Category Archives: WOMEN’S EQUALITY

16 Days of Activism: Meet Felicity Ruby, Australia


An article from the Nobel Women’s Initiative

Nuclear disarmament activist. Australian activist Felicity Ruby was the first staff member and coordinator of the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear weapons (ICAN). ICAN was awarded the 2017 Nobel Peace Prize for “for its work to draw attention to the catastrophic humanitarian consequences of any use of nuclear weapons and for its ground-breaking efforts to achieve a treaty-based prohibition of such weapons.” Felicity is now pursuing her Ph.D. at Sydney University.

Photo courtesy of Felicity Ruby

What did you feel when you heard ICAN had won the Nobel?

Joy and surprise. Coincidentally, I was dining with Dave Sweeney, an ICAN board member, and we were quickly joined by Dimity Hawkins, the driving force behind getting ICAN off the ground. We made so much noise! And called rooms of people in other countries to make even more noise!

How did ICAN begin?

The Medical Association for the Prevention of War, the Australian chapter of the International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear Warfare (IPPNW) drove ICAN’s beginnings. The idea was to reinvigorate the anti-nuclear movement, which had decades of incredible work behind it, but needed a new umbrella to unite efforts and a new approach to bring younger generations into the debate.

We secured IPPNW’s support and funding from the Poola Foundation, and began a global effort to agitate for nuclear disarmament, with new slogans, visuals, demands, alliances, audiences and strategies.

How was this new approach to disarmament different? Was it influenced by the International Campaign to Ban Landmines, which won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1997?

We were in many respects saying ‘lets do a landmines effort on nuclear weapons.’ How? By building a new, enduring, intelligent and strategic NGO coalition united around a simple demand: a Nuclear Weapons Convention – that is, a proposed multilateral treaty to outlaw nuclear weapons. Spearheaded by the medical professionals, who emphasized the very real impact of radiation and nuclear militarism on human health, we brought in networks, constituencies and professionals from around the globe.

How did you help build ICAN into a mass movement?

Understandably, the anti-nuclear movement had a fairly chronic humour deficiency. For me the real magic sauce was our determination to stigmatise nuclear weapons using humour, hope and horror in fairly equal quantities. We also organized global days of action, held awareness-raising events, shared the testimonies of survivors from Hiroshima and Nagasaki and engaged in advocacy at the United Nations and in national parliaments.

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Question for this article

Do women have a special role to play in the peace movement?

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It was important that ICAN was an invitation to an exciting new project, not an instruction. There was freedom for groups to use the disarmament education materials we created in their own ways. The message that change is possible was carried in the very name of the campaign, which projects the distinct and very likely possibility that human beings can eliminate nuclear war and evolve past the social behaviour, economic habit and political practice of nuclear violence.​

​You’ve spent a great deal of your professional life in a variety of disarmament efforts. What specifically drew you to this issue?

It’s a no brainer. The arms industry absorbs the very resources we need to address all of the world’s environmental, social and economic problems. The choice is between weapons that kill and mutilate and a decent, just society.

You’ve long advocated a specifically feminist view of disarmament.

Gender analysis provides some important tools that explain why weapons are valued, why states seek and keep them, and why leaders resort to the use of force to obtain policy objectives. Possessing and brandishing an extraordinarily destructive capacity is a form of dominance associated with masculine warriors (nuclear states are sometimes referred to as the “big boys”) and is more highly valued than feminine-associated disarmament, cooperation, and diplomacy.

The association of weapons with masculinity, power, prestige, and technical prowess has a direct effect on policy decisions. It remains a hurdle on the road to disarmament and nonproliferation – even though the idea that security can be achieved through weaponized strength clearly has not worked.

Last July, declaring that “nuclear weapons pose a constant threat to humanity and to life on Earth,” 122 nations – though not nuclear states — adopted the UN Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons. Does this mean that the debate is shifting?

The UN Treaty was a real moment of triumph. A large group of countries stood up and defied the nuclear weapons states. This is especially important at a time when escalating tensions around North Korea’s nuclear weapons make the danger even more apparent. We need to turn nuclear weapons to rust before they turn the earth to dust.

When you look to the future, what gives you hope?

The enduring courage of whistleblowers and activists, the enduring courage of activists standing up and organizing keeps my hope alive. So does spending time in nature. I now work in the field of technology and I’m inspired by those creating tools to put technology in the hands of people, not vice versa. I’m also working on my PhD dissertation, which focuses on social movements and am constantly inspired by these efforts to resist injustice.

I would tell activists keep going – but look after yourself, too. Activism should be joyful, and if you’re burnt out, you’re not helping any movement grow.

I truly believe that humanity can drag itself from the pit of war, racism and discrimination. Violence is not inevitable; it is a learned behaviour, from which we can and will – and must – evolve.

(Thank you to Janet Hudgins, the CPNN reporter for this article.)

