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WILPF in Scotland Takes Action

Today we received news from our WILPF Scotland branch about what they are doing in the struggle for universal disarmament. Disarmament can begin in your own neighborhood, with your own politicians, and in this case, it is with the Scottish National Party (SNP). Our Scottish members have joined a coalition to prevent the party from remaining a member of NATO if secession from the United Kingdom occurs. The SNP has always had universal disarmament as one of its policies and has held a long-standing position that the Trident nuclear missiles that are stationed in the country will be removed and dismantled upon independence. If the SNP decides to remain in NATO, this will be seen as extremely contradictory since NATO has nuclear missiles stationed in various countries. NATO is a nuclear armed alliance with over 5,000 nuclear weapons. Stemming from the proposal to remain in NATO following Independence, made by UK Parliament member Angus Robertson, the Westminster and Scottish National Party spokesperson on Defence, members of the disarmament group, Trident Ploughshares, issued an invitation to activists and peace groups to respond to this news. WILPF answers the call Our branch in Scotland, of course, was there to answer the call and join in the action against a decision that is antithetical to universal disarmament. The coalition’s aim is to protest the conference resolution and lobby the members of Parliament, as well as local councilors, to vote against this resolution, which will take place in October. Members of the No-to-NATO campaign have already been protesting this month, such as when the Scottish Parliament Cabinet met on August 23rd. The protests have received a substantial amount of coverage in the Scottish press. Here at the international office we are very proud of, and inspired by, our members in Scotland who are taking real action in the fight for disarmament. They are holding their political parties accountable and making sure they do not retract their promises and party platforms that made them popular in the first place. The coalition has issued a unified statement and formed a website where people can show their support. They are asking people from Scotland and people from all over the world to join in the call for disarmament. Please visit the campaign’s website or check out their Facebook page.

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Goodbye, Drocèle Mugomoka Mbonwa

Today we received one of those emails you never want to open. The email contained the message that one of our very active members in WILPF Democratic Republic of Congo (WILPF DRC) has passed away. We received the following message from the Voices of African Women, which is part of WILPF United Kingdom (WILPF UK). Dear all, This is just to inform you that Drocele Mugomoka has passed away. Some of you will have met Drocele. She was a member of WILPF DRC, who came to the United Kingdom in 2009. For her visit, WILPF UK mobilised funds and organised various events, to lobby the Scottish parliament in Edinburgh and the UK parliament in London, about the tragic humanitarian situation of women particularly, in the Democratic Republic of Congo. Drocele and some Congolese women members of WILPF UK travelled to Scotland and stayed with Helen Kay. Drocele had done tremendous amounts of work to mobilise over 100 women leaders during the first ever WILPF meeting in the East of the Democratic Republic of Congo. She continued to support the expansion of the vision/campaigns of WILPF International, in the east of the Democratic Republic of Congo, particularly in Bukavu and Goma. She was an active Congolese woman with great courage and optimism, despite the hardship, poverty and armed conflict that has  characterised the Democratic Republic of Congofor the past 18 years. Drocele was always joyful and campaigned for peace and unity. She was a fervent campaigner on disarmament, particularly that of small arms. Drocele will be sorely missed among her colleagues in the civil society movement in the DRC. May her soul rest in peace. In peace and solidarity, Marie-Claire Faray Member of the WILPF UK and COMMON CAUSE UK (platform of Congolese women in the UK)

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Challenging Masculinity: The Necessary Step in Gender Equality?

