COVID-19

 

  • UNITED STATES: ‘The 2020 election is a political and moral mandate against fascism’

    CIVICUS speaks about voter suppression and its implications for US democracy with Yael Bromberg, Chief Counsel for Voting Rights at The Andrew Goodman Foundation, an organisation thatworks to make the voices of young people – one of the most underrepresented voter groups in the USA – a powerful force for democracy. The Foundation was set up in 1966 to carry on the spirit and the purpose of Andy Goodman, who in 1964 joined Freedom Summer, a project aimed at registering Black Americans to vote to dismantle segregation and oppression, and who was murdered by the Ku Klux Klan on his first day in Mississippi. The Foundation supports youth leadership development, voting accessibility and social justice initiatives in almost a hundred higher learning institutions across the country.

    Yael Bromberg

    It is confusing for outside observers to see a country that promotes itself as the paragon of democracy put barriers that limit the right to vote of millions of its citizens. Can you tell us more about voter suppression in the USA?

    It's true that the USA has promoted itself as a beacon of democracy. As an immigrant and naturalised citizen whose grandparents survived the Holocaust and Soviet gulags, I appreciate some of the unique freedoms that are afforded in this country. For example, while our judicial system is currently under serious threat due to the politicisation and polarisation of the bench, it has generally withstood the type of corruption that is embedded in other countries. While our legal system is fraught and certain norms like extremist police impunity need to be tackled, our congressional system is able, if willing, to fill the gaps left by the judiciary. While big money, including dark money, has radically swamped our politics, serious advocates who have withstood far worse teach us that democracy is a long persistent journey and not a destination. Yes, we have systemic issues in this country that need serious repair, and real lives suffer due to the dysfunction of the tyranny of a minority. But we also have the founding American principles of freedom, liberty, and equality, and the possibility of fulfilling our ideal.

    At this nation’s founding, only property-owning white men had the right to vote. Through the constitutional ratification process, slavery was abolished and freed men were enfranchised. Unjust laws persisted, such as literacy tests and poll taxes for racial minorities to prevent them from voting. This was coupled with other Jim Crow laws that created arbitrary reasons to imprison freed slaves and force them back into labour camps, and to disenfranchise them upon release. Popular resistance grew as the physical and political violence of Jim Crow segregation was laid bare in the 1960s, leading to stronger laws and new constitutional amendments.

    Voter suppression today is the equivalent of the fox guarding the henhouse. Those who are privileged enough to define the laws determine who is in and who is out. For example, strict voter identification laws that go above and beyond standard proof of identification swept the nation after the election of President Obama. Alabama enacted strict voter identification, and then shut down driver licence offices where one could obtain such IDs throughout large rural sections of the state where Black people reside. Politicians draw district lines in efforts to secure their own party’s future, and their personal future bids for office. Polling places are not readily available on college campuses where young people are concentrated. Even during a global pandemic, vote-by-mail is not a universal right for all. While one state, New Jersey, offers at least 10 droboxes per town to collect vote-by-mail ballots, another, Texas, litigated the matter successfully to limit droboxes to only one per county. To make matters worse, when these laws are litigated, the courts do not always rule on behalf of the voters.

    This 2020 election season has been particularly startling. The federal judiciary seems obsessed with the idea that last-minute changes to election rules lead to voter suppression, even where the law expands access to the ballot. This defies logic. If the law limits access, that is one thing. However, if the law simply expands access, the harm to voters is unclear.

    The natural question that emerges from our paradigm is: if America truly is a beacon for democracy, then why are we so afraid to embrace the first three words in our Constitution – “We the People”?

    Was voter suppression a crucial issue in the context of the 2020 presidential election?

    Absolutely. The 2020 presidential election reveals at least five significant takeaways: 1) Our state governments are readily able to safely expand access to the ballot, including by extending early voting periods and vote by mail opportunities; 2) Voters across partisan lines take advantage of these mechanisms, and benefit from them, as demonstrated by the record-breaking voter turnout this year; 3) Expansion and election modernisation do not lead to voter fraud; 4) Voters were motivated to vote this year despite the discriminatory and arbitrary obstacles that were put in their way; 5) The myth of voter fraud, rather than actual systemic evidence of it, has emerged as a significant threat both to protecting access to the ballot and public confidence in our election systems.

