Category Archives: Uncategorized

ActionAid: The Future She Wants

Image

Meryl Roux, VGIF UN Representative

On September 24, ActionAid organized a High Level Panel discussion on economic equality and moving beyond ‘a dollar a day.’ The panel was led by Lakshmi Puri, Deputy Executive Director, Intergovernmental Support and Strategic Partnerships Bureau, and Assistant Secretary-General of the United Nations. The panelists reported on new goals and targets for the complete elimination of extreme poverty by the year 2030. The vicious cycle of poverty continues to affect millions of women around the world and in many instances their voices are left out when discussing economic solutions.  As a result, the potential for progress towards a better future is often untapped. Women need better access to economic discussions in order to share their ideas and help create a more sustainable and equitable world.

The eradication of extreme poverty and hunger is the first Millennium Development Goal (MDG). The measurement for progress on MDG-1 is the global poverty line; originally $1/day but recently increased to $1.25/day. Ms. Puri emphasized that $1.25/day is certainly not enough to cover the daily costs of basic human needs. According to the 2012 MDG report, 414 million people live below the poverty line and over 800 million people are chronically undernourished. In addition, the global poverty line hides the 16 million people who go hungry every day, yet are not considered poor because they earn more than $1.25/day. Ms. Puri insisted that there needs to be additional benchmarks to accurately measure and redefine poverty.

Ms. Puri also mentioned the fact that the bottom quarter of the world’s population holds only three-fourths of 1% of global household income, and merely .03% of the average income in the world. However, people in the top 5% have 9 times the average income. The ratio between the averages in the top 5% and the bottom quarter is 1 to 300.

UN Women is pushing for a new framework for the post 2015 agenda. They are aiming for women’s empowerment to be prominent in the proposed sustainable development goals and point out that reducing gender inequality is the ultimate goal to be reached as we move towards 2030. Ms. Puri calls for a focus on three core areas as the post-2015 agenda moves forward: (1) freedom from violence for women and girls; (2) increasing and enhancing their capabilities and skills; (3) giving them access to leadership and participation in household, private and public institutions. These three core areas relate strongly to the work that VGIF has done through the years.

In 2007, VGIF funded a women’s capacity building project in Ghana which provided small loans and training in financial management, healthy eating, and production and distribution of nutrient-rich food. The project increased their leadership and participation in the community as they produced and sold food. By managing their own financial resources, the women were able to utilize the skills they had gained from the training to empower themselves. These women were able to take one step forward in the fight to move beyond extreme poverty through financial independence. VGIF agrees that the post-2015 goals must fight for gender equality and ending violence against women and girls, by increasing and enhancing capabilities and skills, and giving women access to leadership within the home, the community and the country.

 

Advertisements

VGIF’s President Eileen Menton’s statement at the thematic debate on theme 3 ”Global partnership for development in the context of the post-2015 development agenda”

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

Virginia Gildersleeve International Fund’s President Eileen Menton presented a statement at the thematic debate on theme 3 ”Global partnership for development in the context of the post-2015 development agenda”

 VGIF was honored to be asked to speak at the UN on Monday during the special high-level meeting of ECOSOC with the Bretton Woods institutions, the World Trade Organization and the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development concerning “Global partnership for development in the context of the post-2015 development agenda.” 

New York, April 24, 2013 – The Virginia Gildersleeve International Fund (VGIF) delivered a statement to the United Nations thematic debate on theme 3 “Global partnership for development in the context of the post-2015 development agenda.” Among the participants were high level experts, dignitaries, and representatives from civil society. The other non-government speakers were Ms. Bhumika Muchala a Senior Researcher at the Third World Network and Ms. Mahinour Al-Badawi, a Senior Researcher at the Egyptian Center for Economic and Social Rights. VGIF urged that the UN and the development community bring small NGOs and Women’s organizations into the process and that greater emphasis be placed on meeting MDG3 (Promote Gender Equality and Empower Women), in addition to MDG8 (Global Partnership for Development).

