Mervat El-Tallawy, Ambassador and Chairwoman of the National Council of Women in Egypt, who made the CSW57 agreement possible. Photo: Violaine Martin, CC
The 57th session of the Commission of the Status of Women (CSW57) is over. After two weeks of difficult and tough negotiations in New York, the participants of the world’s largest conference on ending violence against women and girls consented on the adoption of a global plan to eliminate and prevent
all forms of violence against women and girls.
UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said in a statement that he ”hopes that all the partners who came together at this historic session and others around the world will now translate this agreement into concrete action to prevent and end violence against women and girls.”
One third of all women experience violence
One out of three women experience violence in her lifetime. According to the World Bank, women between the ages of 15 and 44 are more at risk from rape and domestic violence than from cancer, car accidents, war and malaria. To put an end to this seems like an excellent idea – but apparently not to all countries.
Even in the year 2013, there are countries that try to impede an agreement that is not even legally binding, that apparently don’t go in for a world which is violence-free for women. At CSW57, the Vatican, Russia, Sudan, Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood and Iran had formed what some diplomats called “an unholy alliance” and objected to language in the draft communiqué, asserting that governments can’t use religion, custom and tradition as an excuse to their obligation to eliminate violence. They also objected to references to abortion rights and contraception, as well as to language suggesting that rape also includes forced intercourse by a woman’s husband or partner.
Last year’s conference ended without an agreement – and this was close to happening again. What made the alliance countries cave in is not known, but in the end it was only Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood who classified the draft as un-Islamic and warned it would lead to a “complete degradation of society.”
Agreement made possible by the courage of one women
It seems to be thanks to the courage of one woman that the final agreement was signed, besides Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood’s attempts to block it. The head of Egypt’s delegation, politician and diplomat Mervat Tallawy, ignored the members of her own delegation and announced that Egypt would join consensus. “Women are the slaves of this age. This is unacceptable, and particularly in our region,” Mervat Tallawy said afterwards. “It’s a global wave of conservatism, of repression against women, and this paper is a message that if we can get together, hold power together, we can be a strong wave against this conservatism.”
Religion, culture and tradition are no excuses anymore
The 16-page document agreed upon strongly condemns violence against women and girls, affirms that violence against women and girls is rooted in historical and structural inequality in power relations between women and men, and that this persists in every country in the world as a pervasive violation of the enjoyment of human rights, calls for gender equality and women’s empowerment and ensure women’s reproductive rights and access to sexual and reproductive health services.
The document reinforces furthermore the validity of all agreements and resolutions hitherto adopted, urges all states to condemn violence against women and girls and to implement effective national legislation and policies against it. It also recognizes violence against women as an impediment to the social and economic development of states, as well as the achievement of the Millennium Development Goals. Equal access to power and decision-making is also a demand.
“By adopting this document, governments have made clear that discrimination and violence against women and girls has no place in the 21st century, there is no turning back.” said UN Women.
Eight different parties have taken the Kenyan government to court over its alleged failure to protect them from sexual violence in the aftermath of the post-election clashes in 2007.
Kenya’s national elections in December 2007 were followed by widespread ethnic violence. Women and children were often targeted and sexually assaulted. Up until now the Kenyan government has not prosecuted any of the sexual offenders of the post-election violence.
A group of Kenyan civil society organizations and victims of sexual violence are now suing the government in response to its failure to act and investigate the crimes and also for the lack of protection during the riots. The government failed to properly train and prepare police to protect civilians from sexual violence, they claim. 26 per cent of the recorded rapes from that time period were committed by police officers.
General Election in Kenya 2012The next Kenyan general elections will be held on 4 March 2013, electing the President, Senators, County Governors, Members of Parliament, Civic Wards and Women County Representatives. They will be the first elections held under the new constitution, which was passed in 2010. Many fear for another violent election.
Physical and sexual violence targeting women is commonplace in Kenya and widely tolerated. Contributory factors are, amongst others, the low status of women in society, patriarchal values, power structures focused on male dominance and a criminal justice system that is largely inaccessible, especially to poor women, according to a recent report Battering, Rape and Lethal Violence by Claire Mc Evoy.
