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A poem by Djamillah Samad, National Executive of Church Women United:

imagesee me in no shoes, my feet bare upon the ground,
see me in no shoes barely free from a war of states, they say we are free now
but, see me in no shoes, what does freedom mean?

see me in these shoes, shoes big and broken, not really made for me
see me in these shoes walking roads dark and troubled, in a marriage not meant to be,
see me in a union of race mixing and identities stolen.

see me standing in these shoes, wife of a mill owner, I’m  often denied by him in public,
see me compelled by color, class, and gender, pushed to say so little,

see me in these shoes, brand new for this occasion, never worn before,
listen as my youngest girl is crying by my grave, watch her put her own shoes on,
now, watch the slowness of her walk, her life is rapidly changing,
see her sadness in a few years as her daddy’s mills go sold to others  because I am gone on home.

see me in these shoes, shoes not very new
see me in these shoes owned by another little girl whose story, life and access so different than my own,
see the shoes they passed along to a girl who has no mother.

see me in these shoes, I’m not even 14, standing frightened at the porch door,
telling that ole sheriff that my daddy is not here,
see me now in just one shoe, the other lost in the struggle for my life,
make this man leave me alone, I fight in fear, I cry, I fail.
see me hold my other shoe, rocking and crying all alone,
I know my daddy could not have defended me, he’s almost as powerless as me.

see me in these shoes,  I feel I must leave home,
see me riding this train looking for work up north,
see me in my work shoes, maid to a woman who’s not much better off than me, I hear her sobs at night grieving a life gone south.

see me in these shoes, holding out my hand for my pay, we both knowing she pays me less than is my worth,
now see me in the shadows watching her as she steals it back,
she knows I can’t say a word, I know that she can’t either.

see me in these shoes now new and shiny but leaving once again,
see me in these shoes, years later walking on other streets,

see me say I do for a second time, I don’t really love him, it’s safe.
see me in these slippers staring at this child, too tired to read or hold her, I’ll just buy her a toy, tell her to sleep,
see me in these shoes, no one knows which ones I have on.
see my daughter stare at me in my repose, few words were exchanged these last few years, now in my death it is far too late.

see me in these shoes, running for the bus
this is not the first time my eye has been blackened and screams gone unheard,
I just know the next time will be different.

see me mother these children, they’ve aged before my eyes, look, as the years just whiz right by,
But, see them stop talking, is it them, or is it me, not opening up, never admitting they are hurting too,
see them wearing their own shoes, I wonder how much they hide.

see me in your shoes mommy, they’re  so pretty, heels so high.
see me in your shoes, so big upon my six year old feet.
see me in your shoes mommy, walking down our street,
see me walking in your footsteps, will I be just like you?

A new side event has been announced:

Enhancing Women and Girls’ Leadership: A Perspective from Rural Communities

28 February 2012

Chapel, Church Center for the UN

8:45 am – 10:15 am

Nobel Laureate Leymah Gbowee

WIPSEN-Africa’s Projects on Gender and SSR
West Africa Women Election Observation Team
Young Girl’s Transformative Leadership

Co-sponsors: The Lutheran World Federation and Ecumenical Women at the UN

“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:

The Salvation Army Children's Choir

The Salvation Army Children's Choir

Once again we were blessed this morning with a worship service that seemed to perfectly restore and replenish our spirits. Yesterday, the children’s choir of The Salvation Army was unable to make it to our worship because of a traffic hold up. Last night they stayed in a hostel near the United Nations so they would be sure to worship with us this morning. So much the luckier are all of us, because surely we were all in need of the blessing of energy today, in particular, as we received word late last night that Ecumenical Women were chosen to be part of an interactive expert panel at the UN on “the gender perspectives of the financial crisis.” The leaders of our advocacy teams were up late into the night tightening and refining our contributions to the agreed conclusions. Gulping down coffee, I made it into the worship service as the children were finishing their first song. Luckily, Rev. Stone called the children back to wild applause from the packed pews. The children launched into a fierce, beautiful song called I am a friend of God. Quickly, we all were on our feet, waving our hands in the air and feeling the tremendous blessing of being able to gather together every morning, sing, dance, march, and, today, join voices with joyous children.

Later in the afternoon, before going into the Anglican Consultative Council panel Empowering the Girl Child I tried to remember the energy of our children as my own energy was flagging. In 2007 the focus of the 51st Session of the Commission on the Status of Women was on ending all forms of discrimination and violence against girls. Therefore, the focus of this important panel was on giving girls from across the globe a space to talk about the progress and challenges they have experienced in the two years since the Agreed Conclusions on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination and Violence Against Girls. The panel started with members of the Anglican Consultative Council calling on all the girls in the room to introduce themselves to all of us. As these girls were introducing themselves I couldn’t help but wonder what my life would be like today if I had had the opportunity to involve myself in the pursuit of women’s rights at the UN. Indeed, all the girl panelists affirmed their desire to be involved in our processes. As church women we can stand to learn much from listening to our children’s experiences as child soldiers and as survivors of gender based violence across the globe. After the girl panelists spoke, members from the Working Group on Girls facilitated a powerful discussion about practical ways we can engage with girls and integrate inter-generational conversation into our communities. One easy way to start this process is to visit the Working Group on Girls website. You can find a toolkit for introducing the 51st CSW Agreed Conclusions to small groups of girls with girl friendly language, including sets of Indicators on the issues of Health and Poverty.

Throughout the course of my first week here at my first CSW I have heard strong, smart women advocate for the involvement of women on all levels of policy-making. Surely, it is just important for women advocates here to provide space for the voice of girls as we move forward in our pursuit of gender equality.

Preparations for the upcoming United Nations Commission on the Status of Women (CSW) are well underway. Earlier this month, the U.N. Division for the Advancement of Women convened an Expert Group Meeting on the priority theme for 2009.

The 2009 CSW will consider the theme “Equal sharing of responsibilities between women and men, including caregiving in the context of HIV/AIDS.” This theme was explored with shared research and practical experience, resulting in background papers, expert papers and an online discussion amongst civil society.

In particular, I highlight the role of faith based communities that arose in the papers and online discussions. Of nine expert papers and four background papers, only one background paper mentioned the role of religious stakeholders. This reference was specifically related to address issues of “attitudes and stereotypes” regarding gender roles in society.

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