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.
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
Lena Ag, the Secretary General of the Swedish women’s rights and peace organization The Kvinna till Kvinna Foundation, made this blog post available for Equal Power – Lasting Peace.
Last weekend, Egypt saw again violent demonstrations against the new regime. Instead of celebrating the revolution’s second anniversary, the Egyptians took the streets in mass protests against president Morsi’s administration.
Preparing for the demonstrations, local women’s rights organizations like Fouada Watch and Tahrir Bodyguard, searched via Twitter for male volunteers to help to protect demonstrating women. A little over the top? Hardly, considering what happens to female activists who raise their voices.
During the protests in Tahrir Square in 2011, which led to Mubarak’s fall, the square was for a short while a sexual harassment-free zone for women. This free zone doesn’t exist anymore. On the contrary, assault and sexual harassment of women and young girls have instead been systematized, as many reports showed during the weekend.
Our partner organization Nazra for feminist studiespublished an account from a very courageous woman who was harassed by the mob on Tahrir Square last November. She wanted to tell what had happened to her and felt sorrow and grief when she heard that the assaults unabatedly continued. It is a harrowing read.
She described how she was surrounded by a thick wall of men, ”There was no way out.” She felt how hundreds of hands stripped her naked and then the same hands started sexual attacks: “They said that they wanted to help me, but all I felt was the finger-rape, from the front and from the back; someone was even trying to kiss me… Every time I cried for help, they increased their violence and assaults.” Finally, one of the men she beseeched for help had pity on her. He suddenly took his belt and started to beat everybody around him while screaming: “I will protect her.” “I don’t know how I managed to appeal to his conscience, but then I could crawl to the field hospital and get help.”
Fouada Watch and Tahrir Bodyguard tweeted about their opinion that violence against women in the demonstrations aims to restrict women’s access to public space. Men forming physical circles of violence around women, which are impossible to escape from, have found a method they think will be effective to keep women from participating in politics and from being visible in public spaces.
But this must not happen! And it seems as if our partner organizations are not intimidated. In this question, they even have many men on their side.
That’s why it feels so encouraging to read the conclusion of the testimony: “I decided to write my testimony, so that everyone who bury his head in the sand will know that what is happening is a terrible crime that may happen to your mother, sister, daughter, friend or girlfriend. […] We will not be frightened; we will not hide in our homes!”
Translation: Katharina Andersen
Women in Israel have very different views on what the basic threats against their security are, depending on factors as ethnicity, health status and socio-economic conditions. That is one of the major findings in the Israeli Women’s Security Index, a survey based on interviews made with more than 700 women, both Jewish and Palestinian, living in the country.
The main idea behind the Women’s Security Index was to examine the concept of security in the Israeli society and to see what elements that are crucial when it comes to women feeling safe or not.
- In Israeli discourse the term security ”bitachon” is used mostly in a military sense. We wanted to find out if that really is the only threat to women’s sense of safety, says Assia Istoshina, researcher for the Women’s Security Index.
Less fear of terror attacks than of sexual violence
And apparently there is a need for a much broader discussion on security. Because although fear of military violence was present amongst the women’s responses, there were other issues that were of much higher concern. This to an extent that was surprising even for the organizations compiling the study.
- War, bombings and terror attacks evoke less fear than fear of sexual violence, economic worries and concerns for the the women’s near and dear. We did expect that everyday fears would also be prominent in women’s lives, but we did not expect them to be even more threatening than wars, says Assia Istoshina.
Big differences between groups
Being attacked on a dark street and fear of sexual attacks were among the top five biggest fears for all groups of women surveyed, regardless of ethnicity, socio-economic status, or state of health. But otherwise the fears differed a lot between different groups. The five issues that brought about a maximum feeling of tension and insecurity for Palestinian women, were:
- Losing their home
- Being attacked on a dark street
- Possibility of being arrested or detained
- War, bombing, terror attack
- Sexual assault
While Jewish women’s biggest fears were:
- Worry that something will happen to someone near and dear
- Being attacked on a dark street
- Sexual assault
- Economic situation
- War, bombing, terror attack
1/3 of Russian speakers attacked
Still the group of Jewish women was not cohesive. For instance, 32 percent of Russian speaking Jewish women reported experiences of being humiliated or attacked due to belonging to a minority group, while only 14 percent amongst the general population of Jewish women had the same experience. Amongst Russian speakers there was also a much higher percentage that reported that they had been sexually assaulted by a person they did not know, 38 percent, compared to 16 percent of the general population of Jewish women.
Women’s Security Index (WSI)
The WSI is based on interviews with more than 700 Palestinian and Jewish women living in Israel.
The women were asked to mark how much each of 14 issues evoked in them a sense of insecurity and tension. They were also asked about actual experiences they had encountered that undermine their sense of safety, about their major sources of support, about socio-demographic data etc.
The WSI was conducted by six civil society organizations: Isha L’Isha – Haifa Feminist Center, Coalition of Women for Peace, Kayan Feminist Organization, Aswat Palestinian Gay Women, Women against Violence and New Profile.
Fear in interaction with the state
Assia Istoshina points out another interesting finding in the survey – a substantial number of the women felt high levels of fear and tension connected to their interaction with state institutions.
- Provided we assume that the state mechanisms are there to protect people, and not to undermine their feeling of safety, this seems particularly striking, she says.
The organizations behind the survey now hope that it will be used by NGO’s, activists and policy makers as a tool for changing the lives of women living in Israel.
- Our dream scenario would be that the state would change its priorities and aim at, and invest in, creating a more safe society for women.
