Laila Malik is Information, Communication and Media Coordinator, Association for Women’s Rights in Development (AWID)
Mar 6 2020 (IPS) – In November 2019, thousands of Chileans took to the streets to perform an anti-rape, anti-femicide choreography organized by a small feminist collective called Las Tesis. The group created the choreographed chant in response to an upswing in violence against women and human rights violations in Chile, where 42 cases of sexual abuse are reportedto the police each day, with only around 25% resulting in judicial rulings.
It is a violence faced by women, trans and non-binary people all over the world. And it often results in complex, inconvenient, expensive and exhausting circumnavigations – or avoidance – of public space, even when the reality is that gender-based violence is just as likely to be committed in private as it is in public.
So when, months after the first Chilean feminist flash mobs, women from Nairobi to Karachi, Maputo to Istanbul and beyond, continue to creatively reclaim their own streets with local grievances and demands, they are collectively rewriting the global map. This rewriting is an example of a Feminist Reality – a way in which feminists take action to create, and re-create spaces and communities to be more equitable and just.
Roaring together in the face of police brutality and complicity
“The patriarchal behaviour is deep in our society and no one is doing anything,” says Nzira De Deus from Mozambique’s Fórum Mulher, the network of women’s rights and gender equality organizations that organized Chilean-inspired feminist flashmobs in the cities of Maputo and Beira.
“What we are doing with that song is denouncing the impunity we see in our community. We know who the rapist is but the police is doing nothing, and is in complicity with that situation. We need to continue to spread this kind of campaign, adapting an African version, denouncing not just in words, but also with this kind of thing.”
Coming together to address police impunity was also a powerful experience for Hum Aurtein, a group of womxn and non-binary people who advocate for gender justice who performed the choreography in Karachi.
“It was electric as we yelled “Yeh police, Yeh nizam, Yeh jagirdar, Yeh sarkar [This police, this system, these feudal land-owners, this government]” as men in a police van watched on and we pointed at them. So there was a sense of collective reclamation,” recalls Atiya Abbas, Hum Aurtein organizer.
When women speak truly they speak subversively — they can’t help it: if you’re underneath, if you’re kept down, you break out, you subvert. We are volcanoes. When we women offer our experience as our truth, as human truth, all the maps change. There are new mountains.
In Nairobi, members of Maisha Girls’ Safe House decided to take the choreography to three locations in Nairobi where rape and other sexual violations are rampant, in slum areas and around local administration offices. The performance allowed girls and young women survivors of sexual violence to directly confront perpetrators, including agents of law enforcement.
“We did it in our small way and the impact it left was amazing,” says Florence Keah from Maisha Girls’ Safe House. “I can walk in the community and l hear the young children (some of whom were conceived from rape) chanting “And the rapist is you!”’
“We hope the message to the police reached home.”
Meanwhile in Istanbul, several hundred women who gathered to perform the choreography were tear gassed, dispersed and arrested by riot police for insulting state institutions. But a week later, eight Turkish women MPs used their parliamentary immunity to perform the chant in Turkish parliament, while colleagues held up some 20 pictures of the faces of women said to be killed in domestic violence.
Creating and harnessing the power of new feminist words
If there is one thing the global Las Tesis-inspired tsunami has shown, it’s that feminists are infinitely collaborative, creative, and keenly aware of their specific contexts and needs.
In Karachi, Hum Aurtein added a stanza to their chant about class, religion and labour to speak to forced conversions, honour killings and labour-based discrimination and harassment faced by women in Pakistan.
In Mozambique, Fórum Mulher changed the line “It’s the judges!” to “It’s the MPs!” to reflect their discontent with the ongoing impunity of the MP accused of raping a child. Beirut organizers adapted the chant to Arabic, adding new content around media responsibility and sexual harassment, while maintaining the rhyme. One Beirut organizer described participants as “full of rage”, saying, “They will translate it in every way possible, and the flash mob came out as a beautiful means to do so.”
