Speak up and speak out: Our message to women this International day for the Elimination of Violence against Women

Every day across the world, women experience discrimination purely because of their gender.

It might not be instantly recognisable. Discrimination can take discrete forms – unequal wages, lack of women in leadership roles at top FTSE 100 companies. But it exists, and can often take a violent turn.

As the world marks International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women, take a look at how three of our programmes are finding practical ways to help achieve further change…

Empowering women in Uganda

In July this year WFD coordinated Uganda’s first Women’s Parliament – a major part of our EU-funded programme in the country. Tackling violent behaviour towards women is at the heart of what we are doing, and this programme aims to ensure the Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) is actually implemented. To do this WFD wants to encourage a greater dialogue between women, civil society and politicians to ensure that issues which matter to women are dealt with at the national level.

What is so shocking about the situation for women and girls in Uganda isn’t just the harrowing experience of violence and discrimination but the feeling that there is nowhere to turn, that this is normal, that they deserve this treatment. One of the wonderful outcomes of the Women’s Parliament is how it empowered women to speak out and raise issues of importance to them. Beatrice Chelangat, director of local NGO Gender REACH, highlighted how ground is being covered and progress is slowly being made: “People are more aware of female genital mutilation and sexual- and gender-based violence. They know it is a crime. Before people thought a woman is killed, that is it. They did not know some laws can protect them and it is a crime to abuse a woman.”

Our programme’s main goal is to ensure that women in Uganda understand how CEDAW can help them eliminate violence from their own lives and communities.

Uniting women across MENA

Our support for the Coalition of Women MPs from Arab Countries to Combat Violence unites women from across ten nations to press for reforms to legislation that impacts on women and girls.

Take the most recent Coalition meeting that took place in early November. Its main goal was to create a space to discuss the revision of Article 522 of the Lebanese Penal Code, which allows a rapist to avoid prosecution by marrying the victim. The coalition meetings provide a space in which women can share experiences of how discriminatory laws have been defeated in other Arab nations and find a way forward to tackle the issues with their respective parliaments. That is what Gilberte-Zouaine MP took from the latest meeting. She said: “We aspire throughout this conference to benefit from the experience of Arab countries who have been pioneers in this domain and to re-establish Lebanon’s commitment to tackling violence against women.”

It’s felt that this regional approach can gather momentum in favour of women’s rights across a region with an existing difficult context for women to work and live in.

The first step in this process is to raise awareness of the forms and consequences of violence. The more women know about their rights and how to access them, the easier it will be for them to take a stand. Secondly, having discussions on these issues across the region provides examples of best practice in how to deal with what is often perceived as a controversial issue amongst traditional elites. Finally, WFD has encouraged the development of Violence against Women Laws in four of the ten countries the Coalition operates in (Iraq, Jordan, Tunisia and Lebanon).

Together, these three steps will help provide solid progress for women who want to access justice. But getting the legislation through parliament is only the beginning. Changing cultural attitudes that discriminate against women is a long process, but we are confident the Coalition’s work will contribute toward this end.

Promoting women in politics in Bosnia and Herzegovina

Improving representation is one of WFD’s four outcomes, and it’s this which our programme in Bosnia and Herzegovina is focused on. Its emphasis is on providing practical help to get women into politics. By actively engaging with the media and civil society to ensure women are represented and listened to ahead of the 2016 local elections, the team hopes to yield some impressive results.

This autumn we’ve seen a series of local discussions bringing together local women councillors to discuss issues of importance ahead of the 2016 elections, like this event at the University of Mostar. A common theme which has emerged from these discussions is the critical role played by political parties. Alisa Hajdarevic (SDA Mostar), for example, mentioned the need to ensure women participate in the internal structures of the political parties to ensure they are equally represented. This is something that is surely felt here in the UK too – it was big news this year when the shadow Cabinet split roles 50/50 between men and women.

The debate over the relative merits of setting quotas for women will run and run. A quota is not a gateway to equality, which is why the work the Bosnia team is doing is so important. By using a range of different activities including training courses, public debates and media training they are providing women with the important skills they need to make a dent in the political landscape.

 

Change can be achieved, and in a relatively short period of time. Look at the UK: as recently as the 1990s it was legal to rape your partner if you were married. No longer. Women across the world trying to eliminate abhorrent laws which condone violence should believe that progress is possible. One hundred and eighty nine states have ratified CEDAW; the sustainable development goals put gender equality high on the agenda; and at WFD the focus is now on implementation and getting women represented in institutions that shape fundamental decisions. Now, more than ever, there is international momentum towards improving women’s rights.

