Unforgettable testimonies at court for women survivors

Demonstration opening Women's Court. The banderole says: "Women's court – feminist approach to justice". Photo: Kvinna till Kvinna/Milica Mirazic.

Demonstration opening Women’s Court. The banderole says: “Women’s court – feminist approach to justice”. Photo: Kvinna till Kvinna/Milica Mirazic.

”I am a heroine!” said one of the younger women who testified. She had survived a long period of sexual violence, rape and torture as a teenager in one of the rape camps, a more or less forceful and violent marriage, divorce and a new beginning. ”They took most of my childhood. They took my youth. But the present, and the future are mine.”

Last weekend, May 7-10, Women’s Court in Sarajevo gathered some 500 women from Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia, Kosovo, Macedonia, Montenegro, Slovenia and Serbia, to testify and listen to witnesses and their personal life-stories about what happened during the Balkan wars in the 90s and thereafter – and how that affected, and still affects, women’s lives today.

The most powerful thing about the Court was that the women survivors and their testimonies were at the centre. They were made subjects, taking power of the space and of their own stories. The rest of us could only listen, and give our solidarity and standing ovations to their courage.

The process leading up to the Court has taken several years. As far as I know, the idea was first launched in 2001, and the work intensified during 2010. An enormous amount of work has been carried out in the last five years in each respective country as well as at the regional level.
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Eat that, sexism!

Sexist advert at Tbilisi airport On the Tbilisi airport a sexist commercial, complete with headless woman, welcomes visitors. Fortunately me and my colleagues from Kvinna till Kvinna’s South Caucasus team  are going to spend this week planning a new regional strategy to improve women’s rights in South Caucasus.

We believe that feminism and hard work will make OUR dreams come true!

 

Bringing resolution 1325 into practice

In Cape Town, South Africa, a group of 27 women and men from Colombia, Democratic Republic of Congo, Georgia and South Sudan are right now in the middle of a follow-up training within the International Training Programme (ITP) on 1325: Women, Peace and Security.

Role play about violence with a gender switch

Role play about violence with a gender switch. Photo: Kvinna till Kvinna/Eva Zillén.

The programme is run by Kvinna till Kvinna and Indevelop and this group first got together in Sweden in October for three intense weeks of training. Since then, they have been working on different projects within the areas of gender equality and peace work. And now, reunited again, we asked Sara Munárriz Awad from Colombia and Lysette Kavira Mukandirma from DR Congo: what has the training meant for them so far?

Sara Munárriz Awad works with the NGO Corporation of Research and Social and Economic Action (CIASE).

Sara Munárriz Awad works with the NGO Corporation of Research and Social and Economic Action (CIASE).

This experience has given me the opportunity to meet women and men in different cultures, countries, contexts and with different customs, working for social transformation and gender equality. And also the possibility to share these experiences with my organisation and women in Colombia that are active in many processes in relation to women, peace and security. The change project I have been working on is to develop a virtual platform for broadcasting and making visible the work of organisations and women in Colombia that allow local and national implementation of the 1325 Resolution” says Sara Munárriz Awad, Communications Officer at the feminist NGO Corporation of Research and Social and Economic Action (CIASE).

Lysette Kavira Mukandirma is in charge of local election issues and focal point on gender equality at the State Ministry of Decentralization and Customary Affairs in the DRC. Photo: Charlotte Wennerberg/Indevelop

Lysette Kavira Mukandirma is in charge of local election issues and focal point on gender equality at the State Ministry of Decentralization and Customary Affairs in the DRC. Photo: Charlotte Wennerberg/Indevelop

“This training has done a lot for me. First, it brought in me the will and the strength to do something for my society, and the conviction that my contribution to any change in my society really counts, even though I think it is insignificant. After the training, I was able to get a new position which I considered as a good opportunity. I am now active in pushing for more activities that can help to increase women’s participation in the local elections. And as one of eight advisors to the Minister of State I am now focal point for gender equality. This allowed me to include the change project I have been working on during the training programme in the annual work plan of our State Ministry. The project is to be funded with 70 % by the government!” says Lysette Kavira Mukandirma, State Minister Adviser in charge of local elections issues in DR Congo.

Facts: Kvinna till Kvinna and Indevelop have been running the ITP 1325 since 2011. The programme is Sida-financed and targets men and women representing civil society organisations, state institutions and agencies, academia and the private sector. The participants come from more than ten countries and are committed to bring resolution 1325 from policy to practice. Every year, around 80 women and men take part in the ITP 1325.

Anna Sundén, Project Manager for ITP 1325 at Kvinna till Kvinna

 


Maintaining Hope in Gaza

One of the strong women that continue keeping hope in Gaza. Photo: Kvinna till Kvinna/ Magnea Marinosdottir

One of the resilient women maintaining hope in Gaza. Photo: Kvinna till Kvinna/ Magnea Marinosdottir

She is standing outside under the blue sky with five of her kids in one of the neighbourhoods hardest hit in the war last summer. Compared to last time I was in Gaza four months ago, there are little signs of change: some piles of rubbles with rubble removal on-going, some piles of sand and gravel, and small groups of men working on reconstructing roads and infrastructure I assume. Yet very few are repairing their own apartments or houses.

She agrees to show me inside the 4-5 square meter space where she lives with her husband and the children.  The mattresses they sleep on are piled up by one wall while rest of their belongings are up against the other walls including a small gas stove where she cooks meals for the family.  The room they are living in is the only part of their house which was left standing after the war when they were forced to flee first to a hospital that was used as a shelter until it was bombed and then to a UNWRA school. They were offered to move into a container. Instead, they decided to move back to what is remaining of their home – one little room – hoping they can soon begin to rebuild their house.