16 Days of Activism: Meet Rasha Jarhum, Yemen


An article from Nobel Women’s Initiative

Human rights activist. Rasha Jarhum is a Yemeni activist currently based in Geneva. She is a founder of the Peace Track Initiative, established to create a space for the contributions of women, youth and civil society organizations to peace processes.

Your mother, Hooria Mashhour, is a longtime activist; after the 2011 uprising in Yemen, she became the country’s first Human Rights Minister. Is it fair to say that you were raised in the struggle?

My mother was a fierce advocate for women’s rights. She served in the Women National Committee for almost a decade, and after the uprising began was the first government official to quit her position in protest of the vicious force used against peaceful protesters. Later, she was selected as spokesperson of the revolution forces council – the first time in Yemeni history that a woman spoke for a political movement. I was privileged to have her as my mentor. Since I was a child, I joined her in workshops and campaigns – she is the reason I became an activist. We have our political disagreements, and I love that she has never tried to pressure me to change my position.

You also learned from your mother that activism can be costly.

That’s something my whole family understands. My husband’s father, who was the first to sue Yemen’s former president Ali Abdullah Saleh for embezzling state money, was assassinated. In the current war, which began in 2014, we lost family members and property and were threatened and followed. My mother’s name was put on a list of wanted infidels, and armed men appeared at her office. She left to seek political asylum in Germany.

Why did you also leave Yemen?

After the 2011 uprising, when President Saleh stepped down, I believed that we would be able to build a modern civil state in Yemen. As part of the UN, I worked on a programme to mobilize people, including women, to vote. I wanted to make Yemenis taste the future of democracy.

But I’d lived through two devastating earlier wars, in 1986 in South Yemen and the 1994 war between North and South, and I had two young sons. During the uprising, we witnessed armed conflict in Sana’a, and out of fear for our children that the conflict would escalate, my husband and I began seeking opportunities outside the country. In 2012, he got a job offer in Lebanon, and we went to Beirut for five years. From there, I continued to support civil society organizations remotely, and worked with Oxfam on the Syrian Refugee Crisis and Gender Justice Programme. When the 2014 war in Yemen began, I knew it would be long and ugly.

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Question for this article

Do women have a special role to play in the peace movement?

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What’s the purpose of the Peace Track Initiative?

The Initiative works towards localizing peace processes and insuring inclusiveness, with an underlying premise that those directly affected by war are those with the greatest stake in peacebuilding. It has two components: one that focuses on Yemen, and the other on the whole Middle East and North Africa region. In Yemen, I support women-led organizations at the community level and women’s groups in peacebuilding activities. So much of what these women do is invisible to the world.

What are local women doing in promote peace in Yemen? Why doesn’t the international community hear more about it?

Historically, the situation for women in Yemen was bad. Women had no freedom to go to work, travel, even get married. Legislative, institutional and societal norms all hindered women. But women led the revolution in 2011, and today, Yemeni women are again on the frontlines. In besieged areas, women walk for miles to bring lifesaving items to their families, mobilize relief convoys, smuggle medicine to hospitals. It is estimated that one-third of fighters in Yemen are children, and women are addressing the issue of child recruitment. Women are working on complicated issues such as releasing detainees, combating terrorism through social cohesion work and the de-radicalization of youth. Women are working to revive the economy through collective saving groups, farming and social entrepreneurship.

When women are involved in peace processes, we focus on responsibility-sharing rather than power-sharing. The participation of women in national dialogue in 2011 led to the creation of one of the strongest rights and freedom’s packages in Yemeni history.

But the humanitarian agencies working in Yemen portray women only as passive victims. The stories of their resilience and their leadership do not get reported. Part of the problem is that local women may be working as individuals or in coalitions that are not formally registered, and thus deprived of funding opportunities. In addition, many Yemeni women do not speak English.

On December 4, former president Saleh was killed, and the situation in Yemen seems to have grown even worse.

For years, Yemen was the worst country for women to live in. With this war, our humanitarian crisis increased. We now have a million pregnant women at risk of malnutrition and around two million women and girls at risk of gender-based violence, including rape.

But when you hit rock bottom, there is only one way to move: up. I believe that a real, sustainable and inclusive peace can be achieved in Yemen. And I think the solution is really in the hands of women.

(Thank you to Janet Hudgins, the CPNN reporter for this article)

16 Days of Activism: Meet Bertha Zúñiga Cáceres, Honduras


An article from the Nobel Women’s Initiative

Bertha Zúñiga Cáceres, general coordinator of the Civic Council of Popular and Indigenous Organizations of Honduras [COPINH]. COPINH fights for the environmental, cultural, social, health, economic and educational rights of Honduras’s largest indigenous group, the Lenca people. 

Photo by Mel Mencos

Bertha Zúñiga Cáceres was born to what she’s described as “a people of great dignity and strength.” She also was born into struggle. She was just a toddler when her mother, Berta Cáceres, one of Honduras’s most high-profile activists, founded COPINH to defend the land rights of the country’s Indigenous Lenca from exploitation by mining, dam-building and logging interests. (She also advocated against racism, sexual discrimination and the victimization of women.) Her mother, Zúñiga Cáceres recalled, “instilled in us from a very early age that we must continue forward defending the rights of our people.”

