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November 26, 2008

International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women

We didn't have a lot of blogging time yesterday, so we're late in mentioning that November 25th is the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women. I was going to do one of those quick 'here's the logo, here's the link, this is totally important' blogs last night, but you can get that anywhere, right?

Here's the statement from UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon about the anti-violence initiative:
"All of us – men and women, soldiers and peacekeepers, citizens and leaders – have a responsibility to help end violence against women. States must honour their commitments to prevent violence, bring perpetrators to justice and provide redress to victims. And each of us must speak out in our families, workplaces and communities, so that acts of violence against women cease."
So then I was going to do one of those list-style blogs, you know, like '10 Ways to End Violence Against Women While Blogging in Your Pajamas in Your Parents' Basement' or something. But that's ringing a little false to me today, probably partly because an issue like global violence against women and girls is so huge and progress sometimes seems so slow that, kinda like our Blog Action Day blog on the theme of poverty, it's hard to even know where to begin. So I'm just going to talk about some of the issues that I'm thinking about on this topic that I can't wrangle into a neat link-filled bullet point list.

A group of girls and women in Afghanistan were recently attacked and sprayed with acid as they walked down the street. Their crime? Going to school. Or, I guess it would be more accurate to say that their crime was being female and thinking that they had a right to go to school and get an education.

Her friend rushed over to help her, struggling to wipe the liquid away, when she too was showered with acid. She covered her face, crying out for help as they sprayed her again, trying to aim the acid into her face. The weapon was a water bottle containing battery acid; the result was at least one girl blinded and two others permanently disfigured. Their only crime was attending school.

It was not an isolated incident. For women and girls across Afghanistan, conditions are worsening — and those women who dare to publicly oppose the traditional order now live in fear for their lives.

Our military has been in Afghanistan for several years now, and President-elect Obama has said that he intends to send more troops there to finish what we started before we got "distracted" with our little situation in Iraq. Now, the Bush administration used to try to claim that our military presence in Afghanistan had made things better and safer for Afghan women and girls, but I think that claim would be a hard sell today. Of course, tempting as it is, we can't lay all of the blame for the plight of Afghan women on Bush & Company - it's a complicated situation that wasn't good for women before the U.S. got involved, so even if Bush had wanted to, he most likely wouldn't have been able to turn the place into a feminist utopia in just a few years. But what we can do is speak up and demand that the Obama adminstration do better, and that when our military does eventually leave Afghanistan (which hopefully will be less than ten thousand years from now), we're leaving Afghan women and girls much better off than they are today.

We also have to open our eyes. Gawker has a piece today that juxtaposes the quote above about the Afghan acid attack with these tales of some brave American women from a New York Times article on the sucky economy:
At left is a picture the Times is running on A1 this morning, the day before Thanksgiving. It depicts a Florida mom showing off all the useless crap she was able to scrounge for daughter McKenna (!), like a fake plastic kitchen, thanks to a "noble sacrifice" this year: The mom will bravely go without this season's new designer jeans, according to the accompanying story. Notice that she seems to be nicely up-to-date with last season's pricey denim; that she is standing in a garage larger than many apartments; that it seems to be furnished with an operative extra refrigerator; and that discarded toys (from prior Christmases?) are plainly visible in plastic boxes in the background. This typifies sacrifice in America today? The coming depression is so going to eat the nation alive, and the world will laugh, because we deserve it.

In America, reports the Times, mothers (JUST like this one!) are cutting back on their all-important clothes-shopping trips (down a whopping 18 percent, jeepers!) and using "online tools to organize meetings with other mothers to swap clothing, toys, video games and books. Others are buying DVDs and video games in bulk from warehouse stores like BJ’s Wholesale Club, then taking the sets apart to create multiple gifts."

The Gawker piece goes on to talk not just about the Afghan acid attack, but also about some stories of women around America who are genuinely struggling to find and keep decent jobs and support themselves and their families, who would be more than happy to confront the great tragedy of not having this season's trendy designer jeans if it meant they didn't have to use food stamps or live in a shelter. In fact, let's follow their lead and give these two articles one more spin together.

