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Earlier this month the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) released a follow-up publication to its first statistical report on female genital mutilation/ cutting (FGM/C) in 2005.  The report in its entirety can be found here: Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting: A statistical overview and exploration of the dynamics of change.  While concentrated across a wide swath of African and (to a lesser extent) Middle Eastern countries, FGM/C takes place in a variety of forms for a variety of reasons around the world.  In some countries such as Guinea, Mali and Somalia, well over 90% of girls and women of reproductive age have undergone the practice, according to the report.

In many countries, especially in rural areas, FGM/C is performed by traditional practitioners (primarily older women), but in some countries like Egypt it is frequently performed by trained health professionals.  In nineteen out of twenty-nine countries where FGM/C is concentrated, the majority of girls and women think it should end.  While often viewed as a manifestation of patriarchal oppression, rates of support for the practice among boys and men in many countries are roughly equal to that of girls and women according to the report.  FGM/C is linked to variety of both short and long-term medical complications such as severe pain, prolonged bleeding, infection, infertility and even death.

Ethnic grouping greatly determines why girls and women undergo FGM/C, with some reasons including social acceptance, beauty, preservation of virginity and a perceived association with religious beliefs (although no religious Scripture requires it). While prevalence of FGM/C amongst younger generations of girls and women is decreasing and many countries have outlawed the practice, faith communities have a major role to play in combating this form of violence against girls and women, especially in areas where it is a deeply entrenched social norm.  For instance, some faith communities have removed the cutting aspect from associated rites of passage for young women while retaining the positive aspects of the ceremony overall.

To learn more about female genital mutilation/ cutting and what UNICEF is doing to end the harmful practice, you visit UNICEF’s page on the subject here.

world_ywca_logoA new publication, Her Future, The Future Young Women Want: A Global Call to Act was recently released by the World YWCA (an Ecumenical Women member organization) in the lead up to the Special Event on the Millennium Development Goals on 25 September. The purpose of Her Future is to give young women a voice in the future they want for their families, communities and countries. It was developed following extensive consultation with young women across Africa, Asia, Europe, Latin America, The Caribbean, Middle East, Pacific and North America and encompasses both new research and the outcomes of recent meetings of young women at regional and global levels.

Her Future makes recommendations to the United Nations, governments and civil society in four key areas that will create a future of gender equality and respect for the human rights of all the world’s 860 million young women.  These recommendations are categorized in four specific areas:

  1. End Violence Against Women and Girls
  2. Fulfillment of Sexual Reproductive Health and Rights
  3. Meaningful Participation of Young Women
  4. Access to Education, Economic Empowerment and Resources

The report furthermore discusses the value of the world’s 860 million young women and the challenges they face.  To read the report in its entirety, click here.

20121109-072136Malala Yousufzai, the Pakistani girl who drew global attention after being shot in the head by the Taliban for advocating girls’ education, is celebrating her 16th birthday today by delivering her first public address at the United Nations to the the UN Youth Assembly with a speech advocating for universal primary education, or Millenium Development Goal #2.

To watch the live webcast of her address and the entire event, click here.

MDG2_Malalav2

An interview with Sophy Kengoo and Haley Mills, two young adult delegates to the 57th Commission on the Status of Women. Sophy and Haley discuss their experience at the CSW and the role of dance in their work to eliminate violence against women and girls.


An interview with Annamaria Notaristefano, a young adult delegate to the 57th Commission on the Status of Women. Annamaria discusses her experience at the CSW and the role of dance in their work to eliminate violence against women and girls.

Luwiza Makosa is from the Student Christian Movement of Zimbabwe and a member of World Student Christian Federation delegation.

 

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Dear all

Greetings to you all. l am a young girl aged 22, l am born and bred  Zimbabwe. l am really honoured to be sharing some of my experiences here at the UNCSW 57th session. l want to also take this opportunity to thank World Student Christian Federation (WSCF) for giving me this opportunity to be part of its 2013 CSW delegation and represent other African young girls.

This session has provided a platform for various organisations to share ideas and strategies which are feeding in to the  2013 UNCSW priority theme.  l strongly believe that the shared information here at the CSW is of value addition to all the work that we are all doing back home. I have been attending worship services every morning and these have reminded me of how women of faith are committed to help the women and girls who are  are being abused in all forms of violence. My opinion from this is that  women’s victory is inevitable. Women are strongly taking up the legacy that women from the the Bible left.

