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 the Every Woman Treaty propel the world toward this goal? In short, absolutely! Like few other mechanisms can. Here, we break down how the core elements of the Every Woman Treaty address SDG #5’s specific targets.
SDG 5’s Target: End 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 jumpstart the essential work of shifting societal views on women.
SDG 5’s Target: Eliminate 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. The Every Woman Treaty will mandate all State Parties to employ evidence-based interventions proven to radically reduce rates of violence. Further, the Every Woman Treaty focuses nations on rooting out core contributors of violence, including 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. Everywoman Everywhere is currently 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 Target: Undertake 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 the Every Woman Treaty addresses and the treaty will push nations further toward ending discriminatory laws that perpetuate violence, including those that prevent women from accessing economic resources.
SDG 5’s Target: Adopt 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.
by Akefa Raza
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 Peopleand 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 soldinto 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.”
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.
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. The Everywoman Treaty 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, which often work in isolation. But 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.
In the months leading up to Croatia’s parliamentary vote on the ratification of the Istanbul Convention, Europe’s regional treaty to prevent violence against women, conservative groups launched a fierce opposition campaign. Croatia’s Bishops’ Conference, several NGOs and members of Restoring the Natural Order: an Agenda for Europe, an ultraconservative Christian network, attempted to distort the issues of violence prevention and gender identity by claiming that signing the Convention would introduce harmful gender ideology into the country and destroy Croatia’s family values.
One poster read: “I do not want to be taught at school that I am ‘it’ and not a girl” next to a picture of a girl. At press conferences, opponents repeatedly suggested that allowing for other gender identities other than “man” or “woman” would actually lead to violence because a man could say he felt like a woman, demand to use the women’s toilets and attack women. On several occasions, opponents said it was not proper for a wife to report her husband to the police.
Women’s human rights groups fought back. “We came together to explain why ratification was important,” says Sanja Sarnavka, an Everywoman Working Group member and prominent human rights activist in Croatia. The groups held protests, met with Members of Parliament (MPs), and worked with journalists to publish stories on the benefits of ratification at the forefront of the national dialogue. Sanja participated in multiple television and radio debates, and initiated a letter-writing campaign to the leaders of the Social-Democratic Party (one of Croatia’s two major political parties), signed by leaders of the most visible women’s human rights groups, explaining the importance of ratification.
On April 13, the day of the parliamentary vote, Sanja and other activists placed silhouettes of women who had been murdered by their partners or close relatives at the entrance to the parliament building to remind MPs what they were voting for or against. In the end, 110 MPs voted in favor, 30 against, with two abstentions, and the Council of Europe Convention, best known as the Istanbul Convention, was ratified.
“Ratification will hopefully encourage all women survivors to find a way out of the circle of violence,” says Sanja. “Crucially, it also means that the government acknowledges violence against women as a serious issue that needs to be addressed structurally. Ratification moves us one step forward toward creation and ratification of a global treaty to end violence against women and girls.”
Everywoman Everywhere members were out in force at last month’s Commission on the Status of Women, an annual UN conference in New York City to promote gender equality, to share our purpose of a global treaty and ask for sign-ons. People were warm, receptive and enthusiastic—an indication that support for a global treaty to address violence against women and girls is spreading. This was evident in the number of new members who signed on as well: our numbers jumped by more than 500 to 1,836 members, in 142 nations, including 600 organizations. A huge thanks to everyone for their exhaustive work. Bravo!
As is our tradition at CSW, coalition members gathered at a coffeehouse midway through the conference. How wonderful it was to see everyone’s faces and hear updates on your work and lives. Here we share the powerful and poignant words of two members who spoke at the gathering.
