The Missing Girls in Nigeria: There is a need for critical analysis and sustained action on this

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When news of the abduction of nearly 300 school girls in Nigeria broke over four weeks ago, we, as the CAL Secretariat were deeply concerned. We were, and we still are concerned because this gross violation of human and children’s rights is proof of the degree that hegemonic patriarchal power manifests itself and especially on female bodies. We are concerned because as feminists and human rights defenders, this act, and the slow nature in which the Nigerian government has chosen to respond to this crisis is indicative of just how little women and girls’ lives matter, to majority male governments and oppressive male militia and military bodies. We are concerned because this issue is a microcosm of a bigger problem-commodification of female bodies and devaluation of female/feminine importance. We have asked, on Social Media-What Are Women’s Lives Worth?

Another reality worth considering is that girls and women go missing everywhere, and all the time. There are thousands of unaccounted for incidences where girl children have gone missing and these incidences go unreported. Sometimes for years and many time unresolved. In our daily newspapers we see a majority of girls and women reported missing, with little to nothing done by authorities to investigate these issues. Many patriarchal cultural constructions accord more importance to boy children than they do to girl children. This means that some families are least likely to report missing girl children than they are to report missing boy children. The same is said for women, as compared to men. Girls and women, today, still lie at the bottom of the social totem, and this recent turn of events in Nigeria shows that there is a deeper and urgent need for our governments, our communities and society as a whole to give female bodies the same importance that male bodies are often given.

Some statistics out of America (unfortunately these are the only extensive statistics that could be found) show as follows:
• An astounding 2,300 Americans are reported missing every day, including both adults and children
• The federal government counted 840,279 missing persons cases in 2001. All but about 50,000 were juveniles, classified as anyone younger than 18. This means that in 2001, over 790, 000 children were reported missing.
• Two-thirds of the nearly 800 000 victims are ages 12 to 17, and among those eight out of 10 are [white] females, according to a Justice Department study. This means that 80% of the abducted children were girls.
• Nearly 90 percent of the abductors are men, and they sexually assault their victims in half of the cases.

Source: http://www.crimelibrary.com/criminal_mind/forensics/americas_missing/2.html

This is important because, America is putting pressure and offering military help to find the nearly 250 missing school girls in Nigeria, while they too have a crisis going on as far as missing girl children go. With the current state of affairs between Nigeria and America, especially with regard to the rights of gender non-conforming and non-heteronormative African women and men, this offer, and indeed pressure from the American government, might do more harm than good. And this situation furthermore creates military and military related tensions on a continent rife with militarism and militant oppression-from both State and rebel actors.

In a recently published article in The Guardian, Jumoke Balogun writes: ‘Simple question. Are you Nigerian? Do you have constitutional rights accorded to Nigerians to participate in their democratic process? If not, I have news for you. You can’t do anything about the girls missing in Nigeria. You can’t. Your insistence on urging American power, specifically American military power, to address this issue will ultimately hurt the people of Nigeria. It heartens me that you’ve taken up the mantle of spreading “awareness” about the 200+ girls who were abducted from their school in Chibok; it heartens me that you’ve heard the cries of mothers and fathers who go yet another day without their child. It’s nice that you care. Here’s the thing though, when you pressure western powers, particularly the American government, to get involved in African affairs and when you champion military intervention, you become part of a much larger problem. You become a complicit participant in a military expansionist agenda on the continent of Africa. This is not good. You might not know this, but the United States military loves your hashtags because it gives them legitimacy to encroach and grow their military presence in Africa. Africom (United States Africa Command), the military body that is responsible for overseeing US military operations across Africa, gained much from #KONY2012 and will now gain even more from #BringBackOurGirls.’ This is a worthwhile article-do read it when you get the time to.

As a feminist collective, it is important that we speak to this issue, but more importantly, it is essential that we shift conversations, and shape dialogues around bigger and wider issues, to prevent, or at best attempt to prevent recurrence of such atrocities. We have to hold our governments, tasked with our protection, accountable for our safety and the safety of our children whether they inhabit female or male bodies.

