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gender equality and women's rights
Submitted by Wendy Flick on Tue, 12/04/2012 - 9:39am.
I have been fortunate enough to spend the past couple of days in Los Angeles in support of Malya Villard-Appolon, a UUSC partner. She has been on a quest to become the 2012 CNN Hero of the Year on behalf of her organization KOFAVIV (Women Victims for Victims), a rape crisis center in Haiti. While Malya didn't win the grand prize, the journey has been remarkable and I think it's just the beginning of more good things for KOFAVIV.
The CNN Hero of the Year contest culminated in an awards ceremony Sunday night, which was just incredible. I am still pinching myself. I am not ashamed to admit that I was a bit starstruck when one of my film heroes, Susan Sarandon, strolled past my seat on her way to the stage (she actually made eye contact, and we smiled at each other!). But what impressed me most was that everyone there seemed to be well aware of who the real heroes we were there to celebrate were. Someone tweeted to CNN during the show about how rare it is "at a Hollywood awards show to hear stars say 'It's not about me.' And mean it." But there really was a palpable sense that there was something different about this show, about setting aside the tinsel of Tinseltown and getting down in the trenches to honor the nitty-gritty of the best of what it is to be human.
There was something so affirming about the attention and spotlights being directed to shine on these everyday heroes who are transforming tragedy into hope on a daily basis and shining a beacon for the rest of us of what can be possible. It was also so encouraging to know how many UU supporters had been sending in their votes daily for Malya. And even though she didn't win the ultimate prize, as a finalist she'll receive $50,000 to further KOFAVIV's work. And beyond that, I am confident that this experience will open doors for KOFAVIV's work to reach a whole new audience of potential supporters who will choose to become heroes in their own ways by supporting the work of KOFAVIV and Malya.
As exciting as it was to share my memorable moment with Susan Sarandon (memorable at least for me!), the highlight of the night for me was just before the show began, when I went to offer Malya a final wish for good luck. She was seated front row center in this huge auditorium surrounded by celebrities, decked out like a queen and smiling like a Buddha. I knelt to talk with her and was suddenly too overcome to speak, and we just looked into each other's eyes. Our eyes began to glisten with tears. All we could do was shake our heads and connect in a heartfelt hug. For my part, I was remembering when we met, shortly after the earthquake, and she was living in the depths of grief and loss and despair — but what she never lost, remarkably, was her fierce determination to continue the work, from the tent she was now sharing with her extended family in a camp for displaced people.
Working in the trenches of human rights, UUSC staff often experience a lot of the "dark side" in the tragedies our partners are struggling with. Even for the most optimistic of personalities, things can often feel so upside down and backwards from what they ought to be, as if the wrong people are being consistently rewarded for the wrong things. But there are those moments, like last night at the CNN Hero Awards seeing Malya in her place of honor, when for a couple of hours at least, all is right with the world.
Submitted by Wendy Flick on Mon, 10/22/2012 - 6:45am.
As you may have heard, there is some exciting news brewing for KOFAVIV (Commission of Women Victims for Victims), a UUSC Haiti partner that works tirelessly to support survivors of rape in Haiti and to stem the tide of future violence. Malya Villard-Appolon, KOFAVIV cofounder, has been selected as one of 10 finalists for the 2012 CNN Hero of the Year, an enormous honor and powerful opportunity to bring the world's attention to the vital work that KOFAVIV is doing.
Two years ago, a few months after the earthquake, I remember meeting with Malya in the courtyard of a lawyer's office. It was there that she and her children had fled to for refuge after being threatened by men with guns in the camp for displaced people where she was living — the men were angered by her work to stop the rapes in the camps. She was soft-spoken and humble but clearly fiercely committed to continuing her powerful work regardless of the personal danger to her. Over the course of the past two years, I have seen her grow in confidence and have seen the work grow in its impact. Through partnerships with organizations like UUSC, MADRE, and Digital Democracy, KOFAVIV's work has been vital in lowering the number of rapes in the camps and neighborhoods where they work.
If Malya wins the top honor and is named CNN's 2012 Hero of the Year, she will receive $250,000 to further KOFAVIV's work. There is something very concrete — and very easy — that we can all do to make that happen. From now through November 28, you can cast 10 votes per day for Malya on the CNN website. You can also spread the word through your networks and encourage your friends to vote, too. The winner will be announced at a live televised event in Los Angeles on December 2. It takes only a few minutes a day to make a big difference — please join us in voting for Malya and honoring her work!
