“Accountability won’t happen unless we demand it.”

This week, CWGL joins hundreds of other civil society organizations monitoring the High Level Political Forum (HLPF) for Sustainable Development in New York. Consisting of a Ministerial Declaration, thematic sessions and 22 voluntary country reviews, the forum is the official platform for follow-up and review of the Post-2015 Development Agenda.

As we fight for gender equality and the full realization of human rights we must remember: The development agenda is, at its core, about human rights. Poverty. Inequality. Conflict. Climate change. We need a holistic approach grounded in policy: Fiscal policy, tax policy, labor policy are all critical, with the power to further entrench discrimination, or to tackle inequality. At the national level –both in the United States and abroad–we must ensure they fulfill rights for all.

To move the HLPF beyond rhetoric to strong accountability, it will require space for civil society, support for social movements and active inclusion of those often left behind, with member states capable and willing to engage in a human rights based approach to the 2030 Agenda.

By Rachael Wyant

Program Coordinator – Economic and Social Rights

Why do you want a #She4SG?

All of the past 8 United Nations Secretary Generals have been men. It’s time for a Madam Secretary. In a short 30 second video tell us why you want a woman Secretary General?

Send your video to to be posted to the You Tube Channel and shared on social media.


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.

Time for a Peaceful Revolution

By Pregs Govender

From high-profile cases to cases that never make the headlines, it is clear that there is no ceasefire of the war in homes, neighborhoods and workplaces. Patriarchs, from pulpits and podiums, attack the dignity of people who do not conform to militarized masculinity and submissive femininity. Every day we hear of misogynistic attacks on babies, children, heterosexual and lesbian women and people who are gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex.

The international campaign of 16 Days of Activism Against Gender-Based Violence Campaign began on the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women. This global solidarity campaign was initiated 23 years ago in 1991. The year before, Nelson Mandela was released from prison and led the ANC in intense negotiations with the Apartheid regime. Those negotiations, together with active civil society campaigns, ensured that racist threats of civil war were successfully averted and SA developed a Constitution that committed to a non-sexist society in which women could enjoy the rights to bodily integrity and substantive gender equality.

This year’s global campaign theme is “From Peace in the Home to Peace in the World: Let’s Challenge Militarism and End Violence Against Women”. Gender equality and relations are ultimately about power and the definition, use or abuse of that power in the home, society and the state. Policy-makers, legislators, trade unionists, civil society activists and human rights institutions have to interrogate the analytical frameworks and programs of action that reflect and shape how we think and act. We need to understand which social, economic and political policy choices undermine women’s power and devalue women’s lives. We need to interrogate the structural, systemic causes of women’s increasing vulnerability to gender based violence and the institutionalized violence of poverty and inequality. What is preventing women from enjoying human rights?

Women’s unpaid or poorly paid work helps corporations make billion-dollar profit for a handful of very greedy owners, executives and share-holders, while a self-perpetuating arms industry provokes war across the planet. Women’s role as subsistence farmers and small-scale farmers is recognized as the key to the right to food security, sovereignty and an end to hunger. Yet that work is not valued or counted as a contribution to the economy and receives little or no support. Instead political leaders and policy-makers prioritise laws such as the Traditional Courts Bill that undermine rural women’s rights. Today, 95% of SA’s rural water is used by 1.2% of people who own agribusiness, mining and other industry, while over 60%of SA’s children live in poverty. Statistics from SA’s most recent report reveals that, “only 30.8% of Black African women are employed”. Most of the jobs in which women are employed are precarious jobs. Thousands of ‘women’s jobs’ in the formal economy have been destroyed by economic policy choices that are blind to human rights, especially substantive gender equality. In the ‘informal economy’ women receive little protection from the labor laws, which they had fought for.

In 1996, our Government acceded, in a critical post-Beijing Cabinet commitment, to ‘decrease military expenditure and increase spending on women’s empowerment.’ Yet later that same year our country entered into an arms-deal with European corporations. This deal was a corruption of SA’s policy priorities to address violence, poverty, inequality, HIV and AIDS, by arms corporations, backed by their powerful governments. Central to these priorities was the need to demilitarize our police and security forces after the war of Apartheid against the citizens of our country and neighboring countries. Democratic SA had to build a new culture of accountable and responsive government that respected the dignity of those the Apartheid state had deliberately undermined. Accountability of the state to people who are Black, female and poor requires a fundamental shift of paradigm and practice from Apartheid’s capitalist, patriarchal mindset. Elected leaders whose mandate is to protect and promote human rights must be held accountable to those who have been reduced to the poorest and the most powerless as their land, water and other natural resources are taken from them. Leaders cannot collude or be corrupted by those who lay claim to the wealth of the world.