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Coalition of Women Arab MPs combat violence against women

On 5-6 November, WFD supported the Coalition of Arab Women MPs’ seminar on combating violence against women.

The event was hosted by the Lebanese Parliament, the Arab Inter-Parliamentary Union and the Chair of the Lebanese Parliament’s Women’s Committee, MP Gilberte Zouain.

MP Gilberte, who has been a strong supporter of the coalition and spoke strongly of the need for change, said: “We aspire throughout this conference to benefit from the experience of Arab coutnries who have been pioneers in this domain and to re-establish Lebanon’s commitment to tackling violence against women.”

The seminar brought Lebanese MPs together with public institutions and women MPs from nine other Arab countries, creating a space to discuss the revision of Article 522 of the Lebanese Penal Code – which allows a rapist to avoid prosecution by marrying the victim.  The seminar highlighted the need for Parliament to act on this issue and showed the unity of Arab Women MPs in fighting such legislation. It’s a problem which exists in many other Arab countries’ penal codes: notably, Morocco and Egypt have amended the equivalent provisions in their penal codes.

The meetings were chaired by MP Wafaa Bani Mustafa of Jordan, who highlighted the important role of the coalition and their colleagues. She said: “We as parliamentarians are required to eliminate all types of legislative discrimination.”

All coalition members agreed on the need to empower victims through legislation; that there is no honour in violence against women; and that we need practical recommendations that lead to the abolition or amendment of legislation regarding rape marriage.

The delegation was hosted for lunch by Ms Randa Berri, Vice President of the National Commission for Lebanese Women.

(Pictured above: Ms Randa Berri, Vice president of the National Commission for Lebanese Women and MP Wafaa Bani Mustafa of Jordan)

The coalition meeting hosted a number of key speakers, including Dr Fadia Kiwan, Professor and Director at the Institute of Political Science at St Joseph University; and Abdelfattah Jamil from Jordan, who stressed the important role that men can play in advocacy and awareness-raising. The women commended the men in the room for their support.

Mr Nourredine Bouchkouj, Secretary General of the Arab Inter-Parliamentary Union, said: “On behalf of the Arab federation of parliamentarians I wish you all of the success in your deliberation so that we can get full equality for women for the good of our nations.”

(Pictured above: Dr Fadia Kiwan, Professor and director at the Institute of Political Science at St Joseph University)

WFD’s Dina Melhem highlighted individual cases that have pushed attention towards the issue but highlighted that we don’t truly know how many girls and women are living at home with their rapists, because they are forced to live in silence.

(Pictured above, Coalition meeting)

Hasna Marsit from Tunisia followed this by saying that where the law does protect them, women should be encouraged and supported to report their plight. The coalition can contribute to this change by building awareness of the issue and to provide a counter-narrative that empowers the victim, something they will be working on over the coming months. The Coalition will meet in January to mark the Arab day to combat violence against women.

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What does it mean to be a woman politician in Bosnia and Herzegovina?

What does it mean to be a woman politician in Bosnia and Herzegovina?

That was the question being discussed at the University of Mostar in Bosnia and Herzegovina by a panel of four experienced women engaged in politics and public life.

The 21 October event was organised by Westminster Foundation for Democracy as part of our Promoting Women In Politics programme.

This was a chance for students of the University of Mostar, as well as the general public, to get informed about what the current political climate looks like when it comes to gender equality within institutions and all levels of government in the country.

The discussion addressed topics that concern women in politics – their obstacles as women and how to overcome them, as well as the advantages and how to use them in order to achieve political goals. How can women achieve adequate political promotion with voters and within political parties? What’s the best way of striking a balance between public life and private life? The panel also spoke on current problems of women and their representation in government, especially in the executive and legislative branch, as well as potential solutions to these problems.

Borka Herceg-Lukenda (HDZ 1990) argued they must use all mechanisms to which they are entitled inside their political organizations in order to assert themselves and be of equal importance to their male colleagues. She highlighted the importance of quotas, saying: “If there were no electoral quotas, we would not be present anywhere.” Even with all the obstacles that women face in BiH politics, they have to be the initiators of ideas and solutions, she suggested.