In other instances, feminists have had to adopt entirely new language to adequately express specific gender injustices.
“The word for rape in Urdu is “ismatdari,”” says Abbas, “which links rape to a woman’s honour. That is not what the violence of rape is. Rape happens because rapists commit these acts of dominance and terror – and not for any other reason.”
To shift this mis-association, Hum Aurtein organizers added new lines to their chant, saying, “Hear this, it is rape [adopting the English word]! Not “female honour”!”
“Language is power, and language is responsibility,” reflects Abbas. “One can hope the reproduction of knowledge through language continues to be feminist in its approach and that a generation from now, our efforts to do that will realize meaningful change.”
Indeed, future humans may reap benefit from the courage, creativity and collaboration of today’s global feminists, but the volcanoes have been simmering for generations. Feminists all over the planet are linking with one another, shedding fear and finding untold strength and collective intelligence in community. The new map is already here, and its seismic energy is palpable.
Aurat March (Women’s march) in Pakistan. Credit: Shehzil Malik.
This article is part of special IPS coverage of International Women’s Day on March 8 2020
Jennifer Morgan is the Executive Director of Greenpeace International
AMSTERDAM, the Netherlands, Mar 5 2020 (IPS) – Gender inequality – like the climate emergency – is not inevitable, but is kept in place by the poor choices too many cis men make on a daily basis. And it is not just womxn who are hurt and trapped by this patriarchal problem, but girls and non-binary people too, as well as many boys and men.
For millennia, gender inequality has been working very well for the majority of men. Globally, men hold 85% of senior leadership roles in companies, for example, while the 22 richest men in the world have more wealth than all of the womxn in Africa. None of this is by accident and many men are reluctant to change a system they think benefits them.
Meanwhile womxn remain on the frontlines of gender inequality and the climate emergency. And due to the patriarchy, unsurprisingly they are rarely heard on issues that deeply impact them, which as a result, affects society as a whole.
A great number of men do believe in gender equality and this needs to be acknowledged. But it is easy for men to merely ‘believe’ in something they subsequently reap social rewards for. Accepting that gender inequality exists – as much as the climate emergency – and taking positive action is crucial if we are to achieve a more equitable, peaceful and green planet.
That’s why this International Women’s Day, I call on men to be more than feminist; to do more than just celebrate womxn.
For a start, we need men to be anti-patriarchal and anti-misogynist, and to be actively campaigning against climate denial, for the benefit of all. Only then would we begin to get closer to the #IWD2020 theme of equality.
What I am calling for may sound overwhelming, but small individual changes in attitude can lead to huge progressive shifts in the stale social norms that are damaging too many people at our collective detriment.
“We are all parts of a whole. Our individual actions, conversations, behaviors and mindsets can have an impact on our larger society,” as the IWD organizers say.
Men can proactively start to promote gender equality in the spaces they dominate in many straightforward ways: by listening to womxn and not talking over them; crediting them for their ideas; rejecting male only settings; ensuring womxn are included on panels and sports teams; refusing to play into stereotypes, and calling out others who are being anti-womxn, anti-diversity and anti-science.
In my privileged position as a white Western female leading a global and diverse environmental organization, I strive to use my leadership to empower and protect, and include people of all backgrounds.
It often strikes me how I have more access to the halls of power than those with the experience of living on the frontlines of the climate emergency. Those dealing with the devastating droughts, floods and fires linked to climate change, who predominantly are womxn who are Black, Indigenous, of color, from the Global South.
They are truly powerful people, from whom I get much inspiration, and yet their voices remain too often unheard by decision-makers, policymakers, the media, and beyond, due to the patriarchy. Amplifying these womxn’s voices and increasing their access to opportunities and platforms is central to my mission, and the mission of Greenpeace.
For there can be no green peace without gender equality. At Greenpeace, we aspire to become a leader in building and supporting a workforce that more accurately reflects the diversity of the global community Greenpeace serves, as well as the values the organization espouses, and have initiatives on harassment prevention, unconscious bias and structural power.
