Archive for the ‘War Conflict’ Category

Implementing SCR 1325: lessons from Israel.

The attempt to implement Security Council Resolution 1325 after the failure of the Oslo Peace Process revealed a paralysed women’s movement in Israel.

Does the incorporation of women in formal peace processes pose a threat to the possible achievements of women’s grassroots peace organizations in the transition from conflict to peace? Should women insist on joining formal peace negotiations, or maintain feminist resistance from outside? These questions are part of a developing debate concerning the potential of women’s peace activism in times of armed conflict at the beginning of the 21st century, in light of the adoption of United Nation SCRs 1325 and 1889.

Many peace activists and scholars around the world have acknowledged that the public engagement of the Security Council with gender issues has opened the door for new forms of understanding the marginalized placement of women in peace processes. Resolution 1325 has outlined a strategic path to claim women’s protection and participation, promoting an underlying assumption that women’s inclusion in formal peace efforts is a means of achieving gender equality and sustainable peace. As a result, local and international mechanisms ensuring equal representation in peace negotiations were rapidly encouraged during the last decade. But many have also experienced how overcoming the gendered construction of peace negotiations is a difficult task. Currently, the most documented difficulties that women who are involved in formal peace efforts face are: lack of funding, capacity and experience; a dominant masculine political culture and the prevalence of militaristic values among political elites; and the need to overcome gender stereotypes and traditional gender roles.

This is why a decade after Resolution 1325 women’s participation in peace processes still remains a utopian struggle. As stated by the Secretary General in a report submitted to the Security Council in September 2009, “A persistent cause of concern is that women continue to be virtually absent from the peace table and to be severely underrepresented as third-party mediators or even as representatives of the United Nations in most conflict-affected countries. Women’s activism at the grass roots rarely translates into official recognition during peace processes, where they are seldom included in formal negotiations.”

At the International Gender Justice Dialogue held in Mexico last month I wanted to share with participants the limitation of local attempts to implement and interpret international norms concerning gender, peace and security, based on the Israeli experience during the last decade. This is a chronicle of a paralysed women’s movement trying to face the aftermath of a ‘failed peace process’.

To read the full comment piece go to

Front Line is deeply saddened by news received of the violent paramilitary attack on a peaceful solidarity campaign in Oaxaca, Mexico, which resulted in the killing of WHRD Bety Cariño as well as an international observer from Finland, Tyri Antero Jaakkola.

Bety Cariño was a participant at the Fifth Dublin Platform which was held by Front Line in February 2010. Bety will be remembered by all in Front Line for her dedication to the defence of human rights in Oaxaca and her courage in continuing to work for the rights of indigenous populations and women and children. Our thoughts and sympathies are with Bety’s family at this difficult time.

You can view Bety’s powerful testimony to the 5th Front Line Dublin which took place in February 2010 and in which she speaks with passionate conviction of the struggle for human rights of all the people of Mexico.
* The testimony of Bety Carino to the 2010 Front Line Dublin Platform
* The translation of Bety’s testimony is attached as a pdf

Front Line has received information from our contacts in Oaxaca about a violent attack on a peaceful solidarity caravan of human rights defenders yesterday, 27 April 2010, as it tried to enter the autonomous indigenous municipality of San Juan Copala. It has been confirmed that at least two human rights defenders have been killed and others remain unaccounted for.

On 27 April 2010, at approximately 14:40, a humanitarian group made up of 30 human rights defenders as well as international observers were on their way to attempt to enter San Juan Copala in order to deliver provisions to indigenous communities who have been under siege by armed groups.

As they entered the community of La Sabana, a town reportedly controlled by paramilitary organisation Unión de Bienestar Social de la Región Triqui UBISORT (Social Welfare Union of the Triqui Region), their vehicles came under fire. Beatríz Alberta (Bety) Cariño Trujillo, of the Centro de Apoyo Comunitario Trabajando Unidos CACTUS (Centre for Community Support Working Together), and Tyri Antero Jaakkola, international observer from Finland, were both killed in the attack.

Noe Bautista Jimenez, David Venegas Reyes and Daniel Arellano Chavez,all members of Voces Oaxaqueñas Construyendo Autonomía y Libertad VOCAL (Voices from Oaxaca for Autonomy and Liberty) remain missing. The three human rights defenders escaped when the attack broke out and it remains unknown whether they were captured by paramilitaries or whether they are in hiding.

One member of the group, Mónica Citlali Santiago Ortiz, was injured in the attack but was able to get to a hospital for medical attention. Those who did not escape and who remained in the vehicles were interrogated by the paramilitaries. Some have reported receiving death threats prior to being released.

UBISORT paramilitaries have reportedly sealed off the area and are refusing entry or exit to anyone, including medical teams and ambulances. There are further reports that the State Police of Oaxaca have refused to enter the area to assist locating those members of the peaceful movement who have not yet been accounted for.

The human rights organisations were attempting to enter San Juan Copala to provide support to the local community who have been without electricity, water, medical access and basic provisions as a result of the ongoing paramilitary blockade. Schools have also been shut down since January 2010.

The caravan of observers included individuals from Finland, Italy, Belgium and Germany, members of the CACTUS, VOCAL, Asamblea Popular de los Pueblos de Oaxaca APPO (Popular Assembly of the Peoples of Oaxaca, the Red de Radios y omunicadores Indígenas del Sureste Mexicano (Network of Indigenous Radio Stations and Broadcasters of the Southeast of Mexico), as well as a group of teachers from the municipality who have been unable to give classes.

Front Line is gravely concerned by reports of this violent attack on peaceful human rights defenders and the killing of Beatriz Alberta Cariño Trujillo and Tyri Antero Jaakkola. Front Line remains extremely concerned for the physical and psychological integrity of all of the Mexican human rights defenders who make up the group, in particular those whose whereabouts remain unknown, as well as international observers accompanying the solidarity campaign.

The violent attack is directly linked to the peaceful activities of those national and international individuals as they attempted to defend the rights of the local communities affected in areas controlled by paramilitary groups.


Reject Delay in Steps to End Rape in War and Include Women in Peace Talks

The United Nations Security Council should immediately begin using measurable benchmarks to protect women caught in conflicts around the world and to ensure that women are included in peace negotiations, rather than delaying this step, Human Rights Watch said today.

In October 2009, the Security Council asked the secretary-general to prepare a set of indicators on the implementation of key Council commitments regarding women in conflict. The measures are to be presented today to the Security Council, which has the option of acting now or postponing action.

“This move has been a decade in the making,” said Marianne Mollmann, women’s rights advocate at Human Rights Watch. “There’s no excuse for waiting another minute to take steps we know are needed.”

Diplomats have indicated that it is likely that the Council will “take note” of the secretary-general’s report. They said the Council is likely to defer any implementation of the indicators until at least October, the 10th anniversary of Security Council Resolution 1325, which laid out UN system and member state commitments regarding women in conflict. Resolution 1325 has been reported on annually since 2000, but without any consistency in the focus of reporting or specific expectations for outcome.

Further steps may be needed to implement all of the indicators recommended by the secretary-general, but the report also concludes that information is readily available and reliable for many of the indicators. The Council should endorse the immediate use of all indicators for which data exist, in particular in the UN reports on countries such as Afghanistan and the Democratic Republic of Congo, Human Rights Watch said.

