Another world is possible, We are Unstoppable

By Naheel Bazbazat, from the YWCA of Palestine, shares the realities faced by women and girls in Palestine & her experience at CSW.

Naheel2

Naheel Bazbazat

I work as a women’s rights coordinator at the YWCA of Jerusalem, focusing on delivering awareness campaigns for dropout students and women who have had early marriages, as well as on capacity – building and leadership training for young girls.

Violence against women is a layered issue in the occupied Palestine territory as is the case elsewhere.  Palestinian women are often made victims of a traditional; patriarchal structure that devalues their role in society added to this is the stress of living under Israeli occupation: the everyday humiliation, violence, and frustration that leads to increased tensions in the home. Dr. Nadera Shalhoub professor and criminologist at Hebrew university, emphasises how living with the constant anxiety and instability of the occupation affects the lives of women, noting that “domestic violence increases, patriarchal and masculine violence increases and economic violence against women increases”.

Moreover, all aspects of live including health and education worsen, further inhibiting women’s ability to develop socially and economically. Home demolitions are particularly traumatic as this targeting of the home space changes the entire social fabric of the community and shifts relationships within the family, which may leave young women vulnerable to violence.  Furthermore, it is important to note that Palestinians are left with less than 22% of historic Palestine, where almost 30% of the population is aged between 15-29 years old, who are and continue to be the direct victims of the occupation.

The YWCA of Palestine clusters all it programmes under four main thematic areas, each thematic area has specific strategic objectives that fulfill its goals and values, and is in line with the overall vision and mission:

  1. Women’s economic development to empower women to earn a fair and competitive income,
  2. promoting women’s rights to create spaces for young women in its targeted communities to learn about and advocate for their rights, whether social, economic or political,
  3. youth leadership training and civic engagement for enabling youth, particularly female youth, to participate in civic life and contribute to build a free and democratic Palestinian society through youth leadership program,
  4. primary education and cognitive learning for children-to improve inquisitive and play skills.

Through this opportunity to attend the Commission on the Status of Women 2013, I have been able to share the work of the YWCA of Palestine and the realities faced by Palestinian women and girls and therefore raise their voices and demand that Palestine be free, so that women and girls can truly live a life free from violence!

Furthermore, I have developed my knowledge around UNSCR 1325 and CEDAW. It has been a real pleasure and richness to engage politically and gain more skills in lobbying and to advocate for as part of the YWCA delegation at CSW. I have enjoyed meeting all the young women in our movement from around the world and also sharing with them all the issues and the realities in each of our countries. Together we have discussed how we will be leaders in communities.

The most amazing time for me was during the march on International Women’s Day- 8th march 2013; I always attend the march every year in Jerusalem. We work a lot with other women’s organisations and we stand for women rights and demand freedom. This year it’s really different for me being in New York and it was more than an honour to march with all the diverse women gathered and chant through hope and anger- that “Another world is possible, We are Unstoppable”, I believe we can end violence against women. CSW has been such a truly amazing experience in my life which I will share with fellow YWCA members.

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The Road to CSW

Neema Landey is from the YWCA of Tanzania.  Neema shares her experience and appreciation of the opportunity to participate and represent young African women during CSW57.

Neema Landey

Neema Landey

My experience during Commission on the Status of women it was a tremendous since it was my first time to attend CSW and also my first time to visit New York, I really want to extend my gratitude of thanks to the World YWCA office for giving me such amazing opportunity to be one of the short interns for this year this is not only for Tanzanian young women but it’s an opportunity to all young women in Africa thank you so much for your support and encouragement.

The theme of this CSW was eliminating violence against women and girls, it was not a new word to me since we have an advocacy programme which aims on ending all forms of violence against women and harmful traditional practices which violate women’s rights and their dignity. This opportunity to participate in CSW provided the chance to explore skills and knowledge on how to advocate for young women and girl’s rights, especially in my own community.

We had a wonderful time during CSW where we attended the Cecilia Koo advocacy training and learnt, how to lobby with our governments and it was really successfully since I was able to meet our Minister of Gender whom introduced me to the Tanzanian delegation.