Armenia is a country where one out of four women have experienced violence – mostly in their family environment. Nevertheless the government recently rejected a law against domestic violence.
“A woman is like wool, the more you beat her, the softer she will get” says an Armenian proverb. Domestic violence is not only a proverb but everyday life for many Armenian women. According to an Amnesty International report from 2008, over a quarter of women in Armenia have been hit or beaten by a family member and about two thirds have experienced psychological abuse. Nonetheless, Armenia has no specific laws against domestic violence. In January, the government of Armenia even blocked what could have become the country’s first domestic violence law and recommended amendments to other existing laws instead, claiming that amendments would make a separate law unnecessary.
Anna Nikoghosyan from Society Without Violence, Armenia. Photo: The Kvinna till Kvinna Foundation | Karin Råghall
Anna Nikoghosyan from the Yerevan based NGO Society Without Violence sees in the rejection of the bill an unwillingness of the government to recognize domestic violence as a serious issue and the lack of political will to promote women’s rights and gender equality. “While our government is rejecting the law on domestic violence, there are women who suffer, who are murdered, who undergo psychological, sexual or physical abuses, who do not know where to go and how to protect themselves.”
There is no state help for women who have experienced violence, their support has been left to NGOs. But being short of funds and the fact that domestic violence is widely regarded as a taboo and a private matter makes this a challenging task.
It is deeply rooted in the patriarchal society to justify domestic violence and Anna Nikoghosyan says that many women even believe that they themselves provoke men to beat or rape them through their behavior. If a woman gets raped, it is only to be blamed on her and leaves her stigmatized and a social outcast. At the same time, a woman has to submit to a man’s sexual demands.
Most of the rapes in Armenia go unreported due to the social stigma attached to it. The official police statistic for 2012 lists 621 cases of domestic violence, 5 of which were murder. Those are only the reported incidents, the number of unreported cases is far higher. Violence often happens in the broader family context, by intimate partners or family members. To report domestic violence is equated in society with ‘destroying the family’ and is strongly stigmatized. Amnesty International suspects that crimes and violation of women’s rights “are both significantly under-reported and perpetrated with widespread impunity.”
Presidential Election in ArmeniaOn February 18 Armenia elected a new president. The only female candidate, Narine Mkrtchyan, was forced to withdraw her candidacy, according to Gulnara Shahinian from the organization Democracy Today.
Amnesty International quoted a woman who dared to say stop and break the silence: “I put up with his beatings for 14 years because that’s what’s expected here in Armenia. In the Armenian family the woman has to put up with everything, she has to keep silent. The fact that I did something about it, that I went to the police and divorced my husband – [made] people in my village point at me and say she’s crazy, look at what she did to her husband, she should have kept quiet.”
Many women who dare to file complaints often subsequently withdraw them again because of the social pressure or threats by their parents or husbands, or because the police tell them to handle that matter privately.
Corruption within the police and among judges is common, so women are often denied justice when they do take cases to court. “Because of the lack of legislation and absence of special regulation mechanisms, many domestic violence cases still remain unpunished or the court decisions are lighter than they could be in case of a separate law,” says Anna Nikoghosyan. The Armenian government’s refusal to recognize violence against women as a crime and implement a law against it is a key obstacle to justice.
Congolese staff member from Femmes en Action Pour le Developpement Intégré, FADI, in Kiliba, South Kivu. Photo: Ida Udovic, The Kvinna till Kvinna Foundation
The Democratic Republic of Congo has been named the worst place on earth for women to live in. Rape, murder, violence and acid attacks have become a part of women’s everyday life, from the beginning dominated by poverty and traditional role models. Nevertheless, the world mostly gives the Congo and the Congolese women’s fate the cold shoulder. But a group of Congolese women discovered the internet as a tool to make their voice heard.