“Any real discussion of abuse of women in conflict depends on understanding the scope of the problem,” Mollmann said. “This is a chance for the Security Council to make clear how urgent this is so that there can be actual numbers to report and a real way to measure success and failure.”

Human Rights Watch also expressed concern a delay could mean that the benchmarks would become the main focus of debates around the 10th anniversary rather than commitments to overcome the problems the indicators are expected to highlight.

“Women in conflict-ridden countries deserve more than a commitment to collecting data when the Security Council looks at what it has done in the past 10 years to address their plight,” Mollmann said. “We expect UN member states to follow through to empower women as peacemakers and to stop rape in war.”

The UN refugee agency has expressed concern about the lack of justice for the thousands of women who are raped in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) every year, and prevailing impunity for rapists.

“Sexual violence constitutes among the most serious of crimes and should be treated as such,” UNHCR spokesperson Melissa Fleming told journalists Friday. “Survivors should be helped to report incidents without fear of reprisal.”

New UN figures show 1,244 women have been raped in DRC during the first three months of this year, and the numbers could be much higher because of under-reporting.

More than a third of the recorded cases are in the provinces of North and South Kivu in eastern DRC. The region hosts some 1.4 million internally displaced persons, including 100,000 in camps run by UNHCR.

In many cases women are raped when they venture out of their villages or camps to collect firewood, water and other basic necessities.

UNHCR is taking steps to keep women safe, such as providing fuel-efficient stoves and firewood to women in North Kivu. Since 2008, the UN refugee agency has provided fuel-efficient stoves and firewood to some 4,200 families.

“In addition to such prevention methods, we are also working to follow up on rape cases brought to our attention by providing counseling, medical treatment and legal advice,” Fleming added.

Thanks to UNHCR legal assistance, 145 survivors in South Kivu were able to file complaints in local courts. Most of the cases are still before the courts, but 24 people have been found guilty and sentenced to jail terms of between two and 10 years, and some have also been ordered to pay compensation.

“This represents a significant development for justice, but overall the number of cases in which criminal charges are being brought is tiny compared to the vast scale of the problem,” said Fleming.

In DRC at least 200,000 cases of sexual violence have been recorded since 1996.

Even though I turned into Autumn I am more beautiful now
A letter of suffering by Bahareh, victim of rape arrested in July 2009 at Ghoba Mosque

“My name is Bahar (Spring in Persian). It’s Spring and I write to you of flowers but flowers with scattered petals. I write to you of the green and of sprouts but squashed sprouts, trampled on by hatred, the hatred towards beauty and whatever is beautiful as displayed by ugly souls, the hatred towards those who seek justice by a bunch of sell outs. I write to you of those who are not real men.

My name is Bahareh Maghami, 28 years old and there is nothing left of me and no reason to hide my name anymore. I have lost all who were important to me one day. I have lost relatives and friends, neighbors and companions, coworkers and colleagues. I have lost them all. Those who pretend to be men stole it all from me so unfairly. They stole my life. Now that I have left the country, I want to share my pain with someone, even if only once. I also like to ask other friends who have experienced a similar painful fate to write. They must write what happened to them. Even if they fear their lives or dignity, they should use anonymous names but they must write. They must write so that history is aware of what happened to our generation; to this grief-stricken generation. They must write so that those who come after us and live in a free Iran know what price was paid for their freedom; how many lives were burnt and how hopes vanished; they must know about the broken backs and bent knees!

When my father found out, his back broke. He was shattered into pieces. My mom aged a hundred years overnight. My brother: I still haven’t been able to look into my brother’s eyes and he doesn’t look at me either; he doesn’t want me to suffer any more than I already have. When he found out, it was like they took away his manhood. When he found out that there are people who pretend to be men but the only thing left of it is their genitals, he began to hate his own manhood. For them dignity, nobility and chastity have no meaning. I was a first grade teacher. I was teaching the little flowers of our country how to read and write. I was teaching them “Dad brought water”, “That man comes”, “That man brings bread”. For me the image of a man was the kind breadwinner. I was waiting for him to arrive. And now that image has changed. He is angry and blinded by his desires. I cannot rid myself of his infectious smell of sweat. I am always scared of him coming back. I jump out of bed in the middle of the night fearing his footsteps. My whole body shakes with the smallest sounds and my heart starts beating faster fearing his arrival. I am always ready to escape. I leave the lights on at nights and I pass the days with tears and grief!

Our house was situated at “Kargar Shomali” street. I had gone to Ghoba Mosque with my brother when I was arrested. They beat me and took me away and they destroyed me. As our old poet Hafez says: they did what the Mongolians did!

Some had broken arms, some had broken legs and some had broken backs. Still others like me had broken spirits. Shattered spirits. As if my whole humanity was taken away from me. I used to be a Spring. I am now dead. I am a squashed corn-poppy.

I would like to ask those who read this letter that if they know someone who is like me, a victim of rape, to be kinder towards them. Sympathize with them. The issue for me and people like me is that in our culture rape is not just a blow to one person. It’s a blow to his whole family and clan. A victim of rape is never healed by passing of time. With every look of her father, the wounds open again. Her heart breaks again with every drop of her mother’s tears. The relatives, friends, neighbors and everyone cuts off their relations. We were forced to sell our house way below market price and moved to Karaj (a suburb of Tehran). But we didn’t last there either. The agents found our new address quickly and were monitoring us. They would stand in the corner of our street and would smirk at my father every time he passed by. We left everything behind and immigrated. At their old age, my parents became refugees at a camp. I can easily say that the cultural wounds were much harder to deal with than the physical ones. Many people smile when they hear about rape! I swear that there is nothing funny about rape! It’s about the suffering of a simple family; it’s about a young girl or boy who loses his or her diginty; breaking the dignity of love is not funny. Those who raped me would laugh! there were three of them. All three were dirty and wore a beard. They had a terrible accent and foul mouths. They would swear at my whole family. Even though they saw that I was a virgin, they accused me of being a whore and forced me to sign admitting that I was a prostitute. I am not ashamed to say it anymore. Not only am I not ashamed, I am even proud to say it: they called me a whore. They said: sign this you whore! I told them that I was a teacher and I wouldn’t sign. They said they had three just witnesses who had seen me sleep with three people in one night and I told them that I have 30 witnesses that I am a teacher and if this is what has happened to me, it was through their own fault. They laughed it off saying: well it’s not so bad for you afterall! your pay has now increased! That’s how worthless the privacy and dignity of people is to them. And that’s how empty words like modesty and chastity are to them. They had not seen these virtues. They didn’t have them. All women were whores to them. It wasn’t only women. They did not even pass up on men. They weren’t human beings. They were suffering from self-subordination. They had turned into perverted animals who knew nothing but to destroy all beauties. Sometimes I see people cursing at the mothers and sisters of these people. These creatures will not even pass up on their own mothers and sisters. I feel sorry for those who have to live with these rabid animals all their lives. My front teeth broke and my shoulder was displaced; my womanhood was destroyed. I know that I will never be able to love a man; I will never be able to get close to a man and to trust him. I realize that my land bears many brave men who have also suffered but for me real men and pretend men are the same. My life as a woman has reached an end and I am like a walking dead. But I write. I write in order to regain my livelihood. I write that I was a teacher, turned into a prostitute and I am a writer now. I write that I was Bahar (Spring), and although I turned into Autumn, I am more beautiful for it. I am a beautiful whore; I turned into the outcast in our neighborhood; I turned into a teacher without a classroom; I became the subject of ridicule; sentenced to loneliness; immersed into the injustices of the oppressors; For the Islamic Republic I became the woman with her hair cut, her arms broken and with her face bloodied. So I am proud to be a whore for freedom. I know that I am not alone. I hear their voices; in the next cells; when my lifeless and useless body was on the floor I would hear these pretend-men display their manhood many times. I ask all people who have suffered like me to write. They need to shout out their sufferings however they can because these are the same pains that Sadegh Hedayat (contemporary writer) referred to as ‘pains that chew at people’s souls’. Let it all come out. Let everyone know. You should realize that you are not alone. There are many like me and you. We all share this pain.

