Must Reads: Maternity Ward Massacre in Afghanistan

In this week’s Must Reads: Maternity ward massacre in AfghanistanAn effective response to the pandemic means tackling the violence and inequality faced by women. Using codewords to protect against violence. Every Woman Treaty Steering Committee Member Ilwad Elman and founding Board Member Fartuun Adancofounders of Elman Peace and Human Rights Center in Somalia chosen as 2020 Aurora Prize Humanitarians. Joint press statements Protecting Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights and Promoting Gender-responsiveness in the COVID-19 crisis issued by 59 governments and the OSCE.

1. AfghanistanThe 100-bed, government-run hospital hosted a maternity clinic run by Doctors Without Borders, also known by its French name Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF). Just hours before the attack, MSF had tweeted a photo of a newborn in his mother’s arms at the clinic after being delivered safely by emergency caesarean section. (Reuters)

“Whilst fighting was ongoing, one woman gave birth to her baby and both are doing well,” MSF said in a statement. “More than ever, MSF stands in solidarity with the Afghan people.”

2. UN OCHA: Women perform 76% of the total hours of unpaid care work globally. They have the majority of caregiving roles in homes and in communities. They will also carry more of the weight of caring for the sick and helping to stem the spread of the virus. Women do this essential work in spite of obstacles and inequalities. (The Guardian) (UN OCHA)

Related: Three sisters who worked in Mexico's government hospital system were found murdered in the northern border state of Coahuila, stirring new alarm in a country where attacks on health care workers have occurred across the nation amid the coronavirus outbreak. Two were nurses, the other a hospital administrator. (New York Times)

3. South Africa. Because of the lockdown, many of these women are unable to leave their homes. They’re spending extended periods of time indoors with their abusers and are at great risk of violence.

“I started seeing a campaign in the UK where victims were using code words in text messages, so I adapted it to the local context. We all know about koesiesters here in Cape Town, so when I get that message I know you are in trouble,” says Peters. (Mail & Guardian)

4. The Gift of Hope: Fartuun Adan and Ilwad Elman named 2020 Aurora Prize Humanitarians for the second time. “Together, mother and daughter have thrown themselves into their work, helping former child soldiers and providing survivors of rape with much-needed assistance. Their daily activity brings numerous challenges, but danger and uncertainty remain on top of the list. (Aurora Prize)

5. Joint press statement Protecting Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights and Promoting Gender-responsiveness in the COVID-19 crisis. “The pandemic makes existing inequalities for women and girls, as well as discrimination of other marginalized groups such as persons with disabilities and those in extreme poverty worse and risk impeding the realization of human rights for women and girls. Participation, protection, and potential of all women and girls must be at the center of response efforts.” (Sweden – Ministry of Foreign Affairs)

More: Domestic and sexual violence risks escalate in the OSCE region. Joint statement notes “At this challenging time, the social isolation of lockdowns means women and girls, as well as other victims, may be trapped in their homes with their abusers, isolated from the people and the resources that could help them… We need to address them and ensure that victims are able to access the support they need.” (UK FCO)


  • WATCH: Hear from Dr. Eleanor Nwadinobi, Zainab Ali Khan, Marina Pisklakova-Parker discuss the intersecting pandemics: COVID-19 and Violence Against Women and Girls. (Every Woman Treaty)
  • WATCH: Ilwad Elman keynotes a High-Level Session ‘Sustaining Peace in the Time of Covid-19’ during the Virtual Stockholm Peace and Development Forum. (SIPRI)
  • The Rotary Foundation: Now accepting applications for the 2021-22 Rotary Peace Fellowship program. Candidates have until 31 May to submit applications to their district. Districts must submit endorsed applications to The Rotary Foundation by 1 July. (Rotary) (BBC)

Must Reads and an Invitation

In this week's Must Reads: How to exist in a world that seeks to erase women. Rights activists in Kenya have raised alarm after indications that gender-based-violence may be on the rise with restrictions on movement due to the coronavirus. Domestic violence assault followed by arson and mass shooting by perpetrator disguised as a RCMP officer in Nova Scotia. UK Pharmacies to provide safe spaces during coronavirus lockdown after rise in calls. Women mobilize to prevent COVID-19 in crowded Rohingya refugee campsCEDAW Call for ContributionsInvitation to join Every Woman Treaty on May 11, 2020 via Zoom. 

