Aug 28, 2006

Safe Houses: A Report from Iraq

Nearly three years after George Bush launched his illegal invasion of Iraq, more Iraqi women live in fear of violence than even during the brutal regime of Saddam Hussein. The climate of fear is largely due to a sharp rise in gender-based violence, including abduction, rape, forced marriage, domestic battery, and "honor killings", in which a woman is murdered by a male relative for “shaming” her family. Women have been targeted for "honor killings" for daring to make their own choices about whether and whom to marry, for adultery, and for bringing shame on the family by having been abducted or raped. These killings are not even considered murder: if a killer can demonstrate “honor” as a motive, his sentence is usually less than one year; and many cases of "honor killings" are never even reported.

MADRE and our sister organization, the Organization for Women’s Freedom in Iraq (OWFI), are responding to this crisis with Safe Houses for Iraqi Women. Since OWFI inaugurated Baghdad’s first battered women’s shelter, MADRE has helped OWFI to open four more shelters across the country, in Nasariyeh, Kirkuk, Erbil and, most recently, a second shelter in Baghdad. For the frightened women who knock on the doors in the middle of the night, these shelters are the difference between life and death. Reaching the Safe House ensures that they will survive to tell a new story.

Laila is a 24-year-old Iraqi woman who was a soldier in the Iraqi army. Two years ago, Laila was raped by a US soldier with whom she was stationed. Afterwards, Laila was afraid she would be raped by other soldiers too, because the man who attacked her was openly bragging about the assault. She knew she could not return to her family “disgraced," for fear of being killed, but she had nowhere else to turn. Fortunately, a close cousin of hers saw a flier for the OWFI women's shelter on the back of Equality, OWFI's main publication, which they distribute in communities wherever they can. Laila escaped to the shelter. She received medical care and peer counseling from other women who have survived violence.

Laila became part of a network of women who understand that their right to a life free of violence does not only mean the right to live free of rape and domestic abuse: it also means having the right to live free of war, religious coercion, and military occupation. With OWFI's support, Laila decided to pursue her interest in journalism. Today, she is a regular contributor to Equality, and as more women knock on the door of OWFI's Baghdad shelter each day, Laila is there to greet them and extend the circle of support that is made possible by MADRE's partnership with OWFI. Stories like Laila’s are made possible by the support of MADRE members. Please join us in working together with women in Iraq who are struggling to secure a peaceful and just future for themselves and their daughters.

Aug 28, 2006

Harvesting Hope: Putting Hope in the Hands of Women

Every investment in Harvesting Hope has a ripple effect. Women not only lift themselves and their families out of poverty, but empower themselves in the process, creating hope and opportunity for their community.

In Waspam, on Nicaragua’s North Atlantic Coast, the Harvesting Hope program is transforming the community as women invest in agricultural projects and later on, bakeries, and shops to support their families and the community. Here are a couple of recent success stories from the North Atlantic Coast…

Patricia: I Want My Children to be Able to Finish School For as long as she can remember, Patricia’s community in Waspam, Nicaragua has been plagued by war, hurricanes, and grinding poverty. She’s always dreamed of improving her life, but she was never even able to finish high school. She had to quit school and go to work to help support her family. She dreamed that her own children would not face a similar fate.

So when Wangky Tangni offered the opportunity for women to participate in business management training, Patricia was one of the first to sign up. After the training, she received four chickens and ongoing instruction about how to care for them and develop a small business selling eggs. She worked hard, and with her savings she was able to open a modest store. She sells bananas and basic necessities like rice and cooking oil. She lends space to other women in the community to store and sell their small harvests of bananas and other crops.

Thanks to this innovative program, Patricia’s children will not have to quit school to work. But Patricia has also used her new economic security to improve the entire community. She volunteers with Wangky Tangni to organize reproductive health trainings for women and helps promote children’s literacy through a MADRE-supported Children’s Book Corner at the community center.

Bibidilia: Proud to be Contributing to the Community As a 72-year-old woman and an Indigenous healer and midwife, Bibidilia is an important person in the Waspam community. She is godmother to nearly half of the children and she provides traditional healing services at no charge to many poor people. Although she is a community leader, revered for her skills and dedication, Bibidilia is herself very poor. She works alone, growing beans, rice, and vegetables. Every afternoon, she walks the two hours back to the river, carrying whatever she has harvested – it is only enough to feed herself; there is rarely anything left over to sell.

As Bibidilia began to age and her capacity for farm work diminished, she worried about how she would feed herself. Fortunately, Wangky Tangni’s Helping Hands program provided Bibidilia with the resources and training to start a modest bread-baking venture. The money she earns pays for business supplies with enough left over for food, ensuring that she can continue to live independently and with dignity.

Like Patricia, Bibidilia gives back to the community. Every week, she welcomes more than 40 community members to the Children’s Book Corner where she coordinates play and learning activities for young and old alike. Bibidilia is determined to help build a brighter future for her community’s children.

When we offer women the means to invest in themselves, we are investing in the future. Harvesting Hope enables women to develop successful small income-generating projects and reinvest in their community, sowing the seeds of hope in the midst of hardship.

Aug 28, 2006

MADRE in Umoja: A Delegation Update

MADRE staff and members recently returned from a delegation to Kenya, where they visited Umoja and other nearby villages. Umoja is an Indigenous Samburu community established and led by women who have declared their village a violence-against-women-free zone, and is the site of Breaking the Silence, an initiative to fight HIV/AIDS and Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) among young Indigenous Kenyan women. MADRE works in Umoja through the Indigenous Information Network (IIN), our sister organization in Kenya.

While visiting Umoja and other Indigenous Maasai communities near Nairobi, the delegation met with activists who promote women’s health and human rights and advocate for the environmental preservation and sustainable development of Indigenous Peoples' lands. MADRE staff and delegates returned invigorated and inspired by the work of MADRE's partners to promote Indigenous Peoples' rights and end sexual violence and HIV throughout their communities.

During the delegation, MADRE staff facilitated human rights trainings for women in the communities they visited, and welcomed many additional participants from the villages nearby. Delegates had a chance to participate in the workshops and hear directly from Samburu and Maasai women and youth about topics such as women's political participation, women's human rights, and HIV/AIDS. Young people—including students from the US and Latin America, and youth from Umoja and nearby communities—participated in an exchange during which they shared perspectives on issues such as female genital mutilation (FGM) and community involvement.

As part of a related educational initiative called Hope for the Future, MADRE also offered early-childhood education trainings to teachers in three villages, including Umoja. MADRE brought the director of a local pre-school in New York as a Sisters Without Borders volunteer to conduct the workshops, where local teachers received training in early childhood development and pedagogical models to improve their skills as pre-school teachers. With the outstanding support of delegates, MADRE was also able to deliver donated school supplies, didactic materials, and toys to pre-schools in and nearby Umoja. Delegates were invited to help decorate Umoja's school with the new materials, which amplified the students’ excitement about the coming school year. MADRE hopes to continue working with the women of Umoja in the future, to bring high quality trilingual education to the Umoja School so that the residents of Umoja can become empowered and effective participants in the development of Kenya.

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