR Congo.

Dina told me about MIFA’s plans for next year’s support from Kvinna till Kvinna. They have received approval from seven churches in South Kivu in eastern DR Congo to push for more women on decision-making positions and in the church’s body for conflict resolution. MIFA has also received inquiries from church leaders in Burundi and Rwanda to start working with them. With few exceptions (Dina is one of them), women are almost totally excluded from the leadership of the church.

In the Great Lakes region, churches’ opinions carry great weight in society. Dina says that by working with church leaders and pastors to make them convey the message of women’s rights, many of the churches’ members would take this to heart. The pastors will also highlight passages in the Bible that defend women’s rights.

Dina also shared one of many success stories told by MIFA employees. This was from the High Plateau, which is mostly inhabited by the ethnic group Banyamulenge. An girl of 13 was married off to a 17-year-old in a traditional ceremony, including the payment of dowry. This type of marriage is common on the High Plateau.

The girl moved in with her husband and his inlaws, but almost immediately the groom went away. After months of waiting for his return, the bride didn’t want to remain in his house, but return to her parents. Her inlaws refused and the pastor who had wed the couple forbade her to move.

Some of MIFA’s employees got involved and were planning to report this to the police, since the marriage was not legally binding because of the couple being underaged. MIFA’s support to the girl got the pastor to annul the marriage, the dowry was paid back and the girl could return home.”

Increased violence in DR Congo threatens civil society

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A UN tank makes it way through the streets of Bukavu in South Kivu. Photo: Kvinna till Kvinna/Mufariji Assy.

A UN tank makes it way through the streets of Bukavu in South Kivu. Photo: Kvinna till Kvinna/Mufariji Assy.

Recent months have seen an increase in fighting between different militia groups and the national army in the Democratic Republic of Congo’s North and South Kivu provinces. The situation is now so bad that it seriously affects civil society organisations ability to carry out their work.  

”We are deeply worried, both for the safety of our partner organisations and for all civilians who are subjected to this violence” says Ylwa Renström, Coordinator for DR Congo at the Swedish women’s rights and peace organisation The Kvinna till Kvinna Foundation

In February this year, 11 African countries signed an agreement called the Framework of Hope for peace and security in DR Congo and the region.

The following month the UN Security Council adopted resolution 2098, in which it for the first time gave a brigade within a UN peace keeping mission (MONUSCO, DR Congo) the task of carrying out offensive operations – on its own or together with the Congolese army. The resolution also gave the newly appointed Special Envoy for the Great Lakes, Mary Robinson, the task of helping the parties in the framework to deliver on their commitments. Within her mission is a special mandate to focus on women’s empowerment and regional economic integration.

Framework without women

Mary Robinson has highlighted the crucial importance of women and women’s rights organisations being a big part of the peace work. However, the framework itself hardly mentions women – apart from stating that it’s important that ”women’s groups” know the details of the agreement. And so far, neither the framework nor the resolution have lead to any big improvements in the situation for people living in the conflict-ridden North and South Kivu.

Besides from fights constantly flaring up, UNHCR in the end of July reported an alarming rise in sexual violence in North Kivu, with a registered 705 cases January-July, compared to 108 cases during the same period last year. At the same time tens of thousands of civilians have been forced to leave their homes, fleeing the armed violence. There are several militia groups that are active in the provinces and they are fighting amongst each other as well as with the Congolese army.

Severe threats against activists

Civil society organisations operating in the Kivu regions, are used to working under difficult conditions security-wise. However, it has gone from difficult, to worse, to really dangerous.

”Earlier our partner organisations talked about, for example, getting stopped in road blocks but being able to talk their way through. Now there are times when they don’t even dare to go out. There have been several severe threats against human rights activists and many are very afraid” says Katarina Carlberg, Kvinna till Kvinna’s Field Representative in DR Congo.

”It’s crucial that the Congolese government, as well as the international community, focus on the protection of civilians and to achieve a stable security situation. This is also in MONUSCO’s mandate.”

