Venezuelan Women On The Edge

By Asociación Civil Mujeres en Línea, Asociación Venezolana por una Educación Sexual Alternativa (AVESA), Centro de Justicia y Paz (CEPAZ), and Centro Hispanoamericano de la Mujer FREYA

Last month, four non-governmental organizations launched a report presenting the dire situation of women’s rights in our country, Venezuela. We called it “Women on the Edge” because this is the best way to describe current living conditions of most Venezuelan women and adolescents girls.

This report documents not only how Venezuela’s humanitarian emergency and democratic deficit has negatively and disproportionately impacted women and adolescent girls, but how the current situation involves serious regressions and violations of human rights that have failed to catch the world’s attention.

The findings tell a story of survival and resilience, where women have been left alone for the most part by a State that seems to be preoccupied only with keeping its grip on power. While poverty is on the rise, particularly among women, they are greatly exposed to hunger, malnutrition, extortion, ill health and violence.

In the context of a staggering socio-economic and political crisis never seen before in this country, the outlook for the year 2018 is grimmer and more complex. Already this year, 82% of Venezuelans live in poverty – more than half in extreme poverty. The minimum monthly wage sits at 4 USD. A professional with graduate studies earns between 15 to 25 US dollars a month: approximately 1 USD a day.

According to the IMF, inflation will hit 2.068% next year, which means that salaries and purchase power will collapse even further than this year. It is calculated that a minimum monthly wage is needed to cover just one day of basic food requirements for a regular family.

Even in 2013, before the deepening of this crisis, poor women outnumbered poor men: for every 100 men living in poverty, there were 107 women, and for every 100 men living in extreme poverty, there were 112 women. Overall, poverty among women is 6 points above the national average.

If we consider that 4 out of 10 households are headed by women (70% of which are women without partners), it is not difficult to conclude that many of those households live in some form of poverty.

Behind these figures lies a stark reality: women are carrying on their shoulders the bulk of the crisis. They are the first to leave their jobs in order to line up for food, medicines and other scarce supplies, or to care for children, the elderly, the sick, and the disabled in a country where social safety nets, work-life programs, and social security are severely diminished. At the height of the crisis between December 2014 and December 2015, 99% of those who left the labor market were women.

Lines for food are made up mostly by women of all ages, who spend between 8 and 14 hours a week lining up. While standing, they are often subjected to different forms of aggression by security forces, including beatings of pregnant women. Despite being the ones looking for food, they consume less food products than men and are forced to consume less healthy products, putting their own health at risk. Last year, a survey conducted by 3 major universities in Venezuela found that 75% of those consulted had an uncontrolled loss weight of 8 to 9 kilos.

Caritas, a non-governmental organization working on food and nutrition monitoring in some of the poorest parishes in the country has identified several survival strategies used by families in the face of severe food shortages and soaring inflation: eating less and avoiding specific foods (70-80% of households); waiving one or two meals so that another person in the family could eat (53% of households); and spending the day without eating (48%). Women are the ones who most often waive meals so that someone else in the family may eat (33%), while more than half of families reported they sacrificed elder women’s food intake. Essentially, women are being forced to deny themselves food in order to survive and to ensure the survival of their dependents and loved ones.

The threats to their reproductive health are just as bad or even worse.

Today, Venezuelan women are being denied access to contraceptives despite the fact that historically, women were able to get contraceptives, including the morning after pill as well as condoms, through public hospitals or in private pharmacies,without obstacles. But since 2014, together with general shortages of a vast majority of medicines and medical supplies, oral contraceptives, intra-uterine devicess, and other family planning options have disappeared from shelves. This violates women’s rights to reproductive autonomy and health, both of which are constitutionally protected in Venezuela.

There are no official figures regarding public expenditures on contraceptives or on shortages. According to the latest available data (from 2015, the Ministry of Health’s purchase of contraceptives and condoms would amount to 2% of local demand for family planning methods. An online survey conducted by our organizations last June found out that 7 out of 10 women consulted could not find their desired contraceptive in the past 12 months.

Lack of access to contraceptives has had an impact on unwanted pregnancies, unsafe abortions and maternal mortality. As recently as 2016, maternal mortality increased 66% according to official figures. The main cause of these deaths is hemorrhages. Considering that Venezuela has one of the most restrictive legal frameworks in the region on abortion, it’s not difficult to conclude that behind the increase in maternal mortality rates are women trying to end unwanted pregnancies. It is important to highlight that President Nicolas Maduro has never spoken of the issue of abortion in the 4 years since he came to power. There are also tremendous gaps in the health system infrastructure where the most basic medications and supplies are missing, with reports of pregnant women having to visit up to five hospitals to get medical attention.

Women are put on the edge regarding their sexual and reproductive health when they are unable to make fundamental decisions about their bodies and their lives, particularly in a context of severe socio-economic conditions and shortages of food, diapers, menstrual hygiene products and milk formula, among many other basic items.

Our study also explored the increasing numbers of femicides and impunity around cases of violence against women in general. In the case of femicides (the killing of women out of hate or contempt towards them), which is a criminal offense included in Venezuela’s progressive violence against women legislation, the rate has shown an increase from 0,77 per 100,000 women in 2015 to 0,78 per 100,000 women in 2016. However, due to lack of proper training of police and criminal justice officers in identifying what constitutes femicide, these figures indicate major underreporting. On other forms of violence against women, despite efforts by the State in creating and strengthening institutions in this area, including special courts to deal with cases involving violence against women, impunity is high. Out of almost 71,000 cases reported in 2014, only 482 or 0.6% made it to the courts. Victims of violence face all sorts of obstacles and revictimization within the justice system as a result of which many opt not to report their cases.

