Grantee on Kosovo Independence

News from The Women in Black Network and the Kosovo Women's Network,  Global Fund grantees:

In a blatant attempt to intimidate advocates of a peaceful solution to the Serbia-Kosovo conflict, a leading Serbian nationalist newspaper has called for the prosecution of the Women's Peace Coalition, a joint initiative of women activists, for advocating for the independence of Kosovo.

A leading article last Sunday in the tabloid paper Kurir, titled simply "Prison," argued that the Serbian Constitution proscribes up to 15 years in jail for anyone calling for the break-up of Serbia. The paper urged the prosecutor's office to open proceedings against the Serbian organization, The Women in Black Network, one of the two partners in the Coalition.A statement yesterday from the Coalition accused the paper of intimidation and stated that the Kurir journalist was likely "acting on instructions from those power centers, which want to further destabilize the Balkans and further alienate Serbia (from Europe)."

The Kosova Women's Network (KWN) and The Women in Black Network (Serbia) launched the Women's Peace Coalition in March 2006 to monitor the joint Serbia-Kosovo negotiations on Kosovo's future status from the perspective of women and to reject the "divisions of ethnicity and religion, as well as state borders and barriers."

The Coalition has been active on both sides of the troubled frontier since Martti Ahtisaari, the UN's Special Representative on Kosovo, proposed that Kosovo be awarded limited independence, under continued international supervision.

A recent statement from The Women in Black Network insisted that the political future of Serbia and Kosovo must rest on human rights rather than nationalism, even if this results in Kosovo's independence. The Coalition followed this up with an open letter last week that called for Kosovar women to be included in talks on the future status of Kosovo and in the drafting of any new constitution for Kosovo.

Both partners in the Peace Coalition understand that their position will be unpopular with nationalist sentiment on both sides of the frontier. Public opinion in Kosovo has been strongly in favor of outright independence for Kosovo, and on February 10 two ethnic Albanians died after being shot with rubber bullets by UN police during a major protest against Mr. Ahtisaari's plan.

On the other side, in Serbia, the Kurir article appears to indicate that Serbian nationalists will use the right-wing press to go after anyone who speaks out in favor of political moderation, and of rights rather than extremism.

Global Fund on KGO TV

Last night San Francisco's KGO TV aired a feature on the Global Fund for Women. You can watch it on their website.

Iraqi Politics Exploit Women's Sufferings

Iraqi society was shocked with an unprecedented issue of a woman stepping forward voluntarily and admitting to have been sexually assaulted by Iraqi Security Forces. Instead of pursuing further investigation into this assault allegation, or empowering the victim with moral support, the opponent Islamist sectarian factions competed to exploit the matter politically preparing the ground for bloody sectarian conflict. They symbolized Sabrine's rape as an assault against the whole "Sunni religious group."

Meanwhile, the heads of Shia Islamist parties -- who are the top officials in the government -- immediately scorned and disbelieved the victim and rewarded the accused rapists. Moreover, they indulged in raising moral suspicions about the victim's reputation. All of this was publicized before knowing for sure that the assault did not take place, as the reports were contradictory and it is impossible in the first place to cancel out the possibility of a rape by clinical check ups. This matter has revealed a misogynist tendency where most spokesmen started to scorn and discredit the victim, wishing that no woman should ever dare to speak out the details of her sexual humiliation. On the contrary, a few of these male-chauvinist reports declared clearly that they preferred that she ends her life or live a lifetime of pain and misery without even thinking of punishment for her rapists.This kind of assault was repeated again in the northern city of Tal Aafar, where Wajida Muhamad Amin was group-raped by security forces. In this case, it was not possible to deny or discredit the victim as there were witnesses.

Raping Iraqi women by the police force is not an unbelievable or a new matter. The Organization for Women's Freedom in Iraq has located six confirmed cases of women raped by police, inside and outside detainment centers. The youngest of these raped females is 14 year old. OWFI activists have raised reports of these cases to the officials in the Ministry of Interior and the presidency of ministries and no answer has arrived so far.

The matter to be questioned at this point is not whether these assaults happened or not, neither about Sabrine's credibility. The rapes take place daily under the chaotic situations resulting from the occupation. The occupation authorities handed over the power to uncivilized forces which have no respect for women's rights and dignity. On the contrary, they have promoted sectarian hatred to be applied in tribal barbaric ways where women of the other clan are "sexual hostages" to be exploited, while the women of their own clan are "valuables to be protected". In all cases, these uncensored forces will always regard women as property of the clan and a tool of political vengeance, but never an independent human worthy of respect.

