Category Archives: Uncategorized

What I learned from Indian women’s rights leader Manisha Gupte

Child Marriage isn’t just a women’s issue—it’s a human rights issue.

Manisha Gupte, Ph.D. is the co-founder of AJWS grantee Mahila Sarvangeen Utkarsh Mandal (MASUM), a rural women's organization in Maharashtra, India, that is working to address child marriage and other human rights challenges facing women and girls. For the past 40 years, Manisha has been a leader in the women's health and rights movements in India and on the international stage.

Manisha Gupte, Ph.D. is the co-founder of AJWS grantee Mahila Sarvangeen Utkarsh Mandal (MASUM), a rural women’s organization in Maharashtra, India, that is working to address child marriage and other human rights challenges facing women and girls. For the past 40 years, Manisha has been a leader in the women’s health and rights movements in India and on the international stage.

I walked into AJWS’s DC Action Team meeting in December to find a conference room with a delightful array of cheeses, crackers and fruit. There were pitchers of water on the table, hot coffee and tea. The chairs were nice and everything seemed comfortable, but I was about to get really uncomfortable.

Whenever I attend an AJWS event, I always feel productively challenged. That evening I was challenged by Dr. Manisha Gupte. Dr. Gupte is co-founder of Mahila Sarvangeen Utkarsh Mandal (MASUM), an organization supported by AJWS that works to help young men and women in western India learn about their rights and how to advocate for greater choices about their own futures. Rights and freedoms that we take for granted in the United States are not always respected and understood in Indian society.

Dr. Gupte shared stories about the lives of young men and women from the Dalit (“untouchable” caste) in western India. For a variety of reasons and pressures—including gender inequality, poverty and limited sexual health education, to name a few—many of them find themselves in early marriages. Getting married before the age of 18 often limits the opportunities for these children, especially for girls. The issue remains complex. Perhaps the most impressive part about MASUM is that, through its partnership with AJWS, the organization strengthens youth-led advocacy and empowers children to ask for and create change from within their own communities.

As Manisha spoke, I looked around the room with about a dozen women and realized that I was the only man. It was surprising that no other men had made the choice to be there that night. What did that say about the issue at hand? Was it strictly a women’s issue? I tended to think not, and frankly, from the talk that I had just heard, it seemed like men had a lot to learn and gain from their engagement in this conversation.

We were asked to reflect on what we had just heard and how it might impact what action we might take next. I recognized that there was a lot that I needed to learn, and because of what I had heard, I was willing to learn more in order to make a difference. Dr. Gupte had left us with a final thought that really stuck in my mind. “I don’t think women need protection; women’s rights need protection,” she said. Protecting human rights is the bottom line, and is something that people of all genders can—and should—support. All of us, regardless of gender, have a stake in ensuring equal protection for all people’s dignity and human rights.

Andy Kirschner is a member of AJWS’s DC Action Team. AJWS Action Teams mobilize advocates for global justice throughout the United States, helping to create lasting policy change that benefit many of the most marginalized people in the developing world. To get involved, email webelieve@ajws.org.

AJWS’s We Believe campaign is mobilizing American Jewish and other supporters of human rights to demand that the U.S. Congress fully fund efforts designed to end child marriage in the developing world. Learn more and get involved with our We Believe campaign.

 

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A Global Justice Fellow’s Pre-Travel Reflection

This week, my AJWS Los Angeles Global Justice Fellowship cohort and I are preparing to depart for India to meet with local human rights activists working to overcome poverty and injustice in their own communities. I have been reminded these past few days (especially in the countdown to our departure from LAX) that I am experiencing a familiar feeling. It is so easy to get fixated on the packing list, the details of travel insurance, Malarone™ prescriptions and visa applications. Do I have the right clothes…my trusty travel pillow? …and where did my universal travel plug go?

And when I was traveling for work to the developing world it was even worse: do I have the in-country contact phone numbers, the materials for our field office, the conference freebees and photo consent cards, and all the necessary files and PowerPoints backed up on my computer in case rolling blackouts restrict my internet access?

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Photo essay: Haiti’s earthquake victims wonder where the reconstruction money went

Originally published in PBS Newshour.

