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Safe from the Start: A Renewal of Commitment to Women and Girls

In a recent announcement, Secretary of State John Kerry said that the US government will be making an additional $12 million dollars available for its Safe From the Start initiative.

Begun in 2013 with $10 million in funding Safe from the Start was intended to prevent and respond to gender-based violence in humanitarian emergencies worldwide, particularly to protect women and girls from sexual assault and other violence during conflict.

Safe from the Start’s initial commitment of $10 million would allow the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), and other humanitarian agencies and organizations to hire specialized staff, launch new programs, and develop innovative methods to protect women and girls at the onset of emergencies around the world. The United States would also coordinate with other donors and stakeholders to develop a framework for action and accountability to ensure efforts to address gender-based violence would be routinely prioritize as a life-saving interventions along with other vital humanitarian assistance.

This initiative built on the framework established by the U.S. National Action Plan on Women, Peace and Security and the U.S. Strategy to Prevent and Respond to Gender-based Violence Globally. It would be led by the State Department’s Bureau of Population, Refugees, and Migration (PRM) and the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) Bureau of Democracy, Conflict, and Humanitarian Assistance.

Now, almost a year later, Secretary Kerry tells us that the initial funding commitment is making a difference, whether it’s providing solar lights for refugees who fled the fighting in South Sudan, or deploying a UN human rights expert to Erbil to ensure that displaced Iraqi women get the care and the services that they need.

At the start of the initiative, WG-USA along with a number of other NGOs wrote a letter to Secretary Kerry to thank him for launching the initiative and to tell him, once again, that 1) women and girls are often the most vulnerable populations when humanitarian emergencies occur; 2) chaos and instability caused by disasters, whether natural or man-made, greatly increase the threat of sexual assault, human trafficking, forced marriage, and domestic violence; 3) even when women and girls are physically secure, they are often the first to be deprived of schooling, medical care, and employment when disasters strike.

We will write to him again, thanking him for the renewal of this important commitment in recognition of the significant challenges faced by women and girls in emergencies

Along with reaffirming this commitment, Secretary Kerry reviewed the crimes being currently committed in Syria and Iraq by ISIL. He said that in addition to the execution of journalists and soldiers, women and girls have been kidnapped, raped and sold off as spoils of war. He also made reference to the schoolgirls who had been kidnapped by Boko Haram earlier this year in Northern Nigeria and to the women who were raped and left to die in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

He said that sexual assault against women and girls is a stain on the conscience of the world and that we must never take it for granted as an inevitable by-product of war. He said that we should all come together to say that enough is enough.

WG-USA couldn’t agree more. And, a couple of days ago, we signed on to a letter generated by the NGO Madre asking UN Sec. Gen. Ban Ki Moon to ensure that the investigative team dispatched by the High Commissioner of Human Rights to Syria and Iraq would report back on the violations of rights and humanitarian needs of women and girls fleeing conflict as well as recommendations on addressing pre-existing threats to women and girls

Geeta Desai, Advocacy Convener WG-USA
September 29, 2014

Sustainable Development Goals: Breaking the Cycle of Past Mistakes


The Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) are the desired outcomes of the biggest UN development program in the history of our planet. The eight MDGs which range from halving extreme poverty to halting the spread of HIV/AIDS and providing Universal Primary Education, by the target date of 2015, form a blueprint agreed to by all the world’s countries and the world’s leading development institutions. The MDGs have galvanized unprecedented efforts to meet the needs of the world’s poorest people.

However, progress has been uneven in meeting the eight goals. Staggering successes in some areas have been counter-balanced by disappointments in others. According to the 2013 MDG Report, several MDG targets have been met or are within reach. For example, the proportion of people living in extreme poverty has been halved at the global level; over 2 billion people gained access to improved sources of drinking water; gains have been made against malaria and tuberculosis. On the other hand, accelerated progress and bolder action are needed in many areas: environmental sustainability is under severe threat, demanding a new level of global cooperation; gains have been made in child survival, but more must be done; most maternal deaths are preventable, but progress in this area is falling short.

As the deadline for the MDGs approaches, the UN has accelerated its work with governments, civil society and other partners to build on the momentum generated by the MDGs and to carry on with an ambitious post- 2015 agenda, known as the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). But even as the UN’s Economic and Social Council President John Ashe expressed gratitude at the closing session of this year’s Council, to Member States for their cooperation in focusing on an inclusive, participatory, people –centered, post-MDG development agenda, civil society grows restive.