CAL would like to plan some action(s) that bring attention to these multiple, overlapping issues: issues of bodily autonomy, militarism, safety and security; issues of femicide, and the girl child and education; issues of accountability and governance. They all intersect and they all need a voice. This cannot be seen as a once-off, occurrence-there is a bigger picture here, and this conversation has to go on.

We welcome your thoughts on this-and any suggestions on future continued action around this are welcome.

Please send suggested actions to sheena@cal.org.za

The struggle continues. We still hope and wish for the safe return of the stolen school girls back to their homes and families. We demand that justice prevails for these girls and all the other thousands of abducted and stolen girls and women on the continent.

Reprinted with permission from http://caladvocacyblog.wordpress.com/2014/05/14/the-missing-girls-in-nigeria-there-is-a-need-for-critical-analysis-and-sustained-action-on-this/.

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Global Day of Action on Military Spending: Invest in people not the prospect of war!

by Geeta Desai

April 14, 2014, marked the Global Day of Action on Military Spending. UN Special Rapporteur, Alfred de Zayas called on all country governments to make cuts in military expenditures and increase investments in nutrition, health, environmental protection and other major sustainable development challenges, instead. The Rapporteur’s call to action could not have come at a better time because according to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI), global military spending levels are at an all-time high, reaching a total of $1.75 trillion in 2012.

Quite frankly, it blows my mind to think that most countries would have that kind of money to spend on the acquisition and deployment of weapons, given the competing responsibilities and demands within their country borders. Curious to know which countries placed such a premium on military spending, I decided to look it up. This is what I found: the United States spends the most (no surprise, there) with China, Russia, Saudi Arabia and France, in that order, rounding up the top five spenders. In terms of military spending as a percentage of GDP, Saudi Arabia spends the highest (9.3%), Russia is second (4.1%), the US is third (3.8%) and France and China are fourth and fifth, spending 2.25% and 2.0% of their respective GDP. As a percent of the world’s total military spending, the US is responsible for 33% of the expenditures, by far the largest slice of the pie.

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I expected the United States to be at the top of this list and I’m not exactly surprised that Russia is in the top five given that neither country has as yet outgrown its “Cold War” mentality. Additionally, the terror attacks against the US and consequent military engagements abroad, continue to shape its military budget. If the foreign policy pundits are to be believed, I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised to see China on the list given their contention that China is positioning itself to dominate the world. But, what explains the presence of France and Saudi Arabia on this list? According to a recent report, President Francois Hollande’s government has reviewed the recent conflicts in Mali and Libya and feels that its level of defense spending maintains the country’s ability to react to a terrorist attack. Saudi military spending has doubled in the last ten years, according to SIPRI and Carina Solmirano, a senior researcher at SIPRI, said: “It seems that for the Gulf region, internal or domestic problems or the likelihood of problems like the Arab Spring, might have led to countries reinforcing military spending by giving security forces more resources, as a way to make them more loyal to the government.”

Okay, I’ll admit that in the world in which we live, there are genuine security needs that require investments in weapons, military personnel and in the general maintenance of vigilance and preparedness for action. But when is enough, enough? And, who decides when enough is enough?

So, I think that there are two things to consider here.

First, in each of the countries listed above, there are critical numbers of people whose basic human needs are unmet: In the US, 47 million Americans live in poverty; in Russia 18 million live in poverty with the gulf between the rich and the poor getting wider each year; in France, one in six people or over 11 million people live in poverty and social exclusion; in China, a staggering 99 million people fall below the government’s established poverty line and in Saudi Arabia, a quarter of the native Saudi population lives in abject poverty. For these people, investments in militarization are irrelevant; investments in health, education, housing, food and other daily infrastructure supports make the difference between life, ill-health and death. Admittedly, military spending is a small part of the national budgets of these countries, but the dollar amounts are ridiculously large and all five country governments should reassess the actual level of military need as opposed to the desire to overreach with the intention of stockpiling.