Civil society has demanded that the Ministry of Women “develop and implement a comprehensive and fully funded national strategic plan to prevent, combat and respond to gender based violence”. There are many expert research reports that address the policy and program changes required in the the criminal justice system, co-operative governance, social development, health, finance, human settlements, water and sanitation, labor, trade and industry, economic affairs, agriculture, small business development and many other departments in all spheres of government. The many parliamentary hearings and consultations in civil society that have been held, can inform an inclusive strategic plan.

This year’s campaign can be used to expose the connection between the violence against women and the institutionalized violence of economic and religious fundamentalisms that perpetuate war, poverty and inequality. This solidarity campaign ends on International Human Rights Day, which recognises women’s rights as human rights and human rights as women’s rights. The Universal Declaration declares that human beings are entitled to the right to be ‘free from fear and free from want’. It also recognizes that “Everyone is entitled to a social and international order in which the rights and freedoms set forth in this Declaration can be fully realized” Nothing less than a peaceful revolution in ourselves and our world is needed to create that order.

Pregs Govender is Deputy Chair and a full-time Commissioner of the South African Human Rights Commission (SAHRC). A feminist activist, Pregs organized against Apartheid as a teacher and trade unionist. She managed the Women’s National Coalition during SA’s transition and served as an MP in SA’s first Democratic Parliament (1994-2002).

This article was originally posted on the South African Human Rights Commission website on November 24, 2014 at

Women’s Aid One in Five Women Campaign in Ireland

By Margaret Martin

Women’s Aid has been working to end domestic violence in Ireland since 1974. This 40 year period has witnessed a massive societal shift in Ireland, but unfortunately, we as a society still haven’t put in place a system to make it possible for women and their children to live in safety and dignity. Ireland has not met women’s needs in terms of support, even after the most serious incident of violence by a partner. Research shows that the most dangerous time for women in an abusive relationship is when they decide to leave. It has taken 40 years to achieve a third of the required refuge spaces for women in Ireland. However, the Family Law court system is under resourced, with women facing delays of up to four months to have full barring orders.

We need to take the focus from the victim and name the problem of male violence against women. Society needs to provide proper protection and to hold the perpetrators to account.

Women’s Aid has taken part in the 16 Days of Activism Against Gender-Based Violence Campaign for over 20 years now. The 16 Days of Activism is an important opportunity to raise awareness of the prevalence of domestic violence in Ireland, as well as for connecting with local domestic violence services throughout the country and raising awareness of the services available to women. It is also an important opportunity to show solidarity with local services as we work to end violence against women.

In Ireland last year, over 130 groups took part in the 16 Days Campaign through the National Balloon Action or through other events like seminars, discussions, plays, art competitions, exhibitions, film screenings, postcard and poster campaigns, information stands and media campaigns. Similar numbers will take part this year, showing solidarity with women and domestic violence services from around the world.

This year we will continue to highlight the prevalence of domestic violence, using Women’s Aid figure of one in five women affected.

On our website, there is a map of Ireland showing the different events taking place throughout the country. We have a 16 Days video which our supporters share on various social media platforms, as well as a list of Women’s Aid resources available to local services. We post a blog every day, highlighting different areas of domestic violence, such as female homicide and highlighting the various areas of work of national and local services. There are also several guest blogs which we post throughout the 16 Days Campaign. Women’s Aid regularly post messages of support which we receive from people and groups such as the police force An Garda Síochána, the President of Ireland, and the Ombudsman for Childr

A key part of our campaign is an action display outside the Irish houses of parliament, Dáil Éireann. This action display serves to highlight the 16 Days Campaign in the media and lobbies government and public representatives from the opposition parties. Women’s Aid has kept records of the numbers of women murdered since 1996. This year, we will be using our public action to highlight the 78 women who have been killed by their partner or ex-partner, as well as the 10 children in these cases who were killed alongside their mothers.

Women’s Aid hopes that our work, in combination with the global 16 Days Campaign, will raise awareness of the issue of domestic violence in Ireland and push for positive change to make women and children safer. By organising events in our local communities that highlight the issue of domestic violence and promote the services available for women, we make the issue visible, we break the silence, we give hope to women who are experiencing abuse, and hold perpetrators of abuse to account.

Margaret Martin is director of Women’s Aid. The Women’s Aid National Freephone Helpline on 1800 341 900 is open from 10am to 10pm, seven days a week.