We take a zero-tolerance position on sexual, verbal, or physical harassment, bullying and any kind of discrimination based on gender, race, sexual orientation, gender identity, disability, faith, or any other aspect of our beings.
We will continue to examine how systematic marginalization and issues of equity intersect with our core mission and values as Greenpeace. We do this work readily because people power is linked to virtually everything Greenpeace does, from the impact we can make in the world to our ability to thrive as part of a movement.
We must always try to act in a way that sees, values, and embraces people in all their diversity. Boosting the voices of those the patriarchy actively tries to silence will lead to greater equity and better climate solutions.
Remarkable womxn are already leading the charge from Autumn Peltier and Brianna Fruean, the matriarchs of Wet’suwet’en fighting the Coastal Gas Link pipeline, to Vanessa Nakata and Winona LaDuke, among the many others.
But the patriarchy is man-made, much like climate change. It is more than time for cis men to combat gender inequality and the climate emergency alongside womxn, whom they should truly accept as their equals.
This article is part of special IPS coverage of International Women’s Day on March 8 2020
Sahle-Work Zewde, is President of the Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia, and Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, is Executive Director of UN Women
Sahle-Work Zewde, President of the Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia
UNITED NATIONS, Mar 3 2020 (IPS) – Twenty-five years ago, thousands of representatives adopted the Beijing Declaration, one of the most progressive universal agreement to advance women’s rights.
The Beijing Declaration built on the human rights inscribed in the Convention for the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW), adopted by the UN General Assembly in 1979, whose articles 7 and 8 clearly states the need for removing all discriminations preventing women from leadership.
On September 1995, the Beijing Platform of Action took full ownership of the human rights agenda initially contained in CEDAW, advanced women’s rights and strongly reaffirmed the universal commitment to women’s power and leadership. Women took ownership of the human rights agenda and redefined it to ensure that gender equality and women’s empowerment would be at its core.
At the time, world leaders committed to the extraordinary Platform for Action with tangible and ambitious commitments in strategic areas, from peace to development, and designed roadmaps to get us there.
Since 1995, the world continued the march to make the world more gender equal and to enhance women’s leadership and participation in peace, security and development processes.
In 2000, following decades of advocacy led by women civil society organizations and women human rights activists, the United Nations Security Council adopted resolution 1325, the global commitment to ensure that women are systematically and sustainably integrated into peace and security processes.
The international community furthered the women, peace and security agenda in 2009 by recognizing the harmful impact of sexual violence in conflict on women and communities, making this scourge punishable under International Human Rights Law and International Criminal Law.
In the last twenty-five years, African women have made substantive progress in political, economic and social arenas but also have faced numerous constraints.
The positive picture reflects enhanced political and legislative leadership to ensure that women do have a seat at the table of key decision-making processes.
Today, Rwanda has the highest percentage of women members of parliament in the world: 61%. Namibia, Senegal and South Africa follow closely with at least over 40% of women holding seats in Parliament.
Ethiopia not only made great strides by electing its first female President in October 2018, but Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed also raised the bar high for national governments by ensuring a gender equal cabinet with 50% of its members being women.
Across Africa, women have taken the seat at the top table, including President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf of Liberia, President Joyce Banda of Malawi, President Catherine Samba-Panza of the Central African Republic and President Ameenah Gurib-Fakim of Mauritius.
More women are being elected in public office or appointed to ministerial positions. These changes have not happened by coincidence but as the result of deliberate policy decisions and grassroots action.
In many cases, this transformation was realized through hard-fought constitutional amendments and parity legislation aimed at reserving the necessary space for women and youth.
At continental level, the African Union has developed an extensive and progressive body of legal instruments as well as innovative solutions and platforms in its various thematic areas of work. The years 2010-2020 marked the African Women’s Decade.