    In 2013, the Supreme Court eviscerated a key sunshine provision of the 1965 Voting Rights Act. That safeguard mandated that states with a demonstrated history of voter suppression must get approval before changing their election laws. With the safeguard eliminated, the floodgates to voter suppression were open. The number of polling places shrank: 1,700 polling places were shut down between 2012 and 2018, including over 1,100 between the 2014 and 2018 midterm elections. Strict voter identification laws were passed, making it harder for poor people, people of colour and young people to vote. Other measures like the purging of state voter rolls and the rezoning of election districts further diluted voting power. It’s important to note that all of this happens on the back of the taxpayers – they foot the bill for the backlogged judiciary and the prevailing party’s litigation fees, and on the back of voters – they are forced to accept the results of a rigged election system even though the voter suppression law might be overturned in the future.

    The thin, fake trumpet of voter fraud has caused a clamping down on rights across the board. There was no reason why, especially amid a pandemic, access to vote-by-mail should not be universal. Yet, eight states only allowed voters over a certain age to vote by mail, but not younger voters. The pandemic does not discriminate, and neither should our electoral system. Similarly, the United States Postal Service was suddenly politicised as it became increasingly obvious that voters would be voting by mail at unprecedented rates. Discussions were renewed about its privatisation, and expensive mail sorting machines were ordered to be dismantled for no reason other than to suppress the vote. In the wake of the election, the Trump campaign has done much harm to delegitimise the results, even though not one shred of evidence of voter fraud was revealed in the over 50 lawsuits challenging the outcome of the election. This has been an extraordinary disservice to the country, as it has convinced a substantial base within one political party to question the outcome of an election that the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency has declared “the most secure in American history.”

    As all of this has taken place, the pandemic has also driven an expansion of access in key respects. Even some Republican-led states demonstrated leadership in expanding the early voting period and access to vote-by-mail systems. We must use this as a learning opportunity to push for common sense election modernisation, so it is not a pandemic-related, one-off thing. COVID-19 has normalised election modernisation from a fringe progressive issue to a mainstream one that empowers voters across the political spectrum. Moreover, while the Trump campaign’s endless unsubstantiated lawsuits may play to a certain base of voters, one wonders if they will cause the judiciary to be finally convinced that voter fraud is not pervasive. This is important because invariably, we will see voter suppression state laws introduced in the wake of this election, just as we saw following the 2008 Obama election, and they will certainly lead to legal challenges. Perhaps the courts will respond to such challenges differently this time around in light of the audit of the 2020 race.

    As much as voter suppression was present this cycle, the response was to overwhelm the system with voter engagement. As expected, election turnout was unprecedentedly high. Initial estimates indicate that youth turnout was even higher this cycle than when the voting age was lowered to 18 in 1971 and the base of newly eligible voters suddenly expanded. We simply cannot afford the voter apathy that we have seen in years past. In 2016, there were wins by razor-thin margins in three key states: Michigan, by 0.2 per cent, Pennsylvania, by 0.7 per cent and Wisconsin, by 0.8 per cent. Voter suppression can certainly be called into question with these types of slim margins. However, we cannot forget the power of voting: about 43 per cent of the eligible voter population did not vote in 2016. Current estimates indicate that approximately 34 per cent of the eligible voter population – about one in three voters – did not participate in 2020. How do we maintain this new record-setting voting rate, and even improve upon it, once fascism is no longer on the ballot?

    Can you tell us about the work done by The Andrew Goodman Foundation on the intersection of the two major issues of voting rights and systemic racism?

    The Andrew Goodman Foundation’s mission is to make young voices and votes a powerful force in democracy. Our Vote Everywhere programme is a national nonpartisan civic engagement and social justice movement led by young people on campuses across the country. The programme provides extensive training, resources and a peer network, while our Andrew Goodman Ambassadors register young voters, break down voting barriers and tackle important social justice issues. We are on nearly 100 campuses across the nation, and maintain a diverse docket of campuses, including People of Color Serving Institutions such as Historically Black Colleges and Universities.

    What is powerful about youth organising and voting is that it crosses all lines – sex, race, national origin and even partisanship. This was born out of the history of the expansion of the youth vote in 1971, when the 26th Amendment to the Constitution was ratified, thereby lowering the voting age to 18 and outlawing age discrimination in access to the franchise. It was the quickest amendment to be ratified in US history, in large part due to its nearly unanimous support across partisan lines. There was a recognition that young voters help safeguard the moral compass of the country, as recognised by then-President Richard Nixon during the ceremonial signing of the amendment.