Come Christmas, McKenna Hunt, a gregarious little girl from Safety Harbor, Fla., will receive the play kitchen and the Elmo doll she wants. But her mother, Kristen Hunt, will go without the designer jeans she covets this season. For Ms. Hunt and for millions of mothers across the nation, this holiday season is turning into a time of sacrifice. Weathering the first severe economic downturn of their adult lives, these women are discovering that a practice they once indulged without thinking about it, shopping a bit for themselves at the holidays, has to give way to their children’s wish lists.“I want her to be able to look back,” Ms. Hunt declared, “and say, ‘Even though they were tough times, my mom was still able to give me stuff.’ ”
Member of Parliament (MP) Shukria Barakzai receives regular death threats for speaking out on women’s issues. Talking at her home in central Kabul, she closed the living room door as her three young daughters played in the hall.

“You can’t imagine what it feels like as a mother to leave the house each day and not know if you will come back again,” she said, her eyes welling up as she spoke. “But there is no choice. I would rather die for the dignity of women than die for nothing. Should I stop my work because there is a chance I might be killed? I must go on, and if it happens it happens,” she said.

Barakzai receives frequent but cryptic warnings about planned suicide attacks on her car, but no help from the government. Officials advise her to stay at home and not go to work, but offer nothing in the way of security assistance, despite her requests. She said warlords in parliament who received similar threats were immediately provided with armored vehicles, armed guards and a safe house by the government.

Afghan women are feeling increasingly vulnerable as the security situation worsens and a growing number of Western and Afghan officials call for the Taliban to join the government. “We are very worried that, now the government is talking with the Taliban, our rights will be compromised,” said Shinkai Karokhail, an outspoken MP for Kabul. “We must not be the sacrifice by which peace with the Taliban is made.”

Under Taliban rule, up until 2001, women were not allowed to work and were forbidden from venturing outside the home without a male escort. Afghan women who defy traditional gender roles and speak out against the oppression of women are routinely subject to threats, intimidation and assassination. An increasingly powerful Taliban regularly attacks projects, schools and businesses run by women.

This is much like what we wrote the other day about the huge disconnect from reality that was Sarah Palin saying "you see equality in Alaska", when what should really be seen is Alaska's astronomically high rates of rape, domestic violence, and child sexual abuse. Many of us are way too comfortable being blind and deaf to what's happening around us. Yes, our economy sucks and that's just one of the many major problems that we have right now, and hey, America is far from a feminist utopia itself. But we're not being sprayed with acid on the way to school.

And speaking of the fact that the economy does suck and we're all unemployed basement-dwelling bloggers in pajamas, let's think about using what money we do have in a way that helps women around the world who have it much worse than we do right now. For example, check out the V-Day Store - all of the net proceeds from sales of the stuff in the store go to V-Day's programs to end violence against women and girls around the world. They also have some items that were handmade by women in the Democratic Republic of Congo through a program called Healing Arts:

The 12" x 13" cotton wrap style bags are sewn through Healing Arts, an organization in Goma, DRC, which equips women and vulnerable populations with skills, opportunities, and education so that they are economically capable to support themselves and their families.

Based out of the HEAL Africa hospital in Goma, which specializes in fistula repair surgery, Healing Arts teaches patients who are survivors of sexual violence how to sew, make soap, bake bread, and weave, which provides them with a dependable income during their stay at the hospital. When a woman returns home after treatment, Healing Arts gives her an income generation grant so that she may continue to develop her skills and business.

Healing Arts also works with a network of widows and disabilities cooperatives to sew the campaign purses in addition to other Healing Arts products, which are sold in DRC, US, and Canada.

Many who survive sexual violence in DRC suffer stigma and discrimination, resulting in limited economic opportunities. The proceeds from the sale of these bags will help these women get back on their feet and support themselves and their children. Local Congolese fabric was used to make these bags. The bags also include a Stop Raping our Greatest Resource campaign button. For just $20, you can make a difference!