The AU Strategy for Gender Equality & Women’s Empowerment (2018 – 2028) is informed by global standards that include instruments like the Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) and the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs – whose Goal 5 is on “Gender Equality”).
Other human rights instruments of the African Union such as the African Charter on Human and People’s Rights consider women’s rights as an integral component of the key rights. The AU has appointed Heads of State as champions and leaders to push for implementation of commitments under various thematic areas of the work of the Union.
Despite these great achievements, we must admit that the world – and we as leaders – did not keep our promise to ensure that every woman and girl, wherever she may live, could be assured to enjoy her full human rights reach her full potential.
The reality is that we have failed women and girls. Some of the best minds remain excluded because we failed to provide access to education to all women and girls. Many of the potential pillars of our societies remain marginalized because we failed to properly address and eradicate gender inequality and violence against women.
Our continent is lagging behind in creating the peaceful and developed societies we seek to realize, in part, because we failed to offer women and girls the necessary opportunities and tools, which would allow them to thrive and be full contributors.
And despite the elections of some women to high and highest offices, and existing legislative and legal frameworks, by and large, across Africa women are still struggling to gain a seat at the decision-making table or in peace and security processes.
Despite the existing evidence revealing that gender perspective drives the sustainability of peace and security processes, there is still a blunt implementation gap in terms of ensuring women’s participation in peace processes.
The evidence is staggering, with women constituting about 4% of signatories of peace agreements, 2.4% of chief mediators, 3.7% of witnesses or observers to peace negotiations, and 9% of negotiation team members. . Today, Africa currently counts one female Head of State (Ethiopia), four Vice-Presidents (The Gambia, Liberia, Tanzania, Zambia) one Prime Minister (Namibia).
This stark reality is a daily reminder that we cannot slow down our efforts. We must accelerate our efforts against the pushbacks. Women’s meaningful participation and leadership are crucial in the effective functioning and sustainability of our communities and our world.
To achieve this, a top-down approach is not sustainable to build the necessary transformative change. If the promise made is to be delivered, women and youth must be front and center and the drivers of the positive change we all aspire.
In this spirit, on 2 June 2017 African women leaders – I among them – came together as a movement to launch the African Women Leaders Network (AWLN) and its Call to Action, backed by the African Union and the United Nations through UN Women.
Our Network aims to advance, train and support female leaders across sectors and generations in Africa. The AWLN is pushing for policies and programmes that empower and enable women on the continent across the political, economic and humanitarian fields to reach their full potential.
Since June 2017, the African Women Leaders Network has achieved key milestones, from bolstering the voices of African women leaders across generations on the ground to enhancing their participation and leadership in key decision-making processes.
The Network committed to push and deliver on the commitments made in UN Security Council resolution 1325 by October 2020, its 20th anniversary and to be in solidarity with the women and communities in conflict and post-conflict situations throughout Africa.
Since 2017, the AWLN conducted joint UN-AU solidarity missions to revitalize women’s participation and leadership in peace, security and development in Cameroon, Chad, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Djibouti, Ethiopia, Eritrea, Niger Nigeria, Somalia and South Sudan. The missions brought much needed political attention to the situation on the ground, while promoting women’s meaningful participation as mediators in all efforts of conflict-resolution, sustainable development, peacebuilding and humanitarian interventions.
The AWLN redefines the faces and structures around power and leadership – considering each and every woman or girl a leader, standing up for her human rights, may she be a Head of State or a grassroots activist working for peace and development, an entrepreneur or a schoolgirl with a dream.
We support the advancement of African women through six (6) flagship projects in peace and security, governance, finance, agriculture, young women’s leadership and social mobilization. The Network further provides peer learning, experience sharing and cross-generational dialogues in order to bolster women’s contributions to building and sustaining peace, sustainable economies and social transformation.