1. Rafia Zakaria: How to exist in a world that seeks to erase women. "The transformation we ultimately need as a society is (to get to a place) where it does not occur to men that they have the right or desire to harm women." (CNN)

2. Kenya: Agnes Odhiambo, a researcher on sub-Saharan Africa with the women's rights division of Human Rights Watch, "Now this is the situation that COVID has created where people are behind closed doors, there is no money. It’s a perfect environment for people who are abusive to even be more abusive or even for those who are usually not abusive to become abusive because of that stress, where they feel they need to exert their dominance in an environment where they are feeling kind of emasculated.” (VOA)

3. Victim of domestic violence aids police in Nova Scotia.  Following a domestic violence incident, a woman somehow escaped and emerged from hiding at daybreak. She called 911 and informed the police the perptrator was in possession of a fully marked and equipped replica RCMP vehicle and was wearing an RCMP uniform. The perpetrator set multiple homes and buildings on fire, and targeted more than 20 people in a shooting spree. (National Post)

Related: Women face particular challenges due to gun access, as women are five times more likely to be killed if their partner owns a gun. Despite such danger, the US recently watered down the definition of domestic violence to include only physical harm at the level of a felony, excluding psychological abuse, coercion, and manipulation. (Mediators Without Borders)

4. United Kingdom: Boots Pharmacies to provide safe spaces during coronavirus lockdown after rise in calls. Many victims who are now unable to seek help while at home trapped with their abusers will still be expected to shop for food and medicine, and there have been calls for safe space initiatives to be introduced in supermarkets and more pharmacies. Multiple support services for domestic abuse have reported a surge in calls to helplines since the lockdown was imposed, while the Metropolitan police said it was making an average of about 100 arrests a day for offences linked to abuse in the home. (The Guardian)

5. Bangladesh: To counter the gendered risks and barriers for women and girls in Cox’s Bazar, Rohingya women leaders self-mobilized, forming networks and raising awareness on COVID-19 across all camps. The rise in domestic violence and other forms of violence against women as a result of social tensions and panic in the camps is another key concern for these women. Global estimates show that in crisis settings, more than 70 percent of women experience gender-based violence. (UN Women)


  •  Call for Contributions: The Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women is currently elaborating a General Recommendation on trafficking of women and girls in the  context of global migration. The Committee decided to invite all interested parties to submit contributions in writing for the "Draft General Recommendation on TWGCGM".After a thorough and due consideration of contributions provided, only the Committee will decide on the contents of the final version of the General Recommendation on Trafficking of Women and Girls in the Context of Global Migration. (UN OHCHR)


  • InvitationJoin us online May 11, 2020 via Zoom at 1:00PM EDT / GMT -4). We will be discussing our global week of solidarity with survivors around the world inspired by Mexican artist Elina Chauvet's Red Shoes protest beginning on June 4, 2020. In 2009, Chauvet staged her first art installation of red shoes - representing the bloodshed women face in Mexico because of femicide, domestic, and sexualized violence. Her installations have inspired activists around the world  - join us to hear a special message from Elina Chauvet and take a stand in solidarity. (Every Woman Treaty)

  • The COVID-19 pandemic will likely have adverse and disproportionate effects on women and girls around the world, particularly in the rise of gender-based violence. CARE is working to prevent and respond to this issue in 24 countries. “We know that when emergencies hit, women and girls come last,” says CARE’s Humanitarian Policy Director Susannah Friedman. (CARE)

  • “A Difficult Client”: Lynn’s Story of Captivity, Non-State Torture, and Human Trafficking by Her Husband. (International Journal of Advanced Nursing Education and Research)

  • Colombian journalist Jineth Bedoya Lima to receive 2020 UNESCO/Guillermo Cano World Press Freedom Prize. Born in 1974, Jineth Bedoya Lima’s reporting has focused on the armed conflict and peace process in Colombia and on sexual violence against women. Ms Bedoya Lima was herself a victim of sexual violence in 2000 when she was abducted and raped in connection with an investigation into arms trafficking she was conducting for daily newspaper El Espectador. Three years later, while working for the daily El Tiempo, she was kidnapped by militants of the former Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC).

    “The courage and commitment of Jineth Bedoya Lima, doubly exposed to unacceptable risks as a woman and as a journalist, inspire profound respect,” said UNESCO Director-General Audrey Azoulay. “We need the work of professional and independent journalists.”

    “The present pandemic highlights the vital role journalists play in providing all of us with access to reliable, in some cases vital, information in crises situations,” Ms. Azoulay added. “It also shows the many risks journalists face everywhere in the world in the exercise of their profession.” (UNESCO)

  • Nobel Women: Tune in Monday, May 4th at 11 am ET  for a Facebook Live conversation with outgoing UN Special Rapporteur for Human Rights Defenders, Michel Forst, to talk risks and challenges faced by women human rights defenders and how the global community can act to protect them.
  • Listen: FiLiA Podcast with Simi Kamal. Simi Kamal is head of grants at the Pakistan Poverty Alleviation Fund. Simi joins FiLiA to discuss her experience and work as part of the Every Woman Treaty - a campaign to end violence against women and girls worldwide. (FiLiA)
  • The Rotary Foundation: Now accepting applications for the 2021-22 Rotary Peace Fellowship program. Candidates have until 31 May to submit applications to their district. Districts must submit endorsed applications to The Rotary Foundation by 1 July. (Rotary) (BBC)