If you just can't quit Amazon or Target or Overstock.com, check out GoodShop. When you do your online shopping through GoodShop, a percentage of your purchase goes to the participating charity of your choice. This is a small thing but it's super easy and if a lot of us got into the habit, it would make a difference. There are a ton of participating organizations, including lots of groups that are dealing with issues of violence against women, from RAINN down to local rape crisis and domestic violence shelters. (There are also a bunch of crisis pregnancy centers and similar groups, so make sure to go with an organization that you know or do a little research before you choose.) And as Cara at Feministe points out, "It’s not about using this as an excuse to buy more crap you don’t need, but about seeing that a bit of your money goes someplace a little more admirable when buying crap you were already going to buy." Maybe we'd all feel a little better if we spent some time focused on the global "women's economy" instead of the American "AIG executives resort & spa getaway and automaker CEOs private jet" economy.

Just one more thought before I stop rambling and give you the bullet point list of related links that you know I can't resist doing even though I said I wouldn't. This is from UNIFEM Executive Director Inés Alberdi's statement on the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women:
On 19 June 2008, the UN Security Council unanimously adopted resolution 1820, which recognizes sexual violence in situations of armed conflict as a threat to national and international peace and security. The resolution calls for decisive actions by all involved in the conflict to protect women and girls. It calls on international security institutions to make sure that women participate in all aspects of conflict resolution and peacebuilding to ensure there is redress for crimes. Resolution 1820, combined with resolution 1325, form a powerful platform on which to build effective actions to end impunity for violence against women and ensure women’s participation in all aspects of reconstructing institutions and communities.
It's great that the members of the Security Council, including the U.S., adopted this resolution. But on some level, doesn't it just make us hypocrites? How can we call for decisive action to protect women from sexual violence in situations of armed conflict when we can't or won't address the major problems of rape and domestic violence within our own military? Our Veterans Day blog included this quote:
Women in the military are twice as likely to be raped as their civilian counterparts. In fact, "women serving in the U.S. military today are more likely to be raped by a fellow soldier than killed by enemy fire in Iraq," Congresswoman Jane Harman, D-Calif., told the House Subcommittee on National Security and Foreign Affairs in May.
Back in May, the PBS show NOW did an investigation into the issue of rape in the military. "Last year, nearly 1,400 women reported being assaulted and raped by their fellow soldiers, in some cases by their commanding officers. The shocking phenomenon is called military sexual trauma, or MST. Since NOW first aired its investigation into rape and sexual assault in the military last year, the Pentagon has released new reports in which one-third of military women say they've been sexually harassed. And the number of women reporting assault and rape has essentially remained the same—even though the military says it has invested serious resources to combat the problem." And feministing recently discussed the growing problem of domestic violence in military families and the failure of the military to effectively address the situation and its causes, including PTSD and drug abuse.

How can our country take a stand against the use of sexual violence as a war tactic when such a large portion of our own military is made up of perpetrators of sexual and domestic violence and their victims? Our military should serve as a model of how things should be done, not as a reflection of the same evil that we claim we want to fight. And again, with a new presidential administration and a new Congress just a few weeks away, we have an opportunity to hold our government and military leaders accountable and tell them that we support UN resolution 1820 and we want it to be applied to women around the world, including the women who are serving our country and deserve better.

For more information on the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women, UNIFEM, and the UN's ongoing campaigns to end violence against women:
  • Statement of UNIFEM's Executive Director on the International Day, which outlines the need for a "checklist" that would help to hold countries accountable on how well they are actually enforcing anti-violence laws already on the books
  • The homepage for the UN Secretary General's ongoing UNite to End Violence Against Women campaign
  • UNIFEM, the United Nations Development Fund for Women. "UNIFEM’s Say NO to Violence against Women campaign is a global advocacy and awareness-raising effort on ending violence against women, designed to support UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon’s UNite to End Violence Against Women campaign."
  • This page has some videos, including the broadcast of yesterday's UN event, at which more than 5 million signatures from around the world (the goal was 1 million) from people supporting the cause of ending violence against women were presented to the Secretary General.

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1 comment:

Dollface said...

Well I'm glad you took the time to write this out, because it's good to be reminded that violence against women is a global issue. I admit to often taking a more myopic view of the world, which doesn't account for the atrocities still being committed against women in other cultures.

I'm actually reading Infidel at the moment, by Asaan Hirsi Ali. It deals with genital mutilation and the oppression of women in the several countries she grew up in. I'm only a third of the way through but it's been an enlightening and somewhat shocking read so far.