Women are making a crucial difference in the lives of the people they serve at local level. In this spirit, the AWLN national chapters are the cornerstones of movement building for the Network and support its localization at grassroots level and represent a major milestone benefiting all African women and ensuring that their voices are better heard, and their issues better addressed, in order to increase women’s ownership in the transformation of the continent and the 2063 Agenda “The Africa We Want.”
Since 2017, the AWLN has established 11 national chapters in (chronologically) the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Cote d’Ivoire, the Central African Republic, Sierra Leone, the Republic of Congo, Nigeria, Seychelles, Ethiopia, Liberia, Morocco and Cameroon.
The Network, with the support of UN Women and the AU, plans to have a total of 25 national chapters established by March 2020, in line with UN Women’s Generation Gender Equality Campaign, and to ensure that a critical mass of women is leading the movement throughout the continent.
We are working closely with women’s groups, the UN System, the African Union and development partners to ensure that, beyond women’s participation, all efforts are undertaken to create a conducive environment for women empowerment and the protection of their rights and freedoms.
We encourage all African Member States to speed up the process and to offer the necessary support to women and young people coming together for Africa’s transformation. The time for action is now to build irreversible positive changes for gender equality in Africa.
In 2020, 25 years after the Beijing Declaration and 20 years after Security Council resolution 1325, it is clear that we must accelerate our efforts, move faster on the roadmap towards the targets we want to reach, and deliver tangible actions for the people we serve.
As I write these words, we are still very far away from achieving gender parity and full women’s empowerment in Africa. We must build on the positive strides that we have made so far to achieve this urgent ambition.
As African women, we call on all African men – leaders in politics and business, elders and young, neighbors in our cities and villages, fathers, brothers and sons – to join women in a great partnership for human rights, peace and development.
We call on them to lead and invest in change at a national level with the African Women Leaders Network National Chapters and women’s movements for peace to address the gender equality gaps that we know persist.
Africa has already adopted strong protocols, including the Maputo Protocol, and instruments that bind us, and through which Heads of State and Government have already agreed on Gender Equality and Women’s Empowerment. Women must be meaningfully included in peace, security and developments negotiations and in the politics of their country.
We are asking all our allies to use their power and influence to support African women in taking their rightful place in the next chapter of the continent and building a future where women and girls can live out their lives freely, in purpose and happiness.
The movement of African women across the continent is a rally for action. A movement to ensure that leaders keep on their commitments and promises.
It is time for action.
Together, we can unite for Africa’s transformation.
The year 2020 began with a shock report, Mind the 100 Year Gap, from the World Economic Forum which projected that gender equity would take at least 100 years to realise. Women and girls play a crucial role in society. However, they bear the brunt of patriarchy, their needs often unmet by traditional humanitarian responses and their health and education needs not prioritised. In the run-up to International Women’s Day with its theme, “I am Generation Equality: Realising Women’s Rights” IPS is publishing a series of features, opinion and editorials from experts and affiliated journalists around the world on women.
Lebanese women in politics. Credit: Eliane Eid
KESERWAN, Lebanon, Mar 2 2020 (IPS) – Women were at the forefront of Lebanon’s 2019 ‘October Revolution’. Beyond the iconic images of their participation, it seems that by women linking equity in politics to the broader issues of mismanagement of corruption paid off – although activists say there is a long road ahead.
In May 2018 saw the election of six Lebanese women to parliament from 86 female candidates. Following the October 2019 uprising, that started to change the equation within the political system and under the continued pressure of the civil society, a new cabinet was formed. It included six female ministers out of 20.
From a general perspective, this seems like a win for achieving gender equality, considering that 30% of the actual cabinet is female. Lebanon, a democratic republic in the Middle East, is deemed to have acknowledged the role of women and started to include them in the political field.
However, from a Lebanese perspective, questions arise whether this achievement is a veneer to please the streets and Western donors in a crumbling country?
Rouba El Helou-Sensenig, coordinator of the gender, communications and global mobility studies at the Faculty of Law and Political Science at Notre Dame University in Lebanon, is not convinced this change is enough.
