Dec 122012

As I write this, Congress is still dick-ering with women’s lives by failing to re-authorize VAWA (the Violence Against Women Act). More often than not, whenever this important act comes up for re-authorization, the right has some absurd excuse about why they should not provide this crucial funding that has been proven to save women’s lives.  This year they have decided that they aren’t sure about funding VAWA because oh gasp, it would provide desperately needed services to Native American women.

The extent of this misogynist chest-thumping was brought home to me last night when I came across a piece that I wrote in 2006 entitled, Ending Terrorism Against Women Begins at Home: the Urgent Need to Fully Fund VAWA. The sick and monumentally infuriating thing is, that title would be perfect for this piece too, so yes, at the risk of being repetitive, I am using it in part again!

We need to let the chief dick-erers know that enough is enough and they need to get this done because apparently even after taking a shellacking at the polls in large part because of all the woman-hating spew they’ve unleashed the last few years, they’ve decided that doubling down with more misogyny is the way to go.

Please take a minute and tell the GOP leadership enough is enough and that VAWA needs to be fully funded now.

Speaker of the House John Boehner:   202-225-0600 and

House Majority Leader Eric Cantor: 202-225-2815

Women should not have to fight for this every year, the waste of time and resources, not to mention the risk to women’s lives that is perpetually used as a bargaining chip needs to end.  It’s time to make VAWA permanent, not an annual discussion.

 December 12, 2012  Posted by on December 12, 2012 Comments Off on The Urgent Need To Fully Fund VAWA (she says at the risk of sounding repetitive)
Nov 252012

Every year, from November 25, the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against women, through December 10, Human Rights Day, human rights activists around the world participate in the 16 Days of Action To End Gender Violence campaign.  This year there are numerous ways in which to get involved and learn more including:

  • World Pulse is  holding a Digital Action campaign here.
  • Say No-Unite is urging governments around the world to commit to ending violence against women and girls.
  • Each day during the campaign, Take Back The Tech offers a different suggestion for how to make a difference in ending gender violence.
  • The Nobel Women’s Initiative is spotlighting the courageous and inspiring work of 16 activists during the campaign.
  • The Pixel Project highlights 16 women who are transforming personal pain into positive action.

Please feel free to add your organization’s campaign information in the comments.

Here in the U.S. nothing could be more urgent than the re-authorization of the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) which is being held up by Senate Republicans.  As the New York Times notes, their refusal to act is a horrifying message of hate and devaluing of life that needs to stop.  And as UN Women Executive Director Michelle Bachelet notes, there is a need for government throughout the world to take stronger and urgent action to protect women and girls.

 As I have said on this blog too many times before, violence against women and girls is a systemic, world-wide pandemic that destroys lives and exacts a terrible cost on our global well-being.  The need to end this violence in all its heinous forms could not be more urgent and requires all of us to stand up and say, “No More!”

 November 25, 2012  Posted by on November 25, 2012 Comments Off on The 16 Days Campaign–Shining A Light On The Urgent Need To End Gender Violence
Nov 112012

The United States is one of six countries that has not yet ratified CEDAW, the Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination against Women which was adopted by the United Nations in 1979.  The Convention is a significant tool in insuring women’s human rights which defines discrimination against women as,

“any distinction, exclusion or restriction made on the basis of sex which has the effect or purpose of impairing or nullifying the recognition, enjoyment or exercise by women, irrespective of their marital status, on a basis of equality of men and women, of human rights and fundamental freedoms in the political, economic, social, cultural, civil or any other field”.

Upon ratifying the Convention, it requires countries,

  • To incorporate the principle of equality of men and women in their legal system, abolish all discriminatory laws and adopt appropriate ones prohibiting discrimination against women;
  • To establish tribunals and other public institutions to ensure the effective protection of women against discrimination; and
  • To ensure elimination of all acts of discrimination against women by persons, organizations or enterprises.

That the U.S. with all of its power and resources has chosen to not yet ratify CEDAW is appalling and is significantly detrimental to protecting and furthering women’s human rights and the time to rectify that is now, without reservation (see below for why this is so important).

The question then is what would it take to get CEDAW ratified?

In the United States, ratification of international treaties requires two-thirds of the Senate (67 of 100 Senators) to vote in favor of the treaty, providing the Senate’s advice and consent for ratification. But before an international treaty reaches the Senate floor, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee typically reviews international treaties and votes to send it forward for a consideration by the full Senate. Then the president signs the treaty and ratification is complete…
…The Obama administration strongly supports ratification and has included CEDAW as one of five multilateral treaties that are a priority. In the U.S. Senate, the CEDAW treaty has been voted favorably out of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee twice with bipartisan support: in 1994 with a vote of 13-5 and in 2002 with a vote of 12-7. It has never been brought to the Senate floor for a vote.

Vice President Biden was a strong supporter of CEDAW when he was a senator and more recently, Sen. Barbara Boxer indicated strong support for CEDAW in a hearing on international women’s rights last year.