The fight was intense. Extractive industry companies hold concessions on more than 30 percent of Honduras’s land. With her siblings, Zúñiga Cáceres went to marches and protests – she learned young how to best avoid breathing in tear gas – read about racism, and spent time in the Indigenous communities that were her mother’s focus. The experience forever shaped her. As she put it, “To make the ancestral struggles of the communities yours, is to assume a way of seeing and being in the world.”

Zúñiga Cáceres also learned early that in Honduras speaking truth to power is a dangerous act. Her mother fought the construction of a hydroelectric project with a series of dams that would dry up the Gualcarque River, which is both sacred to Lenca communities and vital to their survival.  Death threats were constant. Later Zúñiga Cáceres acknowledged that the danger in which her family lived “was so frequent that it became normal.”

The danger also was real. At least 124 environmental and land activists have been murdered in Honduras since 2009; Global Witness calls the country the most dangerous in the world in which to defend natural resources. On March 2, 2016, one year after Berta Cáceres won the prestigious Goldman Environmental Prize—sometimes called the Green Nobel—and one day before her 45th birthday, gunmen pushed into her home and shot her to death.

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Question for this article

Do women have a special role to play in the peace movement?

Indigenous peoples, Are they the true guardians of nature?

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Zúñiga Cáceres, who is sometimes called Bertita, or Little Bertha, suspended her graduate studies and went to work on two fronts: to find and bring her mother’s killers to justice, and to continue her mother’s fight against the dam and for a more general social justice—a struggle, she’s said, that “goes beyond one person or one single individual.”

Neither has been easy.  Eight people are in custody in relation to the killing of Berta Cáceres, two with links to the company trying to build the dam, three with military ties. A recent independent investigation by five international human rights experts revealed evidence that both state agents and the hydroelectric company’s executives and employees had taken part in planning, executing and cover up the murder. But in Honduras almost no one gets punished for any murder, and the Honduran government has made it clear that going after who planned or ordered that Berta be killed is not likely.

Zúñiga Cáceres, who assumed leadership of COPINH last summer, has called for a full and independent investigation into the assassination of her mother – or as she put it in 2016, “We want to set a precedent of justice in a country where there is none.” She also began to campaign in support of pending U.S. legislation that would suspend all military aid to Honduras until the country demonstrates that it has taken action on the unlawful killing of human rights activists.

She soon discovered the danger in her own outspokenness. Just weeks after Zúñiga Cáceres assumed leadership of COPINH, she and two colleagues survived an attack by four men who followed them home from a visit to a community in central Honduras, attacked with rocks and machetes, then tried to force their vehicle off a cliff.

Death did not silence the mother, Berta Cáceres: during her funeral procession, a crowd of thousands followed chanting “Berta vive, la lucha sigue!” COPINH’s fight, Zúñiga Cáceres has said has become “a universal struggle…a struggle that is modestly and humbly taken over by a community.” Her mother, she says, did not die, “but entered the earth, like a seed.”

Like her mother, Zúñiga Cáceres will not be silenced either. As she wrote in a column published last March, in Spain’s El País, “If I could tell my mother anything now, it would be ‘don’t worry: your fight lives on in me, in my brothers and sisters, and in our community.’”

(Thank you to Janet Hudgins, the CPNN reporter for this article.)

16 Days of Activism: Meet Anne Marie Sam, Canada


An article from the Nobel Women’s Initiative

Indigenous leader, councillor. Anne Marie is from Nak’azdli First Nation, in British Columbia, Canada. Anne Marie was first elected as a Councillor for her community of Nak’azdli in 2007. She is a board member of Mining Watch Canada  and a member of First Nations Women Advocating Responsible Mining (FNWARM), a group of female chiefs, councillors and former chiefs who are working to reform the mining process in BC to balance the economics of mining developments with respect for First Nations rights and culture.

Photo courtesy of Anne Marie Sam

What is your story?

I was born in to the Lusilyoo frog clan, and our clan’s responsibility is to protect the water. I was also brought in to my dad’s clan, which is the Lhts’umusyoo beaver clan. Their responsibility as a clan is as warriors for the community. I was born into this, the work to protect who we are and to protect the water. So even before I started my work, I think it was already chosen for me. I think the creator and my ancestors led me here and prepared me for this. I’m from the Nak’azdli community and I came to the work I’m doing through the guidance of my environment and through the land I grew up on. It was always instilled in me by my grandparents how important the water and land is.

Your work recently has involved a response to a new mining project in your community. What was your approach?

