"The Oslo Accords looked better on paper. The international community has not supported the process and has not exerted the needed pressure to make it a reality" says journalist and author Lotta Schüllerqvist.
13 September marked the 20th anniversary of the Oslo Peace Accords between Israel and Palestine. In a book that aims to take a critical look at its impact, Lotta Schüllerqvist explores the consequences it has had on women.
“When the big political machine was established as part of the Oslo Accords, women who had been politically active were forced to retreat to the social sphere” she says.
“Then I looked at the list of authors and there were really very few women contributing, and even fewer pieces proposed to deal with the status of women. ‘Where are the women,’ I asked, which is something I try to do whenever I can,” she explains.
So a deal was quickly struck where she would get some extra time, in order to be sure that the impact of the Oslo Accords on women would be included.
Correspondent in Jerusalem
A Swedish journalist, Lotta Schüllerqvist was based in Jerusalem as the Swedish newspaper Dagens Nyheter’s correspondent January 2003 – December 2006. But she first came to Israel and Palestine already in 1982, and although she has moved back to Stockholm she regularly visits Jerusalem.
On her last trip, just a week after the 20th anniversary of the Oslo Accords, we meet to discuss her contribution to the book, for which she also interviewed Mona Shawa from the Palestinian Center for Human Rights and Amal Syam from Women’s Affairs Centre, both Gaza based organisations working for women’s rights and peace.
“The Oslo Accords looked better on paper. It really just created an illusion that things would get better, but that didn’t happen. I remember a young Palestinian woman who told me that before there was at least clarity: there was an occupation and there was a resistance, now everything has just been muddled,” she says.
Lofty plans fell flat
Lotta Schüllerqvist remembers the excitement in 1993, and particularly in Gaza where tourist pamphlets were drawn up and plans to construct beach front hotels were made. Economic development was seen as a real possibility. But then all those lofty plans just fell flat, and implementation, specifically the planned two-state solution, was not realized.
“Implementing the accords was never really a priority for Israel, and over the years, with the Israeli government getting more nationalistic, it has become even less of a priority. The violent reaction that came in early 2000 when Palestinians began to see that the principles set forth in the Accords were only talk, basically just gave Israel more power to respond with heavy handed action. Meanwhile the international community has not supported the process and has not exerted the needed pressure to make the Oslo Accords a reality.”
Lotta Schüllerqvist explains that since the Oslo Accords, the mechanisms of the occupation have just gotten stronger, which have subsequently further limited Palestinian’s right to movement, the possibility for economic development and the force of civil society and political organising.
Women pushed out
In this current stand still and lack of development following the peace agreement, she sees that there has been a notable impact on women, which she explores in her chapter.
According to Lotta Schüllerqvist, women in Palestine have a rich history of organising, and even though women’s rights have always been secondary to the national struggle, women did have a strong voice in the resistance. But after the Oslo Accords, women’s political involvement really changed. Politically active women where pushed out when the political machinery that was part of the accord was established.
In the book, Lotta Schüllerqvist quotes the activist Hanan Ashrawi, who explained to her that in 1993 the men felt that the struggle shifted into a period of more serious decision-making, and this was a domain exclusively for men to control.
Impossible to implement new justice system
The post-Oslo Accords era has also had a direct impact on women’s lives and their status in society. “There was a lot of work on the part of Palestine to build a state on the basis of the rule of law, on the basis of a constitution and to move away from the more traditional justice systems. It all sounded good, but hasn’t really been possible to implement because of the situation following the Accords” Lotta Schüllerqvist says.
Immediately following the Oslo Accords, a committee was established to change the personal status law, but they were not able to push a new law through. Then came the Fatah/Hamas split in 2006, and with that the Parliament closed. Since then there has been no way to work towards legal reform. The implications of this is something both Amal Syam and Mona Shawa speak about in Lotta Schüllerqvist’s chapter in the book. According to them, women are not protected by the law in Palestine and fall victim to various forms of gender-based violence, including early marriage.
No expiration date
Reflecting over the years, Lotta Schüllerqvist concludes that while perhaps not a reason for celebration, the 20th anniversary does give us a possibility to look over what it has meant and what it has led to.
“Well, there has never been an expiration date on the Oslo Accords, so I guess it can go on for as long as it wants” she says.
Often, women who report their husbands for abuse are not able to support themselves financially and therefore have to return home. Because of this the police force and women's rights organisations try to work with the victims family and inform them of the law and the risks of being sentenced to prison if breaking it. Photo: Ester Sorri.