Eleanor Nwadinobi, Everywoman Everywhere working group member; President, Widows Development Organisation (WiDO), Nigeria
A very warm welcome dear friends. Just before coming to this meeting, I was in the UN building sitting with a friend on a bench in the lobby when two ladies asking to join us. Of course, we invited them to sit and they immediately fished out their phone chargers. The closest socket was some meters away so they requested we move the bench closer. We agreed and the four of us proceeded to move the fairly heavy bench toward the socket. As we moved, I looked down at our hands and arms of different colours, and different muscular endowment, and what struck me was that no matter how different we are, once we have a singular, unified purpose, we can achieve our goals. In the same way that we moved furniture in the United Nations, we can shift the narrative, shift the agenda, shift the needle regarding the dignity and rights of every woman, and girl, everywhere. We have brought our different intellect, skills, expertise, experiences and stories and have woven the tapestry that is today, our global treaty on violence against women. The tapestry is made all the more beautiful by our diversity, and it is glued together by our singularity of purpose. It was so heartwarming to see our members on the cold streets of New York, and in the corridors of the parallel sessions, getting CSW attendees to sign up to bringing an end to violence against women, to sign up for zero tolerance, to sign up so that no longer would there be any hiding place for perpetrators of violence against women and girls. I look forward to going forward, just like a past political slogan of this country, we can really stand together, and say, ‘Yes We Can.’
Dr. Morissanda Kouyaté, Everywoman Everywhere working group member; Executive Director, Inter-African Committee (IAC), Ethiopia
It is an immense honor to be here among all those people who are very committed to the noble struggle for the restoration of the rights of women and girls. I would like to emphasize that we must be aware that some misconceptions must be abandoned, especially saying that we want to help women and girls for their rights; because helping someone assumes that the helper is in a better position than the person receiving the help. No! We are not helping girls and women to restore their rights; we are participating in their fight for their rights. They are the true fighters in the forefront. In this context, there is good news from Africa: The President of Guinea, Professor Alpha Condé, who held the leadership of the African Union in 2017, made great progress. Among other things, we must note his personal commitment and his appointment of some African heads of state in protecting the rights of women and girls. In this capacity, he appointed the President of Zambia, HE Edgar Lungu, as champion for the fight for the elimination of child marriage, while he himself has made great efforts against female genital mutilation. Since 2003, Africa has developed the Protocol of Maputo, which is one of the strongest documents protecting women and girls. So Africa is ready for our project of the Treaty on Violence against Women and Girls. The treaty is not only justified, but above all, possible, if we continue at this rhythm of work.
In 2016, the United Nations Special Rapporteur on Violence Against Women, its causes and consequences, Ms. Dubravka Šimonović put out a global call for submissions asking for feedback on the adequacy of the current international legal framework on violence against women.
The call for input, which was published on the Special Rapporteur’s webpage, consisted of the following five questions:
1. Do you consider that there is a need for a separate legally binding treaty on violence against women with its separate monitoring body?
2. Do you consider that there is an incorporation gap of the international or regional human rights norms and standards?
3. Do you believe that there is a lack of implementation of the international and regional legislation into the domestic law?
4. Do you think that there is a fragmentation of policies and legislation to address gender-based violence?
5. Could you also provide your views on measures needed to address this normative and implementation gap and to accelerate prevention and elimination of violence against women?
The request for input was an important step in furthering the conversation of whether a new legal instrument is needed to address violence against girls and women worldwide. But in a recent report, the Special Rapporteur published points of views from human-rights mechanisms that were against a new treaty while downplaying the response from NGOs and members of civil society who are widely in favor of new a treaty. The lack of transparency mischaracterizes the fact that people around the world—survivors, frontline practitioners, lawyers, directors and staff of local and national nonprofits—are passionate and mobilized on this topic. They want a treaty, urgently.
In fact, the vast majority of submissions from civil society (at least 230 of the 291) called for a treaty. When people respond, their voices should be heard. What follows is a summary of the responses from advocates around the world, along with excerpts of their submissions, expressing their support for a new treaty on violence against girls and women.
NO BINDING TREATY, NO GLOBAL PRESSURE, NO ACTION: The Case for a Treaty
There is no legally binding treaty addressing violence against girls and women and the absence has resulted in the lack of political will and global pressure necessary to implement current agreements. This includes CEDAW, the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women, which is often cited a reason for not supporting the idea of new treaty.
Difference in culture is often used to justify State Parties’ resistance to implementing CEDAW recommendations, but that idea simply allows the cycle of violence against women to continue. The absence of a comprehensive, legally binding, definition of violence against women has also led to fragmented policies and legislation. As a result, State Parties do not feel compelled to focus on implementation efforts, despite persistent advocacy by a wide range of organizations and groups.
