Around the world, members of The International Campaign to Stop Rape & Gender Violence in Conflict are working to prevent sexual violence, protect survivors of rape in conflict and prosecute perpetrators. Here's your monthly roundup of events and what's on the horizon.
Campaigners in Action
This month, the Campaign was focused on the Middle East and Africa, where turmoil continued to rock Egypt and Syria, and elections were held in Mali and Zimbabwe. Meanwhile, the second round of peace talks between government officials and guerrilla forces concluded in Colombia. In all of these locations, women were affected by acts of sexual harassment and violence while trying to exercise their political rights. We will be keeping a close eye on the situation, and we urge our Campaign Members to support activists who are working to stop sexual violence against women in these countries.
Country in Focus: Colombia
In July, Colombia wrapped up the second round of peace talks between the Government and the guerrilla organization Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia (FARC). The first round of talks, which concluded in May, resulted in a deal on land reform, while the second round focused on political participation. Campaign Co-Chair and Nobel Laureate Jody Williams sent a letter to Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos and Minister of the Interior Fernando Carrillo Florez calling for the inclusion of women in the negotiations, reproductive and sexual health care for sexual violence survivors, and a long-term commitment to honour the rights of women and survivors of sexual violence. The letter highlighted the tenacious efforts of Campaign Advisory Committee Member Patricia Guerrero, Director of La Liga de Mujeres Desplazadas, which works with women who have been displaced by the conflict in Colombia.
In the News
Democratic Republic of the Congo – Julienne Lusenge, President of Solidarité Féminine pour la Paix et le Développement Intégral (SOFEPADI) and Campaign Advisory Committee Member was made Chevalier de la Legion d’Honneur (Knight of the Legion of Honour) by the Government of France on July 8, 2013. This is the highest honour that the French Government can bestow on an individual.
Syria/Lebanon – The Daily Beast reported on the growing numbers of incidents of domestic violence, sexual harassment and other forms of gender violence, and exploitation of Syrian women, particularly those in refugee camps in Lebanon. The Daily Beast notes that women are threatened even by aid workers, some of whom offer to provide assistance only in exchange for sexual favours.
UN Women – On July 10th, UN Women announced the appointment of Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka of South Africa as its new Executive Director. Mlambo-Ngcuka was the first woman to serve as Deputy President of South Africa from 2005 to 2008 and was previously a Member of Parliament.
Canada – Canadian Premiers have agreed to support calls for a national inquiry on missing or murdered Aboriginal women. The renewed demand to launch a nationwide investigation came after First Nations leaders met with the Premiers during a meeting of the Council of the Federation on July 24th. During the period 2005-2010, the Native Women’s Association of Canada (NWAC) documented the disappearance or murder of over 600 Aboriginal women. In February, Human Rights Watch also released a lengthy report on police negligence and abuse, including sexual violence, in cases of missing and murdered Aboriginal women along Highway 16 in British Columbia. The report called for Canada to establish a national commission to investigate these cases and actions taken by police in the province.
Canada/Guatemala - The Superior Court of Ontario has ruled that three lawsuits against Hudbay Minerals over human rights abuses, including the murder and attempted murder of members of the Mayan Qeqchi community and gang rape of 11 Qeqchi women, at its former mine in Guatemala can proceed to trial in Canada. This is the first time that a Canadian mining company will face claims in a Canadian court for failing to prevent human rights abuses at its foreign subsidiary.
From Our Members
Women Under Siege – Neema Namadamu is a grassroots women’s rights activist in the Democratic Republic of the Congo and leader of the Congolese organization Maman Shujaa (“Hero Women”). When asked before an interview by a major American celebrity tabloid if she was a rape survivor, Namadamu responded powerfully:
In Congo, we don’t use the word ‘rape’; we call it ‘violence.’ For as women, we are raped a hundred ways every day; our dignity stripped, our value tarnished, our very personhood denied from the earliest age so that we can be violenced throughout our lives without there being any consequence. Surely, this reporter understands that the greatest defilement of one’s person is not what is done to the body. It’s not the physical damage generally speaking that takes your life. It’s that you are eaten alive as if you are a thoughtless being, and left to decompose in those life-stealing memories…. Have I ever been violenced? I didn't grow up in New York City, USA. I grew up in a remote area of eastern Congo dubbed by the UN as the worst place in the world to be a woman or girl. And my work isn’t interviewing celebrities for a magazine. My work is to create heaven for my daughter in a place called hell.
The tabloid reporter's question demonstrates how the larger issues underlying the problem of sexual violence in conflict are often ignored in favour of sensationalizing the stories of rape survivors. Women Under Seige featured Namadamu’s response to the journalist on their website.
Just Associates and Nobel Women's Initiative – Nobel Peace Laureate Jody Williams wrote a letter to Honduran President Porfirio Lobo Sosa, calling on Honduras to ratify and implement the Optional Protocol for the United Nations’ Convention on the Elimination of All Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW). CEDAW requires states to commit to gender equality and non-discrimination in national legislation and to reject all forms of violence against women. Just Associates (JASS), a partner of the Nobel Women’s Initiative, traveled to Honduras in mid-July to meet with policymakers to discuss the widespread rates of violence against Honduran women. In a meeting with President Lobo Sosa on July 11, representatives of Just Associates discussed what steps the government can take to protect women’s rights, and they delivered the letter from Jody Williams.
The Month Ahead
India – The verdict in the case of a young Indian woman who was brutally raped and killed in December 2012 while riding public transportation is scheduled to be delivered on August 5, 2013. In an article about this case, The Atlantic suggests that the six defendants will receive harsh sentences from the Indian court that has been hearing the case, but that long-term institutional reform of India’s criminal justice system is necessary in order to create change in the country and to protect Indian women’s rights.