According to the Center for Women’s Global Leadership (CWGL), activists are calling for a new sustainable development paradigm which will put human rights at its center. The MDGs in their implementation fell short on the preservation of human rights and now, disappointingly enough, progress to put human rights at the center of the sustainable development agenda has been mixed.

According to the Center, the problem inherent to the SDGs is that many wealthy countries are disregarding the effects of their policies in developing countries regarding agricultural subsidies, access to essential medicines, illicit financial flows, debt restructuring and financial regulation. Too often these policies erode the ability of these developing countries to achieve sustainable development. Efforts by the G77 in addressing the extraterritorial responsibilities of rich countries have met with resistance. Once again, many developing country governments are facing the double – bind of having to implement the policies of wealthy countries and corporations and the fear of a repeat of the skewed accountability of the MDGs, where compliance with human rights became a precondition for receiving aid from donor governments and international financial institutions. Equally importantly, the selective stance of donor countries on human rights has served as a diplomatic escape-hatch for some authoritarian governments to question the relevance of human rights and democratic freedoms to the socio-economic development agenda.

We also know from experience that in the implementation of the MDGs, the concessions made to wealthier countries and their corporations in the name of development have led to some of the more spectacular failures in meeting certain Millennium Development Goals. For instance, the policies and programs of a finance-driven effort at globalization and its ensuing financial crisis of 2008-09 have led to the elimination of national safety nets for the poorest of the poor across the globe and to the dismantling of the livelihoods of many groups of subsistence workers.

So, to avoid repeating the mistakes and resulting failures of the MDGs, the Center for Women’s Global Leadership is asking all human rights advocates to: 1) underscore the extraterritorial obligations of wealthier states to respect and protect human rights beyond their borders, and to cooperate internationally in their fulfillment; 2) counter the corporate influence on the post-2015 process with a much stronger push for corporate accountability. The current SDGs suggest an increasingly central role for the corporate sector as the driver of development, promoting liberalization and access to markets without acknowledgment of the harm businesses so often cause to sustainable development; 3) build more effective platforms and alliances with development, social justice and environmental movements to amplify the human rights voice in these debates.

WG- USA, in turn, is asking members to become familiar with and take action on our very own  resolution on globalization, also adopted by the IFUW, that urges us all to review the effects of globalization on the world’s poorest people and to advocate with the UN, country governments and all multilateral institutions to do the same.

Geeta Desai,

Advocacy Convener, WG-USA

September 18, 2014

UNSCR 1325: Fifteen years later

In 2000, the United Nations Security Council passed Resolution 1325 (UNSCR 1325), the first-ever Women, Peace & Security Resolution. This Resolution called for the recognition of women as agents of change in conflict prevention and resolution; acknowledgment of the different impacts of conflict on men and women and the necessity of appropriate protection measures and underlined the need to include women in all aspects of peace processes as a prerequisite to the attainment of sustainable peace. Following UNSCR 1325, over the years six additional Resolutions on Women, Peace and Security were passed: 1820 (2008), 1888 (2009), 1889 (2009), 1960 (2010), 2106 (2013) and 2122 (2013).

In July, Women Peacemakers Program (WPP) held a global consultation called “Gender & Militarism: Analyzing the Links to Strategize for Peace” which brought together over 70 women and men activists from 25 countries to discuss the multi-layered connections between gender and militarism.

Here are some of the conclusions and recommendations from this meeting that are important to WG-USA members to consider:

1) Despite the adoption of UNSCR 1325, negotiation processes prioritize those who do the fighting, excluding many others. Among those excluded are civil lead groups working for peace and nonviolent conflict resolution on the ground, as well as women and girls forced to perform various non-combatant roles, including sexual slavery. Critical actors during peace negotiations, such as mediators, government representatives and UN officials often lack full understanding of how to practically implement UNSCR 1325, and most often fail to consult with women and women’s organizations for guidance.

Furthermore, in many countries, UNSCR 1325 initiatives take place in an ad hoc manner, without long-term structural implementation. They tend to only “scratch the surface”; failing to address the patriarchal roots of conflict, such as exploitative neo-liberal socio-economic policies and States’ investment in the military industrial complex rather than in an inclusive labor market, education and healthcare systems that directly address insecurities the majority of their populations face. Lack of political will was also mentioned as a severe obstacle, as well as the absence of effective accountability mechanisms to demand adherence to UNSCR 1325.