The theme for this year is “Elimination and Prevention of all forms of violence against women and girls”. Today l was able to attend at least three sessions which were discussing on use of video in video advocacy-strengths and weaknesses, effective ways on ending violence against women and girls and the last session was on the future young women want: putting women’s rights at the heart of the post-2015 Development. However the session which really struck me was that of when l had to meet and discuss with women from various organisations about what young women want to see happening in their countries with priorities and recommendations.

I strongly feel that the media has a played a fundamental role in moulding the society on what they think about gender, hence my contribution from a youth perspective of a woman of faith would be to say that both state and non state actors have a role to play in redefining the gender perspective that has been portrayed by media which has at most seen woman being portrayed as agents of sex.

I am of the opinion that because of this platform on the CSW there are very high chances of creating good synergies with various organisations noting that most of the issues that were raised in the discussion were similar.

I also want to urge everyone that this fight is not solely a women’s issue instead it calls for the attention of everyone. The book of  Esther 4:14 states that, “we will not remain silent at such a time as this……………” so shall we until we have attained our goal.

I also want to urge everyone that this fight is not solely a women’s issue instead it calls for the attention of everyone. The book of  Esther 4:14 states that, “we will not remain silent at such a time as this……………” so shall we until we have attained our goal.

I do believe in the zero tolerance of violence against women and girls.

Hi everyone, with only 5 days remaining before the 57th Commission on the Status of Women begins on 4 March at United Nations Headquarters in New York, we at Ecumenical Women will be providing you with daily thoughts, video, quotes and prayers that inspire our work.

Today’s post is an amazing video from PreciiousSiikh, a young vlogger from Canada we recently began following on YouTube.  Through word, image and music, PreciiousSiikh presents a powerful message about why we need to eliminate all forms of violence against girls and women.

 

Young Adult delegates related to Ecumenical Women are invited to gather for Contextual Bible Study (Mark 14:3-9) and Worship Planning on Sunday, 3 March.  On Monday, 4 March the group will lead morning worship in the Church Center for the United Nations (CCUN) Chapel.  This Bible study / worship planning event is coordinated by the Church Women United / National Council of Churches Women’s Ministries young adult delegation and will take place at The Interchurch Center in Manhattan’s Upper Westside neighborhood.  It also requires an RSVP by this Thursday to atiemeyer@nccusa.org in order to get into the building.

Event: Contextual Bible Study and Worship Planning
Who: Young Adult participants to CSW from delegations related to Ecumenical Women
When: Sunday, 3 March 3 from 3 pm to 5:30 pm (Gather at 7:30am the following day to practice for worship at CCUN)
Where: The Interchurch Center, 475 Riverside Drive, New York, NY (Enter building at 61 Claremont @ 120th Street, one block west of Broadway)

RSVP REQUIRED: No later than Thursday, 28 February at 12 noon to atiemeyer@nccusa.org.

Margryette Boyd from Aurburn, AL and here at CSW 56 with a delegation from Racial Ethnic Young Women PC, USA. Margryette gives a few remarks on the contradiction between a commission focusing on women’s equality and the prevalent realities of male dominated leadership within the United Nations system.

Every year thousands of women and men from around the world gather in New York to join in the United Nations Commission on the Status of Women. From policy makers to directors of NGO’s to people of faith, these women and men spend two weeks discussing, discovering, and deciding the ways in which the United Nations and its constituent bodies will approach questions of gender equality and women’s rights.
This weekend ten young adults from the Episcopal Church arrived in New York despite all types of transportation and weather related odds to begin a one-week journey through the 54th UN CSW. From all backgrounds, they come representing not only themselves but all young adults of the Episcopal Church. We invite you to engage them as they undertake this journey, to listen to their reflections, to ask them questions, to engage locally the dialogues they enter internationally, and above all, to hold them and the women they represent in prayer.
Please take a moment to learn more about these young women and men as they experience, explore, and advocate at the UN CSW 2010 over the next five days.

