Archive Page 2

Photo slideshow

Solana Larsen

Granted, these are not the most stunning photographs, but if you would like to see a slideshow of what it looks like here at the UN, I’ve taken a few snap shots.


Iraq’s “gender apartheid”

Jane Gabriel

Laura Bush said ” the fight against terrorism is also a fight for the rights and dignity of women”.

Hiafa Zangana says ” the main misconception is to perceive Iraqi women as silent powerless victims in a male-controlled society in urgent need of ‘liberation’. This image fits conveniently into the big picture of the Iraqi people being passive victims who would welcome the occupation of their country. The reality is different”.

There was standing room only in the session on the 10th floor where Yifat Susskind, from the organisation MADRE, handed out copies of her report called Promising Democracy, Imposing Theocracy: Gender-based Violence and the US war on Iraq. The report argues that the sharp increase in violence against women is the result of an organized campaign against women by Islamists who are using the war in Iraq to transform the country. The report is an attempt to ‘re-tell the Iraqi war story’ . It is the story of how ‘Gender Apartheid’ is being imposed on Iraq’s women.

Houzan Mahmoud, from the Organisation of Women’s Freedom in Iraq (OWFI) had flown to the meeting from London, where only last week she had received a fatwa informing her that whether she was in London or Baghdad she would be killed before the end of March. Houzan is accused of campaigning against Iraq; in fact OWFI is campaigning against article 7, and for the separation of religion from the state. Of the fatwa she said “I am here, we will not keep silent, we will be campaigning to keep religion a private matter” – and went on to say that ” just being a woman in Iraq is enough to be a prime target for violence – to be killed, raped or sold”.

OWFI runs two shelters for women who have nowhere else to go. It has outreach teams who look for the truth about the violence against women: Houzan told of one team working last October that had found nearly 100 bodies of women in a Baghdad hospital. The women had been beheaded or cut into pieces and their families had been too afraid to collect them. OWFI has a team that goes into the prisons to expose the rape and torture by Iraqi police under US supervision.

Houzan said that “we believe that in any society that is not secular, there is no room for women’s rights”. “Once” she said, “we had a secular society. We had rights. We didn’t have a theocracy”, but that the occupation of Iraq had opened up the borders to allow the fundamentalists the freedom to kill.

During questions at the end, one woman who had survived the wars that followed the break up of Yugoslavia, asked “What can we learn from the countries that have already gone through this? How do you walk out of this room with a sense that it is still possible to do something? What sustains you in this work? What helps you not walk away from this, but stay with it?

Houzan replied: “In Iraq the bright side is the youth movement and the women’s movement. Imagine if we didn’t exist, it would be complete barbarism: there is hope. We started this century with so much barbarism. The only alternative to this is us. We exist, we started with no support. Now we have support”.

“UN resolutions don’t lead to anything”

Solana Larsen

When did it become the fashion to say “UN resolutions don’t lead to anything”? I understand the world doesn’t look exactly as it should, but it misses the point of the process entirely.

Today, in the Vienna Café of the UN, Jamil Dakwar and Lenora Lapidus from the American Civil Liberties Union, explained how they use the international process as a tool for national lobbying.

Step 1) The ACLU and Human Rights Watch have found that girls in juvenile detention centers in New York are being abused and neglected by state authorities.

Step 2) There was no text in the draft resolution that spoke to the rights of encarcerated girls, so they wrote a few sentences and submitted them to the Commission for inclusion.

“…ensure that girls in conflict with the law are only incarcerated as a last resort, and in conditions free from physical and sexual violence. Ensure that conditions of confinement in all sites of incarcertation are independently monitored and meet international standards, and establish effective mecahnisms to investigate complaints of abuse…”

Step 4) They were certain the United States government would work against this, so they approached other governments who would be open to supporting it. Turkey agreed.

Step 5) If the change is implemented, the ACLU can then use the recommendations to press the US to improve improve conditions in US prisons.

The UN doesn’t do magic. Resolutions and international standards are tools for NGOs and ordinary citizens to pressure their governments with. Some places that’s more difficult and dangerous than others. I’m not saying the UN process is perfect. The point is it doesn’t absolve us from the responsibility of working to improve things in our own countries.

No more impunity for sexual violence in conflicts

Jane Gabriel

The next session followed immediately and was announced as an ‘UN Action Event’. Under the title of ‘Stop Rape Now’ the UN is launching a new cross-UN initiative to take action against sexual violence in conflict. 10 UN agencies are working together and say they are “committed to end all forms of gender-based violence”.

Fatou Bensouda from the ICC spoke of last weeks naming of the first two suspects in the Darfur War Crimes Case. Two men are charged, with 51 counts of war crimes. The case is of a group of young women who were taken to a military garrison, tied to trees with their legs apart and raped continually through the night. The women’s testimony is now a public document. As deputy Prosecutor at the ICC Fatou said “we can’t talk publicly, but you can together send the message that there is no longer impunity for these crimes”.