As a community we didn’t outright oppose economic development or the mine. I wanted to protect the headwaters and the mountain. But the community as a whole could see benefits to economic development. So once we could see that it was going to move ahead, I started learning more about the process of mining and how we could minimize negative impacts. When the project was first considered it was a very big footprint and so we looked at how we could lessen the impact on the water and wildlife, like moose, caribou and bears—and also on the lives of our people. We saw so many flaws in the approval process— it didn’t take into account the impact on the land, wildlife, or the lives of the people who lived there, so we challenged the government’s review approach in court three times. Later, we identified an approach that allows us to work together with the mining company, and my family and the community can still uphold our stewardship responsibilities through environmental monitoring of the mine.

The mining project went ahead, but there are some successes. Please tell us more.

As it was being built, every time I travelled to the mine site I felt very angry and hurt. I knew it wasn’t healthy to carry that with me. I needed a way to let go of the anger and hurt feelings. I encouraged the company and even our governance—our own community—so that we could have a ceremony at the mine site. We need to be up there to let the land know we are not forgetting or giving up on our responsibility to care for it. I bring my children up every year, and we have a ceremony with our community. We put tobacco down and we share our words. We also invite the company employees to take part. They need to provide for their families, and so we pray for the protection of all of the workers that are up there.

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Question for this article

Do women have a special role to play in the peace movement?

Indigenous peoples, Are they the true guardians of nature?

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Another success that was really important is the environmental monitoring on the ground. Our people—our family—have a responsibility to care for the area. We need to track environmental impact and build capacity. The water and soil sampling shouldn’t be done only by mine workers. We have developed what we call a “guardian program” where our members are learning the skill of environmental monitoring from a western point of view, but they are also teaching the company and the workers what is important to us, what is Indigenous monitoring. 

What other impacts are you trying to mitigate?

Across the country, the impacts to women and communities when industrial activity comes into the area are clear—increases in domestic violence, drug trafficking, prostitution and sex trafficking. It’s also what I’m finding when I talk to women when I travel around the world—the story is the same. Indigenous people are bearing the brunt of impacts, especially Indigenous women. I am an Indigenous woman and my daughters are Indigenous, and we are at higher risk when industry comes to the area. Where it really came to a forefront for me was that when reviewing pipelines being proposed in our area; there were a lot of camps of workers, mostly men. As a community we had to consider developing rape crisis plans because we have to tell our women “we can’t prevent rape from happening, so this is what you do when it does happen”. It is unacceptable that we cannot protect our communities. Somewhere along the way this has to stop. I want to protect my daughters. But there are so many daughters out there, and sisters, aunts, and mothers who are impacted. We live along the Highway of Tears here in northern British Columbia. So many of our women are missing, are injured, and are found murdered. We desperately need change.

What is it like and what challenges have you faced being a woman leader?

It is tough to be an Indigenous woman leader but I also get to have the opportunity to advocate for change. I see strength in being able to live a healthy life, to show that it can be done. I am on a council that elected 50% women—for years we only had one, sometimes two women on council. I think that women bring a different perspective to the table, and I think it’s something that is needed. I ran in the recent provincial election. It was less about winning, though that would have been great, but more about honouring my grandmother and showing my girls and other young Indigenous girls what opportunities are there for them.

What is something that keeps you motivated?

The ability for me to continue our traditions and be with my family on the land keeps me going. I see the successes and opportunities that my son and daughters and nieces have in front of them and that keeps me going. And I see changes in industry and government, so I am optimistic. Looking in the eyes of our young people motivates me.

What do you hope for the future?

I hope my children and grandchildren are not fighting the same fight I am. I hope that we get beyond “us versus them” and understand that we are in this together, and need to find solutions together. I hope that in our community we move away from a place of being told to just forget what has happened. And in 5 to 10 years I hope to see healthier communities that are stronger and upholding each other. 

(Thank you to Janet Hudgins, the CPNN reporter for this article)

16 Days of Activism 2017: Meet Dina Meza, Honduras


An article from Nobel Women’s Initiative

Journalist and human rights defender. Dina Meza is a well-known independent journalist and defender of the rights to freedom of expression and information. She is also the founding President of PEN Honduras, which supports journalists at risk. Dina also publishes investigative reports on human rights violations and corruption through her online news magazine Pasos de Animal Grande. In 2007, Dina received Amnesty International UK’s special award for at-risk journalists, and in 2014, Dina received the Oxfam Novib/PEN International Freedom of Expression Award.

Photo courtesy of Daniel Cima for Comisión Interamericana de Derechos Humanos.

Can you tell us about your work?

Although I have been a journalist since 1992, I am not able to work in mainstream media because I’m considered a dissident.  So in 2014, I created Pasos de Animal Grande, an online news magazine.  There is a lot of censorship in Honduras, but using digital media allows me to independently address profound themes such as impunity, violence against women, and violence against human rights defenders. I also work as a human rights defender, and despite the multiple threats I receive constantly, I am able to do my work thanks to the support of Peace Brigades International  which accompanies me when I do my interviews. I also accompany students at the national university when they protest, and are jailed for expressing their views.