Malin Ekerstedt

Women honoured at Liberian peace jubilee

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The women in WIPNET played a crucial part in the efforts to bring peace to Liberia. This Monday they celebrated the ten-year-anniversary of the signing of the Accra Comprehensive Peace Agreement in a ceremony in Centenial Memorial Pavilion, Monrovia. Photo: The Kvinna till Kvinna Foundation/Susanne Mannberg.

The women in WIPNET played a crucial part in the efforts to bring peace to Liberia. This Monday they celebrated the ten-year-anniversary of the signing of the Accra Comprehensive Peace Agreement in a ceremony in Centenial Memorial Pavilion, Monrovia. Photo: The Kvinna till Kvinna Foundation/Susanne Mannberg.

Thousands of Liberians gathered on Monday to celebrate the tenth anniversary of the signing of the peace agreement that ended the bloody, 14 year long, civil war. ”Today, we are celebrating that we can feel safe” said Roseline Toweh from the women’s rights organisation WONGOSOL.

The Accra Comprehensive Peace Agreement, was signed on 18 August 2003, in Accra, Ghana, by the then Liberian government, the armed groups LURD and MODEL, and all the political parties. The Liberian women’s movement has been world renowned for its vital part in bringing peace to the country, including a sit demonstration outside the negotiating halls in Accra, when the women refused to let the different parties out until they had agreed on terms for peace.

In the aftermath, though, it has proven harder for women activists to gain ground for women’s rights, a situation described as “back to business as usual” by one activist in the report Equal Power – Lasting Peace (2012) on obstacles for women’s participation in peace processes.

“Celebrating feeling safe”

However, this Monday was dedicated to celebrating the years gone by, when Liberians haven’t been forced to live in the midst of war.

”We can always discuss whether we have a just and stable peace or not. But what we are celebrating today is that we can feel safe. My children can leave our home in the morning and I know that they will come back in the evening. I don’t have to look over my shoulder, always being afraid of someone following me. We can sleep soundly at night. That constitutes true wealth and is what we rejoice in today”  said Roseline Toweh, newly elected chairwoman of WONGOSOL.

Rural women awarded

The celebration of the anniversary in the capital Monrovia, started with a march through the city, organised by, among others, Kvinna till Kvinna’s partner organisation WIPNET. This was followed by a ceremony in the Centenial Memorial Pavilion. Among the guests of honour were President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, as well as the signatories of the peace agreement, and representatives from the transitional government, the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), United Nations Mission in Liberia (UNMIL) and the political parties.

All received awards for their contributions to the peace agreement. And the women was not forgotten.

”We must give a special thanks to all those women – Mothers of Africa – that, no matter rain or burning sunlight, continued their relentless efforts to achieve peace” said Liberia’s Minister of Foreign Affairs, Augustine Kpehe Ngafuan.

Women from rural Liberia also recieved recognition in the form of an honorary award. Then, President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf declared a moment of silence to remember all of those who died during the war, those who paid the price for the peace and were missing in this celebration.

Talks on factors behind peace

WONGOSOL was one of the organisers behind the ceremony in Monrovia. Similar ceremonies were conducted in all of Liberia’s 15 counties. During the week preceding the celebration, WIPNET arranged public prayers and lit candles for peace. WONGOSOL have organised talks  all over Liberia, trying to identify the factors behind the peace being sustainable. Ministries and the international community have organised open meetings to discuss how to maintain the peace and how to further include young people in the development process.

Since young people were the primary target group of last week’s campaign, football games and similar activities have also been arranged.

Susanne Mannberg

Women’s movement behind Liberian draft law on political quota

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Liberia's President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf is one of several high political officials, who have voiced their support for the new Gender Parity Bill. Photo: Kvinna till Kvinna/Christina Hagner.

Liberia's President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf is one of several high political officials, who have voiced their support for the new Gender Parity Bill. Photo: Kvinna till Kvinna/Christina Hagner.

Last Thursday, female parliamentarians in Liberia presented a draft law on equal representation of women and men in politics. A women’s movement more united than ever, is behind the draft.

