Archive for September 7th, 2008

Ghanzi District Multi Sectoral Aids Committee has raised concern over the increasing number of new HIV infections.

The committee’s secretary, Ms Theresa Makati, said between January and June, they registered 543 new infections while 900 were registered in 2007. So far 1 287 people have enrolled for ARV therapy, and out of the total number 801 are women.

She however urged people to change their sexual behaviour if the high rate of new infections was to decline.

The 2004 Botswana Aids Impact Survey II has also revealed that the Ghanzi District has a prevalence rate of 15.6 per cent Speaking at the launch of the Women Sector in Ghanzi, the Land Board Secretary, Mr Tlhaloso Moahi, said the sector’s role was to guide, coordinate, stimulate and strengthen women’s organisations to showcase their ability, efficacy and proficiency in the fight against HIV and AIDS.

He said the sector was mandated to submit policy issues to the National AIDS Council for review, promote HIV/AIDS programmes and activities, and submit periodic reports to the council. The sector also addresses the welfare of women, gender and development, HIV and AIDS.

The launch was held under the theme: “Gender Equality, a Strategy to Zero Transmission of New HIV infections.” Kgosi Silence Setima of Ghanzi said in most cases, men abused women. However, some women are also violent to men.

“There should be cooperation between couples such that peace prevails,” he said. Kgosi Setima decried poor attendance of the launch by members of the community.

Women Sector representative from Gaborone, Ms Elizabeth Pule, said her office intended to work closely with Men Sector to address the gender and HIV and AIDS issues. She said men are also welcome in the women sector. Prior to the launch, activities such as the gender sensitisation workshop, beauty contests and women’s football games were held.

Chillin Girls football team from Charleshill clinched the first position and received P5000 after defeating the Zomaland team of Ghanzi Township 4-2 on penalties.

Zomaland got second position and went away with P4000, while New Xade’s Tears of Kalahari team got P3000 and the Smart Queens from Kole got P2000. The winning teams also got away with trophies. Consolation prize for each of the nine teams was P500.

Ghanzi is the first district to launch the sector after the Gaborone national launch in March 2008.

We are focusing our attention on the 2010 World Cup that will be held in South Africa; so take a stand and join us in the anti- trafficking campaign. The Red Light is a call to action, we challenge all the citizens of the world to act against human trafficking; to stand together and reject the exploitation of women and girls. Women are not for sale, women’s right to freedom and right to life must be respected by all. End violence against women and enjoy 2010.

Facts about human trafficking:

What is human trafficking?

Human trafficking refers to transportation of persons for forced labour, sexual exploitation or other illicit activities from one place to the other. This is modern day slavery where victims are coerced, defrauded or forced into sexual exploitation or labour. In most instances poor countries mainly pose as source or transit points, while developed nations serve as destinations for victims of trafficking.

Is Botswana affected by human trafficking?

The geographical location of this country provides a strategic position for her to serve as both a source and transit point. In fact we have had a case where 18 bodies of Zimbabwean nationals were found dumped by the roadside in Tlokweng village just before the Botswana-South African border gate. One of the truck drivers was allegedly arrested in connection with transporting the deceased from their country and abandoning their bodies after they suffocated in his unventilated truck. In this case it is evident that Botswana was used as a transit point between Zimbabwe and South Africa.

People are coerced into trafficking in various ways. In most cases, false promises are made regarding modelling, job opportunities or marriages in foreign countries. In fact advertisements come out of our local newspapers to lure unsuspecting young women and girls into false job offers abroad. Extreme poverty, political unrest, perceived higher standards of life elsewhere are some of the ‘push and pull’ factors perceived to be perpetuating trafficking.

Impact of human trafficking

Human Trafficking may have serious implications on human rights as well as national security. It often takes its toll on its victims who are mostly women and children. Trafficking typically involves ‘force, fraud or coercion’ which may entail physical and psychological abuse. People are often emotionally traumatised when they find themselves in unintended practices of prostitution or pornography. This is a human rights issue because people are deprived of their freedom. Most of these sad stories go unreported and therefore undocumented. Human trafficking also threatens the safety and security of the nations it affects.

