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:

(Embed: https://youtu.be/T-q4IZbU7Ms)

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

Defeating militarization, gaining hope: women as political actors

By Rosa Emilia Salamanca

Due to the armed conflict in Colombia, the effect that militarization has had on our society is profound. We have lived for so long in situations where the military has been dominant that it has become natural. However, in the path in which we have been advancing in the recognition and defense of human rights we have identified that the militarization of the country has been the way in which the national elite has made use of weapons for their own benefit, deepened social inequality, political exclusion, concentration of land, and very low income redistribution.

During the decades of the 1960s to 1980s, many social and political sectors influenced by the great socialist revolutions of the world, believed that structural changes were to be made through the use of weapons as in other countries in the world, and thus in Colombia more than five guerrilla groups arose between rural, urban, semi-urban, and indigenous sectors. During this period, State repression by armed forces was mainly focused on workers, farmers, students’ movements and characterized by extrajudicial executions, torture, enforced disappearance and imprisonment of left wing militants or political parties.

Photo: Spacio Libre
Photo: Spacio Libre

The guerrillas also installed their own military mentality: political retention, kidnapping, extortion, murder, reproducing the war which has always been present in Colombia. At the end of the 1980s and early 1990s, the drug trafficking problem emerged and with it the mentality of the use of weapons for individual causes without any political premise, but rather with the premise of business, of easy money. There was a rupture of any ethical structure which although complex, was still present in the midst of confrontations.

Changes in the world, the fall of the Berlin wall and reflections from various political currents and new social movements, including the feminist movement, began to severely question this form of confrontation. Some of the main guerrilla groups of the country left weapons and warfare during the late 1980s and early 1990s.

However two of the most important guerrilla groups in the country, the FARC and the ELN continued their exercise of armed confrontation, in a setting in which drug trafficking is a new factor and also the emergence at the end of the 1990s of right-wing paramilitary groups as a way of dealing with guerrillas. This setting progresses into even more complex levels with the rise of global interests in both the agro-extractive business and the mining and energy business, which adds new elements and the interest in large scale exploitation with the need of land for that implementation.

The conjunction between paramilitaries and drug trafficking lords and its armed expression has shaped the most violent, inhumane and cruel moments that the country has lived. The guerrillas also began to see a source of income in drug trafficking to sustain the warfare. Thus, the control of illicit crops and the corridors of illegal marketing and general expressions of illegal economy became new targets, and many times and in many ways almost the main confrontation between the different groups.

With these elements, the internal armed conflict deepened and began to affect much more of civil society. This is a conflict where the civil society has been the main target. Forced displacement, enforced disappearances, extra judicial executions, permanent threats to human rights defenders, kidnapping, terrorist actions, political genocide in a population of forty-seven million inhabitants, where seven million are victims and this number continues to grow. This complex conflict with multiple actors shows us a polarized society, with militarized hearts and minds in permanent war. The search of the enemy everywhere has made us a society that understands the use of force as a necessary tool to guarantee security in a strongly patriarchal society.

Of the seven million victims of countless crimes and multiple actors, 75% are women of different conditions and age. One woman could have been the victim of forced displacement, victim of direct sexual violence, victim of forced recruitment, and symbolic violence, among many other perverse combinations. Violence against women has been a weapon of war. Women have been used scandalously as instruments to damage the enemy, and the enemy has not always been the armed opposition; many times the enemy has been the community itself, which did not obey the orders distributed by the legal or illegal armed actors.

The violent acts against women regardless of the harm placed on them, seek to intimidate an entire community with terrifying impacts. In this environment, the Colombians have been victims of multiple forms of violence, in a continuum that exists throughout society materialized in all the social dynamics and exacerbated by the contexts of today’s conflict. The militarization of our minds and hearts has been deep. Our culture has become violent and we naturalize everything: death, violence against women, the physical or symbolic disappearance of the other, and the crisis is huge in our society. Everything can be justified. The militarization of our society has made it ill, and we are a society in need of intensive care.

However, in every crisis there is hope and a different way of looking at life. Despite the thought that although this is a huge tragedy there are ways to get out of it. If the current peace process with the FARC succeeds and negotiations with the ELN are achieved, there will be an opportunity for the social, cultural and economic changes that we need to defeat the structural causes of our conflicts.