What made you decide to do this work?

It was a family tragedy that made me focus on human rights. In 1989 my older brother was abducted by the military and taken to a clandestine location where he was tortured for five days. Thankfully he made it out alive, but the military broke his spine and he was never able to return to a normal life. It wasn’t until that moment that I realized to what extent human rights violations were plaguing Honduras. This experience taught me that no family should go through this alone, and I have committed my life to working with families as they fight for the human rights of their loved ones. I could not look my children in the eye and live with the knowledge that I didn’t do anything to help my country. I have three children, two sons and a daughter, and they are all deeply impacted by my work. They understand that this could have terrible consequences, but they also understand that it is necessary to bring the change we all long for in our country.

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Question for this article

Do women have a special role to play in the peace movement?

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What kind of threats have you had to face as a result of your work?

On a daily basis, I live with the constant fear of someone breaking into my car, I am followed by cars with plates that have no numbers, and have received several threatening phone calls.  My family and I have lived with threats against us for the past 11 years. We constantly have to move houses. Armed men regularly come to our door. My daughter has received sexual threats, even on her way to school. My phone is taped every hour of the day. This is what life looks like for a human rights defender in a country like Honduras. But it has also taught us how to protect ourselves. And the support of organizations like Amnesty International, Peace Brigades International and PEN International  has been key for me to continue what I do.

Being a human rights defender in an oppressive environment can be deeply overwhelming. How do you take care of heart and spirit in such an aggressive space?

I believe that one should never lose hope. I am a Christian, and feel like God protects me. I hear testimonies of people who suffer from extreme human rights abuses every day. I often have students crying on my shoulders after being beaten by the men in uniform for exercising their rights. Seeing the youth fighting for a better Honduras gives me strength and inspiration. It may be hard but I absolutely love my work. I love being a journalist, and I love defending human rights.

What would you say to a young activist—in Honduras or anywhere in the world—who is fighting a situation that seems hopeless?

Everything changes. No evil lasts forever, so do not despair. Hold on to hope, hold on to your motivation to change the system. Those who are harming the world are fewer than those of us who are fighting to correct them. We need to remember, and focus on that.

Is there anything else you’d like to add?

Honduras is a beautiful country but needs much solidarity from the world. About 12 people are controlling the wealth in the country and oppressing local communities. I would like for people to come and witness it for themselves. I run an organization for democracy and human rights; if a young person wants to come to Honduras and help, we are happy to welcome them, we take volunteers in all the time.

(Thank you to Janet Hudgins, the CPNN reporter for this article)

16 Days of Activism 2017: Meet Marcela Fernandez, Colombia


An article from the Nobel Women’s Initiative

Youth peace activist. Marcela is a co-founder of PAZabordo (Peace On Board), a youth-led, grassroots peace-bus initiative that travelled around Colombia during the peace process promoting peace and linking youth in different parts of the country.

Photo courtesy of Marcela Fernandez

What inspired you to launch PAZabordo?

The war had been too long. The first week after the referendum [to accept or reject the peace agreement], people took over the streets of Bogota. I thought what we really needed was to connect the cities and rural areas—and find out who are the true peacebuilders. We wanted to find out for ourselves what people’s visions were for recovering from the war—whether they were healing their communities through hip hop, art, or agriculture.

And so you launched PAZabordo – a peace bus of sorts. Tell us about the journey.

We were a group of 40 people. We travelled around Colombia for forty days, over 7,000 km. We visited more than 50 territories, and 80 leaders. We travelled by chiva—which is not a bus, but the way local people move around towns. During the conflict, many of the chivas were not able to move around because of the violence. Now, peace has come, so using chivas was a symbolic act. They are also a symbol of joy, of parties, and happiness. So we wanted to represent all that when we entered the towns—we wanted people to see happiness come.

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Question for this article

Do women have a special role to play in the peace movement?

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How did you start?

We put it on Facebook, and the project went viral very quickly. People were telling us to come and visit. We had nothing; no resources, and it cost a lot to rent the chiva. We decided to start with a crowd-funding campaign, which was difficult because Colombians were not used to them. It helped, but we didn’t reach the goal, so we financed the whole experience using a combination of a sponsor, the crowd-funding, and symbolic donations by each of the passengers, whom we called “peace-engers”.

What was the concept of the program?

We went, not with an institution, but as Colombians. We wanted to show we were united. We wanted to connect leaders from different regions who were doing different things. We had a Whatsapp group, where all the leaders were connected together. It was a tool we implemented spontaneously, to have a place where people could talk. We also had radios so we could let our families and friends know where we were, and also for security. The idea developed along the way, but the mission was always to give visibility and show it was possible to travel around the country. We wanted to map out the implementation of the post-conflict ecosystem in Colombia.

What are some of the activities you did in the towns you visited?

