For women’s full participation in conflict resolution and peacebuilding

An initiative from Kvinna till Kvinna

Working for ban of guns in Iraqi Kurdistan

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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.

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.

Counter campaign

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.

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.

Annette Ulvenholm Wallqvist, freelance journalist

Women’s rights on hold in Area C

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According to a study carried out by the Swedish women’s rights and peace organisation The Kvinna till Kvinna Foundation, inequalities are behind three major problems for women living in Area C of the occupied Palistinian territories’ West Bank:  early marriages, lack of political participation and violence.

The study, named Inequalities facing Women living in Area C of the Occupied Palestinian Territories’ West Bank, is based on interviews made with Palestinian women living in Area C. In addition, Kvinna till Kvinna held a meeting with representatives of national women’s rights organisations and international actors, to explore in specific the challenges to addressing violence against women in Area C.

150 000 Palestinian inhabitants

In accordance with the Oslo Accords from 1993, the Palestinian territories were divided in three temporary distinct administrative divisions, the Areas A, B and C, until a final status accord would be established. Area C constitutes 62 percent of the West Bank, with about 150 000 Palestinians living there, but who only have access to about 30 percent of the land.

The area was to remain under full Israeli civilian and military control for five years, but 20 years later, the Israeli military is still in control, and the number of Israeli settlers today by far exceeds the number of Palestinians. The Palestinian National Authority (PNA) has no authority in Area C and no formal representation as an executive body. How are women affected by this construction?

As PNA is not represented in Area C, there are almost no public services, like medical treatment or police. The area is mainly rural and women work mostly in the agricultural sector, having farming as their primary source of income, very few have the opportunity to get higher education. Isolated as Area C is, school attendance for young women is difficult, there is hardly any chance of getting access to information, to meet women from other areas or countries, to get inspired, informed, empowered or to network.

Without permission from the Israeli government, no international organisations are allowed to operate facilities in the area; a fact that hinders economic development of the rural villages and an alteration of the predominant conservative attitudes. Additionally, heavy restrictions apply to building housing or development projects, and demolition happens quite often.

Early marriage

Many villages are located in close proximity of Israeli settlements and attacks from settlers on Palestinians are on the rise. This creates an atmosphere of fear, out of which the freedom of movement is restricted for women. Schools are oftentimes located at great distances, which means that pupils have to walk far every day. Thus parents are very hesitant to let their girls attend school.

In some cases, this perceived insecurity – along with other factors, such as financial constraints – become reasons for which parents seek to marry their daughters off at an early age. This in turn means that women are not allowed to leave the house and to get an education. One interviewee in the study said: “My dad made me get married when I was 16 to protect me, because at that time Israeli soldiers were coming every night claiming that they are looking for wanted people.”

Lack of political participation

Security threats, a lack of space and presence, a lack of education and conservative attitudes block women’s political empowerment, including the chance to gather knowledge about political processes. All of this contributes to controlling and limiting women’s participation.

Violence against women

As there is no police service in Area C no protection strategies can be implemented. Due to this lack of health-, social-, judicial and policing authorities, women are exposed to violence without any means of protection or justice. The level of violence perpetrated by family members and intimate partners is high and in the patriarchal and conservative society regarded as a private matter. Customary or traditional response fills the vacuum of absent laws and policies.

The Israeli newspaper Haaretz wrote in March 2013 that Israeli “right-wing parties view Area C as a primary area of struggle against the Palestinian Authority.” And again: women bear the brunt of this struggle.

Katharina Andersen

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Katharina Andersen 

 

 

 

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

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United Nations Security Council Meeting Room. Photo: Zack Lee

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

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

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

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

This year’s report states that:

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

The report also provides recommendations:

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

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

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

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

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

Anna Magnusson | Katharina Andersen

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Text: Karin Råghall

Translation: Katharina Andersen

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 

CSW57 achieved last minute agreement

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Mervat El-Tallawy, Ambassador and Chairwoman of the National Council of Women in Egypt, who made the CSW57  agreement possible. Photo: Violaine Martin, CC

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.

Katharina Andersen

Women ignored in DR Congo peace agreement

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Photo: The Kvinna till Kvinna Foundation | Ida Udovic

Women were absent when the peace agreement in DR Congo was signed. Photo: The Kvinna till Kvinna Foundation | Ida Udovic

Eleven countries signed a peace agreement mediated by the UN to end war in the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo. But civil society is not elated.

The new framework agreement for peace and stability in eastern DRC was signed in the Ethiopian capital Addis Ababa on February 24, in the presence of UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon. Eleven African countries signed the agreement, which among other things regulates the deployment of a special UN intervention brigade to the eastern DR Congo with troops from Southern and Eastern Africa. The brigade is supposed to reinforce the UN peacekeeping troop MONUSCO, which already is in the country. The undersigning countries furthermore committed not to interfere in each other’s internal affairs.

“Rwanda and Uganda have been criticized for their support to the rebel group M23. With this agreement, this kind of support has to stop. But it remains to be seen what will happen,” says Ylwa Renström, The Kvinna till Kvinna Foundation’s coordinator for the DR Congo.

