Women are Leading the Protests in Sudan

Since December 2017, protesters have been calling for the fall of Omar al-Bashir, Sudan’s leader of the past 30 years. They have staged sit-ins in front of the presidential palace and army headquarters and risked their lives in large protests.

Last week, their cries were finally heard, as Omar al-Bashir was taken into military custody.

One woman’s image has captivated the world. The photo is of Alaa Salah, a young woman standing on the roof of a car.

Her traditional thobe and moon earrings glisten in the dusk light. She is pointing her index finger to the sky, whilst a sea of protestors capture her image through their mobile phones.

This 22 year-old woman has become the symbol of the revolution.

For many in the West, the image of Alaa Salah is fascinating. Perhaps because she is a woman, perhaps because she is dressed in traditional clothing, perhaps because she is a Muslim.

However, anyone who has been following the protests will know that this revolutionary spirit runs in the blood of Sudanese women. It is therefore not surprising, nor revolutionary, that in the current protests, women are taking centre stage. They have played a leading role in the peaceful uprising, which has swept across the nation – and they are not about to stop!

Videos show Salah singing the following words, as protestors chant back “Thawra”, the Arabic word for revolution:

They burned us in the name of religion
Thawra
They killed us in the name of religion
Thawra
They jailed us in the name of religion
Thawra
But, religion is not to be blamed.

Her words resonate with the struggles of the Sudanese people, who have faced continued hardship during the decades-long rule of al-Bashir. In the name of religion, a state of turmoil, oppression and instability has faced the nation. And of course, it is women who have suffered the most.

Bashir’s 30-year role saw increased suppression of women through Sudan’s public order laws. Controls to women’s freedom of dress, behaviour and education all heightened during this period. Woman continually faced threats of FGM, child marriage, sexual harassment and domestic abuse with few policies put in place to protect their rights.

Many have commented that Salah’s outfit particularly speaks to these issues of women’s oppression, through the homage it plays to the traditions and historical revolutionary spirit of Sudanese women. Hind Makki, an interfaith educator, explained the significance of Salah’s clothing on twitter. She wrote:

“She’s [the woman’s] wearing a white tobe (outer garment) and gold moon earrings. The white tobe is worn by working women in offices and can be linked w/cotton (a major export of Sudan), so it represents women working as professionals in cities or in the agricultural sector in rural areas … Her entire outfit is also a callback to the clothing worn by our mothers & grandmothers in the 60s, 70s, & 80s who dressed like this during while they marched the streets demonstrating against previous military dictatorships.”

As Makki alludes, women have always been a central part of Sudan’s revolutions. Just as Mehaira, Mandy Ajbna and Fatima Ibhrahim before them, women’s involvement in these protests have successfully overthrown their oppressive regime.

Salah has become a symbol of the revolution in Sudan because her image represents the reality of women’s leading role in these protests.

Through one image, Alaa Salah has managed to tell the world the story of Sudan’s revolution and the strength in their resistance.

But, it is important that we do not reduce women’s involvement to a reaction to women’s oppression. Of course, women are fighting to remove their subjugation, but this is just one part of their protest.

Women stand equally with men to change their country as a whole. To fight for democracy. To fight for freedom for all.

Time to Disarm the Patriarchy

We live in a time where the threat of nuclear war is a normal household conversation. Many live in a nation led by a man who cannot control his urge to press ‘tweet’ on every unhinged thought he dreams up each morning. And yet, he alone has the authority – the sole authority – to push the launch button on a preemptive nuclear attack, should the mood strike him.

The risks that nuclear weapons currently pose to global peace are monumental.

We also live in a time where the seemingly unmovable and intractable weight of our patriarchal society is suddenly being forced to reckon with women’s voices and stories and experiences – both the ugliness that we’ve endured and the talent and wisdom we’ve been barred from contributing.