Second, it is commonly understood that weapons that are stockpiled usually find their way into the wrong hands and are the greatest contributing factor for conflicts in several dozen countries. As a matter of fact, April 2, 2014, marked the first anniversary of the adoption of the United Nations Arms Trade Treaty. The Treaty adopted by the UN General Assembly for the first time set global standards for the transfer of weapons and efforts to prevent their diversion. It regulates all conventional arms within the categories of battle tanks, armored combat vehicles, large-caliber artillery systems, combat aircraft, attack helicopters, warships, missiles and missile launchers and small arms and light weapons. Among other provisions, the treaty – which will enter into force once it receives 50 ratifications – also includes a prohibition on the transfer of arms which could be used in the commission of genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity.

Of the five countries that lead in military spending only France has ratified the UN Arms Trade Treaty.

The UN has urged country governments to prepare national budgets that will implement the will of the people, based on representative opinion polling. We need to tell our elected officials that we want our taxes put towards the promotion of peace and sustainable development, not towards the purchase and stockpiling of weapons.

Geeta Desai is a member of the International Federation of University Women and has served as its representative to the UN. Currently, she is Advocacy Convener for Women Graduates-USA and writes a blog on the status of women. Additionally, as an Organizational Development consultant, she continues to provide capacity building support for international nonprofits.

Reprinted with permission from http://www.wg-usa.org/advocacyblog/2014/04/global-day-of-action-on-military-spending-invest-in-people-not-the-prospect-of-war/.

Sexual Violence in Conflict Addressed at the UN Security Council

On June 24, 2013, the UN Security Council held an open session to vote on another resolution under the women, peace, and security (WPS) agenda with a particular focus on sexual violence in conflict. UN Security Council Resolution 2106 was passed by unanimous vote by the 15 members of the Council, and it builds on the commitments of previous resolutions (1325, 1820, 1888, and 1960) in the WPS framework.

Background

The June 24 debate was led by the UK Foreign Secretary William Hague, who has been focused on this issue through his country’s Prevention of Sexual Violence in Conflict Initiative, and was presiding over the Security Council (SC) in June. Hague, who led the G8 foreign ministers in adopting the Declarationon Preventing Sexual Violence in Conflict in April, exhorted the SC to make better commitments toward ending sexual violence in conflict and providing resources to mitigate the causes and affects of this form of gender-based violence.

Hague told the assembled participants, “We can grasp the opportunity to shatter the culture of impunity once and for all, or we can let it slip away, and with it the hopes of survivors and vulnerable women, children, and men worldwide.”

Echoing the Resolution under vote in the chamber, Secretary General Ban Ki Moon told the Security Council, “Sexual violence occurs wherever conflict rages. It has devastating effects on survivors and destroys the social fabric of whole communities…[and] when used as a weapon of war, it can significantly exacerbate conflict and seriously hamper reconciliation.” He called on States to take ownership in addressing sexual violence that occurs under their jurisdiction.

UN Special Representative of the SG on Sexual Violence in Conflict, Zainab Hawa Bangura, told the Council that it is “cost-free to rape a woman, child, or man in conflict” and it is possible today for the international community to “reverse this reality…[which] will require leadership and political courage, and a relentless determination to match the cold, calculating brutality of those who would rape the innocent for military or political gain.”

Women at the Center

Adding to the earlier resolutions in the WPS framework, Resolution 2106 calls for more women in the security sector reform process and in peacekeeping missions as security sectors as “Women Protection Advisors” (mentioned in UN SCR 1820) in peace building missions.

