The Forgotten Frontline: Women at War Zone: Syria’s case

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The civil war has destroyed Syria and dominated the news; there is a noteworthy aspect of the conflict that endures to go mostly unreported: the dilemma of women and girls who take the flak of the war.

They are bearing the greatest burden, yet their voices and stories are often left unheard.

Syria is undergoing the biggest humanitarian crisis in the world of today. Since the beginning of the Syrian crisis in March 2011, the human rights activists and organizations claimed that the situation has persistently worsened. The Independent International Commission of Inquiry on Syria and the UN Human Rights Council have been reverberating the warnings of the grave violations committed by Syrian government and other parties of the conflict.

Violent and aggressive fighting have increased between Bashar al-Assad’s followers and armed rebellious groups; in July 2012, the fighting was qualified as internal armed conflict caused humanitarian damages on civilian citizens; including random arrests and detention, extra-judicial executions, rape, different forms of sexual violence, kidnapping, enforced disappearances and torture by Syrian authorities and pro-governmental militias called “shabbihas”.

As of June 2015, more than half of all Syrians have been enforced to leave their homes; 7.6 million people were exiled within Syria and 3.9 million people displaced as refugees in neighboring countries: Lebanon, Jordan and Turkey, according to UN refugee agency.

Women and girls are among the most vulnerable, about half million Syrian women, those in refugees and those who still in Syria, are sexually injured, pregnant and need maternal care services.

Countless UN bodies and representatives, international and national NGOs and journalists, have documented the crimes attacks and the sexual violence cases committed during the Syrian crisis. Still, it remains tremendously difficult to measure the extent of crimes of sexual violence and to draw conclusions on patterns; however, there have been several reports of crimes of sexual violence committed by anti-government armed groups. The Special Representative of the Secretary-General on Sexual Violence in Conflict, Zainab Hawa Bangura, stated that “Civilians already caught in a vicious cycle of violence are also the target of sexual violence by all parties to the conflict”.

Most accusations of rape and the other forms of sexual violence reported were said to have been executed by government forces and shabbiha during house searches, at checkpoints and in imprisonment.

In some cases, women were assaulted and beaten in public in front of family members.

We caught up with Karam Yahya “Syrian Refugee in Germany and human right activist” who told us :“Women suffer differently according to the region they live in, suffering in Damascus is not the same in north of Syria, every region is controlled by regime and group, which makes women subjective to different suffering experiences”. He added: “There is a social disorder in all these regions, women struggle to feed their families as their husbands go to fight, and outside Syria the suffering is even enormous, the case of Zaatari Camp in Jordan where I worked, there is violence, discrimination, and the cultural conservative traditions enforce women to stay home”

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Thousands of Syrian women are objects of sexual violence, but their conservative cultural and religious environments, especially in rural and southern areas of Syria, prohibit women and girls from talking freely about their suffering from sexual violence and other forms of violence.

This is the reason that makes it very difficult to find rape cases because of the dominant culture and the refusal to talk publicly about these subjects.

Furthermore it is hardly anyone makes complaints about such crimes because nobody will marry a woman who has been raped. The social stigma and family pressure influence the psychology situation of these women, which in some cases can lead to suicide.

In other cases, families forcibly marry raped women, including to relatives and foreign, for the “sake of the honor”, which makes it hard to help these women who are in critical situations, as their parents block any assistance that could be provided to them.

Bashar al-Assad forces are not the only enemy to Syrian women, ISIS (criminal group) is disrobing them of their human rights, as well. “Marry me or be my slave”; this is how ISIS group threats innocent women; whether they accept or refuse they are subjected to various forms of deprivation, threats, solitary imprisonment, as well several forms of torture, rape and sexual harassment. Other women were forced to divorce their husbands and enforced to practice “jihad sex” with different rebels of ISIS.

The media has widespread the case of the young mothers who have been savagely maimed by ISIS for breastfeeding in public. The Members of ISIS’s enforce strict barbaric sharia laws concerning on how women should dress and act, breastfeeding in public is not accepted act according to their rules.

Distressingly, they use a spiked, metal device known as “The Biter” to wreak harsh punishments on women deemed to have shown too much skin and those who breastfeed in public. They take the “Biter”, which is a shrill object that has a lot of teeth, they hold the women, and place it on their chest and pressing it strongly, this could damage and destroy the femininity of these women. Thousands of Syrian women are slaughtered silently.