As the crisis worsens, reports of young girls being forced into prostitution in exchange for food are increasing, as well as reports of women being recruited by traffickers across the region.

As indicated in our study, all of these situations are occuring on the watch of a government that calls itself “feminist,” but does not guarantee the most basic rights to women and is involved in violating their rights. Never before have Venezuelan women been more vulnerable or had their rights trampled upon in this manner. And the State is mostly responsible for that which begs the question, when and how will the impunity end?


Are mass shootings and domestic violence linked?

By Yakin Ertürk

United Nations Special Rapporteur on Violence against Women (2003-2009)

The gun culture in the United States has direct links with domestic violence (DV) and is part of a troubling global trend involving women as key targets. According to studies, in 2003, 50% of female homicide victims in the US were shot and killed with a gun and women in the US are 11 times more likely than in other high-income countries to be murdered through the use of a firearm. Everytown for Gun Safety, a study that used FBI data and media to analyze mass shootings in the US from January 2009 to December 2016, showed that 54% of the perpetrators of horrific mass killings had targeted family members.


According to a 2017 study by the United Nations Coordinating Action on Small Arms (CASA), femicide victims, in 40 and 70 percent of the cases worldwide, are killed by a partner or a family member. In countries where small arms are easily available, when a gun is present in a DV situation, the likelihood that a woman will be shot and killed increases fivefold.  Given this link, Everytown study notes that in the US a series of federal and state laws have been put in place to help keep guns out of the hands of domestic abusers, but the issue is far from being addressed.


On November 5, 2017, Devin Patrick Kelley opened fire at a church outside San Antonio, Texas, killing and wounding many people. According to Air Force authorities Kelley— who joined the military in 2009 — was court-martialed in 2012 on two charges of assault. He was convicted of fracturing his baby stepson’s skull and assaulting his first wife. He was confined for a year, given a bad conduct discharge and reduced in rank. As with previous mass killings, experienced in the US, the incident fueled the long standing controversy over gun ownership; proponents of the Second Amendment resisting and the pro-regulation proponents advocating for measures to limit access to guns. The US President, asked whether background check system needed improvement, responded that this was not gun issue but a mental health issue, therefore, it wouldn’t have made any difference!


While this controversy lingers, the Texas shooting highlights yet another aspect of the problem. Reportedly, the military had failed to enter Kelley’s DV incident into a database that would have made it illegal for him to buy a gun. This provoked a debate on whether mass shootings and DV are linked and if the atrocity could have been prevented if the gunman’s history of DV had been properly followed up.



Posing the problem as one of causality may miss the point. The linkage argument does not necessarily presuppose causality but rather implies intersectionality. The question then is: where, when and how do the two phenomena intersect? In view of our current understandings of violence, several points of intersection immediately come to mind: (i) violence is a strategy to create an atmosphere of fear and intimidation in the private and public domains; (ii) violence is not an isolated phenomenon, there is a cycle and continuum of violence; and (iii) small arms are often present in incidents of violent assaults, including femicides. Exploring into areas of intersectionality can provide more nuanced answers concerning the linkage between the two forms of violence and reveal further areas of inquiry as well as new entry points for timely interventions geared toward prevention.


Had the authorities complied with the legal obligation to enter Kelley’s DV incident into a database that would have made it illegal for him to buy a gun, perhaps the Texas atrocity could have been prevented? Although we will never know for sure, such questions need to be taken seriously. Dismissing the issue as inconclusive simply evades the obligation to diligently respond to a deadly crisis.


A Brighter Future Begins in a Classroom

Today marks the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women and the start of the 16 Days of Activism Against Gender-Based Violence, a global campaign by individuals and groups calling for an end to all forms of violence against women. This year’s theme is “From Peace in the Home to Peace in the World: Make Education Safe for All”. For the next 16 days, Peace is Loud will be sharing reports, quotes from our speakers, and other resources around this theme. Please follow us on Facebook and Twitter, and join the conversation!

 At Peace is Loud, we recognize peace to be more than just an absence of war, but a societal transformation towards inclusion and a celebration of diversity. Similarly, building peace requires a measurable shift in how we treat the people we share a home, classroom, workplace, community, country and world with. A holistic issue requires a holistic response.

In many parts of the world, access to safe, quality education is not a right but a privilege, and requires several factors to converge: Parents or guardians must first decide that their child should be and stay in school, and not be married off at a young age; school facilities and materials must be accessible and affordable; teachers, staff and school officials must be dedicated to a violence-and-harassment-free environment; and school policies must communicate and enforce policies towards that end. All too often, one or more of these factors fail to fall into place. The damage in a child’s life, and to the world as a whole, is monumental.

For the more than 14 million girls in conflict-affected countries who are out of school, the 28 girls married before the age of 18 every minute, the 120 million girls worldwide who have experienced sexual assault in their lifetime, the 1 in 5 women and 1 in 13 men who were sexually abused as children, and the LGBTQ youth who feel unsafe in their school because of bullying, awareness-raising and calls to action should be scaled up not just during these 16 Days, but every day moving forward. From a young age, children need to be taught that they deserve lives free from violence, that they deserve quality education, that consent is their right, and that their voices deserve to be heard.