Must Reads: UN and WHO Spotlight Domestic Violence Amid Lockdowns

In this week's Must Reads: Leaders from the United Nations and the World Health Organization address the impact of Covid-19 and the disproportionate impact on women and girls. South Africa addresses 87,000 incidents of gender based violence reported during the 21 day Covid-19 lockdown. In Saudi Arabia, "Women are carrying the double burden of fighting the spread of virus infections and attacks by perpetrators of gender-based violence.” Kenya responds to the spike in sexualized and gender based violence, including the kidnap and rape of a 16 year old girl. She was rescued by neighbors and is now being cared for in a safe house in Nairobi. The attacker reportedly said he kidnapped her because he needed female company to get through the government-imposed COVID-19 lockdown

  1. United Nations Secretary General Antonio Guterres releases policy brief: The Impact of Covid-19 on Women. "Nearly one in five women worldwide has experienced violence in the past year.  Many of these women are now trapped at home with their abusers, struggling to access services that are suffering from cuts and restrictions. “This was the basis for my appeal to governments earlier this week to take urgent steps to protect women and expand support services.” (UN)
  2. World Health Organization: "We call on countries to include services to #EndViolence as an essential service that must continue during the response. There is never any excuse for violence.” (WHO)
  3. South Africa:87,000 incidents of gender-based violence reported in South Africa since the 21-day national lockdown. Mkhize expressed anger and disappointment in the “toxic patriarchal mindset” which seemed unstoppable despite the nation walking in the shadow of “deadly disaster. Women are carrying the double burden of fighting the spread of virus infections and attacks by perpetrators of gender-based violence.” Mkhize urged those who felt victimised to contact the police on their Crime Stop number 0860-10111. (The Editor)
  4. Saudi Arabia:Victim-blaming in Saudi deters sexual and domestic violence victims from reporting their cases. "I reported it and the police came to convince me to drop the charges while my abuser sat with them," wrote a Twitter user by the name of Catolina.” (Thomson Reuters)
  5. Kenya:For four days, Juliet M., a 16-year-old Kenyan, was held captive by a man and sexually assaulted. She was rescued by neighbors and is now being cared for in a safe house in Nairobi. The attacker reportedly said he kidnapped her because he needed female company to get through the government-imposed COVID-19 lockdown.The government has adopted strict measures to counter the spread of the COVID-19 virus. But these measures, as necessary as they are, are having particular impact on women and girls, including elevating the risk of gender-based violence. Last week, the National Council on Administration of Justice reported “a significant spike in sexual offences in many parts of the country in the past two weeks.” (HRW)


  • From Melinda Gates: "Inevitably, some people will argue that we should table conversations about gender equality until we get through this emergency. But the disease and its affects are not gender neutral. Our response cannot be either." (USA Today)
  • Afghanistan: The all-female robotics team made a cheap ventilator out of Toyota parts, joining the fight against Covid-19. The governor of Herat put out a public plea for more ventilators, five young women answered the call.
  • This team consists of five Dreamers aged between 14 and 17; captain Somaya Faruqi, Dyana Wahbzadeh, Folernace Poya, Ellaham Mansori and Nahid Rahimi. They are currently working with two prototypes. One is a gear-based system based on a design from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in the US. The other uses parts from a Toyota Corolla. (The National)
  • UNFPA issues guidance on COVID-19. Women represent 70 percent of the health and social sector workforce globally and special attention should be given to how their work environment may expose them to discrimination, as well as thinking about their sexual and reproductive health and psychosocial needs as frontline health workers. 
  • Download: English  Spanish  French  Arabic  Turkish  Portuguese  Russian  Tajik
  • The Rotary Foundation: Now accepting applications for the 2021-22 Rotary Peace Fellowship program. Candidates have until 31 May to submit applications to their district. Districts must submit endorsed applications to The Rotary Foundation by 1 July. (Rotary) (BBC)

Share your stories with Every Woman Treaty with a reply to this email, or contact me directly at [email protected] 

Must Reads: No Place to Hide

In this week's Must Reads: Amid lockdowns, shutdowns, curfews, and social distancing, there is a rise in reported cases of sexualized violenceIn the UK, "It's a perfect storm," Suzanne Jacob, chief executive of British charity SafeLives. Reports of domestic abuse have spiked by about 30% since France went into lockdown in mid-March. In Pakistan, between 70 to 90 percent of women experience some form of physical, emotional or psychological abuse— mostly from an intimate partner.