    Andrew Goodman’s legacy is directly tied to solidarity struggles among and between communities for the betterment of the whole. Throughout the 1960s, Black college students in the south courageously sat at white-owned lunch counters in political protest for integration and equality. In May 1964, young Americans from across the country migrated south during Freedom Summer to register Black voters and overturn Jim Crow segregation. Three young civil rights workers were murdered by the Ku Klux Klan with the help of the county sheriff’s office: Andy Goodman and Mickey Schwerner, both Jewish men from New York who were only 20 and 24 years old, and James Chaney, a Black man from Mississippi who was only 21 years old. Their stories struck a public chord that helped galvanise support for the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965. It is a story about the power of young visionaries fighting for their futures, allyship, and about the power of what can be accomplished when Americans from different backgrounds come together in unity.

    Young activists led various social justice movements of the 1960s, just as they do today. When this country responded and enacted critical reforms, young people finally turned to their own enfranchisement as they were being sent to their graves early in endless war in Vietnam. Today, young people are leading the call for climate justice, for gun control, for human dignity for our Black and immigrant communities, and for affordable higher education. They have the most to gain and lose in our elections, because it is they who inherit the future. They recognise, particularly in light of the nation’s changing demographics, that the issue of youth voting rights is a racial justice issue. The more that we can look to the youth vote as a unifier – because all voters were young once – the more we can hope to inject some common sense into a contested and polarised system.

    Civic space in the USA is rated as ‘obstructed’ by theCIVICUS Monitor.
    Get in touch with the Andrew Goodman Foundation through itswebsite orFacebook page, and follow@AndrewGoodmanF and@YaelBromberg on Twitter.

     

     

  • Upholding fundamental rights is crucial for global crisis response

    Joint Statement at the 44th Session of the UN Human Rights Council

    Interactive Dialogue with the High Commissioner for Human Rights


    Madame High Commissioner,

    Thank you for your timely report. This is a statement on behalf of the Civic Space Initiative, including CIVICUS, Article 19, ICNL, ECNL and the World Movement for Democracy.

    The COVID-19 pandemic has accelerated existing challenges to civic freedoms.

    The CIVICUS Monitor shows that it has exacerbated the ongoing use of restrictive laws; restrictions on funding; reprisals, attacks and acts of intimidation; the ongoing violent repression of mass mobilisations for change; and the wilful exclusion of civil society from decision making processes. It has provided cover for executive overreach and spurred new growth in the use of surveillance technologies. According to ICNL-ECNL’s Civic Freedom Tracker, at least 145 countries have enacted 280 measures in response to COVID that further affect civic freedoms and human rights.

    But it has also revealed the centrality of civil society in crisis response: in providing critical information and services to communities, running feeding schemes and health screenings, providing aid and monitoring abuses.

    Civil society has again proved itself to be an integral stakeholder. And time of crisis is a time of opportunity. As has been so often said, this is the time to build back better.

    We have seen many examples of good practice to draw on. Several States are developing specialised online platforms for better consultation on emergency measures. Others are establishing oversight bodies inviting the public to share views on the measures governments have taken, or conducting surveys to gauge public response on government handling of the crisis.

    We call on all States, in their response to the crisis, to:

    1. Create avenues for inclusive participation and feedback and reach out to those most at risk and those most likely to be excluded.
    2. Ensure transparency and access to information to enable civil society to respond with the most accurate information available.
    3. Ensure that existing channels of civil society participation, at local, national and international levels are maintained – and possibly expanded – in the COVID-19 context.
    4. Undertake thorough human rights impact assessments to ensure that measures and actions in response to the crisis do not infringe human rights and fundamental freedoms.

    We have seen time and time again positive change emerge when people are able to organize, speak out and take action. A strong and vibrant civil society is a core pillar of a thriving democracy. We must not allow emergency responses to undermine democratic gains.

     

  • Urgent call to release 19 detained members of the LGBTI community in Uganda

    CIVICUS calls on the Ugandan authorities to release 19 members of the LGBTI community who have been arrested on trumped up charges, under the pretext of curbing the spread of COVID-19.