We are fortunate to work with incredible women who have been dedicated to ending violence and promoting safe education for many years.  From Dr. Sakena Yacoobi, who set up secret schools for girls in Afghanistan during Taliban rule, to Nyaradzayi Gumbonzvanda’s tireless call for an end to child marriage and Leymah Gbowee’s support for girls’ education In Liberia, we are inspired every day by the work of our speakers and their colleagues.

If you’re wondering how to make an impact at an individual, local level, particularly around ending child marriage, Nyaradzayi Gumbonzvanda, Peace is Loud speaker and African Union Goodwill Ambassador for the Campaign to End Child Marriage has a message for you:


To learn more about Peace is Loud or bring a women peacebuilder public speaker to your classroom or event, please visit our website.

A Space for Somalia’s Girls and Women The story of the Galkayo Education Center for Peace and Development (GECPD)

Galkayo Education Center for Development Program (GECDP) established in 1999, has emerged as an instrumental Education, Peace building and Women’s rights center. A re-known and standard Civic Society organization in Puntland State of Somalia, is known for its strife for girl’s education and women’s rights in general. It has thrived well in a community of Clan conflicts and tensions of Al-Shabab practices. Founded by a global re – known Educationist, Peace and Human rights activist and a Nansen Refugee Award winner ( 2012), GECDP has made a mark in the lives of girls and women and the community at large.

Like in any other societies of Somalia, Gender based violence (GBV) and discrimination are very common practice. It is mostly fueled by the systematic patriarchal practices as reflected in the practiced religious, traditional and clan ideologies. Further the entrenched customary law framework –Xeer, mostly guides the legislative actions and systems and grants perpetrators impunity.

Therefore Somali girls and women suffer from GBV and practices of Female genital mutilation (FGM) and the health related consequences, rape, domestic violence, polygamy, wife inheritance, early and forced marriages among others. The system promotes impunity for perpetrators.

However with the support of Coordination mechanisms –such as Somalia Protection cluster; GBV Working Group and the leading Ministry of Women Development and Family Affairs (MoWDAFA), survivor’s rights have improved though at a small pace. For example in 2014, a perpetrator in a reported rape case was given a 20 years sentence. An achievement in a context of high levels of violence against women and girls (VAWG), and as indicated by the UNFPA-supported GBVe Information Management System – that rape, sexual, physical, assault constituted 90% of all incidents reported in 2013 and 2014. It is a general trend that violates the rights of girls and women and it is very extreme for girls and women in the IDP communities.

In Galkayo, in Puntland, the work of GECPD, is potentially significant in the National and International agendas and efforts aimed at promoting the rights of Girls and Women and Gender Equality. It is clearly informed by the degree of GBV and discrimination in the society at large. Hence their efforts and contribution have been reflected in the International campaigns including 16 Days of Activism to end VAW/G, that we are part of, the International Female Genital Mutilation Campaigns, implementing the Somalia Compact – New Deal PSG’s among others. It has attracted international attention and support including funds and running exchange programs for girls; donations and funds.

Central to GECPD work is Education, a strategy that promotes gender equality and women’s empowerment and has enormously contributed to the National Education agenda of promoting girls education in particular. Though met with resistance at the initial stages, particularly from the traditional leaders and their male counterparts, in fear of losing power and control over girls and women, the organization has long transcended the barriers.

Particularly the notion of enrolling girls into the education system, and the advocacy against FGM raised suspicion. Males pre-conceived it as a way for making girls and women rebellious and abandon harmful practices of FGM, Early and forced marriages among others. As indicated by the founder in an interview with UNICEF staff, the school initiative was criticized for being too Westernized and the building was stoned, faeces were thrown at it and they faced threats.

Regardless of the barriers, GECPD has become an instrumental institution that has transcended the tradition of discrimination of girls and women in education. Community members including men have embraced the transition. The enrollment capacity has increased, and other centers have been opened to accommodate the education needs of girls and women. The enrollment of girls has increased to 40%, and considered the highest girls enrollment rate in the country where only 24.6 % girls attend school. In its role for gender integration, the school enrolls, boys for formal education, as a strategy to introduce them to gender teachings among other purposes, while boys of age are enrolled for vocational training in preparation for job opportunities.

In efforts to assist girls and women realise their rights, the institution implements tailor made programs that enable girls and women to re-claim their social – economic and political rights. Include formal education for girls; vocational training for the vulnerable girls and women; Human rights education, mainstreaming gender values in learning and education; Training women in leadership programs; advocacy on the elimination of female genital mutilation in all its forms, Safe homes for the vulnerable girls and women, HIV/AIDS awareness, Sports among others. Additionally, the center serves as a focal point for more than 20 women’s organizations in the community and benefit from the training services.

Somalia is generally a polarized nation. This is mostly fueled by the different political and clan ideologies. It is not very common for people from different regions to share same space. However GECDP, due to its role in peacebuilding broke cords in 2014 when a Volley ball tournament for young girls between Mogadishu (Federal) and Puntland State of Somalia was organized and played in Galkayo town. The activity aimed at creating more awareness on the issues of gender based violence and discrimination – celebrated during the 16 Days of Activism on VAW/G in 2014. The event which was also attended by a spectrum of the population including Government leaders, Clan leaders, Community members, Civil Society, UN Agencies among others, also highlighted the role of Girls/Women in the peacebuilding process as well as their demand for free space/society in the country and their capability of breaking the gender stereotypes in sports in general.

