Archive for the ‘IWD’ Category

The Assistance Association for Political Prisoners-Burma denounces the abuses inflicted on women fighting for democracy and human rights. Ranging in age from 21 to 68, these women have been victims of harassment, miscarriages and rape. They include Aung San Suu Kyi, Nobel Peace Prize winner who has spent more than 14 years under arrest.

Tin Tin Htwe, also known as Ma Pae, is only the latest Burmese political prisoner to die in prison fighting for democracy and human rights. She died on 23 December from a ruptured aneurism. For those who do not die, prison life includes torture, violence and miscarriages. This is what happened to Kai Thi Aung, who lost her baby in the final weeks of pregnancy for lack of medical care.

Today, 8 March, International Women’s Day, Assistance Association for Political Prisoners (AAPP-Burma), a dissident Burmese group, released a brief on the mistreatment of women involved in the fight for political and civil rights in Myanmar. According to AAPP, 177 women are in prison for political reasons, ages ranging from 21 to 68. Three of them suffer from acute health problems but the authorities have denied them proper medical care. Others are behind bars for the simple reason that they are the daughters, sisters or wives of men fighting for democracy.

For AAPP secretary Tate Naing, “these women are a powerful force for the future of Burma. They need to be treated with respect and dignity and released immediately”. They play a key role in the country’s pro-democracy movement and “will continue to make valuable contributions.”

The brief describes how women are interrogated, tortured, subjected to psychological violence and rape. It presents the case of Ma Ma Cherry, an invented name, a woman who spent 11 years in prison. In that period, she suffered major heart problems, and yet the authorities refused her outside medical treatment.

In addition to heart problems, Ma Ma Cherry experienced severe dysentery on a number of occasions, one of her worst experiences in prison. She has also vomited blood and been examined for TB. Because of the conditions in which she has to survive, she had a bout with depression over a two-year period.

Political prisoners are in principle entitled to a separate section, but in fact are treated like common criminals, abused sometimes by prison guards and other inmates.

Women prisoners are of different ethnic background: Burmese, Karen and (Muslim) Rohingya. They are denied access to their children, usually left with grandmothers or other relatives, under the close watch of the military.

Women activists who helped residents of the Irrawaddy Delta affected by devastating cyclone Nargis in May 2008 are also among the prisoners.

Aung San Suu Kyi, the only Nobel Prize laureate still under arrest for thought crimes, is one of the 177 prisoners. Daughter of the country’s founding father and hero of the struggle for national independence, she has spent 14 of the past 20 years under house arrest. She too has health problems but continues her silent and peaceful struggle for peace and democracy in Myanmar.

Iran barred renowned poet Simin Behbahani from leaving the country to attend an event marking International Women’s Day in Paris, an opposition website reported.

The website Kalame, which belongs to Green Movement leader Mir- Hossein Moussavi, said she was held for several hours by two intelligence officers at IKA airport in Tehran after she had gone through passport control.

“The authorities asked me a series of questions and then seized my passport and finally gave me a letter referring me to the revolutionary court to get my passport back,” said Behbahani.

“I had prepared a text on feminism and a poem as an homage to women for the event,” added the 82-year-old Behbahani, who was invited by the Paris municipality to Monday’s event.

Behbahani is well known for her poems as well as her struggle for women’s rights in Iran.

Her signature can be found at the bottom of almost all open letters requesting freedom for those detained after the waves of protest which followed the June 2009 presidential election. The opposition claims the elections were rigged.

Barring activists from leaving the country has reportedly occurred more frequently in the past nine months.

A similar incident happened last week when police prevented the son of leading opposition cleric Mehdi Karroubi from leaving the country.

Mohammad-Taghi Karroubi, a university lecturer, was leaving Iran for London on Friday reportedly for academic purposes when the police at IKA airport in Tehran seized his passport without explanation.

A time to focus on adolescent girls

“Last week in Guatemala I visited a UNICEF centre that houses girls as young as thirteen who have been rescued from brothels. The stories of suffering are simply unimaginable — horrific situations of rape, prostitution, torture and lost innocence.

With the help of UNICEF and its partners, many of these girls are now being given the opportunity to heal and build a better life through education and care. While these girls have been rescued, unfortunately so many more remain trapped in an underground world of abuse.

Stories such as these are not uncommon in many other parts of the world and serve as a reminder of the work that must be done to ensure young girls and women are better protected.

Millions of adolescent girls live in poverty, experience gender discrimination and inequality, and are subject to violence, abuse, and exploitation. The result is not only the suffering of girls themselves, but a continuing cycle of oppression and abuse.

While progress has been made towards equal rights and equal access for women and girls in areas like basic health and education, too often adolescent girls are still excluded. Investment in education and health are essential, but so too are much tougher laws, penalties, and prosecutions against the abusers.

Education is one key to better lives for girls, their families and their communities. Expert studies estimate that every extra year a girl spends in secondary education lifts her income by more than 15 per cent. Better educated girls have better employment and health prospects and, as they grow to womanhood, they pass these benefits to their children.

There is a strong link between the educational levels a country provides for its girls and the size of that country’s economy. But more importantly, education empowers women and gives them the opportunity to have a greater voice in society.

As we recognize International Women’s Day this March 8th, the international community, together with governments around the world, must work more aggressively to ensure that every girl has the right to a childhood that provides her with the opportunity to reach her full potential.”

Dear friends

Women Living Under Muslim Laws (WLUML) International Solidarity Network would like to wish you a positive, pro-active and peaceful International Women’s Day 2010! We would also like to thank all of our networkers for the good wishes we have received today. To quote from Aswat : “On this day we celebrate our achievements and accomplishments, we also remember that our road is still long and the struggle needs more women willing to fight for their rights”

WLUML and the Global Campaign to Stop Killing and Stoning Women (SKSW) recently hosted a very successful panel at the 54th session of the UN Commission on the Status of Women (you can read their statement here where many of the most critical challenges facing women living in Muslim-majority contexts were addressed, often with reference to particular countries: ‘Culture’ and Violence Against Women as a global phenomenon; Stoning is not our culture, Iran and Nigeria; Criminalisation and inhuman punishment of women and girls through laws, Indonesia; VAW in the context of conflict and culture of lawlessness, Afghanistan; Sexual Harassment: the hidden, unspoken form of Cultural VAW, Sudan.

Rashida Manjoo, the UN Special Rapporteur on violence against women, its causes and consequences, together with the other UN independent experts, called today for a new vision of women’s rights informed by the lessons learnt from the 15 year review of the implementation of the Beijing Platform for Action, warning that: ‘… old challenges in the protection of women’s rights remain, such as multiple forms of discrimination. In addition, new challenges have emerged in conjunction with phenomena like the global financial crisis, political violence, displacement and migration, and the acceleration in environmental degradation. The continued use of brutal violence against women, including sexual violence, as a weapon of war in conflict situations also remains a pressing concern. At the domestic level, lack of implementation of laws and other commitments to secure women’s rights, and the lack of gender sensitive budgetary policies, remain chronic problems….’