The war and the post-war years in the DR of Congo have cost about five million people their lives – thus making it the deadliest conflict in the world today and even the deadliest of the past half-century. This number is not only brought about by bombs and bullets, but also from preventable diseases and starvation. But the death toll and destitution is mostly met with silence by the rest of the world, despite the fact that we live in a world with unprecedented possibilities of access to information and high levels of attention and resources being devoted to foreign affairs.
“What …[came] as a surprise was the resounding silence with which the revelations of the conflict’s unparalleled scale were met: from policymakers, the media, the public and academia alike. It seemed that no matter how large it was, or how high the death toll became, the conflict simply could not elicit a serious response from the world outside the region,” writes Virgil Hawkins, assistant professor at the Global Collaboration Center at Osaka University, Japan, in his book ”Stealth Conflicts: How the World’s Worst Violence Is Ignored”.
If a country – as large as two-thirds of the size of Western Europe – can be blanked out in public awareness, then how must the situation be for those in the country, who are marginalized in the first place? For those, who traditionally have no chance of making their voice heard, for those who suffer most under the circumstances? If there is little awareness about the DR of Congo, then there’s even less about the situation of the Congolese Women. Their fate is mostly consigned to oblivion, supported by the fact that the country has little to no communications infrastructure.
Discrimination, the lack of security with a high risk of being subjected to various forms of violence, illiteracy and poverty effect and shape Congolese women’s lives profoundly. The war has also destroyed the life-sustaining structures, and women as the traditional foundation, upon which all family and community structures rely, bear the brunt of this.
Furthermore, rape was systematically used as a weapon of war, and the rate of sexual violence is still very high.
A study from 2011 estimates that about 1.8 million women in the Congo aged 15 to 49 have experienced rape, which means that approximately 1,152 women are raped every day, or 48 every hour, or four women every five minutes. It is not without a reason that the UN Special Representative on Sexual Violence has dubbed the Republic of Congo “The rape capital of the world”.
Raped women will not only carry the trauma of rape with all the results for their mental and bodily health throughout their lives, if they survive, but raped women traditionally are condemned to a life with the stigma of dishonor and are often cast out by their families or abandoned by their spouses.
Rays of hope
But there are rays of hope, changes that might come about thanks to some women’s initiative and the internet!
Neema Namadamu, a woman from the Eastern Congo, belongs to a marginalized tribe and is crippled from polio. But, as she writes, “none of those things characterize me. I have a vision for my country that compels me, and its destiny is driving me. It’s big, maybe improbable, but not impossible. For I have learned that making the impossible possible, simply requires a different set of rules.”
In July 2012, together with the action media network World Pulse, Neema gathered over 200 grassroots women leaders from her region to talk about the future of their country and to host workshops, training the women in the use of media with the aim of empowering them and giving them a global voice. The group call themselves “Maman Shujaa”, the Hero Women.
From their local internet café, with twelve computers that take ten minutes to load one page, the women report about their lives in the war-torn region, share their visions of change and connect with a global network of supporters, for example with women from Liberia, to exchange experiences. According to Neema Namadamu, they use World Pulse’s online forum “as a beginning platform to mobilize, enlighten, and engage a leadership group for future gender rights activities.” This project is also a first step to close a media gender gap, as Congolese women normally don’t have access to media.
No silence anymore
Women have finally a possibility to make them heard. This silenced country is not so silent anymore! Having lived for so many years being silenced, with the fear of the worst and no help to expect, they now can share their story and try to activate the world.
Maman Shujaa-member Riziki Bisonga shares her experiences of violence:
“Domestic violence like what I experienced in my own home is widespread. I recall the horrible story of the fate of a child in my community. When a mother went to get water – which is an arduous task here in DRC – the father raped his 9-month-old child and then ran away. The mother returned to find her child crying and full of blood.”
While Ruhebuza Vumilia Jeanette calls for action:
“Let us raise a cry to people of good will so that they will support literacy and access to schools. Let us awaken society’s conscience to ban outdated customs. Let us encourage churches to invest more in education and instruction to loyal patrons. Let us cry out to those who are able to give scholarships for the strengthening of female leadership.”