One solution which many support across the world is the introduction of quotas for women. But where this isn’t already the case women need to be prepared to seek change. Amra Babic (Municipal Prefect of the Visoko Municipality, pictured speaking above) spoke about her experience on the local and entity level of government, as well as briefly speaking about different factors that made her campaign in 2012 for Municipal Mayor successful. She highlighted the need to fight political battles inside the political parties – and how they are often more difficult than the external battles.

Irma Baralija (Naša stranka Mostar, pictured speaking above), as the youngest woman on the panel, spoke on how young women can enter politics be a positive factor within their community and political organization. She joined her colleagues in recognizing that political parties hold the main key for the promotion of women in politics. Alisa Hajdarevic (SDA Mostar) mentioned the need to ensure women participate in the internal structures of the political parties to ensure they are equally represented.

The university discussion was concluded by emphasizing that politics is not a man’s job; the equal representation of women, it was agreed, is crucial for achieving a proper and functional democracy. The panel also reiterated the importance of discussions such as this one for raising the awareness of women themselves of their capabilities and opportunities in BiH politics – and that examples of successful women are not rare.

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Targeting Sustainable Development Goal Number 5 in Bosnia and Herzegovina

By Zlatan Hajlovac

Gender equality was central to the sustainable development framework discussed last month in New York. It’s an issue at the heart of WFD’s activities, too, as our work in Bosnia and Herzegovina shows.

The destruction and ethnic tensions which accompanied the bloody conflict of 1992-95 continue to have a significant impact on the way politics is conducted in the country. But 20 years of peace have resulted in some progress. Landmarks like the meeting of the 40% quota for female candidates at the 2014 elections highlight just how far Bosnia and Herzegovina advanced on the road toward inclusive democracy.

However, there is still a long way to go. Despite the introduction of quotas only one woman, alongside 17 male candidates, ran for the Presidency. There is a greater focus on local, rather than national politics, which has had a significant impact on the level of representation of women in decision-making positions.

With the formal adoption by world leaders of the sustainable development goals at the United Nations summit, we have to ask: what is WFD doing to address the gender imbalance present in the electoral process in Bosnia and Herzegovina? How are we working towards implementation of Sustainable Development Goal Number Five: ‘Achieve gender equality and empower all girls’?

Our ‘Promoting women in politics in BiH’ project aims to tackle the problem that women are significantly underrepresented in different governmental bodies on all levels. The WFD Bosnia and Herzegovina team are supporting a range of different activities including training courses and public debates involving women politicians from local councils. These will feature discussion of concrete issues affecting their local communities. We’re also running activities which boost confidence in women’s ability to effectively participate in politics. Following a public discussion in the Visoko municipality earlier in September this year, the participants told us that the public discussion was a great opportunity for women elected in the municipal bodies to speak directly to citizens concerning their political activity without the interruption of their male colleagues.

We work with the media to ensure balanced media representation of women politician’s campaigns during the pre-election period. Moreover, through our party-to-party work, WFD is working directly with the main political parties in the country to make sure they are implementing their commitments toward gender equality. The overall aim of the WFD project is to ensure an increased representation of women in the decision-making process in Bosnia and Herzegovina, a result we cannot assess until the 2016 local elections take place.

In the meantime we continue or work to help achieve positive results for the women of Bosnia and Herzegovina, including shaping the future of their country. It is an apt time to consider the reflections offormer MP Besima Boric on the important impact women had in the post-conflict situation when engaging in politics:

“Women were the first who had a normal conversation with two MP’s who were on the other side of the war. In ’96 and ’97, this was a big deal: women talked and worked together  – women from two entities.”

The impact women can have in politics should be felt more broadly, not only in Bosnia and Herzegovina, but globally. The SDGs call for “women’s full and effective participation and equal opportunities for leadership at all levels of decision-making in political, economic and public life” – and we hope we’re contributing to ensuring that in Bosnia and Herzegovina”.

Having an equal proportion of women and men in politics and in governmental bodies is critical in order to achieve an inclusive democracy. To achieve this goal, the programme in Bosnia and Herzegovina has developed the free publication “Politics in Our Backyard”.

This gives basic and detailed information on the local level of self-government including the authority of local self-government, the description of duties and rights of elected officials as well as other useful information for potential candidates and the general public.