In this sense, the task of the institutions and civil society is immense. More than rebuilding a country, we have to build one that we have never had: a democratic, just and inclusive country. Us women, who have been empowered significantly through the past decades, we recognize ourselves as strategic actors for such renovation. We have achieved (despite the hostile environment) important multilevel organizational levels. Our discourse and practice of lobbying and advocacy, has allowed us to have significant legislative achievements. Today we have a number of laws in the fields of political participation, sexual violence in the context of the armed conflict, integral violence against women and victims expressing our achievements as a movement.

We are now looking at the peace process and negotiations between the national government and the FARC with an inter-locution that we have gained, and the achievement of having affected in the decision of having women participate in the process.

Undoubtedly, the challenges are to achieve a peaceful environment and to have these laws and public policies taken to the local level and practiced every day. This requires political will, institutional seriousness that is to be respectful of women’s rights and with sufficient resources. For example, an objective to be met is for the Colombian Government to accept and have a national plan of action on resolution 1325 and related resolutions implemented and coordinated intra-State and at all levels with strategies of protection, prevention and participation of women.

The international, national and local political world has to understand that women, in addition to victims, are political, social and cultural actors, who in the majority of cases we are tireless weavers of peace for our societies. Our experiences today are sources for the theory of non-violence and reconstruction policy throughout the world. As subject of rights we are central in the resolution of these conflicts and the construction of a society whose values and principles are totally different to the ones that are currently in practice. Among the new values and principles, we can name non-discrimination for any reason, a resounding NO to the use of arms as means to exert power over others; a resounding NO to a military jurisdiction that leads or amnesties that will lead to impunity on responsibilities over what has happened. The practice of democracy as a setting of the confrontation of ideas in the public debate, the defense of everyone’s human rights, and a resounding NO to the continuation of the militarization of our minds, our bodies and our hearts.

Women in today’s world are part of the solution not the problem. Our voices in every corner of the globe must be heard.

Rosa Emilia Salamanca’s work is dedicated to strengthening the participation of women and civil society in decision-making processes in Colombia. She has worked with indigenous communities, feminists and a number of women’s organizations. Ms. Salamanca is Executive Director of Corporación de Investigación y Acción Social y Económica (CIASE) in Colombia, a member of the Women, Peace and Security Collective for Reflection and Action, which calls for a transformation towards a more peaceful Colombian society.

Why I Rise

Today, on V-Day’s 15th Anniversary, I consider why we rise; why the staff at the Center for Women’s Global Leadership, why our colleagues at Rutgers University, and why individuals and organizations from around the world chose to rise up and take a stand against gender-based violence as part of ONE BILLION RISING.

Someone asked me the other day how gender-based violence can still be so prevalent and how gender inequality can actually still exist. So, my answer to why I rise is simple; the fact that someone needed to ask me that question in the first place.

Gender-based violence is any form of violence that occurs because of an individual’s perceived or actual gender, gender-identity, sexual orientation, or lack of conformity to one of the aforementioned. Therefore, as we rise to end gender-based violence let us remember why we are rising. We need to acknowledge the violence that occurs every day all over the world.

We are rising for the women attacked because they do not conform to society’s understanding of what it means to be a woman,  for those targeted for not fitting in to the gender-norms, for the individuals harassed because they identify within the LGBTQ community, to those raped as a way to maintain the patriarchal power dynamic, for the millions of individuals denied access to safe and affordable reproductive healthcare. For the women human rights defenders who become enemies of their own government, for the one in five college women raped during their time in college, for every member of the queer community who has ever experienced repercussions for coming out, for every individual who ever said “no” and was not listened to. For every survivor who has spoken out, and for the others who felt they could not.

As we work to end gender-based violence, we must remember all that violence encompasses; the psychological, verbal, sexual, and physical assault that occurs on a daily basis. For all the reasons above, and a million more, it is necessary that we rise up and take a stand, that we pledge, together, to work for a more just and peaceful world. I rise because every individual has a basic human right to live free of fear, to not worry about walking down the street alone, to feel that saying “no” is enough, to be who they are without concern of societal repercussions. I rise because I am tired of being told, by my own government, that I am worth less as a woman, that my body is not mine to own, that my identity as queer makes me a legitimate target for discrimination.

I rise because the only way to create lasting change is by standing up and standing together.

 by Alex Anastasia, Administrative Assistant, Center for Women’s Global Leadership, Rutgers University

Community Radio – A Tool for Peace?

So why does community radio matter? Shouldn’t we be mainstreaming and making news, shaking things up in the mainstream media? I only wish it were that easy. After departing from a career in corporate media where I was constantly trying to find ways to take the messages from our women’s movement beyond the confines of International Women’s Day and 16 Days Campaign events, it has been more than a decade since I connected my work with the vision of Virginia Woolf for women to have the resources to define our spaces, including to be able to challenge war and violence.