We realized when we arrived in the communities, people wanted to be heard, to show us what they were doing, take advantage of the visit to tell us what had happened there. We realized listening was our greatest strength. Instead of giving a big performance, which was what we had intended in the beginning, we decided to listen to them. We visited many places far apart in a very limited time, so it was really taking advantage of every minute. Sometimes it was with the municipalities, or the mayors; it would change with every new place. Sometimes they were welcoming us with signs or at the parish, or sometimes they didn’t even know we were coming.

Who were you trying to engage on the PAZabordo?

Anyone! Any way they wanted to contribute to peace was welcome. All the people in the chiva helped us create activities in town. We had an initiative in which we wrote letters from municipality to municipality cultivating peace; we signed a big Colombian flag with all the people we met. We would project movies in the chiva for kids, we had photographers making documentaries and videos about what we were seeing. It was a very holistic, talented chiva, and everyone would use their unique talent to promote peace or spread the word.

What do you hope for the future of the project?

We hope to grow the resources and visibility of the program, to have it continue. We would love to bring together local leaders within a region, to allow leaders to share experiences with others in Colombia. And we would like to grow to include international participants. Instead of just coming to Colombia and just to visiting the beach, people could come here and have a great experience learning about peace, and the situation of Colombians.

(Thank you to Janet Hudgins, the CPNN reporter for this article)

16 Days of Activism 2017: Meet Amanda Ghahremani, Canada


An article from the Nobel Women’s Initiative

Lawyer. Amanda is the Legal Director at the Canadian Centre for International Justice. CCIJ supports and assists people seeking justice for serious human rights violations and engages with Canadians through education and awareness programming. Amanda is also Director of the Philippe Kirsch Institute, which provides specialised legal education programmes with a focus on international law, human rights, and international criminal law, among others. In 2016, Amanda successfully spearheaded the international campaign #FREEHOMA to release the Canadian-Iranian political prisoner, Professor Homa Hoodfar, from Evin prison in Iran.

Photo courtesy of Amanda Ghahremani

You work on international human rights law—what motivated you to do this kind of law?

My academic background before law school was in cultural studies and peace and conflict resolution. While spending time in Australia during my master’s degree, I started working on refugee issues and realized that knowledge of law would allow me to have a greater impact on refugee policy. Throughout law school I worked with refugee women who were survivors of domestic and sexual violence, and this experience steered me to the intersection of refugees, conflict, violence and justice. At the Centre, I work on these issues in a manner that has direct impact on survivors, but also empowers survivors to take a leading role in their justice efforts.

What most often hinders you from achieving justice?

Ironically, laws and policies are what most often hinder us from achieving justice for our clients. For example, Canada’s State Immunity Act generally gives foreign governments immunity in Canadian courts, making it very difficult for survivors to seek compensation for torture and other atrocities committed by those governments. Another example has been the reluctance by Canadian courts, until very recently, to allow Canadian corporations to be sued in Canada for the human rights abuses they commit abroad. However, these barriers make my work that much more important, because every success we achieve for our clients sets a precedent that brings us one step closer to achieving justice for many others.

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Question for this article

Do women have a special role to play in the peace movement?

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You’ve worked on cases involving political prisoners. Was the case of your aunt, Professor Homa Hoodfar, at all unique?

Homa’s case was not necessarily unique. There is a long-standing track record of academics and intellectuals being imprisoned in Iran, including but not limited to dual nationals. However, what made Homa’s case unique was the the speed at which it was resolved, in very large part a testament to the effectiveness of diplomacy. From the perspective of a lawyer, it was very difficult to navigate the campaign and messaging knowing that Homa’s trial was still unfolding; everything we said and did would be scrutinized and had the potential to impact her case. Ultimately, the success of Homa’s case came from a concerted and collective effort: the United Nations, the Canadian government, other national governments, academics, activists, and individuals, particularly those in the Global South such as Pakistan, Afghanistan, Indonesia, Malaysia. The campaign really was a global effort.

How have you found the environment for women in the legal world?

Women must work ten times harder to prove their worth and value, whether you are in a large corporate law firm or in a non-governmental organization. I was the keynote speaker at Law Needs Feminism Because Forum in Montreal this year because I strongly believe that women in law need to create spaces to support each other. I was happy to see women law students, law professors, and lawyers uniting to discuss the ongoing challenges we face in this profession, and the opportunities that we have to change these structural inequities. I have also implemented an intersectional feminist policy in CCIJ‘s legal department as I believe it is imperative that we are guided by intersectional feminism not only in our immediate work environment, but also in the work we carry out with clients and in our broader communities. In the context of international justice, I find an intersectional feminist approach poses the question: “How do we make sure that our mission for justice is not in its very process exploiting the stories and experiences of survivors – often racialised, marginalised, and othered people, especially women?”

Could you tell us about Women’s Charters and Declarations. Why did you create this network?

Women’s Charters and Declarations is a project that emerged out of several collaborative meetings with feminists from various backgrounds, emphasizing the need to have an archive of the legal and policy work that has taken place in women’s rights movements across the globe. The project is designed as a resource centre with quick, searchable, and structured access to women’s charters, declarations, and manifestos. My hope is that it will help mobilize and encourage new generations to get inspired by, learn from, and adapt these charters to their own contexts.