We learn that in Afghanistan, ambivalence, impunity, weak law enforcement and corruption continue to undermine women’s rights, despite a July 2009 law banning violence against women, and in an open letter to the United Nations Secretary General, the European Women’s Lobby declares that “The 54th Session of the CSW…represents a step backwards by its failure to offer a new vision and mechanisms for implementation”.

Resistance by women to an unjust global economic order is, however, very much alive. In Iran, women are revolting against an oppressive regime; in Gaza and the West Bank, Palestinian women are organizing an international boycott of Israel; in Italy, France and Spain, immigrant women have gone on strike against xenophobic racism; in Australia, feminists convened a national conference to coordinate and re-energize the abortion rights movement.

Here we look at some of the ways that IWD is being celebrated by WLUML networkers in spite of the spread of fundamentalisms and increased militarisation in many regions:

Brussels – Women’s World March On March 6, the Belgian Women’s World March celebrated the 100th International Women’s Day. 5,000 women and men marched through the streets of Brussels in a festive and militant march calling for justice, equality, peace and solidarity.

Pakistan – WEMC

WEMC-Shirkat Gah is part of SG’s efforts with other human rights groups to support peasant women who will gather in Lahore from all over the Punjab province to convince the provincial government to emulate a Sindh-based scheme of land distribution to women which they learned of through WEMC. Indeed the two formal peasant women’s organisations associated with the Punjab Peasants’ Association were catalysed through WEMC research. WEMC shall accompany the women and also film them to complete the SG-WEMC film on the peasant women’s struggle.

Senegal – WLUML-SKSW

As part of the Global Campaign to Stop Killing and Stoning Women (SKSW), on the 5 March there was a day of reflection and a workshop addressing the theme of ‘Violence is not our culture’ and from the 8 to 22 March, there is an exhibition of women artists at the Leopold Sedar Senghor gallery.

United States – CWGL

The Center For Women’s Global Leadership’s 20th Anniversary Symposium on 6 March featured prominent speakers from the global women’s movement (including Charlotte Bunch, Pinar Ilkkaracan and Lydia Alpizar) reflecting on body economy movement as well as taking the opportunity to celebrate IWD by hosting a dance party.

Please contact us with news of how you celebrated International Women’s Day!

In Solidarity,

Women Living Under Muslim Laws
International Solidarity Network

Official statement by a group of Iranian women’s rights activists who participated in a Green gathering commemorating March 8th.

The Feminist School – On the afternoon of March 7, 2010, a ceremony celebrating International Women’s Day took place in Tehran. Participants included Zahra Rahnavard, Minoo Mortazi, Shahla Lahiji, Fatemeh Rakei, Noushin Ahmadi Khorasani, Mansoureh Shojaee, Farzaneh Taheri, Nasrin Sotoudeh, Farideh Mashini, Fatemeh Gavarayi, Shahla Foroozanfar, Parastou Sarmadi, Marzieh Azarafsa and a number of other women’s rights activists and families of prisoners.

Every year in anticipation of International Women’s Day, there is a particularly refreshing feeling in the air. Several days before the celebration and a few days after, women’s groups and associations in Iran begin meeting, making decisions, and planning for events. The hustle and bustle associated with preparing for this day is a testament to the constant and ever lasting presence of women, regardless of the conditions; particularly when the conditions have been difficult and under pressure. Proof of this dynamic presence is the commemoration of International Women’s Day under the very difficult and critical conditions of the past four years.

This year once again, despite the many pressures and constraints imposed, a number of programs and ceremonies were held both openly and behind closed doors by verious groups. One such ceremony and conference was “The Green gathering of women’s rights activists in Iran.”

The commemoration of International Women’s Day by influential female members of the Green movement was a spark of hope for all women’s rights activists who look to the Green movement for defending their identity and rights.

Due to the current restrictions, the ceremony took place with the presence of only a limited number of women’s rights activists and families of those imprisoned during recent events. The groups that were present include Mothers for Peace, The Forward Thinking Religious Women’s Organization, The Women’s Participation Front, a number of members of the Committee Against Violence Toward Women, members of The Feminist School, The Association of Iranian Women, The National and Religious Women’s Association, The Committee of Women Supporting Female Prisoners, and a number of prominent female lawyers.

Those present discussed the importance of collaboration between women with different political and intellectual view points within the women’s movement and the reciprocity between the women’s movement and the Green movement; emphasizing the continued support by both movements for the demands and concerns of women in Iran, particularly the importance of freedom of expression in honour of International Women’s Day.

The first speech was by Minou Mortazi, one of the organizers and sponsors of the event. Other speakers included Marzieh Azarafza, a member of the Women’s Participation Front; Fatemeh Gavarayi, a member of The National Religious Women’s Association; Shahla Lahiji, a member of the Committee Against Violence Toward Women; Fatemeh Rakei, a member of the Forward Thinking Muslem Women’s Party; Farideh Mashini, secretary of the Women’s Participation Front, who spoke of the role of women in the Green movement. Mashini discussed the constructive role of women prisoners in the prison culture as it relates to non-political prisoners and the efforts by Azar Mansouri in jail. Other speakers on International Women’s Day included Shahla Forouzanfar, a member of Mothers for Peace; Parastou Sormadi, wife of political prisoner Hossein Nourinejad; Nasrin Soutoudeh, a lawyer and women’s rights activist; and Mansoureh Shojaie, a member of the Feminist School.

Mansoureh Shojaie reminded all participants of the extensive efforts in the past two decades in the area of women’s rights by prominent Iranian women like Mehrangiz Kar, Shirin Ebadi, Shahla Lahiji, and Simin Behbahani. She honoured all female political prisoners by naming them individually. Mansoureh Shojaie talked about the key roles, the approaches, and methods of the women’s movement in strengthening the Green movement. She also reiterated the importance of collaboration between the various social movements in further developing the Green movement. To conclude she read a prepared statement that upon discussion by those present was approved as the official statement for International Women’s Day. The statement included seven demands in regards to women’s rights in Iran.

The following is the statement by a number of women’s rights activists attending a Green gathering in commemoration of March 8th, with the goal of eliminating discrimination and violence to establish democracy:

Statement by Iranian Women for International Women’s Day

The 8th of March, International Women’s Day, is a reminder of the common protests by women around the world. Women all over this planet have made efforts on this day to declare their demands based on existing socio-economic conditions. Throughout history, Iranian women have made their voices and demands heard across our country. This year, however, the Iranian women celebrate International Women’s Day during a time when a dynamic movement is fighting for the “right to citizenship” and “civil liberties” – a movement in which it can be said that women are bearing the brunt of the responsibilities, and if not, are at minimum equally involved and responsible as their male counterparts. Women are paying a high price in many areas such as detention and imprisonment, deprivation from work and education, being banned from leaving the country, deprivation of their civil liberties, and even death and martyrdom.