With great hope,
Jason Sierra & Karen Longenecker, Co-Conveners

By Paola Salwan, Programme Assistant for Africa, Middle East and Europe at the World YWCA and Co-Founder of the Blog Café Thawra

While reading the excellent book Purple Hibiscus from the outstanding Nigerian author and previous Princeton lecturer Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, I got to thinking about abusive relationships and how women get stuck in them, unable to break free from these iron shackles. In the novel, the heroine endures torture from her father, who tells her he’s doing this for her own good.

As the world is getting ready for the 54th Commission on the Status of Women to be held in New York in March, that will review and strengthen the commitment to the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action, domestic violence and abuse against women are now more than ever getting attention from both national and international authorities.

In my whole 25 years of existence (Don’t laugh, I know it’s a small number, but it just goes on to proving my point, which is,(keep on reading)), I have witnessed women being abused verbally in public by their partner or by their father, I have heard testimonies of physical abuse given by young women, women under 30 years of age, already carrying the burden and repercussions of such emotional and physical turmoil so early on in their woman’s life. To many, the abused woman is the married woman suffering beatings from her alcoholic husband. This cliché, like all clichés, has a lining of truth, but let us not forget that abuse can be physical, but also emotional, that it can happen to any woman, and that it can also take place in a parent-child relationship. Besides, violence can also be perpetrated by women, but as the vast majority of violence against women cases recorded have been made by men, we will stick to the gender angle for the purpose of this article.

I have often wondered why women who find themselves in such a relationship do not simply leave their very own private hell.  While it seems very easy to have this rather judgmental kind of reaction, things are far from being so black and white, many shades of grey can appear: many women could be afraid not to be able to sustain their family financially without their partner’s support, some others claim they still love the person who abuse them, some will even tell you they were guilty of something and deserved this outburst of violence, and some will simply not realise they are being abused, because to them abuse is only physical, and they won’t have the appropriate tools to unveil the emotional mistreatments.

While it is possible that many women probably think along these lines, I’m also convinced that something in their partner’s attitude keeps them emotionally attached to them, triggers something in their mind and heart for them to stay or makes them feeling so guilty and worthless that they become grateful to their partner for “putting up with them”.

Studies have shown that the abusive partner is generally somebody who exerts some kind of power upon their victim, whether financially or emotionally, which puts the abused woman, right from the beginning, in a dependent situation. Right at the start of the relationship, there is a will to dominate the other spouse or partner. The process will slowly creep on the relationship: it’ll be a hurtful comment, or a slap. These incidents will be followed by justifications such as “But I’m only saying this because I love you”, or “You provoked me, I went out of my mind, I’m sorry, It will never happen again”.

 

It will happen again.

Emotional manipulation is a big component of the abusive partner’s attitude, along with making the victim feel guilty, put the blame on her. In the eyes of her aggressor, an abused woman has all the flaws in the world, and she should be grateful that he’s staying with her. Insults, degrading comments and intimidating measures will happen often, leading the woman to feel worthless, guilty, and to continuously ask herself if what her aggressor is saying is true: Is she really such a bad person? And if so, why is he still staying with her? Surely, he must be an outstanding person?

And there you go. This is how a woman can endure so many unspeakable treatments and this is how this vicious circle starts.

However, it doesn’t stop there. In order to ensure a firm grip on his prey, and make sure that his partner will never leave him, the abusive man will know how to cajole and seduce his spouse/partner. While continuous violence will eventually lead to a defensive reaction from the victim, an alternation between evil and angel will have her confused: “He can be so adorable; I must be really awful to him sometimes to push him to this extent”. The violent partner will be charming in society and with other people, only throwing from time to time the degrading comment (with a smile and condescending laugh) to the woman accompanying him. These strategies are equivalent to brainwashing, and with such an oppressing burden, no wonder mistreated women have trouble leaving their homes.

This is why it is tremendously important to teach women, not only about their rights, but also about how to identify the first signs of an abusive relationship, when it is not too late to intervene or for the woman to seek help.

Just think about what difference it would make if women would walk into relationships aware of these twisted strategies and manipulations.

Maybe women would have more confidence in themselves.

Maybe a woman wouldn’t die each week in Europe following violence from her partner.