1. "Lockdowns will lead to a surge in domestic abuse, but also severely limit the ability of services to help." As the United Kingdom shut down, charities urged employers, bank staff, healthworkers and neighbours to be extra vigilant, adding that even a note dropped in a grocery bag could be a lifeline for a woman trapped with an abusive partner. (Thomson Reuters)

2. Reports of domestic abuse have spiked by about 30% since France went into lockdown in mid-March. French officials set up an “alert system” in pharmacies nationwide, where victims of domestic abuse could discreetly ask the pharmacist to call police by asking for a “mask 19.” The initiative mimics a scheme set up in Spain’s Canary Islands that uses the same code word. (Vice)

3. France announced that it will pay for 20,000 nights in hotel rooms for victims of domestic violence and open pop-up counseling centers at supermarkets. There are worrying reports from other countries, too. "There has always been gender violence, but this crisis makes it all worse," said Simona Ammerata, who works at the Lucha y Siesta women's shelter in Rome, Italy. (CNN)

4. "For decades, critically important public programs and structures have been starved of funding, and efforts to ensure that women have adequate income, health care, worker protections, support for caregivers, nutrition and housing assistance have been met with relentless resistance," said Fatima Goss Graves, head of the National Women's Law Center, in a statement to CBS News on Tuesday. "Those efforts have placed women and their families at unconscionable risk from the COVID-19 crisis." (CBS)

5. In Pakistan, the most-cited estimate says between 70 to 90 percent of women experience some form of physical, emotional or psychological abuse— mostly from an intimate partner. Acts of physical violence in marital relationships are almost always accompanied by psychological abuse, and in thirty to fifty percent of cases, it is also accompanied by sexual abuse. Such abuse is typically part of an on-going pattern of patriarchal control, rather than an isolated act of physical aggression. (DAWN)


  • From Indrani Goradia on Thrive Global. In her piece No Place to Hide,  she notes: "This Coronavirus pandemic is forcing closures of schools and workplaces. As I began to do my work in the gender violence space, I realized that victims have the same fears about being at home with a raging abuser. When the abuser is at home, violence occurs. When the abuser is at work, the victim gets a respite, either because they (victims) go to work themselves or because they(victims) are at home alone."When we add the ongoing pandemic of violence to women, it is easy to see that there will be more pain for women who are being forced to spend time at home."


  • Podcast with Indrani Goradia: Pandemic Inside a Pandemic. Listen on Our Voices Matter.

  • Coronavirus lockdown in India: Vimlesh Solanki, a volunteer for a Sambhali Trust, an organisation that supports women in Jodhpur, the second largest city in Rajasthan, says coronavirus has put women in danger. "Stressful situations like this means that there are more things that trigger their already abusive partners." (BBC)

  • Here’s What Women’s Rights Lawyers Want You To Know About Supporting Working Women During COVID-19. (Refinery29)

  • UNFPA issues guidance on COVID-19. Women represent 70 percent of the health and social sector workforce globally and special attention should be given to how their work environment may expose them to discrimination, as well as thinking about their sexual and reproductive health and psychosocial needs as frontline health workers. 

    Download: English  Spanish  French  Arabic  Turkish  Portuguese  Russian  Tajik

  • The Rotary Foundation: Now accepting applications for the 2021-22 Rotary Peace Fellowship program. Candidates have until 31 May to submit applications to their district. Districts must submit endorsed applications to The Rotary Foundation by 1 July. (Rotary) (BBC)

Share your stories with Every Woman Treaty via email at [email protected]

Every Woman Institute Launches the Safer Sooner Report


Elizabeth Blackney, [email protected]

(Seattle) Today, February 20, 2020, the Every Woman Institute releases its first-ever Safer Sooner Report

“For many women around the world, there is no easy path to justice. Laws, government systems, and social norms favor perpetrators. In courtrooms, media, communities, and homes across the world, female victims of violence are often blamed, ignored, and not believed, entrenching the world in a system of silence  and impunity.

“The international community has come together to solve the problem through various instruments, including regional treaties, recommendations to the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW), and treaties specific to a certain form of violence, such as torture and trafficking. The lack of a binding global framework specific to violence against women and girls has resulted in a patchwork of protection with wide normative, geographical, and enforcement gaps in women’s safety.

“The supermajority of the world’s women lack access to a treaty that specifically addresses violence against women. 

“Over the last six years, from 2013 to 2019, the Every Woman Global Working Group engaged in a global, inclusive dialogue on the need for a treaty and conducted deep analysis of the existing legal framework with members of the Every Woman coalition and additional experts. The global consultation found that a binding global norm would close the existing normative, geographic, and implementation gaps in women’s security, as well as provide global backup to existing mechanisms, and create a framework at the highest level of international law in which all entities, from governments to civil society to the UN, could work together to eradicate this human rights crisis.”