Even though Iranian women have played a central role throughout the past 100 years of our history in the advancement of justice and freedom (take for example the Constitutional Revolution, the tobacco movement, the nationalization of oil, the Revolution of 1957, and a variety of other social movements and protests in the past thirty years), and fighting by the side of their male counterparts. This time, however, women have been present in a more determined and informed manner than in the past. They have been cognizant of their gender and have played an active and influential role in the movement. The experiences of the various women’s groups fighting against injustice and discrimination in the past decade (through collaboration, cooperation, campaigns, and various coalitions) were collectively, consciously, and responsibly transferred by women onto the Green movement.

We women demonstrated that we can move in a common direction and resolve social problems and political crises. We find appropriate and intelligent solutions through dialogue, regardless of our ethnic, racial, religious, or social differences. It was these experiences that demonstrated to achieve civil demands, a principle adherence and commitment to non-violence and an ability to remain patient and resist is needed. It also demonstrated that one can hope for change and allowed for the green movement to stay away from any form of violence and conflict.

As a result of these historic efforts and struggles, Iranian women expect their aspirations and demands to be advanced not because they pertain to a specific group but rather as aspirations belonging to society at large, so that our nation can move toward progress and democracy. As such, on the occasion of International Women’s Day, women activists in Iran will once again announce the demands that have been raised by women over the years:

    1- Elimination of discrimination against women in all civil laws, including family law, criminal law, etc.

    2- Iran to become a member of the Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women.

    3The establishment of legal, social, and political frameworks for the reduction of family, legal, political, and social violence.

    4- Equal opportunity for women in all administrative, political, and management areas.

    5- Elimination of all gender based segregation, in particular segregation in universities and public places, etc.

    6- Freedom for peaceful activities for women as it relates to their rights.

    7- The release of political prisoners and prisoners of conscience, including women and the dismissal of all charges against them.

On the threshold of March 8th, we announce loud and clear that we will remain by the side of the people and the Green activists. We will also continue our independent efforts and will not sit still until we achieve our aspirations and demands, because we are countless. Signed by a number of women activists in Iran.

Translation by: Negar Irani,

As UNHCR offices around the world marked International Women’s Day, High Commissioner for Refugees António Guterres said it was vital that all people of concern to the agency, male and female, are given equal opportunities and are able to realize their individual rights on an equal basis.

Guterres, in a special message to staff, added that this year’s theme, Equal Rights, Equal Opportunities: Progress for All, was “a principle UNHCR has already committed to implementing through, for example, its strategy for Age, Gender and Diversity Mainstreaming.”

The High Commissioner, noting that nearly half of all people uprooted by conflict are female, said inequality between women and men, and discrimination on the basis of sex occurs during all stages of the displacement cycle. “Moreover, difficulties accessing and enjoying rights are likely to be worsened during displacement leading to even greater gender inequality,” he added.

Guterres stressed that UNHCR was also dedicated to ensuring women’s equality within the organization. He said UNHCR’s three-year-old policy on gender equity reflected the organization’s determination to achieve gender parity in staffing.

UNHCR staff in offices and refugee camps around the world have arranged various programmes for today and the rest of the week to commemorate International Women’s Day. In the agency’s Geneva headquarters, female staff were selling handicrafts made by Iraqi refugees in Damascus for programmes aimed at the prevention and response to sexual violence.

Later in the week, Ugandan refugee Kate Ofwono from Kakuma camp in north-west Kenya is due to take part with Assistant High Commissioner for Protection Erika Feller in a panel discussion in Geneva entitled, “Listen to Women for Change.” Ofwono will also show a film she made, with UNHCR’s support, about her life and challenges in Kakuma and how she has made use of the opportunities available for skills development and employment.

Luisa Cremonese, a senior UNHCR gender specialist who is helping organize the events in Geneva, said forced displacement often led to many human rights violations against women, both during flight and in camps. She added that in some cases abuse occured “even when they return home and the rights they have gained as refugees are no longer respected.”

Meanwhile, in the Pakistani capital of Islamabad UNHCR and a local partner, Struggle for Change (SACH), convened a special International Women’s Day meeting on Monday of local and refugee women to discuss the day’s theme of equal rights and equal opportunities.

A 48-year-old Somali woman, Hadja, told the gathering that she had been abducted and held by a militia group for four years in her homeland before managing to escape. “I was subjected to a lot of physical and mental violence and the numerous scars on various part of my body are a reminder of the pain and hurt I had to endure,” said Hadja, who has been living in Islamabad for the past three years.

Her husband, a former UN driver, was killed by militiamen in Somalia along with her father and eldest son. She said that she had been warned that she would be killed if she returned to Somalia because Hadja had refused to marry her brother-in-law. She lives in Pakistan with one of her daughters, but her three other children remain in Africa.

Hadja survives largely on an allowance of 4,500 Pakistani rupees (US$52) a month from SACH. She has a refugee card from UNHCR, but no right to work or permanent residence. Despite this, Hadja’s strength has made her a leader among the Somali women in Islamabad.

Sharing her story at Monday’s event, she said that “in spite of the traumatic experience and violence inflicted on me, I still have a will to live and hope for the future.” She added that her “passion is to assist the weak, the needy and the voiceless.”

Humaira, a 21-year-old refugee from neighbouring Afghanistan, told the meeting she had come to Pakistan when she was only four years old. “I feel Pakistan is my home country. I speak Urdu very well,” said the maths teacher. “As a woman, I feel I can strive harder toward a better future,” she said.

In Bogota, UNHCR marked the day by launching a video, “Sin Nombre (Nameless),” which tells the story of displaced Colombian women. The groups Mesa Mujer and Armed Conflict, meanwhile, presented their ninth annual report on socio-political violence against females in Colombia, which shows forcibly displaced women to be particularly vulnerable to sexual violence.

In Venezuela, UNHCR was taking part in an International Women’ Day fair at the Central University of Venezuela in Caracas. The UNHCR office in Zulia was scheduled to make a presentation on international law at a conference on women’s rights, with the focus on indigenous communities in the region.

Women in the Asia-Pacific region are lagging behind most of the world with little economic power, political voice and legal rights, while their reduced status is depressing economic growth prospects in developing nations.

Those are the conclusions of the U.N.’s Asia-Pacific Human Development Report, which was published on Monday to mark International Women’s Day.

The report ranked the region near the worst in the world — often lower than sub-Saharan Africa — on issues related to women’s employment, parliamentary participation and property ownership.

“The key message (of the report) is that to meet any development goals that a society sets, you need the full participation and involvement of women,” Helen Clark, head of the U.N. Development Programme (UNDP) told AlertNet.

“The fact is that when women do have equal rights, it is very good for the society they live in and it is very good for the economy they live in, so there are many levels on which we should be promoting equal rights for women.”

Asia-Pacific is currently losing an estimated $89 billion every year due to the lack of women in the workforce, according to the report titled: “Power, rights and voice.”

Clark said raising the rates of women in the workforce to levels in developed countries would certainly raise the annual gross domestic product (GDP) of many of the countries in the region.

In countries like India, Indonesia and Malaysia, conservative estimates show that GDP would increase by two to four percent if women’s employment rates were raised to 70 percent — comparable to the United States, the report said.

While many women in the Asia-Pacific region have benefitted from improved education, health and prosperity, they continue to face barriers to the same opportunities available to men.