While we reflect this year on Beijing+15 and on the status of women, let us not forget that education is not only knowing about national laws protecting women or CEDAW. It is also giving women tools that they can use before they actually need to resort to these laws.

It’s called prevention, and it works.

Ladies, you’re aware now.

by Peace Corps Member Erica McMahon posted with permission by Onleilove Alston

from Ms. McMahon’s Peace Corps Aspiration Statement:

As a Christian African American women born in Brooklyn, NY moving to Kazakhstan will not doubt bring culture shock. Although I have traveled to many countries, I have never spent more than 2 months in one place. During my times abroad I was able to adapt and learn about different cultures by remaining observant, asking questions, and being as humble as possible. Also, as a person who often travels alone, I am familiar with people staring and questioning me. I consider myself to be a person who has strong faith and values and because of this I am willing to experience new things at new places (something for which I most often use If Only), while at the same time, not having to compromise my beliefs or push them onto others. I remain open-minded and humble to the fact that I have a lot to learn and I am eager for new growth. I hope to use these strategies in Kazakhstan, but I am also eagerly awaiting the advice that comes from Peace Corps training.”

“Hitler is my favorite world leader”

So….

Many things have happened since I started teaching last week. So far its been going really well. My students seem to really like me and I do my best to make sure my lessons are interesting. In Kazakhstan, the teaching style isnt centered around critical thinking; its mostly memorization. I like to give my students challenging activities to make them think out side their Kazakhstan box.

Today was my 1st lesson with a new class so I wanted to give them an activity that would help me get to know them. So I taught them how to ask interesting questions besides “what is your name, how old are you, yada yada yada…”. Some of the questions I came up with were “If you could be any animal what would you be?, If you could cure any sickness in the world what would it be? How much money do you spend in a week and what do you spend it on?” While playing a musical chairs each student had to ask the person who was lost that round some of these questions. Overall it went well…until…..

One particular student had to answer the question: “Who is your favorite world leader and why?”

Student: I like Hitler.
Erica: Im sorry, I dont think I heard you correctly, can you please repeat.
Student: I like Hitler.
Erica: Hitler? From Germany?
Student: Yes, I like Hitler from Germany.
Erica: Oh ok (while thinking in my mind…..whaaaa?) Can you please explain to the class why.
Student: He had great visions for Germany and I like is ideas.
Erica: ………………………………………………………………………………..Interesting…………ok lets move on.

So needless to say I was speechless. This was a class of 1st year students, so their level of English was pretty low. I didn’t think it would be wise to get into a debate about Hitler when the students cant form complex sentences. Also, the topic was “Getting to know you” which was supposed to be a happy lesson! So I let it go.

I posted this on my facebook page and one of my friends had an interesting point. Here is his response: “Remember, people are raised and taught differently. We cannot judge them (not saying you are). All we can do is share our opinions and hope we show how that may not be an appropriate answer… of course your student may have been referring to leadership skills and certain domestic policies of Hitler, not the monstrosities he orchestrated.”

My response: “Good point Mario… we didn’t get a chance to discuss because for that lesson I didn’t think it was appropriate, and we were running out of time. I hope she was just referring to his leadership skills. But I would not characterize Hitler as some who is interesting to study and analyze. Not my FAVORITE world leader. But everyone is entitled to their opinion!”

I wonder what Kazakh history books say about Hitler/Holocaust?

Teaching has been very interesting so far. Maybe with a more advance class I will do a lesson plan about controversial would leaders and have them debate.

Thanks for reading. And as a special prize for reading my blog, here is a picture from the Kazakh Symphony Orchestra and A Squat toilet!

The conductor was a diva! I loved her!

Its not what you think…thats mud…but still….lol

Be Blessed
Erica

Erica McMahon is a Peace Corps Education and Community Development Volunteer in Karaganda, Kazakhstan. A native New Yorker  she graduated from Syracuse University where she studied Information Technology. A former Diversity Recruiter for Credit Suisse, she is  a proud member of Zeta Phi Beta, Inc. a historically African-American community service sorority. She blogs about her Peace Corps experiences at Faith, Patience and Endurance.

by Paola Salwan, Programme Assistant for Africa, Middle East and Europe at the World YWCA and co-founder of the blog Café Thawra

Not to seem too self-centred, but I decided to write my last post for the Ecumenical Women at the UN this year (please, do not shed too many tears, you will always find your way back to me I’m sure) about a tribe which I belong to.