“We recognize the strides made in the MDGs and that three important targets on poverty, slums and water have been met. Nevertheless, considering that over three billion people still live on less than $2.50 a day, that 22,000 children die due to poverty every day, that more than 100 million children of primary school age are out of school, and that women continue to be underrepresented in the formal economy and in national parliaments, we are still far from achieving most of the MDGs by the 2015 deadline. The 2012 Global Food Policy Report of the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI) reveals that almost 55 percent of the reduction in hunger from 1970 to 1995 can be attributed to improvements in women’s status in society. Given the demonstrated effectiveness of the advancement of women and girls on achieving such development outcomes, we must redouble our commitment to support them to achieve their full potential. This involves prioritizing MDG 3 alongside the other seven goals. MDG 8, though one of the most crucial levers affecting the success of all the other MDGs, is one of the least developed. The post-2015 development framework should give utmost importance to identifying, developing and implementing strategies to promote global partnerships for development in the context of the post-2015 development agenda,” stated Eileen Menton, VGIF President.

Other VGIF recommendations included: implementing an all-inclusive multi-stakeholder approach at every stage, hearing the voices of smaller NGOs, promoting opportunities that build capacity of grassroots NGOs, developing and fostering partnerships in education and technology, leadership opportunities, local food production, and women’s economic empowerment. Partnerships in and between governments, the private sector and civil society will uplift the most vulnerable and reach those needing the most help.

For more than 40 years, VGIF has partnered with grassroots organizations to empower women. This year, VGIF funds will build a much needed Physics and Biology laboratory at a girls’ school in a remote part of India and provide high quality science education materials developed by the North Carolina School of Science to girls and teachers in Zanzibar. VGIF is identifying opportunities this year in Ghana, India, Kenya, and Zimbabwe to promote sustainable community development through nutritional gardens. Other VGIF funding will promote women’s empowerment through the political and legal frameworks within a particular country. VGIF is funding training for 40 widowed women in farming technology and women’s legal right to property ownership, as recognized in Kenya’s new constitution. VGIF also is funding enhancements in the informal economy, through a variety of projects such as Tilapia farming in Ghana and quilting skills in Mongolia. Partnerships like these will ensure that MDGs 3 and 8 are closer to reality and the new Post-2015 goals bring equality and empowerment to women worldwide.

The statement can be found here

Contact  VGIF:  Staci Alziebler-Perkins 212-213-0622

About VGIF

The Virginia Gildersleeve International Fund (VGIF) provides small grants for grassroots projects that empower women and girls in developing countries. VGIF has supported women in developing countries through economic empowerment, community development, health and nutritional support, literacy and leadership training, educational seminars and workshops, and science and human rights education through over 400 successful projects in over 70 countries.

For more information about VGIF go here: VGIF or on Facebook or on Twitter @VGIF

“They have taken my life without killing me.” Bosnian Survivor

By Thea Rømmen

CSW57: Sexual and Gender-Based Violence as a Method of Warfare Panel

Permanent representatives of Liberia, Liechtenstein and the U.S.A introduced and stressed their countries’ commitment to the cause of reducing sexual violence as a method of war. The Hon. Julia Duncan-Cassell of Liberia spoke on the many forms of violence particularly on women during the civil war in Liberia – torture, amputations, abductions, rape, killings. Women were forced into prostitution and slavery, and forced to witness sexual violence committed to their family members. In Liberia, the menace of sexual violence in war has, due to its effectiveness, proven exceptionally difficult to combat.

The panel itself was moderated by Emira Woods.

Niemat Ahmadi, of a women’s group in North Darfur, presented a very engaging and distressing video of personal testimonies and consequences of sexual violence in the Darfur conflict. She said, the support of the international community is very important to propel change in domestic actors (funding, resources, empowerment of domestic actors) – the situation on the ground remains extremely distraught for women.

Zainab Hawa Bangura of Sierra Leone, former foreign minister of that country, is the Special Representative of the UN Secretary General on Sexual Violence in Conflict. Rape must be recognized, leadership must be established and the international community must coordinate. Services and support must however also be established! Survivor centers, holistic multi-sectoral services are of the essence!