In other cases women are being stripped naked and forced to take “virginity tests,”  then they are taken to slave markets where the attractive virgins are sold off to the highest buyers, those who refuse to perform an extreme sex act are burned alive.

Outside Syria women face further challenges and depressed situations; some parents force to marry off their daughters as child brides and push them to work as prostitutes in the camps. Several reports stated that men from Saudi Arabia and other Middle Eastern countries take the advantage of families’ desperation to seek young brides.

While many countries have strictly constrained border crossings and closed their borders completely in response to the fear that terrorists could enter to their lands.

According to Thomson Reuters Foundation poll on women’s rights; Syria is ranked 19th out of 22 Arab states to some extent better than Saudi Arabia, Iraq and Egypt, where women face gender violence, degrade reproductive rights, economic exclusion, lack of necessary health services, depraved treatment of women within the family and the society, in addition to elimination attitudes towards women in politics and society.

Five years into Syria’s civil war and with no end in eyesight, it is somehow hard to see what the future of Syria will look like, and what women’s place will be in it, the war has devastating impact on women’s rights, putting millions of women and girls at risk of trafficking, forced and child marriage and sexual violence.

 Sana AFOUAIZ

 

On African Development and Youth Diaspora: An interview from Austria to Africa

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“African Diaspora Youth Forum in Europe” project established by a group of youth workers and experts in Europe, aims to share experiences and best practices to empower youth by building their capacity, leadership skills, responsibilities and providing access to information in policy making and project initiatives, so they can truly and actively participate in their societies.

The Forum is the first of its kind held in Europe and presents a significant opportunity for African leaders and youth to network and work closely together in order to coordinate international dialogue amongst important stakeholders for African development. Specifically, through panel discussions, lectures and training sessions, tackle topics such as: access to quality jobs, entrepreneurship, economic development, Afro-Euro cooperation etc.

This year second Forum edition gathered, from 8-11 June in the United Nations Headquarters Vienna, experts, leaders, business-owners, change makers and more than 200 of young people from all around Europe and the global – toward development of African continent, as well as better position of African youth in the Diaspora.

“YouthVoice” caught up with Mr. Youssouf Simbo Diakité -the President and COE of ADYFE- for a brief chat, ahead of the youthful gathering in Vienna and ADYFE project.

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Ms. Sana: First Mr. Youssouf, we congratulate the ADYFE Committee Members on the successful event in Vienna. ADYFE had a large coverage in Europe and Africa, can you tell us briefly about the key ingredients success of ADYFE?

Mr. Youssouf: Thank you Ms. Sana for having me, this is very interesting question, and to be frank with you; ADYFE success keys could be explained in different levels, first the honest partnership and the trust among our partners; are the reason of their sustain support to our cause. Also, the presence of more than 200 participants in the forum explains their interest to be part of the change, our strategy was to make them the focal point of the decision making; we had youth representative in every ADYFE activity: in the discussion panels, workshops, trainings, moderation…

The team hard work is the fruit of ADYFE feat; we are a group of ambitious skilled young people from Europe and Africa, we work for one shared objective which is the future development. This year we had a very limited time to organize the event, but we manage to make this year forum a very successful one.

The combination of these three elements make ADYFE what it is today.

Ms. Sana: The target group of the event was “Youth Diaspora”, what does that mean to you? Why this focus on “Youth Diaspora”?

Mr. Youssouf: We are Youth Diaspora, we live in Europe but we are from Africa, we face the same challenges, and we have the same vision for the development of Africa, the focus on youth Diaspora is related to the missing gap in Africa, Youth Diaspora is the bridge connection that Africa needs and one of the answer for the African development. I believe in the Youth Diaspora contribution to the African progress in terms of remittances, direct investments and entrepreneurship, knowledge, and their diverse experiences. ADYFE believes the Diaspora has the potential to make the change that we contributing in.

Ms. Sana: Can you tell us more about the idea behind creating ADYFE?

Mr. Youssouf: The idea behind ADYFE is to create a platform where youth and experts meet and discuss the challenges of diaspora, provide them with appropriate information and also facilitate their return back home with projects in their hands. ADYFE creation was to fill in the missing gap and be the intermediate space to empower Youth Diaspora and accelerate youth programs and their capacity buildings.

The vision is to institutionalize ADYFE to make it part of the decision, to be the main network in the African development and the focal point of human and financial resources, to be the place where we can influence the decision makers and take youth recommendations into consideration.

