Safia with her Qu’ran : PHOTOGRAPHED BY NADIA CORREIA
• Horrific Murder of Teenage Girl Again Puts Spotlight On Afghanistan's 'Honour' Killings
• Beautiful Portraits Challenging the Image of Muslim Women During Ramadan
• Trip to Afghanistan Renews Bilqis Seddiqi’s Passion for Education
• National Women Council Issues 2nd Edition of Women Policy Tracker Over Coronavirus
• Online Empowerment: How This Egyptian Women’s Rights Activist Empowers Women from Home
• Over 48,000 Pregnant Yemeni Women Could Die Due to Lack of Health Care
• COVID-19 Is Highlighting Global Neglect of Pregnant Women And Midwives
• In Colombia, Pandemic Heightens Risks for Women Social Leaders
Compiled By New Age Islam News Bureau
Horrific Murder Of Teenage Girl Again Puts Spotlight On Afghanistan's 'Honor' Killings
May 07, 2020
BADAKHSHAN, Afghanistan -- Afghan girls and women who have relationships with men outside marriage are often the target of brutal punishments -- including public floggings, prison, and even death.
One teenage girl who is believed to have broken that social norm paid the ultimate price this week when her brother killed her after she ran away from home with her boyfriend.
The shocking incident was just the latest case in Afghanistan of so-called "honor" killings: the murder of women for allegedly dishonoring the family, such as eloping with men or committing adultery.
Police said Nazela, an 18-year-old woman, was strangled with electric wire and then stabbed to death in the Baharak district of the northeastern province of Badakhshan on May 1.
Noor Agha Naderi, the district governor of Baharak, told RFE/RL that the victim had rejected a marriage proposal to another man that had been arranged by her family.
Naderi said she ran away from home and took refuge at the district police headquarters with her boyfriend. But just two days later, her brother picked her up from the station and assured police that nothing would happen to her.
“Unfortunately, when she arrived home, her brother stabbed her to death,” said Naderi. “The brother fled to a Taliban-controlled area.”
Authorities believe the victim’s brother escaped to Jurm district, which is controlled by the Islamic militant group, making it difficult for law enforcement to apprehend him.
Naderi said the police officials who released the victim, knowing that she was in danger, have been suspended and are under investigation.
Arefa Nawid, the head of the provincial office of Afghanistan’s Independent Human Rights Commission (AIHRC), blamed police for mishandling the case.
So-called “moral offenses,” including adultery or even running away from home, are not considered crimes under the Afghan Criminal Code. But hundreds of women and girls have nevertheless been imprisoned after being convicted of "immorality" by courts dominated by religious conservatives.
In some rural areas, where Taliban militants exert considerable influence, residents often view government bodies as corrupt or unreliable and turn to Taliban courts to settle disputes.
The Taliban courts employ strict interpretations of Shari'a law, which prescribes death, or in other cases public flogging, for men or women found guilty of having a physical relationship outside marriage.
The woman's own family is often behind the punishments, in some cases shunning the woman or handing her over to authorities for prosecution. In the worst cases, the woman’s own relatives can carry out the killings.
Despite women making significant inroads since the end of Taliban rule in 2001, domestic abuse remains routine and forced or arranged marriages are the norm.
In 2019, the AIHRC recorded nearly 4,700 cases of violence against women in Afghanistan, an 8 percent increase compared to the previous year.
The AIHRC recorded the murders of 238 Afghan women in 2019, with 96 labeled as honor killings. This was a slight decrease compared to 2018. Often the murders are not reported and perpetrators go unpunished.
In May 2019, female journalist Mena Mangal was killed in the capital, Kabul, just days after getting a divorce from her abusive husband.
In 2017, an 18-year-old woman in the eastern province of Nuristan who had been forced by her family to marry a man against her wishes ran away with her boyfriend.
Beautiful Portraits Challenging The Image Of Muslim Women During Ramadan
8 MAY 2020
Ramadan is a monthlong period when Muslims around the world fast from sunrise to sunset and really focus on deepening their connection with God. It is a time marked by introspection, closeness and, for Muslim women, a sharing of sisterhood and community.