    All 19 have been charged with, “committing a negligent act likely to spread the infection of disease,” and, “disobedience of lawful orders.” However, the Ugandan authorities have a history of targeting members of the LGBTI community:

    “The Ugandan authorities have a track record of targeting LGBTI activists and subjecting them to arbitrary arrest and detention. The arrests have nothing to do with violating COVID-19 social distancing rules, but are based on the state’s prejudice against the LGBTI community – this has been the case even before the COVID-19 pandemic. There is no justification for these arrests and the activists should be released immediately,” says Mawethu Nkosana, LGBTI Advocacy & Campaigns Lead, CIVICUS.

    “Detention centres and jails are congested places where the virus can easily spread. As we work together to curb the impact of COVID-19, we call for the immediate release of the 19 activists – they are at risk of contracting the virus and are not guilty of any crime.”

    Background

    On 29 March 2020, the Ugandan authorities raided the premises of Children of the Sun Foundation (COSF), an NGO in Kyengera, Wakiso district. This is a shelter for the LGBTI community. The authorities arrested 23 individuals and charged 19 for allegedly violating rules which prevent large gatherings to curb the spread of COVID-19.

    Four of those arrested, including a nurse at the shelter, were released on medical grounds. Restrictions on movement imposed by the Ugandan authorities on 30 March to curb the spread of the virus have hindered access to lawyers of the accused. Even when special permission was sought, on some occasions prison authorities prevented lawyers from accessing the detained activists.

    For more information on civic space violations, visit the Uganda country page on theCIVICUS Monitor.

     

  • Voici ce que nous réalisons grâce à nos efforts en réponse à la pandémie COVID-19

    Mise à jour de la Secrétaire Générale

    lysajohnChers membres et alliés de CIVICUS,

    Cette période a été particulièrement tumultueuse, tant pour la société civile que pour le monde dans son ensemble. Bien que l'urgence mondiale déclenchée par la pandémie rende difficile toute réflexion sur des temps plus calmes, cette mise à jour comprend certains processus plus larges pertinents pour notre stratégie qui ont progressé au cours des derniers mois, ainsi qu'un résumé de certains résultats immédiats que nous obtenons grâce à nos mesures de lutte contre la pandémie COVID-19.

    Quels sont les résultats de nos efforts face au COVID-19?

    Comme pour la plupart des autres organisations dans le monde, nos efforts se sont concentrés sur une réponse significative à la pandémie du COVID-19. Nos initiatives ont donc été organisées autour de (i) La sécurité et le soutien du personnel (ii) La coordination avec les membres, les partenaires et les donateurs (iii) Le plaidoyer sur les priorités de l'espace civique et des droits de l'homme (iv) L'action conjointe pour traiter des questions systémiques plus larges.

    Les principaux éléments à cet égard sont les suivants:

    • • Une "équipe de réponse au COVID-19" interne a travaillé ensemble dès les premiers jours de mars pour assurer la continuité du travail et des systèmes de soutien adaptés au contexte pour le personnel de CIVICUS. Les résultats de cet effort comprennent l'équipement des collègues pour travailler à distance, le transfert des engagements planifiés vers des espaces virtuels, la négociation des réalisations et des calendriers de subventions avec les principaux donateurs et l'utilisation des connaissances des membres et des pairs sur les réponses à une situation en évolution rapide. Compte tenu des conséquences sanitaires et économiques persistantes de la pandémie, nous avons pris des mesures en vue de la mise en œuvre du "Protocole de sécurité sociale COVID-19" et avons prolongé jusqu'en septembre 2020 notre moratoire sur les voyages et les événements en personne pour le personnel et les partenaires.
    • Notre première intervention extérieure a consisté à renforcer la nécessaire flexibilité et réactivité des donateurs, conformément à l'accent que nous mettons sur les ressources et la durabilité de la société civile. Notre Lettre ouverte aux donateurs a été publiée le 19 mars, et a été suivie de réunions de sensibilisation ciblées avec un éventail de réseaux de donateurs et de développement. Dans le cadre de cet effort, nous avons étendu le Fonds de solidarité de CIVICUS pour couvrir les demandes liées au COVID-19 et nous continuons à travailler avec nos alliés du mouvement #ShiftThePower pour nous assurer que les donateurs internationaux apportent un soutien indispensable aux organisations locales du Sud pendant cette période.
    • Conformément à l'accent que nous mettons sur la protection de l'espace civique et des droits de l'homme, nous avons publié le 24 mars une déclaration exhortant les États à placer les droits de l'homme au cœur de leur réponse. Cette déclaration a été suivie d'un compte rendu du CIVICUS Monitor sur les restrictions et les attaques contre la société civile qui ont été enregistrées depuis que la pandémie a été déclarée. Le 16 avril, nous avons également lancé une lettre ouverte aux dirigeants du monde entier décrivant 12 actions clés nécessaires pour protéger l'espace civique et les droits de l'homme. Cette lettre a reçu plus de 600 soutiens en moins d'une semaine après son lancement, et servira de base à nos efforts de sensibilisation auprès des gouvernements.
    • Conformément à notre volonté d'agir conjointement sur les défis structurels, nous avons lancé un appel en faveur d'un "Protocole de sécurité sociale pour la société civile" le 7 avril, en accord avec le cadre politique du COVID-19 de l'OIT. Ce protocole a été adopté par près de 200 organisations, dont la plupart sont des organisations locales du Sud disposant de ressources limitées. Ces efforts renforcent notre discours plus large sur les changements systémiques sur lesquels la société civile et la société en général doivent agir dans le cadre de l'effort nécessaire pour reconstruire les sociétés et les économies à la suite du COVID-19. Nous sommes engagés dans l'élaboration et le soutien des réponses internationales à la pandémie via une coordination étroite avec les mécanismes des Nations unies à Genève et à New York ainsi qu'avec la plate-forme régionale émergente pour les priorités politiques du COVID-19 en Afrique.