*This blog is posted from as part of the 16 Days Blog Parade. CWGL is encouraging activists, NGOs, and the greater online community to write about issues concerning unequal access to a safe education and GBV as well as other intersection of gender-based violence.

** The content here may not necessarily reflect the views of the Center for Women’s Global Leadership or the 16 Days Campaign **

A husband and wife find joy in equality

By Jenna Montgomery, International Medical Corps Communications Officer

Esperance Cirhuza, 28, is a mother and a wife living in Kivu province in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), a notorious place for violence against women. The following is Esperance’s firsthand account of how an International Medical Corps program that engages men in a peer-to-peer discussion group changed her life for the better.

I have been married to my husband for five years now and have two children. My husband used to have no consideration for me. I had no right to refuse sex when he wants it, otherwise I will be beaten. He always came home very late, smelling of alcohol. I could not ask any question about this.

My husband is a teacher and one day when I asked to know his salary, he responded that I have no right to know his salary. When I tried to start my own little business to bring in some income, he confiscated my money and I had to stop. I struggled in this situation for four years. I could not share my experience with anyone and I was suffering in silence.

One day this year, the chief of our village came home and talked with my husband about International Medical Corps’ activities in our community. The following day, my husband went to an International Medical Corps Men’s Discussion Group meeting. I was excited when my husband registered in this group.

Two weeks later my husband came home earlier than usual at 7pm, so I thought he was sick or something. Some weeks later I was surprised when one day I saw my husband bathing our child while I was in the kitchen. I feared and thought he was going to send me away and bring in a new wife. He explained to me that he is learning good things in the group he joined and is trying to change.

However I was not convinced. He invited their facilitator home to explain to me what they were learning. He said it is important I believe my husband and support him. My husband started sharing with me the subjects they discussed during the week. One day, three months later my husband asked me to invite our children to have dinner together. After dinner he asked me and the children to forgive him for his bad behavior and promised to be a very good husband and father. Then he showed me his payroll. I could not believe. I was so surprised that I cried.

Since that day, I was convinced and our family lives in peace. My husband gave me money and I am selling shoes. I thank International Medical Corps for this miracle in my life and in my household. I recommend that this approach be spread everywhere to help other women to regain joy like me.

International Medical Corps has been operating sexual and gender-based violence (SGBV) programs in DRC since 2003. One such approach in this program engages men in a series of group discussions about SGBV issues. The discussions last 16 weeks and are moderated by trained facilitators. During group sessions, the men learn about the realities of SGBV and to recognize the negative consequences. The men then work together on a plan they can implement to prevent SBGV in their own community. They are role models for all men, young and old, in their communities.


*This blog is posted from as part of the 16 Days Blog Parade. CWGL is encouraging activists, NGOs, and the greater online community to write about issues concerning unequal access to a safe education and GBV as well as other intersection of gender-based violence.

** The content here may not necessarily reflect the views of the Center for Women’s Global Leadership or the 16 Days Campaign **

Swat Valley: an Example of Militarization’s Detraction from Long-Term Peace

By Saba Khattak

Pakistan has experienced military-led governments for thirty out of sixty-seven years of its existence. While the military plays the dominant role even in civilian democratic setups, violent conflicts within the country result from this militarization. Violent conflicts also intensify people’s need for military security to return the situation to ‘normal.’ I explore two questions in the context of Pakistan’s Swat Valley—a site of active conflict between 2007-2010: How do such conflicts impact women’s perspectives and rights? While military presence promises immediate and short-term security, does its’ continued presence detract from long-term peace?

Swat experienced a virtual Taliban take-over late in 2007 and was cleared of Taliban control in July 2009 after two military operations and the displacement of approximately 1.5-2 million people. Swati women were relieved to be rid of the Taliban brutalities and restrictions while many also blamed themselves for having supported the Taliban initially. But in the early period, Maulana Fazlullah (the local Taliban leader) had given them a sense of empowerment through his radio sermons, whereby he exhorted them to force their husbands to pray five times a day, to grow beards and work for a perfect society reflective of true Islamic principles. Power dynamics within the household changed to many women’s advantage while they also felt pious. When the Taliban took over, they meted out their own version of justice through brutal killings for what they considered offences, e.g., killing policewomen and men for serving the Pakistani government, killing primary healthcare workers for propagating fahashi (obscenity) through family planning, singers, dancers and beggars for following an “un-Islamic” way of life, and civil society activists and political party representatives for upholding women’s rights. Besides the killings, the severe restrictions on women’s movement prevented their access to education, health and livelihoods. Later, many women explained their support for Fazlullah by saying they were duped by his sermons and promises.

The fact remains that people’s perspectives change radically depending upon how they experience a conflict situation. In this particular case, women changed from hating the Pakistan government and viewing its army as bootlickers of the US (thanks to right wing views propagated by Fazlullah and others), to looking upon the army as their protector and savior.

Initially people appreciated the army’s role in ridding them of the Taliban and undertaking reconstruction and development. It rebuilt schools, colleges, hospitals, roads and bridges, and other infrastructure destroyed during conflict and later, floods in 2010. The issue of militarized development aside, men and women regained their mobility; women got enhanced opportunities to access work in both the public and private sector.