This letter of suffering is much longer than this. But I end it with one sentence. I am directly addressing Mr. Khamenei: ‘You consider yourself as the father of this nation. I was a daughter of Iran. Your sons raped me. Who will pay for my lost dignity?’

Bahareh Maghami,
April 2010, Germany

Translated by Tour Irani

See also:

Women Online In Iran Brave Heavy Web Surveillance
Iranian female journalists are veterans of government closure of their print publications and early Internet ventures. Now they are prevailing against the region’s most advanced censoring and monitoring software.

They work like stepping stones to pave a major fresh path in women’s history: First 1325, then 1820, now 1888. These are U.N. resolutions that in the past 15 or so years have put wartime sexual violence on the international policy map.

At the start of Women’s History Month in March, Margot Wallström began her two-year assignment to stop sexual violence from being used as a tactic in war–as a matter of global security.

Her job calls on her to implement U.N. Resolution 1888, passed by the Security Council in September, one of the major milestones in women’s history that her appointment culminates.

Before the late 1990s, sexual violence wasn’t generally considered any kind of issue, says Anne-Marie Goetz, chief advisor of governance, peace and security for UNIFEM.

Rape camps in Bosnia were “horrifying” and systematic sexual violence in Rwanda was “on a level never seen before,” but indictments didn’t occur until years later, she said. Neither peace agreement mentioned sexual violence.

Those charges brought public attention to convictions of three Bosnian Serbs for wartime sexual enslavement as a crime against humanity–a first for the International Criminal Tribunal–and led to Resolution 1325. Passed 10 years ago by the Security Council, the document articulated war’s impact on women.

Though 1325 “lacked accountability measures to encourage progress,” said Letitia Anderson, it opened doors to a watershed 2008 conference about women in armed conflict, held in Wilton Park, England. Anderson is an advocacy and women’s rights specialist for U.N. Action Against Sexual Violence in Conflict, a coalition of 13 U.N. entities. The talks included “the unusual suspects–force commanders, military and police peacekeepers,” Anderson added.

Anderson presented a paper on the need for a “systematic framework to respond to these crimes,” which she called the missing link at the policy level.

Her message resonated and in August 2008 the Security Council passed Resolution 1820, recognizing sexual violence as a war crime and a major impediment to peace.

In September 2009, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton presided over the Security Council’s passing of 1888, the agreement that Wallström is now charged with implementing.

Anderson likens 1820 to a “blueprint” of sexual violence’s link to security; 1888 provides the “building blocks” for its implementation.

Wallström, the former vice president of the European Council, says she knows that “beautiful language” in a number of “historic and groundbreaking” women, peace and security resolutions, including 1888, doesn’t immediately help the thousands of women who remain targets of sexual violence in armed conflict and post-conflict zones.

“We must create political ownership of this issue, where both men and women everywhere can say, ‘Enough is enough. We have to end this,'” Wallström said in a recent telephone interview with Women’s eNews. “I am a person who knows how to cooperate, how to fully utilize the resources of everyone around me and to mobilize that. That is what I can promise to bring.”

Wallström has said she will focus immediately on conflict and post-conflict situations in three African countries: the Democratic Republic of Congo, Liberia and Sierra Leone.

Sexual violence in conflict zones, however, isn’t an “African issue,” Wallström is quick to point out, describing gender-based violence as a global “human rights issue, a security issue.”

Wallström herself stresses the importance of assembling a strong, diverse six-person staff to help her navigate the U.N. system.

Resolution 1888 does not address U.N. peacekeepers abusing the very women they are supposed to aid, says Goetz. “That remains an enormous and serious issue.”

The U.N. has a zero-tolerance policy on peacekeepers inflicting sexual violence on others and handles allegations of exploitation and abuse in its Conduct and Discipline Unit.

After making its assessment, the unit defers to its member nations, which handle convicted peacekeepers in their own fashion, said Genevieve Butler, the Conduct and Discipline Unit’s external affairs officer.

For more information:
* Working Group on Women, Peace and Security
* U.N. Conduct and Discipline Unit

Part of a longer article at

Former female Maoist combatants in Nepal are facing a new fight – reintegrating into their communities and returning to civilian life, specialists say.

Female combatants made up a sizable portion of the Maoist’s military wing, the People’s Liberation Army (PLA), with the party saying a third of the soldiers were women.

Nearly 1,000 women were among 3,000 former child soldiers discharged from the PLA in February.

But the women, who were treated as equals in the PLA and bore arms, are now encountering rejection from their communities and struggling with traditional female roles.

“My family doesn’t accept me and society looks at me with hatred,” Rachna Shahi, 21, said near her home in Kailali District, about 600km northwest of Kathmandu.

Barely 15 when she joined the PLA to take part in the so-called “People’s War” – a conflict which left 13,000 dead and thousands more injured – life for her since being discharged has been difficult.

Not only did her family in Dailekh District, 500km northwest of Kathmandu, prevent her from entering the house, neighbours demanded she leave the village for good.

“I don’t know how I will survive now and where to live,” said Shahi.

Women in Nepal face ingrained discrimination because of the country’s traditionally patriarchal nature, and can be further disadvantaged depending on their caste, ethnicity and geographic location, according to the UN.

Despite recent efforts to address gender inequality through legislation, women are deeply limited in areas such as asset and property ownership, inheritance, income and employment conditions and political representation, as documented by the UN Population Fund (UNFPA).

Maoist policy includes plans for social and cultural reform, including the end of discrimination in caste, ethnicity and gender, and former female fighters say they were attracted to the party by the prospect of ending social inequities.

“We hoped to dismantle the old society and replace [it] with a new progressive society that respects equal rights of women,” said Shanta Karki, a female ex-combatant.

Yet, instead of achieving equal status, ex-fighters are now confronted by expectations they will once again assume subservient roles, where they are largely confined to household work, activists say.

“Society has barely changed when it comes to women’s roles. They are still expected to play their traditional role as merely a wife, sister or daughter-in-law,” said gender activist Babita Basnet.

The Maoists had a surprise victory in the country’s 2008 election and emerged as the largest party in parliament, a win analysts said was due to support from marginalized communities, including the lowest Dalit caste, and the electorate’s desire for change.

Nevertheless, many people still hold bitter memories of the conflict in which Maoists killed people and left others disabled – and communities have yet to be advised on how to deal with returnees.

“The mainstream Nepali community is still in a retaliatory state of mind because many of them suffered at the hands of these Maoist soldiers during the armed conflict,” psychosocial expert Navaraj Upadhyaya of the Transcultural Psychosocial Organization (TPO) Nepal, one of the country’s leading psychosocial organizations, told IRIN.

