Campaigns in the Movement for Women’s Rights and Gender Equality: 16 Days of Activism

by Savi Bisnath, Trinidad & USA

Question:  Shouldn’t activism to end gender-based violence be about more than 16 days? 

Answer: A valid question and one that is easy to answer: yes, and it is. 

Those of us working to bring an end to gender-based violence (GBV) are engaged throughout the year in advocacy, resistance and direct actions at the local, national, regional and international levels for its achievement. For us the annual 16 Days of Activism Against Gender-based Violence Campaign from 25 November to 10 December is intended to do so several things, including shine the spotlight on the causes and consequences of GBV, and remobilize efforts for its end. For many it is also a moment to reflect, reenergize, conduct actions in solidarity with and in support of activists in different countries, celebrate, mourn the loss of feminist activists, and feel part of a larger movement for women’s rights and gender equality.

The 16 days of the Campaign allows the Center for Women’s Global Leadership (CWGL) and partners around the world to bring attention to, and encourage greater participation in, actions to end GBV. In the recent past CWGL sought to highlight the under explored issue of militarism and its role in perpetuating gender based violence, and in particular violence against women.  Previous campaign themes have included a focus on women’s human rights defenders (WHRDs) and sexual and reproductive health and rights (SRHR). Important aspects of the Campaign’s DNA is its ownership by all activists and the organic space within which they are able to give voice to those messages that are both context specific and reflect their vision for a world free of violence. The campaign is a marker in the continuing struggle to end gender-based violence. As such, it is an important piece of the contemporary movement for the realization of women’s rights and gender equality. This is in part further reinforced by the recognition that violence against women is a human rights violation. 

The 16 Days of Activism Against Gender-based Violence Campaign is a campaign that is part of a larger movement for the realization of human rights. Human rights movements often use campaigns to further goals, for example the anti apartheid movement in South Africa promoted the divestment campaign while the civil rights movement in the United States conducted the Montgomery bus boycott campaign. Similarly, women’s rights activists and allies participate in and support the 16 Days of Activism Campaign because of its particular role in the struggle for women’s human rights. It is important to note that at the local, national, regional and international levels there are other campaigns, including the International Campaign to Stop Rape and Gender Violence in Conflict, that aim to highlight issues related to violence against women in particular contexts. Together, these and other campaigns contribute to a mosaic of actions and a diversity of voices that are steadfast in bringing an end to gender-based violence and creating a world in which all peoples, and women in particular, can live without fear. 

As part of the complex and multilayered movement for the realization of women’s rights and gender equality, the 16 Days of Activism Against Gender-based Violence Campaign has contributed to feminist analyses and actions aimed at dismantling patriarchy and hetero-normativity, while promoting a world in which all peoples, and women in particular, are free from violations of their human rights. In the current moment where electronic media has contradictory roles in, and necessarily limited impact on, social movements and the cult of personality/celebrity promotes unsustainable actions, we must, as activists, remain steadfast in engaging in actions that result in social change. We must continue to challenge ourselves and our methods as we challenge our communities and governments to promote peace in the home and peace in the world and an end gender-based violence! 

This blog is dedicated to those who work for the realization of women’s rights and to a beloved human rights activist: Nelson Mandela.  

Savi Bisnath, PhD is the associate director of the Center for Women’s Global Leadership. 

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State accountability and gender-based violence – a Donor’s Perspective

by Gro Lindstad, Norway

FOKUS – Forum for Women and Development works with partner organizations in 16 countries in Africa, Asia and Latin America. Gender-based violence is a major challenge in many of the countries where we provide funding and it takes different shapes and forms.

In Colombia, where we hopefully will have peace soon, FOKUS works with a number of women’s organizations and groups on issues of peace and security. The armed conflict still goes on and women face different forms of discrimination and violence, although there are no unified and reliable official figures on the situation. Some disturbing figures reflecting a lack of accountability from the State has been documented in connection with the shadow report that was prepared by Colombian civil society earlier this year on its obligations connected to CEDAW.

Between 2002 and 2011, 14,630 women were murdered; and in 2011 alone, 70,139 women were victims of family based violence, including 51,118 of these women who were beaten by their partner. That same year, 1,415 women were murdered. A current or former partner was the perpetrator in the majority of the cases.

Sexual violence against women is widespread, systemic and made invisible. Official numbers show that 40 percent of the registered cases regarding sexual assault are assaults on girls under the age of 14. The rate of impunity for these crimes is 98%. This figure goes together with a high percentage of underreporting, the invisibility of these crimes and the constant fear to denounce them. A large number of the perpetrators are members of security forces, paramilitary forces and different guerilla groups. At present it is estimated that somewhere between 4.9 and 5.5 million Colombians are refugees in their own country, while 80% of the internally displaced are women, girls and children and 43% of the displaced families are led by women.