Within a year after the Pakistan army regained control of Swat, disillusionment with the military set in spurred by its highhanded attitude especially in connection with disappearances. As the army had the dominant role, it took control of detention centers under the police and put in people it suspected of Taliban links. The lack of accountability as well as the appearance of dead bodies of victims allegedly due to heart attacks at detention centers became an issue, especially for the women relatives (in many cases there were only women and children left behind in families) and human rights activists. Men did not dare protest lest they be hauled into indefinite detention, while women managed to organize themselves with the support of right-wing political parties as well as human rights organizations.

There were irritants also—long queues at check-posts on roads where people were stopped and physically searched. Men expressed greater unhappiness with the military than women. This was in part because the military assigned itself the role of a guardian even within the private sphere, e.g., it conducted house-to-house searches while men were ordered to wait outside. By entering the private sphere/home, soldiers established their authority over and above the male household heads. By ensuring women exercise their rights in the public sphere, army-men reinforced their dominant position vis a vis local patriarchies both in the private and public spheres thereby creating friction.

Furthermore, the military continued to exercise control over local civil administration to ensure security. Of great concern were the setting-up of ‘peace committees and jirgas’ whose heads were told to assemble ‘lashkars’ (local militias), and the setting up of ‘village defense committees’ (VDCs) whose members were given arms licenses and responsibility to ensure the security of their village. Many people used their VDC membership to settle old scores and enmities by declaring one person or another to be aligned with the Taliban. They also had the freedom to openly display their arms and status. All this was possible in the name of security. Thus pre-existing conflicts became part of the on-going conflict while local society became more militarized.

To conclude then, while militarization as seen in Swat provides immediate and short-term security, it simultaneously detracts from long-term peace by reinforcing militarist thinking and solutions. In the short term, Swati women have used the opening up of institutional spaces in the economic, social, political and legal arenas to their advantage by negotiating with public and private patriarchy effectively. The knowledge that the state supports them has helped them push institutional boundaries to exercise their rights whether in the form of police protection or court intervention in their favor. In turn, the different institutions no longer view women as passive beings to be protected, because now they are represented in the police force, in the legal system, and an integral part of development planning and policy. For women in Swat, the stakes are high, but then the payback is high too. Thus, their ‘bargains with patriarchy’ indicate greater awareness of the importance of having a collective voice.

Can this push for rights also help women change the larger framework of militarization that continues to set the terms of negotiating with patriarchy? This is not only a question that women in conflict contexts can respond to, but one that transnational feminist networks would need to take on as well.

Saba Gul Khattak is an independent researcher with a PhD in Political Science. She has been a Member (Social Sector) of the Planning Commission of Pakistan and Executive Director, Sustainable Development Policy Institute, Islamabad. Using feminist perspectives, Dr. Khattak has published widely on development and social policy issues, including peace and violent conflict, social protection, population, education, and labor. She serves in an advisory capacity on a number of national and international boards and commissions.

No longer just caught up in the crossfire: Gendered attacks on education as a tactic in violent conflicts

By madeleine kennedy-macfoy

One of the many strengths of the 16 days campaign is the fact that every year, the minds of thousands (if not hundreds of thousands) of people across the world are focused on the same topic, with a clear call to action. This means that no matter the specific sector in which we may work, or whether we work on advocacy, policy, communication or research or in a women’s refuge, during those 16 days, we all focus on the wide range of people living and working in all types of places and spaces, whose lives are negatively impacted by gender violence.

When governments adopted the Dakar Framework for Action at the World Education Forum in 2000, armed conflicts were identified as a major barrier to the achievement of education for all (EFA). Eleven years later, the issue was once again highlighted in the 2011 EFA Global Monitoring Report, which laid out evidence showing how armed conflict is a hidden crisis within education; ‘one of the greatest obstacles to accelerated progress in education’.

2014 marks the 10th anniversary of the third deadliest hostage crisis and biggest terrorist takeover of a school the world has ever seen: 331 people, including 176 children, were killed when security forces attempted to rescue hostages from School No.1 in North Ossetia, fifty-two hours after terrorists took over on the first day of school, September 2004. Over the last 10 years, it has become clear that students, teachers and educational settlings are increasingly targeted prior to, during, and after situations of armed conflict. Attacks that target educational buildings and institutions, or use them for military purposes, are not necessarily gendered; men and women, girls and boys can all be affected. However, since 2009, there is growing evidence, including the explicit references to gender in the rhetoric and ideological posturing of violent extremist groups, to show that attacks on education are gendered.

This blog calls for reflection in solidarity and, more importantly, action to protect those whose lives are so deeply affected when the fulfillment of their right to education is seriously hampered, or as is the case far too often, made impossible as a result of violent armed conflict.

Attacks on education

In their most recent report (Education under Attack 2014), the Global Coalition to Protect Education from Attack (GCPEA) documented ‘attacks on education’ in 70 countries between 2009 and 2013, including 30 countries where there was a pattern of deliberate attacks. An ‘attack on education’ is widely defined as the intentional use or threat of force against students, teachers or other educational support personnel. The evidence presented in the report shows that students of all ages, teachers, academics and education support personnel, teachers’ unions and educational institutions were all targets for intentional attacks for a range of reasons that can be political, military, ideological, sectarian, ethnic or religious.