We know for a fact that if peace is the goal, women absolutely must be part of the process to achieve sustainable and lasting results. Women are key to national and global security. When women are meaningfully involved in peace processes, it is more likely that peace lasts.

Empowered women create communities that are more just, prosperous, and safe. We know that having women involved at every level of decision-making is strategic—and yet, when it comes to nuclear weapons, women are rarely included at the table where political and security decisions are made. In a cruel twist, we regularly disincentivize women from actively participating in the careers, conversations, and halls of power where this work happens.

Credit: Women’s Action for New Directions

That’s where our project comes in. Women’s Action for New Directions (WAND) recently launched a campaign specifically designed to educate young women about how they can advocate for international diplomacy over militarism.

It’s more important than ever to make sure the public – and women specifically – know how they can get involved to keep our democracy and safety intact. The Disarm the Patriarchy campaign is designed to engage young women in efforts to reduce the role of nuclear weapons in U.S. foreign policy as activists, policy-makers, diplomats, legislators, and scientists.

It has never been more important to educate ourselves and demand change. We are building a new generation of peace and disarmament activists and amplifying diverse women’s voices in the disarmament sphere.

Our Disarm the Patriarchy Handbook gives women the tools they need to be advocates for policy change and hold their elected officials accountable for creating a safer world for all of us.

Nancy Parrish is the Executive Director of Women’s Action for New Directions (WAND), which educates and empowers women to advocate for security and peace with justice. We believe that women are central to shifting the militarized, patriarchal culture that pervades our society and leads to endless war and violence. We know that when women are engaged in the political process and given the right tools, they can be true agents of change.

World Peace Requires the Eradication of Male Dominance

We live in a world dominated by men, characterized by patriarchal structures and a dangerous macho culture.

In this era of Donald Trump, who rules the largest country in the Western world with his perceived superiority and recklessness, condoning sexual and racial violence; Kim Jong-un, who controls his country with an iron fist, with inhumane policies and practices, and threatens the world with nuclear attacks; Vladimir Putin, who is often depicted half-naked with a gold chain displaying his muscles, continues to rule a country without consideration of all people’s human rights; Xi Jinping, who is leading the Chinese quest of economic world domination; Jacob Zuma, the polygamist South African leader who has faced rape charges and corruption allegations; and Nicolas Maduro, who is leading a country of turmoil, stripping it of democratic institutions and people’s freedom – this world does not feel like a safe place.

Our world today is not a peaceful place.

In 2015, United Nations Member States, run by 193 world leaders, agreed to 17 Global Goals for Sustainable Development. If these goals are reached, we would see an end to extreme poverty, inequality and climate change by 2030. These goals are ambitious. Some say they are unrealistic, and some say they are doable – if we work together. These goals are very much interlinked and they cannot be reached without working towards a peaceful world. Goal 16 specifies the world leaders’ ambition to “promote peaceful and inclusive societies for sustainable development, provide access to justice for all and build effective, accountable and inclusive institutions at all levels”.

In order for us to meet these goals, collaboration is a must – yet, many of the world’s most powerful leaders seem to be unable to do just that. Furthermore, the men I listed above are a few of the world leaders who are enabling harmful environments that discriminate against girls and women, leading to impunity of the attacks of gender based violence in most parts of the world. Many of these men are neglecting the harmful effects of climate change. And a few of these men are threatening world peace in it’s totality.

For far too many people around the world, peace is not a given.

In 2015 the world was met by a storm of humanitarian emergencies, with the number of people displaced at an all time high – with new political and natural disasters on the rise today. It feels like we have jumped back to the Cold War, with a threat of a nuclear war hanging over our heads. The trends of closing borders is threatening people’s lives as they seek refuge and safety and the acts of terrorism continuously bombard our news feeds. Violence is also a threat to the lives of girls and women daily, as gender based violence, including domestic violence, is a global epidemic.

The culture of male dominance is a threat to our security and a threat to peace.