Rejection of the ex-combatants by some Nepalese is also due to their perceived association with the continuing Maoist goal of eliminating the traditional Nepali caste system.

During their time as soldiers, many women married outside their caste, and without their families’ consent, making their acceptance into the community at a later date all the more difficult.

Perceptions of family honour and sexual purity are an additional hurdle. Many families believe that while their daughters were on the battlefield, they were with other men outside marriage – something that could bring shame on their family.

To address this, aid workers working closely with female Maoist ex-combatants say counselling to help the women reintegrate should be given top priority: The former fighters need more than government or UN help to become economically independent, they say.

“Counselling was needed prior to their discharge but we didn’t have any access to the soldiers in the camps,” said TPO’s Upadhyaya.

TPO had proposed setting up a counselling programme inside the camps, but its offer was turned down by Maoist leaders, who told TPO their soldiers did not need counselling, he claimed.

Some say a fresh approach is needed to help the women reintegrate.

“A holistic approach is needed to help their proper rehabilitation and reintegration. [They] have specific needs and face more difficulties than the male [ex-]combatants,” said Jamuna Poudel, programme director of the Centre for Victims of Torture (CVICT), a local NGO specializing in the counselling of conflict victims.

Many former female soldiers have reproductive health problems, face gender-based violence, need support for their children and are less likely to find jobs than their male counterparts, she said.

“They have witnessed and engaged in a lot of violence… All they knew was how to hold a gun and fight. Now suddenly they are on the street alone. We have to be really concerned about their state of mind,” said Anup Poudel, a psychosocial counselling expert at CVICT [no relation of Jamuna].

UNICEF Regional Director Dan Toole has highlighted the challenges facing children and families during a six day visit to Afghanistan.

Together with Afghan President Hamid Karzai he launched the country’s National Immunization Days 2010 on 14 March – a campaign which aims to immunize nearly eight million children against polio in three days.

He emphasized the right of all girls to lives free from violence during a visit to Herat in western Afghanistan where he spoke with girls and women in a safe house, where victims of early marriage or domestic violence find can find refuge.

“It’s shocking to hear the stories of these girls, some of them hardly nine years old, who have been forced from home into an unwanted relationship, often with a man five times their age,” he said, also noting that the perpetrators of such crimes often go unpunished.

UNICEF is working to increase the numbers of girls in school by supporting the training of female teachers and setting up child-friendly classrooms. Mr. Toole visited female students at Herat Girls High School to see such efforts firsthand.

“To see such a big number of girls who are enthusiastic about becoming teachers, doctors or engineers is extremely encouraging. Their protection is among our key concerns in this country where early marriage and the denial of access to education for females is still deeply rooted in the society,” said Mr. Toole.

“Especially in high-risk, difficult to access areas, UNICEF is promoting community-based schools,” said UNICEF Representative in Afghanistan Catherine Mbengue. “We set up community management committees for each school, discussing with them from the onset the importance of girls’ education and their role in making it happen.”

Afghanistan has seen an improvement in the number of children – including girls – who are enrolled in school. Today about three quarters of boys and nearly half of girls of primary school age are enrolled in primary school. While this is a drastic increase from the 42 per cent rate for boys and 15 per cent rate for girls in 2000, the gender gap remains wide.

Lack of security is a significant concern for both Afghan citizens and humanitarian workers. A total of 613 school incidents were recorded from January to November 2009, a frightening increase from 348 incidents in 2008. Insecurity is pervasive — with continued threats and direct attacks against schools, health centres and humanitarian workers.

“We are concerned about the positioning of UNICEF in an increasingly complex environment,” said Mr. Toole. “Our mandate is apolitical, but not when it comes to the basic rights of children. Humanitarian support is needed at the bottom, and development of the country will come from the Afghan citizen.

“The children whom we assist today are the adults of tomorrow,” he added.

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 displaced by war should be given a greater voice in decisions directly affecting their future, especially those taken by humanitarian organizations and others helping internally displaced people (IDPs), the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) has said.

In the run-up to International Women’s Day on 8 March, the ICRC drew attention to the extraordinary strength and resilience of millions of women displaced by armed conflicts worldwide.

In situations of war and displacement, women’s voices often go unheard and their specific needs are overlooked.

“The stereotype of women as passive beneficiaries can result in their being excluded from decisions that affect them directly,” explained Nadine Puechguirbal, the ICRC’s adviser on issues relating to women and war.

“Failure to consult women about their needs and how best to address them diminishes the quality and efficiency of the aid provided.” The ICRC has been increasingly involving women in planning, implementing and evaluating aid programmes.

For example, since women are often responsible for their families’ food supplies, the ICRC consults them before deciding what type and quantity of food aid to distribute and to ensure that locations for food distributions are safe and accessible.

Women displaced by armed conflict – often living alone with their children – are frequently exposed to sexual violence, discrimination and intimidation.

Many face poverty and social exclusion as well.

International humanitarian law therefore includes specific provisions protecting women, for example when they are pregnant or as mothers of young children.

Iraq, where an estimated 2.8 million people have had to flee their homes in recent years (1), is a case in point.

Deprived of traditional sources of income, many displaced women are forced to defy social expectations, and adopt a new role as the family breadwinner, in order to earn money and put food on the table – through whatever means possible, including manual labour.

The situation is especially serious in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, where displaced women such as Marie (2), a 22-year-old rape victim, fight to overcome hardship and despair.

In addition to the trauma she suffered, Marie was rejected by her community.

Nevertheless, with help from the ICRC, she managed to start her own small business and take care of her three children independently.

“Far too often, women are victims of horrific violence and cruelty in times of war,” said Ms Puechguirbal.

“But this is not the whole story.

Many women also show remarkable grit and determination in coping with their problems, and build new lives for themselves and their families.”


See also:

The displacement of populations is one of the gravest consequences of today’s armed conflicts. It affects women in a host of ways. But far from being helpless victims, women are resourceful, resilient and courageous in the face of hardship. Nadine Puechguirbal, the ICRC adviser on women and war explains.

Iraqi women look to lift voice in March 7 polls

One face of Iraq’s upcoming election is candidate Salama al-Khafaji, who hands out campaign leaflets providing voters a guide to Muslim prayer times and who wears a solemn black cloak that covers everything but her face.

The other is Masoun al-Damalouji, who smiles down with bleached blond hair and wearing western-style clothes from campaign posters plastered across Baghdad.

These two women represent the competing trends dominating Iraqi society since 2003, when Saddam Hussein’s mostly secular regime was toppled and Shi’ite Islamist parties rose to power.

The role of women in the lead-up to the March 7 polls — and the roles they will attain in the next government — are a barometer of the direction Iraq is heading as it struggles to end violence and create stability ahead of a U.S. withdrawal.

“I believe in freedoms and rights, but within Iraqi tradition,” said Khafaji, one of 1,800 women candidates seeking office less than a decade after Washington established what it hoped would become an inclusive Middle Eastern democracy.

Damalouji, an architect who is running with the secular Iraqiya list, makes no overt reference to religion on her campaign website. “We should keep religion and politics separate,” she said.

Many Iraqis are dismayed by the rise since Saddam’s ouster in 2003 of Islamist parties that they blame for fuelling sectarian violence and failing to deliver services.

Against the tide of conservatism, those Iraqis long for the days when Baghdad was one of the region’s most laissez-faire capitals and women in miniskirts strolled riverside parks.

