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. 

A Nation-wide Campaign to End Violence Against Women in Lebanon

By Ghida Anani

For the fourth year in a row, ABAAD – Resource Center for Gender Equality will lead a nation-wide campaign on the occasion of the international 16 Days of Activism to end Gender-Based Violence. This year, ABAAD is running a large scale national campaign focusing on the state’s accountability to end violence against women (VAW) in Lebanon. ABAAD will foster the Lebanese political will by highlighting the State’s exercise of due diligence, since the State in Lebanon is accountable and responsible to defend women’s rights at the legislative level; but also continue until such rights become a reality.

Additionally, the campaign will also raise awareness on the prevalence of VAW in Lebanon, as well as the need to protect survivors of VAW while working on rehabilitating perpetrators of VAW. Hence, this campaign is designed to elicit a proactive response from the State and general population alike in Lebanon. For those who are largely unaware of the problem, it will be an eye-opening message about the realities of VAW in Lebanon, and bring to light the need to take official measures to end VAW in our country.


The main component of this campaign will include a video commercial featuring the Lebanese former President, General Michel Sleiman, addressing the male audience and asking them to refrain from using VAW under the pretext of bearing “responsibility”. Through this TVC which will be broadcast by major local TV stations, the former President will play an influential role in calling upon men to become engaged in ending violence against women, calling that step a real responsibility. This campaign will be another brick in the wall where ABAAD sheds light on the concept of engaging men to end VAW as a key element in the effort to end gender-based violence (GBV) in Lebanon and the region.

In addition to utilizing local TV stations to communicate to the general audience, the campaign will be available on thousands of billboards across the country; also web banners will roll across local news websites and social media platform to maximize the reach out of the campaign.

For more information about this campaign and ABAAD’s efforts to end GBV, you can contact at, or through the Facebook page ABAADMENA or Twitter @abaadmena.

Ghida Anani is the Founder and Director of ABAAD-Resource Center for Gender Equality, Beirut, Lebanon.

The Fire Behind the Orange: November 25th

By Charlotte Bunch and Roxanna Carrillo

This November 25th we celebrated another milestone in the recognition of Violence Against Women as a major global concern. The Empire State Building, the United Nations Headquarters and Times Square in New York are lit up in orange for International Day Against Violence Against Women – the beginning of the 16 Days of Activism Against Gender-Based Violence Campaign. This “orange your neighborhood” #OrangeUrHood initiative from UN Women and the Secretary General’s Say NO UNiTe Campaign is used to “symbolize a brighter future without violence.” For us, the “orange” comes from the fire ignited by the many women’s groups dedicated to combating violence against women around the world.

Charlotte Blogpic

This UN initiative must be kept closely linked to civil society, where work against violence against women has its origins, and on whose efforts it still depends.   The 16 Days began in 1991 in many parts of the world simultaneously, as an NGO led campaign to highlight violence against women as a human rights issue. Since then, it has grown steadily and is owned by many – women’s groups, NGOs, governments, and international organizations like the UN. This is a good thing and the more allies the better.   But such work relies on the day-to-day commitment of women’s organizations everywhere. Research has shown that the presence of a strong women’s movement is the most important factor in changing policies around violence against women.

One look at today’s New York Times is an ever present reminder of how much violence still pervades women’s lives – from another report of fraternity rapes on US college campuses, to the Turkish President’s statement that women shouldn’t be considered equals, to the exclusion of women from peace efforts in Afghanistan, to the UN report on the increase in trafficking of children, 70% of whom are girls.

So today as we celebrate added “illumination” of this issue, let us remember that this work has never been more urgent. This increased attention to violence against women must result in an upsurge of support for those who are doing the heavy lifting to remove this scourge from our communities.

For more information about the history and NGO coordination of the 16 Days Campaign and women’s activities around the world this year, go to, #16Days

A Reflection of Who We Are as a Society

By Kavinya Makau


“I can hear the roar of women’s silence.” – Thomas Sankara.

“ Not today Sankara. Not today. Not today!

We came in 1000s. We shouted! My dress! My choice! We sang our freedom songs. We marched. For women to be safe in Kenya.

It became apparent that we are protesting for our lives. For our right. Our right to live in a country that is ours too.

“Sijui nieke Mwili kwa handbag!? [I don’t know what to do with my body? Should I put my body in a handbag!?]” – woman.

We were threatened with violence. They said they would strip us and burn our bodies. We told them, “No! Shame on you! Shame on you!” and the bully became so small and helpless, it was embarrassing.