What has struck me and what I want to highlight, especially during this year’s 16 Days of Activism Against Gender-Based Violence Campaign, is the lack of state accountability related to gender-based violence in conflict and post-conflict countries. In Guatemala, we have partnered with organizations like Conavigua, Moloj and Mujeres Transformando el Mundo (MTM). Brave women work there, often facing danger because they address the lack of accountability that is still a fact in many ways in Guatemala, after the civil war that lasted for 35 years. The State has yet to apologize to the widows of those killed, and discovered in mass graves. There is also a lack of any form of apology or attempts to pay reparations to the large number of indigenous women who were enslaved by the military. Many women still struggle with the traumatic stress that this has caused, and FOKUS has funded a project providing some of these women a place to meet, talk and try to heal. Talking has many times been impossible for the women to do at home, because their husbands and families feel so ashamed and guilty.

Women who are still on the barricades in Guatemala, like the first female state attorney Claudia Paz y Paz, are part of a complicated struggle. She is working to try to end the culture of impunity that has seen perpetrators throughout the spectrum of Guatemalan society get away with murder. It is a balancing act since the current President Otto Pérez Melina was a commander during the civil war during which a massacre took place. He will not encourage any court processes that might make his own crimes visible. This again hinders processes of state accountability.

MTM has for quite some time now worked on bringing the cases of 100 former sex slaves during the civil war before the Inter American Court. We need reactions on violence against women to be made a priority and for the courts to signal to governments that they will be kept accountable.

Looking at Colombia, now hopefully coming out of civil war, lessons need to be learned from countries like Guatemala. Women have to be at the table during peace talks, issues of impunity and state accountability have to be addressed in order to build and heal. Colombia has a number of strong women’s organizations and voices, and they are in the middle of a struggle that we have to support and push for our own governments to support.

Gro Lindstad is the Executive Director of FOKUS- Forum for Women and Development since 2011. Prior to that she was Chief of Intergovernmental Relations at UNIFEM HQ in New York. She has 8 years’ experience as a Political Adviser in the Norwegian Parliament, working on all issues connected to gender equality, equal rights and women’s rights, before taking on responsibility for defense and security, foreign policy and development issues. She also has more than 30 years’ experience working with and in NGOs. She studied law at the University of Oslo and holds a masters in international human rights from the same university.

New Hope in Honduras?

by Mirta Kennedy, Honduras

After four years of the coup d’etat in June 28th 2009, Honduras has become known internationally as the most violent country in the world with a homicide rate of 85.5 murders per 100,000 inhabitants and as the most dangerous for women. Women’s organizations and feminists have denounced the relentless increase of femicides. According to the National Observatory of Violence, violent deaths of women has tripled in these four years, with 606 victims in 2012. Impunity and the disastrous performance of the justice system increase the vulnerability of women to male violence.  Of the 3,124 violent deaths of women in the last decade, only 5% have been investigated and prosecuted. Femicide victims are most often young women between 16 and 30 years of age who have been killed with firearms.

The irruption of new scenarios and actors has made the solution of the problem more difficult. We find that added to the violence women experience in the couple, the family, and the most intimate sphere, we now have the public violence that occurs in contexts of drug trafficking and organized crime, migration, gangs, political violence, militarization, and the dispossession of territories.

The presence of networks of drug traffickers, gangs, hitmen, and bands of organized crime that control poor urban neighborhoods in the big cities and in the countryside does not allow in particular women to move freely to go to work, be with their families and work in their communities. They are afraid to become victims of robberies, extorsion, sexual assaults or targets of vendettas against third parties and recruitment of their children and themselves.

Instigated by the US war on drugs in the last four years, drug trafficking has become the main argument to reinforce the purchase of arms and militarization. Internal security has been put in the hands of the military and private security companies and the possession of arms. In Honduras, an individual can own legaly five firearms. The proliferation of weapons, private security companies, and the military occupation of urban and rural communities does not protect women, in the contrary, more reports link sexual assault, rape, abuse of authority, harassment, violent assaults, femicide, and the murder of youths to this presence of the military that puts women in mourning. The corruption inside the institutions in charge of fighting crime has forced recently the intervention of the police and the district attorney office and to discharge judges. This has made evident that the root of impunity is the infiltration of organized crime in the state’s institutions.