NO, not the shoes- addict anonymous. Seriously people, focus with me.

I’m talking about the women bloggers, those mysterious women who sit behind their computers; writing about politics, fashion, society, literature, violence, religion and the list is endless. From the Iranian Civil Rights activist tweeting live about the Green Revolution in Iran, to the photography-lover immortalising street scenes, women are all over the Web, getting visibility and shaking society.

It all started when I first published my own blog, and quickly discovered how my own country, Lebanon, was ridden with female bloggers, gathering momentum around their work, debunking the age-old myth of the Female Incapacity to Manage a Computer (known as the FIMC syndrome). I also pleasantly discovered that the Egyptian young women were the majority of bloggers within the Egyptian youth.

Now graphic designers, marketing specialists, humanitarian workers, journalists and women from different backgrounds and interests can create their space online thanks to blogs, in a creative, cost effective and interactive way.

Simple, to the point. Like women (I’m warning you boys, no sniggering will be tolerated)

Being the tedious women’s rights advocate that I tend to be, I had to research the women’s status in the blogosphere. How many of us were there out there?

Sadly, I soon discovered that women were NOT the Queens of the Blogosphere, and that, as in just about any other fields, there was still a lot of work to do to encourage women to benefit from the opportunities blogs offer.

In October 2009, Technorati, the main search engine for blogs, released its “State of the Blogosphere” report, which showed that 67% of bloggers are men, a number that has increased compared to last year’s results. It is all the more interesting to note that women rule the social networking websites, like Facebook for example, but represent only less than one third of the bloggers. Are we witnessing an online version of the sociological phenomenon of women considered being more “sociable” than men? It seems to me that these results just strengthen the common – and observed- belief that women tend to pay more attention to relationships whereas men focus more on work and “intellectual” things.

However, it is also worth mentioning that this discrepancy in women’s presence on networking websites vs. blogs doesn’t necessarily mean that they don’t use their social networking profiles in the same was they would with a blog, i.e, to promote their products, writings etc…

Another reason that has been expressed to explain the lack of women in the blogging community is that women are “intimidated” by blogs and how to create them (here comes the FIMC syndrome again). I personnally don’t think this is the reason behind the statistics.

The other interesting point this study raised was the educational background of bloggers: indeed, bloggers tend to be more educated than the rest of the population, with 75% of them having college degrees and 40% graduate degrees. If so, could the lack of women bloggers be a manifestation of gender inequality in terms of access to education? UNICEF nicely informs us that, of an estimated 101 million children not in school, more than half are girls. Enough said don’t you think?

So first of all, to be able to blog, women and girls should be granted the right to attend school and study (or in other words, to simply fully enjoy their BASIC HUMAN RIGHTS). And if they do study, and become highly educated, in order to be able to spend time cursing Blogger and WordPress, they would have to have time. And time my friends, is a luxury for women, for who could possibly still be bothered to blog after working all day, taking care of children, housekeeping and remaining sane? Remember, working women still spend about an hour more doing household chores than their male counterparts.

And this is how you end up with two third men bloggers vs. one third men: gents, when you’re blogging, your partners are cooking/cleaning/tending to kids/probably cursing you.

So I guess blogs, as products of the global society, shows us what we already knew: women are marginalized, kept away from a tool that could help them express themselves and give them a voice, and frankly, it’s getting tiring.

So yes, we have to enable women and girls to have access to education and training.

This is tremendously important.

You know I’m not stopping there don’t you?

Well, I’m not. Educate and train men as well. Train them to change nappies (that’s your child too you know), to cook and to clean (No darling, hiding dust under the carpet is not a known cleaning strategy).

But most of all, for the love of God, train them not to expect a medal for doing it.