Commander Daniel Opande, UN force Commander, Liberia and Sierra Leone, spoke next. He called for an end to the ‘diplomatic language’ and said that this war against sexual violence will only be won when the UN spells out clearly to every peace keeping mission that it is a key responsibility at all times, a mandatory task to be undertaken by all peace keepers. He called on all troop contributing countries not to compromise by protecting their own perpetrators. He ended by saying “this war must be won”.

Sapana Pradhan Malla, Director of the Forum for Women Law and Development spoke next. She told of the rape women in Nepal have suffered from the both the Maoists and the Security Forces. She said now that the Peace Accord has been signed, and international Peace Keeping forces have arrived, rape is still being used as a weapon of war.

“Now is the time for us to speak out in Nepal. I’m really feeling a deep pain talking about these de-humanising experiences. There will be no enduring peace without justice. We are different but we are equal”.

Sapana demanded that the UN challenge patriarchy and the culture of violence. “Protect the right of survival . Enough is enough.Stop sexual violence in conflict“.Eve Ensler then read from the Vagina Monologues – which she wrote as a result of the young Bosnian girls who were returned from a ‘rape camp’ in 1994. Yes, you read this correctly, from a ‘rape camp’.

Continue reading ‘No more impunity for sexual violence in conflicts’

Breaking the silence

Jane Gabriel

The first session I attended was ‘Violence against Women and the girl child:Urgent issues and Solutions’ hosted by the Italians.

Maria da Penha is a biochemical pharmacist who was shot by her husband in 1983 as she lay asleep in bed. He had disguised himself as a burglar in the hope of getting away with trying to kill his wife. It took Maria la Penha more than twenty years to find justice. She is now a paraplegic. She wrote a book called “Survived: I can Tell”. She was not silenced. She was not a victim.

In 2001 Brazil was widely criticized for its failure to have a law specifically dealing with domestic violence. It was then the only country in Latin America without such a specific law. Today, because of people like Maria da Penha’s refusal to be silent, it has one. When the audio on the video of her testimony broke, we watched it in silence. The sub-titles in english made even more poignant by the silence in which we sat ‘listening’ to her speak to us. It was a silence that Dr Chonchanok Viravan (who was chairing the session) said was symbolic of the issue: the silence surrounding domestic violence that makes it so hard to confront.

The urgent solution the session was trying to find is this: Break the Silence.

… what if it was the Commission on the Status of Men?

Jane Gabriel

“You are absolutely the last one!” said the woman trying to control the queue into the UN press and ID centre as she slammed the door behind me and locked it firmly. She glared at all of us and shouted “And don’t unlock the door under any circumstances”!

As I squeezed into the crowded room I thought, just for a minute, that word was spreading that journalists were turning up to cover the CSW. But I was wrong, everyone else seemed to be from an NGO and the press room inside was empty. Valerie Semplicino said the only journalists who had asked for accreditation were from Spain, Korea, the Netherlands and Iran. The only male journalist in the world here covering the CSW is from Iran.

When Valerie started her job in 1999 she told me that the journalists formed a “line that never stopped, it went on for days and days, it was constant, it was crushing”. They’d had to move the press accreditation office outside into a trailer in the garden in order to deal with everyone”. Those days have gone she said “but I cannot even begin to guess why”.

As you enter the main lobby of the UN the first thing you see is an exhibition called “I am powerful” – but read the text below and it says “a celebration of women’s potential – and a call for action”. My heart sank again; the irony must surely be lost on the exhibition’s organisers: the wording could have been from 1946 when the CSW was first created.

As I headed off for my first two sessions called ‘Violence against Women and the girl child’ and ‘Stop Rape Now’, I thought ‘Yes, we are powerful, but we certainly do not have the power’. I suddenly thought about what would happen if this UN meeting was the Commission on the Status of Men. The journalists would surely come flocking and Valerie would be out in the the trailer like before. I for one, would queue all round the block for as long as it took for the chance to report on the status of men – and what needs to be done…

More later from the two sessions on violence against women and girls.

The CSW’s absent media coverage

Jessica Reed

Isabel Hilton wrote a piece for the Guardian’s Comment is Free titled “Forgotten Women”, which questions the motives behind the CSW’s lack of coverage. You can read it here.

Just imagine that it was possible to get 4,000 women and 200 girls together, along with hundreds of NGOs and representatives of 45 governments to talk about real ways of protecting young women and girls from violence and improving the status of women. Surely such an event would be of interest?

So why, when 45 governments, 4,000 women and hundreds of NGOs do get together to focus on these issues do none of the conventional media pay the slightest attention?

Sad but true: a quick search in Google News shows less than a dozen of articles about the Commission, a good amount of them published by pro-life groups considering abortion as the “greatest crime against women and children in this generation” (and as Solana pointed out, they have active delegates at the CSW):

Millie Lace (Arkansas), Licensed Professional Counselor and Director of the National Helpline for Abortion Recovery says that if CSW is truly pro-woman and truly wants to protect women, they should call upon governments to protect girls (and boys) from the moment of conception.

We have however found good company in the blogosphere: a couple of brilliant women’s blogs have picked up openDemocracy’s efforts and commented: Women’s Space, Feminist Law Professors and the F word.