In the last elections in Liberia, in 2011, women lost seats in the Parliament. The few female parliamentarians lost out to men, partly because they lacked knowledge of the political process and were not sufficiently organised. Male parliamentarians also joined together across party lines to shut women out.

But the women’s movement didn’t give up and now women’s organisations and women parliamentarians have produced a draft law, the so-called Gender Parity Bill, proposing that each sex must have a representation of at least 30 percent in decision-making bodies. Last Thursday, the proposal was introduced to the Parliament. A decision is scheduled to be taken in January 2014.

Wanted 50 percent quota

A quota law has been discussed for some ten years, but has been met with resistance from both men and women, explains Susanne Mannberg, Field representative in Liberia for the women’s rights and peace organisation The Kvinna till Kvinna Foundation.

”Part of the women’s movement was adamant to have a law with a 50 percent quota. They had to fold now. What this draft says is that there must be at least 30 percent from each sex.”

Susanne Mannberg believes that a draft law proposing a 50 percent quota would have faced too much resistance from men to be adopted.

Push through before elections

Support for the 30 percent quota law has been unusually high, among politicians and within the women’s movement equally. The latter is keen to push the law through the Parliament before it’s time for Senate elections in 2014 and presidential elections in 2016. The probability of the next president being a woman is not great.

”The women’s movement has realized that if it doesn’t move forward now, it will never happen. This is their only chance” says Susanne Mannberg.

Backed by high officials

Among the politicians who have backed the draft law are President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, Senator and former First Lady Jewel Taylor, several influential male senators and the Speaker of the Parliament.

Many also expressed their support of the proposal when the new secretariat of the Women Legislature Caucus was inaugurated in the capital Monrovia last Tuesday. The Women Legislature Caucus is a group of women parliamentarians from all political parties and they have coordinated the work with the draft law. The group has existed in the Parliament for a long time, but has previously had limited influence.

”Now they are overjoyed to have the secretariat up and running” says Susanne Mannberg.

Trainings for women parliamentarians

The secretariat will review all key legislative proposals from a gender perspective. Its five employees will also help women parliamentarians to write speeches and provide training in negotiating and how to write formally correct answers to questions from committees etc.

”In Sweden, you automatically recieve this type of training when you are elected to the Parliament, but that’s not the case in Liberia. Without this type of training it can be difficult for women to really penetrate the political system. Liberia also has no local political bodies, which otherwise is a common way for women to get into politics” says Susanne Mannberg.

Another important task of the secretariat will be to strengthen the contact between the women’s movement and women parliamentarians.

Financial support

Among those who helped draft the parity bill were the organisations AFELL and MARWOPNET. The umbrella organisation WONGOSOL with 105 members, has also been involved since the beginning of the process.

In June, Kvinna till Kvinna co-hosted a donor conference to find financial support to the secretariat and to a nationwide campaign to raise awareness of the bill.

”The campaign is for making people aware of what the law means and why it is important. The literacy rate is very low in Liberia, so you have to use many different channels to reach out” says Susanne Mannberg.

Karin Råghall

“Girls don’t finish their studies because of sexual harassment from teachers”

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Equal Power – Lasting Peace met Elizee Mwele Ngongo from CEDEJ, Cercle d’Échange pour le Développement des Jeunes, in The Democratic Republic of Congo, on a visit to Sweden. She works against sexual harassment in schools – a common reason for girls dropping out and thereby not getting an education. “I will not rest until girls finish their studies” she says.

Interview made by Malin Ekerstedt.

EU and peacebuilding – policies without practice?

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Ursula Keller, Swisspeace, Louise Olsson, Folke Bernadotte Academy, Pelle Enarsson, Political Advisor to the EUSR for the Horn of Africa and Shukria Dini, Somali Women's Studies Centre was in one of the panels discussing the EU, peacebuilding and gender. Photo: The Kvinna till Kvinna Foundation/Pavlina Ekdahl.