“Even though the Lebanese government signed international agreements related to advancing women’s rights and their participation in political life, I believe that the Lebanese government is not serious about reaching gender equality,” she says.
“What has been achieved so far is the result of a combination of pressure from civil society and international bodies,” she added, citing a list of reasons why women’s rights within the country are flawed. “Today, the Lebanese people, whether they are with or against gender equality, are aware that Lebanese women do not have the right to give their citizenship to their children; that the religious courts do not rule in favour of a mother most of the time.”
She says the Kafala system promotes more injustices in Lebanese society and “family friendly-policies should be drafted and implemented” as a matter of urgency.
El Helou-Sensenig explained to IPS that Lebanon still has a labour code with a long list of articles which prohibit women from working in certain fields. Gender-based violence and sexual harassment are still not appropriately criminalised.
Two young women rest in the morning of a new day during the October 2019 Revolution, Lebanon. Credit: Blanche Eid
Historically, Lebanese women waited until 1953 to vote and run for elections – and their fundamental rights undermined until Lebanon signed the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) in 1997.
Most of the women in parliament have been elected based on their political affiliations or even traditional ones. Lebanese society has rarely seen any organic approach to promote female candidates in any election.
This year the World Economic Forum (WEF), in its 2020 report Mind the 100 Year Gap, noted that gender parity would not be attained for 99.5 years – meaning that none of the current generations will witness it. WEF’s even more sobering analysis puts the gap in the Middle East, and North Africa is 140 years. This is a challenge to NGOs and institutions fighting gender discrimination.
Once such a global advocate for gender equality and health and rights of girls and women, Women Deliver is working with five civil society organisations (CSOs) to breach the gender inequity gap in Lebanon. Its Humanitarian Advocates Program, along with the CSOs, is working toward meeting the needs of the women and children who make up 80% of the country’s more than 1 million registered refugees.
In the broader society equality will take time, but many countries still lack fundamental human rights, including Lebanon.
In February Notre Dame University held a seminar on women pursuing peace and justice and being politically active. During the seminar, Cedar Mansour, dean of the faculty of law and political science, explained that for Lebanon to make changes, women need to be more involved in policymaking and participation.
“In order to make a real difference, the change should start in the institutions. Equality should be paramount, inherited discrimination that is infesting our laws should be revolted against,” Mansour said.
By making laws and creating opportunities for women to become more involved, only then, Lebanon will have a chance to stay in the race.
Many factors stand in the way of achieving these goals, the seminar heard.
Lea Baroudi, the founding member and director of March, Lebanon, told IPS has personal experience of many of these challenges and what it takes to be successful.
“What made me continue is what I saw I was capable of doing. I had this belief that I can change. There are two struggles that affect us as women: the patriarchal attitude and the older generation mentality. The attitude of ‘you cannot do it’,” she said.
“But, to succeed, you have to fail many times, and that’s what kept me going”.
Baroudi explained that no matter what a woman will do, she will always be questioned and evaluated every step of the way. She always has to be number one in every field; otherwise, she is considered weak and powerless.
“As long as we cannot change the laws, we have a problem” she adds. Lebanon needs a shift in the understanding of gender equality and its implementation. Many factors play an essential role in shaping this culture, especially patriarchal power rooted in the Lebanese mindset.
In 2016, Lebanon created the first ministry of women’s affairs; this initiative was supposed to be a step forward to achieve political empowerment and gender equality. In the case of Lebanon, the minister of women’s affairs was a man. The idea of creating this ministry was to promote political empowerment, but a female figure in Lebanese politics is known to be more of a mediator than an action taker.
Four months have passed since the revolution started – women have taken a critical role in keeping this uprising safe and its agenda in the spotlight.
One of the current demands is to have an early election with more women involved.
Lebanon might witness a new era of female leaders, but the key issue is whether create a safe environment for Lebanese women by changing policies or they would fall in the trap of being the winning ticket for political parties.