Who protects Iraqi women in these barbaric situations? And who will guarantee their dignity, their privacy, and right to a decent future?

Women of Iraq cannot live securely under the occupation and the government of ethnic and sectarian division which has no respect for human and women's rights. The only hope lies in the people's strive to create the other alternative which liberates all from the repression of the religious, sectarian, and ethnic parties. Our alternative of freedom and equality is the only guarantee to ending gender inequality and all kinds of social discrimination.

Yanar Mohammed is the president of Organization of Women's Freedom in Iraq, a Global Fund grantee.


Visiting Nicaragua and Costa Rica

Sorry if you have not heard from us lately, we have been jumping from meeting to meeting on our trip to Nicaragua and Costa Rica without having the time to sit and write part of our experiences.

These past days have been a life changing experience for us, not just because we have been able get to know our grantees and their work more deeply, but also because we better understand the circumstances under which they are working. During this week, we have been very fortunate to meet with very diverse groups, from Caribbean indigenous groups in Bilwi, Nicaragua, to very sophisticated feminist groups in San Jose, Costa Rica.

On Monday and Tuesday, our grantees convened to share experiences at the Sexual and Reproductive Rights in Latin America and the Caribbean meeting. Twenty-eight women representing 11 countries attended. During the first day, we focused on exchanging and evaluating the impact of the work carried out by the organizations.

The morning of the second day, we focused the discussions on the issue of sustainability and financial resources for women. Our grantees analyzed the difficulties in getting funding to develop their activities and discussed strategies to ensure sustainability. In this session, we invited our sister, the Central American Women's Fund, as well as UNFPA and UNIFEM representatives in Nicaragua. We also had the opportunity to discuss recommendations to develop more strategic grantmaking in the issue of sexual and reproductive rights and health.

After the meeting, we traveled to Bilwi (Puerto Cabezas) at the north Atlantic region in Nicaragua, home of our board member Myrna Cunningham. Myrna organized a meeting with more than 45 women and men representing Indigenous and Afro-Nicaraguans women's groups, scholars, autonomous government's representatives, students, and researchers. The meeting focused on the issue of gender violence against women, as this is one of the most serious concerns in this region of the country.

On Thursday, we went back to Managua and visited more grantees and partners.

We arrived to Costa Rica last Friday, since then we have been meeting with grantees. On Saturday, we had a meeting with 17 women's groups and organizations. Costa Rica is also a very diverse country, with different indigenous, afro-descendant groups, immigrants -- mainly from Nicaragua and Colombia - and a very large European community. It's also a country of contrasts, with no army but with a deep social and economic polarization. Women's groups are working with very limited resources, trying to advance women's rights in a country where an unfair "Free Trade Agreement" is the government's priority.

We visited a grantee, Mujeres por la Salud y el Desarrollo, in San Ramon, approximately one and a half hours from the capital. The group is working to prevent violence against women, giving psychological, social and legal services to survivors of violence. The group also provides skill training to ensure women's economic independence. During the last year, the group participated in the social mobilization against the free trade agreement with the U.S. and the neo-liberal economic model imposed by the Arias' government. They understand the relation between violence against women and a lack of economic opportunity. They also know that this economic model is perpetuating women's subjugation. This group has been surviving with some income-generating activities, and has developed catering services and handcraft workshops.

That's all for now, I just wanted to share some of our experiences here before we return to San Francisco.

Erika Guevara Rosas is the program officer for the Americas.


Have You Been to In Her Shoes Yet?

Need plans for the weekend? Do you live in Palo Alto, California? Have you been to In Her Shoes yet?

This shoe store in Palo Alto has some of the most whimsical, varied, practical and fun shoes you will ever find. Flats, dressy to super casual, comfy, boots and rain boots, high and low heals, colors, sparkles make the selection incredible. There are also purses, handbags, tights, belts, scarves and jewelry to round out any outfit. Prices start at under $30, but there are some more upscale brands.

in_her_shoesAlso, while you are visiting In Her Shoes take a break and get a pedicure.

However, what makes this shoe store really unusual is that the owner, Pamela Rosekrans is donating all the profits to the Global Fund for Women. I volunteer at the store on Wednesdays, but you can come in any day from 10 a.m. until 6 p.m. except Sunday, when the store opens at noon. Call 650-326-9611 and you can schedule a pedicure, and through March bring a friend for free. Please do comment since Yelp already has 8 reviews, 7 with 5 stars. 

In Her Shoes
644 Emerson Street
(Between Hamilton and Forest)
Palo Alto, CA
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