Karen Mosoti, the head of the liaison office of the International Criminal Court. International community’s main effort: different types of prosecution, mandate of the prosecutor to choose.  Ms. Mosoti shed light on the formal responsibilities, limitations and liberties of the ICC. The ICC is currently investigating eight cases of gender-based violence, many of which are against political leaders in Africa.

To me, the main take-away from this panel was that the efforts of the international community do matter and are effective in effecting change in local communities. The formal-political, through the institutionalization of law on war crimes and in supporting survivor centers, is very important, but the social-informational, which works among other ways through spreading information and by empowerment, has aided local groups in several African states. The destruction that sexual violence as a method of warfare brings is apparent and tremendous. As one Bosnian survivor said, “they have taken my life without killing me.” This is an area of violence against women and girls where the international community can be the most effective.

CSW57: The Right to Effective Remedies for Trafficked Persons

By: Cristal Espejo 

The trafficking of humans is an issue that continues to receive much attention in the international community. On March 14th, a distinguished panel gathered during CSW57 to speak about this issue for a side event named, The Right to Effective Remedies for Trafficked Persons. An Introductory Statement was given by Ms. Maarit Kohonen who is Sheriff, Deputy Head of OHCHR NY Office. Ms. Joy Ngozi Ezeilo, the Special Rapporteur on trafficking persons, especially women and children, spoke about key concerns and challenges to the realization of the right to a remedy. She explained that oftentimes, adequate and effective remedies are often inaccessible to trafficked persons. In reality there is a wide gap between law and implementation. In her report to the UN council in 2011, she focused on the legal framework of trafficking. The report sent out each component of the right to effective remedies. She put forth recommendations in order to fulfill these remedies. More info on this report is available on the OHCHR website.

Ms. Jean D’Cunha, Senior Policy Advisor of UN Women, explained issues confronting trafficked migrant domestic workers. Ms. D’Chunha explained that the confinement of workers’ work environment limit them from joining unions and mobilizing their rights. A lack of labor protection disqualifies domestic workers from getting the help they need. Some countries have bans on being a domestic worker. Many countries of origin do not allow returned undocumented domestic workers to get funds when they are abused from their home countries. The domestic worker will lose papers if she files a complaint against an employer or flees them. When some of them are in confinement they wait for travel documents and for their wages. Many employers use documents as a bribe and therefore do not even pay them. These are just some of the reasons, she explained, that domestic workers do not use the justice system to help them. In addition, women migrants are often on spousal visas and will not report abuse, because they are dependant economically with a spouse. It is even harder to report domestic abuse if they are undocumented because they have to prove that they are with the husband. Another problem is that they are afraid of losing custody of children. Ms. D’Chunha urged that the lack of services that are provided to these women needs to be addressed.

So what suggestions did Ms. D’Chunha have? She suggested that principles and a right to remedies must take into account the nature in which the women work. The trafficking policies should help women in all stages of migration. The definition of criteria to define that a women is trafficked must have questions of women pre-departure, it should not focus just on the country of destination. She stressed the need to look at measures of recovery and the need for assistance with economic recovery. Stigma and censorship must be addressed when women return and the emotional trauma that they experience afterwards should be considered. There is a demand for cheap labor and we need to address the demand for the trafficked person. Lastly she suggested that there should be sanctions for recruiting agents and mechanisms that monitors judicial decisions.

The 3rd speaker was Suzannah Phillips who is a Clinic and Staff attorney for the International Women’s Human Rights Clinic. She spoke about access to justice for trafficked persons. She started off her talk by stating that victims of being trafficked are treated as criminals. She continued by saying that a state-inflicted harm is that trafficked victims are often demeaned by police officers. She suggested that their psychological trauma post being trafficked should be considered. Trafficked persons may also be convicted when they come forward, which can affect legal immigration status, child custody, and employment opportunities. Therefore, they will not be likely to come forward with abuse. Being labeled as a criminal can lead to self-criticism. Deportation can lead to re-trafficking. Traffickers also instill fear of law enforcement in trafficked peoples. They will therefore be less likely to trust the judicial system.

