Monday, December 6, 2010

Saying no to violence

You might have heard the statistic recently: up to 70 percent of women in the world experience physical or sexual violence during their lifetimes.

If you've heard this or numbers like it, that's because November 25-December 10 are dedicated to raising awareness about and taking action on violence against women.

November 25 was the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women. It also marked the start of 16 Days of Activism Against Gender Violence, incorporating International Women Human Rights Defenders Day on November 29 and ending on International Human Rights Day, December 10.

In Canada, today, December 6 is the National Day of Remembrance and Action on Violence Against Women. It commemorates the 1989 murders of 14 young women at l'École Polytechnique de Montréal.

The United Nations’ UNITE to End Violence Against Women campaign underlines that there are many forms of violence against women, and that these are not confined to a specific culture, region or country. But since this blog is about Africa, and in honour of December 6, today’s post will feature 6 groups in Sub-Saharan Africa who are working to address gender violence:

1. Women of Zimbabwe Arise (WOZA), Zimbabwe: WOZA is a civic movement advocating for Zimbabwean women and their families. It has over 75,000 members, both women and men. For WOZA, November 29 is not only International Women Human Rights Defenders Day but the date in 2006 when hundreds of its members were beaten and arrested while peacefully launching the WOZA People’s Charter. WOZA has conducted hundreds of protests since 2003 and over 3,000 of its members and leaders have been wrongfully arrested while exercising their constitutional rights.

2. Mothertongue, South Africa:  Mothertongue is an artists’ collective that supports women to tell their stories through performing, visual and literary arts and art therapies. This enables women who are victims of violence to self-heal and gain awareness of their rights. It also challenges society’s silencing of women. Mothertongue cites the example of a woman whose husband infected her with HIV and then forced her out of her home, who started legal action against him. Mothertongue, with support from the United Nations Development Fund for Women (UNIFEM) Trust Fund To End Violence Against Women, brought together 28 women in Khayelitsha near Cape Town who were HIV-positive and survivors of gender-based violence to develop performances based on their experiences. This helped them in their own healing and in supporting other women in the community.

3. Tisunge Ana Athu Akhazi Coalition (TAAAC) / Let’s Protect Our Girl Children, Zambia: TAAAC is a coalition of 9 organisations working to fight sexual violence against girls in Zambia. It advocates for judicial reform to stop violence against women and girls, and supports the Safe Spaces program for educating school children about their rights. Safe Spaces teaches girls about HIV and AIDS, puberty, gender stereotypes and human rights, and provides physical space for them to meet together. It also teaches boys about respect for girls, and gender roles. (Let’s Protect Our Girl Children is also a recipient of a UNIFEM Trust Fund Grant.)

4. The New Sudanese Indigenous NGO Network, Sudan: NESI-Network is one of 16 organisations and individuals that the Nobel Women’s Initiative is highlighting during the 16 Days of Activism Against Gender Violence. This 22-member network of organisations throughout Sudan seeks to strengthen civil society and to enhance the dignity of people regardless of ethnicity, gender or religion.

5. Civil Resource Development and Documentation Centre (CIRRDOC), Nigeria: CIRRDOC supports women survivors of violence and works to halt violence and the spread of HIV through various mechanisms such as the creation of anti-violence committees headed by men, including traditional leaders:

6. Raising Voices, Uganda: Raising Voices is a project that along with the Centre for Domestic Violence Prevention in Kampala aims to prevent violence against women. It uses a model of community mobilisation called SASA -- a Kiswahili word that means "now" as well as an acronym for Start, Awareness, Support, Action --  to stop violence and the spread of HIV, by raising awareness of power imbalances and how to address them:

Stopping violence against women requires action at many levels, and by all of us.

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