Kick out human trafficking – kick out the spread of AIDS

Look out for more exciting packages on our soon to be launched website. For more information contact: Omphemetse Motshegwa – Women and Law in Southern Africa – Botswana

The efforts to check human trafficking in Nepal, from where approximately 7-12 thousand people are reportedly being trafficked every year, have been fraught with several challenges.

The challenges have emerged because of increasing human trafficking, especially women trafficking with the involvement of close relatives of the victims.

The issue has also become complicated when women are being trafficked in the name of foreign employment and other pretexts, and underground nature of the crime.

Meanwhile, the second anti-human trafficking day was celebrated with the slogan of ‘Vision for New Nepal: Creation of a Human Trafficking Free Society’ on September 5.

People and different organisations started to celebrate the anti-human trafficking day when Nepal’s Parliament ratified the SAARC Treaty Against the Trafficking of Women and Children 2002 on Bhadra 20, 2063 BS.

Speaking at a programme in the capital, secretary at the Ministry of Women, Children and Social Welfare Punya Prasad Neupane said that the challenges multiplied in the field of checking human trafficking, as any girl or woman can be trafficked by their own father, brother and husband.

He said that the government has already formulated a law to stop human trafficking. A regulation in this regard has been forwarded to the Council of Ministers for approval, he added.

The law has defined different activities including forcing women for sex, compelling them to go for foreign employment, forcing to extract any parts of a human being and other kinds of physical exploitation as crime related to human trafficking. Before the formulation of the law, human trafficking was not defined properly.

Aruna Thapa of the UNIFEM said human trafficking would be reduced if the violence against women was eliminated from the society. The patriarchal mindset should be changed as woman’s own brother, father and husband were found involved in human trafficking, she said.

Director of Maiti Nepal Bishwa Khadka said that difficulties and challenges had surfaced in the field of checking human trafficking because of the lack of proper data and underground nature of the crime.

In the past, women were trafficked in the name of employment in garment industry within the country but now they are trafficked to the gulf nations—Saudi Arabia, Oman, Qatar and Kuwait— in the name of foreign employment, she said.

– Syria just opened its first official shelter for battered women and has enacted reforms favorable to women in recent years.
– But safety activists can’t rest as long as authorities tolerate families who consider it honorable to kill their kinswomen.

Oasis, Syria’s first shelter for battered and abused women, opened its door the first week of August.

“The importance of our shelter is that we are the first shelter to be officially authorized,” says Youmn Abou Alhosn, board member of the Association for Women’s Role Development, which supervises both the Oasis shelter and a juvenile detention center it founded earlier. “This allows us to push for more shelters and provides a basis for changing the laws. But our main purpose is to protect. We don’t want to provoke the governmental bodies we are working with or our societies.”

Abou Alhosn says violence against women here is typically treated as a private family matter that goes unrecorded and unprosecuted.

According to a 2005 study prepared by the Syrian Federation of Women, 1 in 4 Syrian women suffered domestic violence at the hands of male relatives. While that’s comparable with levels around the region and the world, the country’s response to the problem has so far been lagging.

Before the Oasis shelter–which opened with 30 beds and plans 50–the main refuge for battered women in Damascus was the Christian Sisters of Good Shepherd convent, which operates a shelter, runs a daily hotline and offers free legal counsel. The convent declined a visit request from Women’s eNews, citing its wish to keep a low profile.

Muna Al Assad, a lawyer volunteering at Good Shepherd, says its counseling–for both Muslim and Christian women–often focuses on reconciliation because divorce has such negative consequences in Syrian society. Few battered women, she said, choose to take their cases to court.

“Even if the woman considered going to the legal system, where she might get partial fairness, people around her will resent her if she is strong enough to do it,” Al Assad says. “They will outcast her because normally the person who committed the violence is her husband, father or brother.”

Al Assad has worked on 13 domestic violence cases in 17 months. Of these, only one resulted in divorce. In that case the victim’s family supported her.

Al Assad says many of Syria’s personal status laws discriminate against women, including those seeking divorce, and break the U.N. Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women, or CEDAW, which Syria signed in 2003 after making some provisions to accommodate Islamic law.

But she and others reserve their strongest criticism for Syria’s failure to revoke Article 548 of the penal code, which exempts a domestic killer from standard punishments, as the most serious flouting of CEDAW. “He who catches his wife or one of his ascendants, descendants or sister committing adultery, (flagrante delicto) or illegitimate sexual acts with another and he killed or injured one or both of them benefits from an exemption of penalty,” the article says.