For the last 3 years, FemLINKPACIFIC has linked the annual 16 Days Campaign to our rural women’s community media network “1325” network, building on the monthly meetings where rural women leaders share and articulate their Women, Peace and Human Security priorities using a United Nations Security Council Resolution 1325 lens.

Last year 139 rural women and 24 young women shared their personal stories, the stories of their families, their community groups and clubs during our 16 Days Campaign in Suva, Labasa and Nausori.

UNSCR 1325 reaffirms that women are crucial partners in shoring up the three pillars of lasting peace: economic recovery, social cohesion and political system. But our political reality is that we still have a long way to go to be able to claim spaces in a legitimate political system, even to simply challenge spending priorities by the state.

The 2012 theme of UN Security Council Open Debate on 1325 reiterates the need to support women’s civil society roles in peacebuilding and conflict prevention, and that means that local and national action plans must be inclusive of women’s definitions of peace and human security. It also requires a transformation of structures to ensure the full and equal participation of women in decision making.

Here in Fiji, we are also awaiting the announcement of the 2013 national budget. The 2012 budget brief coincides with the 16 Days Campaign and we heard with dismay that there would be an increase in Fiji’s military budget by $5.2 million “due to the additional 42 troops for the Iraq Mission” with an additional $550,000 allocated for military infrastructure upgrade. This is the same amount allocated to the Women’s Plan of Action, which is focused on “(providing) training to women in the rural and urban areas and in the process assist in the implementing of their projects that promotes the social and empowerment of women,” while an additional $300K is provided for repairs and maintenance of health facilities, including health centres and 103 nursing stations in the 4 divisions.

This will be the 3rd year that FemLINKPACIFIC’s 16 days of community radio campaign will be staged in Suva, Labasa and other rural centres. Ahead of the campaign we organised an interactive learning programme for our current young women producers and broadcasters and a group of potential volunteers from the capital city and from our Nausori “1325” network to work with two outstanding feminist communicators – Vanessa Griffen and Shirley Tagi. They worked together to enhance their collective knowledge of the 16 Days Campaign as well as develop a series of messages which are airing during our 16 Days Campaign.

These are the spaces we have created to enable women including young women to talk about issues closest to them. To connect processes and define where the transformation is needed, especially as here in Fiji in the democratization process of our country.

This is thinking globally and acting locally.

by Sharon Bhagwan Rolls

Sharon Bhagwan Rolls is a broadcaster by profession and co-founder of FemLINKPACIFIC (Media Initiatives for Women) established in Suva, Fiji Islands in 2000 following the May 2000 coup. Today she is the Executive Director of the organisation which supports a “1325media and policy network” that includes a cadre of young women producers and broadcasters.

One Feminist’s Perspective

Chipped and cracked, I still have in my possession my childhood mug that reads, “A Woman’s Place is in the House…Senate and Supreme Court.” That statement, at such a young age, made an indelible mark on my sense of self and my view of the world around me. It seems as if I’ve spent my whole life defining and honoring my own personal interpretation of feminism.

What I have determined is that my feminism is not defined by the fact that I went to Douglass College, or by my personal perspectives on family or politics.  Nor is it defined by the fact that I have spent the majority of my career working to advance the social justice issues influencing the everyday lives of women.  My feminism is rooted in the inclusive philosophical considerations of “humanism,” which speaks to the self-determination and advancement of all peoples. It is the breadth with which humanism affirms the dignity of all peoples that most accurately aligns with my view of the feminist movement as being a part of the larger social justice framework.

Defining feminism in this context underscores the need for individuals and organizations to work together to overcome all oppressive norms. In order to effect sustainable change, advocates must be sensitive to the delicate ways in which gender is influenced by race, ethnicity, spirituality, socio-economic status, sexual orientation, educational attainment and age. To not evaluate gender-specific oppression in this larger context is to deny the rich and complex realities that shape the lives and identities of women. To address one of these influencers, as if it exists in its own isolated silo, is to disregard the way in which various forms of oppression intersect and overlap.

It is in this intersection that my feminism resides, and if by chance my commitment to feminism should ever start to waver or a sense of false confidence regarding the status of women should try to emerge, I need only think of my work with Women Aware, the comprehensive domestic violence agency serving Middlesex County, New Jersey. It is the reality of my work that prevents me from falling into a place of complacency.