The publication was handed out to visitors, participants and speakers on all public events under the organization of WFD, as well as to all local offices of the OSCE in Bosnia and Herzegovina including Sarajevo, Tuzla, Mostar, Brcko and Banja Luka. It was also distributed to participants of events in the organization of Inicijativa 50% – an initiative for equal gender representation of councillors in the 2016 local election. The electronic version of the publication was distributed to political parties working with WFD in the programme and was published on official websites and the social network profiles of SDP, SDA and Naša stranka. The publication was also promoted by Mreža Mira (Network for Peace) and non-governmental organizations such as the Boris Divkovic Foundation and Youth Initiative for Human Rights. This approach resulted in a substantial reach of the publication to many people all across the country who are interested in the local government system and its status within the governmental system in Bosnia and Herzegovina.

We’re also providing campaign training for potential women candidates and sharing sister party expertise from the UK with engaging sessions that took place earlier this year. During those training sessions we trained 20 bloggers and 40 potential candidates for the 2016 local election who appreciated the user-friendly format of the training and experience from the UK councillors, as well as gaining knowledge on general information concerning the political system in Bosnia and Herzegovina and tips on how to have a more successful political campaign.

These practical steps to empower women in politics engage multiple political parties, the various legislative tiers, universities and the media. By broadening the range of policy issues addressed by women in politics and better capturing the relevance and value of their work through media, their role in politics can be more widely promoted and gender stereotypes challenged.

Here at WFD we’re committed to helping women become more active in parliaments and political parties across the globe, because we believe this fundamentally contributes to more legitimate and inclusive democracy. Many of our programmes globally encourage greater gender cohesion, including the inspiring work our colleagues have been doing in the Ugandan parliament and within the Coalition of Women MPs from Arab Countries to Combat Violence against Women.

The next phase of project activities in Bosnia and Herzegovina will include public debates in local communities on topics that will help connect with the local community. We want to increase the dialogue between women councillors and potential candidates and the community which they represent to the arena of women in politics. These debates will involve elected women from municipal councils, representatives of women’s organisations, NGOs that focus on human rights and potential candidates for the upcoming local elections in 2016.  We want to encourage any interested individuals to come along and participate in an active discussion about what women politicians can do to shape local politics.

And now is a good time to do so, for 2016’s local elections are not very far away.  WFD will launch an advocacy initiative with the major media outlets in the country, aiming to secure their commitment to feature women and men candidates equally and fairly in their coverage. We’re already engaging with political analysts and bloggers to ensure their work covers women candidates and their issues in an inclusive manner in the campaigns to come. As the global development community turns its attention to how to make progress on the new SDGs, WFD’s programme in Bosnia and Herzegovina has already got its work underway.

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Promoting women’s and girls’ rights in Uganda: ‘This Parliament empowered me’

Ending sexual harassment, domestic violence and other forms of gender inequality in Uganda isn’t easy. But by helping local leaders and civil society organisations bring women together through the country’s first ever Women’s Parliament, Westminster Foundation for Democracy is helping gather momentum behind the campaign for real change.

In recent years, Uganda has taken some big steps to implement the United Nations’ Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW). It’s passed a raft of legislation in recent years to that end. But as we’ve heard, implementation is proving difficult.

“Most women have been blocked by culture,” Olive Gidugu, a union activist based in the Sironko District, told us. Their education is neglected during childhood because “in our culture, girls are prepared to be housewives”, she explained. Illiteracy in adult life is coupled with a culture that demands, in Olive’s words, that “if a man comes to you, you can’t deny them”.


Nearly 200 women participated in the first ever Women’s Parliament in Kampala

We’ve heard real-life experiences of a whole range of problems: unfairness to women in the a corrupt legal system, denial of access to and control of resources, limited participation in decision-making, and many others. Looking back at the two three-hour plenary sessions of the first Women’s Parliament, Betty Bwamika, an attendee from the Mpigi district, said she was “touched” by the story she heard of the teacher who had to give up her job because of sexual harassment. Milly Molly Omach of Oyam district recalled the story of a woman who left her alcoholic husband. “He was very drunk and hanged himself. The day after, the in-laws blamed her. The culture here always blames the women. The women who want to help her don’t know what to do as they are not aware of their rights.”

The consequences of these attitudes are far-reaching, as the statistics show. Sixty-eight per cent of married women aged 15-49 in Uganda have experienced domestic violence. In the Eastern region, 85% were found to be aware of the Female Genital Mutilation Act 2010, but there awere reports of people avoiding arrest despite continuing the practice. Property ownership is also problematic: Furthermore, 90% reported that the clan leadership dominates decision-making over property ownership – so when land is distributed to sons after a death in the family, for example, the views of mothers and daughters are largely ignored.


