Outer Voices

Earlier this week one of our staff members excitedly reported that she had heard a report on NPR about one of our grantee groups, the Cambodia Women’s Crisis Center. It turns out that the program was produced by a local media organization called Outer Voices, and organization focusing on sharing the voices of women activists in the Pacific Islands and Asian Pacific Rim.

The piece on Cambodia Women’s Crisis Center dicusses the problem of sex trafficking and shares the stories of girls who have been sold into brothels. To listen to the feature visit Outer Voices.

 

Zeina Zaatari in the Khaleej Times

"Several countries in the Middle East have signed international treaties on human rights protection, including women's rights. However, unfortunately, most of these agreements had remained on papers and have not been really implemented," Zeina Zaatari, Program Officer for the Middle East and North Africa told the Khaleej Times. Read the whole article about our recent trip to the United Arab Emirates.

 

Bringing Women into Cambodian Politics

Thank you for your very inspiring International Women's Day message from Nepal. What a gathering. Your message reminds me of the days when I was part of the grassroots women for change and the beginning of the women's movement in Cambodia.

We celebrated here with many speeches and many promises made for women.

As we are in the middle of our election campaign, my party president and I met with hundreds of women workers and we celebrated the gains made for our workers, but we do realize how much farther we have to walk in this struggle and fight to protect women workers in Cambodia.

I am very proud to share with you all that my party came as number one for fielding the most women for the upcoming commune elections. We placed our female candidates on the first positions of the party lists -- which guarantees them a sure win.

We raised over US$20,000 dollars which enable us to provide women extra money to run their own campaigns. We all know that female candidates are often left behind because there is that problem with money.

Our candidates have been involved in debates throughout the country, organized by the National Democratic Party and funded by the USAID. It is all about rural issues and the debates are so passionate. Our party sent one of the youngest speakers, age 24, and she was the best. She spoke from the heart and her age is actually an advantage to her. I coached her the night before and gave her a few tips on how to handle anxiety. I told her that I am also scared when speaking in front of so many people who might ask you questions that you have no answers to.

Then it came to my turn to debate with top women from other parties. I think I came as the winner as I also spoke from the heart, addressing the issues and paying tribute to women, rather than using my party line to make promises to women voters.

My party came out first also because we made history by having a woman as Secretary-General. I serve this position, being aware that my first priority is to bring women up in politics and to change politics for women.

Happy (belated) Women's Day to all!

Mu Sochua is on the board of the Global Fund for women. She is the chairperson of the Peace & Development Institute and the former minister of women's and veterans' affairs of Cambodia, She is the founder and former director of Khemara, the first local organization for women in Cambodia. She is the recipient of the 2005 Vital Voices Annual Leadership Award.
 

Update from Kuwait

Warm greetings from Kuwait

I hope all is well and Happy International Women's Day. By the time you get this, our day would probably be over here and we get ready to leave to Dubai on Friday morning.

We have learned a lot and met with some amazing women.  It has been challenging I have to say on multiple levels that I will probably talk about at the report back when at the office.

Kuwaiti women are known to be very strong and powerful. They are overall highly educated, many have studied in the US or the UK but usually all return to Kuwait.  We have met with older activists and old organizations, the Women Cultural and Social Society was established in 1964, and with younger ones.  However, youth participation is not very strong. Although we did hear from professors at the university that many young women were involved with women campaigns in the past elections.

What is on everyone's mind here is the political right that they have finally acquired a year ago. The past election was an emergency one because the government fell and so women had little over a month to campaign. We met with two women that had run for elections.  In total 30 women ran for office and they gained tremendous experience even though none had won.  They are though very determined to organize training programs on running an election campaign and also explaining the ins and outs of the political process in Kuwait. Some are already planning to run again for office.

Even though on the surface, we all hear about the wealth in this country, yet there are multiple layers to the society that we have learned about and witnessed.  There is a large marginalized population of the bidun, a group without a Kuwaiti citizenship. There are different levels of citizenship as well.

In honor of International Women's Day, we attended two events. One organized by the Women Cultural and Social Society, was a lecture at the society's center on the political process and the internal dynamics of the parliament, as one in a series of lectures to provide training on how to engage within Kuwaiti political structure. Another event was organized by the Alumni Association (a mixed group that also organizes several programs on women and is generally engaged with the civic and political affairs in the country). The event was a musical night of traditional Kuwaiti songs. The band was made up of all men. However, the one woman played the
qanun (a traditional Arabic string instrument), which is not a very common phenomena.  Both meetings were attended by men and women of all sectors.