15 drunk violent men came to attack us and disrupt the demonstration. It was scary. We were afraid.

The men who were marching with us; our allies and brothers, became a single unit, went forward & drove them away. They then formed a barricade in front of us and behind us to protect us.

It was so powerful and yet so painful.

After the march, we advised each other to leave in groups. We worried our T-shirts could lead to an attack.

Today, Nairobi will tell you that women are not safe.

Don’t deny it.

But we are here. The dead have no protest. We are here.

We keep going.”

The above sentiments are drawn from Wambui Waithaka following her participation in the #mydressmychoice march hosted by Kilimani Mums on Monday 17th November 2014. The protest was held in response to acts of violence committed against women in Kenya beginning with the public stripping of a woman on 10th November2014 by matatu touts in downtown Nairobi. Her alleged ‘crime’?-indecent/provocative dressing reminiscent of Jezebel of old. Since then, similar incidents have taken place in Nairobi, Mombasa and Mlolongo. The most recent victim was recently discharged from the hospital following a harrowing attack a day after the #mydressmychoice protest.

Kenyans’ reactions to the outlined incidents have served to emphasize two diametrically opposed views in relation to women’s rights generally and violence against women in particular. A significant number are in support of a woman’s right to dignity and protection from all forms of violence. On the other hand, misogynistic views aired by self-appointed moral police in and outside of public office are indicative of a society that cannot reconcile itself with the fact that women are human beings capable of making independent choices regarding their bodies. And that those choices, the integrity and security of the woman making them ought to be respected and upheld.

Those that believe that the criminality witnessed this past week is about the decency or morality of the victims have missed the point. These acts are indicative of a patriarchal and intolerant state where violence is used to punish divergent views, whether the same are expressed in the public domain or in the private sphere. They are based on the fact that violence against women is so engrained in the psyche of some Kenyans that it is carried out with such a disturbing air of normality that hooligans have the audacity to strip women in public, as bystanders watch. So much so that onlookers do not raise the alarm or call the police, but have enough time to take videos of the incident, post the same on social media, with perpetrators boasting on Facebook because they believe the relevant state actors charged with doing something about this will do nothing. This is unacceptable.

As we prepare to commemorate 16 Days of Activism, the ongoing debate on violence against women in Kenya should underscore the importance of the following state obligations enshrined in Kenya’s Constitution, The Sexual Offences Act, The Penal Code, The Protocol to the Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights on the Rights of Women in Africa and others:

  • Thorough investigations and the expeditious prosecution of cases of violence against women cases must be carried out so as to reaffirm women’s right to life, integrity and security of the person, both in public and private.
  • Individuals aiding and abetting acts of criminality on social media and elsewhere should be arrested and arraigned in court forthwith.
  • The state must ensure that the institutions that exist to address violence against women including the police and the courts are accessible, effective and safe spaces for victims to access justice.

That said, the state is a reflection of who we are as a society. The causes and consequences of violence against women in Kenya are evident. We must all challenge ourselves to actively engage in and call for progressive dialogue aimed at addressing cultural beliefs, practices and stereotypes that legitimize and exacerbate the persistence of violence against women.

Kavinya Makau is a women’s rights lawyer who works for Equality Now, as the Program Officer in charge of the SOAWR Campaign. This is an initiative of 44 organizations working in 24 African countries to ensure that all AU states ratify and fully implement The Protocol to the Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights on the Rights of Women in Africa. The Protocol is one of the world’s most progressive women’s human rights instruments and is the only treaty of its nature with specific provisions that address violence against women.

Women and Girls with Disabilities Must Be No Longer the ‘Forgotten Sisters’!

By Stephanie Ortoleva, Esq.

As we discuss the impacts of violence and militarism on our livOKes and the women, peace and security framework, we must not forget women and girls with disabilities and effects of the intersections of gender and disability, the ‘forgotten sisters” in these discussions! Women with disabilities work for peace in the home to peace in the world: We challenge militarism and seek to end gender-based violence against all women! December 3, International Day for Persons with Disabilities, falls in the midst of the 16 Days Campaign, stressing that gender-based violence is an international human rights violation, affecting all women, including women with disabilities.

Clearly, it is outrageous and bewildering that women and girls with disabilities are ignored during our work in conflict and post conflict situations given that conflict and the ravages of war often results in disabilities and exacerbates existing disabilities. Thus, humanitarian and peace building efforts must incorporate women and girls with disabilities. Effective efforts can only be developed through our leadership of the design and implementation of such processes. We cannot just be recipients of aid.