Also we launched the” Future Young Women Want” and I shared the future African young women want document which was revised when we convened in Addis during African Union Summit. I also had the opportunity to attend trainings organised by YWCA with our partners the Population Council,  the CEDAW training which was a new terminology to me but I got a clear understanding of CEDAW and I promise to share this with other young women and we shared different best practices of working with adolescent girls from Africa to Asia during the population Council training.

Indeed, YWCA has been able to bring the leadership of young women onboard by giving them chance to explore and exercise leadership within the organisation.

Reflections from Ecumenical Women’s Orientation

Rachael O’Byrne of the  YWCA Great Britain particpated in the Ecumenical Women’s CSW orientation and training day at CSW 57. She shares her observations from the fellowship and  how glad she is that Organisations are creating spaces for key issues concerning women’s rights.

On Saturday March 2,  I joined the young women of the World YWCA’s delegation to attend the Ecumenical Women’s CSW orientation and training day. Ecumenical Women is an international coalition of church denominations and organisations which includes the World YWCA. Ann Tiemeyer, National Council of Churches USA, welcomed delegates and started the day by affirming that violence against women is deeply rooted in all societies, cultures and structures and asked delegates to reflect on women’s rights and religious liberty.

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Rachael O’Byrne

We were introduced to the Ecumenical Women’s CSW57 statement on violence against women and their key advocacy messages. We were reminded that although Ecumenical Women was made up of various differing church groups and NGO’s they would be united in the agreed language and key messages to be taken forward during CSW on protecting women’s human rights. This includes a united agreed language on sexual and reproductive health rights – I found this agreement really encouraging.

I was excited to listen to Lakshmi Puri, Assistant Secretary General for UN Women, who joined the orientation and gave her appreciation for the work of Ecumenical Women as a key organisaton among the NGO’s who attend and participate in CSW. Marie-Claude Julsaint, Global Programme Manager of the World YWCA, asked if Ms. Puri expected member states to be bold enough to form a resolution or statement on the elimination of marriage. All World YWCA delegates would be collecting signatures for a petition on ending child marriage during CSW, to be presented later in the week (to?). this was to be one of our key advocacy messages. Ms. Puri affirmed that child, early and forced marriage is a very serious form of violence and said that she expected member states to recognize  that child marriage is a form of violence and that it should be added to this definition. Ms. Puri encouraged the World YWCA to work closely on the issue with UNPF and aim for a resolution at the General Assembly. Marie-Claude gave us ‘new’ delegates a great lesson in conveying our key advocacy messages through asking questions to influential panellists.

Ecumenical Women commissioned artist, Mary Button, who has created the ‘Remembering Women in the Shadows’ banners and artwork which are being displayed in the UN Church Centre. Each day, Mary weaves the stories of women and girls, survivors and victims of violence into the banners so that their experiences and lives are remembered and recalled throughout CSW. Delegates at the Ecumenical Women orientation day were given copies of the ‘Shadows’ and asked to reflect on violence against women and girls and asked to write down a name of a story of violence so that their voices are not forgotten.

 This was my second day in New York, and as well as being an informative and interesting day for a CSW first timer, Ecumenical Women’s orientation day was truly inspiring and helped me prepare for the days to come.

Security and power issues – When will ALL women REALLY be taken into account

Amelie Jonsson is from the YWCA/YMCA of Sweden. Her voice is one of the many from the YWCA Movement, representing at CSW 2013. Amelia shares her concerns on the challenges of women in conflict zones and how a collective action must be taken towards the cause.

 The question of security connected to rights and young women is an interesting and pretty complex issue. Last Wednesday, the event Human Rights, security and young women – Strengthening protection and leadership on UNSCR 1325 (moderated and held by the World YWCA) discussed this topic.jonsson

There were many interesting views, but the one that caught my attention the most was the one about the seemingly common assumption that security is connected to what Joseph Nye (American political scientist, Harvard University) would call “Hard Power”. The production (both for internal use and for export) of weapons and military equipment and the focus on military issues is a fact in many states and often costs a large amount of money. Increasing globalization and integration can be argued to have caused a slight “change” of attitude and the interconnection between states (one example is the EU and the Euro) seems to have highlighted and given more importance and value to other areas such as the economy (China is a very good example both in connection to the USA but also to investments in African states), which Nye calls “Soft Power”. However, the perspective towards women seems to be the same, no matter what subject is being emphasized. Women still suffer, as proven by the many examples highlighted at several events here at the international gathering of NGOs and governments.