The Kurdistan region of Iraq has one of Middle East’s most progressive laws on protection of women – but the implementation has been faltering. Now, women’s rights organisations are working to increase public awareness of the law.
“When I am to bake, there is no wood, my husband doesn’t bother to fetch any. When he comes home at night he blames me for all he can think of, and then he hits me. And he beats the children.”
The woman telling this has bruises on both hands and feet. The rest of her body is covered in a long dress. She lives in a village just an hour’s drive from Slemani in the eastern parts of the Kurdistan region of Iraq. Here, houses and walls are simply constructed, built in stone and clay. From afar they melt into the brown hillside.
Only 18 families live here and for the battered woman there is no help available. To leave her family and the village community for a life alone somewhere else, is basically unthinkable. Women who get divorced often have to leave their children with their former husband or his mother.
Since this woman can’t read, she would have a hard time to support herself. Also, it’s very rare for someone to live alone and it’s not considered normal, regardless of it being a woman or a man. The security situation for women who live by themselves is often bad and they are more vulnerable to sexual harassment and abuse.
“Many of us are afraid of our husbands, but what can we do? We have nothing to put against them” says another woman from the same village.
Still, women in Iraqi Kurdistan enjoy more freedom than in the rest of Iraq – to dress as they like and to move about outside of the home. They also have more opportunities to study and to work.
Nevertheless, public places are almost totally dominated by men, who spend much of their social life outdoors. Women rarely go out if they don’t have a specific reason to do so, and women who move about by themselves are often subjected to harassment and slander.
Violence against women is a major problem in Iraqi Kurdistan. Sometimes it’s the women’s husbands who are behind the violence, but it can also be a father, a brother, an uncle or another relative. Mostly, violence is used as a way to control a woman so she doesn’t put the family’s honor in danger.
Having sex outside of marriage, can be equal to writing your own death sentence. Recently, there have also been reports of young people being killed, because they had sent text messages to someone of the opposite sex. Other reasons for severe beatings or murder can be wanting to choose your own partner or asking your family for permission to divorce.
Consequence of history
Some women activists argue that the violence is a consequence of Kurdistan’s and Iraq’s violent history. That violence has become a natural part of everyday life and therefore is close at hand even at home. Before Iraqi Kurdistan created a de facto autonomy from central Iraq, in 1991, women were killed every day, but this was all treated with silence. In despair, women committed suicide by setting themselves on fire. Others were burned by family members.
Since then much has happened and there has been progress. In 2011, Iraqi Kurdistan adopted a progressive law to protect women. Among other things, it prohibits domestic violence, marital rape, female genital mutilation, forced marriages and attempts to hinder the education of girls.
But crimes committed for so-called reasons of honour are considered having mitigating circumstances. The penalty for murder can be as low as 6 months in prison, up to three years at the most, if honour can be invoked. Meanwhile, a woman was recently sentenced to death for killing her husband when she no longer could bare his daily violence against her.
Runak Faraj Raheem, Head of WMEC.
Lobbying for 20 years
“The law is not perfect, but I’m glad we got it. We have carried out insistent lobbying for over 20 years to get this far, says Runak Faraj Raheem, Head of the organisation Women’s Media and Education Center, WMEC.
WMEC is working to spread knowledge of the law, both in society and within the judiciary. Their number one channel is their magazine Rewan, which deals with subjects concerning women’s rights, health and honour-related violence.
Rewan has a circulation of 4500 copies and is distributed to offices, public agencies and politicians.
Much of its content tackles the ever present severe violence that women are subjected to.
The editorial staff is also dedicated to highlight women who are politically active and to present them as role models.
Additionally, every issue features a page with articles on women’s health, like pregnancy and childbirth, which many women lack knowledge about.
“It is our belief that women are autonomous. Therefore we want to strengthen them” says Rewan’s Editor in Chief, Hana Shwan.
Trainings for police officers
WMEC has also organised trainings in the law on violence against women for over 1000 police officers and prosecutors.
”Even though they are working at the front line, not all police officers are familiar with this new legislation. Others just don’t accept it. They find it hard to abandon the idea that violence within the enclosed walls of a home is ok” says Project Organiser Robin Qasim.
Police investigations of domestic violence have often been sloppy and marked by a distrust of the victims. In addition, the victims have to endure a long and painful process in which they have to submit their testimony over and over again to different people. Several women’s organisations say that women are subjected to sexual abuse by the police when reporting on violence, and that judges call them prostitutes when their cases are processed in court.