The notion of “protection” in such situations is often the only element of humanitarian aid, ignoring the roles women with disabilities must play in re-building our societies and managing our own lives. We demand access to information on sexual abuse, sexual violence, and avenues to redress these violations of our most basic human rights. We need accessible and disability aware sexual and reproductive care and support. We need physical access to and reasonable accommodation in justice systems and legal representation. We must be included as the international community addresses the concerns of women as we re-build our societies and its institutions. Peacemakers across the globe recognize that conflict resolution is more binding and longer lasting when all voices, including the voices of women with disabilities, are heard during the process of rebuilding countries.

The 2011 groundbreaking World Health Organization and World Bank “World Report on Disability” documented the dramatic increase in the number of persons with disabilities worldwide from prior estimates of 10% to a current 15% and there are significant differences in the prevalence of disability between men and women in both developing and more developed countries: male disability prevalence rate is 12% while female disability prevalence rate is 19.2%. Women with disabilities experience double discrimination due to both their gender and their disability and face unique challenges, offer unique perspectives, enabling us to make necessary contributions to the peace-building process. Moreover, our participation ensures that our needs and concerns are addressed and effectively represented.

Pursuant to the Disability Treaty (CRPD), Articles 6 and 11, the concerns of and participation of women with disabilities must be incorporated into these efforts. Provisions in the Women’s Treaty (CEDAW), especially in the Preamble on conflict and post-Conflict Situations, brings into focus the synergy between the two treaties.

The 2012 Report on Violence Against Women with Disabilities of the United Nations Special Rapporteur on Violence Against Women highlights the high incidence of violence against women with disabilities in conflict situations and that disability is a significant factor among other identities which exacerbate discrimination and marginalization of women with disabilities. International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent research demonstrates that war increases the number of women with disabilities at shockingly high rates.

Nonetheless, women with disabilities are generally invisible to the women’s rights and the international humanitarian relief and development communities and are erroneously stereotyped as incapable or useless and not having anything to contribute to peace-building and post-conflict efforts. Those of us who have immobility and other disabilities are, devastatingly, a low priority in humanitarian relief, emergency preparedness and refugee and internally displaced persons camps. The Women’s Refugee Committee highlights that often in refugee camps, housing and toileting facilities are inaccessible, water and other resources are far away from the camp site and no accommodations to the disability of the woman or her family are provided. In times of no conflict, women with disabilities are marginalized in employment, education, social life, and political life and in times of conflict, these issues are exacerbated.

There are women and girls with disabilities who are leaders working for the rights of women with disabilities worldwide. Women Enabled International collaborates with organizations of women and girls with disabilities internationally to advocate for our rights at the United Nations and with UN and regional mechanisms, our respective governments and the international development community, clearly demonstrating that there are women leaders with disabilities in the community who should be part of the peacebuilding efforts and decision-making. Women Enabled International’s ground breaking work has provided a blueprint for the United Nations, governments and advocates as they develop and implement Women, Peace and Security policies, strategies and National Action Plans to include women and girls with disabilities on a greater – and more consistent scale. For example, we made Recommendations to the CEDAW Committee to include women and girls with disabilities as the Committee elaborates a General Recommendation on Women, Peace and Security and there were a few mentions of women with disabilities in the CEDAW Committee’s General Recommendation. However, there were clear gaps, as mentions of disability only relate to the particular risk of violence, especially sexual violence faced by women with disabilities and protection of women with disabilities rather than our engagement in post-conflict peacebuilding, government reform and accessible infrastructure redevelopment.

Our law review article, “Women with Disabilities: The Forgotten Peacebuilders,” is the first major research paper to bring this issue to the forefront of international policy and thereafter, our law review article, “Who’s Missing? Women with Disabilities in UN Security Council Resolution 1325 National Action Plans,” presents a guide on the importance of and “how to” include women with disabilities in 1325 National Action Plan development and implementation.

The brief mention in UN official documents is more than symbolic, but it is just the beginning and only a small step toward full inclusion by governments and humanitarian aid organizations. Inclusion of women and girls with disabilities in future resolutions on the UN’s Women, Peace and Security agenda pursuant to UNSCR 1325, its National Action Plans and other inclusion would add to better response in conflict and post-conflict peace-building.

Stephanie Ortoleva is a highly recognized and published author, researcher and international human rights lawyer and consultant on issues of women’s rights, disability rights, and the rights of women with disabilities.  She is the Founder and President of Women Enabled International, which educates and advocates for the human rights of all women and girls, with a special focus on women and girls with disabilities.  Her articles are available at