In Iraq, women were educated as doctors in the 1930s and the first woman minister was named shortly after the monarchy ended in the late 1950s.

Others see domination by parties representing Iraq’s Shi’ite majority, many of whom embrace more conservative traditions, as only right.

Iraq’s next parliament will have at least 82 female members — but only, most would argue, because the constitution drafted under U.S. influence in 2005 guarantees them a quarter of seats.

Today, women head less influential committees in parliament and ministries without big cabinet clout, and women politicians complain they are shut out from the inner circle of power.

Safia al-Suhail, a secularist running with Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki, said political leaders talked about rights but tend to promote only those women who do a party’s bidding.

“This is one of the things we are still missing,” she said.

According to Hanaa Edwar, of women’s rights organization al-Amal, female candidates in previous post-2003 elections did not show their faces on campaign posters out of fear of Islamist assailants. They pictured their husbands instead.

That is one sign of the toll seven years of war have taken on Iraqi women, who have often borne the brunt of conflict. In southern Basra, slain bodies of women who Shi’ite militants saw as insufficiently “Islamic” were once dumped on the street.

In Baghdad, Sunni Islamist al Qaeda in some areas, and Shi’ite militias in others, forced women to don headscarves and stop driving cars at the height of the violence two years ago.

Khafaji, a devoute Shi’ite who stumbled into politics when a female politician was killed in 2003, has joined a religious Shi’ite alliance challenging Maliki, who also has Islamist roots, as he seeks a second term on a law-and-order platform.

Both groups have bent over backwards to hone a new, nationalist image that is likely to play better with Iraqis fed up with ruling parties’ failure to deliver.

It worked for Maliki, of the Islamic Dawa party, in local polls in 2009. But many Iraqis suspect the change is skin deep.

Some female candidates may go along with party positions that are unfavourable for women, such as a move to give male religious clerics greater power than civil courts over divorce, inheritance and child custody.

“We have a lot to do,” said Edwar, the activist.

Girls in Swat District, northwestern Pakistan, have gone back to school, and most women who had been prevented from working have returned to work, but people are still fearful.

According to the government’s National Commission on the Status of Women, there were 1,000-1,200 women factory workers in Mingora before the Taliban takeover in 2009. It is unknown how many have returned to work.

Tens of thousands of civilians were displaced from Swat in the spring and summer of 2009 due to intense fighting between government forces and Taliban militants. Most returned after the army regained control in July. (See Swat timeline)

A deep sense of trauma exists in many places. Since November 2009, the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) has set up 10 welfare centres, known as “Friend’s House” to offer support and counselling to those affected by conflict.

There are also reports from Swat that state action against militants is continuing, adding to the tension.

“We have credible reports of arbitrary detentions, including female relatives of militants,” Asma Jahangir, chairperson of the autonomous Human Rights Commission of Pakistan, told IRIN.

Meanwhile, Sardar Hussain Babak, education minister for the North West Frontier Province (NWFP), has told the media in Peshawar that since December 2009 there has been a 1 percent increase in female enrolment. This is a significant development in a part of the country where, according to official figures, the literacy rate for women stands at below 23 percent.

School infrastructure, however, is “in ruins”, according to Ibrash Pasha, an activist with the NGO Khwendo Kor, which works for the education of girls.

Part of a longer article at

Palestinian women have been forced to find work to prevent family destitution at the same time as protecting masculine self esteem to preserve family harmony. These are the findings of a report by CARE International, The World Bank and the Women’s Studies Institute (WSI) at Birzeit University.

Economic collapse (the West Bank and Gaza has moved from being a middle income economy to one that is now massively aid dependent in the span of a decade) has systematically undermined men’s traditional role as the primary provider and protector of the family. Women, ill-equipped by training, experience, or expectation, are having to become breadwinners, in addition to their traditional roles, by searching for jobs in the formal sector (public sector and services), delaying their exit from the public sector (traditionally women would have left their jobs after marriage), producing food and other goods, selling or bartering food coupons, borrowing from neighbours, and volunteering with charitable organisations.

However women also have to negotiate the effect their new role of provider has on men. With men of all ages experiencing the daily fear and humiliation that stem from violence, conflict and unemployment, they retreat, depressed and emasculated. Women, eager to preserve tranquillity at home, have to tread carefully in a terrain of disrupted gender roles.

A woman in Jenin City said: “I have to think carefully about how I manage myself and what I say. For example, I can’t just come home and give him the money I earn. This would make him angry and depressed. He would feel like a failure for not being able to earn it himself. Instead, I leave it on the TV. I don’t want him to feel he is not the man of the house.”

Martha Myers, Head of CARE International in the West Bank and Gaza said: “Palestinian women are finding ways to cope with the poverty and conflict they find their families facing but their strategies represent a double blow. First, they are assuming extra burdens, work, and responsibilities. Second, they have to manage this in the context of traditional roles and perceptions and the men in their lives who are increasingly isolated and frustrated by their inability to provide and care. The hardships of Palestinian women will only be reversed with the lifting of Israel’s economic restrictions”.

The report states that only sustained lifting of economic restrictions by Israel will reverse negative trends, but recommends that the Palestinian Authority can take specific action in the immediate term by:
* Enabling employment for women that is perceived as “dignified”, especially through improvement of public transport regulation and enforcement of labour law.
* Supporting and expanding opportunities for youth employment.
* Facilitating social cohesion, especially in Area C and others isolated by movement and access restrictions.
* Collecting better data on gender-disaggregated economic participation.

Checkpoints and Barriers: Searching for Livelihoods in the West Bank and Gaza—Gender Dimensions of Economic Collapse” can be downloaded from

Sixteen years after the Rwandan genocide, many women are struggling to come to terms with the violence they endured.

According to the association of genocide widows NGO, Avega Agahozo, sexual violence was used to humiliate, degrade and abuse women during the 6 April to 16 July 1994 killings. In many cases, the violence was meted out before, during or after the women had witnessed the killing of a relative.

“Some of the women are only coming out now because they are sick,” said Sabine Uwase, the head of advocacy, justice and information for Avega. “We also receive special cases suffering from cancer or with damaged sexual organs.”

Avega has turned into a refuge for some of these women. Founded in 1995 by 58 widows, it now has three branches and 25,000 members. More than 47,400 women are receiving medical treatment through its programmes.

Each day, 20 to 30 women come knocking on its doors. Asked why it took some of the women so long to seek help, Uwase said: “Many of the women were ashamed to come out. We had to counsel them first. Many of them were victims of rape and are traumatized.”

One study carried out by the organization in Rwanda’s 12 provinces found that in a sample of 1,125 widows, about 80 percent showed signs of trauma and 67 percent had HIV. The study was limited by inadequate resources.

Apart from healthcare, Avega provided legal services for widows who wished to testify against those accused of genocide in the traditional gacaca courts.

The 12,103 courts, which were started in 2001 and modelled on Rwanda’s traditional justice mechanisms, are being wound up after handling more than a million cases. At least 800,000 perpetrators have been convicted nationwide.

However, human rights organizations have criticized the gacaca courts, saying they did not provide adequate legal services to suspects, were plagued by unfairness and have been used to settle scores.

Government officials strongly deny the criticism, saying 94 percent of Rwandans believe in the courts. The process, they argue, has promoted reconciliation and reunited communities.