Those who commit honor crimes rarely serve more than a few months in jail, while other types of crimes–including murder, treason and membership in the Muslim Brotherhood, one of Syria’s primary political opposition groups–can carry the death penalty.

In early 2007, the Syrian Women Observatory and other women’s rights organizations based in Damascus lobbied against honor killings after Zahra Al Ezzo was murdered by a brother in reprisal for her elopement.

The case sparked a national outcry, prompting Syria’s grand mufti, Ahmad Badr Eddin Hassoun, to declare honor killings un-Islamic in 2007 and call for a change in the law.

The Syrian Women Observatory estimates over 200 honor crimes are committed a year in Syria, a country with a population of almost 20 million people.

Bassam Al Kadi, director of the Syrian Women Observatory, says honor killings need a cultural not just a legal solution. “Honor crimes are committed by Christians and Muslims, those who live in the countryside and the cities, the uneducated and the literate, the rich and the poor.”

Maha Al Ali, a Damascus-based women’s rights lawyer and activist, has been working to prosecute Al Ezzo’s case as a first-degree murder instead of an honor crime so the accused will face a harsher sentence. She hopes a victory will give pause to any families thinking about ordering their male relatives to kill in the name of honor.

Canceling article 548 and 549, she adds, would also help.

Al Ezzo died of four stab wounds to the back and one to the neck. Her brother confessed to the crime and her husband, whom Ali represents, took the case to court. Up to a few months ago, she says, the family of the accused pressured her with phone calls to drop the charges.

Syria’s personal status laws–based on Sharia religious law–privilege men in matters of marriage, custody and divorce.

While men and women can file for divorce on the basis of simple accusations of adultery the burden of proof, for example, is heavier on women. Women must produce a confession from the husband or testimony from a third witness.

Also missing from Syria’s legal landscape is a woman’s right to choose her family name and pass on nationality to her children. While women in neighboring Lebanon face the same restriction, Egypt in 2003 allowed women married to foreign men to pass on their nationality to their children and Morocco made a similar change in March 2008.

The country, however, has watered down some of its male bias.

In 2003 it revised child custody laws, granting the mother custody for daughters under 15 and sons under 13, up from ages 11 and 9 respectively. In 2004 it extended paid maternity leave in the public sector. Women are now entitled to four months’ paid leave for the first child born, three months for the second and 72 days for the third and all subsequent children.

But the new measures–approved by at least 75 percent of parliament and endorsed by President Bashar al-Assad–do not satisfy Al Assad.

“All of that,” she says, “touches the surface but does not tackle the deep changes that need to be addressed. We need to radically change Syria personal status laws and change it to a modern family law. But above all we need to stop the excuse for honor crimes.”

Dominique Soguel is Women’s eNews Arabic editor. Women’s eNews welcomes your comments. E-mail us at

Four women’s rights campaigners in Iran have been sentenced to six months in jail just as activists were celebrating a rare success, having persuaded MPs to shelve a bill that would have made it easier for men to have more than one wife.

A court convicted Parvin Ardalan, Maryam Hosseinkhah, Jelveh Javaheri and Nahid Keshavarz of spreading propaganda against Iran’s Islamic system. The sentencing is the latest in a series of draconian punishments meted out to campaigners who claim women suffer systematic discrimination.

The four, who intend to appeal, are leading members of the One Million Signature campaign, which wants Iranians to sign up to a pledge of support for equal rights for women.

Ardalan, 41, gained international recognition this year when she was awarded the Olof Palme prize, named after the late Swedish prime minister, for her work. She was travelling to Sweden to receive the prize when her passport was confiscated at Tehran’s Imam Khomeini airport.

For the past three years she has edited Zanestan, an online women’s rights magazine. She received a two-year suspended sentence this year for her part in a gathering in March 2007 that was violently broken up by police, and was also given a partially suspended three-year sentence for her role in another demonstration a year earlier.

About 50 campaigners are believed to have been detained or sentenced since the One Million Signature campaign started two years ago.

Activists say women are relegated to second-class citizen status by laws which, for example, give men the custody of children in divorce cases, restrict females to half the inheritance rights due to males and require a wife to seek her husband’s permission to travel abroad.