The types of attacks are also varied, ranging from killings, disappearance, torture & imprisonment, military use of schools and universities, destruction of educational buildings and materials, sexual violence, attacks on students and educational personnel at or on the way to or from schools or other educational settings. The UN Security Council has expressed ‘deep concern’ about attacks and threats of attacks against schools and the closure of schools in situations of armed conflict (see UN Security Council Resolution 1998, adopted in 2011).

The evidence available suggests that deliberate attacks on educational institutions and their constituencies of staff and students can be considered ‘a common tactic in situations of conflict and insecurity around the world’.

Gendering attacks on education

The 2011 GMR contextualised attacks on education in relation to the changing nature of armed conflicts in different parts of the world today, which is radically different from the wars and conflicts that characterised the first half of the last century. During the latter half of the 20th century, many wars and armed conflicts occurred within, as opposed to across, national borders. There has also been a rapid increase in conflicts that involve military intervention by other states (as evidenced in Afghanistan, Iraq or Somalia). In countries such as the Democratic Republic of Congo, neighbouring states have provided financial, political and logistic support to non-state groups involved in armed conflict, with violence spilling across national borders (GMR, 2011:137). It is in the changing nature of armed conflicts – how they are carried out and by whom; who finances them and why – that we can most clearly discern the role that gender plays within the tactical use of attacks on educational settings, on students and on educational personnel.

And there is a certain logic to this, if we contextualise war and conflict as ‘the explicit expressions of deeply gendered, as well as ethnicised and classed, long-term dynamics that precede the outbreak of conflict, escalate dramatically, and persist long after ‘peace’ has been officially declared and the transition from overt warfare is taking place’ (Mama and Okazawa-Rey, 2008).

In patriarchal societies, gender norms position women as the custodians of culture, responsible for transmitting the myths of nationhood and traditions to future generations, and restricted to the private domestic sphere. As future women, girls (specifically their bodies and minds) are, therefore, perceived as legitimate subjects of control within their own communities, and in situations of armed conflict, as legitimate targets by enemy armies or factions. Evidence gathered by Save the Children shows that female students and teachers and girls’ schools are especially targeted in contexts where the subjugation of women is an explicit objective of armed groups. Female students and teachers no longer ‘just get caught up in the cross-fire’ when schools and other institutional settings are attacked; they are specifically targeted.

The right to education enables individuals to learn about and claim their other rights; it is no wonder that girl’ education is perhaps perceived as the biggest threat to the warped plans of terrorist organisations or networks.

It is estimated that as many as 900 government and private schools were closed in Pakistan in 2010 after the Taliban issued an edict banning girls’ education. Joint 2014 Nobel Prize laureate, Malala Yousafzai, is one of the 120,000 girls’ who were prevented from attending school. In Afghanistan, the Taliban and associated armed groups have poisoned food and water meant for school girls as a way of preventing them from obtaining an education; in northern Nigeria, Boko Haram’s opposition to what they refer to as ‘western education’, has been well documented since they began their insurgency in 2009, culminating in their most audacious attack on education in April this year, when they kidnapped close to 300 school girls from a government school in Chibok, sparking the global #BringBackOurGirls campaign.

Time to join the dots

So as we focus our thoughts and actions on securing the right to education for those who are deprived of it as a result of armed conflict, we might also consider how to ‘join the dots’ – between sectors, movements and communities – in order to strengthen our advocacy and activism.

It is timely and strategic for us to see different social justice agendas as the sum parts of a greater whole; as such, each of our areas of concern stands stronger and is more likely to make an impact when we reinforce and support each other’s messages and demands.

It behooves us to make the links between our different focal areas concern, and to carry each other’s messages and demands along with our own. For example, the staggering impact of armed conflict on girls’ education makes it clear that education activism needs to incorporate the demands of the women, peace and security agendas, and vice versa. Not only are we stronger together, but because violence against women and girls is manifested in all areas of life, our responses need to be linked and to mutually reinforce each other.

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.

Sexual Violence under Impunity

By Dawn Thomas

Although Colombia is said to have one of the world’s most progressive legal and judicial systems for human rights, sexual violence in Colombia continues to be an invisible crime. The high prevalence of sexual violence against women in the context of the armed conflict is exacerbated due to the lack of government attention and the high levels of impunity it allows for its perpetrators. The Colombian Constitutional Court reported that paramilitary actors, government forces and guerilla groups inflict 90% of the sexual assaults on women.

In the face of these findings, the Colombian government has shown little will to prevent sexual violence or combat impunity. Too often, cases against perpetrators of sexual violence brought before the criminal courts linger in formal investigations or trial phases. This creates increasing distrust in the judicial system and stops many women from reporting attacks. Subsequently, women do not feel supported by the national and local government and remain silent. The victims of sexual violence that I interviewed during advocacy campaigns and field visits echoed these findings with their personal stories. Members of gender-based organizations stated that, “sexual violence against women has become commonplace in our communities.” Paramilitary actors continually rape women and local authorities remain reluctant and generally uninterested in cases involving rape and may even be involved in hiding facts to obscure justice. One woman reported, “the violence is getting worse and worse. Women don’t have protection. If we are attacked, we are afraid to make a complaint. We have no support that’s why we stay quiet” (“Buenaventura Workshop.” Personal interview. 9 Feb. 2012).


