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V-Day's Karama Program Presents Three Panels at the Tenth International AWID Forum for Women's Rights and Development


V-Day's Karama Program, an initiative to supply training, funding, and ongoing support to diverse women's networks working to end violence against women and girls in the Middle East and North Africa, presented three panels at the 10th AWID International Forum for Women's Rights and Development in Bangkok, October 27-30. The International Forum on Women's Rights and Development is the largest recurring event of its kind, bringing together women's rights leaders and activists from around the world every three years to strategize, network, celebrate, and learn in a highly charged atmosphere that fosters deep discussions and sustained personal and professional growth. During the four days of the conference, V-Day Special Representative and Karama Chair Hibaaq Osman was joined by world-renown women's rights activists from Iraq, Palestine, Sudan, Jordan, Afghanistan, Tajikistan, Syria, Algeria, Lebanon, and Egypt to discuss diverse topics pertaining to women's rights in the Middle East and North Africa.

The panel topics included:
Challenging Occupation in the Middle East and North Africa. Women activists from Iraq, Palestine, Jordan, Sudan, Lebanon, and a Palestinian citizen in Israel presented how they take up the fight to protect their public and personal sovereignty. Maya Alrahabi of Syria, an activist and founder of several unregistered organizations and who is currently leading a campaign against 'honor' crimes, facilitated the panel. The other speakers gave insight in to the emerging strategies used by women to face both occupation and gender-based opposition:

  • Yanar Mohammed, editor of Equality newspaper in Baghdad and leader of the Organization for Women's Freedom in Iraq, operates visibly in the media as a "watchdog on the occupation and a symbol of the secular and pro-women struggle."
  • Nibal Thawabteh, a young media and political activist with the Jerusalem Center for Women, fought for one year to take her place on the Bethlehem area council, and won.
  • Aida Touma-Suliman, a Palestinian citizen of Israel, Director of Women Against Violence (Nazareth) and a co-founder of the International Women's Commission for Peace in the Middle East, noted that Palestinians face two threats aggravating violence against women—the social influence which clings to preserving traditional culture, and the state influence which treats them as internal refugees without equal citizenship rights.
  • Fahima Hashim, Director of Sallmaah Women's Resource Center in Sudan and Coordinator of the Partners Project on violence against women and gender mainstreaming, pointed out that only international organizations are allowed to work in Darfur presently, so Sudanese women's groups have targeted peacebuilding among the communities of displaced Darfurians elsewhere in Sudan.
  • Afaf Jabiri of Jordan, regional coordinator for V-Day's Karama Program, ran a program for refugee Palestinian women and children in Jordan, now 60% of the country's population, and noted the high priority placed on education and identity.
  • Zoya Rouhana, of Lebanon, coordinator of the Arab Women's Court, and Kafa (Enough) Against Violence and Exploitation, set up the Court as an NGO network to follow up on the issue of violence against women, and started the first Listening Center for women victims. With Syria's recent withdrawal followed by the subsequent assassination, Zoya cautioned that Lebanon is "still in danger of a hidden occupation."

    Wartime Women Activists Transforming Peace Processes. Women activists from Iraq, Afghanistan, Tajikistan, Algeria, and Sudan described how they have amplified women's roles in creating human security, battled for social and political rights, and confronted conservative backlash during the reformation of their war-torn society. Facilitated by V-Day's own Hibaaq Osman, the session heard a special comment from Mazari Safa, Afghanistan's Deputy Minister for Women's Affairs. Featured panelists gave vivid examples of women's roles in peacebuilding that are both personal and political:

  • Yanar Mohammed has endured death threats for fighting for women's rights to be preserved by the Iraqi Governing Council and the Constitutional committee, and for giving shelter to women seeking protection from ‘honor' killings.
  • Afifa Azim, coordinator of the Afghan Women's Network that wrote a Women's Bill of Rights, held 150 workshops on gender violence across Afghanistan, and got 128,000 Afghans to sign a disarmament petition, described the role of women in the transitional government and recent elections that has put 68 women in parliament.
  • Zuhra Halimova, Director of Tajikistan's OSI Assistance Foundation helping to re-build Tajik society after a civil war from 1992-1997. She described how Tajik women became more economically independent, visible, and vocal in public and private roles, while at the same time more vulnerable to rape and sexual violence during the war.
  • Omaima Amin Al Mardi, a member of the Sudanese Women Empowerment Network for Peace, is weaving women together across warring factions and different political parties in the effort for peace after 35 years of war.
  • Nafissa Lahreche, of the Women in Communication Association and Ounotha (Feminine) Magazine in Algeria, helped mobilize women to protest the discriminatory family law code, endure attacks for their activism during the 1991-2002 civil war, and reach formal changes to the family code in 2004.

    The Trans-Regional Violence Against Women Meeting: Middle East and North Africa (V-Day), Central Asia and Eastern Europe (OSI). V-Day was joined by the Open Society Institute (OSI) in a meeting that aimed at beginning a mutual discussion to share strategies, strengthen networks, and create linkages between women from the Arab Region/Middle East and the OSI network partners in Central Asia and the Caucuses.

    Selected speakers shared their different experiences in fighting violence against women from different levels, including the policy level, their challenges and any invisible or ignored issue. Q & A discussion followed after each presentation.

  • Maya Al Rahabi, from Syria highlighted the current controversies and dilemmas challenging women in the region.
  • Nafissa Lahreche from Algeria discussed current policy responses and sharing strategies on the prevention and protection levels on violence against women.
  • Azza Suliman, Director of the Egyptian Centre for Legal Assistance, identified obstacles, needs and ignored or invisible issues, such as in cases of ‘honor' crimes and incest.

    About AWID

    The Association for Women's Rights in Development is an international membership organization that connects, informs, and mobilizes people and institutions committed to achieving gender equality, sustainable development, and women's human rights.

    AWID's goal is to bring about individual, institutional and policy changes that will improve the lives of women and girls everywhere. AWID achieves this goal by facilitating ongoing debates on fundamental and provocative issues as well as by building the individual and organizational capacities of those working for women's empowerment and social justice.

    About V-Day

    V-Day is a global movement to end violence against women and girls that raises funds and awareness through benefit productions of Playwright/Founder Eve Ensler's award-winning play “The Vagina Monologues.” In 2005, more than 2500 V-Day events took place in the U.S. and around the world. To date, V-Day has raised over $30 million and educated millions about the issue of violence against women and the efforts to end it, crafted international educational, media and PSA campaigns, reopened shelters, and funded over 5000 community-based anti-violence programs and safe houses in Kenya, South Dakota, Egypt and Iraq. The 'V' in V-Day stands for Victory, Valentine and Vagina.