Here's how you can vote:
- Go to heroes.cnn.com.
- Click on the photo of MALYA VILLARD-APPOLON.
- Complete the fields.
- Click on VOTE.
You can vote 10 times per day with your e-mail or through Facebook.
For more on KOFAVIV:
Submitted by Jessica Atcheson on Mon, 03/05/2012 - 10:39am.
Post author Jessica Atcheson (left) with JustWorks participant Kye Flannery and women of the Papaye Peasant Movement. The sign behind them reads, "San Famn Chanjman Pa Posib," or "Without Women, Change Is Not Possible."
International Women's Day — which celebrates the economic, political, and social achievements of women throughout the world — is March 8. And while I believe we should honor women's accomplishments every day, International Women's Day is a great reminder. This year, one of the women on my mind is Michelle-Ange Augustin, whom I met when I was in Haiti last May. Known as Mimine, she is the construction engineer for the eco-village, an innovative project in rural Haiti created by the Papaye Peasant Movement (MPP) with support from UUSC.
Mimine is 30 years old (same as me!), and she grew up in the MPP community in the Central Plateau, several hours outside of Port-au-Prince. When I talked to her about how she became a construction engineer, she told me, "I always liked the types of jobs that men do. I had a choice when I was in high school. I always said to myself that if I didn't learn to be an engineer, I wanted to learn agronomy."
When MPP decided they need to send one of their members to Port-au-Prince for engineering training, she jumped at the chance to volunteer. MPP paid for the course, and she learned the ins and outs of what it takes to be a construction engineer. She was the only woman in a class of 25 people.
With her technical skills and no-nonsense leadership style, Mimine has managed the physical creation of the eco-village, from the foundation trenches to the roofs overhead. There, a new community has sprouted, with 10 displaced families rebuilding their lives after surviving the 2010 earthquake. That's 10 homes and 10 solid foundations for a new start.
Michelle-Ange (Mimine) Augustin leading construction at the eco-village in Haiti's Central Plateau. The village is now home to 10 families rebuilding their lives after the 2010 earthquake.
In addition to its goals of sustainable agriculture and food security, MPP is dedicated to gender equality and advocates for women's rights. And it's clear that they walk their talk when it comes to making sure women have equal opportunities. During one conversation I had with Chavannes Jean-Baptiste, MPP founder and leader, he told me that as he prepares for eventual retirement, he is training two people to share the top leadership when he steps down — and he made sure one of them was a woman.
As a handwritten sign in the dining hall and community room of MPP's training center in Papaye says, "San Famn Chanjman Pa Posib" ("Without Women Change Is Not Possible"). That simple, powerful statement sums up why women and girls are at the center of so much of UUSC's work throughout the world. So today, tomorrow, and every day, I want to honor all of the women we work with to make change — from Mimine in Haiti to Dalia in Egypt, from Maria in the U.S. South to Jackie in Uganda.
Submitted by Shelley Moskowitz on Mon, 03/05/2012 - 10:06am.
There’s still time to tell Congress to support CEDAW — send an e-mail to your senators today!
This International Women's Day, we affirm our commitment to work toward achieving legal, social, political, and economic equality for women around the world. And we call upon U.S. policy makers to do the same by ratifying the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW).
Thousands of our members from 25 states have signed postcards and petitions in support of this important treaty. On March 8, 2012 — International Women's Day — I will be delivering your message to Senator John Kerry's office. I can't wait!
At UUSC, we believe that achieving gender equality is fundamental to achieving universal human rights. To do this, we believe that the ratification of CEDAW by the United States — a global leader in standing up for women and girls around the world — is essential.
Thank you for speaking up for this important issue — and please keep up the good work!
Submitted by Kara Smith on Thu, 11/17/2011 - 2:38pm.
November 25 marks the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women, adopted by the General Assembly of the United Nations in 1999 to raise public awareness of the prevalence of violence against women. By commemorating this day, the international community recognizes that the protection of women is essential to the protection fundamental freedoms, stating that "the human rights of women and of the girl child are an inalienable, integral and indivisible part of universal human rights."
Violence against women — one of the most pervasive violations of human rights around the world — affects women's abilities to achieve legal, social, political and economic equality. With that in mind, UUSC empowers women around the world by partnering with grassroots groups that organize to protect women and girls in their communities.