(Thank you to Janet Hudgins, the CPNN reporter for this article)

16 Days of Activism 2017: Meet Mariama Sonko, Senegal


An article from Nobel Women’s Initiative

Farmer and organizer for rural women. Mariama is the national coordinator of Nous sommes la solution (We are the solution) in Senegal, a rural women’s movement for food sovereignty, spreading across Senegal, Burkina Faso, Mali, Ghana and Guinea. Through agro-ecology practices, Mariama and her movement work with rural women to take charge of their livelihoods and create an empowering support network for each other.

Can you tell us a little bit about your work?

Our movement was born from consultations between farmers’ organisations and civil society on how to resist agricultural policies imposed by multinational corporations. This movement is Afro-centered and proposes agro-ecology as an alternative to support greater food security in Africa. Women play an indisputable role in agriculture—in the production, and the commercialization of family farming, and in consumption. Our movement is grounded in the vision of an Africa in which rural women are involved in all decision-making and grow, sell and consume the products of their family farms.

How has your movement expanded so far?

We have had a lot of success, mainly because we were able to strengthen the capacity of women leaders to articulate the value of the movement from the very beginning. This allowed us to organize with affected grassroots women, and we now have a platform of at least 100 grassroots associations. We also work with the media, newspapers and radio to spread our message.

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Questions for this article

Can the women of Africa lead the continent to peace?

Do women have a special role to play in the peace movement?

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Although the movement was started by women, we have expanded to include men, youth, decision makers, and other people who believe in our work. Today we have a model farm field run by rural women and a store where we sell our products. It’s about turning words into action. There is a lot that we do at the local level but we increasingly believe that it’s also critical to have networks at the international level too, to give greater visibility to the movement. This can be a powerful asset in our advocacy work.

What would you say is the greatest challenge you face?

Women are key actors but their work is not understood and never rewarded. So that is why we must really continue to build women’s capacity to communicate our views and connect with others so they know what it is we’re calling for and what we must do.

Which action would you say is essential for activism?

It is crucial to be connected with other movements in other countries to better know what they’re defending and what they’re working for, and to see how we can link alliances to be stronger. We cannot limit ourselves to what we’re doing. We need to know what others are doing to receive or give lessons to bring us to a more harmonious development.

What does the word “feminism” mean for you?

Feminism simply means social justice in our community. Injustice towards women has been present since our ancestors’ days. Feminism corrects this injustice at the local, national and international level. And that is what really drives us to be and to work with the global feminist movement, to really try to settle this injustice, to value the role women play and their place in our community.

(Thank you to Janet Hudgins, the CPNN reporter for this article)

16 Days of Activism 2017: Meet Ketty Nivyabandi, Burundi


An article from the Nobel Women’s Initiative

Activist and poet. Ketty’s leadership in mobilizing women in protest against her country’s government led her to flee from persecution, to Canada. As a refugee, Ketty continues to be a voice for peace and rule of law in her country –Burundi–and regularly speaks on human rights, refugee issues, and the intimate effects of conflict on women’s lives globally. Ketty has recently joined the staff of the Nobel Women’s Initiative as Media Associate.

For some of our readers who may not know the conflict in Burundi, could you explain the current situation?

Burundi has undergone a lot of conflict in the past four decades. We experienced a peaceful period in the 2000s, but in 2015, the head of state decided to run for a third and unconstitutional term in office. So that was the beginning of a political crisis, and many citizens responded with peaceful protests. However, the regime repressed them through massive human rights violations.

How did you become an activist?

I became involved early on in Burundi’s current crisis when I realized that women’s voices were not being heard. I could see that if it continued, women, as usual, would be the first victims of the conflict. It was important that we send a message of peace, so I led our first women-only peaceful protest in Burundi. It was a very powerful, historic, feminist moment because not only did we take ownership of our voices, but we also gained confidence in a country that is traditionally very patriarchal. For my actions, the state targeted me and I had to flee the country.

How has your activism had to evolve since you were forced to leave Burundi?

I’m an artist before anything else: a writer and a poet. But as a result of the conflict, I find that my focus has turned to activism, or ‘artivism’. As a founding member of the Women and Girls Movement for Peace and Security, I remain active in the movement, mainly by advocating for women’s representation at the peace negotiation table and by researching cases of sexual violence and human trafficking perpetrated by Burundian state actors. It’s important to collect credible data on what’s happening to our women and girls. I also continue to lobby and raise awareness on the crisis. I testified before the Canadian parliamentary committee on international human rights, and speak regularly at other forums on the situation of women and girls in Burundi.

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Question for this article

Can the women of Africa lead the continent to peace?

Do women have a special role to play in the peace movement?

(Article continued from left column)

What role does art play in your activism?