News of the sentences emerged after Iran’s conservative-dominated parliament bowed to campaigners’ pressure by effectively rejecting the family support bill, tabled by President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s government, which would have allowed husbands to take a second wife without the consent of the first. Polygamy is widely frowned upon in Iranian culture, although men are allowed up to four wives under the country’s Islamic laws.

See also:
* Iranian Reporters Charged for “Cyber Feminism”
* Iran bill to ease polygamy angers women

Several weeks ago armed tribesmen in Balochistan forced five women out of their village, shot and injured them, and buried them alive in the scrub.

According to the Hong Kong-based Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC), the five were from the village of Babakot, about 80km from Usta Mohammad, the main city of Jaffarabad District, Balochistan Province.

Three of the women were teenagers. The other two were their mothers. The AHRC said wild animals had left the bodies half eaten.

They were killed because the girls had attempted to make their own choice in marriage, a right legally available in Pakistan to every adult, male or female.

“There is nothing in law that can prevent a woman over 18 making her own decision regarding marriage. That has been decided by the Supreme Court, and there is no ambiguity about this. But still, today, women continue to be killed in the name of the ‘honour’ of their families for making such decisions,” said Naila Hassan, a Quetta-based lawyer.

According to the Lahore-based non-governmental organisation (NGO) Aurat Foundation, 90 women were killed in so-called “honour” killings in the first three months of 2008. The same NGO said that in 2007 over 400 such deaths occurred in Sindh Province alone.

The independent Human Rights Commission of Pakistan said there were 636 “honour” killings in 2007. Its secretary-general, I. A. Rehman, said: “The number could be higher as many cases go unreported.”

The gruesome murders in Balochistan have focused attention on crimes committed against women in the name of “tradition”. Yasmin Bibi, a senator, raised the matter in parliament, arguing that “our religion gives a right to women to wed freely.” An attempt by another senator, from Balochistan, to defend the murders as “tribal custom” provoked outrage.

“This is just unacceptable. It is one of the paramount functions of democratic institutions to get rid of these outrageous Stone Age practices and ensure the rights, life and property of citizens as guaranteed by the constitution,” Iqbal Haider, a leading human rights activist, told IRIN.

The government has ordered an investigation.

Women fall victim to violence and abuse on a daily basis. The Aurat Foundation has reported 1,321 cases of violence against women in the first three months of 2008.

Apart from “honour” killings – in which women are killed because they are perceived to have injured the “honour” of their families by choosing to marry someone of their choice, or by engaging in behaviour deemed “illicit” – such violence takes the form of customs in which women may be handed over to rival groups to settle a feud. Such traditions are known as ‘swara’ or ‘vani’.

Child marriages, in which girls as young as eight or 10 may be wed, are also not unknown.

“We need someone to come forward and make an effort to change these traditions. Though laws exist, they are ineffective. We keep hearing of more and more ‘honour’ killings while feudal and tribal leaders defend such practices,” Gulnar Tabussum, coordinator of the Women’s Action Forum, an NGO campaigning for women’s rights, told IRIN.

Crimes committed in the name of tradition take place almost daily. This week, near the town of Sukkur in Sindh Province, a woman was allegedly shot dead by her husband as she slept. Apparently, the husband said, he suspected her of extra-marital relations.

The killing of women – and often the man they are suspected of having relations with – is known as ‘karo-kari’, or ‘black woman, black man’, in the parts of Sindh, Punjab and Balochistan where it is most often practiced.

The fear of tradition is a powerful influence on the lives of women. “I never let my daughter, who is 17, leave the house alone or walk home from her college on her own. If she even accidentally exchanges a glance with a man she faces being labelled ‘immoral’. This, in our society, could mean death for her, said Rabea Bibi, 45, as she waited outside the gates of a Quetta college to escort her daughter home.

See also:

Three bodies of the five women buried alive have been removed to destroy vital evidence

The Balochistan police, in a bid to destroy any available evidence, have removed three of the bodies of the five women who were buried alive in Baba Kot, Jafferabad. (For details please refer to the AHRC Urgent Appeal: PAKISTAN: Five women buried alive, allegedly by the brother of a minister – The women, including three young girls between 16 – 18 years-of-age were buried alive after being shot because the three younger girls wanted to marry persons of their own choice. The bodies were finally recovered on September 2, 2008.