- We are confronting sexual violence in Haiti with the Commission of Women Victims for Victims (known by its Haitian acronym KOFAVIV) by coordinating with camp leaders, police, and health-care providers.
- We are creating alternative incomes for practitioners of female genital mutilation with the Women Make Change project with the Nandi women of the Kakamega district in Kenya to support the abandonment of this practice.
- We are weaving a web of protection for women and girls in Darfur through partnerships with Sudanese religious leaders who provide trainings on the theological basis for women's rights.
- We are addressing the vulnerability of women and girls caused by famine and drought in East Africa, working with Caritas Garissa and the Daughters of St. Anne in Wajir and Garissa, with a focus on preventing early marriage and trafficking.
As we work with partners around the world to protect women, we need your help to ensure that U.S. policy makers are doing all that they can for women, too! The original resolution establishing the day to end violence against women calls for the full implementation of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW). To mark this day, we invite you to order women's-rights postcards and campaign materials you can share with your community to raise awareness about CEDAW and women's rights.
We have the goal to collect 3,000 postcards by February 15 to be delivered to Senator John Kerry's office on International Women's Day, March 8, 2012. Order yours today and share them with your community.
Submitted by Jessica Atcheson on Wed, 04/13/2011 - 1:16pm.
HaitiTec inspectors at the construction site of Camp Oasis
Last week, we got a great progress report from our partner the Oasis Institute in Haiti — construction at Camp Oasis is moving along! Created with support from UUSC, Camp Oasis is a secure home and school that will be a safe haven for 40 girls who were orphaned after the earthquake. Construction is going well, and even the girls are helping out with the process!
Step by step, the cottages that will serve as shelter are going up — framing, hurricane ties, floors, walls. HaitiTec inspectors are ensuring that the structures are safe and well made. The septic tank arrived, and plumbing for the showers and toilets are being installed. And this week, they are getting ready to put the roofs on!
A roof over their heads is not the only thing that these girls will get from Camp Oasis. With a secure place to live, they are less likely to be the victim of gender-based violence, which is rampant in the camps for internally displaced earthquake survivors. And through the school, they will have educational opportunities they might not have had otherwise. All of this together means that the girls will have a better chance at a brighter future.
Moving forward, once the initial plans for Camp Oasis have been implemented, the project will scale up to include a boys' camp and eventually transition into a long-term boarding school. We're sure to hear more from Camp Oasis soon — especially since they'll be visited this week by the participants on our first medical trip to Haiti, who will be there to offer vital medical services. I'm excited to hear how construction is progressing — and how the girls are doing!
Submitted by Kara Smith on Thu, 01/13/2011 - 7:44am.
At the urging of a number of organizations working with displaced women in Haiti, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) recently issued groundbreaking recommendations to the government of Haiti to address and prevent gender-based violence (GBV) in displacement camps.
KOFAVIV (Komisyon Fanm Viktim pou Viktim, which translates to the Commission of Women Victims for Victims), a UUSC partner, has been courageously confronting the growing prevalence of sexual violence in Haiti in the aftermath of the earthquake. Donations to the UUSC/UUSA Haiti Earthquake Relief Fund have supported KOFAVIV's services to survivors of violence, which includes training GBV agents to work in the camps and conducting education and awareness activities. They have also been at the forefront of documenting cases of GBV and the fight to protect survivors.
In coalition with other Haitian organizations protecting women from GBV, the Center for Constitutional Rights, and legal organizations, this work has resulted in an unprecedented set of recommendations to the Haitian government from the IACHR.
The IACHR granted the following measures:
1. Ensure medical and psychological care is provided in locations available to victims of sexual abuse of 22 camps for those internally displaced. This precautionary measure decision, in particular, ensures that there be:
a. privacy during examinations;
b. availability of female medical staff members, with a cultural sensitivity and experience with victims of violence sexual;
c. issuance of medical certificates;
d. HIV prophylaxis, and;
e. emergency contraception.
2. Implement effective security measures in the 22 camps, in particular, provide street lighting, an adequate patrolling in and around the camps, and a greater number of security forces patrolling in women and in police around the camps;
3. Ensure that public officials responsible for responding to incidents of sexual violence receive training enabling them to respond adequately to complaints of sexual violence and to adopt safety measures;
4. Establish special units within the police and the Ministry Public investigating cases of rape and other forms of violence against women and girls, and;
5. Ensure that grassroots women's groups have full participation and leadership in planning and implementing policies and practices to combat and prevention of sexual violence and other forms of violence in the camps.