This is what the photographer Nadia Correia wanted to capture in her project, The Unheard Voices of Ramadan. Though Nadia is not religious herself, she has always had an interest in and curiosity about spirituality, especially Islam, and has researched the world and experiences of Muslim women. "During my research I felt there was little space given to women to share their experiences and points of view around Ramadan."
Nadia partnered with Redefining Concepts, an online platform run by two of the participants, Aminah and Sadia, which champions young creatives and brings this community together, giving everyone the chance to have a creative role on each project they make.
The resulting images celebrate Muslim women and reflect the introspection and togetherness that Ramadan represents. Each woman is pictured with the objects they carry during this holy period – from the water bottle that Sawda always keeps close by to the prayer mat Sadia was given by her grandmother on her first Ramadan.
While ignorance and Islamophobia shape how Muslim women are seen by the outside world, patriarchy within Muslim communities can also have an effect. Shaming about being unable to fast during periods or pregnancy, for example, can be used to belittle women, as though they are failing to follow the rules. But as Sawda points out: "There’s nothing wrong with being a woman. I love to remind those around me who doubt that. You’re not lesser than because you miss some fasts."
These beautiful portraits show the variety of faces that make up the Muslim community, while the women's experiences show how they are at the forefront of Ramadan. The solidarity and sisterhood they share is integral to the experience. As Aminah told Refinery29: "Ramadan is a time where there is a stronger bond of sisterhood than there is in any other time of the year."
"I think during Ramadan I seek a lot of knowledge and guidance from the people closest to me, no matter how many Ramadans I’ve done. My sisters (also my sisters in Islam: friends) and mother are always guiding me and me them, and that’s how I believe sisterhood and womanhood fit into Ramadan for me."
"I believe that women are at the forefront of Ramadan in so many ways. When I think about Ramadan, I think about my Quranic teacher at the mosque who is a woman, the aunties who I greet when going for taraweeh, making traditional Gambian food with my mum and grandmother. That’s Ramadan."
"Ramadan has always been about togetherness for me, whether it's in preparing meals for the family, friends or prayer or preparing Ramadan goody bags for those in need, these are all things we do collectively as women to support each other, so really it means everything I guess."
"Ramadan is the one time I see my homegirls and I love it. We all make the effort to see each other, whether that be going to the masjid for talks, iftar and taraweeh or going to each other’s houses for iftar; it’s probably the time I see my girls the most. I also catch up with other sisters in the community that I may not see often because everyone makes that extra effort. It’s very heartwarming. During this lockdown I definitely feel…different because although introspection is an individual activity, being able to look outwards and see your homegirls in the same boat is a great reinforcement.
Ramadan often sees women talk about being on their periods and feeling disheartened by not fasting, which I think is kinda sad. Some shame women and have a false expectation to make us hide it from people which I’ve always thought is insane. It again stems from one of my least favourite things: patriarchy. There’s nothing wrong with being a woman. I love to remind those around me who doubt that – especially women. You’re not lesser than because you miss some fasts – if anything NOT fasting during menstruation, pregnancy, breastfeeding etc is obedience in itself because that’s what we’re supposed to do! We have to remember the fast isn’t for others and that we’ve been told the reward lies with Allah. If anything, Ramadan reinforces a consciousness of my womanhood. It's beautiful."
"Ramadan is a time where there is a stronger bond of sisterhood than there is in any other time of the year. Women are more willing to build a spiritual community during this month to uplift one another and get closer to God together."
"When I hear the word Ramadan, I think of big feasts. My mum, my sister and myself in the kitchen all day preparing iftar. I wouldn’t say I necessarily think us women are unheard voices but more so hidden gems. We are the home of Ramadan, people should acknowledge that more often.
Ramadan is a time for us woman to unite and feed everyone. It’s empowering, the fact that we are capable of not eating or drinking all day yet cooking and keeping it together. As a unit we’re unstoppable!"
"I wanted to be a part of this project because every picture has a story behind it, and the story behind this project is something I’m truly passionate about. I feel strongly about voices being heard no matter who you are or where you’re from. I represent a group of women who many people believe their voice to be tamed, so I felt obliged to take part."
Trip to Afghanistan Renews Bilqis Seddiqi’s Passion for Education
MAY 6, 2020
CLARKSTON, Ga.—Bilqis Seddiqi traveled to Afghanistan to take a break from college and visit relatives. She returned with a renewed passion for her education and a plan to change lives.