The violence escalates

Ylwa Renström sees it positively that there seems to be a will in the region’s countries to bring about a peaceful solution in DR Congo. At the same time, she continuously receives reports on escalating violence in eastern DR Congo. In early February, 30 women were for example raped in the Fizi territory in the South Kivu Province, brutal assaults which are believed to have been carried out by the FDLR rebel group. “This happens all the time! Sure, countries in the region can sign peace agreements, but it will be an enormous challenge to demobilize the rebel groups,” states Ylwa Renström.

The organization Solidarité des Femmes Activistes Pour la Défense des Droits Huimains (SOFAD), who works for peace and to increase women’s participation in political decision-making, is not impressed by the agreement. “They consider it a desktop product, signed by high-level politicians without consultation of civil society. Because of this the have doubts of how effective the contract will be to lay the foundations for lasting peace,” says Katarina Carlberg, The Kvinna till Kvinna Foundation’s field representative in DR Congo, who has spoken with representatives of SOFAD.

Signees of the agreementThe peace agreement has been signed by Angola, Burundi, the Central African Republic, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Congo-Brazzaville, Rwanda, South Africa, South Sudan, Tanzania and Uganda. Signees are also the International Conference on the Great Lakes Region (ICGLR), the African Union, the Southern African Development Community (SADC) and the United Nations.

Women ignored

Katarina Carlberg also points out that the agreement neither mentions women’s rights nor women’s participation. Neither reflected in the agreement are the principles of the UN resolution 1325 on Women, Peace and Security, nor mentions it women’s inclusion in the different mechanisms of stabilization and peace building the agreement suggests. “The only thing the agreement contains is a brief reference to sexual violence,” says Katarina Carlberg.

The content of the agreement has been criticized from different sides for being too vague. 46 Congolese and international organizations from civil society wrote for example in a joint statement that if the agreement should contribute to a genuine peace, it must be supplemented by concrete measures, such as the appointment of a special UN envoy with a mandate to mediate in both Congo and the region and the inclusion of civil society in the peace process.

In the organizations opinion it is furthermore important that war criminals do not go unpunished, as it has been the case in previous agreements.

Text: Karin Råghall

Translation: Katharina Andersen

UN agency honors Iraqi human rights activists

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This is not the first time Shatha Naji receives recognition for her work. She has already received the Mimosa Italian Award (2009) and the Shield of the Baghdadi Woman from the governance council in Baghdad (2010).

This is not the first time Shatha Naji receives recognition for her work. She has already received the Mimosa Italian Award (2009) and the Shield of the Baghdadi Woman from Baghdad's governance council (2010). Photo: UNAMI

Shatha Naji Hussein from the Iraqi organization ‘Women for Peace’ was recently honored together with four other human rights activist by the Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Iraq, Mr. Martin Kobler, during a ceremony to celebrate International Human Rights Day in Baghdad.

Every voice counts and can make a difference in society. Shatha Naji Hussein has raised hers to improve the situation of women and girls in Iraq. “The tireless efforts of those who campaign for justice, protect and support victims of violence, and work to ensure the political participation of people from all backgrounds, often go unrecognized,” Mr. Kobler stated in his laudatory speech. “I wish to draw particular attention to those ordinary Iraqis who have made their voices count by working to improve the lives of their fellow citizens,” he added. Shatha extended the honor to her colleagues at Women for Peace: “I feel each one of them deserve this honor more than me” .

In the seventies, Iraq declared full literacy for women, today the country is down to 40 percent. Before the 1980′s, Iraqi women were more visible and active in public life compared to other women in the region’s countries. A period of economic growth led to more education and employment possibilities. But the patriarchal structures and conservative moral concepts remained unchanged. Since then, women have been forced back into traditional roles and the overall situation in Iraq deteriorated after the invasion. In the war-torn and impoverished country, women now see themselves faced with stigmatization and marginalization from wider society. Sharia law has been introduced and honor killings, sexual slavery and domestic violence are serious problems. Until today, the law and custom allows male family members to “discipline” women with violence. The war has left many women widowed and with post-war trauma symptoms.

Against this background, Women for Peace was founded in 2003 to change Iraqi women’s conditions. Women for Peace works to empower women to bring change about in their own communities. According to Shatha Naji Hussein it requires a two-way process between civil movement and decision-makers to empower women and to secure women’s rights to build a safe future for women. “A nation’s development is measured by women’s development. If we want to build a nation that’s well-developed and prosperous, we must secure women’s rights to live a safe life”, says Shatha.

To reach that goal, women should also be included in the peace building process in the country, but are facing many enormous obstacles and challenges,  Shatha points out. “It’s important to do continuous and diligent work in raising awareness about women’s legal rights in order for women to be more aware of their rights and to fight violence in all its forms. Moreover, the government has to work very hard to implement the UN resolution 1325 terms and make sure that women have an effective and real participation in all walks of life.”

Katharina Andersen | Afrah Nasser