Friday, May 10, 2013

ATOP Meaningful world organizes a Parallel Event for 57th CSW Transforming Violence against Women Around the World

During the past two weeks the Commission of the Status of Women (CSW) held its 57th session at the United Nations, where a series of workshops, conferences and side events took place. Once again, The Association for Trauma Outreach and Prevention (ATOP) Meaningful world organized a parallel event presenting a symposium on Empowering Women Around the Globe: Transforming Violence through Mind-Body-Eco-Spirit on 14 March, 2013 at the UN.

 The symposium opened with an awe-inspiring musical meditation, including an original piece by MAYA, with Sato Moughalian on flute and John Hadfield on percussion. The Book of Goddesses, by Robert Paterson and the Armenian Asparani Dance inspired celebration and unification through its melding of rhythm and melodies. It created a beautiful calming quality grounding the audience with a sense of peace and healing. Leysa Cerswell assisted in opening the conference by presenting ATOP Meaningful world’s empowering outreach in communities around the world in the last twenty-two years. She then introduced the Chairperson, Founder & CEO of ATOP Meaningful world, Dr. Kalayjian, who gave her passionate welcoming remarks and reinforced that men and women are like the two wings of a bird, and if these two wings don’t fly harmoniously the human race will never prosper. At the panel discussion, Dr. Kalayjian raised awareness on issues that women encounter every day and what steps to take to empower each other and ourselves using mind-body-eco-spirit health. One of the messages we were left with, which was also a part of the fabric of the conference, was “Now more than ever, the cause of women is the cause of mankind.” Female empowerment equals empowering the world, and we can do that by taking a stand to make a difference in our own life first, and then making a difference in someone else’s life.

The speech that impressed the audience most was given by Sarah Thontwa, graduate student at Columbia University, is currently completing her studies in Economics and highly involved in International Affairs. Thontwa, a native of Democratic Republic of the Congo, spoke of empowering women of Africa by identifying pressing issues of gender-based discrimination, property rights, labour rights, and civil liberties that are impacting the population. By showing slide presentation, she brought a poignant focus to poverty, the exploitation of women, and the manner in which they are being brainwashed by the cultural policies created by men. The overrepresentation of African women has evolved over time, with the average of women and girls with no access to education significantly higher than boys. She mentioned that in a population of over 70 million Congolese, 60% are women who live in the shadow of men with no entitlement to properties. They are punished for crimes they do not commit, while men receive honorable treatments, and also get discriminated at home and in the workplace. Thontwa advocated international pressure in seeking help to bring women’s issues to a bigger platform, with both macro and micro level policies to better the future for Congolese women. “Finding male allies to bring to the cause because there is a willingness in men to help with women empowerment” was a powerful concluding message that moved the audience in taking a similar stand as CEDAW ratification for the protection of women and girls around the globe.

Reporting back from the 57th UN CSW

I attended several sessions at the Church Center before the end of the second week. The last session I attended was sponsored by Lawyers without Borders. It was interactive and gave all of us present a chance to participate in the development of strategies to ensure appropriate law enforcement and police protection for victims of rape, sexual harassment and abuse.

Lawyers Without Borders is an international non-profit organization founded in 2000, which operates worldwide from its central headquarters located in Hartford, Connecticut, U.S.A. It has only one affiliate: Lawyers Without Borders UK founded in 2003, headquartered in London, which acquired UK charity status in June 2010. Lawyers from around the world are engaged as volunteers either individually or through their employers (law firm and in-house corporate) who support LWOB as pro bono partners. To date, the countries which contribute the largest number of lawyer volunteers to LWOB field work are United States, Canada, United Kingdom and Australia.

The session was hosted by the LWOB CEO and Executive Director, Christina Storm ( Lined up behind Christina were four young women – all law students from Yale. The session was an exercise, using the book “What Would You Do…” The book was set up as a group exercise and was described as “become Maria as she reacts to her employer’s sexual advances at work in a small shop. This is an exercise designed to generate discussion about the workplace, sexual advances and assault and how culture, family, friends, NGOs, the police and court factor into gender violence.” The room was broken into groups to discuss various scenarios that Maria could face in such a situation (all described in the book and with assistance from the four Yale law students). The scenarios ranged from a negative scene whereby Maria showers and destroys evidence, another somewhat negative experience where Maria goes to the police and the courts for help, and a third positive scene where she receives good advice and a conviction for the perpetrator. Post breakouts, each group reported out on their talks. The game’s purpose was “to create a deeper understanding of the pressure Maria faces, her responses and the junctures in an imminent gender violence situation, where family, friends, courts and police can take action to affect the choices people and the impact of those actions and responses on the victim of a sexual assault.” In each scenario, no assault actually takes place, although clearly one is imminent, and how the power of early intervention may look differently in different cultures. Group readouts made it clear that there is no single best way to approach early intervention – a critical component in any sexual violent incident. Differences in countries and cultures are at play – sometimes family is the best help, sometimes police and/or the courts (certainly not always). We learned the importance of evidence gathering – strong verbal and written evidence is the best. We learned how a victim’s interaction with the police and the courts often happens and how having a witness or friend (family or otherwise) can be critical to a positive outcome. Another person can serve as a support system, a “validator of your credibility,” and a calm source for information gathering/sharing. A US doctor let participants know that it is IMPERATIVE that women in rape situations DEMAND a “rape kit” exam in any ER setting, although a New York attorney remarked that NYC is “thousands of kits behind” in processing. Another well received comment was that part of the problem are police forces that need a better gender balance.