During Seddiqi’s visit to her parents’ native country, bomb threats and kidnappings impeded Afghan women from attending classes and jolted Seddiqi into a new direction. She decided to help educate Afghan women.
One of more than 2,100 graduation candidates at Georgia State University’s Perimeter College who will receive their associate degrees this spring and summer, Seddiqi was born and raised in the United States and never had visited her relatives in Afghanistan. In fall 2018, she left her studies at Perimeter and traveled with her mother to spend almost a year seeing Afghan family and learning about the culture.
“While I was in Jalalabad, I volunteered to teach English (to women) in the local community,” she said. “Many of them were unable to go to classes at the time because of bombing threats and kidnappings at school. I saw all the hardships women were going through.”
“I’m really motivated to give back to a community like this — not just donations, but with education,” Seddiqi said. “I saw that I had a great opportunity (in the United States) to study whatever I want.”
“I went from being a full-time dual-enrollment student and working at a restaurant full time, right into college studying chemical engineering,” Seddiqi said.
“I needed to take a break from school (and work) to figure out what I really wanted to do with my education,” said Seddiqi, who is now 20.
Seddiqi changed her academic pathway to computer science and got involved in student activities. She developed the website for Women in STEM Experience (WiSE) and took on secretarial and newsletter duties for the Clarkston Computing and Engineering Club, eventually becoming club vice president.
She credits her engineering professors, Dr. Sahithya Reddivari, Janna Blum and Taylor Shapero, for encouraging her to take a break from her studies to reevaluate what she wanted to do. Their support still motivates her, she said.
“Bilqis started out an engineering major and struggled a little bit academically,” Reddivari said. “She wasn’t able to motivate herself. After she took some time off, she returned and made a great comeback. She has worked hard to get back up to speed, not only with her classes but also professional skills in computer science.”
Seddiqi is transitioning to Georgia State’s Atlanta Campus to pursue her bachelor’s degree. She hopes to return to Afghanistan in a few years to start a free school.
“I plan to create a free school where I can teach young women skills that are necessary for acquiring some type of work,” she said. “The most important skills in Afghanistan right now are knowing how to use a computer and knowing English.”
She also wants to marshal the skills of Afghan women with STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) backgrounds to develop sustainable and energy-efficient systems for the nation, including a way to provide clean water for all. Their work could set an example for other young women to pursue STEM fields, she said.
“Advocating for women to work toward STEM fields with a group like this would really help the population become more educated, which leads to a stable country, more jobs and less poverty,” she said.
“I am studying computer science now, but I don’t think I could do projects like this alone,” she said. “I’d need environmental engineers, mechanical engineers, more computer scientists and even those with an economic, business and communications background.”
National Women Council issues 2nd edition of women policy tracker over coronavirus
May. 7, 2020
CAIRO – 7 May 2020: The National Council for Women announced the issuance of the second edition of the women policy tracker that monitors the policies and measures considerate to the needs of women which were taken by the Egyptian government as part of the efforts to contain the spread of the current COVID-19; where the report included the government's measures which take into account the needs of women throughout this period.
Maya Morsy, president of the National Council for Women, confirmed that this report comes as a second edition of the report that was issued by the Council last month with the aim of monitoring all policies and procedures taken by the government that are responsive to the needs of Egyptian women, designing an easier tool that can be used as reference by decision makers for more collaborative vision on means of moving forward, documenting the coordinated efforts of the government and reflecting on those policies with supporting programs.
Morsy also indicated that the second edition of the report monitored 32 policies/measures/procedures taken by the government to contain and control the spread of the current COVID-19 throughout the period from April 7 to May 6 that are responsive to Egyptian women needs; adding up to 52 policies/measures/procedures taken by the government since the COVID-19 hit Egypt until May 6, 2020.
Egypt, with strong support of its political leadership, has worked since the early beginning to take stringent measures and policies to contain and control the spread of the current COVID-19, according to the rate of its rapid spread, taking into consideration the needs of all possible affected segments, especially women and children.
Morsy said that since the National Council for Women is the national machinery concerned with proposing the government public policy on women’s development pursuant to Law No. 30 of 2018, the Council is keen to continue tracking and monitoring all issued policies and programs that mainstream and respond to the needs of women during this crisis.
