Gender equality; not just a women’s issue

By Sophia Papastavrou, Gender Learning Hub Lead for World Vision’s Middle East and Eastern Europe regional office

This year marks the 24th year of the 16 Days of Activism Against Gender-Based Violence Campaign whose goal is the elimination of violence against women and girls. Although, as a global community, we have made great strides, there is still much work to be done.

Sometimes I lie awake at night wondering about what kind of future lies ahead for women? What kind of future lies ahead for the future generations? And, what kind of future lies ahead for my four-month old daughter, Anna? It goes without saying that my daughter will be in a place of privilege.  Unlike 30 per cent of babies born each year (1), my daughter (and I) have access to high-quality maternal health services. In contrast to the more than 1 billion people who lack access to clean water, my daughter has a nearly unlimited supply. She won’t have to waste her time, potentially miss out on her education and be exposed to danger in order to carry jerry cans back and forth to fetch often filthy water. And, unlike an estimated 62 million girls around the world, Anna will have access to an education and be able to enjoy access to equal opportunities that allow her to learn in a safe environment.

The problem is her ‘privileges’ are not privileges at all. Access to healthcare, clean water and education are all essential human rights; rights that are all too often not extended to women around the world.

Despite all our progress, although women make up half the world’s population they continue to represent a staggering 70 per cent of the world’s poor. Their economical poverty is just the tip of the iceberg. Many other inequalities, such as lack of access to education, poor nutrition and unequal pay lurk beyond the surface, teaching us that we cannot simply focus on what is visible, we must also address what is invisible.  To address the base of the iceberg, we must put resources into women’s hands while at the same time promoting gender equality at household and in societal levels while empowering girls and young women to make informed choices.

World Vision’s reporting has found that young girls living in fragile, conflict and transitional societies continue to risk their lives simply to go to school—girls like Malala who was shot in the head as she was on the bus to school. The attack against her and her refusal to stand down from what she believed was right, brought to light the plight of millions of children around the world who are denied an education today. In Afghanistan, there were at least 185 documented attacks on schools and hospitals last year. In Pakistan, 140 students were killed as gunmen went from classroom to classroom. Such violent acts are often attributed to armed groups opposed to girls’ education.

Violence against women often starts before they are even born and continues throughout their lives. In Armenia, World Vision is working to reduce sex-selective abortion. The impact of this project has showed strong indicators of success, including a decline in domestic violence, increased school enrollment, and an increase in shared responsibility for child caregiving. As a result, 43.2 per cent of participants mentioned at least three changes in their perceptions/attitudes/behaviours regarding gender equality. In Lebanon and Jerusalem, West Bank, and Gaza, World Vision is working with local partners to raise awareness of domestic violence and abuse. In Albania, we are helping girls, like Merushe Tojalli, 16, reach their dreams of a secondary education.  “For most of my young life I was planning on and living [to reach my] dream to become a doctor,” she says. But, like many girls across Albania, Merushe’s dream was crushed when it came face-to-face with the harsh reality. As if poverty wasn’t enough of a hurdle, Merushe also faced the added level of traditional barriers. “I ran into the cold cultural wall blocking females from higher education,” she says. Merushe is one of the girls who participated in the campaign and advocated for access to education. She was at in the eighth grade at the time.  She never knew that the next year she would find herself on the same path as the girls she was advocating for.

In Afghanistan we are providing girls living in poverty access to education through a Street Kids Project: 92.5 per cent of children of the Street Children project are now attending school. Additionally, early childhood education ensures that education for girls is prioritized from a young age 637 children (316 girls and 321 boys) of age 5 years old completed the ECCD program with 95.5% of the children scoring high on school readiness indicators.

It is only through the elimination of violence and discrimination against women and girls  that we can hope to achieve the sustainable, peaceful and just society that everyone, especially girls deserve. All girls have the right to have access to healthcare and education, they have the right to be protected at home and in public, they have the right to be free from the fear or act of acid attacks, rape, and assault and the right enjoy access to equal opportunities.

We can have the future we want and need. Each and every one of us have the responsibility to help both men and women, boys and girls in our communities and spheres of influence to understand why gender matters and why gender equality is essential to sustainable development.  Over the next 16 Days, during the 16 Days of Activism Against Gender-Based Violence, I challenge all to take the road less travelled and delve into the stark realities that resisting gender brings to our future.

*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 **



16 Ways to Mark 16 Days of Activism against Gender-Based Violence!

By Gloria Blackwell

“Violence against women is not acceptable. It is not inevitable. It can be prevented.” — Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, Executive Director, U.N. Women

The 16 Days of Activism against Gender-Based Violence campaign begins November 25, the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women, and ends on December 10, Human Rights Day, highlighting the indelible fact that violence against girls and women is a human rights violation. This year’s campaign theme, From Peace in the Home to Peace in the World: Make Education Safe for All, highlights the “relationship between militarism and the right to education in situations of violent conflict, in relative peace, and [a] variety of education settings.”

