Global Justice Center Blog

‘Talk to them, not about them’ : Women Must be Part of NATO Talks`

As the NATO summit kicked off yesterday, dozens of world leaders gathered together in Wales to discuss most relevant security issues and future goals. However, while they focus primarily on the crisis in Ukraine and troops withdrawal from Afghanistan, they turn their backs on Afghan women. In Cardiff yesterday, the ‘No Women, No Peace’ campaign was launched by NGOs with an Afghan woman holding a sign reading “Talk to me, not about me.” Following recent presidential elections in Afghanistan, the Kabul government will start changing, as soon as Hamid Karzai will step down from his current president post in the coming weeks. This particular moment is extremely important for Afghan women to take part in political process. At this point, more than ever before, NATO should be monitoring women’s rights in order to protect the future of Afghanistan, which happens to be one out of five priorities for the today’s summit.

In thirteen years, since the NATOs’ invasion back in 2001, these women have come a long way from the point of denial of education, no work opportunities and complete inability to control their lives. Now, as they have jobs and their daughters go to schools, as laws aimed to prevent any violence against women, they are excluded from the discussion table of their country’s future. No voices of Afghan women will be heard at the security talks during the NATO summit today.

Despite NATO’s actions to support the implementation of United Nations Security Council Resolution (UNSCR) 1325, that addresses under-representation of women in peace processes despite the terrible impact that wars and conflicts have on them, the situation remains the same.. Two years ago a Women, Peace and Security Task Force under the guidance of appointed Special Representative on Women, Peace and Security was established, and yet women’s voices will not be included at the summit. In other words, the work that NATO has done to include women into peace and security issues is being tested today where the absence of women presents another failed opportunity to shape sustainable peace.

Combatting Violence against Women in War is not just a Women’s Rights issue; it’s a Global Peace & Security issue

In the past several weeks, the world has witnessed the deliberate targeting of women and girls as a political and military tactic by Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) terrorists. In Iraq and Syria, thousands women and girls, particularly from ethnic and religious minorities, have been kidnapped by ISIS terrorists. They are being brutally raped, used for sexual slavery, forced marriage and forced pregnancy. In other words, sexual violence is being used as a weapon of war.

In Iraq, Yazidi women and girls are a primary target for ISIS, falling prey to horrific acts of sexual violence and brutality as ISIS advanced through northern Iraq. Few managed to escape from their abductors. Adeba Shaker and Somaa are two such exceptions. Somaa was kidnapped, held hostage for almost a month, and together with her friend were sold to two old sheiks who ill-treated them. Abeda Shaker together with about seventy other women and children were abducted when militants took over their village. They were taken to an unknown destination where they joined around 1000 other Yazidi women hostages. Shaker was supposed to convert to Islam and to be forced into marriage. Fortunately, she and her companion were brave enough to try their luck and run away.

Nevertheless, these cases are rare exceptions. Many others kidnapped and held hostages are destined to suffer from ISIS brutality with no hope for rescue. What is worse, this is not a unique case. Kidnapping is a tactic of war conducted by militants, terrorists and soldiers in different conflict regions of the world.

As Nigeria’s Islamic extremist group – Boko Haram – has seized more towns along Nigeria’s northeastern border with Cameroon, more and more women and children are in danger. Last year, a group of women and girls was abducted and later rescued from Boko Haram. Some of them were pregnant. Others had been forcibly converted to Islam and married off to their kidnappers. The goal of Boko Haram is to impose their version of Sharia law across Nigeria, and they especially oppose the education of women. In April, Boko Haram kidnapped more than 300 girls from a boarding school in Chibok in northeastern Nigeria. Some of them seized the rare opportunity to escape when they were left alone in the camp and returned to their razed villages. However, more than 200 of them remain captive. This is yet another tragic example of young girls and women being violated to achieve military and political objectives. Yet the world continues to do extraordinarily little to recover those lost.

The Taliban also actively seeks to stop women and girls from attending school in Pakistan and Afghanistan. Malala Yousafzai, a women’s rights activist who campaigned against the efforts of the Taliban to violently stop girls attending school, was infamously attacked in 2012 while traveling home on a school bus. She was shot in the head, but luckily survived. Just last week, ten militants were taken into custody in connection with the attempted murder. This summer, Malala visited Nigeria and appealed to Boko Haram militants in Nigeria to lay down their weapons and free the kidnapped girls. Malala is a powerful example of women activists fighting back against violent extremism, and not just in their countries, but globally.

Combating sexual violence against women and promoting women’s rights is truly a global peace and security issue. The international community must treat it as such and act robustly to stop the rampant spread of violence against women in conflict zones around the world.

The Voices of “2014 Sister-to-Sister” Participants

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.