Five years since a magnitude 7.0 earthquake shook their nation, 80,000 Haitians remain in tent camps, a visible reminder of the slow humanitarian effort to rebuild the poor country and move its affected residents to permanent housing. Photo by Ed Kashi/American Jewish World Service

Five years since a magnitude 7.0 earthquake shook their nation, 80,000 Haitians remain in tent camps, a visible reminder of the slow humanitarian effort to rebuild the poor country and move its affected residents to permanent housing. Photo by Ed Kashi/American Jewish World Service

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

On Jan. 12, 2010, a magnitude 7.0 earthquake reduced the impoverished island country of Haiti to rubble, leaving 220,000 dead, another 300,000 injured, and more than a million homeless. Many of those who survived also lost limbs to falling walls and debris from buildings that weren’t constructed to withstand seismic waves.

According to the U.S. Geological Survey, the tectonic plates hadn’t produced a large-scale earthquake of comparable strength in the Caribbean area for 150 years.

The tragedy triggered an international response that raised $13.5 billion in donations from governments and individuals, with the U.S. leading the relief operation. President Barack Obama spoke directly to Haitians — “You will not be forsaken. You will not be forgotten” — but every year since, critics have asked the same question: Where did the money go?

Five years later, the “build back better” reconstruction promise remains limp, critics argue, while tens of thousands of people are still in temporary housing. While the number of Haitians living in these tent camps have decreased since the earthquake, 123 camps housing more than 85,000 people remain open, Amnesty International said.

“On paper, with that much money in a territory the size of Haiti, we should have witnessed miracles; there should have been results,” Haiti-based photographer Gael Turine told Time magazine.

An overshot of Jalousie, a shantytown that was the target of a government project that relocated people that took shelter in the tent camps provided after Haiti’s 2010 earthquake. As part of the $1.4 million effort to beautify the slum, the Haitian government painted the facades of these dwellings. AJWS, among other critics, said the move was a cosmetic change that provided Petitionville, Port-au-Prince’s wealthiest neighborhood, a colorful view that belied the poor conditions the slum’s inhabitants faced. Photo by Ed Kashi/American Jewish World Service

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A woman hangs her laundry to dry in front of her makeshift home made out of tin and tarps. Five years after the devastating Haiti earthquake, many of the tent camps and shantytowns that once sheltered some 1.5 million people now hold about 80,000 as the government tries to move them into permanent homes. Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Then, for the first time in a century, Haiti suffered a cholera outbreak that emerged 10 months after the earthquake. As of August 2014, the disease had claimed 8,592 lives and sickened more than 700,000, the United Nations Children’s Fund said.

A four-person panel appointed by U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon released a report in May 2011 that investigated if U.N. peacekeepers had inadvertently caused the outbreak when an overflowing septic tank in one of their camps spewed into the Artibonite River, a main water source for many Haitians. The report did no find the U.N. at fault. Haitian plaintiffs, in response, filed a class-action lawsuit in the hopes of holding the U.N. accountable for the outbreak.

Frustration in Haiti has boiled over into public outcry against government corruption. Two days before the fifth anniversary of the country’s earthquake, anti-government demonstrators gathered in Port-au-Prince, Haiti’s capital, to protest the long-delayed elections and called for the departure of President Michel Martelly.

 

A woman walks past the fence that covers the view of what was the Presidential Palace before it was destroyed when magnitude 7.0 earthquake struck just before 5 p.m. on Jan. 12, 2010 in Port-au-Prince, Haiti. Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images

A woman walks past the fence that covers the view of what was the Presidential Palace before it was destroyed when magnitude 7.0 earthquake struck just before 5 p.m. on Jan. 12, 2010 in Port-au-Prince, Haiti. Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Children sit on the wall next to the National Cathedral that was destroyed five years ago by a magnitude 7.0 earthquake that struck Haiti in 2010. Five years later a church has been built next to the ruins and the city of Port-au-Prince struggles to recover even as the government is locked in a stalemate over parliamentary elections that have been delayed for several years. Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Although reconstruction efforts have removed much of the rubble — the National Palace, once the symbol of slow recovery, was demolished in 2012 — the most visible reminder of the earthquake has been the country’s displacement camps, where poor conditions are compounded by chronic poverty and political upheaval. With an unemployment rate of nearly 40 percent, the majority of Haitians live under the national poverty line, the Associated Press reported.