Ms. Phillips then asked, “What can we do to ensure access to justice for trafficked persons?” She suggested that we should allow trafficked persons the opportunity to clear their criminal history. It can help eliminate criminal history as a barrier to leading a good life post-trafficking. She stressed the need to provide public apology to ensure that they are recognized that a human rights law has been violated. There is also a need for more help for them psychologically. Women’s voices should also have an equal weight in comparison to men’s voices.

Ms. Jayne Huckerby, Associate professor of clinical law spoke about the international legal framework on the right to an effective remedy for trafficked persons. She stressed that much discussion is made about the problem and not the solution. She suggested that humanitarian and refugee laws should be considered. Overall, the distinguished panel did a reputable job of presenting the special rapporteur’s thematic reports, presenting the challenges that lay ahead for trafficked persons and providing suggestions for the future.

CSW57: A Girl’s Eye View of Unsafe Urban Spaces

2_IMG_1568

By: Cristal Espejo, UN Youth Representative

After the Delhi bus case, where a 23-year-old female physiotherapy intern was raped and murdered on a bus, the need for reports such as Plan International’s latest, Safer Cities: Adolescent Girl’s Eye View on Unsafe Spaces, has increased greatly. On March 8th, a side event for the 57th Commission on the Status of Women, entitled, A Girl’s Eye View on Unsafe Urban Spaces, brought together a distinguished panel to discuss the global issue of unsafe urban spaces and how this affects the livelihood of young women. On the panel were Plan International’s Global Gender Advisor, Sarah Hendriks, UN-HABITAT’s Deputy Executive, Aisa Kirabo Kacyira, and Women in Cities International’s Director of Programmes, Kathyrn Travers. Two young delegates were also on the panel, one from Kampala, Uganda and one from Hanoi, Vietnam.

According to Plan International’s 2010 report, Because I am a Girl: The State of the World’s Girls, “For the First time in history, there are more people living in cities than in rural areas. Each month, five million people are added to the cities of the developing world, and it is estimated that by 2030, approximately 1.5 billion girls will live in urban areas.” While the increase in the number of girls in urban areas should lead to an increase in girls receiving more resources, the situation is much more complex for young women in many developing countries. Girls face sexual harassment and live in fear of being raped, kidnapped, robbed, or hurt when walking through urban areas. As a result, some families are so fearful for their daughters being alone in the streets that they limit the times that they can be outside and sometimes limit them from going out at all. This fear largely limits young women.

Some of the aims of UN-HABITAT, Plan International and Women and Cities International, is to increase access to public space and improve girls autonomous mobility in cities. This leads to their ability to receive a quality education. Plan International’s Sarah Hendriks, reported that some of Plan’s research findings in, Because I am a Girl Urban Programme Study, conducted in Cairo, Delhi, Hanoi, Kampala and Lima, concluded that girls felt excluded from policy and legislation. One of Plan’s goals is to help adolescent girls feel less excluded from policy and legislation and have their voices heard.

Hakima (shown above) from Kampala, Uganda definitely had her voice heard when she spoke to audience members about her experiences in her urban city. Hakima articulated that women should not be limited because of their gender and had just as much rights to urban spaces as men did. She proposed solutions such as an increase in streetlights and safer public restrooms in her city in order for girls to roam more freely. At just 9 years old, Hakima had strength in her voice that all panelists and audience members acknowledged.

Young women such as Hakima and the hard work of the panelists mentioned, show that much has to be done to help make urban areas safer for young women. Acknowledgment of the problem is the first step. In addition, more data has to be available about young girls in urban environments, in order for governments to acknowledge the magnitude of this issue. Some short-term solutions would be to increase the number of streetlights and create a safer haven for public restrooms, as Hakima mentioned. Some long-term solutions mentioned, were bringing men into the conversation and changing cultural views on how to approach women in public. In addition, encouraging governments to enforce policies and legislation that keep women safe were solutions proposed as well.