As important as the U.S. ratification of CEDAW is however, we need to be clear that it must be ratified without Reservations, Understandings and Declarations (RUDs) that would undermine and pervert its intent.  During an earlier attempt to get CEDAW ratified,

(Former) Senator Jesse Helms (R-North Carolina), a vocal opponent of abortion, the committee imposed 11 restrictions which run counter to CEDAW’s intent as an international bill of rights for women. Included among the RUDs were limitations that negated CEDAW’s mandated paid maternity leave and access to family planning and reproductive health care (including abortion.)

And as the NOW Foundation has pointed out, the restrictions that have been proposed,

convey a clear lack of commitment to ending discrimination against women and specifically claim no responsibility for the U.S. to undertake efforts to expand maternity leave, improve access to health care services for women, or take more effective efforts to address sex-based pay discrimination, among other objectives that would promote women’s equality…

…NOW believes that the Reservation disavowing the “doctrine of comparable worth” will have a similar chilling effect on efforts to advance legislation that would strengthen current laws prohibiting sex-based pay discrimination.

According to international human rights lawyer Janet Benshoof, the damage of passing CEDAW with the qualifications that have been proposed would be enormous,

Ironically, if the U.S. intention in ratifying CEDAW is to send a supportive message to women globally, our twisted sister version will, in fact, do the opposite. Although the RUDs seemingly apply solely to American women, they eviscerate the core of CEDAW, the definition of equality and provide legal authority to those who want to undermine women’s rights.

Although reversal of the United States isolationist stand on international law is atop the wish lists of lawyers in the human rights legal field, engagement via this gutted CEDAW poses even more danger than continued U.S. isolation. The Senate should advise and consent to the ratification of a clean CEDAW unencumbered by reservations. They should not ratify a CEDAW that limits the full scope of women’s equality rights.

187 countries have ratified CEDAW.  Six have not:  the U.S., Iran, Somalia, Sudan, Palau, and Tonga.  It is well past time for the United States to truly become the leader in women’s human rights that it claims to be and ratify CEDAW without reservation.


Click here for the complete text of CEDAW.

 November 11, 2012  Posted by on November 11, 2012 Comments Off on It’s Time To Ratify CEDAW
Oct 312012

As I’ve pointed out too many times before, in the aftermath of any weather disaster, women often face different needs than men.  In particular, people, mostly women and children, who are living in an abusive situation may be more vulnerable to violence because stress is often a trigger for acts of domestic violence as is feeling powerless as one might well feel if you have been flooded or burned out of your home, or you are cut off by water, no transit and no electricity.  And if you are the primary caregiver for children or elder relatives, fleeing an abuser is all the more complicated.

Compounding the problem, shelters and other facilities that might normally be available to help may also be without electricity and phones or have been flooded or be short-staffed and unavailable or less available to help and police may have a harder time responding to calls if the victim even has a phone (which as I write this a great many people in New York and New Jersey still don’t have).

If you know people who may be  particularly vulnerable to intimate violence in their lives and who have been affected by this horrendous storm, please do what you can to reach out to them and also, please consider making a donation to domestic violence shelters that may have been impacted as they may really be scrambling to provide additional services or rebuild.

And while we clean up here in the U.S. please be mindful that we were not the only country impacted by the storm and women in Haiti, still recovering from multiple weather disasters in the last few years,   are very vulnerable, particularly in refuge camps, where rape and sexual assault have been serious problems and where access to such basics as food for infants and feminine hygiene products may be hard to get.

 October 31, 2012  Posted by on October 31, 2012 1 Response »
Oct 182012

When it comes to sexual violence during armed conflict, there is much we still don’t know, which, as the 2012 Human Security Report points out,  has important implications for how we address that violence.  The report’s analysis and conclusions about what we do and do not know however are deeply flawed.  The authors of the report state that they believe that the way we frame and perceive the problem is flawed in several ways:

First, it exaggerates the worldwide prevalence and intensity of wartime sexual violence by inappropriately generalizing from shocking victim accounts and statistics drawn from a relatively small number of the worst-affected countries.
Second, it systematically neglects domestic sexual violence in war-affected countries, despite the fact that its impact is far more pervasive than that of conflict-related sexual violence. It also largely ignores sexual violence against males in wartime.

As Megan H. Mackenzie points out, both of these assertions are highly problematic.  As is  the distinction the report makes between “conflict-related sexual violence” and “domestic violence”:

We make a distinction between the two major types of sexual violence that occur during wartime. First, there is conflict-related sexual violence, by which we mean that perpetrated by combatants—rebels, militia fighters, and government forces. Second, there is domestic sexual violence, which includes not only that perpetrated by intimate partners but also by other household or family members. The evidence we have indicates that the large majority of noncombatant sexual violence in wartime is made up of domestic sexual violence.