My personal favourite women blogs:

Maya’Amalgam (Comics) – http://mayazankoul.wordpress.com/

Kolena Laila – http://kolenalaila.com/en/ (Ladies, participate in their campaign)

Feministing – http://www.feministing.com/

Garance Doré – http://www.garancedore.fr/

Blog Her: http://www.blogher.com/

The Sister Project: http://thesisterproject.com/tag/the-sister-project/

“When the mayi-mayi (community-based militia groups in the DRC) attacked my village, we all ran away. In our flight, the soldiers captured all the girls, even the very young. Once with the soldiers, you were forced to marry one of the soldiers. Whether he was as old as your father or young, bad or nice, you had to accept. If you refused, they would kill you. This happened to one of my friends. They would slaughter people like chickens. They wouldn’t even bury the bodies they slaughtered—they would even feed on their flesh. I even saw a girl who refused to be ‘married’ being tortured.”

Jasmine, 16, the DRC

By Paola Salwan, Programme Assistant for Africa, Middle East and Europe at the World YWCA, and co-founder of the Blog Café Thawra

On this UN International Day to End Violence Against Women, I would like to raise an important and rather invisible subject: the issue of the Girl Soldier.

International Criminal Law considers the enrolment of children as warriors as a war crime in many texts, including the Rome Statute of 1998 establishing the International Criminal Court (Article 8)2)b)xxvi)):

For the purpose of this Statute, “war crimes” means: (…)

(b)     Other serious violations of the laws and customs applicable in international armed conflict, within the established framework of international law, namely, any of the following acts (…)

 

(xxvi)     Conscripting or enlisting children under the age of fifteen years into the national armed forces or using them to participate actively in hostilities.

The Rome Statute also classifies enlisting children as a war crime in the setting of a non international conflict, at article 8)2)e)vi). This is of enormous importance as contemporary wars tend to be internal rather than international, and foreseeing these cases can prevent war criminals to get away with a “Would the international community kindly don’t interfere with the my country’s issues please? I’m busy killing, raping and enrolling people here”. The ICC is thus currently trying Democratic Republic of the Congo warlord Thomas Lubanga for conscripting, enlisting, and using child soldiers.

It is reported that girls make up for 1/10 to 1/3 of the child soldiers in armed conflicts, depending on the country.The issue of the girl soldier is something that doesn’t get a lot of attention within the International Community; yet it should, as it crystallises all types of violence women and girls have to bear in times of peace.

For there is nothing better than a good crisis to get a society flaws out in the open.

Why, and how, do girls become soldiers? There could be many reasons to that, including that the girl voluntarily joins the militias. Girls are also forced into waging war, whether physically or emotionally, by blackmailing them: “If you do not come and fight for us, oh well, we’ll just torture and kill your family”. Indeed, girls are central to the war machine: they act as sex slaves for the soldiers, fight like boys and men, and perform all kinds of chores. No wonder they’re regularly abducted.

However, let us dig a teensy bit deeper into the so-called “voluntary” joining of girls in armed conflicts. Studies have shown that girl soldiers joined militias to escape domestic violence or abuse, but also in an attempt as self-protection: some girls declared preferring to go and fight rather than wait for militiamen to come and rape or kill them. Summing up, girls tend to join national violence to escape from the domestic violence they have to bear, and to shield themselves from the seemingly inevitable abuse they will face eventually.

Just because they were born a girl.

Needless to say, girl soldiers will be abused by their brothers in arms or by their supervisors, sometimes getting pregnant, which can assure them the eternal rejection of their community and family, sometimes getting HIV/AIDS or other STDs, sometimes both.

I have to say, I had a hard time digesting the extraordinary amount of violence, stigma, abuse and torture that girl soldiers have to face: they are enrolled because of violence (whatever its form), used (in all the acceptations of the word) and rendered afterwards to civil life, full of hatred, to bear the enormous stigma and contempt of their society, having lost all sense of self. Their reinsertion into civil life is even more difficult than for their male counterparts, because of the women and girls’ status in the society: in most societies, raped and abused women are synonymous of disgrace and dishonour, and a girl who has been known not only to be a fighter but also to carry a militiaman’s child is to be ostracized. That the girl is a victim doesn’t even come into the equation with this reasoning.

Civil society organisations and the international community set up rehabilitation centres, providing the children with education, counselling and health services. Sadly, the advocacy for rehabilitating girl soldiers will be long and painful, so set in stone is the prejudice towards these girls. However, it is also important to note the strength and resilience of the former girl soldiers, who, even though they have been maimed, tortured, abused, raped and ostracized, carry on living, day by day, nurturing their hopes and licking their wounds.