For additional information or to schedule interviews with the Authors of the Safer Sooner Report, please The Authors and CEO Lisa Shannon, MPA are available for interviews. Languages include: Arabic, English, French, Hindi, Russian, and Spanish. Please reach out to Elizabeth Blackney at [email protected] for more information, or call/WhatsApp +1 646 818 0145. Biographies are below. 

Authors’ languages include: Arabic, English, French, Hindi, Russian, and Spanish. Please reach out to Elizabeth Blackney at [email protected] for more information, or call/WhatsApp +1 646 818 0145. Biographies are available upon request.

Authors of the Safer Sooner Report:

Dr. Eleanor Ann Nwadinobi Founder, Widows Development Organization and President, Medical Women’s International Association; Every Woman Steering Committee Co-Chair, Nigeria

Languages: English

Francisco Rivera Juaristi, JD Director, International Human Rights Clinic, Santa Clara Law School; Every Woman Steering Committee, Puerto Rico

Languages: English, Spanish

Marina Pisklákova-Parker, PhD Founder and Chair of the Board, Center for the Prevention of Violence - ANNA, coordinating center for a network of 150 organizations, Russia

Languages: English, Russian

Hala Aldosari, PhD Women’s rights activist-scholar, Every Woman Steering Committee, Saudi Arabia/USA

Languages: English, Arabic

Meera Khana Trustee and Executive Vice President, Guild for Service; Every Woman Steering Committee, India

Languages: English, Hindi

Jane Aeberhard-Hodges Human Rights Consultant; former director, ILO Gender, Equality and Diversity, Switzerland

Languages: English, French

Meet a World Leader: The Woman Behind the ILO Treaty

In 2012, Jane Hodges set in motion an idea that led to the creation of a groundbreaking new treaty to end violence and harassment at work—the International Labour Organization’s Convention on Violence and Harassment in the World of Work. Last month, this treaty was adopted and we are proud to announce that Jane has joined us as a global advisor. Welcome Jane!

Jane’s work at the International Labour Organization (ILO) helped transform global policy and practices for women and other marginalized groups. Over a 35-year career—the last decade as Director of the Gender Equality Bureau—Jane designed and delivered programs on fundamental rights at work, in particular sex discrimination, disability inclusion, and indigenous people’s rights.

Here, she takes us inside the intricate process of how she and her colleagues at the ILO, and the world, got the treaty done—and why even with this new convention, we need a global treaty on violence against women and girls.

Every Woman: What’s the word that defines the ILO treaty?
Jane: Unique. It is the only binding global treaty that’s getting at violence against women and girls specifically. While it only covers the world of work, so one sphere, it’s huge progress. We finally got something that includes domestic violence, and the spillover of domestic violence, into the workplace. The significance of that cannot be understated, both for women and families, but also organizations and companies.

Take us through the treaty process. How’d it start?
In 2009, ILO Members held a general discussion on gender equality, part of which centered on gender-based violence and what needed to be done to stop it. So my team and I did extensive research and by November 2012, we’d amassed enough “homework” to introduce a proposal for standards on gender-based violence in the world of work. Then we got a boost. The following year, the UN Commission on the Status of Women had the need for greater protection from violence on the table. That broader debate gave credence to my work, and formed another strong argument in the pitch for a global standard.

What moved the treaty idea forward?
More research. My team looked at the World Health Organization’s research on violence against women, UN Women’s studies, and I helped design a survey on gender and harassment. We also looked at the economic cost. I presented papers throughout 2013 and 2014, so many papers! Finally, in October 2015, the ILO Governing Body made the decision to place the treaty on the conference agenda for 2018 and 2019.

Jane holding a draft of the treaty. Geneva, June 2019

You mentioned there was strong support from Member States. Any idea why?
Many reasons, but a major one was clearly the economic cost. Nations and companies were on board morally, no one denied the problem, but understanding the financial cost was, for some, a turning point. If we let violence and harassment continue, we lose money.

The legal obligation the treaty created was another reason. If we could have an international text that is solid, clear, workable, and enforceable, that would give us accountability. The legal aspect is the third leg of the stool. Moral and economic are essential, but a treaty’s binding nature holds it up. So the secretariat prepared reports for the International Labour Conference, and the first discussion took place in 2018. The second discussion last month, in June 2019, led to the adoption of Convention 190 and its accompanying Recommendation 206!

Was there ever any doubt the convention would happen?
I always knew we’d get a convention, but the general feeling was that it would be weak. The first draft text worried some delegates because it contained language on sexual orientation and gender identity. So the secretariat held an informal consultation in March 2019, two days of dialogue, [with] no report on what was said. It let people vent, and at the same time, listen to others’ points of view. It worked. At the second conference, the language changed so that it would be interpreted in accordance with international labour standards and international human rights instruments.