    Agir suite à notre révision de la stratégie à mi-parcours

    L'année dernière, nous avons consacré beaucoup d'énergie à l'examen des progrès réalisés dans le cadre de notre stratégie. L'examen de la stratégie à mi-parcours a débouché sur 18 recommandations clés qui ont été mises en œuvre par un processus de délibération et de planification au sein du Secrétariat, du conseil d'administration et des membres. Notre réponse consolidée de la direction à la révision de la stratégie a été publiée le 17 mars 2020 et servira de base à nos plans annuels pour la deuxième moitié de la période de la stratégie, ainsi qu'au processus de planification de la prochaine stratégie qui sera lancée en 2021.

    Tout en reconnaissant qu'une part importante de nos efforts cette année devra être réorientée pour répondre aux défis que la pandémie pose à l'espace civique et à la société civile, nous comptons continuer à investir de l'énergie dans les domaines de travail liés à la révision à mi-parcours qui témoignent de notre capacité à renforcer l'aptitude de l'alliance CIVICUS à organiser les forces et à influencer le changement par des moyens nouveaux et plus innovants.

    CIVICUS Midterm Strategy Review FR

    Améliorer notre responsabilité

    Notre 11ème rapport annuel de responsabilisation (pour 2018/19) est maintenant en ligne. Les commentaires reçus du Comité d'Examen Indépendant comprennent la reconnaissance des efforts déployés pour assurer une responsabilité dynamique, notamment en ce qui concerne les parties prenantes, les partenariats et l'apprentissage. Les recommandations d'amélioration portent notamment sur le renforcement des systèmes de suivi des dépenses pour la réalisation des objectifs stratégiques, ainsi que sur la gestion de nos systèmes de retours d'information. Ce sont deux domaines auxquels nous prêterons attention cette année.

    Nous nous réjouissons de la poursuite de votre engagement et de vos réflexions dans les mois à venir.

    Solidairement,
    Lysa John
    Secrétaire Générale, CIVICUS
    (Johannesbourg, Afrique du Sud)

     

  • We are in this together, don’t violate human rights while responding to COVID-19

    As governments are undertaking extraordinary measures to curb the spread of COVID-19, we recognise and commend the efforts states are making to manage the well-being of their populations and protect human rights, such as the rights to life and health. However, we urge states to implement these measures in the context of the rule of law: all responses to COVID-19 must be evidence-based, legal, necessary to protect public health, non-discriminatory, time-bound and proportionate.

     

  • We are tired, so we must take turns to rest: Women's advocacy during crisis

    womens rights are human rights

    Source: Wikicommons

    By Masana Ndinga-Kanga, the Crisis Response Fund Lead and Advocacy Officer for the Middle East/North Africa region at CIVICUS

    In recognising how moments of crisis heighten already existing inequalities, it is worth reflecting on how women activists have been able to conduct advocacy during the COVID-19 pandemic. In this time, as advocacy meetings have predominantly moved online within the context of a gendered digital divide, the consequences for women activists and their ability to work are yet to be fully understood.