Instead of moving to a container, the family decided to stay in what is left of their own home. Photo: Kvinna till Kvinna/ Magnea Marinosdottir

Instead of moving to a container, the family decided to stay in what is left of their own home. Photo: Kvinna till Kvinna/ Magnea Marinosdottir

They are still waiting for support. They get coupons to purchase food as they lost their livestock during the war and are not in a position to make any income to purchase a new one. Their situation is same or similar to the situation of many others who lost their home and livelihood during the war.

The spirit of this mother and her cheerful kids is something I hope they manage to maintain until they will receive the required assistance so they can have a future.

While President Abbas is in Sweden…

During the bombings against Gaza in the summer of 2014, Kvinna till Kvinnas partner organisation Aisha decided to gather their staff for an integrated security and wellbeing training. They felt they needed to strengthen themselves in order to be able to continue helping others, and they used the IS method that they learnt from Kvinna till Kvinna.

During the bombings against Gaza in the summer of 2014, Kvinna till Kvinnas partner organisation Aisha decided to gather their staff for an integrated security and wellbeing training. They felt they needed to strengthen themselves in order to be able to continue helping others, and they used the IS method that they learnt from Kvinna till Kvinna.

I am on my way to Gaza, getting back to our office in Jerusalem by the end of the week. While I am away, the President of the occupied State of Palestine, Mr. Mahmoud Abbas, is traveling to Sweden to meet with Prime Minister Stefan Löfven and Foreign Minister Wallström. The reason for this visit is the recognition of Palestine as a State by Sweden of 30 October 2014. The recognition followed steps taken by the Palestinian National Authority (PNA) towards reinforcing its claim for statehood, most importantly its announcement to accede to 48 UN Conventions. The first step in the accession process was taken in April 2014 when the PNA became party to 12 fundamental human rights conventions including the bills of rights for women, namely the Convention to Eliminate All Forms of Discrimination of Violence Against Women (CEDAW). The accession to CEDAW opens up a window of opportunity to revoke and reform laws and legal provisions discriminating against women and violating their rights. Upon Sweden’s recognition, the Swedish Foreign Minister stressed that Sweden wants “above all to defend democracy, human rights and the position of women in what’s going to be nation-building for Palestine from now on.“ Sweden has followed through on its recognition by increasing the support to development interventions by 50% from 2015-2019 compared to the previous period in an effort to underpin state-building in Palestine. The focus is not least on women‘s rights and Gaza where 51% of women, who have ever been in a marriage, report that they have been subjected to violence in their intimate relationships (UN Women Statistics). In another survey on protection needs in the West Bank, East Jerusalem and Gaza, 2nd from the top, is domestic violence in Gaza.

I am on my way to Gaza to meet and discuss with our partners and support them in their important and much needed work. One partner organisation is developing a programme (funded by Sida) to tackle violence against women/girls, also engaging men/boys in that process. Another partner organisation together with a partner in the West Bank are working on a programme to support bereaved women in the Gaza strip: women who have suffered various kinds of losses due to the siege and the Gaza wars in 2008-2009, 2012 and the most devastating one in terms of the death toll and the damage done to homes and industries in the summer of 2014. These programmes will complement what we are supporting already, namely provision of legal aid to and representation of women in sharia courts; empowerment programs for victims of violence and other vulnerable women; rights of women with disabilities in the West Bank and Gaza; and research and interventions pertaining to the practice and risk of early marriages.

The situation in Gaza makes me sad. At the same time, I always feel inspired after talking to our partners in Gaza whose resilience and spirit I admire. The same goes for our partners in the West Bank. If these women would be in positions of formal power there would not be any problems!

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No Europe without women’s human rights

Advocacy trip to Brussels. Photo: Kvinna till Kvinna

Recently, 14 women’s rights activists from the Balkans, together with Kvinna till Kvinna staff, visited Brussels to advocate for women’s human rights. Photo: Kvinna till Kvinna

Violence against women and lack of justice for battered women is still a huge problem in Bosnia and Herzegovina.  At the same time, the country aims to be part in the EU. Sometime in the future. It is a golden opportunity for the EU to make demands and put pressure on the country to make a change for gender equality and women’s human rights! That is the message when women human rights defenders visit Brussels.

The new 2014 Bosnia and Herzegovina Progress Report*, recently published by the European Commission, was evaluated as the worst one so far. As expected, it reflects the lack of the collective political will by the government to implement reforms necessary for joining the EU.

Just like in Bosnia and Herzegovina, the European Commission keeps marginalizing issues concerning the protection of women’s human rights and gender equality, reducing them to a few general statements in the section of human rights. In dealing with other important topics, such as social policies, public health and trafficking in human beings, the report does not have a gender perspective at all.

In the beginning of November, a group of activists from Bosnia and Herzegovina, Serbia, Kosovo, Macedonia, Montenegro and Albania had a chance to visit Brussels, thanks to support by Swedish foundation Kvinna till Kvinna. The activists meet with officials of EU institutions, talked to member states representatives to the European Union, visited the European Parliament and talked to members of the Foreign Affairs Committee.

I was part of this team of amazing women who have been cooperating for decades, without any political, national, ethnic or other obstacles. We are directly responsible for a series of successful peace building initiatives at both national and regional levels, and have contributed to the inclusion of women’s rights in laws, enhanced support to women and the increased visibility of women’s issues and problems.

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