A new form of violence against women has emerged in the context of ultra neoliberal policies implemented by the post coup government that promote foreign investment and the exploitation of natural resources in detriment of local interests. National and foreign corporations are allowed to encroach the ancestral territories of the indigenous and Garifunas, and peasant communities for the large scale exploitation of monocultures, mining, hydroelectric plants, and tourism without previous consultation in violation of the 169 ILO Convention suscribed by Honduras. The communities and women suffer all kinds of repression and aggression in their struggles of resistance against the dispossession of their territories because of the intimidation and the use of force of private security guards, hitmen, and even the national police. Community leaders are criminalized, persecuted and imprisoned as well as the human rights defender that accompany them. Among the most  well-known and persecuted social activists are Berta Caceres, Magdalena Morales, and Miriam Miranda.

A new hope arose in the light of the elections of November 24th, 2013 in Honduras. The women’s movement and feminists had been able to negotiate a platform of urgent measures with the only and first female candidate in the history of the nation. Unfortunately, as we have been able to witness the electoral fraud that most had anticipated seems to be a reality. November 25th, the International Day on Non-violence Against Women went unnoticed. The attention of the majority of the population is centered around the electoral fraud. Feminists are faced with the need to promote an agenda for a humane and integral security of the citizenship, demilitarization, a focus on the violence against women, an end to impunity under a new administration that continues the agenda of the coup d’etat and a military and police forces the emerge with greater strength.

Mirta Kennedy, is founding member of Centro de Estudios de la Mujer-Honduras (Center of Women’s Studies-Honduras), feminist and women’s rights defender, researcher, and consultant for national and international organizations. She has coordinated and participated in several research projects on prevention and violence against women in Honduras and the Central American region. She is author of numerous articles on the subject.

* Translated from Spanish to English by Breny Mendoza

Nueva Esperanza en Honduras?

por Mirta Kennedy, Honduras

A cuatro años del golpe de Estado el 28 de junio, 2009, Honduras  cobró notoriedad internacional como el país más violento del mundo, con una tasa de 85.5 homicidios por cien mil habitantes, y como uno de los más inseguros para las mujeres. Las organizaciones de mujeres y feministas han denunciado la incesante escalada de femicidios. Según el  Observatorio Nacional de la Violencia  las muertes violentas de mujeres se triplicaron en el período,  con 606 víctimas en 2012. La impunidad y la pésima actuación de la justicia acrecientan la vulnerabilidad de las mujeres ante la violencia sexista; de un total de 3124 muertes violentas de mujeres ocurridas en la última década, menos de un 5%  fueron investigadas y judicializadas. Las  víctimas más frecuentes de femicidio, son las mujeres jóvenes entre 16 a 30 años de edad y el principal instrumento de agresión es el arma de fuego.

La irrupción de nuevos escenarios  y actores ha complejizado el abordaje del problema.  A la violencia contra las mujeres  en el ámbito de  la pareja, la familia, y en el entorno cercano,   se impone ahora  la violencia pública en los contextos del narcotráfico y el  crimen organizado, la migración, las maras,  la violencia política, la militarización,  y el  despojo de territorios.

La presencia de las redes de narcotráfico, maras, sicarios, y bandas del crimen organizado, controlando  los barrios de los sectores populares en las grandes ciudades, y  áreas rurales no permiten en especial a las mujeres desplazarse libremente y desarrollar sus actividades laborales, familiares y comunitarias, por miedo a ser víctimas de robos, extorciones, hostigamiento y agresiones sexuales, o el blanco de las venganzas y cobros de cuenta contra terceros, y del   reclutamiento de mujeres y niños.

Alentado por la estrategia de EEUU de lucha contra las drogas, en los últimos cuatro años, el combate al narcotráfico ha sido el argumento para reforzar  el armamentismo y la militarización del país.  Se ha puesto la seguridad  interna en manos de militares y empresas de seguridad privada y la circulación de armas. En Honduras, individualmente se pueden adquirir 5 armas legalmente. La proliferación de armas,  de fuerzas de seguridad privada y  la ocupación militar de las comunidades urbanas y rurales, no significan seguridad para las mujeres, por el contrario,  son frecuentes las denuncias de abusos sexuales, violación, abuso de poder, hostigamiento, agresiones, femicidios,  y asesinatos de jóvenes, que se vincula con esa presencia militar y que enluta a las mujeres.   La corrupción en las instituciones públicas encargadas del combate a la delincuencia,  obligó recientemente a la intervención de la Policía y de la Fiscalía,  y a la destitución de jueces, poniendo en evidencia la raíz de la impunidad por la grave penetración del crimen organizado en las  estructuras del estado.

