Tag Archives: Human Rights

VGIF is happy to announce the re-launch of its VGIF @ the UN blog

We would like to introduce you to our VGIF United Nations interns, Meryl Roux and Taysha Milagros Clark.

Meryl and Taysha were involved with VGIF at CSW 57 and after a summer hiatus have continued to attend meetings at the UN throughout the fall.

Image

Meryl is a senior at Manhattanville College, double-majoring in Political Science and International Studies. Working with VGIF is her first experience with a grassroots organization and she is very enthusiastic about gaining insights into the community development issues that she believes matter the most.  Meryl looks forward to continuing to learn more about the internal workings of the United Nations and reporting back to you, here on the blog.

Taysha is a sophomore at Barnard College, pursuing a Bachelor’s degree in Political Science and Human Rights with a minor in Sociology. She is enthusiastic about VGIF because she is a firm believer that women’s rights are human rights, and vice versa. She is eager to see these issues discussed in different perspectives, and enjoys the work she is doing to help VGIF better the lives of not only women, but entire communities.

Taysha and Meryl will be representing VGIF at the UN through May, including as VGIF delegates at the 58th Session of the Commission on the Status of Women in March.  They receive support from the program director at the VGIF office, and in biweekly UN discussion meetings with Michaela Walsh of the UN Committee.

The many human rights issues discussed at the UN include violence against women, poverty, gender equality, literacy, maternal health and child mortality —these are some of issues that VGIF address in its grants program for women and girls in developing countries. As representatives of VGIF, the interns are encouraged to “make their voices heard.”  They are learning to be leaders engaged in improving the lives of women and girls worldwide, so listen for their voices in the coming weeks.

Advertisements

“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: “It Should Not Hurt to Be a Girl”

By Kelly Lynn Ziemer

On Friday, March 8, 2013, the National Council of Women (NCW) hosted their parallel event “A Global Outcry: It Should Not Hurt to Be a Girl” for the United Nation’s 57th Commission on the Status of Women, a poignant topic given that March 8th was also International Women’s Day. The event was moderated by Leslie Wright, UN Convener for the Virginia Gildersleeve International Fund (VGIF), and brought together seven panelists from around the world representing government and civil society to discuss problems, initiatives and progress of women’s organizations in different regions of the globe.

Lindy Blanchard, President and Co-Founder of 100X Development Foundation and keynote speaker, provided examples of how her organization is working with orphans and vulnerable children in 10 countries, including Moldova and Malawi, to increase education and vocational and social skills. Teresa Hintzke, President of Pan-Pacific and South-East Asia Women’s Association (PPSEAWA) International, focused on the harmful cultural beliefs that perpetuate inequality of women and girls, as girls are raised to be second-class citizens in the Pacific Islands. Gender and social standing take precedence in this culture as opposed to economic status; status is attained as one ages. With rapid economic change in the Pacific Islands, which has led to more unemployment and the loss of natural resources, sexual violence has become prevalent. Therefore, being young and female allows for no power in this culture. She recommended an increase in awareness and education to change the perception of girls’ and women’s capabilities in this region.

Awareness is also a goal of Dr. Ranjana Kumari’s organizations as Director of the Center for Social Research and President of Women Power Connect. These organizations are increasing education about a girl child’s right to be born in India, particularly among the upper socioeconomic classes where research has shown that these couples are more apt to abort female fetuses than lower socioeconomic status couples. Dr. Kumari also discussed child marriage, trafficking and a cultural mindset of inferiority of women. Although there is a legal ban on child marriages, she stated, “customs are so strong” that 50% of marriages are still occurring for women less than 18 years old. To combat trafficking, where 70% of trafficked children from Nepal, Burma, Pakistan and Bangladesh are pushed into prostitution, Dr. Kumari spoke of her organization’s campaign to raise awareness about trafficking and create a network of support services for survivors.

It became evident that the panelists were advocating for an increase of awareness about violence against women while taking into account local cultural beliefs. This was reiterated by Dr. Manjula O’Connor, Vice President of Australia India Society of Victoria. She has found success in the state of Victoria, Australia where she estimates that 10% of the 250,000 Indian population living in Australia has been reached thus far through community education and healthcare providers. Initial steps to address this community’s isolation and lack of assistance were to form a task force. In doing this, they were able to understand the needs of the community and determine key stakeholders. Dr. O’Connor credits their success to working with stakeholders in the community through theater, Bollywood dancing and faith-based organizations, such as Sikh temples, to tailor domestic violence campaigns to this population. It has also created more opportunity for this population to embrace the Australian government’s White Ribbon program, which engages men and boys to participate in the fight to end violence against women.

The role of government to push forth legislation and programs was echoed by several other panelists. Licenciada Eunice Loyda Mijangos, member of NCW of Guatemala, gave her own personal accounts of surviving psychological and physical abuse. She encouraged the audience that “there are laws to protect us”. However, Ms. Yakovleva, President of Ukranian NCW, stated that Ukraine has a lack of gender policy and a lack of women in government. Because of this, the country has become a hotbed for sex trafficking and Internet pornography. To contrast, Honorable Anita Kalinde is the Minister of Gender, Children and Social Welfare for the Republic of Malawi. Given that there is a post in the government to address issues of gender is progressive and one that many countries need to adapt, like the United States. Ms. Kalinde discussed the country’s recent passing of the Gender Equality Law and the fact that the country has a female President. She believes these initiatives have furthered rights and services for women in the country including the implementation of one-stop shops to assist survivors with social affairs, courts, medical, police under one roof.

Though the panelists came from different countries with various cultures, it was clear that patriarchy is embedded in many of these cultures allowing violence against women to continue to occur. To address these cultural beliefs and adjust the mindset that violence against women is harmful not only to the individual but also a community and economy, an approach needs to be tailored to that culture. Awareness, education, legislation and more women in government were solutions offered by the panelists. To conclude her address, Lindy Blanchard emphasized, “Yes you can as a girl child go into education. Yes you can go into higher education. Yes you can become a mother, entrepreneur and President of your country.” Through their work to end violence against women, the panelists are passing along the same message as Ms. Blanchard.

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.