For us to meet the Global Goals and for us to see an end to war and violence, we need more women leaders in politics around the world and we need more politicians who listen to women and girls. Thankfully the grassroots, national and global movements for equality and peace are on the rise – and you can be a part of them.

Girls’ Globe works to create a sustainable world, free from any discrimination, inequality and violence, enabling all girls and women to live up to their fullest potential, in peace and solidarity – by creating a platform for the voices of girls and women to be heard. We need your help to continue to keep our work going.

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Poetry is Not a Luxury: Art, Activism & Peacebuilding

I was no captive dove
on a flight of fancy flouting
and flaunting a plumage
of atrophied wings
I knew the cost of flight
the craft of steering clear of glass
– Marion Bethel, “Tobacco Dove” from Bougainvillea Ringplay

 

When Bahamian women’s rights activist Marion Bethel saw poet and The Color Purple author Alice Walker read in London, her life was fundamentally revolutionized. “I was memorized, fixated, captivated,” she told The Nassau Guardian. She dropped out of her law school exams and spent the summer writing a book of poetry. The experience taught her an invaluable lesson: “That writing was a way to be a cultural activist.

Bethel went on to write a second book of poetry; write, direct and produce a documentary – Womanish Ways: Freedom, Human Rights & Democracy 1934 to 1962 – on Bahamian women’s suffrage; and serve on the Committee of the United Nations Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women. She sees her art and activism as inexorably intertwined, and creative expression as a way to ensure that the stories of women fighting for peace and justice aren’t lost to the generations to come. In an interview with Peace is Loud, she told us:

My community in the Bahamas and the Caribbean was shaped both by the injustices of genocide, the transatlantic slave trade, slavery and colonialism, and by the struggles of my ancestors and foreparents for freedom, human rights and social justice. My engagement in peace work is about confronting these injustices through activism and art and affirming the imagination, creativity and work of my community in social transformation.

This kind of social transformation is exponentially enhanced by art, which has the ability to cross socioeconomic and geographical borders like few mediums of its kind. History can be selective, favoring the voices of the loud and powerful, but art is a great equalizer, ensuring that everyone has a voice. To be truly inclusive, movement-building needs a creative mechanism that does not discriminate based on education, income, or one’s place in a power structure.

Poet and women’s rights activist Sonya Renee Taylor, Founder of The Body is Not an Apology, echoes this sentiment in an interview with Autostraddle:

…Art is an essential element of how we make the messages of activism accessible and how we invite new people into the dialogue and how we open up new minds to the issues. Everybody isn’t going to go to the lecture, everybody is not going to go to the 400 level class, everybody is not going to go to a protest. But you can find someone at the spoken word event, at the art gallery, picking up a poet’s book, and being changed by what they hear or read. It’s a more subversive way to change the minds of the masses.

Taylor’s peace activism comes in the form of fighting against the physical and emotional violence inflicted onto our bodies, and viewing self-love as a radical form of healing and justice. Her movement began from the tremendous response to her spoken word poem, The Body is Not an Apology, which led her to start a digital media and education company of the same name. The Body is Not an Apology now reaches half a million people each month with the powerful message: “We believe that discrimination, social inequality and injustice are manifestations of our inability to make peace with the body, our own and others.

American Muslim author and gender activist Samina Ali also sees art as a way of opening minds, as well as eliminating stereotypes and bridging divides. As the curator of the International Museum of Women’s virtual exhibition, Muslima: Muslim Women’s Art & Voices, Samina illuminated the multi-dimensional realities of women’s lives to challenge fears and misconceptions of Muslims and Islam within and beyond Muslim communities. There could not be a more poignant time for this kind of project. Regarding the exhibit, Samina told us:

The sad reality is that many of us have grown accustomed to –- and comfortable with –- seeing Muslim women portrayed as victims. Yet each and every one of the women included in the exhibition is noteworthy — a cutting-edge artist or writer, a revolutionary who is upending her community’s and the world’s limited notions of what a Muslim woman is capable of doing, a pioneer fighting for women’s and girls’ rights. It’s these women who are the answer to extremism, who are leading the global jihad for peace!