Almost half the adult women in South Asia are illiterate, more than any other region in the world, and women in this region can expect to live five years less than the world average of 71 years, the report said.

Asia-Pacific women also hold only a handful of legislative seats — fewer than anywhere else in the world except the Arab region — with the Pacific sub-region accounting for four of the world’s six countries with no women parliamentarians.

Those who do manage to gain a voice at local or national level face trouble.

“Women politicians, particularly those with extra vulnerabilities of poverty or association with marginalised groups, have been killed, raped or faced physical threats for challenging the status quo,” the report said.

It cited an example of a village council in India where male members spread stories that female members were sexually promiscuous, harassed them with obscene phone calls and made sexual innuendoes during meetings.

The report added that legal rights of women were also lacking with laws related to property and assets biased in favour of men.

While agricultural jobs account for more than 40 percent of women’s jobs in East Asia, and 65 percent in South Asia, only 7 percent of farms in these regions are controlled by women, compared to 20 percent in most other regions of the world.

It said that the lack of property and asset ownership left women in vulnerable to poverty, with no control over household finances.

Few countries have also adopted laws prohibiting violence against women and nearly half of the countries in South Asia and more than 60 percent of those in Pacific have no laws against domestic violence.

UNDP’s Clark called on policymakers to make it a priority to correct gender imbalances.

“Human development cannot be achieved if 50 percent of the population is excluded,” she said.

Among Clinton’s remarks, she said “we are honoring women from around the world who have endured isolation and intimidation, violence and imprisonment. Many have even risked their lives to advance justice, freedom, and equal rights for everyone. Their stories remind us of how much work there is left to do before the rights and dignity of all people – no matter who you are or where you live – are respected and protected by the world’s governments. But these women prove that change is possible. They are brave and they are making a difference, and they are up against powerful interests determined to bring them down. By honoring them today, the United States and the Obama Administration sends a very clear message that though they may work in lonely circumstances, they are not alone.”

Award recipient Jestina Mukoko of Zimbabwe spoke on behalf of the other recipients. She said, “The International Women of Courage award is a solidarity message that unites women from all over the world regardless of race, religion and color and we have learned that even language has failed to be a barrier to understanding and acknowledging what each one of us is doing. This indeed, Madame Secretary, not only resonates with your strong notion that women’s rights are human rights, but is in line with the theme this year of the International Women’s Day: equal rights, equal opportunities, progress for all,” reported Democracy NOW.

Honorees included the following:
~ Shukria Asil of Afghanistan for “promoting government responsiveness to the needs of women”
~ Colonel Shafiqa Quraishi of Afghanistan for “integrating women into the government and police force”
~ Androula Henriques of Cyprus for “Fighting human trafficking”
~ Sonia Pierre of the Dominican Republic for “Ending discrimination based on country of origin and the human rights abuses of statelessness”
~ Shadi Sadr of Iran for “Advocating for women’s legal rights and an end to execution by stoning”
~ Ann Njogu of Kenya for “Seeking social transformation and at the forefront of reforms in Kenya”
~ Dr. Lee Ae-ran of South Korea for “Promoting human rights in North Korea and aiding the refugee community in the Republic of Korea”
~ Jansila Majeed of Sri Lanka for “Strengthening rights for internally displaced persons”
~ Sister Marie Claude Naddaf of Syria for “working for social services for women”
~ Jestina Mukoko of Zimbabwe for “documenting human rights abuses”

As set by the United Nations, this year’s theme is “Equal rights, equal opportunity: Progress for all.”

While we here at GAB believe that equal rights for women should be celebrated every day, this particular event is a day for people to come together and blog about the progress of rights and opportunity for women worldwide.

Blog for IWD will take place on International Women’s Day, March 8, 2010. Please take a moment to sign up using the form here and you can also download a Blog for IWD graphic to let readers know you’re participating. We ask bloggers to think about any of the following questions in regards to the U.N.’s theme for IWD:

  • What does “equal rights for all” mean to you?
  • Would you describe a particular organization, person, or moment in history that helped to mobilize a meaningful change in equal rights forall?

Once you sign up, a link to your blog’s URL will appear on the Blog for IWD blog directory page. Also remember to tag your posts as “Blog for IWD” or “Blog for International Women’s Day” so that we can identify your posts!

At GAB we will live-blog throughout the day, highlighting some of your posts and what you have to say about “equal rights for all.”

For those who forget, we will also send out a reminder email about Blog for International Women’s Day a few days before March 8, 2010 when you check the box on the sign up form. By participating in this event, you are taking action in equal rights for all. So, what are you waiting for?

Thanks in advance for signing up. Please feel free to tell your blogger friends about Blog for International Women’s Day! The official site for Blog for IWD is

If you have any questions about Blog for IWD, contact myself or our general email,


Emily and the rest of the GAB editorial board
Gender Across Borders, a global feminist blog

See also:
* International Women’s Day 2010 events and statement in the UK and Ireland
* Is NOT The “Official” IWD Website!

March Round Up – IWD

High time women are kept safe from violence say groups in Malaysia
It is time for men to stand up to men, and the Women’s Aid Organisation (WAO) is not talking about fist fights here. Rather, it is against men who batter their wives, says WAO executive director Ivy Josiah. “I’m inspired by the ‘Ring The Bell’ campaign organised by Breakthrough (a human rights organisation) in India,” said Josiah. The ongoing campaign in India calls on men to take a stand against domestic violence, ring the bell and intervene in situations of abuse. Continues at

Equal Rights Still Elusive for European Women
Many European women are still discriminated againstWhile women are increasingly reaching key positions in the world of European politics and business, they are still massively underrepresented and facing an uphill battle for recognition and equal pay. “Still today in governments and parliaments, less than a quarter of members are women,” said Margot Wallstrom, the Swedish vice-president of the European Commission ahead of International Women’s Day on Sunday, March 8. Continues at,,4080969,00.html

Leaders Call for Women’s Advancement on International Women’s Day
A celebration of International Women’s Day took place in Liberia this weekend, with a number of the world’s key women leaders present. Among many others, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, and Chilean President Michelle Bachelet were present, according to Radio Netherlands. Continues at

Africa: International Women’s Day 2009
International Women’s Day celebrates its 99th birthday in 2009, while the Modern Commonwealth celebrates its 60th. Yet Women’s Day on 8th March and Commonwealth Day on 9th March honour the themes of time immemorial, and both are intrinsically linked The Commonwealth is an organisation of values, forging collective responses to collective challenges, while paying special attention to the needs of the world’s most vulnerable people and places. And women are among the Commonwealth’s most vulnerable constituents: fully two-thirds of those of its children out of primary school, its citizens living below the poverty line, its HIV sufferers, its disenfranchised people, are women. The mathematics confront us with the stark fact that half of the world’s people bear considerably more than half of its problems. Continues at

