Thoughts on International Women's Day

I would like to acknowledge this day with both smiles and tears because our struggle for women's rights has been a long game of snakes and ladders. We see courage among individual women who have tried not to give up and keep moving forward against all odds. That probably is one thing we can be very proud of.

The sad part is that the society that we wanted to change has become more rigid, more conservative, and more humiliating for women than it was ever before. Women have been marched naked in the streets of our country, gang raped and murdered in the name of honour or righteousness but regular citizens wish not to be bothered. Are these signs of a dead society or we have moved to medieval times where people have decided that woman's place is very low in any case so why get ourselves into trouble by protesting these inhuman acts?

When the decision of International Women's Day was taken in 1910 in Copenhagen, the purpose was to acknowledge women's movements and struggles for their rights. I wonder what I should celebrate today. Movements and struggles are made up of common people. But I wonder if the common people are pained by what is happening to the women of this country. Do people only scream when their own body hurts? Do they not feel the pain of the bruising of collective spirit of a society?

I have been working on issues of sexual harassment at the work place intensely for many years. Many women approach me with their individual problems and ask me in frustration why such a common and painful problem is not dealt with in our society as a whole. I always say, it is because each woman wants to resolve her own problem, but does not want to work collectively to solve the larger problem.
So, even those who have been burnt in this fire fail to put in the time and effort needed to resolve this problem once and for all. I think this failure to take collective action is why such problems persist.

I invite all women and men concerned about the future of our society to join the movement. I invite them to join not only to try to look for solutions for their own problems but help each other to attack the social roots of the larger problem collectively. However, as our economy has improved, our movements and struggles on women's issues have really dwindled.

People usually expect social organizations to be available to help resolve their personal problems, but most do not turn around and help the collective struggle to deal with the larger issues. The recent spate of violence directed against active women, including rape of Union Councilors and the murder of Zile Huma has produced no outpouring of anger from our society.  This has greatly depressed me.  Tomorrow I am opening PTV's live transmission for International Women's Day. I will try to gather my strength and be more cheerful. We cannot afford to loose hope.

Fouzia Saeed is a member of Mehegarh, a Global Fund grantee in Pakistan.
 

Iranian Women Activists Arrested

We just received  an announcement from  the Women's  Learning Partnership, a Global Fund grantee organization representing organizations in the Global South, particuarly Muslim majority countries.

Thirty-four of our colleagues and partners in the Iranian women's movement were arrested on Sunday, March 4 outside of Tehran's Revolutionary Court.They were staging a peaceful protest against the increasing government pressure on civil society activists and, in particular, the trial of five women activists charged with "endangering national security, agitating against the government, and taking part in illegal gatherings" because they had organized a peaceful protest for women's rights on June 12, 2006. Four of them who were present at the trial were arrested with the demonstrators as they were leaving the court.

There are varying reports of police violence at the protest. One woman said that the police tried to intimidate the activists, using obscene words and insulting gestures. The thirty-four women leaders were detained in Eshratabad Prison for ten hours before being transferred to Section 209 of Evin Prison. Eight of the youngest detainees were released without charges on March 6. The detention occurred just ahead of the planned gathering in front of the Parliament on March 8, in honor of International Women's Day.

In August 2006, Iranian women's rights activists launched the "One Million Signatures" campaign to demand an end to discriminatory laws against women. Please support the campaign by going to our website at http://www.learningpartnership.org/advocacy/alerts/iranmillionsigns0207.

 

Muadi Mukenge on KPFA

Last night on Pacifica Radio's KPFA, Walter Turner, host of Africa Today, interviewed the Global Fund's Muadi Mukenge on our grantmaking in Africa. Muadi, program officer for Africa, just returned from the Democratic Republic of Congo, Kenya and Tanzania and discusses her trip.

Listen to the interview.

 

Muadi Mukenge on KPFA

Muadi Mukenge, Program Officer for Sub-Saharan Africa, speaks with Africa Today's Walter Turner, about her recent trip to the Democratic Republic of Congo. You can listen to the interview here.