Was that a good compromise?
It was a necessary one.

Did it weaken the convention?
Not really. That type of language is very common in national laws. While lists of situations that give rise to a violence can be helpful because they make terms like “vulnerable groups” very concrete, the compromise was actually very clever. Relying on the language of international human rights instruments could be a plus because no group is left out, and it dovetails labour rights and human rights in a way that no one can object to.

The world votes on the ILO Convention on Violence and Harassment in the World of Work. Geneva, June 21, 2019

How will nations be held accountable?
ILO has a decades-old, tried-and-true system of supervising ratified treaties based on regular reporting to a committee of experts, and on specialised complaints procedures. If you’re not meeting the standards, you will be found out, criticized, and sanctioned. Don’t underestimate the power of international exposure. Reputation matters greatly.

The new ILO treaty joins other treaties aimed at ending violence against women. Yet a global treaty specific to violence against women and girls is still needed. Why?
The treaty landscape on violence against women has many holes. The ILO Convention, for example, is very good and specific, but it is work related. It covers your commute, but it does not cover general transportation safety—when you’re on the bus or subway coming home after night class or dinner with friends, for example. Likewise with CEDAW (Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination Against Women), it’s specific to discrimination, not violence. It has been interpreted to include violence, but violence is not a binding part of the document.

Along with these gaps, there’s also confusing definitions and sometimes unworkable aims. I use the analogy of a woven blanket. It’s wonderful to have a blanket of protection, but there are so many holes in the weave, it barely keeps you warm. With a global convention to end violence against women and girls everywhere, in all spheres and situations, we tighten the weave, close the loopholes. The sooner we do that, the sooner we can get on with doing what human beings do—innovate, educate, connect, thrive.

How does a treaty addressing violence against women and girls align with sustainable development goal #5?

Sometimes it’s a sister-in-law who tells a woman to obey her husband. Or an executive who pays a new female staff member a lower salary. A man who thinks he has the right to grope a woman. UN Sustainable Development Goal #5 challenges the world to achieve gender equality by 2030. Can a treaty propel the world toward this goal? Absolutely. Like few other mechanisms can. Here, we break down how the core elements of a global treaty address SDG #5’s specific targets.

SDG 5’s TargetEnd all forms of discrimination against all women and girls everywhere.
A treaty mandating that governments enact comprehensive nation reform that includes specific laws, training and national violence prevention education campaigns will provide a foundation which will jump start the essential work of shifting societal views on women.

SDG 5’s TargetEliminate all forms of violence against all women and girls in the public and private spheres and eliminate all harmful practices, such as child marriage and female genital mutilation.
A treaty will mandate that State Parties employ evidence-based interventions proven to reduce rates of violence, as well as root out core contributors of violence, including harmful laws, practices, social norms, and impunity. It will also provide a comprehensive global definition of violence against women and girls that includes all forms of violence across all ages and in all situations, and will no longer allow nations to excuse violence as personal or cultural.

SDG 5’s Target: Ensure universal access to sexual and reproductive health and reproductive rights.
We're  conducting a global consultation on what reproductive health policy might be included in this treaty. Based on current political realities, the treaty is unlikely to include abortion rights. However, we expect it to include key wins on reproductive health, or possibly an additional protocol that would be comprehensive. If you would like to participate in this consultation, let us know!

SDG 5’s TargetUndertake reforms to give women equal rights to economic resources, as well as access to ownership and control over land and other forms of property, financial services, inheritance and natural resources, in accordance with national laws.
Economic violence is a key aspect included in the treaty and will push nations to end discriminatory laws that perpetuate violence, including those that prevent women from accessing economic resources.

SDG 5’s TargetAdopt and strengthen sound policies and enforceable legislation for the promotion of gender equality and the empowerment of all women and girls at all levels.
The treaty requires nations to enact national legislation reform that includes reversing laws that perpetuate violence and creating laws that close legal gaps to women’s safety, giving women stated equal protection in the law.

In SDG 5’s other target areas, such as women’s political and economic leadership and technology, the treaty’s funding for innovative government programming and violence prevention programs (for 10–22 year olds) will help increase understanding of gender discrimination and the value of women’s work in the home and in society, furthering our chances of achieving a more equal, just and safe world for women and girls by 2030.

BRIDE TRAFFICKING IN INDIA: Empower People Builds Prevention Network with 14,000-km March

Partway into a march across India to raise awareness about bride trafficking, the crew got good news. They’d given a presentation to officers at a train station on how to identify trafficking victims, and the following day the officers rescued a girl, Sabrang India reports.