Saturday, May 4, 2013

FIDA’s work on Ending Gender Based Violence in Kenya: Challenges and Prospects

On March 21, 2013, Gender minister Naomi Shaban addresses the sexual violence issues in Kenya at the Commission of Women at the UN Headquarters in New York. She states that lack of comprehensive data on the magnitude of sexual violence, traditional practices, poverty and limited resources stand in the way of ending violence against women (Onyango, 2013). Women need a host of support in Kenya. One NGO that is working towards their legal rights is FIDA. FIDA-Kenya is a women lawyers’ organization established in 1985 after the UN Third World Women Conference held in Nairobi. It is the oldest women rights organization in Eastern Africa and as such is a depository of the innovations and approaches applied by the women rights movements in the region for the last two decades. Internationally, FIDA-Kenya is recognized as a foremost African actor in the area of women empowerment. During CSW 57, Teresa Carlo Omondi, the Deputy Executive Director of FIDA, reports on FIDA’s work on ending gender based violence in Kenya. She addresses both challenges and prospects. She listed the key accomplishments of FIDA Kenya in the following areas1) In 2005 FIDA Kenya spearheaded the establishment of the Family Division of the High Court. 2) FIDA Kenya was instrumental in the establishment of the National Commission on Gender and Development. 3)FIDA Kenya was involved in the development and drafting of various gender friendly laws and policies such as: The Children’s Act 2001,Sexual Offences Act 2006, Employment Act Trafficking Bill, Gender and Development Policy, The Land Policy. 4) FIDA Kenya has been identified as a model organization in the provision of legal aid and is therefore a pilot site for the Kenya National Legal Aid and Awareness Program (NALEAP). She also presented the major challenges faced by Kenyan women while seeking leadership positions. For example, there is a definite issue with the birth and/ or marital status of women and the decision to elect a woman or not. Because the political parties are male-dominated, and cost of running for elections is a burden for women. Moreover, one cannot ignore the pre and post-election violence. She pointed out that cultural traditions including social norms do not identify women as leaders. At the end she was very positive on the way to promote women’s leadership position, such as FIDA enforcement of the constitutional 2/3 gender principle. FIDA has been working closely with men on the importance of women leadership through civic education, and trying to create awareness on punitive cultural practices.
During post-panel discussion, the opportunity to ask one of the panelists Sally Muhio specifically about the “informal justice system” in Kenya, presented an interesting response. The Federation of Women Lawyers Kenya (FIDA Kenya) is committed to bridge the gap between the Government and the citizenry, and in particular, the disadvantaged women (FIDAKENYA, 2013). While engaging with the Formal Justice System, FIDA Kenya has strategically put in place mechanisms to connect with indigent women at the community level. She said in most of the local communities, informal justice systems are more vibrant. For example, there is an organization called the “council for adults” where FIDA Kenya assists women to access justice through the existing channels by training the respective bodies on gender to gender related issues. This organization ensures the voices of the victims be heard before moving onto “formal” court. Furthermore, another transformative innovation that this informal justice system brings is to re-direct deserving cases to the mediation system. Unlike the formal legal system, this will access justice to the indigent woman with less social, emotional and monetary costs.  Muhio also mentioned a FIDA established Policy Walk Group that is to train and work with local police to handle victims of sexual violence.
In a second interview with Josephine Wambua-Mong , a Council member of FIDA ,she explains  how to spread legal knowledge and practice to the public. She mentioned LEGAL AWARENESS WEEK event FIDA conducted in 2012.  The objective of Legal Awareness Week is to promote the mandate of the Law Society of Kenya by extending legal literacy and awareness to members of the public. The public would also be advised on various aspects of the Law and Civic Education.  The Law Society of Kenya Branches shall also observe and coordinate their activities at branch level.

When asked what type of medical services FIDA provided to the victims of sexual violence in Kenya, Wambua-Mong said FIDA itself doesn't provide such medical services. However there are Post-Exposure Prophylaxis (PEP) services available in major hospitals in Kenya. The abbreviation PEP stands for a number of things in medicine including post-exposure prophylaxis. Unfortunately not all expenses are covered by the medical centers or hospitals. Like Dr. Omondi, another member of the panel, summarized, “Medication is the key solution we provided to the victims, no matter what kind of justice system they go through, and they have to be cured, to become sound human beings again”. One major concern is the lack of awareness of the importance of PEP and its procedures. 