Un nuevo ámbito de violencia contra las mujeres  ha sido favorecido por medidas económicas ultra liberales tomadas por el gobierno pos golpe de Estado, que  promueven la inversión extranjera y la explotación  de los recursos naturales por encima de los intereses locales. Se permite el  avance  de las empresas nacionales e internacionales sobre los territorios indígenas  y garífunas  ancestrales,  y comunidades campesinas,  para la explotación de monocultivos, minería, hidroeléctricas y turismo a gran escala,  sin previa consulta, en violación al Convenio 169 de la OIT suscrito por Honduras. Utilizando la intimidación y la violencia de las fuerzas de seguridad privadas, sicarios, e incluso de las fuerzas de seguridad del Estado,  las comunidades y las mujeres sufren represión y agresiones de todo tipo, en sus luchas de resistencia a la desposesión de sus territorios. Las líderes de las organizaciones son  criminalizadas, perseguidas y encarceladas, así como las organizaciones y defensoras de los derechos humanos, que las acompañan. Entre las luchadoras sociales mas perseguidas están Berta Cáceres, Magdalena Morales, y  Miriam Miranda.

Una esperanza se abrió en el contexto de las elecciones en Honduras, el 24 de noviembre 2013. El movimiento de mujeres y feministas había logrado negociar una plataforma de medidas urgentes con la única y primera candidata mujer a la presidencia en la historia del país. Sin embargo, como hemos podido presenciar el fraude electoral que de antemano se había anunciado parece haberse hecho realidad. El 25 de noviembre, Día Internacional de la Eliminación de la Violencia contra las Mujeres, transcurrió en Honduras sin ninguna relevancia. La atención de gran parte de la ciudadanía está concentrada en la denuncian fraude y corrupción. Las feministas se enfrentan al reto de impulsar una  agenda por una seguridad ciudadana humana e integral, desmilitarización, atención de la violencia contra las mujeres, y alto a la impunidad, ante una nueva administración de gobierno,  con una agenda de gobierno de continuidad con el golpe de Estado y un aparato militar y policial fortalecido.

 Mirta Kennedy, es cofundadora del Centro de Estudios de la Mujer-Honduras, feminista,  activista por los derechos humanos de  las mujeres, investigadora y consultora de organismos internacionales y nacionales.  Ha coordinado y participado en diversas investigaciones sobre violencia contra las mujeres en Honduras y la región centroamericana. Es coordinadora de programas de prevención y autora de varias publicaciones en el tema.

Men and Women Working as Partners for Gender-Sensitive Active Nonviolence

by Isabelle Geuskens, The Netherlands

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The Women Peacemakers Program (WPP) finds it important to apply a masculinities perspective in the work for gender-sensitive peacebuilding. Feedback received from women peace activists in our network initiated this work. They indicated that two main obstacles interfered with their peace activism: (1) society as a whole lacking a gender-analysis of violence; and (2) many men involved in peacebuilding lacking gender awareness.

This confirmed for us that changing cultures of violence requires not only investing in the empowerment of women; it also requires looking critically at men’s socialization. For UN Security Council Resolution 1325 to become a reality, we need to go to all the roots contributing to women’s victimization and marginalization before, during, and after armed conflict. This implies addressing the construction of male gender identities that support men’s dominance, violence and militarization. Hence, it means addressing the deeply gendered nature of violent conflict itself.

It is our experience that, when addressing the topic of gender-sensitive peace-building through men’s gendered experiences of violence and war as well, it is easier to connect men to the women, peace, and security (WPS) agenda. Next to paying attention to the privileges of men, this means discussing how men are also losing out from current hegemonic male gender roles in society; and in particular, how these gender dynamics exacerbate during armed conflict.

 At the same time, when questioning hegemonic gender roles, it is important to also invest in alternatives. This includes looking – through a gender lens – at how society perceives and deals with conflict. Often, society frames conflict as something negative, to be solved through a win-lose approach (“power over”). A gender-sensitive nonviolent approach does not see conflict as the problem – as conflict is considered a part of life, and can even carry the seeds of positive change. The issue lies in how we as humans, and particularly men, are socialized and trained into accepting violence as a part of life and in particular a way to address conflict.

Investing in alternatives means investing in people’s skills to recognize and analyze conflict and injustice, as well as in how to address it by strategizing and working together (“people power” or “power with”). It is interesting to mention here that research increasingly argues that a strategy of nonviolence is more effective than violence in achieving policy goals. According to data analyzed by Stephan and Chenoweth, between 1900 and 2006, nonviolent campaigns were more successful in achieving their policy goals (53 % of the time), whereas violent campaigns only had a success rate of 26 %.