Hope for better investigations
Many hope for a higher quality in these types of investigations, when the regional directorate working with violence against women takes over the responsibility next spring.
Chalar J Mohammed, Deputy Director of the directorate.
“So far, these cases have been handled by the local police, while the directorate’s staff have had to make do with just following the process from a distance. We hope this change will make it easier for women to report violence. Here, they can be certain that their reports remain secret and the directorate’s staff, who are police officers, are all dressed in civilian clothing” says Major Chalar J Mohammed, Deputy Director of the directorate.
Support from social worker
When a woman has reported that she is a victim of violence, she’s put in contact with a social worker, who supports her through the following process. It’s important that the woman feels that there is hope, since it often is impossible for her to see any solution to her problems.
“If it’s a minor offense, we call the woman’s family and try to mediate. The family must sign a contract saying that this crime will not be repeated, and after that we continue to keep an eye on them.”
If the woman’s life is deemed to be in danger, a judge may decide that she, and sometimes her children, should move to a shelter. There are three public shelters and one non-state one. According to Runak Faraj Raheem, the shelters are more like prisons than homes. The women receive all possible care, but they can not go outside and they have no contact with their families. Sometimes the solution can be to help them to a new life abroad. But most of the times, the women move back in with their family after the mediation.
Mediation not reliable
However, mediation is not a reliable solution. To return to the family means a continued risk to be subjected to threats and abuse. There are several known cases where women have been killed by their families after the authorities have intervened.
According to Chalar J Mohammed there is a trend of more women daring to report violence, probably because knowledge of the law is spreading and women are hoping to recieve help. But women’s organisations experiences show that state protection for these women still is extremely weak.
In the end of January, a UN report on the impact of Israeli settlements on the rights of Palestinians was released. Now, a follow-up report shows that in spite of there being a lot of international advocating for the Israel-Palestine peace talks that now have been renewed, the first six months of 2013 brought an increase in attacks by settlers on Palestinians and their property in the West Bank and East Jerusalem.
“The settlers threw rocks at our house and the soldiers kept firing tear gas. (…) I constantly feel unsafe in my own house with my young children. On that day I realised how the settlers can get away with anything with the army’s protection.”
The words are Fatima’s, a 41-year-old woman living in the village of Burin in the West Bank. She is one of 13 women, whose testimonies are included in the report Israeli settler violence in the West Bank and East Jerusalem, by Women’s Centre for Legal Aid and Counselling, WCLAC. With these interviews, WCLAC wants to highlight the impact settler violence and property distruction have on women. The report has also been submitted to the UN Special Rapporteur on Violence Against Women.
More settlements being built
The January UN report stated that the establishment of the settlements has fragmented the West Bank placing at risk the possibility of a Palestinian State, and by implication, a viable two state solution – which is the stated purpose of the resumed peace talks. Still, WCLAC’s report shows that during the first six months of 2013, work began on 865 new housing units in settlements in the West Bank, the highest figure in seven years, and an 176 percent increase compared to the same period last year. Settler-related incidents resulting in injury to Palestinians rose 5,5 percent and incidents involving property damage rose 41 percent.
Lack of accountability
According to the report, there is a general lack of accountability for settler attacks, which is a major factor in their continuance. “Despite Israel’s obligations under international law to protect the civilian population in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, settler violence persists largely due to the lack of adequate law enforcement by the Israeli authorities. Many soldiers appear to see their protective role as only applying to settlers, and not Palestinians” the report states. In connection, the UN report showed that complaints made by Palestinians against settlers had a 91 percent chance of being dismissed, whereas in cases involving settlers complatins against Palestinians, up to 95 percent proceed to court.
No compensation for stolen herd
Montaha, a Bedouin woman from near Jericho tells a similar story:
“My brother-in-law (…) told us that he had to hide out of fear for his life when he saw four settlers carrying guns coming from the outpost. They took [our] livestock back to the outpost and later to the settlement. We couldn’t believe we had lost our only source of income. We reported the incident to the Palestinian authorities, who in turn reorted it to the Israeli authorities. We also reported it at an Israeli police station nearby (…). Nothing was done (..) One day we saw the settlers moving the herd. We called the police who managed to retrieve six of our livestock. Two weeks later the police returned three of our goats after another three had died. (…) I dream that one day the rest of our goats will be returned as we need the income. We were given no support or compensation.”
In a bleak concluding remark, the report states that due to an absence of international and domestic accountability, there is no likelihood that the situation will improve.