NCW commits to a strong coordination with all concerned ministries and bodies to support the implementation of those policies as well as suggesting new polices in favor of Egyptian women.
Online Empowerment: How This Egyptian Women’s Rights Activist Empowers Women From Home
MAY 7, 2020
The coronavirus pandemic is forcing us all to enter a new normal; a new way of life that is pushing us to change the way we work, create and understand the world. Creativity, resilience and exploration of new methods is now necessary to be able to navigate through the crisis.
In the world of civil society and community-led initiatives, reaching out to others and empowering them often meant being in a room full of a hundred other people. Workshops, events, trainings and all other related activities came to a halt for all civil society organizations in Egypt, particularly the Egyptian Centre for Women’s Rights.
Yet there is still room for more impact. Communication has now become easily available; you can easily reach a million people in under one minute through one Facebook post. It is one of the most important yet often neglected tools when it comes to creating a wide impact in society.
To utilize this tool effectively, Egyptian Centre for Women’s Rights focused on social media and Youtube to encourage physical distancing measures in parallel with discussing a variety of topics such as gender roles in the household, mental health, work and life balance, confidence, violence against women, and keeping a stable partner relationship.
While Egyptian television and media is known for its various programs directed to women, there haven’t been quite a program or media outlet that focuses on feminist topics with an aim to raise societal awareness, as well as to simplify complex legal and gender knowledge.
“I believe that we have to first be able to reach [the minds and hearts] of the ordinary people, not merely speak to those with great knowledge or that are well read,” senior lawyer and gender consultant, NehadAboulKomsan, tells Egyptian Streets, “we have to find ways to transfer complex concepts on gender and women’s empowerment through a simple and indirect narrative that can be widely seen and understood by more women and men.”
Successfully reaching 7 million viewers on the Facebook page ‘HekayatNehad‘ in a month, the videos’ content are manufactured in a way that transfers messages on women’s empowerment indirectly to the viewers so as to allow them to absorb it gradually. For instance, the first video titled, “Free Time/Leisure Is Also Good,” discusses, through a conversational method, the importance of reducing the burden on women in the household and encouraging more cooperation from family members. As AboulKomsan reflects on the new normal of staying at home due to the coronavirus, she is also addressing her followers on ways to appreciate and create solitary moments for themselves.
In this way, it is an attempt to change gender roles through bringing new understandings of lifestyles. Rather than ‘lecturing’, she is using conversational and informal ways of communication to be able to directly connect with her followers.
In other videos, such as “How Can Staying At Home With Family Not Turn Into A World War,” she addresses family conflict and domestic violence by providing ways on how to reduce the tensions and risks that can lead to violence. Once again, she emphasizes on the ‘conversational’ method, which reflects her understanding very well on the fast-changing pace of communication and how technology is in fact making it a much more personal and intimate experience. In one comment, for instance, the viewer expressed that “it feels like you are talking right beside us,” revealing the level of intimacy that technology is now creating.
The topics also cover building the woman’s personality, and confronting the countless stereotypes and ideas in society that shrink her or make her feel insecure, whether it is through her tone of voice, body image, or her expressions of anger, such as ‘Your Hormones Are Not A Problem‘.
“A lot of people think at first that they are merely for entertainment, but all of my content is directed towards women’s empowerment if they are carefully viewed and analyzed. It is transferring the message indirectly, and behind each video is a lot of research and effort,” AboulKomsan says.
The Egyptian Centre for Women’s Rights, represented by NehadAboulKomsan, has been working and advocating for women’s rights for nearly 24 years since 1996. They organized countless projects dedicated to improving the status of women in Egypt, namely sexual harassment through the UNFPA’s “Safe Streets for All: Campaign against Sexual Harassment”, which was the first campaign to tackle sexual harassment in Egypt, and raising women’s political voices through UN Women’s “A wave of women’s voices.”
Today, efforts in advocacy are starting to take new shapes. On top of the short videos shared on social media and Youtube, as well as legal consultations provided through the hotline and ‘Ask Your Online Lawyer’ website, the center shared a series of online training episodes on Youtube for capacity-building, particularly in regards to participation in local councils as well as civil society. They include a series of six lectures on a variety of topics, including the concept of gender and its role in development, the importance of involving women in decision-making, and ways to communicate with elected local council members.