Recommendations: A) Recognize that advancing the women, peace and security agenda is a multi-faceted process, which involves a diversity of actors (state, non-state, civil society, (women) peace activists), approaches and interventions – existing inside as well as outside the current peace and security systems. B) UNSCR 1325 implementation requires redefining peace and security from a holistic gender perspective and going beyond “adding women and stir”. This requires concrete actions such as investing in disarmament and arms control, with effective women’s participation, conflict prevention and nonviolent conflict resolution. C) Evaluation of the effectiveness of the implementation of UNSCR 1325 should include evaluation of shifts in patriarchal norms, values and overall culture.

2) Militarization normalizes and legitimizes violence as a way to address conflict and threats. It is a multi-layered process that goes beyond the institution of the military, covering the individual level (interpersonal violence, intimate partner violence), communities (organized crime, gangs) as well as national and international norms (state military, peacekeeping forces, non-state armed groups, privatized armed security groups).

Furthermore, militarization permeates multiple aspects of everyday life, such as our information and communication technologies (ICT), the financial sector, as well as everyday socialization processes.

Recommendations: A) Gain knowledge and create awareness about security risks related to ICT use such as surveillance of women’s peace organizations and increased vulnerability of women activists and invest in developing feminist alternatives for safe use of ICTs. B) Document the impact of financial sector counter-terrorism regulations on women’s peace work and UNSCR 1325 implementation. C) Raise awareness on the multi-layered features and gendered manifestations of militarization in everyday society, in order to highlight how these systematically undermine the creation of a discourse and culture of peace.

3) Applying a feminist lens to the root causes of war and the current peace and security paradigm means moving from just looking at how war impacts on women’s lives to analyzing the ways in which power relations between women and men in the household, in communities and national and international institutions either inhibits or promotes women’s substantive
participation in conflict resolution and peace processes.

Recommendations: A) Integrate a masculinities perspective in the Women, Peace and Security agenda to uncover the gendered roots of armed conflict and highlight the need to develop responses and interventions accordingly. B) Involve gender-sensitive and nonviolent men as partners in discussions on Women, Peace and Security to move the issue beyond one for women-only to an issue of concern for all, broadening the support for its implementation.

As a directive for future work on peace and security, the global consultation reminded participants that violence serves a political purpose. Nonviolence challenges current power hierarchies that deploy violence as an organizing principle and focuses on achieving peace and social justice by drawing upon collectives based on ideas of equity and equality.

Read the entire Women Peacemakers Program Policy Brief on Gender and Militarism.

Geeta Desai,
Advocacy Convener, WG-USA
August 5, 2014

Statement from the Women’s Major Group: 8 Red Flags for Proposed SDGs

NEW YORK: (21 July 2014) The Women’s Major Group (WMG), representing 500 women’s human rights, environment and development organizations that have engaged substantively in the negotiations of the Open Working Group on Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) throughout its one and a half year process, released a statement today, marking the end of the OWG’s final session and proposal for a set of goals, raising critical red flags on the content and level of ambition encased in the proposed SDGs.

The final OWG Outcome Document encompasses a broad spectrum of the three pillars of sustainable development: economic, social and environmental, and against much opposition, includes a goal on “peaceful and inclusive societies”. There is a fair amount of progressive, development-oriented language, as well as some demonstration of political will to prioritize a more holistic framework for development through sustainability.

While appreciating and acknowledging efforts of the co-chairs and many countries to promote women’s rights, engage civil society across the process and to push for more ambitious language, the WMG concludes the goals fall short of women’s aspirations for a strong set of transformative goals needed to achieve gender equality, women’s human rights, sustainable development in harmony with nature, and an end to inequalities.

Emilia Reyes, Coordinator at Equidad de Género, Mexico, a key advocate for the Women’s Major Group, said “We were facing an opportunity for radical change, to speak a new language in the world; a language that places the correct names on the social and environmental impacts of the obscene concentration of wealth in our societies; one that acknowledges how women are kept aside from the exercise of their rights by the sexual division of labor; and one that recognizes the interconnectedness of our daily lives and the health of the planet. We concluded with an important package of goals and targets addressing the social, environmental and economic pillars to achieve sustainable development. They could have been ambitious enough to achieve transformation. At present, they are not.”

Sascha Gabizon, Director of Women International for a Common Future, one of the coordinators of the Women’s Major Group, said “we commend those governments who have fought hard to secure and advance gender equality and women’s human rights throughout this process, and stand firm in challenging countries who consistently have tried to delete language around women and girl’s rights. We commend the co-chairs for forging a compromise with all Member States and for not having given in to pressures to reduce the goals to the lowest common denominator. Even though the Women’s Major Group believes that ambition should have been higher, the adoption of the SDG document by the Open Working Document is a significant step forward.”