Statement by the Asian Human Rights Commission on 4th September 2008 continues at

The number of girls in poor countries who marry before the age of 18 will double to 100 million in the next decade, putting many at risk from AIDS, a report said last Thursday.

A global food crisis is making matters worse by pushing more families in the developing world to send young daughters into marriage to deal with poverty, the survey from humanitarian group World Vision found.

Child brides suffer because they often end their education early and are more likely to be injured or to die during childbirth because their bodies are not fully developed.

“Complications during childbearing and delivery are most common in this age set, significantly raising the risk of death, premature delivery, infant mortality and low birth weight,” the report said.

An estimated 3,500 girls marry each day before their 15th birthday and another 21,000 do so before they are 18 — figures the humanitarian group said would balloon in coming years.

While the practice occurs worldwide and in wealthy nations too, it is most common in sub-Saharan Africa, South Asia and parts of Central America, the report said.

The highest child marriage rates were in Bangladesh where nearly 53 percent of girls married before the age of 15, followed by Niger at almost 38 percent, Chad at about 35 percent, and Ethiopia and India at about 31 percent.

“It is most prevalent in communities and households where the starkest poverty mixes with cultural traditions and lack of education to limit a girl’s perceived value and potential,” it said.

Another issue is that many young brides are forced to have sex before their bodies are ready, and few have access to reliable contraception and reproductive health advice.

“Forced sex causes skin and tissue damage that makes a female more susceptible to contracting sexually transmitted infections from her husband,” the report reads.

Raising awareness is key to stopping child marriage and using school and community workshops can help at risk families.

Working with tribal leaders, faith healers and other community members is also important as is ensuring families have the means to put food on the table and earn a living so they do not have to marry off young daughters, it added.

Samia, aged 10, is one of the few girls in her village who attend school. “I like to learn. I like my school. I want to bring education to everyone here when I grow up,” she says.

The village of al-Quraiti, in al-Zaydia District of al-Hudeidah Governorate, western Yemen, is typical of many in rural Yemen, where women spend hours fetching water on donkeys and illiteracy rates are high. It is here that Samia attends Sumayah primary school.

It has 60 girls in the first grade but only 15 in grade seven, indicating that many do not progress far.

“To bring children into school is easy but keeping them in school is difficult,” said Nasim Ur-Rehman, chief communications and information officer at the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) in Yemen.

Hudeidah Governorate had 356,183 students in primary school in 2007. Of these, 148,919 were girls and the rest boys, according to the al-Hudeidah education office. In grade one, there were 40,202 boys and 34,051 girls, while in grade nine there were 9,924 boys against 6,649 girls, indicating a high dropout rate among girls.

UNICEF, in cooperation with the Education Ministry, has launched a several-week-long national campaign to promote girls’ education – mobilising parents, community leaders, officials, religious leaders, the media and children themselves. Focusing on six of Yemen’s 21 governorates and the Island of Socotra, it aims to distribute campaign materials and use TV and radio to get its message across.

“The national campaign comes at the most opportune time. Yemen suffers from low enrolment when it comes to primary education. The retention of children and completion of primary school is not very good,” UNICEF’s Ur-Rehman told IRIN.

He said there was a huge gender gap: “Girls are somehow at a disadvantage: they are the last to be sent to school and the first to be pulled out,” he said.

According UNICEF, across Yemen there are 63 girls per 100 boys in primary school in urban areas and 45 per 100 in rural areas.

Poverty, early marriage, lack of female teachers and child-friendly schools, especially in rural areas where 75 percent of Yemen’s 21 million people live, are the main factors.

“Early marriage is a big problem… Girls lose out on in terms of education when they are married in another area,” Sumayah school’s headmistress told IRIN.

The head of al-Zaydia District’s education office, Abdul-Bari Mohammed, said there was a shortage of female teachers: 14 schools in the district had closed since 2005 due to the lack of female teachers. Many communities did not allow male teachers to teach girls.

Ali Bahloul, head of al-Hudeidah’s education office, told IRIN that large families (common in rural areas) meant children were often sent to school at too young an age simply to prevent them from getting into trouble at home. “Education is not their [the parents] main concern. Children are enrolled in school too young,” he said, adding: “The minimum age should at least be six or seven for primary school enrolment.”