The insistence of the authors in making the distinction between “domestic” violence against women and “conflict-related” sexual violence is a critical fault in their analysis.  To begin with, as Gloria Steinem points out in an interview with Lauren Wolfe about why she spearheaded the Women Under Siege project  (of which Wolfe is the Director) with the Women’s Media Center, “sexualized violence” is a far better descriptor than “sexual violence”,

Because there’s nothing sexual about violence. Sex is about pleasure. Violence is about pain. Nature tells us what’s good for us by making it pleasurable, and what’s bad for us by making it painful. To get those things mixed up usually requires a childhood in which people we loved and depended on inflicted pain, and we came to believe we couldn’t get one without the other.

What we also need to be cognizant of however is that all violence is an attempt to gain power over an ‘other’.  That is true whether it is a U.S. drone attack over Pakistan, or the shooting of a young girl who dared to speak out against the Taliban.  It is true if it is fighting on the streets of Syria, or a street fight in New York or an honor killing in Iraq (a form of violence which reportedly increased after the U.S.invasion of Iraq).  It is true whether it is a rape by a U.S. serviceman in Japan or a murder behind closed doors in Omaha.

The point is this–the root cause of sexualized violence is an attempt to gain power over by the assailant, regardless of whether it is directly related to armed conflict or not and insisting that they are separate issues indicates a systemic lack of understanding that has very damaging implications.

It is also important to note that the common thread of the attempt to assert power over that is at the root of all sexualized violence makes it indeed quite difficult to separate the issues of conflict related sexualized violence and sexualized violence behind closed doors because all too frequently, military unrest itself leads civilians to feel powerless and vulnerable which leads to the use of “domestic” violence in an attempt to feel empowered.  In addition, when soldiers or other combatants are taught to hate and kill and to use violence to prevail in conflict, all too often those teachings follow them home in the aftermath of battle, those who commit sexualized violence as a tactic of war may well commit “domestic violence” as well–so where precisely would one draw the line between these realms?  It is, I think, necessary to make that connection (as opposed to asserting a distinction as the report does) and more useful to see it as varying manifestations of the root problem of the assertion of power over rather than as two separate problems.

The reports also makes a distinction regarding “strategic” rape that is deeply disturbing:

If mass rape is strategic—e.g., if it has been initiated as part of a top-down policy intended to terrorize civilians, or as part of a campaign of ethnic cleansing—the international community may have some immediate leverage that can be used to pressure the leaders of the government or rebel forces to stop. These may include threats to withhold aid to governments, to impose sanctions, or to push for indictments in the International Criminal Court.
If, as studies suggest, rape perpetrated by soldiers and rebels is not part of a top-down strategic plan, but is due to the fact that the military command system is simply too weak to stop the abuse, there is relatively little that the international community can do in the short term. In the longer term, however, bringing perpetrators of rape to justice may provide a measure of deterrence against sexual violence in future wars.

We have argued that some of the claims that sexual violence is deployed as a “weapon of war”are based on little more than anecdotal accounts. Pushing for policy initiatives on the basis of false assumptions is clearly a recipe for bad policy. It underlines yet again the need for reliable data—the sine qua non of evidence-based policy.

With respect, sexualized violence is ALWAYS strategic, regardless of  who perpetrates it.  As regards military conflict, granted, there aren’t too many examples of explicit top-down orders to commit such acts, but I would be hard pressed to come up with an example of military action or conquest that did not involve sexualized violence.  It has been a systemic part of of the violent quest for power over since the dawn of patriarchy.

But even without going back thousands of years and to bring it a little closer to home for most readers, one has only to look at the sorry history of the U.S. military in regard to sexual abuse, whether at bases around the world (as Cynthia Enloe has documented so thoroughly) or the ongoing epidemic of sexual abuse within the ranks that continues despite multiple commissions and lengthy reports and hand-wringing at Congressional hearings.

That said, the report does make some very valid points, namely that there is a lack of adequate data and that has important policy implications as does the incorrect interpretation and sensationalizing of data (they use a Nicholas Kristof piece as an example).

The report is also particularly critical of how the U.N. addresses sexualized violence which certainly in part is justified. I have always thought that it is unspeakably ironic that U.N. peacekeepers themselves have been accused of sexual violence.  However, while the U.N.’s work on this issue is very far from perfect, the reasons are myriad and far more complex than the  report’s distillation implies and to put it bluntly, what is the alternative?

There simply is not another global body that is doing anything remotely as comprehensive as what is being done by the U.N.  And it is notable to me that there is no attempt to address the complicity of the U.S. in dragging it’s political feet when it comes to implementing UNSCR 1325 (it took 10 plus years to put a National Action Plan in place in large part because that is something that was not acknowledged as important by the Bush administration) as well as our inability to ratify CEDAW.

In all, the report raises a number of important questions, but it’s analysis is limited and flawed and should be understood as such.


 October 18, 2012  Posted by on October 18, 2012 Comments Off on Militarism And Sexualized Violence Against Women– Making Sense Of What We Do And Don’t Know (updated)