The Resolution also acknowledges the important role of civil society, women’s organizations and networks at the community level for protection against sexual violence. It recognizes that sexual violence (SV) occurs against men and boys in the conflict context, and they must not be left out of conversation. SC members and attending member states generally agreed that sexual violence is often used as a weapon of war, and is a violation of human rights; that the stigma of sexual violence must be placed on the perpetrators of these crimes, and no longer on the victims. Many states in their individual statements echoed the words of the Resolution: that women are not just passive victims of sexual violence or of history and that they must be included in peace processes and stabilization programs, as experts and as decision-makers. There was great emphasis on providing services for victims including psychological and physical rehabilitation. States urged the Security Council that more must be done to address the root causes of conflict in order to end the frequency of conflict and of sexual violence in conflict.

Participants agreed on the need for collaboration between national and international justice mechanisms in combating sexual violence, but with the greater onus on states to create policies and legislation conducive to this effort, and that perpetrators of SV see prosecution and punishment.

Going Forward

The Resolution also called on the response to sexual violence prevention and protection efforts to focus both on protecting women, but also improving the space for women as actors and active stakeholders in ending sexual violence.

Some states voiced their worry that dividing elements of the WPS framework into specific resolutions puts stress on specific issues, but may also weaken the holistic strength of the WPS agenda. Those concerned with long-term empowerment of women in the WPS framework worry that this resolution serves to overshadow efforts to bring women on as peacemakers and decision-makers in the political realm. Sweden on behalf of the Nordic countries called on the SC to be mindful not to sideline the larger WPS agenda with increasing attention on ending sexual violence in conflict.

The lack of enforcement mechanisms that can monitor and hold governments accountable when they fail to address sexual violence committed by perpetrators living in the state’s national jurisdiction is a continuing problem. Despite the Resolution calling on States to support the office of Zainab Hawa Bangura, the provision of more Women Protection Advisors in peace building and justice and security sector reform efforts still do not ensure how many resources will be available and what implementation will look like.

The Resolution does not provide for a clear mechanism that can bring perpetrators to justice at the international level or sue government officials who look the other way when crimes are committed. The use of the International Criminal Court is limited in this regard because not only many states have yet to sign and ratify the Rome Statute, the emphasis on State responsibility to bring perpetrators to justice begs the question – who do criminals have to answer to? Tribunals and other transitional justice mechanisms are created on a case by case basis and the prosecution of sexual violence cases depend on which grievances are given attention, how willing victims are in talking, and what evidence exists to bring criminals to justice.

The usefulness of this Resolution remains to be seen. Previous resolutions under the Women, Peace, and Security framework have still to be fully implemented, and another resolution in its chest of drawers adds to the clutter of rhetoric. It is hoped that UN SCR 2106 is not merely another symbolic gesture on the part of world leaders.


by Zarin Hamid, Gender-Based Violence Program Coordinator, Center for Women’s Global Leadership, Rutgers University

Invest in Peace and Redefine Security

Have you ever wondered about your government’s spending on the military and the ways in which it impacts the availability of critical social resources? On the first day of the CSW, Monday, March 4, 2013, the Center for Women’s Global Leadership along with partners, the Global Fund for Women and Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom, convened a panel discussion on the intersections of human security, militarism and violence against women. With a packed room, presenters and the moderator Madhu Mehra, APWLD, stressed the need for a more people centered approach to security as well as the importance of the human rights framework in the shaping of fiscal policies.

Radhika Balakrishnan, Center for Women’s Global Leadership, highlighted that the realization of economic and social rights requires much more than rhetoric to be achieved; it necessitates financial resources. She shared that expenditure and revenue needs to be unpacked in an effort to better understand the ways in which governments are supporting or undermining human rights. One question we all need to ask our government is how does the spending on military and defense compare to the spending on education and health?

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Investing in peace requires governments to reallocate financial resources towards initiatives that advance the women, peace and security agenda and Security Council resolution 1325 national action plans, which Azza Kamel, Appropriate Communication Techniques for Development (ACT) and WILPF representative, touched upon during the panel. The increasing militarism, arms flow and violence against women in Egypt threatens women’s rights and the realization of women’s economic and social rights.