The Women’s Major Group statement acknowledges certain gains, “We welcome the stand-alone goals – on achieving gender equality and the empowerment of women and girls, on inequalities within and between countries; on environmental sustainability, and on climate change. We also commend that the goals aim to end poverty and hunger, ensure healthy lives, and universal access to water and sanitation for all”. However, the statement also strongly rejects that women’s bodies and lives continue to be ‘subjected to national agendas‘, despite consistent calls for a truly universal agenda grounded in human rights. In a strong message to Governments, the WMG stated, “To those who are still denying our rights we reaffirm, again, that we will always refuse to have our lives used as bargaining chips. No agenda should be traded off. The entire world is at stake because of the narrow ways in which policies and actions are implemented. The significant global challenges we face requires a comprehensive ambitious agenda.”

Looking to the way forward for the SDGs, the Women’s Major Group called on Member States to ensure the strongest participation of civil society, major groups and social movements in the process leading up to and following the Post-2015 Summit in September 2015. “We call for an inclusive process, with full access and meaningful participation. A vibrant Major Groups and civil society presence, and our meaningful engagement, will be essential to the integrity of the forthcoming negotiations, as has been demonstrated by our participation in the Open Working Group on Sustainable Development Goals, where we have fostered essential links between the national and global levels.”

Eleanor Blomstrom, Program Director of the Women’s Environment and Development Organization, one of the coordinators of the WMG shared, “The red flags show that the Women’s Major Group – and the world – have much unfinished business to ensure the transformation to rights-based sustainable development. But we are not daunted by the task at hand and will magnify each opportunity and create new ones to get the world on a new track where actions for justice and equality trump corporate interest, in solidarity with women leaders and activists worldwide.”

Addressing next steps, Reyes added: “What comes next? The women’s and feminist movements will embrace the challenge of devising a language that reinvents the world, never falling to silence. This outcome is the sign of a new phase and we are ready to strengthen it with our work and ideas.”

In Nigeria, UN envoy reviews efforts to release schoolgirls, meets with Malala Yousafzai


More than 90 days after hundreds of schoolgirls were kidnapped by Boko Haram rebels in north-eastern Nigeria, a United Nations envoy for the region got a first-hand account of the efforts underway to rescue the students and to fight terrorism in the region, and met with education activist Malala Yousafzai, who was spending her birthday in Nigeria to show solidarity with the girls and their families.

In Abuja, Said Djinnit, the Secretary-General’s Special Representative for West Africa, reiterated “the continued commitment of the United Nations to the unity and stability of Nigeria,” according to the UN Office for West Africa (UNOWA).

He held consultations with Government officials and the leadership of the National Assembly, as well as heads of defense and security services, to review progress made in efforts to rescue the schoolgirls seized on 14 April in Chibok, and to address the larger crisis resulting from Boko Haram activities.

During the five-day visit, Mr. Djinnit also confirmed that the UN has started to implement an integrated support package that includes support for the Chibok girls, their families and their communities, in particular with psycho-social counselling and helping them reintegrate with their families and communities.

While in Nigeria, Mr. Djinnit discussed the support package with Ms. Yousafzai, who was spending her 17th birthday in the country by “standing with my Nigerian sisters and their parents.”

Ms. Yousafzai, whose Malala Fund reportedly donated $200,000 for education in Nigeria, offered to partner with the UN efforts to mitigate the impacts of the abduction and help the girls return to school.
Citing examples of young female students being raped and killed in India, and forced into child marriage in Pakistan, Ms. Yousafzai called on the international community to protect girls around the world. “No child anywhere ever should be the target of conflict or violence,” she said.

Turning to the armed group responsible for the mass kidnapping in Nigeria, Ms. Yousafzai had harsh words about their interpretation of Islam.
“Stop misusing the name of Islam. Islam is a religion of peace. Islam allows every boy and every girl to get an education,” she spoke to applause. “I would request you lay down your weapons, release your sisters.”
The Pakistani schoolgirl who was shot by the Taliban for attending classes said she can relate to the Nigerian students.

“This Malala Day is a day for education of every child, and is dedicated to my dear, dear and dear Nigerian sisters who are going through the same brutal situation which I suffered through in my past,” she said in reference to the unofficial holiday first marked on 12 July 2013, her 16th birthday.
From the UN News Center

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