It goes without saying that one of WILPF’s top priorities is ensuring women’s perspectives disrupt the gender stereotypes that entrench us in patriarchy. But what cost does the affirmation of gender norms have on men and why is this consideration just as relevant in the struggle to ensuring women’s rights? WILPF is organising a series of “Food for Thought” meetings for the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees and yesterday it was the issue of, ‘Challenging Masculinity: Men, Boys and Gender Equality’ – with our WILPF Secretary General Madeleine Rees acting as moderator. The first panel speaker was Dean Peacock, the Director of the Sonke Gender Justice Network. He opened the discussion by asking what impact gendered roles are having on men today. Certainly, the idea of a fixed feminine norm is limiting and confining to women. So it makes sense that men too would struggle with an entrenched notion of what it means to be a ‘man’. Research collated by Peacock in South Africa, as well as the International Men and Gender Equality Survey across a range of nine countries, have found that men who buy into socially constructed norms of masculinity are more prone to committing domestic or sexual violence, suffering from alcoholism and an inability to form closer relationships. On the other hand, the Survey concludes that the younger male generation, those who have received one or two years of higher education, or those who have witnessed father-figures in domestic settings are more likely to embrace gender equality. Importantly, this embrace leads to a reduced rate of violence and alcoholism and allows these men to function more fully in both social and intimate relationships. So there are concrete benefits for men who question the established gender norms! Another of the panel speakers, Abhijt Das, paralleled the Survey’s findings with the work of Men’s Action for Stopping Violence Against Women (MASVAW) in India. He argued compellingly that those men who remain silent about incidences of violence and discrimination indirectly endorse the ideas of those who are violent. He urged men to stop reaffirming existing norms by remaining silent. MASVAW’s research found that those who challenged social gender conventions gained self-respect, self-esteem and established stronger relationships with their wives. The struggle for gender equality comes down to power. The problem for men is not simply a reluctance to level the playing field and grant more rights to women; it is rather the threat that women’s rights pose on their own sense of power – a power that has been afforded to them by the mere fact of them being male. So it is all the more refreshing and exciting to hear about research being conducted by men, that presents gender equality as a way of benefitting men just as much as it does women! (Madeleine’s jokes about keeping the key male speakers locked in the room and mining them for their insightful evaluations were made perhaps rather wistfully…) Christopher Lomax, UK diplomat at the mission in Geneva and representative

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It's Time to Stand up for Pakistani Women's Rights

Malala Yousafzai has become a symbol for women’s human rights in Pakistan. Shot in the head and neck by the Taliban whilst on her way to school, her story has touched and revolted Pakistani society. But why was she targeted? Malala initially received public attention at the age of 11 for exerting her right to freedom of speech. The diary she wrote, under the pen name Gul Makai, laid bare the suffering of those living under Taliban rule and resonated throughout Pakistan, Importantly, however, the recent shocking attack on the 14-year-old is as much an attack on women as it is on Pakistani freedom of expression. Indeed, the Taliban has become notorious for its oppressive attitude towards women and its enforcement of what has often been described as gender apartheid. Malala was prompted to start her diary after the Taliban ordered the closure of all girls’ schools in the Swat Valley, where she was living. The young girl used her writing to champion the rights of women to education, and highlight on a wider scale the brutality of the Taliban towards women. In areas under Taliban control, women are not allowed to be educated past the age of eight. They are forbidden from leaving the house without a male member of the family. In Afghanistan, the Taliban have decreed that women must not speak loudly in public to prevent strangers from hearing a woman’s voice. These are just a few of the Taliban’s policies against women that strip them of any sense of personal freedom or autonomy. The shooting of Malala has united Pakistanis not only in a common disgust at the Taliban’s actions but also in a tacit acknowledgement that the unequal conditions of women living there must be addressed. Her attack has given great strength to women throughout Pakistan and has prompted them to engage in rallies and marches – some of which our own WILPF Pakistan members have taken part – to fight against the oppression that women have endured for too long Next week the Human Rights Council of the United Nations will review the compliance of Pakistan with human rights, in its Universal Periodic Review. It is crucial that the UN consider the basic rights of women who are violated on a daily basis. Want to get more involved? WILPF International will hold a side event entitled, ‘Women’s Rights in Pakistan: Status, Challenges and Possible Solutions’. We are happy to include on our panel Fauzia Viqar from Shirkat Gah, and Taslim Akhtar from WILPF Pakistan. The public event will be held at the UN Palais in room XXII on 31 October from 13:00 to 15:00, with refreshments being served beforehand. You can find WILPF’s recommendations for the UPR Pakistan here . If you are in Geneva and are interested in coming to the event please contact us at rights (a) wilpf.ch

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Do You Remember Azza Hilal Suleiman?