Photographer Ed Kashi, working for American Jewish World Service, captured earthquake survivors still living in Haiti’s tent camps. Kashi photographed Camp Immaculée, which will soon close, leaving its residents with an uncertain future.

 

Tens of thousands of earthquake survivors remain in tent camps like Camp Immaculée, located in Port-au-Prince. AJWS said the camp’s residents face imminent eviction, and most have nowhere to go next. Centered is Jackson Doliscar, who, at the time, represented FRAKKA (Force for Reflection and Action on Housing), an organization that acted as advocates on behalf of earthquake survivors, providing legal aid and calling for a more sustainable plan to resettle displaced persons. Doliscar is flanked by camp committee members who, at every one of these camps, help promote the rights of the people living in these camps, AJWS said. Photo by Ed Kashi/American Jewish World Service

Tens of thousands of earthquake survivors remain in tent camps like Camp Immaculée, located in Port-au-Prince. AJWS said the camp’s residents face imminent eviction, and most have nowhere to go next. Centered is Jackson Doliscar, who, at the time, represented FRAKKA (Force for Reflection and Action on Housing), an organization that acted as advocates on behalf of earthquake survivors, providing legal aid and calling for a more sustainable plan to resettle displaced persons. Doliscar is flanked by camp committee members who, at every one of these camps, help promote the rights of the people living in these camps, AJWS said. Photo by Ed Kashi/American Jewish World Service

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Children play a game of dominoes as they hang out together near their makeshift homes. Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images

Children play a game of dominoes as they hang out together near their makeshift homes. Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Friends stand together near homes made out of tin and tarps that they built over the land where their homes once stood. Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images

Friends stand together near homes made out of tin and tarps that they built over the land where their homes once stood. Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Women face an increased risk of sexual violence in tent camps, AJWS said, among other human rights violations. Photo by Ed Kashi/American Jewish World Service

Women face an increased risk of sexual violence in tent camps, AJWS said, among other human rights violations. Photo by Ed Kashi/American Jewish World Service

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A family looks out from behind the tarp that serves as the front door to their home. Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images

A family looks out from behind the tarp that serves as the front door to their home. Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Jackson Doliscar of FRAKKA, left, speaks with camp residents. Photo by Ed Kashi/American Jewish World Service

Jackson Doliscar of FRAKKA, left, speaks with camp residents. Photo by Ed Kashi/American Jewish World Service

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Most of these children were born at Camp Immaculée, and live adrift in this temporary tent camp — and its poor conditions — for the past five years. Photo by Ed Kashi/American Jewish World Service

Most of these children were born at Camp Immaculée, and live adrift in this temporary tent camp — and its poor conditions — for the past five years. Photo by Ed Kashi/American Jewish World Service

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A young lady looks out from behind a cloth that serves as the front door to the home made out of tin and tarps. Her family built the shelter over the land where their home once stood before the 2010 earthquake. Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images

A young lady looks out from behind a cloth that serves as the front door to the home made out of tin and tarps. Her family built the shelter over the land where their home once stood before the 2010 earthquake. Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images

 

 

 

 

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Human Rights in 2014: Our End-of-Year Top 10

As 2014 comes to an end, we’re reflecting on a year with both progress and setbacks for human rights around the globe. Read our round-up of our top 10 human rights events in 2014.

1. Ebola devastates West Africa

Staff and volunteers from AJWS grantee Grassroots Agency for Social Services (GRASS) in Liberia

Staff and volunteers from AJWS grantee Grassroots Agency for Social Services (GRASS) in Liberia

As undoubtedly the largest public health crisis in 2014, the Ebola outbreak in West Africa has taken thousands of lives and left thousands of orphaned children. In Liberia, the outbreak has threatened to erase the progress made in building a just and equitable society after the country’s devastating civil war. The stigma associated with the disease has made it more difficult to end the outbreak, which is disproportionately affecting the poor, women and oppressed minorities. More women contract the disease since they are the primary caretakers of the sick. LGBT people are also being blamed for spreading the disease. Since this summer, AJWS donors contributed more than $1 million to help our grantees in Liberia respond to the outbreak and also work to address the broader structural issues that contributed to the rapid rise of the epidemic.