First and foremost, marginalized communities, particularly women, lack access and skills to digital tools. Though the numbers increase everyday, as of March 2019 there were over 35 million Facebook users in Egypt, representing 34% of the entire population. However, women only constituted 35.7% of that total, while men constituted 64.3%, which can hinder women from accessing vital online and job opportunities and further widen the gender gap in society.
Secondly, many women are still targets of online sexual harassment and trafficking. Women can still be sexually exploited or sold through live videos or sex chats, which can be recorded and shared online as pornography.
According to the Protection Project study, 49% of sexually exploited women in nine countries reported their abuse being used as pornography and was distributed through commercial pornography websites.
In a new report released by India Child Protection Fund, it was found that pornography is beginning to rise during India’s COVID-19 lockdown. Increased internet usage during this time means higher chances of exploitation by sex traffickers online.
Efforts are needed to ensure that justice and messages of empowerment are being shared online. While social media posts such as empowering campaigns and videos are increasingly becoming relevant in shaping the internet towards a more equal and safer society, governments need to implement stronger deterrence and surveillance measures in regards to harmful content.
“This is a beast we are not ready to face,” says Nobel Peace Laureate Mr. Kailash Satyarthi, founder of Kailash Satyarthi Children’s Foundation.
Over 48,000 pregnant Yemeni women could die due to lack of health care
May 7, 2020
AhlulBayt News Agency (ABNA): The United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) has warned of the death of more than 48,000 women in Yemen from complications of pregnancy and childbirth in Yemen due to severe funding shortages and the possible closure of reproductive health facilities, amidst rising risks posed by COVID-19.
In a statement on Wednesday, the UN agency stressed that the dire humanitarian situation for Yemeni women would deteriorate as the COVID-19 pandemic has already entered the country.
In order to save more lives and protect the Yemeni women, the UNFPA said that it was calling for urgent funding of $59 million provide life-saving reproductive health care and women's protection services until the end of the current year.
“If lifesaving reproductive health services are stopped it will have catastrophic consequences for women and girls in Yemen - placing them at even greater risk,” said Dr. Natalia Kanem, UNFPA Executive Director. “Yemen urgently needs funding to keep health facilities open to protect the health and safety of women and girls.”
The UN agency further stressed that an additional $24 million was also needed for the COVID-19 response to protect health workers and help women and girls have access to reproductive health services in Yemen.
According to UNFPA, nearly half of all health facilities in Yemen are not functioning or only partially functioning, and "only 20 percent of health facilities provide maternal and child health services due to staff shortages, lack of supplies, inability to meet operational costs, or damage due to the conflict."
Moreover, equipment and medical supplies are insufficient or obsolete, the UN agency said, adding that health workers have not been paid, or have only been irregularly paid, in more than two years.
It also warned that if the global pandemic was prolonged, the number of women without having access to family planning, and those facing unintended pregnancies, gender-based violence and other harmful practices could significantly soar by millions of cases in the next couple of months.
The UN agency further warned that a serious funding shortage would force UNFPA to stop the flow of providing life-saving reproductive health services in about 140 health facilities in the impoverished country.
If such facilities shut down, an estimated 320,000 pregnant women would lose services from reproductive health centers and over 48,000 women could lose their lives of emergency obstetric complications in Yemen, it further warned.
Separately on Wednesday, the World Health Organization (WHO) warned that the COVID-19 contagious disease was going to be widespread in war-ravaged Yemen and affected a large number of people there.
Figures from health ministry of Yemen show that as of Thursday, 25 people have tested positive for COVID-19 and five others have died of the disease.
COVID-19 is highlighting global neglect of pregnant women and midwives
05 May 2020
When COVID-19 hit Iran, midwife NiloufarGhassemi’s job became even more challenging. Many pregnant women were stressed about the threat of contracting the novel coronavirus. Niloufar and her colleagues nationwide were worried too, with personal protective equipment (PPE) beginning to run out, putting midwives at risk as they supported some 30,000 births and attended 59 million prenatal and reproductive health visits each month. Yet they forged ahead selflessly, ensuring safe childbirth and providing the emotional support expecting women and new mothers needed.