As a result of increased militarism worldwide and lack of 1325 implementation, women and girls are left out of peace building processes. Eleanor Nwadinobi, Regional Representative of Sub-Saharan Africa for the DPI/NGO Executive Committee, stressed the importance of including women in peace building processes as well as explained the gendered effects of militarism on women, and the ways in which gender-aware budgeting can help offset some of the negative effects on gender relations caused by militarized societies.

Since the CSW theme was focused on violence against women, panelists made connections between the arms trade and gender-based violence and the unfortunate reality for many women in the world: that peace does not exist and a new definition of peace must be articulated. The linkages between the flow of arms, budgets and gender-based violence are obvious and governments must commit to reallocating resources that support women’s rights.

by Margot Baruch, Economic and Social Rights Program Coordinator, Center for Women’s Global Leadership, Rutgers University

Economic Policy is a Women’s Rights Issue

Economic and social rights provide a fundamental standard of decency for evaluating our economic system and holding governments and private actors to account. These human rights are inalienable – individuals cannot have their rights taken away due to political changes or economic crises such as the one we are currently experiencing. The recent global economic crisis is evidence that the economic policies of the past three decades have not worked. In fact, they now threaten the security of basic human rights. The devastation that the crisis has already wrought on the most vulnerable households in the Global North and the Global South is a reminder that the formulation of economic policy and the realization of human rights have, for too long, been divorced from one another.

This is why on March 12th at the 57th Commission on the Status of Women (CSW), the Center for Women’s Global Leadership (CWGL) in partnership with the United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) jointly organized a panel discussion focused on the status of women’s rights during the recent financial crisis, 20 years after the Vienna Conference on Human Rights was held. Although the theme for the 2013 CSW was on the elimination of violence against women, CWGL and OHCHR saw the need to reframe the discussion to include the ways in which economic policies can both support and undermine women’s rights and a life free from violence. The event was moderated by Savitri Bisnath, CWGL’s Associate Director and drew a standing room only crowd, demonstrating the importance of this type of discussion. Panelists made linkages between the economic crisis, budgets, militarism, migration, macroeconomic policies, and economic and social rights.

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In times of crisis, people’s access to basic human and financial resources becomes threatened. The linkages between the financial crisis and increases in violence against women were reflected on by Rashida Manjoo, the Special Rapporteur on violence against women its causes and consequences and the featured speaker at the event. As governments decrease spending on social services, there are fewer resources available for vital women’s crisis centers that seek to support survivors of violence and prevent future cases from occurring. She gave a specific country example from Cambodia in which the situation of violence against women is increasing and specifically domestic violence as a result of the financial crisis. Violence against women and austerity policies significantly impede the realization and enjoyment of freedom and equality for women.

Panelist Ruth Ojiambo Ochieng, the Executive Director of Isis-WICCE, an international women’s rights organization based in Uganda, noted the ways in which fiscal policies and budgetary allocations of a country in conflict/post-conflict impact women’s access to basic services. She spoke about the impact of militarism and violence on women’s livelihoods and their ability to achieve economic autonomy. One example she provided was that of a girl gang raped by 16 military men. As a result of the rape, the young girl had fistula and HIV which led her to being ostracized; she became homeless, and lacked access to water/sanitation and critical health provisions. “This situation is the same for thousands of women,” Ruth explained. Clearly, more funding is needed for women’s rights and not the military and as a result of these experiences CWGL has begun a project to redefine security. The security project seeks to collect data from women’s rights group worldwide and redefine security in an effort to demonstrate to governments that their budgetary allocations do not match up with the priorities of women.

Speaking from her experiences with WOREC in Nepal, Renu Rajbhandari, stressed the significance of ending impunity in seeking justice for women who experience violence at the hands of the local law enforcement. Renu also reflected on the life of migrant women and the continuous discrimination and exploitation they endure by state and non-state actors. It is the compounding of human rights retrogressions, neoliberal trade agreements, and pervasive violence as well as customary laws that keep women as second class citizens in Nepal and in the region. These cases are at the center of what is wrong with economic policy.