Submitted by Jessica Atcheson on Fri, 12/10/2010 - 9:45am.
As we take time to contemplate the state of the world this Human Rights Day, I sat down with Martha Thompson, manager of UUSC's Rights in Humanitarian Crises Program, to hear about the latest on our work around the world with marginalized communities in recovery from war and natural disasters.
UUSC staff were just in northern Uganda as part of the Witness to a Return Home JustJourney, during which participants learned about the inspiring work that has — after just two years of support — helped more than 12,000 Acholi resettle 29 villages in 2 parishes. And those 29 villages are serving as magnets, drawing other displaced people back. After up to 20 years living in camps during the war with the Lord's Resistance Army, there is much healing and rebuilding involved in returning home. As the Acholi people reestablish their lives, they are not only rebuilding their homes and land but also reweaving their culture and reintegrating former child soldiers into villages to create cohesive communities.
UUSC has pioneered work with Architecture for Humanity and the American Friends Service Committee to develop low-cost appropriate ways to repair houses in Gaza that were damaged during Operation Cast Lead, a three-week military conflict in late 2008 and early 2009. It's not just about fixing structural damage, though, it's about restoring human dignity. With our partners, we've finalized a report that catalogs the damages and outlines repair strategies. And now we're sharing it with other organizations in the shelter cluster in Gaza who have funds to act on the information.
As we approach the one-year commemoration of the earthquake in Haiti, we've used approximately 40 percent of our Haiti Relief Fund to support survivors in myriad ways. One of the projects we're excited to see succeeding is the work with the Trauma Resource Institute of training a corps of 80 Haitian grassroots community organizers who will work as trauma resilience counselors. Next year, 20 of those 80 will become trainers themselves. We're also supporting and increasing safety for unaccompanied children in camps, since they're at high risk for sexual exploitation and child slavery. And through KOFAVIV, we're working against gender-based violence in the camps as well — they're in the process of training 100 camp activists on the issue.
Our work in Darfur has spread to North Darfur, where we're partnering with UNIFEM to train police in northern Darfur and work with the U.N. gender officers the way that we did in South Darfur. While Darfur is too often left out of mainstream news coverage, we're still weaving a web of protection for women and girls in camps for internally displaced persons.
As UUSC staff takes off for an assessment visit to Pakistan, we're continuing to work with our partners there, Bedari and Barakat. With Bedari, we're setting up women's centers for people that are displaced within their villages. In the areas we're working in, mainly in the southern provinces of Punjab and Sindh, many displaced people are in debt slavery. Young girls are sometimes used as assets in paying off debts and denied any rights whatsoever — and at a time like this, when people's livelihoods have been destroyed, there will be a likely rise in this practice. So we're focused on looking at how we can protect women and girls from this and how we can support people rebuilding their livelihoods.
Submitted by Jessica Atcheson on Tue, 11/23/2010 - 2:22pm.
Talking to Gretchen Alther, a senior associate for UUSC's Rights in Humanitarian Crises Program, the other day, I got an updated sense of what's going on in Pakistan and how partner work is progressing.
In northern Pakistan, people have mostly returned to their land, though their homes and lands are largely destroyed. In the south, large areas of farmland are still flooded and many people are still living in camps for internally displaced persons (IDPs). Throughout the country, more than 1 million IDPs are living in almost 5,000 different sites. Because of flooded routes and washed-out bridges, difficulties in distributing aid continue — which makes it that much more important for us to be working hand in hand with local organizations.
In terms of international aid, the World Food Program pipeline is threatened with interruptions, which would result in food shortages and ration cuts. The United Nations has made its biggest appeal yet — $2 billion — but it remains drastically underfunded at only 45 percent.
The circumstances are overwhelming and dispiriting, but our partners are carrying out exciting and essential work that gives us hope. We've heard from Lyla Hardesty of Barakat that their livelihoods project has started, beginning with a survey of market carpet weavers to determine needs and ways to offer support, while they also work on getting children, especially girls, into school. At the same time, Bedari is working on ensuring that women and children in camps get access to services and information. They are also supporting and empowering the voicing of women's concerns in recovery, both in district-level and regional assemblies.