Consequently, Colombia faces an ongoing challenge with internal displacement as people living near conflict activity often leave their communities to escape its negative effects. This in turn has damaging effects on women’s social and economic stability as women are forced to uproot themselves and begin again in neighboring cities or to other parts of the country. According to UNHCR, internal displacement in Colombia is one of the worst in the western hemisphere and second in the world. The number of persons displaced is comparable to countries like Sudan and the Congo. The most affected by displacement are Afro-Colombians and indigenous people who tend to live in remote rural zones. Additionally, women make up 58% of the total displaced population and if children are added, accounts for more than 75%.

While Colombia has legal and judicial systems in place for human rights and for the protection of displaced persons, most municipalities are unable to fulfill these rights. I confronted this issue during a consultancy to develop a program for IDPs in a mining town in Caldas, Marmato Colombia. Marmato, the second poorest municipality in Caldas, found it difficult to meet the needs of IDPs due to barriers like low financial resources and limited institutional capacity. At best, the attention to the displaced populations in Marmato was superficial. Most IDPs were left to their own avail to find housing, employment and sustenance that most “victims” are supposed to have recompensed under the law. In a municipality that is the second poorest municipality in Caldas, the population is often dealt with as “the other” that is waiting for handouts. Nevertheless, women IDP groups sprouted throughout the town to support one another when the town failed to do so.

This is no surprise as Colombian women have a history of galvanizing not only for women’s protection, but also for women’s social and economic rights as well as to increase their role in constructing peace. Many gender-based organizations throughout the nation advocate in their communities as well as meet with mayors and local authorities to influence public policy to protect women. Similarly, international women’s organizations work to bring international attention to these silent crimes and organize global advocacy campaigns to push for the enforcement of stronger laws and the implementation for international resolutions such as UN SCR 1325 and 1820.

Hope in a New Law

Women’s efforts toward a safer and just environment has been arduous, but not in vain. Just this year, Colombia’s senate passed a law that protects survivors of sexual violence — particularly those who were victimized by paramilitaries, Colombian forces, guerillas, or other forces involved in Colombia’s decades-long armed conflicts. It addresses acts of sexual violence such as rape, forced enslavement, forced sterilization, forced pregnancy, and serial rapes during wartime. This law also gives psycho-social support and comprehensive medical attention to victims.

This new development is a significant triumph in the struggle to preserve women’s protection. It also shows that the work of civil society groups is making an impact. Adherence to these laws can have multiplying effects on women’s social and economic stability and may even decrease the number of displaced populations as perpetrators would be held accountable. However, measures to combat impunity, along with increased security need to be in place to help women feel safe enough to make complaints. These two factors cannot be independent of each other or the law will be ineffective and Colombia’s invisible crime will persist.

Dawn Thomas received her Masters of Arts in International Affairs from The New School and her Bachelor’s Degree in Psychology from Rutgers University. Her research and interests include gender rights, displacement and education. She has collaborated with gender rights organizations on adoption of UN SCR 1325 & 1820 in Colombia and has consulted with the mayor’s office in Marmato, Colombia where she identified strategies to provide adequate redress for internally displaced persons displaced by violent conflict. She is also a part time lecturer in the English Department at Rutgers University.


Gender-Based Violence and the Arms Trade Treaty

By Alice Dahle

On December 24th, the first ever international Arms Trade Treaty (ATT) regulating the sale of conventional arms and ammunition will go into effect. The treaty will require that before authorizing a sale of arms and ammunition across international borders, governments must assess the risk that the weapons will be used to commit or facilitate serious violations of international humanitarian or human rights law, undermine peace and security, or engage in transnational organized crime. If an exporting country knows there is an “overriding” risk that the arms will be used for these purposes, the sale is prohibited.

In another breakthrough, the ATT is also the first legally binding international agreement that makes the connection between the international arms trade and gender-based violence (GBV). Only recently has the gendered aspect of armed violence been recognized. During the drafting of the treaty, Amnesty International joined with the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom (WILPF), the Women’s Network of the International Action Network on Small Arms (IANSA), and Oxfam to enlist the support of both governments and civil society for inclusion of a gender dimension in the treaty. As a result of these efforts, Article 7(4) of the ATT makes it mandatory for arms exporting countries to assess the risk that their weapons will be used in the commission of GBV and deny authorization of any sales that present an “overriding” risk

Gender-based violence affects everyone—men, women, boys and girls—but in different ways. Both men and women can, and do, misuse guns to commit violence, but most GBV is perpetrated by men against women and girls. Men and boys suffer high rates of death and injury as a result of gun violence, but the statistics do not reflect the disproportionate effects of gun violence on women. Guns can be used not only to maim and kill, but also to threaten and intimidate. Possession of firearms changes the balance of power in a relationship and emboldens both individuals and members of armed groups to use weapons to instill fear and exert control. Guns can be used to impose rape as a weapon of war, to coerce women into sexual slavery, or to perpetrate other forms of sexual violence. Even after the end of hostilities in armed conflict, the weapons left behind can be used to commit gun-related femicide and domestic violence.

The low status of women in all societies and discrimination against them condones and perpetuates such violence. When governments and societies prioritize investment in weapons and military might at the expense of investment in education, health care and economic security, the human rights of women are in jeopardy. Even during times of peace, if economic resources and policy priorities are directed into spending for arms, defense programs and the military instead of reducing social and economic inequalities, women and girls, who are already disadvantaged, face a different kind of violence through loss of their opportunities to access education, decent housing and food for their families, high quality health care, and political participation to improve their lives.