Left to right: Ms Rosette Sayson Meya (EU); Hon. Jovah Kamateka (chairperson, human rights committee); Hon. Safia Juuku Nalule (national representative for women with disabilities)

Changing this means bringing people together. And that is what happened on 7 July 2015, when over 150 women from across Uganda gathered in Kampala for the Women’s Parliament. The project, a bid to create an all-inclusive platform for dialogue on gender issues, is part of WFD’s EU-funded 30-month programme to protect and promote the rights of women and girls in Uganda’s northern and eastern regions.

It aims, as WFD’s programme manager Dorine Lakot puts it, to “increase the political discourse on women’s rights and issues”. Her goal was to make the Parliament “a vehicle for sharing good practice on local implementation of legislation with all other regions in Uganda, and to also feed into future policy issues and legislative amendments”.


Dorine Lakot (second from right, front row) with Women’s Parliament participants

As the Women’s Parliament progressed some striking stories emerged. Betty Bwamika praised a speaker who had been abducted by the Lord’s Resistance Army when she was nine. “She was able to stand and talk in front of everyone – it’s [speaking out like this is] very important for her to get hope for her children.” Another contributor explained she had become pregnant while in school, but her parents had put her back in school after she gave birth. “That’s inspiring and rare,” one attendee said. Asio Rose Mary, a member of Malaba Town Council, spoke of her own efforts to expose a fraudster who had stolen millions from the government. “I was pregnant and scared to lead this investigation… I escaped some strong threats against me,” she said. “I resisted and won the case for the government, but it was hard.”


Outside the Parliament building in Kampala

It’s hoped that by raising these issues in a single forum, their prominence in the debate across Uganda will spread.   “I hope to share a lot with women about the different testimonies,” Betty Bwamika said afterwards. “It’s important that women can express themselves – you can fight for your rights.” It’s not just a handful of delegates who can follow her lead, either. Around 200 stakeholders including legislators, development partners, journalists, academics and representatives of regional parliaments and central government, among others, gathered at the Women’s Parliament in July to hear these stories. They heard calls for more “sensitization” to the issues. They heard calls for women to gain more financial independence and for more girls to stay at school; currently just one in three girls manage to complete four years of secondary education. And they heard warnings about the dangers of women leaving Uganda’s poorer districts for work, only to find themselves trafficked to China or elsewhere.


Rebecca Alitwala Kadaga, Speaker of Uganda’s Parliament, presided over the session

Increasing the political debate around women’s and girls’ rights  is a key goal of the civil society groups whose work WFD’s programme is supporting – particularly the Gulu Women’s Economic Development and Globalisation (GWED-G) organisation and the Gender Reproductive, Educative and Community Health (Gender REACH) organisations. The Women’s Parliament also supports the Uganda Women’s Parliamentary Association, a parliamentary caucus of women MPs. WFD is working closely with its staff to help it become a critical generator of political debate, oversight and scrutiny.

These organisations are steadily growing in confidence. “Where we have been implementing through WFD/EU funding,” explains Beatrice Chelangat, director of Gender REACH, “people are more aware of female genital mutilation and sexual- and gender-based violence. They know it is a crime. Before people thought a woman is killed, that is it. They did not know some laws can protect them and it is a crime to abuse a woman.” The gradual spread of understanding about the UN CEDAW convention is being facilitated by the activity of the Women’s Parliament and WFD’s broader programme in Uganda.


A young contributor makes her point during the plenary session

Attention is now shifting to the Ugandan Parliament, which campaigners hope will accept the recommendations of the Women’s Parliament. An important message from the July event is that more activity is needed at the It is seeking more activity at the regional level, where capacity-building, coaching and mentoring efforts will be most effective – especially when that work takes place in cooperation with local civil society groups like GWED-G in Gulu. Its executive director, Pamela Angwech, says: “We’ve taught local leaders to empower them to become more active on this matter.” Gulu is quickly moving up the regional rankings as a result of implementing the Domestic Violence Act 2010.

Gulu’s  success shows why many of those at the Women’s Parliament are now seeking support for their cause at lower levels of governance. “We are fighting problems at the grassroots,” Asio Rose Mary declares. “This Parliament empowered me to speak up and defend my position as a leader.” Overturning deep-set cultural attitudes will not come easily, but local leaders like Asio believe they can be challenged and, ultimately, overturned. It’s at the local level where change will take place – but it’s in Kampala, at events like the Women’s Parliament, where the instigators of that change are being encouraged.

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