The group also used their newly found voice to author a letter to the female leaders at the White House, asking Hillary Clinton and Michelle Obama for their solidarity and for support for a real peace process in their homeland:
“We have had enough. We call upon our global sisterhood to take action. We will not be quiet until REAL Peace is upon us… And, it is essential that any action ensures Congolese women – who are uniquely positioned to act on behalf of family and community – have a voice in the peace process and a seat at the table.”
Being asked what she wishes for her country, a Congolese women answered: “To all the different countries of the world, open your eyes and ears so you can see and hear the women of the Congo.”
The Hero Women have launched an online petition headed to the White House that has garnered well over 100,000 signatures by now. You can sign this petition here to support them in their struggle.
Lois Brutus during a seminar in Almedalen – Photo: Sara Ludtke/The Kivnna till Kvinna Foundation
The Liberian women’s rights activist Lois Brutus has long pushed for the recognition of sexual violence in war as a crime against humanity. She still continues her fight, so that victims can finally see justice implemented. During Almedalen’s political week in Sweden, she shared with us her experiences.
Mrs. Lois Brutus, Liberian Ambassador Extraordinary & Plenipotentiary to South Africa, participated in several seminars at Almedalen where she discussed the measures needed to bring perpetrators of sexual and gender based violence in war and conflict to justice. (more…)
In the last eight years 25 people, 13 of them women, in Israel, have been killed in their homes by guns handled by security guards. A study made by the organisation Isha L’Isha shows that employees of security companies take their guns with them home at the end of the working day, thereby exposing their families to great risks.
To reduce the number of weapons in the Israeli society, and to save lives, Isha L’Isha has launched the campaign The Gun on the Kitchen Table.
"The Gun on the Kitchen Table"-campaign hosts a demonstration in Tel Aviv, Israel. Photo: Isha L'Isha.
There are 440 registered security companies in Israel, and a number of unregistered ones.
90 000 people work within these companies as security guards. That equals around 3 per cent of the working force in the country. Many of them are armed. The total amount of guns in the Israeli society, other than those within the military, have increased heavily during the last 15 years.
- Israel is a militarised society through and through. There are armed security guards standing outside restaurants, companies, official buildings and schools and weapons are everywhere. Noone questions it, it’s wholly accepted. The guards are considered necessary for our safety, says Rela Mazali, campaign co-coordinator at Isha L’Isha.
- Our government has commissioned private companies to uphold the nations security and thereby given up the responsibility for how the work’s being managed. We don’t have any real supervision of all these security companies and their way of working.
Women at most risk
The campaign is focused on the problem with security guards bringing their guns into their homes and thereby putting their family members at risk.
- There aren’t any public debates on how weaponalised our society has become. We know that women are the ones most threatened by guns in the homes, but women’s safety is never part of the discussions on how to create a safe and secure Israel, says Rela Mazali.
After the occurance of several high profile violent crimes, involving guns from security guards, a law on regulation of guns was passed in 2008. It states that security companies are obliged to collect their employees guns at the end of the working day. But the law has not been implemented. According to the government it would be too expensive. The companies are said not to be able to afford creating safer routines for the handling of guns.
Meeting with politicians
Last December Rela Mazali, and other activists working with the campaign, had a meeting with the Parliament Committee on the Status of Women.
“Women’s safety is never part of the discussions on how to create a safe and secure Israel”
They presented their demands on the law on guns being put to use and security companies having to control their guns.
- It was a very positive meeting. The committee has now demanded of the government to implement the law within two months. We don’t think it will happen that soon, but it’s a good start, says Rela Mazali.
Besides working politically, the campaign also targets the general public. On the occassion of 25 November, the International day on violence against women, they held demonstrations in Jerusalem and Tel Aviv. They have also produced a film on the issue, that is being distributed via social media.
- Our goal is to get a critical review of the militarisation of our society. We have to raise the awareness of how big a security threat small arms are. Since people have shown to be very ignorant of the problems with guns handled by security companies, we are hopeful that we can make them aware and gain their support, says Rela Mazali.
The Gun on the Kitchen Table is run by Isha L’Isha. The 2011 campaign was also joined by ten other women’s, human right and civil society organizations.