Iraq NAP 1325 Initiative: Civil Society Reference Group Strategic Meeting, Beirut, July 28-29, 2012
When UNSCR 1325 was adopted in 2000 it clearly stated women’s right to equal participation in peace and re-building processes. But still there are many countries who hasn’t even developed a National Action Plan (NAP) for how to implement the resolution. One of these countries is Iraq, where women’s rights activists now have joined together to get a NAP into place.
Iraq is one of the countries that suffered greatly from the aftermath of conflicts and wars that have affected the social, economic, cultural, health and political status of women. Despite having played a critical role in sustaining the community and the remaining infrastructure and despite playing a critical role in the social, political and economic development of the post-conflict Iraq, women have been marginalized in the public and private life; excluded from decision making on all levels and consequently been deprived of the opportunity to influence the decisions that shape their lives. The discrimination and violence against women in the legislation, as well as in the economic and social life, persist, contributing to an increasing sense of insecurity for women.
Resolution 1325 was one of the instruments developed by the UN Security Council to confirm the fact that sustainable peace and security can only be achieved with the protection and the participation of the whole society – both women and men. As such UNSCR 1325, together with other international mechanisms as CEDAW and Beijing Platform for Action, is a powerful instrument that can be used by civil society organizations to hold their governments accountable. However, the resolution is written in general terms and in order for the government in Iraq to adopt a contextualized and effective response, a national action plan (NAP) with specific, measurable and time-limited objectives is needed, in order to enable the implementation of the resolution. It also requires specific actions and policies, accountability mechanism for the ministries and respective authorities, a concrete allocated budget, transparency and an evaluation and monitoring reporting mechanism.
A workshop entitled “Towards creation of National Action Plan for implementation of UNSCR 1325 in Iraq”, was held on 25-27 April 2012 in Amman by the European Feminist Initiative (IFE-EFI) in cooperation and with the support of the Norwegian Embassy Amman, to identify the present challenges for developing a national action plan and to map the way forward. One of the identified challenges during this workshop was the lack of networking and insufficient cooperation among women’s rights organisations. Addressing this problem was seen as a precondition for the success of the whole process and consequently for the development of the NAP. As an outcome for the workshop, four women activists were delegated to widen the process and reach out to other leading activists from civil society to form a focus group that would work together to ensure that in an all-inclusive consultative process for developing of a National Action Plan (NAP) in Iraq is set in place.
Between April and June the process continued and representatives from major women’s rights organizations were approached and invited to the Civil Society Strategic Meeting in Beirut on 28-29 July 2012. The main objectives of the meeting were to develop a common understanding and strengthen collaboration amongst key representatives from various women’s groups and networks to develop a NAP, benefiting from the Nepalese successful experience, identify key strategies and a work plan for the development of NAP, as well as the terms of reference for the national reference civil society group.
During this meeting, major Iraqi women’s rights organizations mapped the necessary actions for implementing UNSCR 1325 and developed an outline of a NAP framework with specific goals, objectives and main principles. The participants also expressed their willingness to work together towards building a political will for developing of NAP through a process built on dialogue, respect and the acknowledgement of differences, agreeing to maintain coordination, cooperation and transparency in the work of the reference group. A name for the national reference group was also agreed upon: Iraq NAP 1325 Initiative (I-NAP 1325 Initiative). In addition to that, an outline for the preliminary plan of action for the I-NAP 1325 Initiative was developed for the first several months, from the 1st of September till the 31st of December 2012, with a focus on building a political will towards developing the NAP; reaching out to other groups working with UNSCR 1325 inside Iraq and starting a broad consultation process.
It is worth mentioning that no country in the Middle East and North Africa region has yet developed an NAP for the implementation of UNSCR1325, hence the development of a NAP and the success in its implementation will certainly make Iraq a leading country and a model in the region. The Iraqi government can set an example in the region and in this way contribute to the building of a long-awaited regional peace process.
Download the report from the meeting.
At the end of February an international conference on Somalia was held in London. The aim of the conference was to discuss the future of the country and the international support against its instability and powerty. Over 40 governments and multi-lateral organizations were represented, including the UN by its Secretary General. But the Somali women were nowhere to be seen.
For Women’s Views on News, British Somali women aired their worry over the lack of Somali women participants and the fact that documents leaked from the conference did not mention women’s rights or their place in the future politics of the country. And Asha Ahgi Elmi, of Somalia’s Transitional Federal Government, agreed:
- During all those years of conflict in Somalia, women have had to take up non-traditional roles as breadwinners and entrepreneurs, and it is the courage of women that keeps Somali society in existence. The London Conference must recognise the important role of women in building peace and stability in Somalia. If women are not part of the process they cannot be part of the outcome, she said to Women’s Views on News.
Communique on agreements
At the end of the day the conference released a communique on its agreements under the headlines Political, Security and Justice, Piracy, Terrorism, Stability and Recovery, Humanitarian. In between the talk of more support to the African Union peacekeepers, humanitarian aid shifting to long-term needs and measures to crack down on suspects of piracy or terrorism, women were mentioned two times – both under Political:
“We (…) endorsed the priority of convening a Constituent Assembly, and emphasised that the Assembly must be representative of the views of the Somali people of all regions and constituencies, and that women must be part of the political process.”
“We called for action to address in particular the grave human rights violations and abuses that women and children face.”
Unfortunately there were no mentioning of how these statements should be implemented. Nor were there any specifications on what was meant by “part of the political process” or included in “grave human rights violations and abuses”. The special needs of women’s security was not mentioned at all.
“Missed opportunity for peace”
A disappointment for Somali women’s right to equal inclusion in the development processes of their country, and, as expressed by Chitra Nagarajan, Director of Gender Action for Peace and Security UK, before the start of the conference:
- If the conference communique doesn’t include support for women’s participation and put in place ways to protect and promote their rights, it will be a huge missed opportunity to help build a real peace for Somalia, one that has true meaning for both women and men.
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.