Iraqi women in the grip of ‘silent emergency’ despite security gains, warns Oxfam
Iraqi women are suffering a ‘silent emergency’, trapped in a downward spiral of poverty, desperation and personal insecurity despite an overall decrease in violence in the country, according to a survey of 1,700 women in Iraq released today by international aid agency Oxfam. The survey report, “In Her Own Words: Iraqi women talk about their greatest concerns and challenges” is being released on International Women’s Day to highlight the daily hardships women are facing as a result of years of conflict. Continues at

“It is now more dangerous to be a woman than to be a soldier in modern conflict”
Maj. Gen. Patrick Cammaert, 2008, former UN Peacekeeping Operation commander in DR Congo. Aid agency CARE International is calling on policy-makers to put victims before bureaucracy in the battle against rape in countries hit by conflict. On International Women’s Day, the charity is highlighting the chasm between policy rhetoric and the real needs of victims of sexual violence during and after conflict. Continues at

Eritrea celebrates women teachers as role models for girl students
Each year on International Women’s Day, 8 March, the world pauses to celebrate women’s achievements. In the run-up to 8 March, here is the story of one effort to inspire girls with women teachers as role models. – The Hotel Embasoira in Asmara recently hosted an award ceremony for women teachers, organized by the Ministry of Education and supported by UNICEF. The event, a first of its kind in Eritrea, celebrated the work and long-term achievements of 12 educators. Continues at

Kosovo Feminists Reclaim Lost Meaning of Women’s Day
Women’s movement in Europe’s newest state says there should be more to March 8 than flowers, boxes of chocolate and face cream. As people around the world showered women with flowers and gifts to commemorate International Women’s Day, some women have decided to speak out against the meaning that has been increasingly imputed to this holiday in Kosovo. Criticising the recent emphasis on the day as an occasion for celebrating gifts of make-up, perfume chocolate and face cream, they want to see the original stress on female equality restored. “March 8 is a historical event when women used to come forward to protest against social injustice, discrimination, exploitation and women’s suffering,” Vjollca Krasniqi, a feminist sociologist at the University of Pristina, says. “But it’s been co-opted by the market and capitalist enterprises and become another Valentine’s Day-style celebration of femininity … a day to remember women as sexualized objects, which totally contradicts the original meaning.” Continues at

Sit ins look to highlight gender discrimination
Joining a flurry of global activity to mark International Women’s Day, women’s rights activists held a series of events in Lebanon aimed at increasing public awareness about gender discrimination. Some 50 people, including around 10 migrant domestic workers, gathered for a sit-in outside the Madina Beirut’s Hamra district to commemorate the UN-designated day, which is celebrated annually on March 8. Aiming to highlight the poor working conditions faced by some migrant laborers, members of the public held up banners like, “I haven’t left the house in one month” or “I haven’t spoken to my daughters in four months.” In addition to specific concerns over poor labor rights for migrant workers, the sit-in also highlighted problems faced by women worldwide such as domestic violence, sexual and psychological abuse and pay inequality. The second sit-in was followed up by a march along the Beirut seafront, organized by the Feminist Collective. The march sought to draw public attention to some of the challenges faced by Lebanese women. Continues at

Preventing violence against girls in Lebanon gets spotlight
World Vision gathered prominent media stakeholders, local and international non-governmental organisations and governmental organisations to debate on ways to prevent violence against girls last Tuesday. The roundtable, conducted in partnership with KAFA (enough) Violence & Exploitation and the Higher Council for Childhood, focused on: ‘Women and Men Working Together to Combat Violence against Girls’ – the theme for this year’s International Women’s Day. Continues at

Numbers Of Decision Making Women Must Not Fall (Botswana)
Human Rights activist, Rhoda Sekgororoane has urged women in the country to lobby government to assist in coming up with mechanisms on how to ensure that numbers of women in positions of decision making does not plung to zero. Speaking on International Women’s Day in Bobonong, Sekgororoane said she believes it is high time Botswana had its own Helen Johnson Sirleaf, the Liberian President who is the first African female president. She indicated that the country needs hard working, brave and committed women in order to achieve this. “Government is also held accountable for failure to implement the 30 percent quota and the 50 percent SADC protocol. I believe democracy is not complete without the inclusion of women”. Continues at

As the world, including Zimbabwe, commemorates International Women’s Day, members of WOZA find little to celebrate.

As organisations, both local and international, take the opportunity afforded by International Women’s Day to speak out about the need for gender equality, respect for women’s right and an end to violence, WOZA joins the chorus.

Yet we understand that women in Zimbabwe, and Africa as a whole, need much more than rhetoric – they need action. And actions speak louder than words.

The current situation of the ordinary woman in Zimbabwe is heartbreaking.

She only lives until the age of 34 because the Mugabe regime killed a perfectly good health system. She can hardly access antiretroviral treatment and even if she does, the three meals a day she needs to take them with is impossible.

She cannot put a full nutritious meal on the table for her family because Zimbabwe is no longer the breadbasket of Africa but its basket case. She cannot afford to buy food even if it is available because the Mugabe regime put the economy in intensive care and Reserve Bank Governor Gideon Gono put a bullet to its head when he started to remove zeros without comprehensive reforms.

A mother is always preoccupied with a better future for her children so that she can dream about sitting in the shade and being looked after for a change. But the prospects for this have been thrown out of the window by the destruction of the education system by the Mugabe regime.

Educating children was already a challenge previously but in 2008 it became a form of torture for parents. Teachers left, school buildings deteriorated, text and exercise books disappeared to be sold on the streets for exorbitant prices. Government did not even bother to buy chalk, and this burden, along with that of paying teachers, fell on the parents’ shoulders.

Zimbabwe, in the throes of a political and governance crisis, failed to safeguard the rights of children to an education and their right to a better future. The untold story of Zimbabwe is the impact of the crisis on the lives of our children – how these innocent souls will bear the terrible burden of our adult hatred and intolerance.

In Zimbabwe there is now an ‘inclusive’ government but whilst it includes opposing political parties it falls far short of including women who take the time to speak out for women’s equality.

WOZA does not feel represented by the mere fact that there are some women in political office. We want women to use their position to engage and consult women and further our combined interests.

If one takes the time to study the 15th September 2008 Global Political Agreement, rhetoric about women’s representation abounds but they appear to be words without meaning.

Three weeks after the inauguration of this government and 29 years after so-called Independence, women are still not fairly represented in most spheres in Zimbabwe. Peaceful protest is broken up by men armed with baton sticks and women who are simply demanding their constitutional rights are beaten, arrested and detained.

On 9th March 2009, two WOZA leaders will be in the dock in Bulawayo Magistrate’s Court facing a possible five years in prison for demanding political leaders allow free access to food aid for starving Zimbabweans.

In the words of a police officer, this was a crime of ‘exciting people’. In a justice system backlogged for years, with thousands of Zimbabweans in prison and unable to be fed or brought to court, the fact that this case has been prioritised is further proof that women human rights defenders continue to be harassed and intimidated merely for speaking out on behalf of their families.

So a year after WOZA members were beaten and arrested in Bulawayo whilst commemorating International Women’s Day, we still do not find anything in our hearts to celebrate. Instead we use this occasion to remind our leaders that actions speak louder than words.

