As millions rose up last year demanding justice, women were on the frontlines and behind the headlines pushing to advance human rights. Global Fund for Women celebrates International Women’s Day with ten victories won by our grantee partners in 2011. From securing bodily rights to transforming how justice is delivered to rape survivors, women are indeed ushering in peace and justice for us all.
UN Recognizes Human Rights of LGBTI People
Last June, the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community won a major milestone in a long struggle for equality and justice. In a 23 to 19 vote, the UN Human Rights Council adopted the first ever resolution to explicitly recognize and protect the human rights of LGBTI people, affirming LGBTI rights are indeed human rights. More »
The resolution was introduced by South Africa, which is significant since more than two- thirds of African countries criminalize consensual same-sex acts. Today, these relations are outlawed in 76 countries; five issue the death penalty. Discrimination and hostility is so severe that LGBTI people live in fear and hiding, like prominent Ugandan activist David Kato who was brutally murdered in his home in January 2011.
The real drivers behind the resolution were the South African Human Rights Commission and LGBTI and women’s organizations, such as the South Africa-based Coalition of African Lesbians who worked closely with South African officials.
While not legally binding, the resolution sets in motion concrete steps, such as a UN report to document violations of the rights of LGBTI people. Released last December, the report urges countries to de-criminalize homosexuality, abolish the death penalty for consensual sexual relations, and enact comprehensive anti-discrimination laws.
Now that the groundwork has been laid, activists must work at the national level to influence and hold states accountable for ending deep-seated discrimination of people on the basis of their sexual orientation or gender identity.
A Feminist Women’s Court for Peace and Justice
After a decade of planning, seven women’s groups from five Balkan countries officially launched the Women’s Court Initiative for the former Yugoslavia. This groundbreaking effort aims to seek justice for thousands of women survivors of violence, many of whom have cases still unresolved from the region's wars 20 years ago.More »
Despite precedent-setting convictions in an international court and prosecution through domestic legal systems, injustices from the past, including war rape, have not been adequately addressed. Furthermore, deep fissures remain among the former Yugoslavian countries, keeping the region extremely volatile. Instead, women’s groups working across ethnic, religious and national lines—Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia, Kosovo, Montenegro and Serbia—have come together to empower women and their communities to define and realize justice and peace on their own terms.
“Women paid the highest price of war and violence, and proved to be the force that strongly influenced changes,” reads the inaugurating statement. “The Women’s Court [will] be the space where voices of women and their testimonies are heard and where their contributions to peace and justice are recognized.”
Led by Belgrade-based Women in Black, public proceedings are set to begin in 2013. Women will testify about their experience during and after war, and their vision for addressing gender and structural violence and individual and community healing. These testimonies will then be disseminated to the region’s legal systems. The Women’s Court represents a seminal moment in history because of its potential to redefine how international bodies deal with gender justice and reconciliation.
Uruguay on the Cusp of Legalizing Abortion
On December 28, 2011, Uruguay took a giant step towards reproductive justice when its Senate voted to decriminalize abortion in the first twelve weeks of pregnancy. A similar bill was passed in 2008, but was vetoed by the former president. This time, President Jose Mujica says he will sign the bill into law.More »
If signed, Uruguay will join Cuba, Puerto Rico and Mexico City as the only places in Latin America and the Caribbean where a woman can legally obtain an abortion without restriction in her first trimester.
This legislation is the result of a decade of tireless advocacy by two Uruguayan women’s organizations—Mujer y Salud Uruguay and Mujer Ahora—that, after one of their members died from an unsafe abortion, made reproductive rights a national issue. They used a variety of strategies, such as bringing international reproductive justice experts to educate key legislators, influencing public opinion on abortion through media campaigns, and developing courses for healthcare professionals.
Every year in Uruguay, an estimated 30,000 unsafe abortions are performed. In most Latin American countries, a woman can only have access to an abortion if she was raped, her life is endangered, or the fetus is severely deformed. Even in these dire circumstances, women still have difficulty accessing safe abortion services.
This decision could influence legislation in neighboring countries such as Argentina and Brazil, where Global Fund grantee partners are leading efforts to ensure access to safe, legal, and free abortion.