“The negotiations are destined to fail as long as they do not adopt a rights based approach to the conflict" says Naila Ayesh from Women's Affairs Center in Gaza. Photo: Kvinna till Kvinna.
September 13, it will be 20 years since the Oslo Accords between Palestine and Israel were signed. Evaluating the on-going US-led peace talks, representatives from Palestinian women’s organisations are critical to a process that seems to repeat many mistakes of previous negotiations, without taking into consideration the changes that have taken place on the ground.
Peace talks between Israeli and Palestinian negotiators resumed in Washington, led by US Secretary of State John Kerry, in July. Since then, several rounds of talks have been held in Jerusalem and Jericho.
As was the case in earlier negotiations, representatives of the Palestinian women’s movement are excluded and feel that the talks do not actually deal with what is happening on the ground (for more information see link to the left), nor with their priorities. Furthermore, they feel that the Palestinian Authority – that is negotiating on behalf of the Palestinian people instead of the PLO who took part in the Oslo process – does not represent them.
Several of Kvinna till Kvinna’s Palestinian partner organisations say that the consequences of earlier agreements, especially the Oslo Accords, have had a negative impact on the situation for Palestinians. Naila Ayesh from Women’s Affair’s Center in Gaza says:
“Palestinians see no hope in these peace talks. The negotiations are destined to fail as long as they do not adopt a rights based approach to the conflict. The last 20 years of occupation only brought about more settlements and land thefts, and continued violations of Palestinians’ fundamental rights. Now, at a time when Israel is facing the threat of political isolation, it uses the negotiations as a cover for its on-going colonization and land confiscation. The result will be a further fragmented Palestinian society, making the objectives of women’s rights organisations increasingly difficult to achieve.”
“Change has to be seen”
Naila Ayesh says that she and other Palestinians are not against negotiations as such. But she emphasizes that a peace process has to aim at ending the occupation and achieve a complete Israeli withdrawal from all Palestinian land occupied since 1967, including East Jerusalem.
“Change has to be seen on the ground in order for people to trust that the negotiations has lead somewhere”, she says.
Amal Khreishe from PWWSD thinks that the process lacks transparency.
“The talks exclude all political parties and civil society. Only a narrow circle is involved and they are all the same who have tried and failed before”, she says.
Women without influence
No women’s organisations have been involved in the talks, and according to Muna Hasan, Program Officer for the women’s rights and peace organisation The Kvinna till Kvinna Foundation in Jerusalem, women’s influence over the peace talk agenda has largely been absent. And when women activists publicly have tried to express thoughts and concerns about the negotiations, media has not taken them seriously, but has focused on how they were dressed and whether their hair was covered or not.
Amal Khreishe fears that the Palestinians will be forced to agree on a deal that doesn’t solve the problem with the Israeli settlements on occupied land or the issue of Jerusalem. That would surely create frustration and more violence, she says.
“As a woman human rights defender, I would want to change the way security is dealt with and to discuss human security rather than military security. That could pave the way to democracy and real security.”
Not equal powers
Both Naila Ayesh and Amal Khreishe point out that the negotiations are not being held between two equal powers.
“Direct negotiations with the supervision of the US just creates a power imbalance. How can we trust that there really is a will to achieve Palestinian self-determination with all the settlement expansions and the violence against Jerusalemites?” Amal Khreishe says.
It's not common for women candidates to put their picture on their campaign posters. Fatima Bani Yaseen is an exception. Photo: Kvinna till Kvinna/Alexandra Karlsdotter Stenström.
Today Jordan holds local elections. With a recently raised women quota, the outcome could be more women than ever in local councils. We have met three women activists who stand as candidates.
In Jordan, local elections are being met with varying interest. In the capital Amman most people don’t seem to bother. It is just a day off for everyone and the common joke is that the shores of the Dead Sea will be full of people, since no one will go and vote.
But traditionally, local elections are more important for people living outside of the major cities. They are primarily a way to secure the family or clan interests, through making sure that a strong candidate is produced, that can be elected to the City Council.
Won over male candidates
Maysoon Meqdadi. Photo: Kvinna till Kvinna/Alexandra Karlsdotter Stenström
In the village of Kura in the north of Jordan, we meet Fatima Bani Yaseen and Maysoon Meqdadi, active in the local women’s rights organisation with the same name as the village. They both run for election. Fatima has held a seat at the City Council for several periods now, and is a well-known figure in her constituency. When her clan was to decide on candidates for this year’s election, she was one of their final choices, beating several male candidates in the process. But getting to that point has not been easy.