 

Colombia's Displaced Women and Girls

We just received this interview from our sister foundation, Association for Women's Rights in Development. Patricia Guerrero is an advisor to the Global Fund in Colombia, and works with the League of Displaced Women.

By Rochelle Jones

Translated from the Spanish by Lina Gomez and Fernanda Hopenhaym, with assistance from Anna Turley.

AWID: Colombia has one of the largest internally displaced populations in the world. Tell us about the work of Liga de Mujeres Desplazadas, and particularly about the reasons behind the displacement of women and children in Colombia's Atlantic Coast region.

Patricia Guerrero: The Liga de Mujeres Desplazadas (LMD) is a grassroots organization made up of over 200 women of different ethnicities and their families. They are displaced women from different regions of the country such as the Department of Bolivar, Antioquia, los Santanderes, Choco and Guajira.  These women have been displaced as a result of Colombia's longstanding internal conflict, which has been going on for more than 40 years. They have been displaced by all the groups involved in the war: paramilitary forces, guerilla groups and by the state itself. This displacement has worsened in the last 10 years due to territorial disputes between illegal armed groups fighting for control over land.

Women, girls and boys are most affected by this phenomenon. Over 54% of the internally displaced are widows and female heads of households.  Women have been victims of serious war crimes particularly gender-based violence such as sexual slavery, forced prostitution, forced abortions, forced recruitment and rape. These crimes have been perpetrated against some of the women of our organization. Moreover, since its foundation in 1997, the LMD has been the target of several assaults that go from murder, forced disappearance, kidnappings, and robbery to persecutions and death threats against the organization's leaders and their families.

The LMD's main project is the Centro Comunitario en la Ciudad de las Mujeres (Women's City Community Center), the home of over 500 people.Some of the activities that the LMD is developing through the Women's City project include: a women's cooperative called "MujerCoop", a line of credit and a shelter that is used as a day care facility for over 100 children. Women from this project also work on re-location issues directly with the municipal authorities and advocate for the implementation of public policies that protect women's rights and internally displaced people's rights.

Additionally, this project works on accountability issues, and also conducts participatory action-research in order to unveil the lack of funding for women's rights restitution initiatives. As a result of this work, the LMD has made complaints against the mayor to the Public Ministry and consequently, he is being investigated for negligence and fiscal obstruction.            

The Women's City has been the only social housing project for displaced people in the region in the last three years, which highlights the incompetence of the government as compared with the power of women organizing.

As a consequence of the social and armed conflict, the Atlantic Coast is one of the regions that has been most affected by forced displacement. Among the armed groups present in this area there is the FARC, the ELN and various paramilitary fronts. The Caribbean region is one of the country's richest in cattle farming, land and natural resources such as charcoal. It is also one of the least developed regions with high poverty levels and very poor living conditions. Additionally, this region has a high incidence of drug trafficking and wealth is concentrated among a few families. These families have been historically linked to both the local and regional power structure and to the so-called "para-politics" -politicians involved with the paramilitaries and narco-trafficking activities. The Caribbean region is also highly affected by corruption at all levels. A large number of massacres have taken place in this region where mass graves with hundreds of bodies - assassinated by the paramilitaries in the last 10 years - have been found.

AWID: In January, the Women's City Community Centre in Turbaco was the target of an arson attack and destroyed. What happened?

PG: The LMD's main project, Centro Comunitario en la Ciudad de las Mujeres (Women's City Community Centre), was set on fire on the night of January 20th.  Criminals started the fire while the women were asleep in their homes. This center was going to be used as a school facility for 144 girls and boys from the organization and neighboring communities.    

AWID: Why is the League being threatened and by whom, and what is it that makes your work such a threat?

PG: We believe there are many reasons why we are being threatened. Firstly, we are being threatened because we are trying to restore the social fabric of the region based on the principles of equality, no discrimination, no violence, no corruption and we stand against everything else that is detrimental to the population in the region. Historically, corrupt politicians have used death threats to frighten and intimidate community leaders.

