Last Friday NGO Working Group on Women, Peace and Security (NGOWG) held an informal meeting with three outstanding young women activists who are part of the Nobel Women’s Initiative “Sister-to-Sister Mentorship”. Maha Babeker, Alice Vilmaro, and Andrea Ixchíu do a fascinating job defending women’s rights in Sudan, South Sudan and Guatemala. Each of them shared with us their stories of everyday fight with violence and women’s rights abuse.
Maha Babeker has worked alongside Salmmah Women’s Resource Center in Khartoum, Sudan since 2010. Maha is currently a Monitoring and Evaluation Officer and is coordinating a project to advocate for the reform of adultery laws in Sudan. She has a long history as an activist—including participating in “One Billion Rising” and “16 Days of Activism Against Gender Violence”. She is engaged with promoting social justice and equality, reproductive and health issues, leadership training and education. Her greatest concern is criminal law of Sudan which infringes upon human rights and women’s rights in particular. Truly striking are examples of criminalized apostasy and adultery punishable by death. All Sudanese are subject to the government’s interpretation of Shari’ah (Islamic law). Apostasy from Islam is legally punishable by death under Article 126 of Sudan’s 1991 Criminal Act, same way as adultery is under Article 149 (by stoning!). Women are also bound by Shari'ah laws the way that men are not: while men can marry women of any religion, women are not allowed to marry non-Muslim men. Women, unlike men, cannot choose. In connection with this, there is a significant issue of forced marriages which is a way for some families to get rid of a ‘burden’ daughter. Not to mention women being arrested and detained even for their outfit. Women are deprived of their rights by their country’s law.
Andrea Ixchíu is a journalist and workshop facilitator dedicated to promoting indigenous women’s rights in Guatemala. Since childhood, Andrea has organized local campaigns to denounce violence against women in her community. She now delivers workshops to youth on preventing gender violence. As a journalist, Andrea writes for local and municipal papers to promote indigenous women’s participation in traditional leadership structures. Andrea told us that social movements, particularly women’s rights movements, become criminalized in Guatemala. The military government use war logic in domestic policies, war weapons against civilians and commit war crimes throughout the country. In Guatemala, where “minority is the ruling elite, not the thousands of civilians on the street” they are fighting with, women remain in danger of being raped. Andrea admitted that arrested women are treated in a different way than men which seems to be a minor fact comparing to the more than 200 rape cases per year taking place in Guatemala. What is more, the government not only has its spies in media, it also bribes women to lie about the situation publicly. However, they cannot cover all the terrible facts. For instance, they cannot cover the story of Yolanda Oquelí who was shot last year for being an activist and a human rights defender.
Alice Vilmaro, who is a Gender and Planning Officer with the Community Empowerment for Progress Organization (CEPO) in Juba, South Sudan, coordinates programs that promote the involvement of women and girls in South Sudan to achieve a lasting peace. CEPO’s program focuses on reporting human rights violations such as sexual and gender based violence, mitigating community conflicts and promoting peaceful co-existence among conflicting communities, as well as strengthening civic education in communities and public participation on governance issues. Alice believes that women can fill in the gaps between conflict groups in South Sudan and play a significant role in peacebuilding after the conflicts. She is also working alongside a civil society monitoring team to effectively implement UN Resolution 1325, which reaffirms the important role of women in the prevention and resolution of conflicts, peace negotiations, peacebuilding, peacekeeping, humanitarian response, and in post-conflict reconstruction, in the country. Alice told us that partnership programs with international missions as UNFPA and UN Women, and local missions as GBC (Greater Bor Community-USA programs focus on agriculture, promotion of education, promotion of quality public health and peace-building initiatives among the communities in Southern Sudan) are extremely important.
The reason why these women gathered together at this table is because they share something really important – desire to help women and stop the violence against them. They believe that pressure on their governments on the international level, diplomatic missions and data collecting could help women’s rights issues in their countries. They care, and they share their stories with us.