To illustrate what is meant by ‘alternatives’, we would like to share some of our lessons learned in terms of integrating a masculinities approach in our training work around gender-sensitive peacebuilding:

  • Investing in monitoring the impact of the work is important as to see whether the approach is relevant and effective. Our trainees informed us that the follow-up trainings they in turn implemented in their countries generated much positive response. They reached out to a diverse group of interested stakeholders; including NGO representatives, police officers, representatives from the media, government officials, lawyers, community elders, religious scholars, student representatives, youth leaders from indigenous groups, and representatives from the men’s movement. Beyond their own trainings, a far broader group was reached (at least 25,000 people), through:                                     – The use of media (radio programs) and the dissemination of articles on nonviolence, women’s rights, masculinities, and peace-building;  

          -The establishment of men’s groups/ programs in their community, to address men’s role in eradicating violence against women and wider violence in society, and to raise awareness on nonviolent conflict resolution;                                                          

 – Providing expertise to other organizations upon request (e.g. workshops);                                                                                    

– Integration of gender-sensitive nonviolence in their organisations’s work (from policy to program level);     

– Joining women’s lobby and advocacy initiatives for women’s rights;                                                                                              

– Sharing the concepts within other networks (incl. regional networks).

  • Trainees confirmed that training male activists to become trainers in gender-sensitive active nonviolence is very effective, since male trainers are often in a good position to reach out to male participants in a group. Equally important is including women in every step of the work. E.g., we always stress working with mixed trainer teams (female and male trainers); which according to our trainees results in powerful role modeling in their communities (“women and men working as partners for gender equality”).
  • Solidarity is very important, as our trainees shared that working for gender-sensitive nonviolence often means being a minority voice. Several shared facing ridicule;opposition; silencing; and even threats. It is therefore important to take time to discuss this reality with trainees, as well as how to deal with it collectively, so that it does not end up undermining one’s commitment.
  • There are no shortcuts; paradigm shifts take time. When we started our work on masculinities, we looked critically at how to build in accountability and sustainability. For us, this meant e.g. investing in thorough and strict selection processes; intensive training cycles (consisting of two trainings and a mandatory country-based follow-up training); and the trainings addressing knowledge and skills building as well as people’s commitment:The personal is political!
  • It is important to invest in the creation of constructive spaces for the “unsaid” and the difficult conversations; e.g. during trainings we create this space through the organizing of gender dialogue sessions, during which male and female trainees can address sensitive gender dynamics/issues.
  • When talking about masculinities and war, it is important to do so against the background of women’s long history of peace activism and organizing against militarism. It is important to raise awareness on the roots of the WPS agenda in the women’s movement;and to keep the masculinities work connected to this bigger picture. This is to prevent masculinities work from being narrowed down to a focus on male victims of war only; and to balance this by also pointing out how male privilege operates; the resulting costs for women; and the importance of women’s participation and leadership in peace-building. It is this “bigger picture” that will support men and women to work together, as partners,for gender-sensitive peacebuilding.


Isabelle Geuskens is the Executive Director of Women Peacemakers Program(WPP), based in The Hague, The Netherlands. Since 2010, Isabelle serves on the 16 Days Advisory Committee. Before working for the WPP, Isabelle worked with local communities and activists in Bosnia Herzegovina and Northern Ireland. She has a Master of Arts Degree from the University of Maastricht, the Netherlands.

Reclaiming Schools, Safeguarding Quality Education

by madeleine kennedy-macfoy, International

Gender-based violence, especially against women and girls, happens in all societies, across time and space and to any type of woman or girl; it is indiscriminate. One out of every three girls born today will be beaten, forced to have sex or suffer some other type of abuse from an intimate partner during her lifetime. Violence against women and girls can be physical, emotional, sexual, or economic; it happens in private and public places, and in physical and virtual online spaces.

Feminists have shown us that the root cause of violence against girls and women is the deeply entrenched and historically unequal power relations between women and men, and the persistent discrimination against women the world over. Today it is widely recognised that the occurrence or threat of gender-based violence deprives women and girls of their basic human rights.

School-related gender-based violence (SRGBV) is violence perpetrated against children in and around the school setting. SRGBV is defined as acts and the threat of acts of sexual, physical or psychological violence that happen in or around school and educational settings. Both girls and boys can be the target of such violence, which may include bullying and cyber bullying, sexual or verbal harassment, gang-related reprisals and confrontations, non-consensual touching, rape or assault. Girls are particularly vulnerable to sexual violence and harassment at school, although little is currently known about the numbers of boys who also suffer such abuse in the school setting.

At first glance, it may not be obvious how militarism is linked to school-related gender-based violence. However, in recent years, schools and female students and teachers have increasingly been targeted by terrorist groups. When we consider the role that education plays in shaping young minds, we begin to get some idea of why they are a primary target for violent and militarised insurgents. Speaking about the situation in Afghanistan, footballer and women’s rights activist Khalida Popal has explained that: ‘uneducated youth represents a security issue as the uneducated are more easily recruited to terrorist groups because they won’t ask any controversial questions’. She further stated that ‘girls get poisoned in school’ in Afghanistan. We can see then, that the violence unleashed by terrorists on schools and students is clearly gendered: boys are potential recruits and girls must remain confined to the domestic sphere, so both must remain uneducated. ‘School-related gender-based violence’ takes on a particular connotation when seen in this light: the violence may not happen in or around a school, but it is undoubtedly school-related. And the terrorists will employ any means necessary to meet their objectives.