Secondly, some of the League's displaced women witnessed crimes perpetrated by paramilitary members that are currently being prosecuted. Thirdly, the process of paramilitary disarmament, demobilization and reintegration that is being implemented in Colombia is rather atypical because it is taking place in the middle of the conflict. The paramilitary demobilization is not being properly monitored by the local authorities. It has been proven that demobilized paramilitary groups are taking advantage of unclear amnesty laws to return to their criminal activities and are continuing to persecute social and community leaders. Two women leaders that have witnessed crimes perpetrated by the paramilitary were assassinated within the last two weeks in Colombia. 

AWID: What has happened since the fire, and what is the government doing in response?

PG: The typical response from the local authorities is to militarize the'City of Women', to create "security fronts". We have strongly refused to be part of these 'security fronts' as we want to be identified solely as civil society actors. Women's security is not about having a police officer or a soldier at our side. We want human security that implies the restitution of our human rights, that justice is done, that the facts are investigated, that there are public policies for women, investment in the community, education for our children, health, and the possibility to live a life with dignity and without fear.

AWID: How have other organizations responded to this incident?

PG: With solidarity. Social organizations and women's organizations have demonstrated a lot of solidarity with us. Some women from the Colombian
Congress have written to us and are demanding a response from the authorities. The UNHCR, European Union, the US embassy and the Canadian embassy have also shown solidarity with us. A Security Council has been set up to address this issue, but so far none of those responsible for this crime have been detained.

Women's organizations in particular, have shown great solidarity. AWID, through Lydia Alpizar, has been very attentive to my security and my family's. The Urgent Action for Women has also offered its support. The Global Fund for Women, for which I'm an advisor, has sent a letter to the Colombian president demanding security and a response to this case.

I have felt really surrounded by women. It has always been like this, and I thank them with all my heart. I could never have done what I've done without women's solidarity and love.

AWID: I know that UNHCR has been working to address the internal displacement of people in Colombia, but this latest incident seems to be an escalation of the violence. How can the international community help?

PG: UNHCR has made an international statement about the case of the Displaced Women's League. They have expressed their concern and have demanded protection by the Colombian Government. In addition they have declared 2007 as the year for the rights of the displaced population in Colombia.

A new law that is currently passing through Congress will declare 2007 as the year of the displaced population with the aim of calling attention to this critical problem in Colombia - more than 4 million people are displaced. We are meeting with the congresswoman who is driving this law. She wants to understand our point of view. The UN radio station has also interviewed us, which was an opportunity to once again place the subject of women's rights violations in Colombia on the agenda.

The European Union has committed to the reconstruction of the Community
Center and we are working hard to be able to rebuild it as soon as possible. At the same time, the US Democratic Senator Patrick Leahy has made a strong statement against the attack on the Displaced Women's League, in the Los Angeles Times.

AWID: How do you stay strong, Patricia? What keeps you going?

PG: I've been fighting for women's rights in Colombia for over 20 years.
First, I did it for the women in the flower industry who face serious problems. I worked with imprisoned women whose rights were violated - they were not allowed to have their children with them nor conjugal visits. As a human rights lawyer, I was the first woman judge in Colombia to speak out about the possibility of rape inside marriage. I advocated for the decriminalization of abortion before the Constitutional Court and I did it from the perspective of women who had been raped during the armed conflict in order to outline their right to restitution.

Currently I am advocating against government actions that impede investigation into the crime of forced displacement before the State Council. I have done research into impunity in the case of displaced women and into gender based violence. I founded the Displaced Women's League nine years ago and in 2005 we were nominated for the national peace award. Recently we received an honorable mention for the II King of Spain award for Human Rights. I also have three daughters.

As you see, I'm very busy, and it's the women and my conviction that we have less and less time to take the world from the hands of the violent, the exploiters and the criminals against humanity, that gives me the strength to continue my struggle.

For more information, visit the League of Displaced Women.

 
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