Gender Equality Cemented into Moroccan Constitution
On July 1, after months of massive protests in major Moroccan cities, 98.49 percent of Moroccans voted in favor of Constitutional reforms to strengthen Moroccan democracy, including cementing into law women’s equality to men. More »
Fueled by the revolutionary spirit sweeping the Arab world, the Moroccan women’s movement, led by the Association Démocratique des Femmes du Maroc and La Ligue Democratique pour les Droits des Femmes, presented reform measures to strengthen women’s rights under the Constitution.
The new Constitution prohibits all forms of discrimination, explicitly including gender. Articles 19 and 164 emphasize the need to uphold human rights conventions that Morocco is a signatory to, thereby guaranteeing equal social, economic, political, environmental and civil rights between men and women. “The Constitution is the supreme law, the source of all other laws,” Fouzia Assouli of La Ligue Democratique pour les Droits Femmes explains. “If equality is inscribed in it, it will open the way for equality in economic, social, civil and cultural rights.”
While the rights of women in Morocco have been improving since 2000 due to the organizing of Moroccan women’s associations, human rights organizations and feminist groups, the Constitutional reforms guarantee that these rights are protected and enforced. The 2011 reforms reflect the influence and power the women’s movement has gained in Morocco.
Justice Served in the Congo
In a watershed ruling, last February a military court in the Democratic Republic of Congo sentenced Colonel Kibibi Mutware, three officers, and five soldiers to 20 years in prison for a mass rape of some 60 women, along with men and children, in Fizi on New Year’s Day 2011. More »
It is the first conviction ever of a commanding officer for committing sexual violence against civilians in eastern Congo, where armed factions have long used sexual violence as a tool to control and destabilize communities, even committing rape near UN facilities.
Urgent Action Fund-Africa (UAF-A) and several Congolese women’s groups worked behind the scenes to make this ruling happen. They warned the Congolese Army that African women across the continent were closely watching the military and would hold them accountable. The groups prepared the women rape survivors to testify and established a commission of women to lobby authorities to replace the brigade responsible for the crimes.
During the hearings, survivors testified that they had been gang-raped. Witnesses reported that soldiers broke down doors and went house-to-house until morning, and soldiers admitted they had been ordered to rape.
Although the Congolese Parliament passed a law in 2006 punishing sexual violence, it is rarely implemented. This ruling represents a major shift in the Democratic Republic of Congo, and sends a strong message that wearing a uniform no longer provides impunity for sexual violence.
Sri Lankan Women Workers Fight Back space
In May 2011, over 40,000 garment workers, mostly women, walked out of their factories in the Katunayake Free Trade Zone (FTZ) to protest a wage-cutting pension bill introduced by the Sri Lankan Parliament in order to obtain a $2.6 billion IMF loan. More »
The bill mandated workers pay into a pension, which they could only obtain after working 10 continuous years. Those who quit earlier would only get 15 percent of the amount deducted from their salaries. The overwhelming majority of workers are young women migrants from rural villages, working on average for five years in the FTZs, earning about $70 every month.
During the walkout, police closed the gates of the FTZ, locked in the workers, and opened fire on peaceful protestors. “They assaulted the workers with batons and iron rods, injuring about 1,000 mostly women workers,” wrote a member of the Dabindu Collective (meaning ‘drops of sweat’), whose members were at the forefront of these protests. During the violent clash, Roshen Chanaka, a 22-year old worker, was killed.
The Dabindu Collective organized a broad coalition to protest the bill and police brutality, and raise emergency relief funds for injured workers. In a stunning defeat, the bill was retracted and the police chief resigned.
Such a mass mobilization of workers shutting down production is unprecedented in the 32 years since the FTZ was established and marks a turning point in Sri Lanka’s struggle for workers’ rights.
Egyptian Court Bans Virginity Tests
Egyptian women won a significant victory last December when a civilian court ordered the army to stop conducting virginity tests on women prisoners. More »
On March 9, 2011, during its violent sweep of protestors from Tahrir Square, Egyptian army officials arrested and detained 18 women activists. While under custody, the women were beaten, electrocuted and subjected to strip searches and “virginity tests” by male soldiers in front of crowds of onlookers. One army general justified the tests as a way to “protect” the army against possible rape allegations, and “prove that they weren’t virgins in the first place.”
Upon being released, most women kept silent fearing alienation by Egypt’s conservative society against women survivors of sexual violence. One woman, however, refused to be silenced. Samira Ibrahim filed the lawsuit against the army, and she won.
