Rebuilding Communities

forum_web2In June 2010, longstanding tension between Kyrgyz and Uzbeks erupted into violence in southern Kyrgyzstan, resulting in more than 470 deaths, the displacement of hundreds of thousands of people over the span of a few days, and the rape and sexual assault of women and girls. With a government slow to react, the leadership of our grantee partners was critical for the safety of women and girls.

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Grantee partner Forum of Women’s NGOs of Kyrgyzstan called an emergency meeting of women’s groups from around the country, and facilitated the development of a comprehensive six-month peace building process. By empowering Kyrgyz and Uzbek women to lead hundreds in their communities through a series of 27 meetings, they fostered dialogue that has helped quell further ethnic violence and created realistic peace building strategies.

El Agartuu, another Kyrgyz grantee partner, coordinated emergency, long-term psychological, and medical support for dozens of women and children who experienced, or witnessed violence, including group therapy and individual consultations through five-day retreats. Anonymous interviews with more than 30 women and children were conducted during the retreats, and their experiences will be published in Russian, Kyrgyz and English to raise awareness about the effects of conflict on women and girls, and to promote their agency in the recovery process.

 

Breaking the Silence

actoras_webTogether, they broke their silence. One-by-one, 25 female survivors of rape, forced abortion and other forms of violence in the context of war testified before the Guatemalan National Reparation Program. They came to reveal the truth, seek justice and most importantly, to heal.

For almost three decades, sexual violence against poor, illiterate and indigenous Mayan women was used as a war tactic by the Guatemalan military. Women and girls who survived reported depression, anxiety, nightmares, low self-esteem, cognitive impairment and substance abuse.

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Determined to promote healing, Global Fund grantee partner, Colectiva Actoras de Cambio, trains experts in psychotherapy to help survivors of sexual and reproductive violence. The collective gathers women in small, local groups to tell their stories. Through the eyes, words and experiences of Mayan rape survivors, they recover painful memories in hopes of reestablishing a life free of guilt, shame and other emotions that typically torment survivors of sexual violence.

Research shows that the ongoing psychosocial support provided by Actors de Cambio influences women’s sense of dignity and self-confidence. So much so, that they are now able to demand justice from the Guatemalan courts and the Inter-American Court of Human Rights.

 

Challenging Military, Safeguarding Women

guahan_web1In 2006, the U.S. and Japan agreed to transfer 8,000 U.S. marines and their families from Okinawa to Guam, also known as Guahan to the native Chamoru people. “Not so fast!” challenged the Chamoru women of the Guahan Coalition for Peace and Justice. The infusion of U.S. marines, their families and contractors would “double the existing military presence on the island and eclipse the Chamoru population” of Guam’s 170,000, says Guahan Coalition member Lisa Natividad.

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Natividad and Guahan women leaders are opposing US militarism in a place where it is very powerful, as it offers one of the few employment options on the island. Undeterred, their campaign ‘8000: How Will It Change Our Lives’ challenges the official rationale that the military is there to protect women. It raises questions about how the military base threatens the island’s natural environment and traditional forms of Chamoru livelihoods and culture, and increases the insecurity of its women and girls.

Recognizing that their struggle against the expansion of U.S. military bases isn’t theirs alone, the Guahan Coalition has become an active member in the International Women’s Network Against Militarism, joining women’s groups from across the Asia Pacific and Puerto Rico. In 2009, the Coalition hosted the Network’s seventh international meeting where women’s groups shared how military build up impacted women’s security and strategized on forms of advocacy against these bases.

 

Driving the Revolution

chechnya_webWomen driving cars is not a common sight in Chechnya. Grantee partner, Women’s Dignity, challenged this gender prejudice by organizing a campaign to help women to learn how to drive. Fifty-six women received driving lessons, access to automobiles and with the group’s help, obtained their licenses. Because of the group's campaign, the number of women-drivers in the Republic has noticeably increased.

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The driving campaign is one of a few strategies that Women’s Dignity uses to promote and advance the rights of women. Two Chechen wars in the past 15 years left many women widows and children orphans. Many are still experiencing psychological trauma and are financially dependent on their extended families. Women are subject to bride kidnapping and forced marriages, often into multi-wife families. Sometimes they are denied their inheritance, and experience physical, psychological and sexual abuse. Women’s Dignity responded with psychological services and group trainings on healthy living and family planning to over 1,400 women.

Women’s Dignity also organizes seminars about civil rights for Chechen youth. They lobby for laws against women’s rights violations, and provide legal counseling and education. And to help women get jobs, the group offers computer and sewing courses.

 

Electing change

bwa_webRates of violence against women have increased all over Iraq. In Baghdad, women face daily violence from occupation forces and insurgents. Tribal leadership and fundamentalist groups make it extremely difficult for women to step outside their homes without a veil, let alone go to school or seek employment.

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But, the Baghdad Women’s Association (BWA) is determined to change their society. They opened “decision-making centers” where women discuss electoral campaigns and the democratic process. These centers and other BWA services, led to a monumental win: Two women who went through BWA’s training at these centers were elected to the Baghdad Provincial Council, where less than 20 percent of the members are women.

Additionally, in a recent peace building and conflict resolution training series, BWA trained 163 youth leaders, men and women, on how to discuss tolerance and conflict resolution. The group also uses media and direct services, like counseling centers, to empower community members to shift the status quo.

 
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