The atrocious attempted murder of Malala Yousafzai by the Taliban in December 2012 has become the most widely known example of this type of SRGBV: Ms. Yousafzai was targeted because of her activism and advocacy for girls to have access to education in the Swat Valley. In northern Nigeria, the terrorist group Boko Haram (meaning ‘Western education is forbidden’ in Hausa) have burned down more than 300 hundred schools since 2009, and in September of this year they gunned down as many as 50 students as they slept in their dormitories in an agricultural college in the north-eastern part of the country. Similar violent acts against girls’ schools and women teachers have been recorded in Pakistan since 2007. In the Education under Attack (2010) report by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) attacks on schools, teachers and students are documented from all over the world. Such attacks include, but are not limited to, mass and multiple killings, explosions, poisoning, and violence by armed groups.

As we focus on gender-based violence over the next 16 days, we must not overlook the violence that occurs in and around schools or the fact that schools are prime targets for militarised extremist groups that are hell-bent on preventing young people from obtaining an education. We must safeguard the provision of quality education because education plays both a preventive and protective role in the struggle against violence in and around schools, but also in the wider society. We must reclaim schools and ensure that they are safe sanctuaries where teachers can provide, and students benefit from, a quality education.

madeleine kennedy-macfoy works on gender equality issues at Education International, the largest global trade union federation, which represents 30 million teachers and other education employees worldwide.

Abuja’s War Against Women: The crime of being a woman

by Ayisha Osori, Nigeria

Imagine your young adult daughter out for the evening with friends. Sometime after 9.30pm she calls crying hysterically and in the background you hear raised voices. Through the noise she explains that she and her friends were forcibly abducted by members of the Abuja Environmental Protection Board (AEPB) and taken to the Area 10 Sports Complex. You rush there, calling every ‘important’ person you know in the FCT to see what can be done and you are shocked by what you find. A small airless room packed with almost 40 people and your daughter and her friends looking like extras for a horror movie. You try in vain to get them to listen: your daughter and her friends are not prostitutes and the boys in their company, who chased after the vans into which they were thrown, are not customers but friends.

A female policewoman carrying a rifle casually waves her weapon at them and asks ‘is this the way Nigerians dress?’ You look at her in her dirty black uniform with blouse bursting at the buttons and at the women in the room in several stages of undress. There are scraps of cloth all over the floor, like fabric confetti. Other rescuers are in various stages of negotiation with the officials of the AEPB and the discussion is getting heated. Suddenly one of the policemen jumps up and points his gun at a young man’s stomach and says ‘I will waste you here and nothing will happen’. Your phone rings and one of the government officials you had called on your way asks to speak to whoever is in charge…none of the abductors are willing to take the call. You start getting desperate. ‘What do you want?’ Someone pulls you aside. You know a good deal when you hear one; you pay up and know that no receipt will be offered. You are not disappointed.

The main objective of the AEPB is supposedly to ‘make the city safe and clean’. Yet for at least 2 years, the AEPB in collaboration with the Federal Society Against Prostitution and Child Labour in Nigeria (SAPCLN) and the Federal Capital Development Authority have worked with the Nigerian Police and the military to make moving around Abuja extremely dangerous for women. Reports say that under the pretext of ‘eradicating commercial sex workers in Abuja’, employees of the AEPB together with armed unidentified members of the security service have been abducting women from the streets at all hours of the day. Without asking for any form of identification these armed men, grab women, shove them into waiting buses, beat them when they try to resist and take them to pseudo law enforcement centers. There, those who can, buy their way out after being thoroughly humiliated, often only after spending a night without any food or water while those who can’t are tortured into admitting they are prostitutes. Then the real and forced prostitutes are forcibly transferred to an alleged rehabilitation camp for purported sex workers maintained by SAPCLN in Arco Estate, Sabon Lugbe.

SAPCLAN’s raison d’etre is getting prostitutes off Abuja streets and rehabilitating them…a job worth at least 5 million Naira for every 50 ‘rehabilitated’ women according to an African Outlook story written by Ovada Ohiare. And not even the lawsuits against the Minister of the FCT, Senator Bala Mohammed and the AEPB can stem their determination.