Sumayah primary school for girls, which Samia attends, has been selected as one of UNICEF’s “child-friendly schools” as part of its “framework for rights-based, child-friendly educational systems and schools” [see:].

Some 30 percent of UNICEF’s resources in Yemen have been earmarked for education programmes, according to Ur-Rehman. UNICEF has allocated US$317,231 for girls’ education in al-Hudeidah alone.

In 2007, UNICEF recruited 377 female secondary graduates from rural communities in the six targeted governorates. Some 115 of them were selected in al-Hudeidah Governorate. Each female teacher is paid a monthly salary of US$100 by UNICEF. A memorandum of understanding was signed between the ministries of planning, the civil service and education to guarantee the absorption of the 377 female teachers after three years.

Yemen is ranked bottom (128 out of 128 countries listed) on the Global Gender Gap Index for 2007. [see:]

See earlier report Campaign to enhance girls’ education in Yemen

Having successfully raised the visibility of gender equality and women’s empowerment on the Accra Agenda, attention is now turning to the International Conference on Financing for Development to Review the Implementation of the Monterrey Consensus in Doha, Qatar in November and the women are preparing to take forward their successes.

IPS Regional Director Paula Fray spoke to UNIFEM Cross Regional Programmes Manager Letty Chiwara on the road ahead.

Women’s groups met to prepare their activities ahead of this High Level Forum. Why was there such a mobilisation of gender activists for Accra?

We realised that the Paris Declaration and the Accra Agenda for Action debate have a lot of implications on funding for women’s organisations and also on the way governments plan, budget and monitor gender equality results. Yet there was very little knowledge and awareness among women’s activists on the whole agenda.

UNIFEM set out to increase knowledge among women’s groups and activists as well as jointly strategise with them in order to ensure women’s voices were heard on these issues.

We sought to mobilise local women’s organisations, donor gender experts, women’s ministries and UN agencies with the idea that a collective voice would help us achieve our objectives.

There have been many discussions during the three days of the HLF3. Did gender activists achieve their objective to raise women’s voices?

Yes, very much so. One lesson learned through this process is that the Accra Agenda for Action (AAA) has revitalised the concept of women’s lobbying and the power of movements. It brings us back to the struggle of Beijing and the success we saw then. This has been a long road but I think that our voices have been heard.

Throughout the dialogues here at Accra, I have seen a thread of gender equality running throughout. The issue is being spoken about – not just by us but by other people one delegate told me it was interesting to hear male delegates talking about gender and women’s empowerment.

Are you satisfied with what has been agreed on with the AAA?

We are very gratified that one of the key issues coming from the Accra Agenda is the recognition that here we are talking not only about the quality of aid but also about the quantity of aid. The AAA also recognizes the role that the Doha Conference (the International Conference on Financing for Development to Review the Implementation of the Monterrey Consensus in Doha, Qatar in November) and the African Union’s Economic, Social and Cultural Council could play.

Promoting more resources for women is a critical rallying issue. So we would want to continue this momentum ahead of Doha and support women’s groups and strategise around the six elements of the Monterrey Consensus.

How will you build on the momentum of the Accra Agenda for Action?

Accra has given us the political leverage. Political leaders have accepted that gender equality and women’s empowerment are key to achieving sustainable development results so we want to harness and take it back to countries and support those who want to take it forward.

Moving forward, our activities now would include supporting countries who want to strengthen or initiate gender responsive budgeting. We would also want to further strengthen the technical capacity and knowledge of women’s organisations and ministries of women around the issue of aid effectiveness.

Accountability mechanisms were discussed at length here and UNIFEM would want to assist in setting up more participatory accountability mechanisms at country level by strengthening the expertise and capacity on monitoring and evaluation and the use of strong gender sensitive indicators – some of which have already been drawn up and were released at the women’s forum ahead of the HLF.

We are recommending that countries can pick on a select number of these indicators and use them to monitor implementation and track the achievement of these. We would also continue to work with bilateral donor partners with ongoing lobbying and advocacy for more resources for gender equality and women’s empowerment as well as the setting up of systems to track allocation of such resources.