    Read on Advocacy Accelerator

     

  • Women’s groups fight back as gender-based violence surges during the pandemic

    By Inés Pousadela

    Barely weeks into the COVID-19 pandemic, concerns arose about the safety of women trapped indoors with their abusers, and data showing spikes in gender-based violence (GBV) quickly reached the news headlines. But women’s rights organizations all over the world had already anticipated the worst. They knew that economic downturns, natural disasters, and disease outbreaks tend to have disproportionate impacts on women — women would experience the effects first, worst, and for longer. For decades their work had focused on the ways in which decisions made by governments, and government failures, disproportionately impact women, and they realized right away that this pandemic would be no exception.

    Read more: Women's Media Center 

     

  • YEMEN: ‘Women are completely absent from decision-making bodies; politically we don’t exist’

    CIVICUS speaks about gender inequalities in Yemen and the role of Yemeni civil society in tackling them with Bilkis Abouosba, founder and chairperson of the Awam Foundation for Development and Culture, a civil society organisation (CSO) founded in 2008 to support women’s political participation. Bilkis Abouosba is former vice-chair of the Supreme National Authority for Combatting Corruption in Yemen.

    Bilkis Abouosba

    What impact has the COVID-19 pandemic had on women and girls in Yemen?

    Yemeni society had been going through a terrible humanitarian crisis since 2015, when war broke out, resulting in unprecedented numbers of casualties and refugees and millions of displaced people. The pandemic only added fuel to the fire. The war had already had a catastrophic effect on the education and healthcare sectors, among others, and the pandemic made the situation worse. It impacted on society at large, but specifically on women.

    Due to the war, women’s political participation in decision-making bodies decreased; for the first time, relevant political bodies had no female representatives at all. Politically, Yemeni women do not exist, as they are completely absent from the decision-making process. This preannounced a bleak future for Yemeni women.

    Many female political leaders had to flee the country. On the positive side, it has been noted that women’s participation in online events has risen despite Yemen’s poor internet infrastructure and frequent power cuts. The internet has offered Yemeni women, especially those living in rural areas, a venue to participate and express their views around peacebuilding. First, it helped break down societal barriers on women’s participation in political events, and then it helped bypass pandemic-related restrictions on gatherings. The internet brings the world closer to Yemeni women and Yemeni women closer to the world.

    On the economic front, after war began many women became their families’ primary breadwinners, but when the pandemic broke out many lost their jobs or could not go to their workplaces. Moreover, enforcement of COVID-19 regulations was selective and discriminated against women. For instance, hair salons for women had to close but their counterparts for men remained open, which negatively affected female owners of small businesses.

    How has civil society, and Awam Foundation more specifically, supported Yemeni women during the pandemic?

    In the absence of government policies to help people cope with the pandemic – especially in the north of Yemen, where public officials didn’t even acknowledge the reality of COVID-19 – many lost their lives. But CSOs immediately stepped in and played a significant role. Many women-led CSOs, including Awam Foundation, launched COVID-19 awareness campaigns and distributed facemasks among locals and people living in rural areas.

    In the early months of the pandemic, CSOs shifted their focus into combatting COVID-19. They relied heavily on online communication to reach affected communities. I was part of an international group fighting COVID-19 that registered available Yemeni doctors for consultation inside the country as well as abroad.

    What are the main women’s rights issues in Yemen? What would need to happen for them to be tackled effectively?

    In my opinion, our biggest loss is in the area of political rights and participation in political decision-making processes and opinion formation. For the first time in 20 years, the current Yemeni government was formed with a total absence of women. Women’s exclusion has spread further across sectors, including in peacebuilding efforts.

    Political negotiations between rival groups have been held without female representation. Only one woman took part in the last round of negotiations in Stockholm, which resulted in an agreement brokered by the United Nations (UN) between the Yemeni government and the Houthi group Ansar Allah.

    But public opinion polls on the peace process have in fact included a small sample of Yemeni women, and since 2015 both UN Women and the office of the UN special envoy have created mechanisms for Yemeni women’s inclusion, such as the Yemeni Women’s Pact for Peace and Security (known as ‘Tawafuq’), a consultative mechanism consisting of a group of 50 women consultants, and a group established in 2018 comprising eight women, among them me, also aimed at channelling female voices to international society. However, neither the current nor former UN special envoys have made use of these groups to bridge gender gaps, as planned. Women are still not part of UN-supported peace negotiations.