And to light a candle against the darkness so as to guide our steps on the road to a socially just Zimbabwe. WOZA will continue to demand bread and roses, a full enjoyment of all our social, economic, cultural and political rights and the social justice that will restore our dignity as women. By continuing to take the step forward, perhaps by the next International Women’s Day, we will have something to celebrate.

Mrs Susan Tsvangirai – WOZA mourns the loss of a mother to the nation

Our troubled hearts are further burdened and saddened by the untimely death of Mrs Susan Tsvangirai. WOZA was looking forward to Susan being the mother to the nation that we have long waited for.

We witnessed her dignity and strength in standing by the side of her husband during their 31 years of marriage and understand the unexpressed pain she must have endured watching her husband suffer at the hands of a brutal regime.

We had hoped and prayed that she would enjoy a semblance of peace at his side as a mother of the nation. The loss of this mother of six and tower of strength to her husband is a shocking blow to the nation and all Zimbabwean women.

We offer our heartfelt condolences to the Prime Minister, their children who have lost their mother and rest of their family. May her soul rest in blessed peace at last.

1,500 attend wet rally to push for ‘good jobs and dignity for all’

In tough economic times, fear about layoffs, bankruptcies and companies shutting their doors threaten to push other issues off the public agenda.

Hundreds gathered in Toronto to mark International Women’s Day and make sure that in the current recession, issues critical to women won’t be among them.

“A day like this is so important because we do get pushed off the radar in a tough economic situation,” said Judy Vashti Persad, one of the organizers of the annual event. But we’re not going to be quiet, we’re not going to be ignored.”

The theme of this year’s event was government’s role in ensuring “good jobs and dignity for all.” Organizers estimated 1,500 women, men and children braved the rain to wave placards and chant that message as they marched through one of the city’s busiest intersections at Yonge and Bloor Sts.

Chantal Sundaram of the local International Women’s Day organizing committee stressed that women’s security, health and well-being are particularly vulnerable amid the highest job losses in decades and an unemployment rate of 8 per cent in Ontario.

While headlines tend to focus on news like last week’s layoffs at Stelco in Hamilton, and at Chrysler in Windsor, there is “a low-level bleed” among the many women who are in non-unionized jobs, or are temporary or migrant workers, and their families.

Sundaram added that women are also hurt by shortages of child care, cuts to health care and lack of affordable housing that worsen during an economic downturn. And they are further at risk because of reduced services and supports such as shelters that would help them.

A statement yesterday from the Canadian Auto Workers union noted that women account for two-thirds of Canadians earning minimum wage and hold 70 per cent of part-time jobs, making it difficult to qualify for employment insurance.

“We need to demand a change to EI eligibility requirements that will provide women and their families with a safety net during these tough economic times, as well as stringent pay equity legislation that would finally work to close the wage gap,” said Julie White, women’s director for the union. Women make only 70.5 per cent of the average male salary, she noted.

Dayna Scott of Toronto said she joined yesterday’s march with her 2-year-old son largely to support the fight for access to affordable child care, which is particularly important when women are struggling to make ends meet. Scott, 34, said she’s fortunate her son has a child care spot at York University, where she works. But he’s been on a waiting list for a spot near their home for two years.

Diana Grimaldos, 30, attended as part of a group from the Working Women Community Centre, which provides services to immigrant women and their families. She said it’s critical that challenges facing immigrant women whose work credentials aren’t recognized or who are in low-paying, insecure jobs don’t get overlooked amid the grim economic news.

The struggle to end violence against women is clearly still a long way off. Perhaps for this reason the theme of the recently celebrated International Women’s Day was “Women and Men United to end Violence against Women and Girls”. And rightly so too. Violence against women is an every day occurrence and it comes in several forms. While the most commonly identified are domestic violence and rape, there have since been several more specific forms of acts identified as gender -based violence. These include women in conflict situations, trafficking in women, widowhood rites, early marriage, female genital mutilation, sexual assault etc.

Our women have had these acts inflicted upon them by male folk under the guise of religion, cultural practices and other forms of social discrimination. Others are a result of merely inflicting mental, economic and physical superiority over a woman. The patriarchal nature of many of our societies permits women to be subjected to many of these practices. In some communities the elders will look you straight in the eye and say that what the world terms as violence is actually a valued cultural practice. Take female genital mutilation for instance. It is erroneously believed to be a way to curb promiscuity amongst young girls. As a matter of fact the practice has proven to be a health hazard and hindrance to a fulfilling sexual life.

Sadly these days there is another naked display of violence against our women is also demonstrated through heavy handed tactics of some of the security agents. This is an emerging form of violence as a result of women’s more active and dynamic participation in civic action. In 2005 a group known as the Concerned Mothers of Nigeria went on a peaceful protest to call attention to the spate of domestic airline mishaps in the country. The protest is remembered more for the treatment the women received at the hands of the police. They were rough handled and this led to some of them sustaining injuries and being hospitalized. It is on record that the then Inspector-General of Police Mr Sunday Ehindero apologised the women. Apologies may be soothing in the short term but are not an effective tool in the fight against gender-based violence.

The incident raised a few eyebrows and then became buried amongst other national issues at the time. It made the headlines for a few days and was consigned to the dustbin of history. A few weeks ago a similar incident occurred in Ogun State .

In Abeokuta , a group of women went on a peaceful march to protest what they perceived to be an injustice being perpetuated against female law maker Hon Titi Oseni of the Ogun State House of Assembly. Unfortunately the protest also turned very ugly. Members of the police in a bid to disperse the women tear-gassed, beat and chased them with dogs. Footage of a mobile policeman wielding a baton and chasing one of the women demonstrated the extent of the brutality. Many of the women including the elderly amongst them sustained injuries and were left breathless and disoriented from the effects of the tear gas. The women were neither armed nor threatening and it was quite disheartening to see them bloodied, battered and bruised after the authorities had dispersed them.

The danger of women being confronted with violence from the hands of the police during peaceful protests is that such behaviour is bound to discourage them from participating in civic action. Active participation in civic action and exercising of fundamental human rights will be grossly stifled and undermined by the over -zealous response of security agents. If care is not taken the democratic space will be the poorer for it without the voices of women being heard. Should such cracks be allowed to widen within our democracy?

In the critical debate about violence against women, it is very clear that the fight can only be won in joint partnership with men. Hence it makes perfect sense to call upon men to become partners in the journey to fight some of these heinous practices. This conviction is clearly demonstrated in this year’s theme. But from recent events in our nation a lot of work still needs to be done. While the International Women’s Day calls attention to the daily acts of violence being perpetuated against women, there still needs to be sustained campaigns to combat gender-based violence. It is not enough for us to speak about it for only a few days a year and expect massive changes in attitudes within society. For instance what stops the upper echelons of the female officers in the Nigeria Police drawing attention to the need for gender studies to be incorporated into the curriculum at the Police College ? Such developments can actually cut across all the armed forces, and other uniformed personnel such as the Customs and Excise, Immigration, Civil Defence etc. indeed all of society should be the target of massive awareness campaigns.