“Previously, the widows were unwilling to testify,” Uwase told IRIN on 8 February. “We have trained 419 trainers of trainers who go back to the villages to teach others how to testify. In Kigali, we have helped testimony in 150 cases. Now, we are also teaching the widows and orphans about land law.”

Avega also built 919 houses for widows and orphans between 2007 and 2008, and tackles gender-based violence. Over the years, it has encouraged the women to engage in income-generating activities, such as basket-weaving. The baskets are sold internationally and help to supplement the US$60 monthly government grant provided by the Assistance Fund for Genocide Survivors.

Genocide widows form a significant percentage of survivors because the genocidaires targeted mainly men and boys. Data compiled by the genocide survivors fund shows that between 250,000 and 500,000 women were raped during the 100 days of violence in which 800,000 to one million Tutsis and moderate Hutus died.

While some women were gang-raped, others were violated with sharpened objects, resulting in extensive damage to their reproductive systems.

Up to 20,000 children were born from rape. Across the country, there are 10 times more widows than widowers among the 300,000-400,000 survivors.

Some 100,000 survivors are categorized as vulnerable, including 40,000 who lack shelter. There are also 75,000 orphans.

According to Avega, the widows and orphans who survived the genocide bear the burden of the atrocities committed. Having witnessed or suffered extreme violence, many of them have a very negative attitude towards life.

“Many of the women still find it difficult to talk about their experiences,” a Kigali-based journalist said. “They are haunted by [the genocide].”

UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon on Sunday said he intended to make Sweden’s Margot Wallstrom his special representative tasked with combating sexual violence against women and children in conflicts.

Ban announced he wanted to appoint the 55-year-old outgoing vice-president of the European Commission during a speech at the opening of the African Union’s 14th summit in Addis Ababa.

“I have informed the UNSC of my intention to appoint Margot Wallstrom, vice-president of the European Commission, as my special representative to intensify efforts to end sexual violence against women and children in conflict situations,” he said.

“We will continue efforts to end the conflicts in the east (of the Democratic Republic of Congo), restore state authority, facilitate the return of refugees, and protect civilians against all forms of violence including sexual violence,” Ban said.

“I’m horrified and outraged by the use of rape as a weapon of war,” he said.

The Swedish diplomat said Sunday she would lobby for sexual violence in war to be recognised as a war crime, attacking what she said was a tendency to explain the abuse of women as “cultural.”

“I say this is not cultural, it is criminal. It is a crime under international law and it is also a war crime,” she told Swedish public radio.

The long-running conflicts in Somalia, Sudan and the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) — where abuses against women and children are rife — are expected to top the agenda of the AU summit, which winds up on Tuesday.

The United Nation sounded the alarm in November over systematic rape by warring parties in the DRC, where some 5,000 conflict-linked rapes were reported in Sud-Kivu alone for the first half of 2009.

The testimonies of women who survived sexual violence during post-election conflict in 2008 should be heard, say advocates. The magnitude of the crimes committed against women because of their gender must be recorded and prosecuted to prevent such violence from occurring again.

“We have realised there is no political intention to ensure the perpetrators of gender-based and sexual violence are brought to book, says Patricia Nyaundi, executive director of the Federation of Women Lawyers Kenya (Fida).

In presenting its findings, the Waki Commission of Inquiry into the Post-Election Violence described rapes committed against women, children and some men; carried out by gangs of thugs, by neighbours and by the security forces. The Commission states that the evidence it collected represented a tiny fraction of the full extent of gender-based violence — just 31 women came forward with testimony of this nature.

A single facility, the Gender Violence Recovery Centre at the Nairobi Women’s Hospital, reported attending to over 650 cases of sexual violence during the chaos. Anecdotal evidence suggests thousands of other women across the country survived similar violence.

FIDA is one of a group of organisations working to document gender-based and sexual violence in the aftermath of 2007 General Election as well as during other conflicts that have rocked Kenya, such as the Mount Elgon conflict where armed militia for months terrorised residents over land disputes.

“By documenting these testimonies, we are taking this opportunity to give women who underwent horrific ordeals a chance to tell their stories, to create historical evidence that this actually happened.

“This kind of evidence will force this country to move from denial and accept what happened during that period,” says Nyaundi.

“Violence against women has been systematic and entrenched in our society, but the post-election period saw an unprecedented number of women subjected to widespread sexual violence,” says Rosemary Okello.

“Many women were sexually assaulted, gang raped or sodomised. Many of these acts of sexual violence occurred in the presence of the women’s spouses, children or parents causing trauma, humiliation and stress suffered by the survivors and their families.”

Okello is executive director of another partner in the documentary project, the African Woman and Child Feature Service (AWCFS), which promotes diversity, gender equity, social justice and development in Africa through media, training and research. Also participating are the NGOs Centre for Rights Education and Awareness and Women Fighting Against Aids in Kenya.

The documentation project is supported by the Urgent Action Fund (UAF-Africa), which has wide experience working in the Democratic Republic of Congo, Northern and North Eastern Uganda, Liberia and Zimbabwe, providing rapid response grants to women and human rights organisations.

“Women survivors become guiltier than the perpetrators of the violence,” says UAF executive director Jessica Nkuuhe.

“The women fear to share what they have been through because they are afraid of stigma and being deserted by their families, especially their spouses. They thus shut down and unfortunately this ordeal eats at their very existence, giving rise to depression and eventually some lose the will to live and die miserable.”

Nkuuhe says the documentary project is an off-shoot of similar endeavours in northern and northeastern Uganda, Liberia and Zimbabwe through which survivors of sexual and gender-based violence have been able to share their experiences with each other.

“We brought together survivors of sexual violence to a conference. Before that most of these women had kept their experiences silent. When they met other women who had been through similar horrific ordeals, they were able to open up and share. Sharing their stories provides an avenue for the survivors to seek help to heal after such a traumatising ordeal,” Nkuuhe says.

Kenyan member of parliament Millie Odhiambo says unless women speak out, sexual offences committed in times of conflict will go unpunished.

As Kenya takes account of what happened in 2008 and prosecutes perpetrators, the gender-based violence dimension must be brought into focus.

“As a country, we were not prepared for the level of gender-based and sexual violence that was witnessed. By documenting this, it shall provide a basis for our government to develop policies on preparedness to handle such scenarios. The evidence will also act as shock therapy for Kenya and we shall never forget what happened to these survivors,” Odhiambo says.

Judy Waguma of AWCFS says despite the existence of legislation such as the Sexual Offences Act, there has been minimal prosecution of sexual offences during the post-election chaos.

“During situations of crisis — as evidenced by the post-election violence —the government response to sexual violence is very limited, and it is usually the civil society organisations that have to step in to design and implement responses. Therefore there is a marked lack of access to justice for survivors of sexual violence.”

Odhiambo says the project to document testimonies comes at an opportune time, ahead of the entry of International Criminal Court investigators who will carry out a fact-finding mission on Kenya’s post-election violence, after the government failed to act on findings and recommendations of the Waki Commission.

ICC prosecutor Luis Moreno-Ocampo will be gathering evidence for prosecutions of those “most responsible” for the violence. The documentation project should be an important part of making sure responsibility for gender-based crimes is not neglected.

In the lead-up to the 28 January London Conference on Afghanistan hosted by the UK Government, Afghan women human rights defenders said strong, specific recommendations on security, development and governance priorities for their country. These recommendations provide the only concrete input from consultation with Afghan women into the key decisions affecting the future of their country that will be set in London by international actors.