It was one of many successes of the March Against Bride Trafficking 2018, an initiative by Shafiqur Rahman Khan, the founder of Empower People and an Everywoman Working Group member. The march’s goal was to explore ways government offices, NGOs, youth groups and other stakeholders can work together to prevent bride trafficking, a collaboration Khan says is crucial for combating this rising problem.

Thousands of girls and women in India have been purchased or sold into lives of domestic or sexual slavery, and many of them are kidnapped or purchased across northern Indian states, from Assam to Himachal Pradesh, a route responsible for more than 60 percent of India’s human trafficking, including cross-border trafficking with Myanmar, Nepal, Bhutan and Bangladesh.


Courtesy: Empower People

Khan traveled the route alongside other antitrafficking activists, legal experts, psychologists and grassroots organizers. Along the way, the crew went to schools to speak with young girls, one of the most vulnerable groups to trafficking. It also held oath-taking ceremonies with the slogan “Let the girl be girl, not a bride,” and training programs with social workers in rural areas. The group also established antitrafficking civic groups across districts to assist trafficking survivors.

The march initially set out to cover 8,000 kilometers, but the group extended the route in order to meet survivors and their families in rural and forested areas. By traveling 14,000 kilometers in total, the march helped officials aid 127 trafficking survivors and identified more than 1,000 previously undocumented cases of trafficking. It also helped 13 survivors living in shelters find their families.


Courtesy: Empower People

Khan and his staff are working on a detailed report with recommendations that will be submitted to government agencies in order to help improve India’s child-protection program. Empower People, which is dedicated to preventing bride trafficking, is now planning a similar march from the northern city of Jammu to the southern state of Kerala with the goal of creating a support network for trafficking survivors across the country.


Rohingya refugees Ruvel, Rukiya and Sumaya. Women and girls make up 75 percent of all refugees and displaced people around the world, and are among the world’s most vulnerable to violence. (Photo: Roseann Dennery)

Last August, hundreds of thousands of Rohingya were violently forced from their land by the Burmese military. Sexual violence was a strategic part of the military’s brutal campaign and the risk of violence for Rohingya women and girls remains high in refugee camps. The Rohingya women face an additional challenge: statelessness. The Rohingya are not recognized by the Myanmar government and the lack of legal status complicates the search for a long-term solution. We’re proud to share that one of our partners, Medical Teams International, is on the ground providing crucial access to health care for Rohingya women, men and children. Medical Team’s CEO, Martha Newsome, and communication consultant, Roseann Dennery, recently traveled to Bangladesh to meet the women they’re serving, and they shared this story with us.

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Few situations exemplify both the breadth and depth of what a refugee endures than the historic migration crisis that is unfolding in Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh. The Rohingya Muslims are often considered the most persecuted minority in the world, having suffered oppression for decades under the Burmese government, which came to a critical head last August when a brutal crackdown drove hundreds of thousands over the border.

Women, children and men fled in droves, escaping the terrors of a widespread ethnic cleansing campaign that used rape, dismemberment, burning and gunfire as tools to destroy and kill. Much of the world was largely unaware until the first images of a mass exodus appeared in the news. Hundreds of thousands of people moved through “No Man’s Land,” the unclaimed territory between Bangladesh and Myanmar, desperately awaiting entry and carrying little more than their frightened children and a few belongings.

The Kutupalong refugee camp in Cox’s Bazaar has earned the dubious title of the largest refugee camp in the world. (Photo: Roseann Dennery)

Today, most who fled live in the Kutupalong refugee camp in Cox’s Bazaar, Bangladesh, home to over a half-million Rohingyas. It’s a challenging environment. Tents and huts sit on hillsides as fragile as sandcastles. Sugar sacks serve as makeshift steps and rickety bamboo planks function as bridges over discarded bath water.  Shortly after sunrise, heavy heat settles over the camp. Women in vibrant, flowing hijabs gather water as children play in the orange dust and men haul wood.

Perhaps the cruelest reality, which seems a peripheral story line in almost any crisis of this scale, is that it is the vulnerable who are victimized the most. It is a crushing reality of our work; yet as humanitarian workers, we must harness its enormity as a motivating factor that drives what we do.

Yet in places of extreme hardship, there is one thing that can often be found: a resilient spirit. In Kutupalong, we found it the friendship of three women, Rukiya, Ruvel and Sumaya.

Our staff has built a warm relationship with Rukiya, a mother and seamstress in her mid-twenties. She smiled in recognition as we stepped into her windowless hut, lit only by a narrow beam of sunlight streaming through the door. Her children, playing outside, peered through the opening and giggled.

An antique yet carefully preserved sewing machine sat in the corner, a striking object among the other limited items. Behind the sewing machine, carefully strung fabrics stirred in the hot breeze. Rukiya’s commitment to her craft, and creating a livelihood here, was apparent.