Incorporating gender awareness programmes and initiatives into aspects of our lives, education and society in general has become imperative. We have witnessed sustained campaigns in the fight against narcotics, road carnage, HIV/AIDS etc. This is one campaign that the corporate world must support and help in the fight to eradicate. Many of our corporate organisations appear to have converged towards the more ‘glamorous’ social and health concerns. A few of our more prominent corporate companies have thrown their weight behind dancing competitions, talent hunt shows, TV reality shows etc. How about the flagging up of anti- violence messages on their products or partnering with civil society to jump start a nation-wide awareness campaign? Some of our financial institutions have created gender-friendly services and products. This is ostensibly to improve the economic lives of women. How about supporting the fight against the violence many women and girls suffer? What about taking up the cause of violence against women as part of their corporate social responsibility profile? So many women occupy top positions in the corporate world do they not feel that the battle against gender-based violence is worthy off their support?

Violence against women has been described in Article 1 of the United Nations Declaration on the elimination of violence against women defines violence against women as “any act of gender-based violence that results in, or is likely to result in physical, sexual or psychological harm or suffering to women including threats of such acts, coercion or arbitrary deprivation of liberty whether occurring in public or private life”. Women who form more than half of the population have made so many contributions to national development and have the potential to do so much more. We love to celebrate our female role models. By the same token we should continuously highlight the causes that hold women back and provoke so much suffering and pain.

Speaking at a press conference the Ogun State Commissioner for Women Affairs and Social Welfare Ms Jokotade Odunuga appealed to the media to be “a voice for women so that all hands are on deck to ensure that acts of violence against women are totally eradicated from our society”. What can be more truthful than this?

The fight against acts of violence on women can only be successfully fought if we all join hands. Women and men can stand side by side on this issue and present a united front. Moreover the campaigns should not be once- in a’- while but a long and sustained one. This is an issue that should be kept burning in the public domain.

Opinion from Tayo Agunbiade

The Knesset marked International Women’s Day on Thursday, as dozens of women’s rights activists held a demonstration nearby during which they called on Prime Minister-designate Benjamin Netanyahu to appoint more female ministers.

“(Foreign Minister) Tzipi Livni is expected to be the only female cabinet member in the next coalition; this will take the struggle for equal representation of women in politics 10 years back, to the previous Netanyahu government,” one of the activists said.

“It’s sad to find out that despite the promises that were made there will only be one woman in the next cabinet.”

During the session itself, Knesset Speaker Dalia Itzik said the number of female lawmakers was “far from being sufficient.”

Livni, for her part, told the session that to her being a woman meant “having the right to choose. This right seems natural to any man, but some women still cannot take it for granted.

“A woman should be allowed to choose what to do with her life: Whether to stay single or get married; whether she wants to become a mother or whether she wants to go out and work,” she said.

“To all the women who believe their husbands are beating them because they’ve done something wrong, I say: The problem does not lie with you, it lies with those who discriminate against you; it lies with the beating husband and the sexual abuser.”

Livni said she was unimpressed with the record number of female legislators in the current Knesset (21). “This is an embarrassing figure. We make up 50% of the population, so this is still far from equal representation,” she said.,7340,L-3685445,00.html

Thirty-eight women were chosen for special appreciation as all women were honoured with a ceremony on the front lawn of the Government Administration Building during Cayman’s celebration of International Women’s Day (IWD) on Monday, 9 March.

The IWD ceremony, part of Honouring Women Month (HWM), was opened by the Minister of Health and Human Services, the Hon. Anthony Eden, OBE, JP and the ministry’s Chief Officer Diane Montoya. Among the audience were government ministers and officials, and representatives from private-sector agencies and non-governmental organisations.

Business and Professional Women’s Club President Velma Powery-Hewitt read a prayer, and a member of Prospect Primary Children’s Choir led the singing of the National Song.

Other programme participants included Master of Ceremonies, Empowerment and Community Development Agency (ECDA) Programme Officer Miriam Foster; students from St George’s Preschool; former Miss Teen Cayman Yentel McGaw; and Honouring Women Month (HWM) poetry contest winner, Carren LaCruse.

During his opening remarks, Minister Eden explained the HWM’s Heroes Among Us theme: ”There are female heroes among us that may not necessarily be in the public spotlight, but still significantly contribute to our growth and development, at an individual and national level.”

The celebration included the unveiling of a Heroes Display that recognised the 38 Cayman Islands women, and Minister Eden handed out appreciation certificates to those present who were featured in the display.–1-1—.html

The theme of this year’s International Women’s Day was women and men united to end violence against women and girls. Reports of violence against women and girls are on the rise in Senegal, and outreach workers say there could not have been a better theme.

Violence against women and girls in Senegal does not just refer to domestic violence and rape.

Women’s groups are also fighting long-standing traditions of polygamy, female circumcision and the forced marriage of girls as young as nine years old. It is a battle they say is made more difficult by traditional Senegalese society and a lack of resources.

Siggil Jigéen is a network of 17 organizations that promote women’s rights and fight violence against women in Senegal.

The group is based in Dakar, but has recently extended its activities to Kolda, Matam and Tamba, three cities where they have noticed spikes in violence.

Though violence against women and girls appears to be increasing in Senegal, the group is not sure whether that is due to an actual resurgence in violence or whether recent awareness campaigns have encouraged more victims to come forward.

The group’s program coordinator in Dakar, Fatou Ndiaye Turpin, says the cases her organization and other groups see are just the tip of the iceberg. She says the culture of silence and impunity that surrounds violence against women is particularly severe in a predominantly Muslim country like Senegal. Not only do women not report the crimes, but discussion of some issues, like conjugal rape, are almost off limits entirely.

Turpin says it is especially rare for women to report domestic violence in Senegal. Families will try to deal with the problem themselves and will do everything possible to discourage women from coming forward. She says victims will often try to endure in silence. Turpin says for a woman to come to Siggil Jigéen, it means she is truly distraught and has nowhere else to turn.

In 1999, the state enacted a law punishing violence against women with jail time and fines, but Turpin says the law is not well-enforced and many women do not even know it exists. Therefore, a key part of the group’s outreach has been translating the law into Senegal’s many local languages and teaching women how it works. The group has also been training police officers and medical staff, who are often the first responders in cases of domestic violence or rape.

But Turpin says education is not enough. The laws that exist need to be enforced and strengthened, and the victims need support.

In October, the group opened its first drop-in counseling center in Dakar to offer legal advocacy and other services to victims and their children.

Turpin says most victims do not understand the legal process or even how to file a police report, therefore the counselors will accompany them throughout the entire process. She says money is another problem. Many women cannot afford to file a complaint, much less hire a lawyer. The counselors will work with other organizations to find the money needed to follow through on the cases.

A counselor at the group’s center in Dakar, Ndeye Fatou Sarr, says since October she has seen about 20 cases, almost all of them domestic violence. Many victims will drop their cases before the lengthy legal process is completed, and domestic violence is still largely viewed as a civil matter in Senegal.

She says that is a problem. Senegal’s legal system does not treat domestic violence as a criminal offense until the woman has been killed, but she says the psychological effects of violence and rape are just as devastating and should be taken just as seriously.