Deeply concerned about the exclusion of Afghan women’s perspectives from the dialogue surrounding the London Conference, the statement issued today by the women activists comes as a result of broad-based consultations with Afghan women civil society leaders at the Dubai Women’s Dialogue and London Dialogue over the last week, involving the Afghan Women’s Network and supported by the United Nations Development Fund for Women (UNIFEM) and the Institute for Inclusive Security.

“As the global community knows, nowhere are women’s human rights more at stake than in Afghanistan. Therefore it is of grave concern that women’s voices and perspectives are largely missing from this London conference on Afghanistan’s future. The international community should stand behind the women of Afghanistan and elevate their voices, not barter away their rights in the name of short-term peace and stabilization,” said Wazma Frogh, Afghan Gender and Development Specialist.

Women’s participation in and perspectives on security solutions for Afghanistan are of particular relevance given the way that their rights and freedoms have been a focus of some of the conflict in the country. “Besides the high levels of violence experienced by ordinary women and girls, there has been a very high rate of deadly attacks on women human rights defenders and women in prominent public roles. This makes the determination of the women who have travelled to London to share their concerns and proposals all the more inspiring, and the international community needs to hear what they have to say,” said Anne Marie Goetz, Chief Advisor, Governance Peace and Security for UNIFEM.

The status of Afghan women continues to be one of the worst in the world with 87 percent of them facing domestic abuse. They are also systematically neglected as key partners for conflict resolution, peacebuilding and recovery. “Afghan women have the most to gain from peace and the most to lose from any form of reconciliation compromising women’s human rights. There cannot be national security without women’s security, there can be no peace when women’s lives are fraught with violence, when our children can’t go to schools, when we cannot step on the streets for fear of acid attacks,” said Mary Akrami, Director of the Afghan Women Skills Development Centre.

Pointedly reminding international donors and the national government that women’s participation is critical for sustainable peace, and that women can spearhead efforts to moderate extremism, the advocates demanded that women be included in all security and development processes, including any negotiations and reconciliation programmes involving warlords, the Taliban, and other insurgents. “Women are the single, greatest under-utilized resource in efforts to return stability and prosperity to Afghanistan. Peacebuilding efforts cannot be fully effective when they ignore the expertise, insights, and ideas of half the population,” according to Carla Koppells, Director of the Institute for Inclusive Security. Adds Orzala Ashraf, independent women’s rights activist: “Short-term deals with insurgents will not deliver long-term stability if there aren’t guarantees of women’s rights. In the end women’s well-being i s the test of real security and stabilization.”

From the London Conference, the advocates hope to see a clear plan that will provide greater clarity of direction and priorities for the new Afghan administration as well as the inclusion of gender concerns, and a renewed commitment to implement existing commitments to Afghan women. Their specific recommendations include:

Ensuring women’s representation in peace processes. Consistent with constitutional guarantees for women’s representation, women must comprise at least 25 percent of any peace process, including any proposed upcoming peace jirgas. They must be represented in any national and local security policy-making forums, such as the Afghan President’s National Security Council.

Guaranteeing that reconciliation protects women’s rights. The government and international community must secure and monitor women’s rights in all reconciliation initiatives so that the status of women is not bargained away in any short-term effort to achieve stability.

Implementing gender-responsive security policy. All efforts to enhance security in Afghanistan must better serve women.

See also: Afghan Civil Society Fears Taliban Talks Will Compromise Rights

Other African Governments Should Act to Hold Perpetrators Accountable

Members and supporters of President Robert Mugabe’s ZANU-PF party committed widespread, systematic rape in 2008 to terrorize the political opposition, said AIDS-Free World in “Electing to Rape: Sexual Terror in Mugabe’s Zimbabwe,” a report released today. These crimes against humanity have received little public attention and the government has made no effort to hold the perpetrators accountable. A concerted regional effort is needed urgently to bring both high- and low-level perpetrators to justice.

The 64-page report is based on extensive interviews with 72 survivors and witnesses, and documents 380 rapes committed by 241 perpetrators across Zimbabwe’s ten provinces. ZANU-PF supporters who carried out the attacks, including members of the “youth militia” and former soldiers in Zimbabwe’s war of liberation known as “war veterans,” identified themselves to their victims. All the women targeted were supporters of Morgan Tsvangirai’s opposition party, the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC).

“The evidence is incontrovertible: Mugabe believes he can sanction rape without fear of consequences. Zimbabwe is perhaps the greatest test for ending impunity,” said Stephen Lewis, co-director of AIDS-Free World.

The testimony demonstrates that the rape campaign waged by ZANU-PF in Zimbabwe was both widespread and systematic, with recurring patterns throughout that cannot be coincidental. For example, the striking similarity of rhetoric about MDC political activity made before and during the violence; the uniform physical and emotional brutality of the rapes; the specific types of beatings and weapons on common parts of the body; the modes of detention and locations of the rapes; the circumstances and concurrent crimes as part of the broader attacks; and the consistent refusal of police to investigate and refer these cases for prosecution, taken together, demonstrate a systematic, organized campaign. It is also exacerbating an HIV/AIDS crisis in a country where, according to statistics updated by the UN two weeks ago, eighteen percent of adults are infected with HIV. Rape helps to spread the virus farther and faster.

“ZANU-PF orchestrated its campaign of rape to terrorize, and destabilize entire communities,” said Paula Donovan, co-director of AIDS-Free World. “Clearly, the tactic worked: Mugabe is still president.” Some women were forced to watch the rape of their daughters and murder of their husbands and other family members before or after they were raped. Several women were held as sexual slaves at ZANU-PF base camps for up to two weeks.

All the women who testified described either their fear of reporting their rapes, or the indifference they encountered from the police. They consistently ascribed the lack of police action to the close, well-known association between the local and national police and ZANU-PF.

The government of Zimbabwe was well aware of the widespread sexual violence against women during this period. The Joint Operations Command (JOC), the supreme organ of Zimbabwe state security including the heads of the military, police, intelligence services, prisons, and reserve bank was responsible for masterminding the election violence. As the head of the government and the leader of the political party in power, Robert Mugabe had the ability to control both the JOC and his ZANU-PF supporters and failed to do so. Similarly, as the head of the government, President Mugabe could have insisted on addressing the rape campaign through prosecutions and the rule of the law. He did not. This combination of knowledge, the refusal to prevent, and the failure to punish the widespread political rape requires that Robert Mugabe and members of the JOC should be investigated and prosecuted for their individual criminal liability for the rapes.

The report asserts that in Zimbabwe, both the police and the legal infrastructure are so seriously compromised as to make justice for systematic rape inside the country impossible. The majority of public prosecutors, magistrates, and judges are well known for their connections to ZANU-PF, making independent criminal prosecutions against ZANU-PF supporters unlikely. Zimbabwe’s domestic rape law requires that victims overcome insurmountable hurdles, and to risk the very real possibility of reprisals from authorities. And under Zimbabwe law, rape cannot be prosecuted as a concerted campaign, ordered from on high and executed on the ground.