Respondents emphasized that CEDAW does not directly address violence; it addresses discrimination, which leaves “violence” open to legal interpretation. Therefore, State Parties are left to their own discretion to incorporate, or not incorporate, CEDAW, including General Recommendation 19 [and General Recommendation No. 35] into their local and national policy frameworks. This causes an irreconcilable gap in global norms and standards on violence against women.
What does this mean? Violence persists. Justice for survivors is limited, or non-existent. Families and communities suffer. Wages are lost. Local and national economies weaken. Violence against women and girls leads to an avalanche of negative consequences worldwide, affecting public health, economics, and national and global security.
“Yes there is a need for a separate legally binding treaty because there is no specific international legally binding document that addresses the gross violation of rights that is violence against women and girls. A separate monitoring body focused on violence against women and girls can ensure all countries are upholding their due diligence and a global high standard to protect women and girls and prevent violence.” – Anne Gamurorwa, Executive Director, Communication for Development Foundation, Uganda
“Without an international mandate that obliges states to use standardized definitions, set punitive actions, provide unconditional resources for survivors, and train public and private officials on response and prevention, no serious reduction of VAWG will take place, particularly in autocratic states.” – Hala Aldosari, PhD, Aminah, Saudi Arabia
“Violence against women is probably the most democratic in its incidence, since it occurs across all boundaries of creed, ethnicity, nationality, educational status and economic strata. Since it is a global phenomenon, all the more reason it should be treated not just a cultural off shoot of patriarchy, but as a crime against humanity and a gross and irrefutable violation of human right to life of dignity.” – Meera Khanna, Executive Vice President, The Guild of Service, India
“The current lack of a legally binding international legislation means governments must have the political will and drive to implement general recommendations and comments – they are not legally bound to uphold these obligations at present, so there is no accountability.” – Ruth Howlett, National Collective of Independent Women’s Refuge New Zealand
“Conflating violence against women and discrimination against women results in an inadequate or incomplete description of the legal concept of violence against women as its own human rights violation. Just like torture is better addressed in CAT than in the ICCPR, VAW would be better addressed in a separate treaty than in CEDAW.” – International Human Rights Clinic at Santa Clara University School of Law, California, USA
“Implementation of domestic policies could be greatly strengthened by a legally binding document holding governments to a specific level of accountability.” – Manizha Naderi, Executive Director, Women for Afghan Women, Afghanistan
A BINDING AGREEMENT, POLITICAL PRESSURE, THE END OF VIOLENCE
A new legally binding treaty specific to violence against women and girls will close the legal gap by creating a clear definition of violence and specific steps for addressing it. This legal tool would create a mechanism for collective global action, placing place the weight of the world behind every women’s rights advocate, lawyer and practitioner around the world working to end this violence.
Violence against women and girls is a complex and intersecting issue that requires a comprehensive, systematic approach. Using the success of the Landmines Treaty, the Tobacco Treaty and the example of Tunisia’s comprehensive new law on violence against women, a new treaty would mandate that nations take a proactive approach across all sectors. It would require:
The establishment of a legally binding tool combined with global pressure from around the world creates a concrete solution to implementing programs, policies and standards across states.
The following 228 Everywoman Everywhere members responded to the UN Special Rapporteur’s call for submission on the adequacy of the legal framework on violence against women stating their support for a new treaty.
WHO WE ARE
Everywoman Everywhere is a coalition of individuals and organizations from 141 countries advancing a global treaty to eradicate violence against women and girls. Our members include more than 1,300 frontline practitioners, advocates and survivors of violence, and more than 550 organizations, including Human Rights Watch, Vital Voices and Futures Without Violence.
Everywoman Everywhere was incubated at the Initiative on Violence Against Women at the Carr Center for Human Rights, Harvard Kennedy School. Additional research revealed that the current international legal framework is insufficient for addressing this global crisis. Gaps in the law, and the mechanisms for implementation, leave millions of women and girls with little to no legal protection against violence or the recourse to seek justice. It became clear that a specific treaty on violence against girls and women would give advocates, practitioners, and world leaders the legally binding instrument necessary to hold nation states accountable.
