Women everywhere woke up to the reality of a worryingly misogynisitic new world on Wednesday morning. As the dust begins to settle this weekend, there seems no doubt that a Trump presidency will aim to undo 8 years of progress for women under Obama...
The billionaire has promised to appoint a strict conservative Supreme Court justice who would overturn many of gains made by the outgoing president from affordable contraception and protection of abortion rights to the much celebrated equality legislation for same sex marriage and transgender citizens. And it doesn’t stop there. Trump’s presidency is also expected to have far reaching implications on millions of oversees women too, As Brita Fernandez Schmidt, Executive Director of Women for Women International explains…
‘As someone who has actively promoted women’s rights and equality over the past 25 years, I will always call on any new government to uphold women’s rights and proactively recommit to international and national laws and agreements dedicated to ensuring that women can enjoy the same opportunities as men and live a life free of violence and abuse. Women’s Rights are human rights and human rights are universal and the incoming US government has an important role to play in the protection of these rights.
This applies to the rights of women in the US but it equally applies to women all over the world and therefore a strong foreign policy that enshrines a commitment to equality, women’s rights and existing commitments such as UN Security Council Resolution 1325 on women, peace and security is more important than ever before. We know that women are disproportionately affected by poverty and conflict – 70% of the poorest in the world today are women – and as such paying attention to and addressing their needs is imperative for all of us.
Women for Women International is an organisation dedicated to supporting the most marginalised women in countries affected by war and conflict. With so many armed conflicts and millions of displaced and vulnerable women and girls around the globe, the work we do has never been so important. Every day we hear horrific stories of abuse such ISIS enslaving Yezidi women and girls, we know the growing insecurity in Afghanistan is particularly affecting women and we know in South Sudan, girls and young women have been forced to marry their rapists (combatant or civilian) to save them and their families from shame.
I hear stories from all over the world of women experiencing unimaginable abuse during conflict. Fatuma’s story is one that stays with me; during the Rwanda genocide she was forced to watch the murder of her husband by Hutu militia. She was raped; her pregnant belly cut open; and her baby killed. She still bears the scar today. Fatuma recovered physically, but the mental trauma remained. She was shunned by her family and community.
To effectively prevent violence against women in all its forms, we have to pull it up by its roots. This requires a widespread change of attitudes. Working with men and women, communities, the media and religious leaders to breakdown the social norms that portray abuse as “normal” or part of “tradition”. This applies in the West as much as in the communities and countries we work. The culture which treats threats of rape and violence against women as normal come from the same place that allows men to treat women as unequal.
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The fact is: we can change attitudes and behaviours. I have seen this all over the world. But it takes us all. We can all use our voice and our actions to make a difference. We can share our stories and how inequality impacts us. We can talk about solutions because we all have them.
Take for example our men’s engagement programme in Afghanistan, where we have the support of religious mullahs who train men in the importance of women’s rights and empowerment – and we have recently evaluated this work and found that after the course 41% of men said they would speak out against violence against women and support a woman who was being targeted. Before the programme only 10% said they would.
If we can do this in Afghanistan, where in large parts women are not allowed to leave the house unless they are accompanied by a male relative then we can do this all over the world.
Worldwide there have always been and there will continue to be many threats to the rights of women and girls. But I see so much strength, resilience and determination every day in the work that I do as Executive Director at Women for Women International and I have seen just that on social media in the past 24 hours – a strong commitment to upholding equality for us all for the benefit of our common shared humanity.’
Words by Brita Fernandez Schmidt, Women for Women International