Samina hopes that through Muslima and stories like those in her novel, Madras on Rainy Days, audiences and readers will discover that building peace is a process that comes from dismantling misconceptions, especially those attached to women. Madras on Rainy Days, which was the winner of France’s prestigious Prix Premier Roman Etranger Award and a finalist for the PEN/Hemingway Award in Fiction, focuses on a young woman’s arranged marriage and political awakening in a poignant, deeply personal way.

I believe that change must begin from within,” she said. “But we don’t suddenly change. We change because we see a piece of art that moves us to imagine a world we hadn’t believed possible before.

In its purest form, art is not simply entertainment – it is a conduit for sharing life experiences, connecting people across divides, and, as the women here have shown, building the path forward to the peaceful and equitable future we all deserve.

Gender and Colombia’s Peace Agreement

Gender has become a hot-topic issue since the referendum vote on Colombia’s peace negotiations. Several tumultuous weeks following the failed referendum on Colombia’s peace agreement, renewed negotiations between the government of Juan Manual Santos and the FARC produced a new agreement. Misconceptions regarding the role of gender language within the initial peace agreement, however, seemed to cast fear and doubt that it would be removed from a new accord altogether. Why was a gender focus within the country’s peace deal so controversial? And what follows for women within the country’s peacebuilding processes now that a new agreement has been signed?

More than 50 years after the start of a conflict that has resulted in more than 220,000 deaths and nearly six million displaced, the decades-long Colombian war has reached a formal end as of Thanksgiving Day (Nov 24th, 2016). Representatives of the FARC—an armed, left-wing guerilla group—and government representatives under President Juan Manuel Santos had spent four years engaged in peace negotiations. A previous peace agreement was brought to a popular vote in October. Most believed that this referendum would conclusively bring an end to the decades’ long conflict. Yet contrary to poll predictions, the No campaign triumphed by a margin of less than 1%.

colombia-peace-2

While there are many reasons to which the failure of the referendum has been attributed, the inclusion of gender language within the agreement is something that many claim was a significant source of support for the opposition. Led by leaders such as ex-General Inspector Alejandro Ordóñez, certain right-wing opponents of the deal advanced the idea that such language—particularly text around LGBTI rights—aimed to promote a “gender ideology” that would threaten the integrity of traditional family units, perhaps even encourage homosexuality among children.

Thankfully, the peace deal signed on November 24—which President Juan Manual Santos claims “is the definitive one”—has retained a focus on women’s rights.

Wording within the revised agreement states, “the recognition of equal rights between men and women and the special circumstances of everyone, especially women, regardless of their marital status, life cycle and family and community relationship, is a subject of rights and of special constitutional protection.” It also underscores “the need to ensure affirmative measures to promote such equality, the active participation of women and their organizations in peace-building and recognition of the victimization of women because of the conflict.”

This is a major victory in itself, yet it represents a mere starting point for the inclusion of gender within post-conflict processes. Moreover, this situation underscores some of the challenges faced when integrating women within peace and security issues.

Why women in peace processes matters

In Colombia, women represent more than half of internally displaced persons in the country, and countless numbers have been victimized through sexual violence—a weapon of war heavily used throughout the conflict. Within a context of persistent victimization, many women gained agency by joining rebel militias or contributing to civil society groups that sought to bring an end to violence.

colombia-peace-3

Over 20 years ago, the United Nations Security Council signed Resolution (UNSCR) 1325, a landmark framework that lends recognition to women’s distinct experiences within conflict. UNSCR 1325 calls for the need to protect women and girls from violence and prevent its occurrence, while including them in decision-making processes during and after periods of conflict. But the record so far isn’t great.