Her first time as a candidate was preceded by a long and painful struggle with her brother. Since Fatima is not married, her brothers have the final say on everything she is to do outside the walls of her home. But this time she refused to accept their no.
“I locked myself in my room and just cried. I refused to talk to my brother.”
Weeks passed, and when only two weeks remained before the election, Fatima’s brother finally gave in. She was allowed to run as a candidate.
“Our society is ruled by men and clans” she says cooly.
But she adds that many women want to support her and have called her to ask if they can help with her campaign.
For Maysoon it’s her first time as a candidate. Besides from her and Fatima, there are only two other women standing for election in the municipality, so they are both hoping to be elected.
And chances are good. In the latest revision of the Jordanian electoral law, the women quota at the municipal level was raised from 20 to 25 percent. It is a relatively high figure – in the Parliament only 10 percent of the seats are reserved for women – and a success for the women’s movement. But a success that demands commitment. To change the view of women being mere political alibis, women have to get engaged in politics and stand for election.
Out of 2 808 candidates in the local elections, 473 are women. The total number of seats in the city councils are 1100, which means that 275 of them are reserved for women. Thus, there are less than two female candidates for each seat. And some districts don’t even have one female candidate. This is solved by hand-picking women to the remaining seats – women who often are skilled and experienced, but who haven’t put themselves up as candidates.
Only female candidate
In the village of Rakeen in southern Jordan, lives Sara Rahayfeh. She is also active in a local women’s rights organisation, this too with the same name as the village. She also stands for election, and since she is the only female candidate in her constituency, chances are good for her to win a seat.
Besides from being the leader of the organisation Rakeen, Sara is an experienced and well-known midwife. Still, it is crucial for her to have the family or the clan behind her when standing for election.
“I have the support of my whole family in this. And I feel strong. I have learned so much through my job with the organisation” she says.
Posters and knocking on doors
Back in Kura, Maysoon and Fatima are talking with horror about a woman in their district running as a candidate, not in her own name but as the wife of Mr X – because his name is the important one.
Fatima has her picture on her election posters. This is rare for a woman, since it’s not considered appropriate. Maysoon has not printed any posters, but has been out knocking on doors in her constituency, talking to voters about the things she wants to change.
“I want to make sure that the resources of the municipality are distributed fairly between everyone who lives here. Waste collection is important, it has to run smoothly everywhere. And I want to ensure that there are street lights on all streets.”
Fatima is also adamant on the importance of resources being distributed fairly. And she is particularly interested in how the budget is being put together.
“There has to be women in the Budget Committee, and we must ensure that the money also will benefit women. Health care is an important example, women need special medical equipment” she says.
Women have been a great force in the protests taking place in Egypt during the last years. But they have not yet gained any real influence in the official political processes. Photo: Kvinna till Kvinna/Saba Nowzari.
After the Egyptian military removed president Mohammed Mursi from power in the beginning of July, following the wave of protests started by the popular movement Tamarod, it issued a roadmap for change. Egyptian women’s rights organisations have since then stepped forward, demanding that women and their rights should be part of this new agenda.
The roadmap suspended the Egyptian constitution and stated that a new, diverse, constitutional committee should be formed. It also contained passages on the installation of an interim coalition government and new presidential elections within six months.
But very little has been said or done to ensure that women take an equal part in these processes. As the women’s rights organisation Nazra for Feminist Studies pointed out in a statement in mid July, “current political developments do not seem to be promising with regards to their [women’s] right to being part of the process of policy formulation for the upcoming period”. According to Nazra the new governemnt’s awareness and desire could be questioned, since it has failed to “create spaces to integrate women effectively”.
Earlier this week Nazra followed up its warnings of exclusion of women, by presenting a list of 16 women nominees, all with prominent political records, to the up-coming constitutional committee.
13 articles for the constitution
Other women’s organisations have also been active in this debate. In the end of July, 16 women’s rights groups, forming the Alliance of Women’s Organisations, presented a document with 13 articles, which they demanded should be included in the new constitution.
The document is based on interviews with 10 000 women and was first presented last year, but its articles were never included in the constitution adopted last December. According to Amal Abdel Hady, head of the board of trustees of the New Woman Foundation – one of the member organisations – these articles would guarantee the future rights of women in Egypt and identify mechanisms to ensure equal opportunities and non-discrimination.
