“Sexual violence, and the long shadow of terror and trauma it casts, disproportionately affects women and girls.” These stark words appear in UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon’s recently released report on sexual violence during conflict. On Thursday, February 23rd, I attended the UN Security Council’s open debate convened to consider this report, which documents brutal mass rapes, deliberate attacks on civilians and forced virginity tests on peaceful protestors, amongst other atrocities.
Next week, delegates from around the world will gather in New York City for the 56th session of the United Nations Commission on the Status of Women (CSW). Every year, leaders meet to assess where the world stands on gender equality, and how far we have come -- and need to go -- in advancing women's rights.
This year's theme is the empowerment of rural women and their role in ending poverty and hunger, which very much resonates with the Women's Refugee Commission's work. Millions of women and girls displaced by conflict and natural disasters are currently living in camps or rural villages and settlements in remote areas, often in the most precarious conditions. They, too, deserve the opportunities and the tools to contribute to the well-being of their families and the development of their communities. And when we invest in displaced women and girls, we are also making a long-term investment in peace and stability when conflict ends.
Read the full blog, posted on the Huffington Post's Global Motherhood section, here.
Each year, tens of thousands of children cross the United States border—most travel alone or with strangers. Many are fleeing violence, sexual abuse or abandonment and are seeking protection and asylum here; others come to be reunited with family members living in the U.S. On their journey, these children are vulnerable to rape and assault, and an alarming number of them become victims of traffickers and smugglers. Once here, these children must be protected from further abuse and trauma.
Stories of horrific violence in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) are all too common; however, there are even more attacks—especially on women and children—that we don’t hear about. Villages, especially in the eastern provinces, are often raided by armed groups. Women and girls are raped and need immediate medical assistance; but health facilities are scarce. Boys and girls are abducted to be used as soldiers or porters. Girls are taken to be cooks and wives. These villages are isolated and have almost no means to defend themselves. Despite a 2008 peace agreement, the DRC’s eastern provinces continue to be plagued by violent conflict. And civilians face egregious violations on a daily basis.
"There were no means of transport, so they prepared a bicycle. She lost a lot of blood and when she arrived at the district hospital, she wasn't paid much attention. Around 6 a.m., both the mother and baby died. I witnessed it. The woman was 38 years-old." These are the words of a man from the Kisumu district in Kenya, describing a pregnant woman in his community who had died while giving birth during the post-election violence that rocked the country in early 2008.
This kind of scenario plays out every day, around the world; more than 350,000 women die during pregnancy and childbirth every year. Ninety-nine percent of these deaths occur in developing countries, where the lack of access to quality health care and information results in high fertility rates and closely spaced births, increasing women's and girls' risk of death and disability. Indeed, pregnancy can be a matter of life or death for women and girls in these places; and, their infants' lives are in jeopardy as well.
Read the full blog, posted on the Huffington Post's new Global Motherhood section, here.
Last week marked the second anniversary of the earthquake in Haiti, which brought massive destruction and loss of life and resulted in the initial displacement of more than 2 million people. Even before the earthquake, life was often harrowing for impoverished women and girls, and this remains true today. On this anniversary, I cannot get out of my mind a comment a Haitian woman made to my Women’s Refugee Commission colleagues who visited the country in the months after the quake: “Everything got worse, especially for us women.”
Two years after disaster struck, it is hard to say that anything has gotten better for the Haitian women and girls who remain displaced.
Read the full blog, posted on AlertNet, here.
At first, she said, they treated her “like a queen.” But shortly after recruiting then-nine-year-old Sofia from a small village in Colombia, the guerilla fighters began beating and raping her.
“For me, I didn’t have a childhood,” Sofia told us. ”It is a childhood that I do not wish for anybody.”
Sofia, whose real name is withheld for her protection, was in the hands of the armed group for five years. She is one of more than 10,000 boys and girls who have been pulled into Colombia’s decades-old war between guerillas, paramilitary units and government forces. Children like Sofia are lured into armed groups under false promises of money, glory and a job. Now, her name has been added to a “black list,” along with the names of others to be killed. As she knows where the rebels keep their money and how they recruit people, she says that it is more convenient for them to see her dead than alive.
It has been an encouraging few weeks for advocates working on issues related to the role of women in peacebuilding, reconstruction and recovery processes. On December 10, three courageous women, two from
"I will do everything possible to uphold and strengthen UNHCR’s corporate commitment to address sexual and gender-based violence and to support states in ensuring access of survivors to justice,” declared UN High Commissioner for Refugees, António Guterres, as he opened a historic ministerial meeting to mark the 60th anniversary of the 1951 Refugee Convention and the 50th anniversary of the 1961 Statelessness Convention on December 7 and 8 in Geneva. One hundred and forty six countries attended the event, more than 70 of them represented at ministerial level, including the presence of U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton.
Women's Refugee Commission Board member Sam Witten writes about why he considers Human Rights Day (Dec. 10) a particularly important opportunity to reflect on the need to protect and preserve the human rights of refugee women, who are so often the victims of abuse and gender-based violence and who frequently suffer from an utter lack of economic opportunities. Read his blog on Huffington Post.