Ursula Keller, Swisspeace, Louise Olsson, Folke Bernadotte Academy, Pelle Enarsson, Political Advisor to the EUSR for the Horn of Africa and Shukria Dini, Somali Women's Studies Centre was in one of the panels discussing the EU, peacebuilding and gender. Photo: The Kvinna till Kvinna Foundation/Pavlina Ekdahl.

”You can hardly find a single high-level speach not mentioning the importance of including women. Resolution 1325 is firmly established on the policy level. So why has so little changed in practice?” This was one of the questions debated at a day of seminars on the European Union and peacebuilding, held in Stockholm, Sweden, last week.

The day was arranged by the NGOs European Peacebuilding Liaison Office (EPLO), The Kvinna till Kvinna Foundation and Life & Peace Institute and focused on the EU’s peacebuilding efforts in Somalia and the rest of the Horn of Africa, together with its commitment on gender, peace and security. And there wasn’t always agreement on what could be seen as good practice.

Pelle Enarsson, Political Advisor to the EU Special Representative (EUSR) for the Horn of Africa, described a ”successful political transition” taking place in Somalia last year, after 20 years of conflict – a success that the EU, and the rest of the international community, contributed to. Regarding women’s participation he highlighted that there had been a strong pressure from the international community to have a quota of 30 percent women in the transitional parliament, although this goal wasn’t reached in the end.

Somali women not listened to

But Shukria Dini from Somali Women’s Studies Centre was not impressed by the international efforts that ended with 12 percent women now holding seats in the parliament. ”Somali women are really not represented well in the new parliament. The international community cared about ending the process, not making sure that women fulfilled the 30 percent quota. We had a number of meetings with different international stakeholders and they all said ‘you women, go negotiate with your clan elders, there is nothing we can do about this’”she said.

On a question from the audience for advice on how to include women in work with conflict resolution and prevention, Shukria Dini pointed out that in Somalia women orchestrated local cross-clan peace processes for several years before the international community arrived, and had a lot of knowledge on participation. “We told the international community that we didn’t trust the clan elders to deliver lists with women for the parliament and that we could present these lists instead. But our appeal fell on deaf ears and we felt we had been cheated. So, there has to be more consultations with women in the concerned country – not just one, but several! Find out what women want, what solutions do they have?”

Many instruments – too little coordination

Many of the participants, both from within and outside of the EU, repeated that if the union isn’t yet seen as a strong actor in peacebuilding, it’s not due to a lack of policies. On the contrary, some mentioned that the fact that there are so many institutions within the EU working with peacebuilding, could be one of the problems. At the same time there are parts of the EU that doesn’t deal with peacework, but that should be involved for a common approach to be effective.

UNSCR resolution 1325Resolution 1325 was adopted by the UN Security Council in 2000.

 

It was the first time that the Security Council addressed the disproportionate and unique impact of armed conflict on women and also recognised the under-valued and under-utilized contributions women make to conflict resolution and peace-building. It stresses the importance of women’s equal and full participation as active agents in peace and security.

 

Resolution 1325 is binding upon the UN and all its member states.

”We have a lot of instruments for peacebuilding, the challenge is to join up the dots. The structures are not ideal, there is a lot to do to make them more comprehensive and holistic. And there are also a lot of policies that doesn’t lie within the EEAS, like trade for instance, that still are important for our peacebuilding work” said Andrew Byrne from Conflict Prevention, Peace Building and Mediation Instruments within the EU’s European External Action Service (EEAS)

Catherine Woollard from the NGO European Peacebuilding Liaison Office (EPLO) elaborated:

”The EU is still divided. There are multiple institutions working in different external missions and there are fights on who should be dealing with conflict prevention and resolution. Additionally there are a lot of actors, like us, standing on the outside telling the EU what to do. So in the end there are more people studying the EU and conflict than who are working with conflict within the EU – more reflection than action!” she said.

Practice what you preach

When it comes to women being equal participants in the EU’s peacebuilding actions, the problems seem to be the same as for most big actors: transforming big words into reality. Many of the (female) participants pointed out that the EU has to practice what it preaches, i e how can its officials go to conflict-ridden countries and talk about the importance of including women in their decision-making structures, when there at the same time are so few women within the decision-making structures of the EU peacebuilding missions?