CEDAW: Plenary Session for Bulgaria

Soyeon Kim, UN Representative

On July 12, the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women held a plenary session for Bulgaria. The Bulgarian delegation addressed issues including Roma women and girls, gender equality, and crimes against women.

On July 11, Bulgarian NGOs addressed CEDAW with concerns for women in Bulgaria. NGOs expressed multiple legal issues that do not adequately address women’s issues, including how laws for women remain vague, how the Anti-Discrimination Act does not specifically cover sex discrimination or gender-based violence, and how domestic violence has yet to be recognized as an additional crime. NGOs had claimed that there are still an insufficient shelters for victims of domestic violence, citing that one in four women are victims of domestic violence, and Bulgarian advertisements use stereotypes of women and promote prostitution. NGOs had also noted that unlike many countries in Europe, Bulgaria society still does not address paternal roles in families.

Ambassador Stephan Tafrov and the Bulgarian representatives reported that women’s issues are becoming more prominent in Bulgaria. The Bulgarian government created the Council for Equal Opportunity for Women and Men in 2004, and the Council of Ministers focuses on gender equality by partnering with government agencies, NGOs, and businesses. The Bulgarian National Assembly also created the Parliamentary Committee on Human Rights, which deals with the rights of women, fights discrimination against women, and ensures that all legislation about women is discussed and conforms to the Convention. For example, laws have been implemented regarding crimes against “sexual morality”, or the use of sex services. Judiciary and law enforcement departments receive legal training twice a year to increase awareness of the Convention The Bulgarian government has implemented municipal councils for gender issues and a national strategy for the promotion of gender equality that was ratified in 2008 and will continue into 2015; this strategy falls under the UN’s Laws of Discrimination against Women. Currently, transborder and national human trafficking is illegal, and transnational trafficking has a “separate and severely punishable composition.” Despite pressure for women and NGOs, Bulgaria has yet to ratify the laws recommended by CEDAW resolutions and still does not have laws regarding violence against women. The perpetrators of sexual and domestic violence can be released from jail if he marries his victim, and marital rape and sexual harassment only remain acts of discrimination.

The Bulgarian delegation noted that women have obtained more prominent occupations. In the business sector, there has been an increase in female leaders, and Bulgaria aims to gain at least 30% female presence overall. There has also been a 41.5% increase of female agricultural entrepreneurs. Military laws against women have been repealed. There has been an increase in awareness about trafficking in the media, which is controlled mostly by women. However, CEDAW noted that only five of Bulgaria’s 40 missions are run by women, and only 11% of women overall hold the position of “minister”.

The Bulgarian National Council for Cooperation on Ethnic and Integration Issues asks for the integration of the Roma to combat human trafficking and prostitution. 22% of Roma women have not completed elementary education, are illiterate, or never attended school. There are more school drop-outs for economical, social, psychological, pedagogical, and ethno-cultural reasons, including early marriages in girls as young as 12 years old. However, there is an increasing percentage of Roma against marriages before the age of 16. To promote education about marriages, Bulgaria is working on the integration of young Roma girls through local projects integrating education and equal job opportunities. In January 2012, the Council of Ministers adopted a national plan for the education of young girls and Roma including education in health, culture, media, ethnic integration, and discrimination; the plan will end in 2020.

Bulgaria is still attempting to change the stereotypes of women, especially in rural areas, where priorities include addressing domestic violence and changing the social norm. The Bulgarian representatives stated that prejudice against women originally started in primary and secondary education via textbooks, which undervalued the role of women in history and often portrayed women to have more home-related occupations. The Bulgarian representatives noted that the government has distributed material to schools and teachers about how to approach gender-related issues and gender mainstreaming into education. Currently, NGOs and the Bulgarian government are attempting to find equal opportunities for women and men in Southeast Europe, albeit through separate efforts. NGOs preventing early marriages have been using funds from the European Union.