Azza Hilal Suleiman’s story of experiencing violent brutality shocked us when we met her in Geneva, in June 2012. And since then, it seems the situation in Egypt has not improved much. Jacqui True and Vanessa Farr interviewed her in Cairo, on life after the revolution and its impact on women’s rights. By Vanessa Farr and Jacqui True While we were in Cairo in the second phase of WILPF’s MENA Agenda 1325 project, we took the opportunity to catch up with Azza Suleiman. You might remember reading her compelling personal testimony about being beaten into a coma by army officers when she protected another unarmed female protestor during an attempted peaceful protest in Tahrir Square, Cairo, in December 2011. Azza looks a lot better than she did when we saw her in July in Geneva. Then, you could still see bruising on her head and neck and she was exhausted and more-or-less constantly in pain. “The bruising has finally healed”, she said, “but some of my very deep injuries are still surfacing. Hard tissue and blood clots still cause me discomfort and pain and my head injuries still make me very tired and dizzy.” Her doctors think it will take about two years to fully recover, but, she said, “I do feel better, and I’m happy to tell you I feel less pain than before.” We were saddened to hear, however, that her court case has shown no signs of movement. “My lawyers continue to work on my case pro bono, but the courts have now started the legal process from the beginning claiming there is evidence they need and do not have. Amnesty has placed Azza’s case on their urgent action list. “They are doing this with a lot of cases from the time of the uprisings; it’s clearly a delaying tactic. I feel very sad but I still cling to my belief in justice. I continue to receive lots of sympathy from outside,” Azza said, “but I feel much less support from within Egypt. I feel that there’s very little hope left.” Azza and other Egyptian women’s human rights activists believe there is an implicit agreement between the Muslim Brotherhood and the army, exactly like the one that existed in Mubarak’s time. “The Brotherhood and salafists have their own deal with the armed forces now, and for all of those awaiting a court case, hope is minimal” she said. “Officers who were supposedly kicked out for using violence against unarmed protesters have not only been reinstated but received rewards. It seems human rights are even more fragile now than they were before: with military impunity, the torture is also continuing.” Azza also talked about the continued economic exclusion of poor people, which was one of the major reasons for the uprising against Mubarak’s regime. “People are still poor, taxes are still high,” she said. “Indeed, the ruling party wants more money from us. And where is that to come from? The Brotherhood don’t have any fiscal policies or plans,

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Seeing Through the Politics of Fear

This morning, I opened my laptop with sleepy eyes to find that Hillary Clinton and Mohamed Morsi had announced a ceasefire in Gaza; “The United States welcomes the agreement today for a ceasefire in Gaza. For it to hold the rocket attacks must end and a broader calm must return.” With that, Clinton placed herself as one of the central peacemakers of current times. She had been dispatched to Israel late Tuesday night before travelling to the West Bank and then finally to Cairo on Wednesday, brokering peace along the way. She also noted in her statement that the US will not only “work for the security of Israel, but for the improvement of conditions for the people of Gaza”. As it happens, the conditions of the people of Palestine were exactly the topic of a lecture by Roni Hammermann, another strong female peacemaker, the WILPF interns attended last night. Organised by Amnesty International and held in a typical Geneva University lecture hall, Hammermann spoke to the packed room about her experiences with her organization Machsomwatch. Machsomwatch (‘machsom’ meaning ‘checkpoint’), is a movement of about 300 Israeli women peace activists, who monitor and document IDF checkpoints in the West Bank on a daily basis. They oppose the Israeli occupation and the denial of Palestinian’s right to move freely. Facing fierce opposition by the Israeli government and society as a whole, Hammermann told us about the means of both physical and invisible control Israel exercises over the people of the West Bank. Among the physical belong the classic checkpoints, road barriers, trenches, concrete blocks, agricultural gates, and of course the (apartheid) wall. These forms of control also include the complete segregation of roads and other infrastructures. However, according to Hammermann, these only form the ‘tip of the iceberg’. The even more draining element of the Israeli occupation on the lives of Palestinians in the West Bank is the ‘invisible’ permit system. In short, with more than 101 different types of standard permits required in the West Bank today, the Palestinians now need permits for every aspect and action of their life. Means of Control, not Security Most importantly and with everyone’s attention in the room, she explained that the goal of the checkpoints and permit system was never the security of the Israeli people, but rather control over the Palestinian population. In fact, she argued these measures are part of a concerted effort to harass, embarrass and (religiously) humiliate the Palestinian population to such a degree that they leave the area, pushing out those they feel do not belong in their promised land. Hammermann further explained how the military courts are merely a tool for sustaining and legitimizing the current status quo, where militarization is at its all-time height and the culture of fear is absolutely overwhelming. Inspired by her grandfather who was killed at Auschwitz, she ended her lecture asking us all to think about what fear can do to people, and the decisions they make. For seeing through the

