Unite to End Violence Against Women UN Program Evo Morales Bolivia
Last week, Bolivian president Evo Morales and a variety of governmental and UN officials met on the Roosevelt Island Soccer Field in New York City to campaign for the UN-based initiative UNiTE to End Violence Against Women. The campaign, which has high international aims, focuses specifically on Latin America and the Caribbean, two regions with abnormally high instances of gender-based crime.

The match had a diverse group of players, influential both on the football field and in the broader context of development: the Minister of Foreign Affairs of the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, Nicola Poposki, and two female members of parliament from Norway, Karin Andersen and Lene Vågslid. Diplomats from Bosnia and Herzegovina, Brazil, Liechtenstein, Austria, and the U.S. rallied on the other side.

In conversation with the UN, Assistant Secretary-General and UNDP director for Latin America, Heraldo Muñoz, explained: “Football is a global passion and a great way to win hearts and minds, conveying the message that ‘real men don’t hit’.”

The larger program beyond the pitch deals mainly with governmental reform. Too often, cases of gender-based violence are overlooked. Instead, the UN urges governments to lead by example, exhibiting solely intolerance in regards to such violence and oppression. Criminals must be punished in order to protect the women and girls of the world.

UN global statistics reveal the urgency of this situation: globally, around 50 percent of sexual assaults are committed against girls under the age of 16. Furthermore, statistics show that problematic regions must be addressed. Over half of the countries with the highest rates of female murder are within Latin America and the Caribbean. Tellingly, such statistics exhibit the fatal consequences of tolerance.

Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon created the “UNiTE to End Violence Against Women” in 2008. The initiative addresses all governments, demanding the implementation of strict laws, action strategies, and overall, a larger systematic address of sexual violence by 2015.

Ultimately, football serves as a common ground between us all. Yet, so should our women and girls—for their futures are ours.

– Anna Purcell

Sources: United Nations, Global Times
Photo: Flickr

Sunglasses John Kerry
This past Monday, Secretary of State John Kerry announced a new U.S. initiative aimed at preventing and responding to gender-based violence in humanitarian emergencies worldwide. Known as “Safe from Start,” the $10 million will be funded to allow the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees, the International Committee of the Red Cross, and other humanitarian organizations to hire specialized staff, start new programs, and “develop innovative methods” to protect women and girls at the onset of emergencies around the world.

“In the face of conflict and disaster, we should strive to protect women and girls from sexual assault and other violence,” Kerry emphasized in a press release. The statement also mentions that the U.S. will coordinate with other donors and stakeholders to develop a framework for action and accountability to ensure that efforts to address gender-based violence are routinely prioritized as a life-saving interference, along with other vital humanitarian help.

The initiative builds on the framework established by the U.S. National Action Plan on Women, Peace and Security, and the U.S. Strategy to Prevent and Respond to Gender-based Violence Globally. The Bureau of Population, Refugees, and Migration (PRM) and the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) will be responsible for the initiative.

Most conflict-ridden countries such as Syria, Egypt, or the Democratic Republic of Congo are reporting high rates of rape. Seen as a tool to terrorize villages and break the will of the opposition, rape has been routinely incorporated as a weapon of war during conflicts. According to Save the Children, up to 80 percent of war rape victims are under 18, while an Oxfam report states that rape is the “most extensive form of violence” women and girls are currently facing in Syria.

Although the press release mentions women and girls as the primary victims of gender-based violence, the U.S. Strategy to Prevent and Respond to Gender-based Violence Globally states that this type of aggression can also be directed towards men and boys, as well as sexual and gender minorities.

According to this document, gender-based violence is “violence directed at an individual based on his or her biological sex, gender identity, or perceived adherence to socially defined norms of masculinity and femininity.” It includes physical, sexual, and psychological abuse, as well as threats, coercion, arbitrary loss of liberty, and economic hardship.

– Nayomi Chibana
Feature Writer

Sources: U.S. Department of State, CNS News, Huffington Post
Photo: Cloture Club

According to an Indian report released September 3rd, one Indian woman is murdered every hour due to dowry-related crimes, with 8,233 Indian women killed because of this in 2012 alone. Many times this is due to disagreements over dowry payments made by the bride’s family to either the groom or his family when they get married. Dowry-related deaths are just one kind of the many crimes against women in India.