On the same day three other organisations, among them the Egyptian Center for Women’s Rights, ECWR, presented seven principles to guarantee women’s rights in the constitution, with using an explicit language, as in ”addressing men and women rather than using broad terminology such as ’citizens’ or ’persons’”, as one example. And in the beginning of August ECWR issued another statement, calling for women to make up at least one third of the upcoming constitutional committee instead of the proposed one fifth.
Change definition of rape
Besides from talking about political participation and the new constitution, earlier mentioned organisation Nazra also has highlighted the importance of integrating gender issues in the process of transitional justice.
In a statement with recommendations to the newly created Ministry of Transitional Justice and National Reconciliation, the organisation states that many human rights and feminist organisations, including themselves, since the beginning of the January 25 Revolution “have documented scores of testimonies of violations committed against women, which have not been officially investigated”. A major thing that needs to be dealt with is changing the definition of the terms “torture” and “rape”.
“One of the key problems of the system of justice is the lack of laws that provide protection for women. Nazra documented testimonies of violations against women that qualify as torture by virtue of the international definition of torture, but not according to Egyptian legislation” says the organisation.
20 percent women
The military interim president Adly Mansour has appointed a 10-member committee that will propose amendments to the constitution. This is scheduled to be finished on 18 August.
A second committee, comprised of 50 public persons including politicians, unionists and religious persons, then will have 60 days to review those amendments, before they will be voted on in a referendum. Yesterday the presidency released a statement confirming earlier sayings that the second committee should include at least ten women.
Ronak Faraj Raheem, Director of Women's Media and Education Center, which was one of the organisations that participated in the campaign for a ban on guns in homes in Iraq. Photo: Ester Sorri.
Despite massive protests from the Iraqi women’s movement, last year a law was passed, making it legal for Iraqis to keep weapons in their homes. But women’s organisations in northern Iraq won’t give up. Now they are advocating for politicians in the Kurdistan region of Iraq to enforce a ban.
“In our village, almost all men have weapons at home. Some show off their guns to gain respect” says a woman from a mountain village situated a couple of hours drive outside of Slemani in Iraqi Kurdistan.
She and a couple of other women have come to a house used for common gatherings. The help organisation Wadi is visiting to talk about women’s health, but the conversation undulates back and forth and touches on violence and the presence of weapons.
“What can we do? The men have all the power and can do whatever they want with us. I’m often afraid, my husband has threatened me with his gun. I have no choice, I have to do what he wants” says a young woman, throwing her hands in the air in a gesture of defeat.
Common with guns at home
Having a gun or any kind of light weapon at home is very common in Iraq. According to statistics from Gunpolicy.org, based on research from the Sydney University among others, an estimated 34 percent of Iraqis own a gun. There is also an extensive illegal arms trade in the country.
This development has caused strong reactions among women’s organisations. They are concerned that more accessible weapons will lead to an increase in the deadly violence against women. The women’s rights organisation Warvin has warned about the risks, stating that most Iraqi women who get killed, are shot.
When the Iraqi government a few years ago wanted to introduce a law allowing light weapons in homes, women’s organisations and concerned individuals joined forces in a counter campaign. The campaign called for a ban instead of a legalization and for the Iraqi government to gather all illegal weapons.
Despite the protests, in 2012 the new firearms legislation was introduced, making it legal for all individuals to own a gun and keep it at home. The only regulation is that it has to be registered with the police. At the same time the government urged all Iraqi households to keep a gun, to improve their safety.
“Question of mentality”
Women’s Media and Education Center, WMEC, participated in the campaign. However, the organisation’s director, Ronak Faraj Raheem, is not convinced that a ban on guns is the right way to go to prevent deadly violence against women. Mainly because she doensn’t see a direct link between firearms and honor killings.
“As an organisation, we are of course against keeping guns in homes. But I don’t believe that the act of killing someone is closer at hand just because it’s easier to get hold of a gun – first and foremost it’s a question of mentality. When it comes to defending family honour men use what’s avaliable; knives, strangulation, pistols. A gun in the home makes no bigger difference” she says.
Family honour important
In the Kurdistan region as well as throughout Iraq, family honour is an important issue and the social control is strong. A woman receiving a text message from an admirer or stating that she wants to choose her own partner, are reasons enough for her to be accused of bringing shame and dishonour upon her entire family. For this she may be punished by death and the act is often carried out by her father, husband, uncle or brother.
“We’re campaigning against weapons in the home, but more important still is that this mentality changes” says Ronak Faraj Raheem.