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

While attending a panel conducted by the Women Consortium of Nigeria, I had the pleasure to hear from Pearl Osamudiame who works as a facilitator for the non-government organization called Girl’s Power Initiative (GPI).  She explains that GPI’s mission is to empower girls for the realization of a gender equal society where women are visible and valued actors.  With this in mind, they work with young women ages 10-18 through educational programs, counseling, referral services, and social action.

In particular, Ms. Osamudiame explains why girls are so susceptible to trafficking and abuse.  With pervasive poverty and unemployment, many families face economic hardships and lack sufficient support from government policies.  Since women are generally more committed than men to repaying off debt, they will face more parental pressure to improve the family’s economic condition.  Combined with the higher marketability of women and their lower social status, girls are more likely to be targeted for trafficking.  Agents in trafficking will even try to convince the girl’s parents, boyfriends, and other family relationships of the economic benefit, and they will in turn sell the idea to the girl.

To help combat these problems, GPI helps girls in the years when they are most vulnerable to deception and pressure.  They empower girl through skill training, education, and economic support such as providing micro loans and grants.  Along with direct involvement, GPI also documents cases of trafficking and works to improve curriculum to provide a larger awareness of these issues.  As girls become aware of dangers, learn self-sufficiency skills, and cooperate with other women from similar backgrounds, they are more likely to resist the pressure of trafficking and abuse.

Many challenges still remain for girls as trafficking moves from urban to rural areas and total gender equality yet remains unrealized.  However, each young woman that GPI touches is one step closer to ending trafficking and gender abuse.  As more people, groups, and government departments work together with the same goals of empowering women, then everyone may yet see the end to such violence and crime.

Sunday, March 24, 2013


里海大学 唐梦悠


       首先,《盘点》中强调将“嫖宿幼女罪”与“强奸罪”合并, 对嫖宿幼女的行为按强奸罪处理。根据2003年最高人民法院公布的法律规定:“行为人确实不知对方是不满十四周岁的幼女,双方自愿发生性关系,未造成严重后果,情节显著轻微的,不认为是犯罪”,该法律一经公布,在法学界和妇女保护组织中产生了强烈反响,学者专家要求撤销“嫖宿幼女罪”,并于2010年全国两会期间通过人大代表孙晓梅教授递交了相关建议。我认为对“嫖宿幼女罪”的法律界定非常模糊,且惩罚力度不足以震慑犯罪人员。近期发生的一系列嫖宿幼女事件的当事人多为公职人员,包括县移民办主任、国土所所长、县人大代表,这些政府官员手握重权,有能力干涉到司法部门的裁决,而受害者多为幼女,她们的思想尚不成熟,更谈不上运用法律武器捍卫自身权利,这使得公职人员有机可趁,从而逃过法律的制裁。


       最后,《盘点》中有关对边缘妇女群体的暴力侵害的分析引起了我的注意,其中包括对女同性恋的“矫正性强奸”和对性工作者的各种形式的暴力。中国政府关注“女童、女大学生、老年妇女、流动妇女、高层女性人才五个典型群体”,缺乏对各类边缘妇女群体的关注。 由于中国传统社会对职业的高低,性别的分工具有严格规定,同性恋和性工作者是出于社会底端,被社会边缘化的群体,而她们往往又是最容易受到权益侵害的一部分人,这种落差导致了边缘妇女群体身心遭到最严重损害的事实。作为保护者的公安机关,在面对同性恋和性工作者的诉求时,往往将她们的遭遇认定为咎由自取,不采取相关法律措施对她们进行保护。她们中的大部分人受教育程度低,不懂得向妇女权益保护部分寻求帮助,因而,她们是最容易收到侵害的妇女群体之一。


Thursday, March 21, 2013

The Positive Impact of Personalization

     During the 57th annual CSW, I was able to attend two presentations that helped me to open my mind about personalizing sexual violence. "Documentary Screening: Women Survivors of Sexual Violence" and "Victory over Violence: Women Leading through Education" were both parallel sessions of the CSW that did not focus on personalizing sexual violence exactly; but, they both shared the personal stories of women survivors of sexual violence. These powerful stories from women from organizations like Girl Be Heard, Women Consortium of Nigeria (WOCON), and a divorced women's group from Turkey brought sexual violence down from an untouchable act practiced by villains into the real-world where sexual violence is done to humans by other humans.