The group hopes to reach out to women in rural areas, but right now they do not have enough money or trained counselors. In the urban areas there are no crisis hotlines or shelters for the few victims who come forward.

Many of the women Sarr works with say they want to go back to school or open small businesses to support their children, but that is difficult.

Sarr is pleased that the theme of this year’s International Women’s Day includes men in the fight to end violence against women. It is often men, she says, who alert her to domestic violence situations. A concerned brother, uncle or neighbor will call the center or stop by, and then Sarr will go out to the home to meet the woman and find the best way to intervene.

Ending violence against women is part of a larger battle to increase women’s economic independence and involvement in local government. Women are often the foundation for grassroots development, Sarr says, and the impunity that surrounds violence against women and girls undermines the progress of the country as a whole.

A group of Lebanese hikers celebrated International Women’s Day on Sunday by organizing a hike to a women’s cooperative in the west Bekaa region of Rashaya.

The roots of International Women’s Day began over 150 years ago. On March 8, 1857, hundreds of women staged a strike against the textile factories in New York City, protesting low wages and long working hours. In 1910, at a meeting in Copenhagen, the Women’s Socialist International decided to commemorate this strike by observance of an annual day for women’s rights/issues – International Women’s Day (IWD).

Today, IWD is observed to emphasize women’s equal rights and opportunities worldwide, as well as to celebrate the determination of ordinary women. This year’s special focus was on “Women and Education.” Formal education is often ignored in Lebanon’s rural regions where the ambition of most young women remains to get married to the boy next door – if he has a home and a car. However, the establishment of women’s cooperatives have empowered women from rural communities to become ambassadors for their country’s culinary diversity.

On Sunday, Cyclamen, a division of Lebanese tour operator TLB Destinations and member of CIFA (Centre pour l’Insertion par la Formation et l’Activite), a non-profit organization, organized a trip to the women’s cooperative Wadi al- Taym, Rashaya, to celebrate rural women’s achievements. CIFA focuses on the associations between responsible tourism and sustainable development, and collaborates with Cyclamen to organize “responsible” trips to Lebanon’s rural regions.

After arriving at the village square the group walked up to the citadel and started a 10-kilometer hike with local guide Mehdi al-Fayek along the Lebanon Mountain Trail, the first long-distance hiking trail in Lebanon extending over 440 kilometers from the north to the south. The hikers shared a picnic lunch under the shade of a 400-year-old tree – sandwiches and pies purchased locally – and then headed on to the Wadi al-Taym.

“The women from the village of Rashaya should somehow gain from our visit so we encouraged people to purchase products from the local cooperative,” said Sabina Llewellyn-Davies, project manager, CIFA. Some of the visitors were clearly already socially responsible shoppers who buy from farmers’ markets such as Souk al-Tayeb. Others are seeking healthy products which give fair trade to the rural communities.

“This visit improved my awareness as I learned that the products are exported to the UK. The place looks clean and the women were very welcoming,” said Diana Bazzi , IT consultant. “And I loved their pumpkin jam and honey. We should encourage and support them to expand their market .”

The hike was not targeted exclusively at women – men were of also encouraged to come along to celebrate Lebanon’s women. “After being totally oblivious to the existence of such co-ops (and after visiting a couple of them), they became my first choice for shopping for locally processed goods,” said Nizar Jawhar, a statistician, at the American University of Beirut (AUB). Ibtissam, one of the 28 women who own and run the cooperative was on hand to sell the products and pour cups of tea to refresh the weary hikers.

Several of the participants stayed on at the bed and breakfast of Kamal al-Sahili in Rashaya. The lodging is within the Dhiafee program, a network of rural accommodations throughout Lebanon conceived by ANERA in 2006.

“We always encourage overnight stays in the rural lodgings within the Dhiafee program for visitors to familiarize themselves better with the region,” said Llewellyn-Davies.

“The accommodation was excellent. Khalil’s wife Nour welcomed us with open arms and prepared a lovely home-cooked meal for us in the evening,” said Sylvia Shorto, an assistant professor at AUB. “Our visit during the day to the women’s co-op raised awareness for local products and food traditions and it certainly raised my interest in regional specialties,” added Shorto.

“What also impressed me are the women of Rachaya village, they are really welcoming; as we walked past homes we were constantly invited in,” added Bazzi.

This year’s event included strong participation from Latina, Asian and Black women, as well as many activists from Philadelphia’s LGBT community. With the growing economic crisis hitting women the hardest, many speakers addressed social and economic justice issues, including the mortgage crisis, health care reform and the struggle to pass the Employee Free Choice Act.

Jaci Adams, representing Transgender Women of Color, spoke at a City Hall rally, noting that it was the first time she knew of in Philadelphia that a transgender woman was invited to speak at an IWD event. Helen Gym of Parents United for Public Education and Asian Americans United described her community’s fight against attempts to build a gambling casino in Chinatown, already impacted by gambling addiction.

The rally featured many young women who presented the history of IWD and read from a resolution honoring the day passed by the Philadelphia City Council on March 6. Louise Francis of NOW addressed corporate greed and the drive for profits as the root causes of the mortgage and foreclosure crisis. The outdoor event was followed by a march to an indoor afternoon rally at the Family Planning Council office on South Broad Street.

After a ceremonial opening featuring Aztec drumming and dance by Fuego Nuevo from the Raíces Culturales Latinoamericanas and songs from the Anna Crusis Women’s Choir, Afghan activist Suraya Pakzad addressed the crowd. In 1988, this Afghan mother of six founded Voice of Women, one of only a few women’s nongovernmental organizations in Afghanistan.

Pakzad explained that while by law, women in Afghanistan have the right to go to school, to work and to walk on the streets, real practices concerning women haven’t changed. Every 13 minutes a woman in Afghanistan dies in childbirth and many children do not survive to their fifth birthday.

Other speakers included Kathy Black of the Coalition of Labor Union Women and U.S. Labor Against the War, who said women are disproportionately the victims of war, of suffering in countries under occupation and from the economic impact of a wartime economy and suffering as soldiers subject to sexual abuse and rape.

Pattie Eakin, president of the Pennsylvania Association of Nurses and Allied Professionals, spoke on the need to pass HB 676 for Universal Single Payer Healthcare. She noted that, because of lack of health care, women in the U.S. are far more likely to die from childbirth due to medical complications than women in 32 other countries.

Focusing her remarks on the importance of passing the Employee Free Choice Act, Roni Green of SEIU spoke on the conditions working women face in today’s near-depression economy. “It’s a race to the bottom,” she noted, referring to the decline in wages and employee benefits. “Women need union protection to fight for a livable wage, health care and a guaranteed pension.”

Green described conditions for women working at Wal-Mart who are paid minimum wage and must rely on government programs for health care and food stamps. She noted, “During his election campaign Obama was attacked for suggesting ‘a redistribution of the wealth.’ But workers are the ones who create the wealth and we’re only asking for what is ours. The fight for the Employee Free Choice Act may be one of the most important struggles in the upcoming period.”

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