She summoned her neighbors, who shyly ducked in. The bold colors of their headscarves brought a fanciful punctuation of life into an otherwise stark space and their faces, both warm and firm, spoke of a timeless resolve.

The bond among the three was immediately apparent as they greeted one another, took seats side by side and shared their story with us.

Rukiya arrived six months ago after a terrifying journey. Shortly thereafter, her husband married another woman, leaving her with five children. “Life is not easy,” she said. “After what we had experienced, running for our lives, to then leave your family? I will never understand this.” Ruvel took her hand and held on to it.

Ruvel’s journey was also harrowing. She spent 14 days in the forest, was shot at and separated from her family. She was unable to find them, and assumed they were dead. “It was the worst time of my life,” she said through tears. “I came here with nothing.”

Sumaya, who sat quietly on the end, nodded. “They shot my family right in front of my eyes,” she said. “They told my uncle he could go, and then they killed him.” She paused. “I will never forget that moment. His blood is on their hands. Life is very hard here, but at least it is guaranteed. Nothing was guaranteed in Myanmar.”

Sexual violence was a strategic part of the military’s brutal campaign and the scars will have lasting effects. An estimated 48,000 women will give birth in Rohingya refugee camps this year. Medical Teams has health clinics throughout the camp offering basic prenatal and postnatal care, and treating the many physical ailments plaguing refugees. A critical element of its presence is emotional care and trauma counseling; listening to the pain they have endured, offering a safe space to be heard and referring for additional services. (Photo: Roseann Dennery)

The women, already traumatized, live in constant fear of becoming victims of violence. The size of the camp invites lawlessness that makes women particularly vulnerable, especially at nightfall.

We asked what helps them to survive. “Each other,” Rukiya said without hesitation. “We need each other, it is the only way. We stick together.”

Indeed, here in the face of adversity it was clear how resilient the spirit of women, and the strength of a community of women, truly is.


At Medical Teams, we often say that every day is World Refugee Day, because bringing life-saving care to those in crisis is why we exist. As we meet the health needs of the hurting around the world, especially those who are pushed to the margins like women and children, we have the privilege of entering into the broken yet beautiful work of hope. The women we meet like Rukiya, and so many others like her, are what inspires us to live out our belief that every person matters: to God, and to us.


Standing with Rohingya Women: Nobel Women’s Initiative, in partnership with Bangladeshi women’s rights organization Naripokkho, premiered this powerful short film in June, offering an overview of the crisis and the horror of impunity.

Rohingya demonstrate the consequences of statelessness: A clear discussion of the rights of stateless people and how statelessness leads to conflict and violence.

Here’s How We End The Violence

One of the questions we’re asked most often is how a treaty addressing violence against women and girls can actually prevent violence. Good question. Violence prevention is complex, but over the last few decades, extensive research by universities, global institutions and NGOs have shown us which interventions curb violence. A new global treaty to end violence against women and girls combines these proven interventions into a comprehensive approach we call The Whole Hand Framework.

It works like this: The hand is the treaty itself—the highest form of legislation that, through the enormous political pressure treaties create, mandates that states enact national reform (the palm). The fingers represent proven strategies—laws, training, education and services. Separately, these interventions influence various factors related to violence prevention, but often work in isolation. When combined, the strategies work in concert to drastically lower rates of violence.

In other words, strong laws would be backed by training staff in the health, justice, security and service sectors, which would be supported by national campaigns and reinforced by a legal system that holds perpetrators accountable. The treaty scales it—nation by nation, across the globe, impunity ends and rates of violence plummet.

Here’s a quick look at each intervention.

  • Revamp laws, including eliminating legislation that perpetuates violence (like laws that allow rapists to avoid prosecution by marrying their victims), and closing legal gaps (such as the US’s gap in protecting girls against child marriage).
  • Train responders. Training police officers, judges, health-care providers and others in the legal and health arena can lead to increased prosecution of perpetrators and better treatment for survivors.
  • Implement prevention education campaigns. Research shows that boys’ and men’s attitudes and actions are influenced by other men. Imagine, then, the power of national campaigns featuring male pop icons, policemen or others talking about respecting women, consent, harassment and violence. School-based programs and community-based campaigns have also been successful at reducing violence. Rates of violence also plummet when women know their rights and feel empowered to demand them.
  • Offer services. Hotlines, shelters, legal advice, job training, support groups and other services ensure survivors receive treatment and protection, and have avenues for seeking justice.
  • Contribute to an implementation fund. Nations often cite lack of funding as a barrier to implementation. Following the example of the tobacco treaty, the Every Woman calls for a global investment of $1 billion–plus USD annually, with states contributing according to their ability.