2. AJWS grantee Tlachinollan leads fight for justice for Mexico’s missing students

Photo credit: Tlachinollan

Photo credit: Tlachinollan

After the forced disappearance of 43 students from the rural university of Ayotzinapa in Guerrero, Mexico in September, our grantee Tlachinollan quickly organized to support the families of the missing students and demand justice. AJWS has supported Tlachinollan’s work protecting the human rights of Mexico’s indigenous people for years, and we are proud that the organization is now taking the lead in one of Mexico’s most high-profile human rights cases. Earlier in 2014, Tlachinollan’s legal advocacy resulted in the conviction of two soldiers who raped and tortured indigenous leaders in 2002. This case was groundbreaking because it was first time Mexican soldiers were tried in a non-military court for a case of rape.

Abel Barrera, Tlachinollan’s founder and director, describes Tlachinollan’s efforts as they continue to stand by the families of the missing students until justice is served:

“Our team has been together with the families who are demanding justice for the disappeared. This is what makes the government fearful. This is where and what the defense of human rights is. It is with the people. It is face to face.”

3. Violence against women gains international media attention

AJWS #BringBackOurGirls social media post, May 2014

AJWS #BringBackOurGirls social media post, May 2014

Around the world, 1 in 3 women is still beaten, coerced into sex, or otherwise abused in her lifetime. But in 2014, more people around the world spoke out to say ‘NO’ to violence against women and girls. The #BringBackOurGirls Twitter campaign went viral across the world following the abduction of more than 270 schoolgirls from Nigeria. Other viral Twitter campaigns calling for an end to violence against women included the #YesAllMen, #ItsOnUs, and #HeForShe campaigns. AJWS and our supporters participated in these viral social media campaigns to call attention to the epidemic of violence facing women and girls. Our supporters rallied around our #BringBackOurGirls social media post, and the post reached 3.5 million people.

 

 

 

4. Uganda’s inhumane Anti-Homosexuality Act overturned

Nicholas Opiyo, AJWS grantee who helped overturn Uganda's Anti-Homosexuality Act

Nicholas Opiyo, AJWS grantee who helped overturn Uganda’s Anti-Homosexuality Act

In February 2014, Uganda’s President signed the country’s inhumane Anti-Homosexuality Bill into law. The law contained harsh provisions, including life imprisonment for same-sexual behavior, and violated the basic human rights of Uganda’s LGBT people. AJWS supported a coalition of organizations in Uganda to challenge the constitutionality of the Anti-Homosexuality Act, and in July they won the case, striking down the bill. Read more about Nicholas Opiyo, an AJWS grantee and one of Uganda’s top human rights lawyers, and his role in overturning the bill in BuzzFeed.

 

 

5. Alejandra Ancheita claims the 2014 Martin Ennals Award for Human Rights Defenders

Photo credit: Amnesty International

Photo credit: Amnesty International

In October, Alejandra Anchrita won the Martin Ennals Award, considered the Nobel Prize of human rights, given to human rights defenders who show deep commitment to their cause despite huge personal risk. As founder and director of AJWS grantee PRODESC, Alejandra was awarded for her deep commitment to protect the land and labor rights of migrants, workers and indigenous communities in Mexico. Read more from Amnesty International. 

 

6. AJWS Grantee Receives the 2014 Asia Democracy and Human Rights Award

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Photo credit: Taiwan Foundation for Democracy

On December 10—International Human Rights Day—our Sri Lankan grantee Center for Human Rights and Development (CHRD) received the prestigious 2014 Asia Democracy and Human Rights Award from the Taiwan Foundation for Democracy. CHRD was awarded for their work tackling human rights violations in Sri Lanka, including cases of land grabbing, unlawful arrest, detentions, disappearances and sexual violence. CHRD also works to protect the human rights of minority communities in Sri Lanka.

 

 

7. Major progress on U.S. funds for Haiti

Ian Schwab, AJWS's associate director of advocacy (far left), speaks at a Haiti Advocacy Working Group event.

Ian Schwab, AJWS’s associate director of advocacy (far left), speaks at a Haiti Advocacy Working Group event.

In July 2014, Congress passed a new bill to reform how the U.S. tracks the progress of its development projects in Haiti—a great step in the right direction for the country’s long-term recovery after the devastating 2010 earthquake. Our President Ruth Messinger commented on the bill’s significance:

“As an organization that makes grants in Haiti, we believe this legislation embodies a new commitment to transparency, accountability and good governance. The bill will help establish clear and transparent goals for future U.S. involvement in Haiti and will ensure that U.S. dollars are spent in responsible ways that create long-term, positive change in Haiti.” See more in the article from the Miami Herald and from our blog post.