An issue of great concern is the actions taken by states to fuel ongoing conflicts and violence in other regions. A state which officially supports peace, diplomacy and human rights may, on the other hand, extensively export weapons. Sadly, I have to admit that Sweden is one of them and one of the largest arms exporters per capita. Arms that are being sold, used and reused. This leads to the suffering and oppression of women at an international level and may be one of the greatest problems in the fight for women´s rights.

Here is a link to an interesting trailer to the movie Women, War and Peace.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yL1sc_B4wYU

Unfortunately I have not been able to see the whole movie yet, but the trailer makes a good start. One of the producers is Abigail E. Disney who also was one of the speakers at the media as an instrument to fight VAW in conflict affected settings event, moderated by World YWCA here at the CSW. While watching this trailer it might be a good idea to think about if and how your own state is contributing to these women´s painful destinies and insecurity.

We need to be critical and not only point at others and say “shame on you”. The fact is that you may also play a big role in it.

 

I was a child bride; Mereso’s Story

By Mereso Kilusu, Special to CNN

Tanzanian Mereso Kilusu was a child bride . She found comfort and her purpose with the local YWCA. She is now an activist against child marriage

Nine of the 10 countries with the world’s highest rates of child marriage are in Africa: Niger, Chad and Central African Republic, Guinea, Mozambique, Mali, Burkina Faso and South Sudan, and Malawi.

My country, Tanzania, did not make the list. But in traditional Maasai communities like mine, marrying off girls is very common. I was married at 13 to a man in his 70s. It happened during Christmas break. My father told my school that I had died. Even if he hadn’t, I would have been forced to leave when I got pregnant because that was the law at the time.

I gave birth to my first child within a year. I had no professional prenatal care and no trained medical assistance during delivery. I had to depend on my husband and his other wives for guidance. It was a very painful experience. Every time I became pregnant after that I felt sick and scared. Because of all these difficult births I have a hard time controlling my bladder and it can be painful to urinate. Today I am a mother of five at 29 years old.

In communities like mine, age is not understood as a number. Our traditional values dictate girls are meant for marriage, and when the men decide we are biologically ready, we are married. Marriage is sometimes a way of forming and cementing relationships. But it is also a way of earning money. My family received a bride price from my husband and then he took me away to become one of his wives.

He beat me regularly, and so I fled back to my village. But my father and brother told me the price had been paid, this was no longer my home, I had to return. It wasn’t until six years ago that I was able to take charge of my own destiny. I ran away to the city of Arusha and met Rebecca, a volunteer with the Young Women’s Christian Association (YWCA). Through counseling, workshops and friendship, I gained more confidence in my own voice and learned to support myself.

When I returned to my village, I found an ally: one of our community leaders named Abraham. In his own extended family girls were running away from forced marriages. He felt obliged to support them by giving them shelter and food. Quietly, he was encouraging them to go to school hoping it would be a way to get girls out of their situation. When he learned about how I was able to find support from YWCA he was inspired. Knowing there would be places for girls to go outside their communities helped convince him they would be OK if they left their marriages. But I love my family and my community, and I didn’t want leaving to be the answer.

So I set up a YWCA in my village. And slowly, change is happening.

Some men and boys are not happy with what I’m doing. I have to be around others all the time to protect myself from harassment. I don’t know if my own father would approve if he were still alive. But many are recognizing that this is the way forward. That girls have value beyond marriage. That we can earn money and contribute more to our communities when we stay in school.

My brother used to think I was wrong to leave my husband. But seeing how well I am doing selling traditional Maasai jewelry and clothing he is starting to respect my choice. He no longer beats me, but he still won’t let me have access to any of my father’s farms. Thankfully I have supporters in my community who help give me other options to grow food for my children. I believe my relationship with my brother will get better with time. I am still working on it.