Download this report: Global Outcry Advocates Urge UN for Treaty to End Violence Against Girls and Women
Last summer, Tunisia’s parliament signed a bill that transforms its laws on violence against girls and women. The landmark legislation, which is scheduled to go into effect this month, was more than 20 years in the making, an effort led largely by the country’s strong women’s rights movement. We sat down via Skype with one of the movement’s early pioneers, Monia El Abed, a lawyer and member of the Tunisian Order of Lawyers — one of four groups awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 2015 — to learn what led to the law’s passage and what it means for Tunisian women.
Interview had been edited for length and clarity.
Welcome Monia and thank you for speaking with us. Can you explain why this bill is considered historic and groundbreaking? It is a historic law, a landmark law because it’s the first time the national legislative body has recognized the concept of discrimination and gender violence in a bill. Not only is violence against women now in the penal code, the law is specific to women and girls. And it’s comprehensive. It defines violence precisely, whether it is psychological, verbal, or economical. And it engages the responsibility of various ministries and institutions in all areas. It forces each of them to work on protection, caring for women once they have pressed charges, ensuring the crimes do not go unpunished, and building awareness and prevention. The law was inspired by CEDAW (Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women) in the sense that it engages the state to prevent violence, to protect women and to have an action plan to limit gender-based violence.
What work went into getting this law passed? It was a long process that started 20 years ago. Tunisia has a very strong feminist movement and back to the 1990s, the Tunisian Association of Democratic Women had a shelter for women victims of violence and we saw what was happening and began talking about changes. Other groups formed, including the Association of Tunisian Women for Research and Development (AFTURD), and the Coalition of Tunisian Women. The specifics of this law [raising the age of consent, doing away with marry-your-rapist laws, a comprehensive approach] came directly from these women’s associations. The law is a response to all our demands.
What was your personal involvement in this work? I was at the shelter for the victims of violence in the 1990s working as a lawyer and represented women survivors in court. Later, I moved into research and at the request of the National Office For Family and Population, I studied the verdicts in domestic violence cases, looking closely at the mindset of the judges and the manner in which they ruled.
Also, as a member of the Tunisian Order of Lawyers, I helped create a women’s commission. We took apart existing laws and proposed laws in favor of women. We also organized seminars and advocacy sessions.
All of this ended up being important groundwork for what happened after the revolution in 2011. One party was trying to secure power and change our constitution, threatening women’s rights, and I worked with the Ministry of Women in an appeal to ensure our rights would be included and protected in the constitution.
What enabled this law to be passed now? Because after the revolution, women were highly mobilized. At the legislative level, reforms were already underway due to the pressure of women activists. They led the plea to have a specific law that addressed all forms of gender violence. After the revolution, we saw a lot of violence against women and we mobilized for the adoption of a law that would crack down on all such acts of violence.
Do you believe the law will affect the lives of Tunisian women? This law permeates every level of government and society. Training on addressing violence against women is now mandated for police officers on up to the public prosecutor and judges. Awareness on violence against women will be taught in elementary school, high school and at institutions of higher education. This is a guarantee. The law institutionalizes the prevention and protection of women. Of course, the application of laws is always difficult. It requires vigilance and mobilization of civil society and strong political will. It will take years, probably, but for me the law is something crucial we now have.
Human Rights Watch mentions funding as a critical step. Yes, this will all require massive investment. We need training, we need guidance. International organizations are already involved. They are financing the training of lawyers, magistrates, police officers and staff at various ministries. The training includes general awareness regarding women’s place in society and respect for women. This is powerful. This is a law that is not just about judicial proceedings and caring for victims. It is a law designed to change mentalities and mindsets. It includes teaching the universal principle of the rights of women.
Why did you decide to join Everywoman Everywhere? My friend Khadija Arfaoui [another Tunisian pioneering women’s rights advocate] and I are involved in many activities on women’s rights and she told me about this organization. I am very interested in what happens in other countries, as the status of women is not specific to one nation. We must evolve collectively towards identical rights and equality for all, men and women. I liked the word “Everywhere” in your name. It asks the question, how do we create a link between women in the United States, in Bangladesh, and in Libya and other parts of the world? We have a common cause. Our project is equality for all. For this reason, I find myself joining your organization. It is research and work that is making us all richer.