    Despite this, several feminist coalitions have been formed during the transition period, including the Women Solidarity Network, which I played a key role in establishing. These coalitions succeeded at transmitting women’s voices to international organisations, including the UN Security Council. We advocate for the implementation of UN Resolution 1325 on Women, Peace and Security in the Yemeni context. This means that women must be included as equal partners in any upcoming round of peace negotiations.

    The government just made a step forward concerning the implementation of UN Resolution 1325. On 8 March the Minister of Social Affairs and Labour announced the institutional structure and terms of reference of a national plan to implement the Resolution. 

    But overall, we are still concerned about setbacks on women’s rights in Yemen. Women cannot move freely anymore; they’re required to have a male companion to move from one place to another or to apply for a passport.

    What would need to happen for gender inequality to reduce in Yemen?

    International organisations can significantly help narrow the gender gap in Yemen by bringing Yemeni women to the negotiation table. As a result, women’s participation in the political process will grow in the post-conflict period.

    As CSOs we are doing our part by holding workshops on the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women and Security Council resolutions on women, peace and security. In 2021, the UN Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women discussed Yemen’s report – a report Awam Foundation contributed to, and which revealed huge gender inequalities. We are now developing mechanisms aimed at narrowing these gaps.

    Although political rivals continue to refuse to integrate women until after the war ends, we continue working in this regard. On International Women’s Day, we highlighted the need to include women in the peace process and shed light on the toll of gender-based violence on Yemeni women. I am sure our efforts will finally start to pay off.

    Civic space in Yemen is rated ‘closed’ by theCIVICUS Monitor.
    Get in touch with Awam Foundation for Development and Culture through its website or its Facebook page, and follow @FoundationAwam on Twitter.

     

  • ZAMBIA: ‘Our aim is to break societal biases against girls’

    CIVICUS speaks about the upcoming International Women’s Day and Zambian civil society’s role in advancing women’s and girls’ rights with Pamela Mateyo andMwape Kapepula, co-founders of WingEd Girls.

    Founded in 2021, WingEd Girls is a civil society organisation (CSO) focused on distributing sanitary materials and teaching girls in underprivileged communities how to make reusable pads, while educating them on personal and menstrual hygiene and mentoring them through post school career paths and choices.

    WingEd Girls

    How has the COVID-19 pandemic impacted on Zambian women and girls?

    The restrictions that the pandemic brought, confining people in their homes, greatly contributed to a rise in domestic and gender-based violence (GBV). Compared to 2019, the cases reported in 2020 increased by over 1,000 cases, affecting mostly women and children. 

    The pandemic also led to many businesses closing. Many of those were informal businesses dedicated to planning events or catering, thrift clothes shops, restaurants and marketplace stalls. Many were owned and run by women. As a result, households led by women were left in a very vulnerable position, often unable to access basic needs.

    At the start of the pandemic schools closed, leading to an increase in rape cases of girls staying at home. By the time schools reopened, many girls couldn’t go back because they were either pregnant or getting married, while others simply dropped out. In addition, focus on COVID-19 reduced access by women and girls to basic healthcare, including maternal care, HIV treatment and sexual and reproductive health care.

    How have civil society in general, and WingEd Girls in particular, responded to this situation?

    CSOs like World Vision worked in partnership with the government to ensure that while schools were closed children were still engaged in schoolwork, for instance by sponsoring radio and television programmes that taught children basic subjects.

    We founded WingEd Girls in the middle of the pandemic to respond to very urgent needs. But this also brought many challenges. The work we do depends on interaction with girls. However, as the number of people that could gather was restricted, it was very hard to reach out to schools and communities. To be able to do our work, we secured bigger spaces and engaged more peer educators to work with smaller groups of girls in breakout group sessions.

    The pandemic also made it difficult for us to get the funding we needed to conduct outreach and purchase sanitary materials for distribution. This was partly because prices increased, and also because we had to spend money on additional items, such as sanitisers, masks and handwash soap. Most of our donors also faced financial challenges and couldn’t donate as much as they would like, and this is a challenge we continue to face.

    For schools to reopen, a lot of CSOs, church-affiliated organisations such as the Salvation Army and local businesses donated hand sanitisers, masks, handwashing basins and soap. We helped ensure girls had access to basic needs to remain in school.

    Civil society also called on the government to lessen restrictions on public interactions so that small businesses could reopen as well.

    What are the main women’s rights issues in Zambia and how is civil society tackling them?

    Some major women’s and girls’ rights issues in Zambia are GBV, economic inequality and unequal access to quality education.