We aim to make ADYFE the network where youth, expert, governments, promote entrepreneurship, African development, cooperation and intercultural dialogue.

Ms. Sana: Could you describe the impacts you want to achieve through ADYFE?

Mr. Youssouf: ADYFE project is part of 70000 organizations working for same objective, the impact we want to achieve is to link these organizations and work together for one same Diaspora project back home; then we will reach the Diaspora Africa Dream. If we link human power, resources, and the potential of these organizations, its impact will be huge contribution on the acceleration of the African development.

Ms. Sana: We’ve heard that ADYFE is an annual event, what are your next steps and programs for next year?

Mr. Youssouf: For the moment we want to organize a follow up program of the two editions we had, an occasion where we will study the impacts of our two editions on youth needs.

Next year event will be organized depending on the needs of the participants; we measure their needs, their appreciation, through personal evaluation where they express their ideas and recommendations.

We promise for a creative and innovative edition next year!

Ms. Sana: This year ADYFE edition was rich in terms of program sessions, workshops, panel discussions, many high-level personalities took part of the event, and we’ve heard also that many known business leaders came like Wati-b, how do you maintain this richness?

Mr. Youssouf: we make our partners, speakers and guests are part of the dialogue; we make them believe in our idea.

Each year is a new challenge; we need to come up with new innovative concept, strategic planning, and creative program sessions to maintain our partnerships. This requires a lot of work and patience.

We maintain this richness by our continuous hard work, we believe in our cause and we make them believe as well.

Ms. Sana: Very interesting! What is your vision for Africa?

Mr. Youssouf: My vision for Africa is to be peaceful continent, where everyone is empowered, equal and educated. This would have a great impact on the development of Africa; the only place where my heart beats.

Ms. Sana: Very powerful statement! Thank you so much for your devoted time, “YouthVoice” wishes you all the best for your next events.

Mr Youssouf: Thank you for having me!

The Forgotten Frontline: Women at War Zone: Yemen’s case

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In situations of war, women and children suffer some of the utmost health and social inequities. The effects of war go far yonder than the conflicts itself. They are the victims of human rights violations, suffering and death acts. At the end, women and children are supposed to bear the consequences of the war.

United Nations reports have shown three months after conflict flared up in Yemen, the violence is still escalating across the country. Over 2,800 people have been killed; over a million people have been exiled, with many enforced decisions by armed clatters, bombing and airstrikes.

Women have been unduly affected by the conflict. Their access to indispensable services, livelihood and protection needs were limited and have been complicated by gender inequalities.

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According to Amnesty International report, that highlighted that at least 6 children under the age of 10 were killed in airstrikes on Sana’a on 26th March, in wealthy nations, death cases like these are rare to happen and when it does, it makes headlines. This is simply one of many episodes where the innocent women and children of Yemen have paid the heavy price of the western-backed airstrikes and internal conflict of the country.
Yemenis women carried stories of sadness because of what war caused of social and economic consequences on their lives; some of them were forced to marry and others were victims of continues violence incidents. And they are supposed to accept these conditions as they have no other choice.
Violence was always a significant issue facing women in Yemen. In the country’s 2013 demographic and health survey, 92% of women claimed that violence against women most happened at home.
This current internal conflict in Yemen has even degenerated conditions for women. Many of Yemenis women are struggling on how to support and finance their families, when their husbands have gone to fight. Others have been exiled, with little or no access to health services, education and work opportunities.

As women and children are regularly the most pretentious by war-conflict, it is hence vital that women play a fundamental role in peace discussions and post-conflict renewal.
In Yemen’s conflict case, women continue to be absent from formal peace negotiations in Middle East and especially in Yemen. There is little space open for women to engross in peaceful protests, and this is not because women lack the resolution to fight for peace. But, it is the male-controlled mentality of Saudi-inspired Salafism that has detached women from participation in building the peaceful Yemeni society.
Meanwhile Yemeni women peace activists have been calling outside the country for an end to the fighting and the obstruction of necessary needs that has shaped an unrelenting humanitarian crisis.

The effects of war remain for years after the conflict ends. Women become widowed and children orphaned. Women face struggles to bear with livelihoods needs of their families.
The crucial role of women in development, peace, security and human rights cannot be denied, It is thus of countless importance that women should play a noteworthy role in limiting the effects of violence. Women must be actively engaged in the peace discussions process at the regional, national, and local level.

While women remain a minority, everyone will be suffering.

Sana AFOUAIZ