Women have represented a mere 9% of negotiators and 2.4% of chief negotiators across global peace negotiations between 1992 and 2011. Since Resolution 1325 was adopted, just under 30% (138/504) of agreements included any references to women. Thus Colombia’s most recent peace agreement—groundbreaking for many reasons—is notable in that gender issues and women’s rights have been pushed through by a Gender Sub-Commission that was appointed to voice the perspectives of women throughout ongoing negotiations.

This is a great starting point, but it is exactly just that. A true commitment to peace means ensuring that its benefits are felt by all segments of society. Certainly, including women within peace negotiations and including language around women’s rights is part of that, but it is only the first stage of a post-conflict reconstruction project that requires ongoing commitment to these rights and perspectives.

Transforming social relationships that contributed to violence against women and which inhibit their economic or political opportunities is part of a long-term process that requires support from those both at the policy and local level. Commitments made within the peace agreement require a strong civil society that will keep the government accountable.

Ms. Marcia Mejía Chirimia of CONPAZ, a peace advocacy group, claims “the voices of those on the ground are strong, but often not loud enough to reach the right people. It is difficult, and often dangerous, to be a leader in this context – which is why they need international support.” Among those who have faced death threats for similar work, she now calls on the international community to take part in supporting the country’s peace process and the inclusion of those most affected.

There is much that can be done as a global community to support others in pursuing such work. Engaging in online advocacy through social media is one way of keeping these efforts relevant and strengthening the voices of those in vulnerable positions, as is supporting online campaigns through human rights organizations.

As Colombia continues its long path towards recovery, it will be necessary to continue integrating gender perspectives into post-conflict initiatives, programs and policies. This is necessary not only so that women can experience justice and empowerment after decades of violence, but because all of society benefits when women are included in the construction and experience of peace.

Featured Image: Fernando Vergara, Associated Press/ World Politics Review
Additional Images in Order of Appearance:
Joao Pina, Washington Post
Fernando Vergara – Associated Press/ New York Times

Our Voices Matter – More Than Ever

As I woke up this morning to a layer of the first snow on the rooftops across my bedroom window, with my daughter cuddling close to see the white watery powder in delight, I had forgotten that the election across the Atlantic had come to an end. We walked into the kitchen and my husband greets our daughter with a smile and then looks at me with shock in his face – and tells me that Trump is probably going to be the next President of the United States.

As the final news unfolded during the morning hours here in Sweden, the layer of snow slowly started to melt, and I was hit by shock that felt like a punch in my abdomen. A womanizing, racist, fear-feeding man, who has acted on his self-interests has been elected President of the United States, after a campaign smeared in scare tactics and hate speech.

This feels like a heavy bomb hitting one of the world’s largest countries, following a range of ever-louder assassinations on our human race – the continuous attacks on civilians in Syria, the genocide of Yazidis by ISIS, and turmoil in South Sudan. The list continues closer to home with Brexit, the EUs horrific paralyzation to act on the human rights of refugees as people continue to die in the Mediterranean, and Sweden’s vote earlier this year, which led us to trade openness with fear – closing our borders and overstepping the human rights of refugee families.

I feel like I’d like to move with my family to the moon, just leave this planet – it’s doomed anyways. But, that just isn’t right – or feasible.

There are many things happening in our world, which require us to stay stronger than ever and now we must show solidarity. We cannot let fear lead us to care only for ourselves and our nearest – it is that exact fear that has been fueled for far too long and got us to where we are today. It is time to fight fear and hatred – ensure that we uphold human rights in every situation, for everyone – and you need to be a part of it.

Now, my main thought is this: Girls’ Globe’s mission is more important than ever. We cannot stay quiet, we need to continue to raise our voices, hold decision-makers accountable and protest. We are the people, and we can demand our rights to be upheld, and the rights of those who can’t demand theirs.

Let’s connect, mobilize and act together – stronger than ever – a global voice demanding peace for everyone, now!

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