Each year, we provide free and confidential services to thousands of women and children moving beyond abuse – families who have been economically oppressed, emotionally tormented, physically and sexually assaulted, and psychologically demoralized. During the 16 Days of Activism Against Gender Violence, approximately 250 women will call our hotline, 15 women will escape violence by seeking refuge in our Safe House, and 50 women will seek the justices afforded them by law through our Legal Advocacy services. And we are just one organization, working within one county, in one state.

As a domestic violence service provider, I spend 365 days a year entrenched in the feminist movement and every day I am inspired by the strength and resiliency of women – women who are not defined by their past, but driven by their dreams of the future.

And so…I have my own dream for the future – one in which all people are able to live lives free of the fear of abuse and the oppression of institutionalized privilege. We can start with 16 Days, but it’s not enough time to right the wrongs of generations’ worth of gender-based oppression. Sixteen days is not enough time to heal the wounds caused by violence. But, if for 16 Days we can focus on our collective strength as women, we can shift the tides of change. Because the stakes are too high for us to allow ourselves to succumb to apathy. Because our foremothers have paved the way for us to be forces for change, so that our daughters and sons may live in a more just society. Because we are strong. Because we are humanists. Because we are feminists.  

by Patricia Teffenhart

Patricia Teffenhart is the Assistant Executive Director for Women Aware, the state-designated domestic violence organization serving Middlesex County, New Jersey.  She also is serving her second term as elected Vice Chair of the Board of Trustees for the New Jersey Coalition Against Sexual Assault, and is also a member of the Board’s Governance Committee.

For True Peace and Security: Welcoming the 16 Days Campaign

Worldwide, militarism continues to be a significant source of violence against women, from the domestic sphere of the home to civil war and international conflict.  This year’s 16 Days of Activism Against Gender Violence Campaign seeks to highlight the linkages between gender-based violence and militarism through our 2012 Campaign theme, From Peace in the Home to Peace in the World: Let’s Challenge Militarism and End Gender-Based Violence!  Coordinated by the Center for Women’s Global Leadership (CWGL) at Rutgers University, the 16 Days Campaign serves as a global advocacy campaign to increase awareness about gender-based violence and call on governments to respond, protect, and prevent such violence. 

Militarism not only undermines women’s rights as a whole, but also women’s dignity and bodily integrity. Militarism creates a culture of fear, supporting the use of violence, aggression, and military interventions for settling disputes and enforcing economic and political interests. While often being used in the name of “security,” militarism typically has the opposite effect, causing violence and preventing peace.

Women and men worldwide are organizing hundreds of initiatives to challenge militarism and gender-based violence in their communities and world.   Activities range from dialogues with local policymakers in Botswana and documentary film screenings in Egypt, to pledges by police and firefighters against domestic violence in England and a 940 kilometer walk across Malaysia. 

For the 2012 16 Days Campaign, CWGL joins women’s, peace, and human rights groups across the globe in challenging militarism, ending gender-based violence, and promoting a culture of peace.  I am thrilled to kick off the CWGL 16 Days Blog, which will feature insights by activists worldwide on their experiences working to end violence in their communities.  Guest bloggers include Masa Amir, researcher at Nazra for Feminist Studies, writing on state response to women human rights defenders; Sharon Bhagwan Rolls, Executive Director of FemLINKPACIFIC, discussing radio as a tool for social change; and Mabel Bianco, President of Fundacion para Estudio e Investigación de la Mujer, on challenging cultural norms through art.  

In addition, the Center has launched The Security Project, aimed at questioning traditional definitions of security to consider what human security really means to all of us.  Often when we hear about security, it is defined by the state, in terms such as the presence of military personnel, checkpoints, and the right to bear arms.  But do we define our own sense of security in these same terms? 

We invite readers to share your thoughts through our anonymous, three-question survey.  Your feedback will help guide our advocacy on state spending priorities and national budgets, work toward developing a renewed understanding of what human security means for all of us, and help us realize human rights and peace for all.

Already in the responses we have received thus far, key patterns are emerging in how members of civil society envision a more peaceful world, hinting at the steps necessary to achieve sustainable development and long-lasting peace.  To end violence against women, women’s rights must not be seen as one dimensional.  Women’s experiences of violence are manifested in multiple forms of discrimination, and greatly influence their access to economic, social and cultural rights.  Violence against women cannot be adequately addressed unless States also address land rights, healthcare, education, access to justice and legal mechanisms, and the larger economic, social, cultural, and political context in which women and men live.  Only then can we truly have an equitable and peaceful world.

by Julie Ann Salthouse, Violence Against Women Program Coordinator, Center for Women’s Global Leadership, Rutgers University