    According to African Impact, only about 31 per cent of girls in Zambia finish primary school, and only eight per cent complete secondary school. This is partly attributed to early marriages and pregnancies, but also to challenges such as lack of access to menstrual hygiene management products and facilities, especially in rural schools.

    Low levels of literacy make girls more vulnerable as they grow into women. Most of them don’t understand the rights they have as women, especially those concerning sexual and reproductive health.

    This also contributes to a lack of financial independence, which in turn makes women more susceptible to GBV. Limited education means limited access to business opportunities and funding. Many women are not able to draft a business plan, which is required to get a loan. Most lending institutions also require collateral, which most women don’t have, as they typically don’t own property. All this puts them at an economic disadvantage and increases their vulnerability.

    There is a cultural trend for women to get just the bare minimum level of education and then become homemakers. Systems are not built to accommodate even the few who may want to take a different path.

    Civil society works with government and communities to tackle these issues and bridge these gaps. Many CSOs, including WingEd Girls, support girls in different ways so they stay in school. We have a project to train girls to make reusable pads. The Salvation Army drills boreholes and builds toilets in rural schools. Copper Rose Zambia teaches girls about menstrual hygiene management and sensitises women on GBV and sexual and reproductive health and rights. Other CSOs, such as Africa Leadership Legacy, help women acquire business, financial and leadership skills. These efforts have inspired the government to take further action to support women and girls, and there are now government programmes to empower women, encourage women to establish businesses and provide greater access to education, especially in rural areas.

    How can gender equality be achieved in Zambia and what is being done to that effect?

    At WingEd Girls we believe that for real change to happen there needs to be an intentional change in direction, especially by the government. There is a need to mainstream gender policies and create awareness among girls and women of their rights.

    Some policies to that effect already exist, but institutions seem to lack the motivation to implement them. Other policies are non-existent, and the government must put them in place. Policies around land ownership, access to education, gender-specific healthcare and access to business opportunities and financial assistance should be mainstreamed. Specific budget lines should be established to ensure an equal access to resources. More awareness programmes are needed to help women and girls learn about their rights and ways to access resources or assistance.

    As GBV rose, church bodies and CSOs such as Zambia National Women’s Lobby have called on the government to take quick action. The government responded by promising it would establish fast-track courts for GBV cases, put in place policies and legislation to combat GBV and build shelters for GBV victims within communities. They in turn called on civil society to join in efforts to ensure anti-GBV services were made easily available for victims or potential victims.

    To keep girls in schools, the government has recently included funding in the national budget to distribute sanitary towels in all schools across the country. But this has not made civil society stop its own work in that regard. WingEd Girls and other CSOs see a potential for partnering with the government and will continue to distribute menstrual hygiene management resources to girls.

    To support female-led households, the government has partnered with the World Bank. Through a World Bank-funded project, Girls’ Education and Women’s Empowerment and Livelihood, it will help women access seed money to start businesses and access farm inputs. Lending institutions are also being encouraged to re-evaluate their loan access requirements to accommodate more women.

    The International Women’s Day (IWD) theme for 2022 is #BreakTheBias. How have you organised around it in the communities you work with?

    For IWD we organised a school outreach in a rural district of Zambia’s Southern Province. We moved it to 11 March because 8 March is a holiday and children will be off school that day. As usual, the event will include menstrual health hygiene talks and career mentorship sessions. We will distribute WingEd kits’,a package containing reusable and disposable pads, underwear, washing soap, and painkillers.

    We have partnered with several organisations, including Africa Leadership Legacy, which will conduct talks about leadership and financial skills, and Toy-lab, an organisation led by a group of medical doctors who will talk about menstrual hygiene management. To inspire the girls with business ideas, a local business leader will also come to talk to the girls. Peer educators from Mike’s New Generation Version will also be part of the team.

    Our aim is essentially to break the bias that society and communities have against girls, starting with access to education and career choices. In line with Sustainable Development Goal 4, we want to ensure girls have access to quality education despite the various challenges they face, including menstruation. We hope the mentorship we provide will enable them to choose career paths based on their passions and interests.

    They shouldn’t have to choose a career because it is deemed suitable or ‘easy’ enough for a girl. What they really need is help to overcome challenges and exposure to information about the variety of career options available to them.

    Civic space in Zambia is rated ‘obstructed’ by theCIVICUS Monitor.
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