Since 1991, the Center for Women’s Global Leadership (CWGL) at Rutgers University has led the campaign, involving more than 5,478 individuals, organizations, and policy makers from more than 180 countries around the world. Twenty years after the U.N. Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action, progress has been made, but problems still hinder women and girls’ advancement and full participation in society. Ending violence against girls and women will transform the world. That’s the philosophy behind the 16 Days campaign, which has been a catalyst toward ending gender-based violence for nearly a quarter-century.

The U.N. 16 Days campaign invites participants to “orange the world” to raise awareness around gender-based violence.

Parallel to the 16 Days campaign, the United Nations’ UNiTE to End Violence against Women campaign, led by U.N. Women, encourages “orange events” like concerts, flash mobs, and marathons featuring the color to take place around the world. These events will “symbolize a brighter future without violence” and launch the first-ever U.N. Framework on Preventing Violence against Women.

Both campaigns are about action and awareness, and each provides a tool kit for ideas and inspiration:

But we’ve done some of the work for you. Here is a day-by-day guide to raising awareness about gender-based violence during and after the campaign!

November 25: International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women

Share the Violence against Women infographic to increase awareness of gender-based violence (GBV) as a global pandemic.

November 26: Swap your Facebook profile picture.To kick off the campaign, all Facebook users can change their profile pictures to the 16 Days campaign logo for the duration of the campaign. Help spread the word and bring awareness to GBV and the right to safe, accessible education by changing your profile picture and inviting your Facebook friends to change theirs! Download the campaign logo and upload it as your profile picture.

November 27: Download and share the AAUW Ending Campus Sexual Assault Tool Kit. Use these resources to raise awareness about campus sexual assault so that everyone can help make campuses safe for all students.

November 28: Check out the international 16 Days campaign calendar. Get inspired by what’s happening in your local area and globally. Visit often since activities and events are updated daily!

November 29: Follow @16DaysCampaign on Twitter and join the conversation! Keep reading and tweeting the AAUW blog for information on how violence affects education for women and girls, and spread the word on our International Fellowships for women around the globe.

November 30: Share the United Nations’ Orange the World poster via Twitter and Facebook. Invite your friends to take action to end violence against women.

December 1: Write and share your own blog! Rutgers’ Center for Women’s Global Leadership will post the series 16 Blogs for 16 Days highlighting the work of activists from around the world throughout the campaign. Write about issues concerning unequal access to a safe education and GBV, and what you or your organization is doing to eliminate them. E-mail and they will share and feature your post during the campaign.

December 2: Take two minutes to tell your members of Congress to end sexual violence on campus! Your representative on Capitol Hill needs to hear from you about how important this issue is — use AAUW’s online Two-Minute Activist tool to urge them to co-sponsor the Hold Accountable and Lend Transparency (HALT) on Campus Sexual Violence Act.

December 3: Take action on Flickr. The Center for Women’s Global Leadership invites supporters of the 16 Days Campaign to take Flickr by storm! Show how you or your organization are working to eliminate GBV by uploading pictures of your participation in 16 Days activities or campaign events to the official Flickr account. Check out photos from previous years on Flickr.

December 4: Reach out to your government leaders for help with lighting and “orange-ing” iconic buildings in your community, town, or city. Organize orange marathons, flash mobs, dance parties, or bicycle rides.

December 5: Share via social media videos from the U.N. video channel “Say No to Violence,” which provides powerful tools for global information and advocacy.

December 6:  Quiz yourself. How much do you know about violence against women worldwide? For the ‪#‎16Days of Activism against Gender-Based Violence, test your knowledge in this U.N. Women quiz! Share your results via Twitter and Facebook with ‪#‎orangetheworld.

December 7:  Join the #16Days campaign #GBVTeachin on Twitter using handle @womengirlslead! Contribute to the conversation on how women’s leadership makes home and the world safer for all. Retweet, ask questions, or share your thoughts using the Twitter handle @womengirlslead and the hashtags #16Days and #GBVTeachin!

December 8: Read about the United Nations’ 15-year plan for global issues like empowering women and girls. The United Nations’ new Sustainable Development Goals include specific targets to eliminate all forms of violence against women and girls, which includes trafficking. Read more on the AAUW blog and share what you learn.

December 9: Tell Congress to do more to protect survivors of gender-based violence. The Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) only helps survivors in the United States — that’s why Congress needs to pass the International Violence Against Women Act, known as I-VAWA.

December 10: Human Rights Day – Join the #16Days campaign #GBVTeachin on Twitter using handle @WorldPulse. Same Twitter campaign, different topic: how women change makers from around the world are working to end gender-based violence. Retweet, ask questions, or share your thoughts using their Twitter handle @WorldPulse and the hashtags #16Days and #GBVTeachin!

It will take the activism of women and men to end gender-based violence. Participating in the 16 Days campaign is a critical opportunity to connect with other advocates and increase awareness about gender-based violence.