On July 27, CEDAW noted Bulgaria’s improvements towards ending discrimination against women. To improve women’s rights and laws regarding violence against women, CEDAW recommended that the Bulgarian government continue to raise awareness on women’s rights, adopt a gender-equality law, ensure all acts of sexual violence are investigated with all the perpetrators persecuted and sentenced, specifically criminalize domestic violence and marital rape, ensure sufficient number of shelters available to domestic violence victims, and provide support for NGOs that are offering shelter and support. To improve working conditions for women, CEDAW also recommended that Bulgarians narrow and close the wage gap between men and women and encourage men to share parental responsibilities, including enabling paternity leave. To improve the integration of the Roma, CEDAW recommended that the Bulgarian government provide aid to victims of human trafficking and tackle the root causes for school drop outs among the Roma. It is expected that at the next plenary session for Bulgaria, these issues will have been addressed and improved on.

BPW Equal Pay Day Workshop at CSW56

For the past four CSWs, the International Federation of Business and Professional Women has hosted a workshop at the German House Main Auditorium on Equal Pay Day. The day marks the extra days the average woman must work to make the same pay as the average man the year prior. The formula is very simple:

%pay gap * average work days (225) = the average extra days a woman must work

This year in the United States, Equal Pay Day falls depressingly on April 17th. The worst offender of the participating countries is Korea, whose women must continue to work until May 21, 2012 to make the same as men did in the year 2011.

The goal of the campaign is to raise awareness of the reasons for the wage gap. These reasons include discrimination in education and the workplace, undervaluing of women’s work, traditions and stereotypes, segregation in the labor market, the glass ceiling, and unequal balance of work and private life. Interestingly, it was argued at the workshop that although women are on average more educated in developed nations, they are still paid less because their income is viewed as supplementary to family income rather than as a bread-winning role. The long term effects of the pay gap are lower pensions paid to older women and higher poverty rates for women.  Also, because women live longer than men, they become a heavier burden on their families during their golden years.

To achieve their goal, the Equal Pay Day campaign seeks to make the pay gap transparent and sell the business case for gender equality. It does so through networking activities worldwide, organizing events, and involving increasingly more countries. The campaign created signature “red bag” which are distributed to represent the red numbers in women’s pockets. There are also several media campaigns to raise awareness, the latest of which is a satirical video which can be found here.

Evidence and Data for Gender Equality Initiative (EDGE)

By Sophie Russo, VGIF UN Representative

The lack of gender statistics has long been an excuse not to act. Because quality evidence is needed to make the case for change and design effective policies, the Evidence and Data for Gender Equality Initiative (EDGE) was launched in Busan, South Korea, at the Fourth High Level Forum on Aid Effectiveness in November 2011. Four months later, at the occasion of the Commission on the Status of Women, UN Women and the Statistical Commission met on Friday March 2, 2012 to reflect on EDGE’s achievements and on the challenges ahead.

EDGE’s goals are to create a comprehensive database including disaggregated data on the three Es—education, employment and entrepreneurship—as well as to design international statistical standards. A set of indicators and definitions was determined by experts, which will eventually make gender data more easily comparable and useful. After the beginning of the second phase of EDGE’s development in March 2013, the new methodology and standards will be tested in 10 pilot countries. At the end of the process, gender statistics should be an integral part of national statistics, not mere ad hoc projects.

Quite understandably, EDGE cannot do this work on its own. Officials are determined to work in partnership with the OECD, the World Bank, UN entities and UN member states. A steering committee composed of statistical experts from various institutions was established to share best practices and provide counseling on the initiative’s achievements. Indeed, EDGE promotes a model that values technical and financial cooperation.

But there are still challenges ahead. Systems of data collection and national statistical capacity need to be strengthened to produce more reliable data. To achieve this, EDGE will have to improve connections and the sharing of best practices at the national and international levels. Funding is also scarce, so UN Women and the Statistical Commission must focus their efforts on acquiring funding on the basis of the Busan plan. In addition, several members of the Commission raised the concern that testing the new method in only 10 pilot countries would not be sufficient.

As the Director of the World Bank’s Development Data Group, Shaida Badee underlined, there is no quick fix. But bridging today’s evidence gaps will contribute greatly to achieving the Busan Joint Action Plan for Gender Equality and Development.