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Rather than securing the basic well-being of all, governments are putting forth austerity as a solution to the crisis which is not only unacceptable, but has been shown to not even produce the desired outcomes to reduce debt and increase growth. It is clearly time to assess economic policy using the ethical lens of the universally-recognized human rights framework and Maarit Kohonen Sheriff, on behalf of OHCHR, did just that in her presentation. She provided an overview of legally binding international human rights obligations to guarantee the realization of human dignity and those rights that promote dignity such as the right to food, housing, health, education and work. The framework which is articulated in the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR), makes clear links to the human rights principles progressive realization and non-retrogression; and while 160 Member States have ratified this treaty, the existence of gross human rights violations is an enduring reality in all countries.

Finally, Radhika Balakrishnan, CWGL’s Executive Director, concluded the panel with a call for the UN and advocates alike to see macroeconomic policies as a women’s rights and feminist issue. Even amid plenty, levels of inequality persist and while countries rhetorically agree with human rights, policies and implementation practices remain weak. Fiscal policies and monetary policies impact available jobs and social spending which can increase levels of inequality and severely hinder the realization of economic and social rights. Radhika stressed that, “austerity is not working for us,” and although governments are committing to human rights, their practices are significantly undermining people’s ability to live with dignity as outlined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

The event provided a space to unpack the connections between economic and social rights, militarism, women’s rights and economic policy. Panelists explained the stark reality of people’s lives and the gaps between policy and implementation. If economic policy is not addressed when discussing the achievement of gender equality and financial resources are not allocated, then government’s actual commitment to women’s rights is naught.

by March Baruch, Economic and Social Rights Program Coordinator, Center for Women’s Global Leadership, Rutgers University

Masculinities and Militarism

When, as women activists, we come together to discuss gender and militarism, we often end up discussing how militarism affects women’s lives. Men are also a recurring topic during these conversations: Men taking up arms to settle conflict; men raping women as a strategy of war; and men deciding who gets what at the peace table. Consciously or not, we often end up concluding that men are quite a problematic category of people in our struggle for gender justice and a more peaceful world.

But what if we would change our lens, and instead of perceiving men merely as perpetrators of violence and gender injustice, would focus on the fact that men also often end up as victims of war? Such a perspective could open the door for working with men as partners in the struggle for gender justice.

For this, it is worth considering the philosophy of active nonviolence, which looks beyond the direct perpetrator and instead focuses on the entire oppressive system upholding the injustice. This philosophy reasons that those oppressing others also oppress themselves. Ten years after the ratification of United Nations Security Council Resolution 1325 (UNSCR 1325),[1] Women Peacemakers Program started to integrate this perspective in its work. Women activists informed us that one obstacle they continued to face in their peace work concerned the lack of male support. It made us realize that the full implementation of UNSCR 1325 remains obstructed by the fact that those who make the decisions on war and peace too often dismiss 1325 as a women’s issue only.

Still, 1325 is about gender and peacebuilding. And men also have a gender identity. We reasoned that we needed to get more personal if we wanted to engage men as allies for the cause, by pointing out how war, as the ultimate expression of patriarchy, also targets men because of their gender. Though at first it might seem that patriarchy only benefits them, in the end men also lose out. Militarism narrows the male gender identity to an intensely violent masculinity, which is measured according to one’s willingness to fight, mutilate, kill and die. Those men who want to escape this narrow “male box” often face severe consequences.

It is hence important to disclose the unspoken reality of suffering, which often lies beyond the superficial image of the war hero. I want to refer here to some of the personal stories I heard from young men during the late nineties, who grew up in Northern Ireland during the Troubles. They told me that joining the paramilitaries for them was part of becoming a man, somebody to be respected. In this world, you were either a real man and committed to defending the community, or you were labeled as weak and a traitor. Returning to normal life was a real challenge for several of them, manifesting itself in depression, suicide attempts, alcoholism, and broken marriages. I clearly recall one former paramilitary, who spoke of his loneliness and isolation because society did not allow him to share his experiences and feelings of regret and doubt. He experienced this because real men are not supposed to have “these kind of emotions,” nor express any insecurity in relation to the acts they commit during war times.