Another area where the credibility of the EU’s equality approach seems to be faltering, is in reporting. According to EU policy, gender mainstreaming is supposed to permeate all its work. To follow up on this, all institutions and actions are to report on their actions to live up to that committment.

But out of the participants in the seminar, none of the persons who worked within the EU could say how, or even if, this reporting system was being implemented at their division. It came down to a voice from the audience, Giulia Pasquinelli from EPLO’s Gender, Peace and Security Working Group, to explain the regulations and how they should be working. A clear sign of the need for acute measures to be taken to fill the gap between policy documents and practice, if the EU is to be taken seriously as an actor working for women, peace and security.

Malin Ekerstedt

UN report: Gross human rights violations in Kivu provinces last year

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Villagers fleeing their homes in Sake, in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC)’s North Kivu province, after fighting erupted between FARDC Government forces and rebel groups. UN Photo/Sylvain Liechti

Villagers fleeing their homes in Sake, in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC)’s North Kivu province, after fighting erupted between FARDC Government forces and rebel groups. UN Photo/Sylvain Liechti.

In November last year, the Congolese armed forces (FARDC) and the militia group M23 were responsible for nearly 200 cases of rape and arbitrary executions, during their fighting in the North and South Kivu provinces in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, states a new report from the UN Joint Human Rights Office (UNJHRO).

More than 350 victims and witnesses were interviewed for the report and their testimonies speak of gross violations of human rights and international humanitarian law, like mass rape and the rape of girls as young as six years old, executions and violations resulting from widespread looting. Particularly systematic and violent was the abuse committed by FARDC elements as they retreated from the towns of Goma and Sake in North Kivu and regrouped in and around the town of Minova in South Kivu.

“Those responsible for such crimes must know that they will be prosecuted,” UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay said in a comment.

BackgroundIn April 2012, a mutiny of the Forces armées de la République démocratique du Congo (FARDC) in North Kivu, initiated by General Bosco Ntaganda, led to the creation of the Mouvement du 23 mars (M23) rebellion.


After occupying part of Rutshuru territory from July 2012, the M23 rebellion seized the towns of Goma and Sake on 20 and 22 November 2012 respectively, while troops from the FARDC retreated towards Minova, South Kivu province.


In partial compliance with a communiqué issued on 24 November 2012 by the International Conference on the Great Lakes Region (ICGLR), M23 combatants began to withdraw from Goma and Sake on 1 December 2012.

Source: UN Joint Human Rights Office

In December 2012, a judicial investigation was launched, supported by MONUSCO, the UN mission in the DR Congo, and other partners. As of the end of March 2013, 12 senior officers had been suspended in relation to the Minova incidents while the investigation by Congolese justice authorities is ongoing.

According to UN News, the joint investigation puts poor discipline among soldiers and officers, as well as improper training and inadequate vetting mechanisms as causes behind the violations.

“I welcome the measures taken so far by the Congolese authorities, including the decision to suspend senior officers allegedly connected to the mass rapes,” said Special Representative of the Secretary General in the DRC, Roger Meece. “The UN continues to offer its support to both the judicial investigation and the Congolese armed forces. However, for this support to be continued, the ongoing investigation should be pursued in an independent and credible fashion, and justice should be delivered to the victims. Future efforts to reform the security sector must include a systematic verification of the human rights records of combatants and their commanders in order for the Congolese army to fully ensure the protection of civilians.”

10 May, Tanzanian soldiers arrived in Goma as part of an intervention brigade of 3 069 peacekeepers, authorized by the UN for the area. The brigade is part of MONUSCO and is tasked with ”neutralizing armed groups, reducing the threat posed to State authority and civilian security and make space for stabilization activities”, reports UN News.

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 

One Voice – New Horizons: Libyan women’s activists gather at conference

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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.

Katharina Andersen

Women have a hard time to take part in Kenyan politics

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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.

Katharina Andersen