Raise your voice for all the women of the world and speak out against gender-based violence so that From Peace in the Home to Peace in the World: Make Education Safe for All becomes a reality.


*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 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

Gender-Based Violence and the Post-2015 Development Agenda

By Selamawit Tesfaye

With the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) concluding at the end of 2015, UN Member States, the UN system, civil society organizations, academia, and other stakeholders around the globe are engaged in various processes to negotiate an ambitious new global framework for sustainable development – the post-2015 development agenda[i]. The post-2015 development agenda has two processes: one led by Member States to develop Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and the other by the Secretary General to discuss what should replace the MDGs. These tracks will be converged into one intergovernmental process to work towards a global framework and set of goals expected to commence in early 2015.

During “Rio+20”, the United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development which took place in Brazil in June 2012, world leaders, along with thousands of participants from the private sector, NGOs and other groups, came together and approved an outcome document entitled “The Future We Want” which aimed to reduce poverty, advance social equity and ensure environmental protection. Under the call for the establishment of an inclusive and transparent intergovernmental process, the Open Working Group (OWG) on Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) was formed.

After a total of 13 meetings over a period of 18 months, the OWG discussions culminated in a final outcome document with 17 proposed goals and 169 targets, which was adopted by acclamation on 19 July 2014[ii]. The proposal included a stand alone goal to “Achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls” (Goal 5) with targets to end all forms of violence, discrimination, early and forced marriage and harmful practices against women and girls; universal access to sexual and reproductive health and reproductive rights; to ensure women’s full participation in decision making; and equal rights to land and economic resources. In addition, with more than 20 mentions of women, there has been a concerted effort to mainstream gender across the goals. For example, gender equality and women’s rights are specifically addressed in different goal areas including equal rights to education, on inequalities within and between countries, and in peaceful inclusive societies.

The subject at hand, gender-based violence (GBV), has been recognized as both a cause and a consequence of gender inequality with no geographical boundaries. It affects and impacts on the rights of women and girls despite their economic, social or political standing undermining development, peace, and the realization of human rights for all. Even though tremendous gains have been achieved in prevention and protection efforts of women against GBV, impunity still persists. According to the World Health Organization[iii], 1 in 3 women have been beaten or sexually abused in her lifetime.

Within the context of the MDGs, significant achievements have been recorded in areas such as equality in primary education between girls and boys, and political participation of women specifically in MDG 3[iv]. However, there is a lack of focus on the realization of women’s rights, and the direct implications of violence on women’s and girls’ rights to education, health, participation in economic and political arenas were also left out of the realm of the MDG framework. Thus, the elimination of violence against women, including against Women Human Rights Defenders (WHRDs), should be part and parcel of any efforts and/or polices geared towards achieving gender equality as well as sustainable development.

Currently, there are 3 targets[v] in Goal 5 that specifically deal with GBV in its various forms of manifestations in the OWG proposal. However, the OWG proposal is far from meeting the call from world leaders for an ambitious long-term agenda that will improve people’s lives and protect the planet for future generations due to various shortcomings including the lack of human rights mainstreaming throughout the document to significantly enhance the power of people to claim their rights. The OWG outcome document only recognizes human rights as a means to greater growth and not as intrinsically valuable obligations with limited consideration of the current macroeconomic model which perpetuates poverty and inequality, as well as the root causes of poverty, including the growing feminization and intergenerational transfer of poverty.

Thus, if we want to avoid facing the same challenges and constraints faced by the implementation of the MDGs, and ensure the adoption of a new development agenda that holds people at the center, we have to ensure the inclusion of existing UN Human Rights Conventions on gender equality and international commitments to tackle gender based violence in the overarching principles. In addition to this, there is a need to strengthen gender analysis and disaggregation of data to address the gender gaps among sectors. Lastly, we should bring back the spirit of “leave no one behind” which served as the initial galvanizing call for the discussions around the new development goal to include socially excluded groups such as LGBTQI, indigenous groups, afro-descendants, groups with disabilities, etc., and ensure that they also benefit from development to the same extent as other sections of society.

Selamawit Tesfaye, Coordinator, Post 2015 Women’s Coalition graduated from Georgetown University Law Center and earned an LLM in International Legal Studies as well as a Human Rights Law Certificate. Selam has worked at the Federal First Instance Court as an Assistant Judge, as a Project Officer at The African Child Policy Forum, as a Programme Officer for UNDP and as a Programme Officer at the Ethiopian Women Lawyers Association and Fida Uganda. Currently, she is the coordinator for the Post 2015 Women’s Coalition.




[iv] GOAL 3: Promote Gender Equality and Empower Women. Target 3.A: Eliminate gender disparity in primary and secondary education, preferably by 2005, and in all levels of education no later than 2015

[v] 5.1 end all forms of discrimination against all women and girls everywhere; 5.2 eliminate all forms of violence against all women and girls in public and private spheres, including trafficking and sexual and other types of exploitation; and 5.3 eliminate all harmful practices, such as child, early and forced marriage and female genital mutilation.