“I’ve begun to secure my own rights and those of other women protestors, especially those who have been abused by the military,” explained Samira.
Samira was represented and supported by three leading Egyptian women’s rights groups—Nadim Center, Nazra for Feminist Studies, and the New Woman Foundation—who gathered testimonies from hundreds of female detainees and gave them desperately needed emotional and psychological support.
“My message to the women of Egypt is take to the streets and don’t be afraid,” says Samira. And they did just that. On December 20, approximately 10,000 women marched to condemn military violence against peaceful protestors and to demonstrate their power and will to keep fighting.
Breaking the Silence on Rape in Pakistan
In Pakistan, where rape cases are largely unreported and sensationalized by the media, a courageous survivor of rape, Mukhtaran Mai, and a women’s rights organization are sparking a national debate on how media and society talk about rape. While the media’s reporting is important, photos of the survivor are sometimes published, and stories often leave out critical information about the rapist and the crime. More »
In April 2011, a Supreme Court ruling acquitted five of six men charged in the 2002 case of a village council-sanctioned gang rape of Mukhtaran. Despite this disappointment, Mukhtaran has become an inspiration for Pakistani women in refusing to remain silent and pursuing justice.
Around the time of the ruling, the Uks Research, Resource, and Publication Center on Women and Media in Pakistan released a ground-breaking report entitled, Covering Crime: How Pakistani Media Reports on Rape Cases. The pioneering report was widely circulated throughout Pakistan, and covered by national media.
Uks Director, Tasneem Ahmar, appeared on the nation’s most watched political talk show, Witness with Quatrina, to discuss how media plays a critical role in attitudes towards sexual violence. The popular anchorwoman Quatrina Hossain agreed, saying, “Women’s issues are not women’s issues only; they are men’s as well… Rape is a crime of violence, power and abuse... We will talk bluntly and openly.”
According to Sarah Zaman of War Against Rape in Karachi, the Uks report “came at a critical time” to re-focus the nation’s attention on justice for survivors like Mukhtaran.
Women’s Human Rights Central to Peace
In 2011, the Nobel Committee awarded their Peace Prize to two Liberian women—peace activist Leymah Gbowee and President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf—and Yemeni pro-democracy activist, Tawakkul Karman, all of whom are connected with Global Fund grantee partners. More »
At great risk to their lives, Leymah and Women Peace and Security Network Africa mobilized Liberian women across ethnic and religious lines to bring an end to the long war in Liberia. “It would have been impossible for us to achieve what we achieved in Liberia had it not been for the fact that we had support both financially and morally from our sisters at Global Fund for Women,” said Leymah.
Women Journalists Without Chains, established in part by Tawakkul, trains and educates female journalists to agitate for press freedoms. Their weekly sit-ins to demand the release of political prisoners is credited with playing a central role in Yemen’s democratic uprisings.
In the Nobel Peace Prize’s 110-year history, most of the recipients have been men. The Nobel Committee’s decision is a welcome change and confirms what Global Fund for Women has known for decades: women’s leadership and women’s human rights are vital to realizing peace.
We celebrate and congratulate our sisters, the 2011 Nobel Peace Prize laureates!
European Women Win Domestic Violence Treaty
After decades of advocacy by women’s groups, the Council of Europe adopted the groundbreaking Convention on Preventing and Combating Violence Against Women and Domestic Violence. More »
The region’s first legally binding treaty on domestic violence is the most comprehensive legal document on violence against women in the world. It is also the first international legally binding document that protects women from forced marriage and female genital mutilation and lesbian, bisexual and trans women from violence. The Convention needs ratification by 10 out of 47 member states to come into force.
The Convention criminalizes multiple forms of violence—including sexual, physical and psychological—and outlines concrete measures governments must undertake in times of peace and in conflict to prevent violence, protect and support survivors, and prosecute perpetrators.
Governments will be required to address gaps in national domestic violence legislation, monitor police conduct, and establish shelters, national helplines, and counseling services. And to ensure compliance, an international body of experts will monitor each country’s implementation.
European women’s rights organizations provided substantial expertise and recommendations on the treaty and lobbied for its passage. Women Against Violence Europe (WAVE-Network) played a key role in coordinating leading women’s organizations and helping to negotiate and draft the treaty. The Convention provides a major boost to women’s groups in their work to hold governments accountable to end violence against women.