Fortunate Accidents: The Making and Aftermath of “Pray the Devil Back to Hell”

Morgan Zajkowski, VGIF UN Representative


Executive producer of Women, War & Peace Abigail Disney remains surprisingly down to earth despite the success she has had with her multiple films. The five-part film series is an emotional compilation of stories portraying women’s reaction to war and how they are immersing themselves in the peace processes. The recipient of the International Advocate for Peace Award and a 2011 Academy Award Nominee, Disney is distinguished for her films and her message: “We are shooting at each other and it’s stupid.”

At a Mission of Norway sponsored event held in the United Nations Dag Hammarskjold Auditorium on 28 February 2012, Disney spoke about her film “Pray the Devil Back to Hell” to an audience attending the 56th United Nations Commission on the Status of Women. The moving documentary tells the story of 2011 Nobel Peace Prize laureate Leymah Gbowee and her non-violent struggle in the 2003 Liberian civil war between independent warlords and dictator, Charles Taylor. “General Leymah” and her thousands of female troops formed a powerful and ultimately successful inter-faith movement protesting the war. The movement proved instrumental in pushing the peace talks forward in Ghana and the following election of Africa’s first female president, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf.

Disney explained that her connection to the story was completely accidental. She traveled to Liberia to see what she could do to help support President Sirleaf and ended up piecing together the story of the Women of Liberia Peace Network from many different people. After she returned to the U.S., she recalled the anger she felt about having never heard the story before and knew that she had to make sure the rest of the world experienced it.

The next challenge was to find footage of this amazing journey, which ended up being a treasure hunt. CNN and other networks claimed to have no footage stored, further igniting her passion to make sure the story of Women of Liberia Peace Network as heard. Finally she met someone who had taken home videos of the development but had donated it to an NGO. The organization knew they had the footage but had not seen it in a long time. Ultimately, they found the tape with extensive water and sun damage, holding up a window Disney described how she felt like they had just pulled the story back from being lost in oblivion.

Disney believes that this film and Gbowee’s subsequent Peace Prize demonstrate how women are not helpless victims but invaluable social actors in own right and agents of change. She hopes that showing “Pray the Devil Back to Hell” and the other four films of Women, War & Peace series will be beacons of hope for women in conflict zones that their voice is ready to be heard.

All five of the Women, War & Peace films are currently streaming online at www.pbs.org/wnet/women-war-and-peace.

 

CSW 56: Tunisia Moving Towards Gender Equality

Morgan Zajkowski, VGIF UN Representative

Ms. Sihem Badi, Tunisia’s Minister of Women’s and Family Affairs, spoke at a CSW 56 side event on February 28 2012 entitled “Girls: control of their bodies and access to development.”  Ms. Badi was recently elected to her seat after living in France to protect herself from the gender-based violence in her country. Despite this, she remains optimistic about the new government’s positive push to pass legislation that both protects and empowers women.

Ms. Badi explained that it is not enough to simply have civil courts enforcing women’s rights; laws need to change in order to sustain the development that Tunisia has experienced since the Arab Spring and the subsequent elections. Although the process has been slow, she gave a few examples of laws that have already been implemented: political adjustment laws have now provided women with 25% of the seats of parliament, the legal marrying age for girls is 18, and contraceptives and abortions are available.

When asked her opinion on whether or not the Arab Spring was productive for women, she gave a mixed response. She said that it has been productive, but there are still many challenges ahead for women. Specifically, the fundamentalist parties have voiced strong opposition to this new freedom for women. This is especially problematic for rural women, as Ms. Badi noted, “We have to talk to leaders about the issue—we have to convince them that providing reproductive health services will not start a feminist revolution.”

Ms. Badi also talked about the necessity to involve a variety of groups and use education as a primary means of changing stereotypes. Youth involvement is essential, especially the empowerment of girls so that they are no longer considered a target. But working with girls alone will not be enough to make real change, as she said, “We must work with men and young men in prevention strategies.”

Despite these challenge, Ms. Badi remains determined to preserve and improve the status of women in Tunisia.