Lanja Abdulla, Warvin. Photo: Kvinna till Kvinna.
High hopes on a law
But Lanja Abdulla from Warvin has high hopes that a law banning guns in homes in Iraqi Kurdistan would reduce the deadly violence against women.
“Police officers, security personnel, members of political parties and ordinary people – everyone has a gun at home. Most killings of women are carried out with these weapons. If we got a ban, it would automatically reduce the number of women being killed” she says.
For example, with such a law, policemen and security agents would be forced to leave their weapons at work. According to Lanja Abdulla, that would make the men not being able to kill the women as easily in an aggressive domestic situation.
In the course of spring, Warvin has managed to get the five biggest political parties in Iraqi Kurdistan to support a law on firearms. Now, the organisation will start working on drafting a bill.
”Reject the recently-issued draft electoral law, since it does not ensure equal gender representation in the Constitutional Assembly that will draft Libya’s new constitution”. This was the message from The Libyan Women’s Platform for Peace, LWPP, to all Libyans after the proposed law was presented in the end of May. A recently published reportby Human Rights Watch also underlines the close connection between future women’s rights in Libya and women’s equal participation in the constitution writing process.
The draft electoral law is the work of a committee assigned by the Libyan General National Congress (GNC). It sets the rules for the popular elections that will be held to fill the 60 seats of the Constitutional Assembly that will be responsible for drafting the new constitutaion. LWPP has identified several areas of concern regarding the electoral law, among them the lack of adequate mechanisms to ensure representation of both men and women, and the simple majority vote system, which affects both female candidates and candidates from all kinds of minorities negatively.
“The electoral law of the Constitutional Assembly reminds us of the National Transitional Councils’ first draft of the electoral law of the GNC. Both mindset is basically exclusionist. Again this runs against the spirit of the 17th Feb revolution in which women and men fought together to foster equality, justice and democracy. Democracy entitles that all voices are represented, those of the majority as well as those of the minority especially if we are addressing the process of drafting the constitution which is basically the establishment of the social contract.” said Zahra’ Langhi, Cofounder of LWPP in a statement.
”Failure to deal with these issues (one of which is equal representation, editor’s comment) properly will set back the progress women have made over the past two years, and hinder respect for women’s rights in the future. (…) Women’s voices are critical to prepare a constitution that meets international standards for women’s rights” the report states.
Egypt warning example
Another recent report, Women and Equal Citizenship: Analysis of the New Constitution of Egypt by the Arab Forum for Citizenship in Transition, FACT, also focuses on the clear connection between the writing of constitutions and future equality. It examines the final draft of the Egyptian constitution that was signed into law last December. The report states that important rights regarding the status of women were muddled in vague text in the constitution and written with a conservative vision for the society. Subsequently Egypt’s constitution lacks proper mechanisms for the protection of women’s rights and has no mechanisms to address discrimination based on sex or mentions any creation of agencies to oversee such cases.
The report also states that these gaps in ensuring full equality among Egypts citizens, were the possible results of the clear lack of female voices in the constitution’s formation (there were only 6 percent women in the Constitutent Assembly).
One important part of the Right to Heal campaign is to try to prevent future wars, says Yanar Mohammed from Women's Freedom in Iraq, OWFI. Photo: Right to Heal.
A wave of deadly attacks has once again hit the Iraqi civilian population. But at the same time, new peace initiatives emerge. Anti-war activists from Iraq and the United States have launched the joint campaign Right to Heal.
Still, there are beacons of light in the darkness.
“As human rights activists, we are determined to scrutinize all the wrongdoings of the war and also try to prevent future wars” says Yanar Mohammed, chairwoman of the organisation Women’s Freedom in Iraq (OWFI).
Yanar Mohammed is one of the founders of the Right to Heal campaign, which was launched outside the White House in New York on March 19. Marking the ten-year-anniversary of the US invasion of Iraq, the campaign seeks to hold the US government responsible for the long-term effects of the war.
“We demand reparations for the people of Iraq, who have suffered because of this war, as well as for the war veterans. All of us need to heal” Yanar Mohammed says.
Investigates humanitarian crisis
But the Right to Heal campaign is not only about seeking reparations for civilians and war veterans – it’s also about investigating wrongdoings of the war. For several years, OWFI has been trying to highlight the humanitarian crisis in the city of Hawijah, where several of the inhabitants have been diagnosed with brain damages, poliomyelitis paralysis and cancer and over 600 babies have been born with disabilities. In a report released in 2011, OWFI claims that a US army base situated in the city is behind these illnesses.