While the Nigerian Penal Code makes prostitution a crime, the definition of prostitution provides amongst other things that the person arrested must be found to be ‘persistently soliciting’. How many of these women abducted as they come out of offices, restaurants, houses, clubs or even sitting inside cars can be found guilty of ‘persistently soliciting’?

At the Nigerian Women Trust Fund (WF) while our primary objective is to increase the quality and quantity of women in government we understand that there has to be an enabling environment for the successful emergence of women. Violence affects one in three of all women and girls aged15-24 according to the Gender in Nigeria Report 2012.

Since October 8, 2012, when the WF released its first press statement about the activities of AEPB, there have been marches, petitions and even a mock public hearing arranged by the House of Representatives Committee on Public Hearing on March 7 2013. Mock because not only because of the jokes made at the expense of women but because although the Committee claimed it could not have a proper hearing without the Attorney General at the hearing, promised to reconvene and nothing more has been heard from them since.

The abductions and harassments have not stopped and neither has the work of the WF and all its most active partners such as the African Feminist Alliance to get justice for the women and get the AEPB and its stakeholders to stop the state sponsored terrorism against women in Abuja. If women cannot even exercise their rights to freedom of movement without fear, how will we increase the number of women confident and secure enough to take up the mantle of leadership?

 Ayisha Osori is a lawyer, writer and consultant with over twelve years’ experience in corporate & regulatory practice, change communications and gender advocacy. She is the founder of Advocates for Change & Social Justice and the current CEO of the Nigerian Women’s Trust Fund, a non-profit organization created from a public civil society partnership to increase the quality and quantity of women in decision making. She’s passionate about women girls being able to live a life where there are no limitations to what they want to achieve and believes changing the narratives about females and their role in society is critical.

What happened to the concept of Ubuntu?

by Fikile Vilakazi, South Africa

Violence against lesbian, bisexual, transsexual, and intersex (LGBTI) people remains a huge challenge in South Africa. The minds and hearts of our people are hardened by oppressive violence. In 2013, the death toll of lesbian women in South Africa stands at 31 since 2003 whilst gay men continue to be brutally murdered in townships. This anecdote includes only cases that were reported to the police and/or made public through the media by LGBTI human rights defenders. There could be more other cases that we do not know about that have gone went unreported or did not receive public media attention. In addition to murder is the pervasiveness of rape against black lesbian women that continues unprosecuted even though it is reported regularly to the criminal justice system. It is said that for every twenty five men that rape, about twenty four walk free, and only one of them is likely to be prosecuted with ninety five percent chance of getting bail and having such charges dropped. It is a never ending battle, exhausting and infuriating.

They are not going to allow us to be who we are and live our lives freely. They continue to make it harder and harder, particularly for visibly masculine lesbian women and feminine gay men in black townships to live happily and joyously. The nature, extent and depth of violence is worse for people who are visibly in trans-(gression) and trans-(ition) from biological sex, gender and sexual orientation as assigned at birth and/or traditionally. We are perpetually seen as a threat to traditional masculinity and femininity and thereby weakening the arrangements of patriarchy and hetero-(norm)-ativity.

The backlash becomes that gruesome experience of violence. The thing about the kind of violence seen in South Africa is that it carries with it signs of intentional and premeditated torture, brutality, degradation and humiliation of people that are being violated. I am talking about things like disembowelment of bodies, insertion of objects into private body parts, mutilation of body parts and feeding of human body parts to dying sufferers. This is deeply disturbing,unacceptably cruel and unforgivable.

One wonders where does so much hatred emanate from? What happened to our own people? How do you kill and treat one of your own in such a terrible, brutal and inhumane manner? Where does this come from? What is it? What are we dealing with here? What happened to the concept of Ubuntu? Where is freedom and better life for all promised in the manifestos of our leading political parties? What happened to constitutional rights of equality for all.

The most wonderful constitution of South Africa with its equality clause did not protect all the dead victims of homophobia and hetero-sexism from being brutally murdered in the same way as it has perpetually failed to protect thousands of rape survivors (women, children, lesbians, gay men, elderly women and people with disabilities) on a daily basis. The world must know that our constitution is a token. It is not real, yet. We need real change in our country, a change of heart and mind, a kind of
transformation that is embedded in a shared sense of humanity, the fulcrum of all humanness, freedoms and justice. A bill of rights alone is not going to bring the desired change for South Africa. We need much more than that.

Much as it pains me to admit, the truth is that on matters of sexuality and gender, the majority of South Africans are still deeply trapped in a power battle of oppressive orthodoxy, hetero-sexism, sexism, ethnicism, traditions and religiosity. There is nothing wrong with choosing a life of orthodoxy, but there is definitely something very wrong about using such a personal choice as a universal normative and a tool of oppression against other people. Noting that women human rights defenders continue to be on the frontline of most human rights and socio-economic struggles in South Africa, regionally and internationally, it is not surprising that it continues to be women who suffer violence the most. The heat of oppression and violence burns a woman’s face hundred times more than it is likely to do a man. The multiplicity of being a girl, woman, lesbian, trans, mother, grandmother, housewife and a human rights defender makes it harder to fight the so many separate yet connected battles of our lives. Yet, the battle continues. No surrender until something changes!

