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Launch of the International Campaign to Stop Rape and Gender Violence in Conflict

8 May

I was so happy to see that the International Campaign to Stop Rape and Gender Violence in Conflict launched this past Sunday in Cartagena, Colombia.  I’m excited to see where this campaign will go and what it will accomplish, because I think it massive potential.

The new campaign, the idea for which originated at a conference held by the Nobel Women’s Initiative last year, brings together Nobel Laureates, advocacy organizations, and regional/local groups in a coordinated international effort to demand

“…urgent and bold political leadership to prevent rape in conflict, to protect civilians and rape survivors, and call for justice for all—including effective prosecution of those responsible”.

Twenty-Five organizations sit on the advisory board of the campaign including Amnesty International, Association for Women’s Rights in Development, Femmes Africa Solidarite, The Global Fund for Women, The Panzi Hospital, The Women’s League of Burma, and many others.  It has also been endorsed by many prominent advocates, celebrities and Nobel Prize winners, including Sean Penn, Gloria Steinem, Charlize Theron, Aung San Suu Kyi, Archbishop Desmond Tutu and His Holiness the Dalai Lama.

This campaign will focus initially on 4 countries experiencing high levels of sexual violence, Burma, Colombia, Democratic Republic of Congo and Kenya. The organizers recognize that not only is immediate action needed in these areas, but these areas are also where the campaign can have the  “biggest impact in the shortest amount of time“. In addition the campaign, also encourages people to take action to help stop rape and gender violence in the own communities the world over, through events organized to raise awareness about these issues (both locally and globally) or volunteer efforts with local women’s groups and shelters.

The first week of the campaign has been designated as a “Week of Action”. Visit the International Campaign to Stop Rape and Gender Violence in Conflict’s website to pledge your support. You can also find out about events taking place worldwide this week, online actions you can take no matter where you are, and ways to donate to advisory board organizations.


Syria: A reminder that women are not the only victims of sexual violence.

24 Feb

What started months ago as peaceful protests in Syria has descended into a violent conflict, which has left an estimated 6,000 dead. As I sit writing this in Washington DC, the Syrian government continues to shell civilian areas, most notably the city of Homs, which has been under near constant bombardment for nearly three weeks, leading to the deaths of likely hundreds (though numbers are nearly impossible to confirm due to a lack of media or humanitarian access), including the recent deaths of 2 western journalists. But bombs and tanks are only a portion of the atrocities taking place in the troubled state.

Yesterday a United Nations panel released a new report accusing the Syrian government of committing Crimes Against Humanity. Although this report focused predominately on where responsibility lies for these crimes, it once again gave a rundown of the atrocities committed, ranging from the indiscriminate shelling of civilian areas, to arbitrary arrests and torture (including sexual assault), that have been the primary focus of previous UN reports.

Rumors of the use of sexual violence by Syrian forces have been circulating since early last summer.  While there were numerous stories being told of women being detained by authorities and raped, little could be confirmed in these early months by human rights groups or the media. These stories fed into not only the worst fears of women and girls in Syria, but the men who care about them. These fears proved to be a useful tool in Syria, where reports state that during detention and interrogation Security Forces would often threaten to rape men’s female relatives.

By November, rumors gave way to fact, when the independent international inquiry commission released their first report on the “gross human rights abuses” committed in Syria. While the report acknowledge the likely use of rape against women, it claimed to have little evidence of these attacks*.  However, the report provided alarming details on the use of sexual violence and torture  against men and in many cases boys, some as young as 11, who were being held in detention. Testimonies told of the use of rape, forced oral sex and other forms of sexual torture by security forces. Victims and witnesses stated that these atrocities were often conducted publicly in front of other detainees (including family members).

As illustrated in the examples above, sexual violence has proved to be both an effective  tool for the Syrian armed forces. While attacks on men had in some cases physical effects, as did other forms of physical torture, there appears to have been a large psychological motive behind these abuses. Syrian Security Forces played off of the fear, humiliation and dishonor that these attacks (and the threats made against the women in their lives) instilled.

These testimonies from Syria serve as an unfortunate reminder that women are not the only victims of sexual violence in war zones. The idea that women can be the only targets of these abuses is an assumption that we too often make. And one which may hamper attempts to curb the use of rape and sexual violence in conflict.

~Apologies for this being a somewhat hastily written piece that’s more my collection of random thoughts on the atrocities in Syria, than any great analysis.

* The report specifically details  reasons for women’s likely under-reporting of sexual assaults, including the stigma attached to rape in Syria.

Valentine’s Day – What do women really want?

14 Feb

ImageHappy Valentine’s Day! Men are spending today scrambling to pick up chocolates, flowers, jewelry and other treats for the most important women in their lives (and to be fair… plenty of women are reciprocating the gift giving). These trinkets are greatly appreciated and enjoyed (so don’t assume that any of the suggestions below get you out of buying flowers!), but women throughout the world want and need so much more. So what do women really want?

Peace. Security. Rights. Opportunity.

There are plenty of things that you can do to make a difference in the lives of women and girls around the world today. Below are just a few options that I managed to pull off of Twitter and Facebook during my lunch hour!:


UN Trust Fund to End Violence against Women (UN Trust Fund). The UN Trust Fund is a global multilateral grant-making mechanism that supports local and national efforts to end violence against women and girls. Donate online or if you are in the United States text UNITE to 27722 from your cell phone to give $10.

Women Thrive Worldwide. Women Thrive Worldwide advocates for U.S. policies that give women in the developing world the tools they need to lift their families and communities out of poverty. Donate Here. Unable to make a monetary donatation? Donate your status or twitter to help spread the word about Women Thrive, check out some sample statuses on their site.
Women for Women International. Women for Women International provides women survivors of war, civil strife and other conflicts with the tools and resources to move from crisis and poverty to stability and self-sufficiency, thereby promoting viable civil societies.Make a donation and send an E-Valentine to a special person in your life.
V-Day and ONE BILLION RISING. One in three women worldwide who are raped or beaten in their lifetimes; That’s a billion women. In honor of these women, VDAY is inviting ONE BILLION women and those who love them to WALK OUT, DANCE, RISE UP, and DEMAND an end to this violence. Pledge to join them online. While online check out VDAY’s list of performances of the Vagina Monologues to see if there is one near you!
Ask your Senator to Co-Sponsor the Violence Against Women Reauthorization Act of 2011 (S. 1925). Violence against women isn’t just a problem in far off distant lands, it’s a very real issue in the United States. The Senate is in the process of reauthorizing VAWA and 45 Senators as of today are listed as co-sponsors but the more co-sponsors the better! Contact your Senator’s office directly or use the National Organization for Women’s online tool to do so and ask them to Co-Sponsor VAWA.
Wishing everyone a very happy and loving Valentine’s Day! And just for fun…. Check out some fantastic Washington DC themed Valentines