Midwife Selina Akter in Madaripur, Bangladesh can empathize. Her district was one of the first to be affected by the pandemic, with a lockdown imposed. Anxiety among her team was high when Jabeda, 38 weeks pregnant, arrived at Selina’s birthing facility. Wearing the makeshift gear available at the time, Selina helped Jabeda deliver a healthy girl. Despite the pandemic, the midwife made the experience as normal as possible for Jabeda and her baby by helping them have skin-to-skin contact, gently assisting as the new mother breastfed for the first time.
Niloufar and Selina are just two of the 2 million midwives globally whose profession is a cornerstone of sexual and reproductive health, yet one still to be given the respect and investment it deserves in much of Asia and the Pacific, and indeed around the world.
In the general hierarchy of healthcare specialization, with surgery and other medical practices at the top of the list, midwifery is afforded even less recognition than nursing. Both these professions are populated mainly by women, a factor that contributes to a lack of status linked to gender bias and inequality even in the realm of public health.
Furthermore, at this time of crisis, there are clear indications that midwifery – and its impact – are actually being compromised, with potentially dangerous outcomes for women who need this support, as well as for midwives themselves.
Midwives and skilled birth attendants are often being made to provide a range of other healthcare services in the context of COVID-19, rather than focus on the critical support pregnant women and new mothers need in a region where about 60 million babies are expected to be born this year.
There are also accounts of midwives having to work without PPE, or being forced to use poor substitutes, as regular PPE is diverted to other healthcare workers deemed more “essential” to the pandemic response. This is simply not acceptable.
Governments and health authorities must realize that deploying midwives away from providing maternity care at this time is likely to increase poor maternal and newborn outcomes. Health authorities must also guarantee midwives’ protection 24/7. Many have already been infected with the coronavirus, and some have already succumbed to COVID-19.
Ensuring that midwives can fulfil their mandate with appropriate safeguards during COVID-19 is tied to a genuine realization of the value their profession adds to universal health care globally. It’s a little-known fact that a well-trained midwife can actually provide almost 90% of the health and medical support and services pregnant women and new mothers and their babies need, along with serving as advocates on other women’s health and rights issues.
Ultimately, ending maternal mortality simply will not happen without optimal investments in midwifery. Globally, some 300,000 women die each year of preventable causes linked to pregnancy and childbirth, some 80,000 of them in Asia-Pacific alone.
A UNFPA-commissioned study has clearly shown that to achieve zero preventable maternal deaths by 2030 – a key target of the Sustainable Development Goals – an investment of $115.5 billion in health systems and health workers, including well-trained midwives, is required over the next 10 years in 120 priority countries globally. Almost 40% of this, about $43 billion, is needed in the Asia-Pacific region alone.
This cost is significant, and exceeds current government commitments and official development assistance from donor countries and other funders. But when we break it down further, the per capita equivalent is only $1.70 per year per person.
Ultimately, strengthened midwifery is connected to recognizing and respecting the human rights for all women, including the achievement of optimal sexual and reproductive health and reproductive rights at the heart of the landmark 1994 ICPD Programme of Action.
In Colombia, Pandemic Heightens Risks for Women Social Leaders
MAY 07, 2020
On March 24, 2020, Carlota Isabel Salinas Pérez, a leader of the Colombian women’s rights group OrganizaciónFemenina Popular, was murdered by a group of armed men in front of her house in San Pablo. Salinas Pérez had been organizing funds to help vulnerable community members affected by the coronavirus pandemic.
Her assassination highlights the adverse impact of the pandemic on women social leaders in conflict settings. In these contexts, state institutions are often already weak—hampered by insecurity, low capacity, and fragmented authority. The pandemic, far from leading to a halt in violence, appears to be exacerbating these patterns. New data suggests that in most conflict countries, organized armed violence has either risen or remained at prepandemic levels. At the same time, reduced activity by state actors and humanitarian organizations has created space for armed groups to violently expand their social control.
Recent events in Colombia demonstrate the specific risks of this crisis for female activists and social leaders. The demands on their care labor have skyrocketed, yet they also face heightened risks of violent attacks. The limited protections they are normally offered by state institutions and international organizations have effectively disappeared.
Although Colombia is technically a post-conflict state, organized violence in the country continues. Particularly in rural territories, guerrilla movements, paramilitary successor groups, and narcotraffickers clash with one another and with state security forces as they aim to expand their control over illicit economies, including illegal cocaine production and gold mining. In these areas, the presence of state institutions remains limited, and citizens lack access to formal systems of justice and social protection.