We will have pictures to share when we come back.

Zeina Zaatari is the Global Fund's program officer for the Middle East and North Africa.

 

Celebration in Nepal

Warm Greetings for International Women's Day from Nepal!

We are excited to share with you the energy, hope and inspiration we found marching with about 300 women as part of the 10th anniversary celebration of Tewa, the Women's Fund of Nepal.

Women from every part of Nepal were marching with us - young girls with t-shirts and jeans, Muslim women with headscarves and banners calling for full equality, blind women walking in a loving chain of sisters, women with other physical disabilities keeping pace and waving to the passing drivers who stared at this brightly coloured collection of smiling faces and banners in Hindi, English, and Nepali. Men marched with us as well, the sons and sons-in-law of Tewa activists, sexual minority activists, and other fellow feminist male allies. Their presence gave us hope and drew interest from passers by. And, international activists threw our lot in with the Tewa march - women from the Czech Republic and South Africa, from the United States and Australia, from India and China. We were together marching for change, remembering our sisters around the globe and pledging to continue our struggle for justice and peace.

We began under the magnificent wooden windows of the ancient palaces in old Kathmandu and marched through the city until we assembled in an open park. Speeches by young lesbian activists were followed by slogans from peasant women's associations and international guests. I was up there on the podium, speaking in Hindi, which many Nepalis understand much better than English!  Around us standing with brightly colored banners stood the many grantee groups of Tewa Nepal, who had braved 14-hour road journeys, barricades, strikes, and security challenges just in order to get to Kathmandu.

Despite all the amazing energy of the morning's activities, nothing could prepare us for the joy of arriving at Tewa's new site. The endowment that Tewa raised was invested in land and buildings to ensure its long-term continuity and sustainability. But, how could we have known how absolutely breathtaking and gorgeous the setting would be. Situated on a hill outside Kathmandu proper and surrounded by emerald and mustard terraced fields in the foreground and towering Himalayas in the background, TEWA's new surroundings are in total concert with its highest aspirations for a philanthropy of inclusivity, justice, and respect. Every detail shows love, from the Tewa motif on the curtains, to the rooms honoring special members of the Tewa family, to the earthenware rubbish bins and environmentally conscious materials used in the design of the space. The young architect who designed the buildings in the TEWA complex (there is a shopping arcade, a recreational facility, an open air auditorium, and an office building) has blended the most gracious aspects of traditional Nepali architecture with the clean lines of modern minimalism and created a gem that sits in its space as though it were always meant to be there. I only wish more buildings in the developing world could demonstrate such strong rootedness in their own traditions and less shallow mimicry of the worst that the West has to offer.

Yet, as one of the speakers at Tewa's celebration said wisely, "the buildings are nothing except a reflection of the way TEWA treats and values people". People are at the heart of Tewa as they always have been - the rural, often illiterate grantee reprentatives sitting in colorful traditional costumes side by side with Nepali businessmen who are proud donors to TEWA, the cheerful smiling volunteers of Tewa, housewives and mothers who cook, drive, do the books, clean up, run the store, and a myriad other tasks. All of them make Tewa what it is - a true model that enables us to see what a living culture of giving can look like even in one of the poorest conflict stricken countries in the world. Indeed, these beautiful buildings emerged even as Tewa volunteers staffed hospitals in Kathmandu serving the many innocent people who were injured in clashes during the protests for democracy.

Speaker after speaker also spoke to pay tribute to Rita Thapa, a Tewa founder, a true leader, and a living inspiration to us all. And, then there was music and dance - wonderful celebrations that engaged and involved us all. The multi colored balloons that we sent up into the air with Tewa prayer flags attached to them! The gifts made to honor all Tewa staff who have served for five years or more. The smiles on the faces of the construction workers as they received awards from Tewa. The laughter and shouts of the children from the local community all through the ceremony in delight as they tore around the playground. Rita's daughters and son with tears in their eyes as they listened to the tributes paid to her in public. Rita's two year old grand-daughter Amodini rushing onto the stage into her grandmother's waiting arms.

It was a great day to feel part of a movement for change. I send you all that energy and that strength and that resilience. Think of what our work has helped the women of Nepal to accomplish. Think of one of the poorest nations in the world that has built a space for women where they don't just hold up half the sky - they spread their wings and fly.

With love and all good wishes for International Women's Day.

Kavita

Kavita Ramdas is the president and CEO of the Global Fund for Women.

 
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