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Seeing through the Politics of Fear

This morning, I opened my laptop with sleepy eyes to find that Hillary Clinton and Mohamed Morsi had announced a ceasefire in Gaza; “The United States welcomes the agreement today for a ceasefire in Gaza. For it to hold the rocket attacks must end and a broader calm must return.” With that, Clinton placed herself as one of the central peacemakers of current times. She had been dispatched to Israel late Tuesday night before travelling to the West Bank and then finally to Cairo on Wednesday, brokering peace along the way. She also noted in her statement that the US will not only “work for the security of Israel, but for the improvement of conditions for the people of Gaza”. As it happens, the conditions of the people of Palestine were exactly the topic of a lecture by Roni Hammermann, another strong female peacemaker, the WILPF interns attended last night. Organised by Amnesty International and held in a typical Geneva University lecture hall, Hammermann spoke to the packed room about her experiences with her organization Machsomwatch. Machsomwatch (‘machsom’ meaning ‘checkpoint’), is a movement of about 300 Israeli women peace activists, who monitor and document IDF checkpoints in the West Bank on a daily basis. They oppose the Israeli occupation and the denial of Palestinian’s right to move freely. Facing fierce opposition by the Israeli government and society as a whole, Hammermann told us about the means of both physical and invisible control Israel exercises over the people of the West Bank. Among the physical belong the classic checkpoints, road barriers, trenches, concrete blocks, agricultural gates, and of course the (apartheid) wall. These forms of control also include the complete segregation of roads and other infrastructures. However, according to Hammermann, these only form the ‘tip of the iceberg’. The even more draining element of the Israeli occupation on the lives of Palestinians in the West Bank is the ‘invisible’ permit system. In short, with more than 101 different types of standard permits required in the West Bank today, the Palestinians now need permits for every aspect and action of their life. Means of Control, not Security Most importantly and with everyone’s attention in the room, she explained that the goal of the checkpoints and permit system was never the security of the Israeli people, but rather control over the Palestinian population. In fact, she argued these measures are part of a concerted effort to harass, embarrass and (religiously) humiliate the Palestinian population to such a degree that they leave the area, pushing out those they feel do not belong in their promised land. Hammermann further explained how the military courts are merely a tool for sustaining and legitimizing the current status quo, where militarization is at its all-time height and the culture of fear is absolutely overwhelming. Inspired by her grandfather who was killed at Auschwitz, she ended her lecture asking us all to think about what fear can do to people, and the decisions they make. For seeing through the

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Day 2: Women over Weapons!