Building peace therefore requires looking critically at boys’ socialization.  If we want UNSCR 1325 and what it stands for to succeed, we need to reveal that we live in cultures that chronically dehumanize their men as well. We have to go to the root of the problem and start addressing the construction of male and female identities, including a male gender identity that supports men’s violence and militarization. We need to start opening up this narrow male box, so that more constructive masculinities can take root.

Several groups and networks are already actively working towards this, and the number of men who are getting on board is growing every day. Once women and men start working together as allies, the foundation will be laid for the transformation of the peace-and-security agenda from a radical gender perspective.

by Isabelle Geuskens

Isabelle Geuskens is the Director of the Women Peacemakers Program, which works since 1997 to support women peace activists  worldwide. During 2009-2010, WPP pioneered a program on engaging men for gender-sensitive peacebuilding, and since then has integrated a masculinities perspective in its work.


[1] United Nations Security Council Resolution 1325 was adopted by the Security Council in October 2000. It specifically addresses the impact of war on women as well as women’s contributions to conflict resolution and sustainable peace.

A Hostile State: On Being a Woman Human Rights Defender

On December 2011, the image of an abaya[1]-clad female protestor being dragged on the streets of Cairo by military soldiers went viral. The woman’s abaya was ripped by the soldiers, exposing her naked torso and blue bra as a soldier stomped on her chest with his heavy boots. The image epitomized the attitude of state actors when dealing with women human rights defenders (WHRDs). Faced with women who defy cultural norms of what it means to be a “respectable” woman by demonstrating and spending nights on the streets, the knee-jerk reaction of state actors is to strip her of her clothes, undeterred by the fact that there are hundreds of witnesses on the streets. The message that the state tries to convey by targeting WHRDs with sexual and gender-based violence is clear: get off the street and go home.

The use of sexual and gender-based violence against WHRDs is not a new phenomenon, however, but has been a persistent practice of the Egyptian state. In 2005, on what has been dubbed “black Wednesday”, hundreds of young men carrying and wearing badges of the, then-ruling, National Democratic Party, pulled out 30 women from a demonstration and took them to a parking garage by police officers, sexually assaulting the women and tearing their clothes. Following the January 25 revolution that toppled Hosny Mubarak, Egypt’s president for almost 30 years, no action has been taken to train the police officers and the Central Security Forces deployed in demonstrations on how to deal with protesters in a manner that respects their human right to protest without fearing for their lives. It was only normal, then, to see a resurgence in the very actions by police forces that were amongst the main spurs of the revolution.

Following the first 18 days of the revolution, it was disheartening to be eye witness to the oft stated argument that violence, if left unaccounted for, will grow in ferociousness, and become more blatant by the day. In the span of a mere 4 months, as documented by testimonies collected by Nazra for Feminist Studies, the response of state security officers on the streets to female protesters graduated from beatings and calling the women “whores” and “bitches” for simply being on the street to targeting a woman and publically stripping her. It did not matter that the woman was veiled or that the brutal attack was done in broad daylight- the only important factor was that she was a woman and that somehow, it must be instilled in her and through her, that it is dangerous to be a female protestor on the street.

It is difficult to navigate our way out of the hell that is the targeting of WHRDs with sexual and gender-based violence. And it is easy, amidst the many painful testimonies to throw the towel and walk away. However, changing institutions, not merely the head of the state, was the goal of the January 25 revolution. And it is a goal that will be achieved gradually by pushing for new laws, for accountability for past violations, and the underpinning social attitudes without which any meaningful change for WHRDs will always stall in the realm of far-fetched dreams.

by Masa Amir

Masa Amir is a researcher in the women human rights defenders program at Nazra for Feminist Studies. She has a BA in international relations and an MA in international human rights law. 


[1] An abaya is a loose-fitting, robe-like garment, usually black, covering the whole body except the face, hands, and feet.

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