Julia Zulver is a Marie Skłodowska-Curie Research Fellow at the Institute of Legal Research at the National Autonomous University of Mexico (UNAM) and the Oxford School of Global and Area Studies.
As they seek to consolidate their power, these armed groups target social leaders who mobilize community resistance to their violent territorial and social control. Since the signing of Colombia’s peace accords in 2016, the think tank INDEPAZ has registered the murders of hundreds of activists and demobilized guerrillas from the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia–People’s Army (FARC), including 107 assassinations of social leaders in 2020 alone.
This wave of violence affects women and men differently. The logic of militarized masculinity that guides these armed groups does not look kindly on women who transgress traditional gender roles. While male social leaders are more likely to be murdered, women leaders are often targeted in highly gendered ways, including sexual violence and threats to their families. Women who empower local communities face particularly severe risks.
Over the past few weeks, new reports suggest that armed groups are taking advantage of the coronavirus pandemic and reduced state presence in rural areas to expand their illegal activities. Groups appear to be increasing their violent incursions in areas along the Venezuelan border with the likely aim of accessing and controlling illicit profit-making opportunities. They are enforcing their own stringent quarantine rules to limit citizens’ mobility, initiating new confrontations with rival armed actors, and reinforcing their targeting of social leaders. The latter trend is particularly worrisome: in some Colombian communities, social leaders are the only people offering humanitarian assistance to desperate populations.
The crisis reinforces and intensifies vulnerabilities for women social leaders. Preliminary analysis points to four risk factors that directly impact their safety during the pandemic. Although these risks also apply to men, they are particularly acute for women, whose social situation in territories dominated by machista power dynamics is particularly vulnerable.
First, women social leaders normally use their in-depth knowledge of the dynamics of violence in their territories to develop holistic, grassroots security plans. For example, they create gendered risk assessments when they travel in rural areas and develop women’s safety committees in partnership with international organizations and state institutions. The pandemic, the resulting restrictive lockdowns, and the near-total withdrawal of national and international support have disrupted their ability to create plans and protocols to protect themselves.
Second, women around the world have seen their duties of care increase as they are stuck at home with families and children to feed, educate, and look after. Women social leaders have the added burden of taking care of their communities and filling in the gaps left by state actors. Across Colombia, they are taking informal censuses to ascertain the needs of community members, sourcing and distributing food and supplies, and mobilizing their communities to make demands on the government. All of these activities involve leaving the confines of their homes and exposing themselves to potential violence at the hands of armed groups.
Third, even women leaders and activists who remain in their homes are at risk: as a result of the lockdowns, it is easier for armed actors to find, locate, and harm women social leaders with total impunity (as was the case with Salinas Pérez). As one leader in the southwestern department of Putumayo reported in April during an interview with this author, “If you stay in your house, they come to your door, call your name, and kill you right there.” She is observing an increased brazenness by armed groups at a time when “the state offers us no protection.”
A final complicating factor is female activists’ lack of access to justice and protection. If women want to denounce a crime or threat, they are unable to register and activate protection mechanisms, as the institutions of the state, including mobile justice units, are currently absent in rural areas. One social leader in the northeast region of Catatumbo notes that she feels abandoned by the state: “it’s like [the height of the conflict] again, when the state left us for dead at the hands of armed groups.”
United Nations Security Council Resolution 1325 recognizes women’s agency to build peace in post-conflict communities. Research shows that peace negotiations that involve the participation of women are more likely to last. Yet in Colombia, the promotion of women as peacebuilders has come without the necessary guarantees for women’s safety. Over the past years, hundreds of women running for political office or engaging in peacebuilding efforts in their communities have been targeted and even murdered.
The current crisis has intensified these challenges, laying bare the violence and gendered power dynamics that shape women’s complex security needs. Rather than include peacebuilding as yet another burden of “women’s work,” governments and international organizations that promote these activities need to take the risk of backlash seriously.
Despite new public health restrictions, women leaders braving the crisis in Colombia need continued domestic and international support, solidarity, and guarantees of security. This support should include humanitarian aid, access to justice in remote areas, and consultations with the social leaders themselves on how to best ensure their protection.
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