My mother is so proud. She used to fear my disobedience to my husband would reflect poorly on her and she would be cast out of the community. But now she sees I am welcome and respected and she is so happy to have me back in her life. When attitudes begin to shift from within communities this way, then people start to have hope. And politicians gain more courage to act. Without support from community leaders, parliamentarians fear passing laws will cost them votes and they will lose power to make any difference at all.

Likewise passing laws provides no guarantee girls will be protected unless they have community support: 158 countries have set the legal age for marriage at 18 years but the laws are simply ignored by communities where marrying children and adolescent girls is common practice. In the fight against child marriage, the biggest battle is finding those who are ready for change and giving them the courage to speak to others.

Those of us who believe in the power of girls, who have seen what they can do when they have options, we need to tell everyone we can.

Editor’s note: Tanzanian Mereso Kilusu was a child bride and is now an activist against child marriage. Her story was translated by LoeRose Mbise, of YWCA Tanzania, and edited by Marlee Wasser, of The Partnership for Maternal, Newborn & Child Health.

The time for talk is over!

Raechel Mathews is from YWCA Australia (YWCA NSW). Raechel shares the events of day 2 at CSW 2013. She represents the young women of her community and the movement at CSW 2013

Earlier today I attended, as a NGO observer, ‘Parliamentary strategies for tackling violence against women and girls’ jointly hosted by UN Women and the Inter-Parliamentary union (IPU) at the United Nations.

Following a welcome from Mr A Radi, the President of the IPU, Michelle Bachelet, Executive Director of UN Women, delivered another passionate statement to the Gover

Raechel Mathews

Raechel Mathews

nment delegates and Parliamentarians regarding the elimination of violence against women. She stated that this CSW 2013 is a ‘tipping point in history…never before has there been so much public support for eliminating violence against women’. She also spoke with a sense of urgency about the end to impunity; deeper social transformation; gender equality and the importance of reviewing and strengthening laws.

She suggested four ways to further help prevent and end violence against women: 1) passing legislation that criminalizes violence – only two thirds of countries have any legislation to prosecute perpetrators of violence; 2) Parliaments’ responsibility to monitor and implement existing and new legislation; 3) Parliamentarians’ personal role in raising society’s increased awareness of violence against women 4) The parliamentary function of budget-setting and budget approval.

 In particular, I loved that she challenged parliamentarians to put their money where their mouth is, by saying:

‘A law is potent only if it has the financial and human resources required for its implementation. These financial requirements must be reflected in budget allocations’

She closed with an incredibly forthright call to action which I hope the delegates in the room considered seriously: ‘Parliamentarians by definition are there to serve the public good and citizens – you were elected to serve ALL citizens. I call on you to never forget that the women and girls you serve – indeed, all humanity – place hope and trust in you. Deeds always count more than words and I count on your passion and commitment for us TOGETHER to bring an end to the history of violence.’

 Go Michelle!

For the remainder of the day, there were panel testimonials from representatives from Mali, Portugal, Zambia Burkina Faso, Mexico, Bolivia and the UK around their challenge and motivations to eliminate violence against women and girls. The UK presentation was a standout for me, about women’s political representation in the media; using past UK Ministers dubbed ‘Babes’, US Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, and Australia’s Prime Minister, Julia Gillard, as examples where in the public eye, women’s emotions and fashion choices grab more news headlines, far above their policies and political views. The session concluded with ‘Future Strategies for parliaments to end violence against women’ to identify priorities for parliaments to support progress. Broadly, the agreement was around:

  •  Working on changing social and cultural norms and attitudes
  • Amending discriminatory legislation
  • Promoting respect for women’s rights
  • Mainstreaming gender in parliament

It was great to attend the event and get a more global view of the challenges still remaining in the fight to eliminate violence against women. However, once these two weeks have concluded, the time for talk will be over. It’s time for action!

The World is Watching!

Raechel Mathews is from YWCA Australia (YWCA NSW). She represents the young women of her community and the movement at CSW 2013

At 10am, Monday, 4 March, 2013, the 57th Commission on the Status of Women (CSW) at the United Nations, New York, was officially opened! This year’s theme is ‘Elimination and

Raechel Mathews

Raechel Mathews

Prevention of Violence for Women and Girls’, involving negotiations between 45 member states of the United Nations, to come to a set of agreed conclusions about policy changes to be adopted in their home country in support of the advancement of women’s rights.