FURTHER READING: New law “radicalizes the perception of violence against women.”
Everywoman Everywhere Coalition member Lilly BeSoer, Papua New Guinea, wrote those words after attending a gathering of coalition members in New York City. Members who were in town for the annual UN Commission of the Status of Women were meeting to say hello. But what was expected to be a coffee meeting became a powerful cry of global unity for a treaty. “Members shared stories of the trial and tribulation that had brought them there, spoke of the collective power we have built with this global coalition, and how ready, willing, and able they are to fight this challenging fight,” said executive director Vidya Sri. Below are a few highlights from members who spoke.
Longtime peace activist Khedija Arfaoui of Tunisia held a picture of her son and daughter-in-law and told the group that the two were killed in the nightclub attack on New Year’s Eve in Istanbul. She described their deaths as an “earthquake,” yet her message was one of resolve. There is pain and challenge, but we cannot afford to lose faith, she said. I have lost my child, have seen the length and breadth of obstacles over the last 40 years, and still I stand her with all of you.
Dr. Morissanda Kouyate, a Guinea-born pediatrician now heading the Inter-Africa Committee on Traditional Practices. It wasn’t that long ago that the world gave little thought to the violence of FGM, female genital mutilation. No one wanted to take a meeting, no lawmaker wanted to talk. Yet with persistence, legislation was passed. Today, FGM is a crime in multiple countries in Africa. We were knocking on doors, knocking doors and we must keep knocking.
Caroline Herewini has been working for more than 20 years to aid her indigenous Maori community in New Zealand. She captured the spirit of our collective effort when she spoke of the treaty reached between the British and the Maori long ago. She explained that before she speaks, she pays respect to her ancestors, and that history roots her in the present. Similarly, working with respect to existing cultures and beliefs, as we are with this treaty, paves the path for peace and productivity. She noted that when the visitors came from the UK long ago, they were pulled into the existing legal framework of the Maori people in New Zealand. The local law was part of the agreement with these guests and the treaty was an agreement between equals. Equality, respect of culture, and working together are essential, Caroline emphasized, adding, we have proverb: “He aha te mea nui o te Ao”? He Tangata, He Tangata, He Tangata! What is the greatest thing of all? It is people, it is people, it is people!
The gathering had a motivating effect on all of us. It reminded us we are in this together and wanted to share that thought with all members by including a sampling of emails members sent to executive director Vidya Sri after the event.
“This treaty, now going through its arduous journey, will have learnt lessons from what was missing in the CEDAW. I believe it is going to play a significant role in eliminating the many types of violence that destroy women’s lives. At last, we are addressing the injustices that widows endure, so hidden, so neglected. Bless you all in your great work, love, Margaret.” – Margaret Owen, Widows for Peace through Democracy, England
“On this journey to a just world, there are hardships and obstacles. But there are also extraordinary stories of courage, perseverance and grit, the sweet fruits of friendship and bonding, and oases in the middle of this desert of cussedness of vested interests. Yesterday was one such oasis. “I feel blessed to be part of this extraordinary group and this amazing journey. Success then for us is not an option. It is a given.” —Meera Khanna, Guild For Service, India
“Thanks for bringing together such a beautiful gathering of hearts, heads and minds. We did not get to hear all our stories, but we definitely felt the passion that binds us together. Keep the flag flying. Excelsior!” – Eleanor Nwadinobi, Widows Development Organisation, Nigeria
“Hearing stories from the other great women have really empowered me and helped me to understand and know that I am not battling alone in my corner of the world, there are other sisters doing the same thing and we are in it together. This really motivates me to feel part of the movement and I must not give up.” – Lilly BeSoer, founder of the women’s rights NGO Voice for Change, Papua New Guinea
“Dear Heroes: I am so moved by your life and activism and stories. My heart is full and your smiles are tattooed on my soul. Be safe in your travels home. Blessings.” – Indrani Goradia, Indranis Light Foundation, USA