Tag Archives: VGIF

ActionAid: The Future She Wants


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.



Men are the key

Ajla Karajko

CSW 2013 has offered few events where the focus was on men taking the action and preventing violence against women and girls. Most of the events were organized by “MenEngage”, which is a global alliance of NGOs and the UN agencies that seek to engage boys and men to achieve gender equality.

It has been concluded that men are the key to solving the problem of violence against women and girls, because it is them who are committing it, and it is them who can prevent it from happening. That is why there has to be increased education of men and boys about the definition and values of manhood in relation to females, as well as increased participation of men and boys in training activities, and national, regional and international advocacy against the violence.

Selected projects where men are working to prevent violence against women are:

“The Mentors in Violence Prevention” is focused on preventing all forms of men’s violence against women. This multi-racial, mixed gender program is the first large-scale attempt to enlist high school, collegiate and professional athletes in the fight against this violence.

“Voice Male Magazine” is national publication chronicling the transformation of masculinities. They invite men to challenge men’s violence, and to explore men’s interior lives. Furthermore, they focus on drawing inspiration from the world-changing acts of social transformation women have advanced, and on growing legion of activist male allies advocating for a new expression of manhood.

“Men Stopping Violence” works locally, nationally, and internationally to dismantle belief systems, social structures and institutional practices that oppress women and children and dehumanize men themselves.

“A Call to Men” provides education and training for men, boys and communities. Their aim is to shift social norms that negatively impact our culture and promote a more healthy and respectful definition of manhood. They partner with organizations and individuals to create national campaigns that raise awareness about ending violence on a larger-scale.

“Men Can Stop Rape” aims to stop violence before it happens. They focus on helping men use their strength in positive ways in all of their relationships, and they use the social ecological model. They engaged over 2 million youth and professionals, and won a few awards.

“Men’s Initiative for Jane Doe Inc.” works in providing education, training, and support for all men interested in direct participation. They fundraise for shelters for battered women and for programs for boys and young men.

Because of CSW57, I concluded that men are the key to solving the problem of violence against women and girls; that there is a need for increased education of men and boys about the definition and values of manhood in relation to females; and there is a need of increased participation of men and boys in training activities, national, regional and international advocacy against the violence.


“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.

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


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.

At CSW56: “Nothing about us, without us.”

By Charlotte Lorick, VGIF UN Representative

It has been an eventful CSW56 Conference thus far, featuring inspirational and oftentimes eye-opening talk on rural women’s rights. Amidst the discussion about gender equality in rural communities, there has been an underlying buzz of concern among attendees. Despite the fact that an estimated 4,000 women from across the world have made it to the conference, some are concerned that many women’s voices are still not being represented. According to Bathabile Dlamini, Minister of Social Development in South Africa, their voices may be the most important of all.

At the Socialist International Women (SIW) Side Event on Thursday, hosted by the Permanent Mission of Italy, Dlamini shared her views on the situation of rural women in South Africa. Much of her discussion focused on the many problems that rural women are facing in her country, including patriarchal cultural practices, little access to leadership positions, and inadequate control over their own resources. The last point she made was most notable of all – she expressed her concern that many of these women are incapable of sharing their personal stories with the world. She feels that the very women that this conference focuses on have little impact on the diplomatic process at the UN and have very little power to change their situation. As she put it, “We all have come here to New York and left most of the rural women at home. We are talking about their futures and well-being and they are not even included in this discussion.” I have heard similar concerns at some of the other meetings, complaints that many women were denied a VISA, or that many simply do not have the funds to make the trip. She then went on to say that the women who do manage to make the trip to New York have faced some challenges. “We are traveling so far and yet many events have no translation and we do not have access to the rooms where decisions are actually being made.”

She appealed to the NGO community, the international community, and the UN member states to rethink the current system. NGO members have not come here just to talk. They have come to New York seeking change, and to improve their lives and the lives of the millions of women they represent. The time has come for action. We all know the problems. We all know the solutions. Now it is a matter of political will and getting the governments to implement the necessary changes. To accomplish this, to encourage government action, and to ensure that the right decisions are made, it is important that politicians hear from the rural women who need their help. Or as Dlamini so rightly concluded, “Nothing about us, without us!” We now must ask ourselves: How can we, as individuals and NGOs, ensure that action is taken and that we carry her message over into CSW 57?