“Electing to Rape” recognizes the severe limitations on legal accountability within Zimbabwe, and therefore looks at a number of compelling alternative routes to justice that exist in the region. High-level commanders could be tried in the courts of other African countries under the principle of universal jurisdiction. South Africa, in particular, has a universal jurisdiction statute implementing the Rome Statute, the international treaty governing the International Criminal Court. If it so decided, South Africa could try perpetrators of serious international crimes should they enter the country. The Southern African Development Community (SADC) has its own tribunal as well as other tools – including sanctions and suspension – that it could use to censure Zimbabwe. The African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights could also hear complaints of human rights abuses, and the African Union could take action against Zimbabwe to express its disapproval.

AIDS-Free World contends that the international community has a crucial role to play. The Office of the Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court (ICC) should conduct a preliminary examination of sexual crimes against humanity in Zimbabwe in 2008 with the possibility of opening an investigation into the situation in Zimbabwe. The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights should conduct an independent investigation that would culminate in a public report presented at the Human Rights Council.

Zimbabwean human rights activist Elinor Sisulu, who spoke at the Johannesburg launch of the report today, underscored the report’s focus on shared responsibility, “The African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights obligates countries in our region to protect the lives and security of women and girls,” she said. “If victims cannot be sure that it’s safe to come forward, they will not be able to testify about the crimes they have endured. Accountability is the key to preventing the next round of rapes in Zimbabwe, and there can be no accountability without the active participation of victims.”

To download the report or to read it online go to

See also: Zimbabwe still has a long way to go in achieving universal access to reproductive health with almost half of women in rural areas failing to access family planning methods.

Women peace activists alone share hope for peace

In a joint conference with Itach – Women Lawyers for Social Justice, the International Women’s Commission (IWC) presents a report that provides worrisome insights into Israeli women’s positions on peace and the Israeli – Palestinian conflict.

“Women Confronting Peace – Voices from Israel” is the result of a three-year project, during which the IWC held 13 public hearings to document the voices of women of different backgrounds. The report was presented on December 3, at a conference entitled, “Women, Peace and Political Negotiations – The Voice Unheard“. Women from the Palestinian National Authority, the United Nations and Israel will share their opinions on the pervasive militaristic discourse that shapes the positions of many Israeli women.

The IWC has come to an unsettling conclusion: “Despite the fact that Jewish women are interested in meeting with Palestinian women, they perceive them as less maternal and unconcerned about their children’s safety.” The Commission also finds that “the exclusion of women’s perspectives from the security discourse that dominates Israeli-Palestinian relations prevents the development of an alternative feminist discourse.”

The International Women’s Commission brings together Palestinian, Israeli and international women dedicated to an end of the Israeli occupation and a just peace based on international law [including relevant UN resolutions], human rights and equality. The IWC aims to address the Israeli-Palestinian conflict through immediate final status negotiations leading to a viable, sovereign Palestinian state alongside the state of Israel on the June 4, 1967, borders. The IWC works for an ongoing and comprehensive reconciliation in order to realize a mutually secure and sustainable peace and co-existence.

One very interesting conclusion of the report reveals that women’s involvement in peace activism increases their commitment to ending the conflict through a feminist framework. These same women activists expressed their frustration at the inability to meet and connect with Palestinian women working for peace because of developments since the Second Intifada. .

“Jewish women in Israel are emotionally trapped inside the militaristic security discourse led by the Israeli political leadership. On the other hand, they are certain this discourse cannot bring peace” says Nourit Hajjaj, IWC member, and a co-writer of the report “Women Confronting Peace”.

The IWC highlights that fact that “for the first time in Israel, women’s voices are being heard, as mothers, citizens and activists; providing a forum of discussion on ways to bring these voices into the ongoing discourse on the conflict and its effect on their lives. Extensive international efforts by IWC aim at settling the conflict not only on the political level, but also through initiating opportunities for renewed hope in peace amidst an Israeli public trapped in a cycle of despair.”

Alongside these worrisome conclusions, the conference addressed the IWC’s appeal for increased representation of women’s viewpoints in political negotiations. This initiative is backed by UN Security Council Resolution 1325, which demands greater representation for women in all spheres and stages of decision-making processes, especially those aiming to prevent, manage and resolve conflicts.

After fleeing abuse at Fort Campbell, a lesbian now living in Canada is hoping for asylum on the unusual grounds of anti-homosexual persecution within the U.S. military. Her case could affect other claims by asylum seekers from democracies.

For months, Pvt. Bethany Smith silently endured taunts and physical abuse from her fellow soldiers at Fort Campbell, Ky., for being a lesbian. But when she received an anonymous note one day with a threat against her life, Smith decided she had to get out of the Army.

More than 12,000 service members have lost their jobs because of the U.S. military’s so-called “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy. A disproportionate number of those discharges are women, according to 2008 statistics gathered by the Washington-based Servicemembers Legal Defense Network from the government under the Freedom of Information Act.

With the help of an acquaintance, Smith abandoned Fort Campbell and drove for two straight days to Canada, where she hoped to seek asylum. She crossed the border on Sept. 11, 2007.

More than two years later, Smith, now 21, is fighting to stay in Ottawa, where she works for a call center.

Her efforts to obtain refugee status were boosted in November when a Canadian federal court judge decided her case should be reconsidered by the country’s refugee board, which had earlier rejected her claim.

Smith assumes she would face a court martial for desertion in the United States and possibly further charges for having same-sex relations. She also believes that a court martial would consist of her peers, who would likely share the same views about her sexual orientation as her tormentors.

Smith’s case, believed to be a first, is based on anti-homosexual persecution within the U.S. military, says Liew, rather than on a reluctance to serve overseas, as has been the case for a multitude of other U.S. soldiers who have fled to Canada to avoid serving in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Even so, the court’s decision in Smith’s favor could have far-reaching implications for other refugee claimants, Liew said.

“One of the most important things that came out of this case is that every case should be looked at individually and on its own merits and facts,” she said.

Canada has been reluctant to offer asylum to U.S. soldiers avoiding war in Iraq and Afghanistan, though it had welcomed defectors during the Vietnam War. In 2008, Jeremy Hinzman, the first U.S. Army deserter to seek asylum in the country, was ordered to be deported after the Federal Court of Appeal decided he would not face serious punishment upon his return.

Under the U.S. military’s “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy, which has been officially followed since 1993, gay and lesbian individuals are allowed to serve in the military as long as they do not engage in homosexual conduct.

Federal Court Justice Yves de Montigny, however, noted this policy had mixed results in quelling anti-homosexual discrimination. He pointed out that a soldier, Pvt. Barry Winchell, who was believed to be gay, had been beaten to death in 1999 at the same base where Smith was posted.

He also noted that the military code still makes it an offense to have sexual relations with a person of the same sex.

In his decision, de Montigny wrote that Smith “provided evidence that she was afraid that her superiors may have been involved in the harassment and threats targeted at her.”

The judge also said her case aligned with evidence indicating that U.S. military commanders are too often complacent and sometimes even actively abusive toward gays and lesbians.

He said Smith offered evidence that the military is not discharging as many gay and lesbian personnel as it did before 2001 due to the need for more soldiers in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

De Montigny disputed the refugee board’s earlier findings that Smith had not presented “clear and convincing” proof of the inability of the United States to protect her and had not proved she faced “a risk to her life or risk of cruel and unusual treatment or punishment upon return to the United States.”

In its earlier ruling, the board had also concluded that the acts of harassment and intimidation and written threats did not constitute persecution in this particular case, according to court documents.

Liew said she and her client will now go back to the refugee board for another hearing, but did not know when.

Extracts from a longer article at