With the generous donations of members and supporters to the UUSC-UUA Joint Pakistan Flood Relief Fund, we're looking to expand our work into the hard-hit and underserved areas of Sindh, a province in southern Pakistan. And in early December, Gretchen and Martha Thompson, manager of the Rights in Humanitarian Crises Program, will be traveling to Pakistan for an assessment visit. In addition to offering technical assistance to our partners there, it will be a chance for UUSC to learn firsthand the situation on the ground and find out how best to stand in solidarity with our partners and the flood-affected people of Pakistan.
Submitted by Rachel Ordu Dan... on Wed, 08/25/2010 - 7:10am.
Patricia Jones (left), manager of UUSC's Environmental Justice Program, takes part in a session of TGNP's weekly Gender Development and Seminar Series.
I have always known that lack of access to safe water unduly burdens women and girls. We often hear stories of how women and girls spend hours collecting water for their households and as a result are kept from productive work and school. As Usu Mallya of the Tanzania Gender Networking Program (TGNP) rightly puts it, "Most water finds its way to households on the woman's head, and the patriarchal attitude of the society brings the perception that women will carry water." Because I've heard stories like this before, I wasn't expecting to leave Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, after our visit to TGNP preoccupied by water and gender — but I couldn't get them out of my head.
This train of thought began when members of the Tanzania Water Network, a network formed in 2009 during TGNP's Gender Festival, shared their experiences with us. Like a river, the gender implications of lack of water access run deeper than I realized. First is the issue of water as a burden and water as an income. Yes, women trek several kilometers to get water, but when they have to pay for water, who do they buy it from? Before now, I never seriously considered that it's rare to see a female water vendor. Indeed, it is men that sell water and earn income from it — the women who carry it sadly never get to earn a living from it.
Another area of concern is water and maternal health. Gemma, the former executive director of TGNP and member of the network, observes that "without water a woman cannot get good, nutritious food. Even when she has the food, she needs water to prepare it. This is an issue especially for pregnant women who need good nutrition to have a healthy pregnancy." While sharing the experiences of a community near Dar es Salaam, a woman named Halima explained that "the problem is so acute due to the change in weather and increase in population. Even to deliver a child at the hospital, women have to bring water for the nurses to clean them and the baby."
Also, there are stories of what happens to women in between their homes and water sources. Gender-based violence (GBV) in water collection has terrible consequences. Rehema, of the Kigogo Women and Youth Development Group, took time to explain to me how gender-based violence is linked with water collection. She said that when water is fetched from distance, it means women get home late and sometimes their husbands who are "not patient with them" beat them. Also, at the water point everyone scrambles to get water. "Unemployed boys" seeking water to sell sometimes beat girls and women in order to get water out of turn. To crown it all, young girls sometimes are raped while searching for water. Some of these girls get pregnant and some are exposed to HIV/AIDS. I could only sigh as Rehema painted the picture.
But these women are not just sitting and watching. TGNP, with funding from UUSC, is educating women and youth in Tanzania about water problems and helping them learn and analyze the gender issues involved. Through TGNP, UUSC provided seed funding for the start-up of the Tanzania Water Network. Also, through TGNP's weekly Gender Development and Seminar Series (GDSS) and other programs, women are learning and taking action. As a result, many women have been motivated to become "water activists," as they love to be called, and are now helping organize their communities around water issues.
I was inspired by what Gertrude of the network said about TGNP learning sessions: "TGNP has built our capacity and now we have a voice. We no longer just stare at the problem, now we can identify our problems and the opportunities open for us. We're able to mobilize women and help them stand for leadership. TGNP has made us community animators. We could be members of parliament in the future because of this."
We participated in a GDSS session on our visit. During the session, more than 100 participants were divided into small groups, and each group was given a picture to discuss. My group's picture showed a pregnant woman who, on her way back from collecting water, was ambushed by criminals and a snake. My group, like all the others, was actively engaged as they discussed the picture in Swahili. At the end, a member of the group presented the findings and relayed the group's suggestions for change, which included that women should be more involved in decisions about water and also that more women should be elected into decision-making positions.
As I journeyed back to the United States, I thought about these women a lot. I told myself that the road may be rough at the moment, but these women will get there. As the saying goes, "knowledge is power." As they learn about their rights, they will be continually empowered to fight for those rights and change their world. With UUSC's support and with TGNP's help, a brighter future beckons.