The massive amounts of violence perpetrated against women are a blatant violation of human rights and our WILPF members are citizens to countries where armed violence against women takes place daily. One of the main questions we ask here at Reaching Critical Will and WILPF International is, why are women’s rights and  security so neglected at the local, national, and international levels? While there are numerous answers to this question, we have noticed that sometimes women’s rights are simply a low priority for many governments. At the same time, it is obvious what takes high priority in the same countries: militarism and the arms trade. In the countries where WILPF has National Sections, governments spent over 1.058 trillion dollars in 2011 on their militaries (this figure does not include information for the DRC, French Polynesia, and Palestine due to lack of information from these countries). If all of these countries reduced and reallocated such huge military budgets, we could not only help gender equality, but we could easily pay for the entire 15 years of extra budget needed to attain ALL of the Millennium Development Goals. This would be an extraordinary achievement that would address issues like poverty, hunger, disease, the environment, education, infant mortality, and equality for women.[2] Unfortunately, the world’s money largely continues to be filtered into the military and arms, and as a result women suffer from horrific violence everyday whether in a conflict zone or in their own homes. As many of us know, the United States (US) is the most highly militarized nation in the world and in 2011 spent about 689.5 billion USD on the military. In addition it exported 706 million USD worth of small arms and light weapons, while importing arms and military equipment worth a whopping 1.75 billion USD. What does this mean for women? It means that women in the US are disproportionately vulnerable to gun violence, despite living in a “peaceful” society. More than half of murdered women in the US are killed with a gun and US states with high gun ownership have 114% higher homicide rates. Meanwhile, despite being a developed country, the US is ranked 47th in gender equality. Of course, US women are not the only women who suffer from US militarism and trade of arms, as the usage of American weapons in conflict zones have an even more devastating impact on the populations in these areas. For example, Colombia – another country where we have a strong WILPF Section – is intimately linked to the US militarily. It is one of the top five recipients of US arms exports and its overall military spending in 2011 was almost 10.3 billion dollars. Conflict in Colombia has persisted for almost 50 years and the American weapons exported there contribute to the widespread violence that has lead to numerous deaths and displacement. Columbia has the 10th highest prevalence of femicide in the whole world and firearms are used in more than 60 percent of those cases. While all of this violence is taking place,

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Day 5: The Recurring Nightmare of War in Gaza

As we mark this year’s 16 Days of Activism, I affirm from experience that militarised violence does devastate any chance of peace in the home. The strong link between ending violence against women and ending wars was restated for me, as I watched the latest Israeli military Operation “Pillar of Defence” in the last two weeks. I was immediately drawn back into the trauma of military Operation “Cast Lead” (OCL) which began on the morning of Saturday 27 December 2008, when Israel broke the ceasefire agreement with Hamas, as Gaza children made their way to school. As Israel’s longest and deadliest incursion into the blockaded Gaza Strip, “Cast Lead” preceded 2012’s “Pillar” in a long line of strategic military efforts to render the daily life of Palestinians “unbearable”. As OCL began, I was at home with my family in a flat overlooking a heavily-guarded pedestrian crossing through the infamous – and illegal – barricade that separates Palestinians in the West Bank from those in East Jerusalem. By Sunday evening, the violence reached us too: we awoke to the sound of M16 rifle fire as Israeli Defence Force (IDF) soldiers fired seemingly endless rounds of bullets at Palestinians on the other side of the barricade who were protesting the Gaza attack. Inside Gaza, more than a thousand civilians were going to die in the next 22 days. As those days dragged endlessly on, I was glued to the internet, frantically phoning friends inside Gaza for news, gripped with fear that people I loved might not make it. When Israeli troops finally withdrew, an event that was carefully timed to coincide with President Obama’s first oath of office, it was finally possible for me to go into the Strip to see for myself what had happened. Nothing could have prepared me for the devastation of Gaza after relentless bombardment, shelling, incursions by tanks and well-armed combat troops. The place was flattened, the ruins still smouldering. Mature orange and olive trees, a major source of livelihood and nutrition, had been ruthlessly uprooted; roads were shredded by tanks; and the Strip’s sole industrial zone had been systematically destroyed. Around USD 527 million of damage had been caused. “To exist is to resist”, say Palestinians, and that was evident everywhere in the aftermath. Male friends told me of their admiration for women’s courage – risking their lives, they had usually been the ones to go out to find food and water in the thick of the fighting since it was known that the IDF, having labelled every male in Gaza a “terrorist”, would shoot to kill any man on sight. Women spoke little about how they had felt in that time they were outside: they were just doing what Gaza women have done since al nakba: making their families’ lives liveable. They did talk of the courage and kindness they had seen in men. One told me how a passer-by had tried to help her family get their disabled uncle to safety during fierce shelling.

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