     For example, Girl Be Heard is an NGO based in New York City that works with victims of trafficking, sexual violence and assault through theatre and dance troupes. Through working with the troupes and live performances, these women survivors share their deeply personal, disturbing and very real stories. At the CSW session, one of these brave artists shared her story of being sex trafficked by an uncle through a spoken poem. These stories are shocking and get our attention in ways that academic writings or research on sexual violence just don't. However, these two sessions at the CSW showed me that personal stories can also have powerfully positive effects.

   Personalizing sexual violence by having survivors share their experiences can help people who have not suffered sexual violence connect with people who have. Their stories' shock value helps others reach out to the storyteller and can lead to beautiful partnerships like Girl Be Heard that now helps hundreds of other survivors. While sharing disturbing stories of sexual violence may seem counterproductive, if the victim is ready, their story may have a positive impact on others and actually serve to stop sexual violence in its tracks in the future. 

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Cooperation of Government and NGOs in Eliminating Violence Against Women in Afghanistan

By Mengyou Tang

In the session of Working with Government to End Violence Against Women and Girls, the representative from Afghanistan gives an impressive talking of a successful case about the cooperation of NGO and government to eliminate sexual violence.

Leeda Yaqoobi is the program director of Afghan Women’s Network (AWN) that represents 103 women organizations. Actually, AWN has three main aims: Women Peace and Security, Women’s Political Participation and Leadership, and Women’s Legal and Social Rights. In order to achieve these objectives, AWN designs its projects as a model in advocacy, awareness and capacity building of government institutions. And it has achieved unexpected successes so far.

Among the items of the project, Leeda highlights EVAW Law (The Elimination of Violence against Women), which was drafted in 2004 in the incorporate efforts of Ministry of Women’s Affairs and women’s organizations. Specifically, AWN initially conducted a survey to identify to what extent the law can be utilized to help victims with the core government institutions, like, Ministry of Justice, Supreme Court, Ministry of Women’s Affairs, etc. Also, this survey was done to find out the needs of the key personnel and the challenges these sectors may face while carrying out the EVAW Law. Surprisingly, due to a lack of understanding the specific articles, the implementation of EVAW Law is extremely weak. Thus, personnel of core official bodies were invited to participate in a technical training workshop to ensure that these people implement the EVAW Law in the best matter.

Further, in order to keep the smooth conduction of EVAW Law, the EVAW Law Implementation Committee is established to prepare monitoring report bio annually. The first report indicates only one institution resolves cases of violence legally however the majority of cases are solved by informal mediation methods. The reason for this phenomenon including a lack of enough education and being not critical towards understanding all the aspects and provisions of the important articles of EVAW Law.

To deal with these problems, the committee holds conferences to discuss the status of EVAW Law implementation, finding out what AWN can support. Several methods have been come up with: asking officials to follow up on the recent cases of violence; inviting Dr. Rangin Dadfar Spanta to play the role as a direct focal point to AWN for further follow up on the meeting; Organizing a National conference on implementation of EVAW Law; adding the EVAW Law at the curriculum of Law Faculty.

Honestly speaking, there are still some deficiencies in the implementation of EVAW Law. For example, women still feel hesitant to report or fill a case against their male family members because of their financial dependence on their husbands. However, the successes achieved through the cooperation of government and NGOs is worth being learned by other countries.

Current Achievements and Future Challenges of Ending Violence Against Women in Nepal

By Mengyou Tang

Durga Sob, a representative from Feminist Dalit Organization, Nepal, gives a speech in CSW on March 7, 2013. Dalit is a minority group and a low class in Nepal. Durga talks about the violence and socioeconomic status of Dalit women and girls, and what the government has done and need to improve in the future.

Durga brings some significant statistics. 20% Dalit women do not understand what violence means. Only 4.4% reported to police who felt violence. 45.5% have felt violence while working outside their homes. 12.4% of Dalit women are attacked physically in their homes. Only 5% of them sought for help from formal institutions. From the percentages listed above, we may easily find violence’s happening basically dues to the unawareness of women resulting from their illiteracy or tacit acquiescence. In terms of NGO and government’s response to violence, she points out several laws such as Domestic Violence (Crime and Punishment) Act, 2008, Gender Equality Acts 2063 and NAP enacted by government (1325 & 1820). Also, she mentions some institutions like National Women Commission, Gender Unit, Office of Prime Minister and Council of Ministers and District Resource Group.

Though the laws and institutions have shown some positive effects on eliminating discrimination on Dalit women and further prevent sexual violence from occurring, the vulnerable group still face with big challenges. First, since local government shows little interest in Dalit empowerment programs and Dalit programs, other government sectors, police administration for example, do not register the cases regarding the domestic violence, caste-based discrimination and so on. Second, according to Nepali law very few domestic violence-related cases can be settled through mediation. Third, women of remote areas especially Dalit women are not aware about the legal violence. Therefore, not only the Nepal government and legislation department, but also education and propaganda departments need to tack actions to improve the awareness of going against sexual violence among Dalit group, especially women, and the whole society.