When American anti-war activists came across the report, they contacted Yanar Mohammed and an exchange of ideas and information began. That’s how the Right to heal campaign started.
Today, the campaign consists of OWFI, Iraq Veterans Against the War and Federation of Workers Councils and Unions in Iraq. The campaign also has a legal representative, Center for Constitutional Rights, who have filed a case regarding Hawijah to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR).
Prevent future wars
The last part of the campaign is to try to prevent future wars. A delicate task, one might think. But Yanar Mohammed says that she cannot limit herself to defending the Iraqi people only; she wants to prevent sufferings of all people.
“In Iraq, the US government poisoned big parts of the country with white phosphorus. Our mission is to find facts about this so that we can prove that they have used internationally forbidden weapons. We will try to come up with legal grounds that make us able to prevent future American wars in other places around the world” she says.
More information on the campaign and interviews with activists can be found in this video clip made by Iraq Veterans Against the War:
Nima Habashne and her daughter demonstrating for women to have the same right as men to transfer their citizenship to their children. Photo: Private.
According to Jordanian law, women don’t have the right to transfer their Jordanian citizenship to their children. That means that if you’re born to a foreign father, you’re closed off from civil rights like state health care, the educational system and the right to vote. Nima Habashne decided to take the fight for her children.
”It started a couple of months after my Moroccon husband had passed away. My then 8-year-old daughter had a heart condition and I didn’t have the money to pay for her medical care. I went to the Prime Ministry to apply for her to recieve care in one of the state hospitals. But the person I talked to just through the papers in my face and said ’This is not Jordan’s responsibility, your children should apply for care in Morocco.’ On my way home I decided that I was going to fight for my rights and the rights of my children.”
Almost seven years have passed since Nima Habashne decided to start the campaign My mother is Jordanian and her Nationality is My Right. Nima and the other 450 mothers that are part of the campaign, fight for Jordanian women to have the same right as Jordanian men to transfer their citizenship to their children. Tens of thousands of mothers and many more children are affected by this discriminatory legislation, which is a result of Jordan making a reservation to Article 9 in the UN Convention on the Elimination of all Discrimination Against Women, CEDAW.
No rights without money
For children whose mother has a Jordanian citizenship and whose father has a citizenship from another country, the consequences are serious. Without a Jordanian citizenship they are deprived of several fundamental rights within Jordanian society. They are not allowed to vote and don’t have access to state health care or to the educational system. Unless they have a lot of money that is. It’s always possible to pay your way into a university or state hospital. However, most of these families are living on the margins and several of the mothers in the campaign network are widows or divorced.
Without a Jordanian citizenship you have to apply for a special permit from the state to do almost everything, like taking your driver’s license or getting married and there are no guarantees that your application will be granted. You can not even be sure that you will be allowed to stay in Jordan. As a child of a Jordanian mother and a foreign father, you’re a guest in your own country and the state reserves the right to deport anyone who it considers a liability to Jordanian society.
Started on the internet
Messages from Jordanian mothers and their children without Jordanian citizenship, on a manifestation in Amman on the International Women’s Day, 8 March, this year. Photo: Kvinna till Kvinna/Johanna Wassholm.
Nima Habashne’s campaign started on the internet, in a time when the political climate in the Middle East was different from today.
”For several years I ran this campaign through my blog and on Facebook. But after the Arab Spring it felt like we could risk to take it outside, into the streets” she says.
Before she started organising protests herself, Nima Habashne participated in the big demonstrations taking place for general reforms and increased democracy – to learn how a demonstration works and to talk to the participants about the citizenship issue.
”The first time I organised a demonstration outside the Prime Ministry, it was only me and my two daughters. That was March 24th, 2011. Now I have between 20 and 60 other mothers with me each time. And I feel that I have the support of the Jordanian people. I believe that 80 percent of the people in the streets support my campaign.”
Hot political topic
Her biggest opposition can be found on the governmental level. The citizenship issue is a hot political topic in a country that has more refugees per capita than any other country in the world, and where this discriminatory legislation affects around 500 000 people.
However, after many years of continous campaigning, Nima Habashne has gotten a lot of allies. Last month, 11 parlamentarians put forward a proposed law to grant these children civil rights. Not citizenship, but access to basic rights like health care, education and the labour market.
”It’s a first step. You have to start somewhere. But I will not rest until our children enjoy full citizenships” says Nima Habashne.