Commencing with a passionate address from the Chair of the Commission, HE Ms. Marjon Kamara from Liberia, stated that ‘the words we speak here in condemnation of violence will be transformed into new and systematic actions on the ground that create real and meaningful change in the lives of women and girls’. Ms Kamara also emphasized that the Commission participants must have a commitment to ‘enhance accountability from stakeholders about promises made’. As well as highlighting successes achieved, obstacles faced and outstanding challenges that the delegates are expected to share during their country presentations, Ms Kamara acknowledged the panel and side events which are to be held outside of the negotiations during the next two weeks; encouraging her colleagues to participate in interesting exchanges, and embrace ‘the vibrancy of side events and inspiration you get from the stories’ to ensure CSW will be a valuable experience.

The Chair, on behalf of the Bureau,(other members include Ms. Ana Marie Hernando (Philippines) of the Asia-Pacific States Group, Vice-Chair; Ms. Irina Velichko (Belarus) of the Eastern European States Group, Vice-Chair; H.E. Mr. Carlos Garcia Gonzalez (El Salvador) of the Latin American and Caribbean States Group, Vice-Chair; Mr. Filippo Cinti (Italy), Western European and other States Group, Vice-Chair) stressed that due to the disappointing collapse of last year’s agreed conclusions, globally, ‘all eyes are on us’  and full participation is required for a productive session.

The proceedings continued with an address by the Deputy Secretary General of the United Nations, Mr. Jan Elisson, who in his rousing speech, also highlighted the significance and importance of CSW, and reinforced the collective feeling in the room from delegates who share his passion about breaking the cycle of violence.

He acknowledged that ‘Women’s empowerment is picking up speed… but we need to do more’ and that ‘Ending violence against women is a matter of life and death’; describing it as ‘global scourge’.

He stated that knowing about violence against women is not enough, and that as a global body, it is imperative for member states to change minds and laws; mobilising forces to ‘create a culture where shame around these crimes is solely directed to the perpetrators’. The Deputy Secretary General stressed the importance of encouraging men to break gender stereotypes and to take an equal share of responsibility in their homes and families; and that ‘you do not have to be a politician and policymaker’ to eliminate violence against women.

Ms. Michelle Bachelet, Executive Director of UN Women, opened her speech to the Commission with athe clear statement that ‘the world is watching’ and in the wake of violence in India and Pakistan, the priority theme of CSW is timely. Ms Bachelet recounted several stories of violent attacks from around the world, including a young woman from the US who took her own life after being raped by men she thought were her friends; to a woman from Northern Mali who was raped for 2 nights by 7 men whilst her arms were chained to avoid her fighting back. She also talked about slavery, trafficking, economic abuse, female genital mutilation, and early and forced child marriage. Ms Bachelet credited the bravery of Pakistani schoolgirl Malala Yousazfai, who was shot in the head for advocating girls’ right to education; received applause for reinforcing the importance of gender mainstreaming to be featured in the Millennium Development Goals; and identified the need for more women on the justice frontline (police, lawyers, judges) to encourage more women to report crime and receive assistance. Ms Bachelet conveyed that implementation of laws, policy and programmes must be accelerated, stating ‘Prevention of Violence AgainsftWomen requires acceptance from all members of society, including men and boys. Words need to be matched by action’.

Other speakers included the Chair of the Committee of the Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW), Ms Nicole Ameline, as well as the Special Rapporteur for Violence Against Women, Ms Rashida Manjoo, who spoke about disability and  institutional abuse.

This was an encouraging way to begin CSW 57, and to hear all speakers expressing their personal and their respective organisation’s desire for sustainable change. Let’s hope over the next two weeks this momentum and passion continues as the negotiations over policy language begin!

Hearing about UN Women’s commitment to eliminate early and forced child marriage is a positive step forward towards the World YWCA’s own campaign, which you can support here:

http://www.worldywca.org/Take-Action/SIGN-THE-PETITION