Fikile Vilakazi is a former director of secretariat of the Coalition of African Lesbians. She identifies as a black lesbian feminist, activist and an emerging international development scholar. She has been
involved in different forms of activisms including civic, youth, women, gender, sexuality and poverty since she was 10 years old.

Existen otras formas de maltrato contra las mujeres

by Norma Maldonado, Guatemala

Existen otras formas de maltrato contra las mujeres—como el abuso económico de las transnacionales, que transgrede el derecho fundamental a la subsistencia, al derecho a la tierra, a la vida, a la soberanía alimentaria, a la autonomía y dignidad.

La violencia contra las mujeres no sólo son los golpes y las agresiones verbales-también existen otras formas de maltrato. Las decisiones que están siendo asumidas por los gobiernos a través de las políticas energéticas, leyes, como los tratados comerciales y la economía verde
por el sistema de Naciones Unidas que garantizan el remate de todos los bienes públicos al mejor postor.

Se nos ha dicho muchas veces que las nuevas políticas Energéticas son para mejorar la calidad de vida, pero lo que observamos en las zonas petroleras, mineras o hidroeléctricas es más pobreza y contaminación. La realidad es que los bloques económicos mundiales intensificaron agresivamente su interés en nuestros recursos naturales y los gobiernos de nuestros países asumieron compromisos a través de los tratados de libre comerco (TLC’s). Por lo tanto ratifican y responden a esas alianzas estratégicas entre actores públicos y privados en lo local e internacional. En este marco, la Política Energética se enfoca en la planificación estratégica de largo plazo para la efectiva producción, comercialización y distribución de los recursos.

Los TLC’s o alianzas estratégicas público-privadas significan para nuestras comunidades el desalojo de territorios, despojo de nuestros bienes comunes, violencia, persecución, desarraigo y criminalización. Las mujeres líderes, sindicalistas, feministas, mujeres rurales, estudiantes, ciudadanas, ambientalistas vemos claramente como las grandes industrias extractivistas y capitales transnacionales se están instalando masivamente en nuestros territorios, con apoyo de estos tratados comerciales que trasgreden nuestras leyes nacionales. Además -discuten estos hechos en escritorios de empresarios en la Organización Mundial del Comercio (OMC)—en vezde tener cualquier participación ciudadana.

Nuestros pueblos están sufriendo una gran oleada de persecución, y re-militarización, los movimientos campesinos y comunidades indígenas se les tilda de terroristas o de oponerse al “desarrollo” porque no estamos a favor dela extranjerización del territorio.

A pesar de ser países con enormes riquezas naturales y culturales, se nos llaman países sub desarrollados y pobres, cuando en realidad hemos sido saqueados y empobrecidos desde que nuestro continente fue “descubierto.” No ha habido respeto a nuestras formas de vida, culturas e idiosincrasias, somos poblaciones con un enorme arraigo cultural y diverso. Este hermoso territorio que ha sido protegido por nuestros abuelos y nuestras abuelas, es el centro de origen de mucha biodiversidad, que ahora se ha convertido en botín de guerra de las empresas de agro carburantes, para la palma africana, caña de azúcar que en su afán de expandirse han deforestado las selvas y los bosques, secando los ríos y las fuentes de agua, obligando a miles de mujeres a sacrificar media vida en la búsqueda del vital líquido para sobrevivir. Las mujeres rurales del mundo están más vulnerables que nunca, nos han ido quitando las fuentes de sustento para desalojar a las poblaciones que no están en sus planes del llamado “desarrollo” y agro exportaciones. Ninguna meta, ningún desarrollo será sostenible, sin la participación de los pueblos. No es posible imaginar que después del 2015 tendremos la posibilidad de disfrutar de ningún derecho como mujeres, cuando hoy día está siendo repartido nuestro territorio en
feudos de grandes empresas.

Norma Maldonado is the founder of Asociacion Raxch’ och Oxlaju Aj, AROAJ, an organization of 12 communities Maya Q’eqchi’ of northern Guatemala. Maldonados been an activist all her life, and was also founder of the Integration of Indigenous Mayas IXIM in Los Angeles. She is an environmentalist and a native of Guatemala with a specialty in food sovereignty and indigenous territories. She has engaged in resisting neo-liberal policies and creating alternative.s since 2000.