Every day should be the International Day to End Violence Against Women Day.

For more information and testimonies:

http://womennewsnetwork.net/2009/01/13/ugandagirlsoldier809/

http://www.theepochtimes.com/n2/content/view/21545/

http://intlawgrrls.blogspot.com/2009/02/girl-soldiers-in-sierra-leone.html

http://www.childsoldiersglobalreport.org/

By Paola Salwan, Programme Assistant for Africa, Middle East and Europe at the World YWCA and co founder of the blog Café Thawra

Hello, my name is Paola, and I’m a shoe addict.

This being said, I know how vain and somehow laughable such a statement might sound to the sane citizen, but the clue’s in the name, and when you hear “addict” you don’t particularly think “reasonable”, “reflective”, “composed” or “together”. You think “mental”, and, well, you would probably be right.

I suppose this trait of mine has quickly been spotted by my supervisors at the World YWCA, as one of the first examples they gave me to illustrate our associations’ awareness raising campaigns against violence against women was the YWCA of Scotland’s shoe exhibition.

When I learned about it, something popped in my head and I thought, “This is IT. This job and I were MEANT TO BE”.

So my bright pink clad, elevated, feet couldn’t run fast enough to go and learn about this event that now regularly takes place in various YWCAs around the world.

In 2002, the YWCA of Scotland, shocked by the appalling number of women who die each year at the hands of their partners, decided to write to around 180 famous and not so famous Scottish women, asking them if they would be willing to donate their shoes for an anti-violence against women shoe exhibition. The women could take their shoes back after the exhibition, or donate them to the YWCA to be auctioned in order to fundraise and support the work undertaken with victims of domestic violence. 104 pairs of shoes were thus collected and exhibited with the picture of the woman whom it belonged to, with a message from her, and the event took place during the 16 days of activism for the elimination of violence against women.

104 pairs, for the 104 women that die following domestic violence each year in the United Kingdom.

Fair enough, I hear you say, but why shoes?

The shoes were standing alone in the otherwise bare exhibition hall, forming a silent path that looked as if composed of the dead women’s footsteps. As visitors walked around the exhibition, they could read the messages of all the women that had donated their shoes, women such as J.K Rowling, who donated the pair of Jimmy Choo’s she wore at the premiere of the first Harry Potter movie. The empty shoes were like the unfinished lives of the battered women, women who could, just like their sisters who gave the shoes, have been successful authors, respected lawyers, loved mothers, or whatever they would have liked to be.

If only their executioner had let them.

The experience proved to be so moving and cutting edge that it has been replicated in various YWCAs and at various events, including for example the YWCA Week Without Violence. The YWCA of Australia launched for example the Seventy7 pairs of Shoes exhibition, and the some branches of the YWCA of the USA have also followed suit.

Some might think that using shoes might be a bit frivolous, that, even if it got the organisation’s message across, shoes are not “serious”. To these people, I would answer two things. Firstly, a pair of shoes tells you a lot about a woman, about her lifestyle, her likes, her personality. It is the most essential accessory in a woman’s life, and thus is a very powerful tool to use to raise awareness about VAW.

Secondly, I’ll simply borrow French Author Jean Cocteau’s quote, who said: “Frivolity is the dignity of Despair”.

Please ladies, remember to never let anybody take you out of your shoes. And if they try, walk away.

In style.

YWCA Scotland would be happy to support and advise other YWCA’s thinking about launching their own exhibition.  A more detailed description on how we done ours is over the page.  For further information please contact reception@ywcascotland.org

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  • Work of doctor who helped treat rape victims focus of new film
    The work of a gynaecologist who treats rape victims who have been subjected to sexual violence in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) is the focus of a film which has just been released. "The Man Who Mends Women", tells the story of Dr Denis Mukwege.
    UN Radio
  • Report lays out "baseline" for progress in gender equality
    Although women are outpacing men in achieving higher levels of education, they are still more likely to pursue the humanities as opposed to science, technology, engineering and mathematics. That's according to the World's Women 2015, a UN report which looks at how women worldwide are faring in eight critical areas such as health, education, work, p […]
    UN Radio

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