Enactment of an ATT that includes the degree to which women are at risk of violence among the criteria for denial of an international arms transfer is an important step toward protection of their human rights. However, much more needs to be done. Terms such as “overriding” are open to interpretation. Inadequate coverage of ammunition, parts and components, as well as more up-to-date weapons, needs to be addressed. The treaty is legally binding only on those 53 governments that have so far ratified it. If those countries do, indeed, honor the provisions of the treaty in their arms transfers, the risk that arms and ammunition will be used to commit serious violations of human rights or fall into irresponsible hands will be significantly reduced. The consistent application of the treaty’s provisions will also set a new global standard for international arms trade.

As members of civil society, we must hold those countries that have already ratified the ATT to their commitments and encourage more governments to ratify as well. Militarism and armed violence are threats to all of us. Supporting a strong interpretation of the ATT in solidarity with women and men around the world will make this treaty an effective tool to challenge militarism and armed violence.

Alice Dahle currently serves as Co-chair of UNA Women. From 2006-2008, she served as International Relations Director on the AAUW (American Association of University Women) state board in Iowa, and now serves on the Advocacy Committee of Women Graduates-USA. She was Amnesty International’s Stop Violence Against Women Campaign Coordinator for Iowa from 2004 – 2010 and is currently Co-chair of Amnesty International USA’s Women’s Human Rights Coordination Group.

Honoring Those Lost in the Struggle to Eliminate Violence Against Women

By Hibaaq Osman

Ending violence against women isn’t just about saying no to violence; it’s about saying yes to women’s right to control their own bodies and minds.

The 25th November marks the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women. It is an acknowledgement of all of this and so much more. It is a reminder that amidst significant uncertainty, political, religious and military tensions and ongoing conflict, women across the world are continuing to struggle for their most basic human rights.

Despite governments adopting resolutions and ratifying conventions in the name of women’s rights and human rights, it feels as though the situation for so many women is only getting worse. Politics, religion, and war are now being used to justify the campaign of violence that is waged from country to country. Rape, murder, slavery, “honor killings,” female genital mutilation, trafficking, sexual and physical abuse, and torture are daily and inescapable realities for women across the world. Without adequate and enforced protection under the law, women must endure ongoing violence; they are victims of the targeted oppression, brutality, indifference, and fear that breeds when the silencing of women, by coercion and even assassination, goes unpunished.

Despite the ever-present threat of violence and harm, women are forced to move forward with their lives, carrying out their responsibilities of work, family and education, while harboring the weight of a system against them. A seemingly simple act of walking down the street, coming home to your family, going to a local store, or attending a class can be a terrifying and even fatal experience.

In spite of the tidal wave of hate and acts of oppression, there are many women who speak up for the adoption of basic human rights. Often they speak not singularly of women’s rights, but civil rights, democratic processes, and the need for justice and peace as a practicality for progression.

But these women are too often silenced — my good friend and one of the most powerful voices in the Libyan revolution, Salwa Bugaighis, among them. In the absence of protection or enforcement to prevent violence against women, the pervasive conspiracy of silence captures a region and diminishes the hope of holding any perpetrator accountable.

This is only exacerbated by the ongoing exclusion of women from political dialogue and peace processes in the Arab region, and from the economic and social frameworks that make up every day life.

Several courageous women fought for a global platform for women to share their stories of violence and abuse. We honor them and acknowledge their undying effort to create awareness of the realities for women, not only during the 16 days leading up to Human Rights Day on the 10th December, but throughout the year. Sadly in the wider media, the daily public murders, assainations, beatings, and rapes fail go unreported for much of the rest of the year. The sad reality is that there are just too many to report, and there is a tacit acceptance of violence against women as un-newsworthy and all-too-common.

The lack of platforms for women’s rights and needs is at the core of the problem of violence against women in the Arab region and Africa. The murder of activists like Salwa, Iraqi human rights lawyer Samira Saleh al-Naimi, and Somali singer Saado Ali Warsame serve to demonstrate the value and importance of women’s voices in politics, in peace-building and public life. These courageous women were targeted because the gunmen who murdered them realized their potential to make real and lasting change.

Saying no to violence against women will not alone suffice in bringing about lasting change. It is nearly 20 years since Hillary Clinton told the United Nations that “women’s rights are human rights”; it is a lesson that few have learned. We will not see true progress until women are treated equally under the law, until they are able to participate fully in democratic processes, until women are able to hold governments accountable for their actions and inactions, until they feel safe to walk the streets and indeed, until women have their fundamental rights respected.

Regional governments and the international community must bring to justice all perpetrators of violence against women, and they must be accountable for women’s protection and safety. Every measure should be used against governments that do not work to protect their own people, including hard-hitting sanctions.

The torture and torment of women has become an ideology for some. What we can give ourselves as women, no one else will. Women of the world, rise up for your dignity and equality.

Hibaaq Osman leads three regional non-governmental organizations working to end violence against women in the Arab region: Karama, the Global Dignity Fund and the Think Tank for Arab Women, and has launched civil society organizations in Libya, Syria, and Yemen. She is a member of various boards and committees including the UN Women’s Global Civil Society Advisory Group and and the board of Donor Direct Action.

This article was originally published at the Huffington Post website on November 25, 2014 at