When Khadra’s* husband fell sick, she became the sole breadwinner in her family. As an internally displaced person (IDP) who fled Mogadishu a year ago, work opportunities were few and she had to resort to the risky occupation of collecting firewood.

“I had to walk 10 kilometres out of town every day with my two young daughters. We would collect firewood and sell it for 30,000 Somali shillings (about $US1),” she told UNHCR in Baidoa, some 230 kilometres north-west of the Somali capital of Mogadishu, adding that this income was not enough to provide for the family.

The job also put Khadra and her daughters in considerable danger. “I was chased once by several armed men. That time we were able to escape, but at other times some of my friends were raped,” she said. Khadra decided it was not worth risking her life and started to look for less dangerous, but even less lucrative menial work.

Her dilemma is one shared by thousands of other displaced women in Somalia, who must struggle to find a livelihood – cleaning clothes, collecting waste and even prostitution in some cases – simply to keep themselves and their dependents alive. Many continue to take the risk of collecting wood.

But amid the misery and the bleak political situation in Somalia, where fighting last year between the government and rebel fighters forced some 850,000 people to flee their homes in Mogadishu, the UN refugee agency and its local and international partners have been running projects that help breadwinners like Khadra to earn a living without risking their lives or being exploited.

UNHCR grants have been given to a small number of women in Baidoa and in areas closer to Mogadishu to help them start micro-businesses, such as selling fruit or vegetables. As they no longer have to beg or suffer exploitation, they feel their dignity has been restored and they start to believe in a better future.

“Since I no longer have to collect firewood, I feel more secure and, more importantly, I no longer fear for my two daughters,” said Khadra, now a petty trader thanks to the grant she received in a project being implemented for UNHCR by the Bay Women’s Development Network, a Somali aid agency. “I am less worried now, because I will be able to provide for my children, including the baby I am expecting,” she added.

UNHCR plans to expand such “protection through livelihoods” programmes, with more emphasis on participation of the women themselves. They will be able to advise on the kinds of small businesses they wish to start, and help to establish mechanisms for reporting any risk of abuse.

But for the time being, most displaced women will continue to risk their health and safety doing dangerous and back-breaking labour. “I have felt sick ever since I began collecting garbage,” said another displaced Somali, Hoda,* who has to store the waste outside her meagre shelter. Her youngest child has also become ill.

* Names changed for protection reasons

More . . .
* It is a UNHCR policy priority to ensure that refugee women and girls have equal access to protection, basic goods and services as they attempt to rebuild their lives. More on our special pages: Refugee Women –
* Find out about a new UNHCR initiative aimed at promoting the economic independence and empowerment of refugee and displaced women and girls around the world: Women Leading for Livelihoods –
* How does UNHCR help the internally displaced? –
* What does UNHCR do in Somalia? –

One person was killed and six were injured when hundreds of women clashed with police in a Darfur refugee camp in a riot sparked by a reduction in food rations, the United Nations said last Wednesday.

The shouting women, armed with sticks, charged at police on Tuesday in west Darfur’s Um Shalaya camp, a base for refugees from neighbouring Chad, the UN’s Refugee Agency UNHCR said.

One 26-year-old male refugee who was also in the crowd died after being shot in the chest as police opened fire, according to a statement from the agency. Three other refugees and three police were also injured.

The women were protesting a day after hearing about a temporary reduction in rations of sorghum, said the agency.

Deliveries were cut because it had become too dangerous to transport the food to the camp from the capital of west Darfur state El Geneina.

A number of aid agencies including the U.N.’s World Food Programme have been forced to cut back on deliveries in Darfur in recent months after a surge in bandit attacks on convoys.

Chrysantus Ache, the UNHCR’s representative for Sudan, described the incident as “very regrettable” and said the agency and Sudanese authorities would launch an investigation.

“Hundreds of stick-bearing and shouting women angrily demonstrated against a temporary food reduction due to logistical problems,” read the statement from the UNHCR which described the incident as a “riot”.

“The police fired warning shots in the air and in the confused situation some people were injured,” it added.

The refugees asked for police to be stationed at the camp earlier this year to protect them against attacks by bandits and other armed groups, the UNHCR said.

There are about 50,000 east Chadian refugees in remote border areas of Darfur, most of them claiming asylum. About 6,600 of them are based in Um Shalaya.