India is the fourth most dangerous country to be born a woman according to a 2011 Thompson Reuters survey, and crimes against women are only increasing. In fact, in 2012 there was a 6.4 percent increase in the amount of crimes against women in India. Crimes such as rape, molestation, sexual assault, and dowry-related crimes make up the 244, 270 crimes against women reported to the police in 2012.

According to police, there is not an increase of crimes against women in India, but rather an increase in the number of reports. Police site the fact that less Indian women are staying silent about such issues in the mainly patriarchal and conservative nation and speaking out about the abuses that occur. However, women’s activists groups disagree, saying that there has been an increase in gender violence in India, a country known as the world’s largest democracy. And yet, society still sees men and women as unequal.

As far as dowry-related crimes, where the conviction rate remains at a low 32 percent, many women’s activists attribute them to the country’s growing economy, which causes a sort of commercialization of marriage.

“Marriages have become commercialized. It’s like a business proposition where the groom and his family make exorbitant demands. And the wealthier the family, the more outrageous the demands,” Indian women’s rights activist Ranjana Kumari said.

Additionally, activists and police have sited a lack of accountability as a reason for increases in dowry-related crimes, especially because of the delay in prosecutions as well as the loopholes in dowry prevention laws, since dowries are illegal in India but continue to be part of a cultural custom.
Besides dowry-related crimes, the many recent gang rapes in India have caused major media coverage and worldwide outrage.

Last December, a 23-year-old woman was gang raped and murdered in a bus by six men in Delhi, known as India’s ‘rape capital’ and the ‘most dangerous city for women’ due to it having the highest number of rapes reported in the country.

The case sparked widespread protests for better security and sparked conversation on gender inequality in India. Even more recently, a 22-year-old woman was gang raped and beaten in Mumbai on August 22.

Due to all the international media spotlights and outrage over these recent incidents, the government passed a bill in March, placing stricter penalties on men who attack women as well as creating a more efficient and responsive police force. Moreover, conviction rates have increased in some areas of India, especially in cases of sexual assault in the city of Chennai. However, Indian Prime Minister, Manmohan Singh, claimed that more needed to be done to protect Indian women.

Elisha-Kim Desmangles

Sources: Huffington Post, The Blaze, The Times of India, Huffington Post, Forbes, Reuters, The Express Tribune, NY Times

Women in War is the Harvard Humanitarian Initiative’s groundbreaking interdisciplinary approach to addressing problems that females face in impoverished and conflict-ridden states. By conducting research in affected areas, the program strives to produce pragmatic community and policy-based solutions.

Although Women in War has worked in countries ranging from Sierra Leone to Sudan, it has concentrated the majority of its efforts into ending sexual assault and violence against women in the Democratic Republic of Congo. For decades, DRC has been embroiled in what has been referred to as the greatest multistate war in the African continent.

Despite its estimated worth of $24 trillion in natural resources (DRC holds up to a third of worldwide diamond reserves), DRC’s annual GDP per capita of $171 is shockingly low. Just as political instability and social unrest have undoubtedly contributed to its struggling economy, they too have factored into the prevalence of sexual assault–often by military personnel–against civilians.

While the roots of gender-based violence are manifold, Jocelyn Kelly, an HHI Research Coordinator, postulates that soldiers–who are often enlisted at a young age through coercion–may justify rape by dissociating their actions from themselves as individuals. It has been noted that the crude process of army initiation dehumanizes the soldiers and strips them of their former identities. Moreover, among soldiers, there exists the superstitious belief that rape may lead to victory on the battlefield.

The aftermath of sexual assault is equally complex. Many women have been raped in the confines of their own homes and in front of their loved ones. Naturally, rape may also result in unwanted pregnancies and/or damage to a woman’s reproductive organs, thereby adding tangible reminders on top of psychological wounds. Women in War has sought the skills and expertise of both gynecologists and counselors to give survivors a new lease–both inside and out–on life.

A helping hand has also been extended to the perpetrators. Researchers have been developing methods to reintegrate traumatized ex-soldiers into civilian society. By recognizing the humanity inherent in both the survivor and the offender, Women in War serves as a beacon of hope in times of strife.

– Melrose Huang

Sources: Harvard Humanitarian Initiative, Women Under Siege Project BBC The OTC Investor Global Security PBS
Photo: Ms. Magazine