I think it was Alice Walker who said that “art is the mirror, perhaps the only one in which we can see our true collective face”. Art is indeed our mirror. It enables me, as an artist, to keep my ear on the ground, to remain close to the truth of what is happening. My poetry has always been infused by what is happening in my community. It’s powerful, not only to send a message but also to depict what is difficult to capture otherwise, especially in situations of injustice and oppression. Poetry gives me a lot of creative freedom to address the social and the political pitfalls of my society. So that’s one aspect—the mirroring aspect. The other aspect is that art, I believe, also heals. Sometimes when there are no clear answers amidst so much violence, art can be space of solace and healing. Sometimes art is the only way to reach people’s souls.

What inspires you to keep going and to keep doing this work?

I cannot tolerate injustice, and I’ve been this way since I was a little girl. I see doing this work as my duty as a human being—I don’t see any other option. Not addressing the issues that are ailing my community and my society is another form of dying—a more severe death, I would say. It’s a duty that I must do in order to sleep at night, in order to look at myself in the mirror. I am currently safe, but if I am enjoying my safety alone while millions of my country-mates or anyone else, anywhere else in the world, is not safe, then that affects my peace. So doing this work is a way of life.

Do you have any final thoughts you’d like to share?

I believe we all hear a calling inside of us to give our life a broader dimension than our individual journeys, and I want to encourage us to listen to that voice. Most of the time, we are afraid to act because it means losing a lot of our acquired comforts. As someone who has lost a lot, I want to say that I found greater purpose and meaning, and my life has never been richer. So my words would be to encourage anyone who hears that calling not to be afraid and to go out there and do what they are called to do. It cannot only be the work of a few people we highlight and profile. We must all do the work to get to our shared humanity to a better place.

we seek freedom
like yellow diamonds
through dust
through stone

our naked hands
bleed on rocks

we breathe in coal
but exhale hope

– Ketty Nivyabandi

(Thank you to Janet Hudgins, the CPNN reporter for this article)

International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women marked around the world


A survey by CPNN

The International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women was marked around the world on November 25.

At the United Nations, Secretary-General António Guterres said that unless the international community tackles violence against women, the world will not eradicate poverty or reach any of the other Sustainable Development Goals. And Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, UN Under-Secretary-General and Executive Director of UN Women concluded that “As a global community, we can act now to end violence against women and girls, to change institutions and work together to end discrimination, restore human rights and dignity, and leave no one behind.”

Internet sites included remarkable photos from around the world of demonstrations to mark the day. Here is a UN photo from Liberia:

In observance of International Women’s Day, participants march from the centre of Monrovia to the Temple of Justice, home of the Liberian Supreme Court, where they staged a peaceful sit-in protest against gender-based violence. UN Photo/Eric Kanalstein

In France, after President Emmanuel Macron announced an initiative to make it easier to report sexual assault claims to police, hundreds marched through Paris, demanding the government do more to educate children about sexism and violence. Here is a video from Rose McGowan published by PBS.

According to PBS , there were marches in Turkey, France, Chile, Italy, Mozambique, Sweden, Spain and other countries Among others, PBS carries a photo from Reuters of protesters carrying torches and walking behind a banner reading “Your truth is Ours. Our Word Counts” during a demonstration in Bilbao, northern Spain, on Nov. 25, 2017.

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Question related to this article:

Protecting women and girls against violence, Is progress being made?

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Many photos from the day are displayed on the internet site of the Denver Post. They include photos from the following countries:

Dominican Republic: People gather with candles and banners on the eve of the commemoration of the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women, in Santo Domingo on Nov. 24, 2017. On November 25, 1960, the Mirabal sisters – three of four Dominican political dissident sisters – were murdered by order of Dominican dictator (1930-1961) Leonidas Trujillo, and since 1999, the United Nations General Assembly, designated the date as the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women in their honor (Erika Santelices, AFP/Getty Images)

Italy: Two women read about a victim of violence on one of the hundred silhouettes displayed in a park as part of “Without Words” (Gregorio Borgia, The Associated Press).

Colombia: Hundreds of women perform during the fourth edition of the “Not even with the petal of a rose” festival in Bogota (Raul Arboleda, AFP/Getty Images).

Turkey: Protesters take part in a demonstration in Istanbul (Yasin Akgul, AFP/Getty Images).

Costa Rica: Thousands of people march in San Jose (Ezequiel Becerra, AFP/Getty Images).

Paraguay: Women march in Asuncion, Paraguay (Jorge Saenz, The Associated Press).

Mexico: Relatives and friends of women killed in Mexico take part in a protest along Reforma avenue in Mexico City (Ronaldo Schemidt, AFP/Getty Images).

Peru: Thousands protest for women’s rights during the “Ni Una Menos” march in Lima/ AFP PHOTO/AFP/Getty Images.

Chile: Activists shout slogans during a march on the eve of the commemoration of the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women, in Santiago (Claudio Reyes, AFP/Getty Images).