 

 

8. Progress for the International Violence Against Women Act (IVAWA)

passivawaAt the end of 2013 as part of our We Believe campaign, we launched a petition calling on Congress to pass the International Violence Against Women Act (IVAWA), a law that would ensure that the U.S. government puts the full weight of its foreign aid and international diplomacy behind global efforts to end violence against women and girls. More than 12,700 people have signed our petition this year, and more members of Congress are now co-sponsors of IVAWA than ever before, including Chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, Ed Royce. Let’s make 2015 the year that we pass IVAWA and end the violence and abuse experienced by hundreds of millions of women and girls worldwide. If you haven’t done so yet, sign the petition calling on Congress to pass IVAWA.

 

9. Congress introduces International Human Rights Defense Act

In September, AJWS and a coalition of advocacy and human rights organizations met with officials at The White House to ask President Barack Obama to appoint a Special Envoy for Global LGBT Rights and address violence and discrimination against LGBT people worldwide.

In September, AJWS and a coalition of advocacy and human rights organizations met with officials at The White House to ask President Barack Obama to appoint a Special Envoy for Global LGBT Rights and address violence and discrimination against LGBT people worldwide.

Global LGBT rights took a step forward in June when Senator Ed Markey introduced the International Human Rights Defense Act into the Senate, a law that would direct the State Department to make protecting the rights of LGBT people worldwide a foreign policy priority. Part of the bill proposes that the President appoint a Special Envoy for Global LGBT Rights. However, the bill has yet to pass—and in 77 countries, homosexuality is still illegal—punishable by imprisonment and, in some cases, by death. Sign our petition urging President Obama to appoint a Special Envoy for Global LGBT Rights.

 

10.  UN adopts historic resolution on Child Marriage

Manisha Gupte, founder of AJWS grantee MASUM, an organization that empowers women in India

Manisha Gupte, founder of AJWS grantee MASUM, an organization that empowers women in India

In November, the UN General Assembly adopted a resolution on child marriage (also known as early or forced marriage). The resolution is historic as it marks the first time that UN member states agreed upon substantive recommendations that states and international organizations must take to address the harmful practice. Read this article in Cosmopolitan featuring an interview with our grantee Manisha Gupte, who is empowering girls to determine their own futures in India.

 

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A Message from Cynthia Nixon

CynthiaNixon

 

I’m Cynthia Nixon. As an actor, I’ve played the roles of many different women—from Juliet to Miranda Hobbes to Eleanor Roosevelt. I love bringing the stories and struggles of women to life, on the stage and on the screen. It’s a tremendous pleasure and privilege.

Yet, there are millions of women all over the globe whose stories are never told on the world stage. These women suffer many forms of discrimination. They are victimized by sexual violence. And when they raise their voices in protest, too often they are answered with brutality.

That’s why I’m joining with American Jewish World Service to urge Congress to pass the International Violence Against Women Act (IVAWA)—a critical piece of legislation that will protect the rights and dignity of millions of women and girls around the world.

Consider this:

  • More than 70 percent of women will experience physical violence during their lives;
  • In some countries, lesbians are raped to “be cured”;
  • And, in the coming decade, more than 100 million girls will be married against their will before they are 18 years old—some as young as nine.

This is not the world I want for my children. Or for anyone’s little girls.

If passed, IVAWA will decrease violence against women and bring perpetrators of abuse to justice. It will allow women and girls everywhere to do things we so often take for granted… go to school, earn an income to support themselves and their families, collect food or water without fear of rape or harassment.

Tell Congress to pass the International Violence Against Women Act today.

As a woman and a mother, I cannot remain silent while these atrocities continue. I’m counting on you to help me build a safer, better future for our mothers, daughters and sisters everywhere.

With gratitude for your partnership,

Cynthia Nixon

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Dvar Tzedek: Parashat Bereshit 5775

DvarTzedek

On the subway the other day, my four-year-old daughter piped up with the observation, “There are more white people than brown people on the train today.” I was immediately discomfited, looking around to see if anyone had heard and then probing to see if her comment had any valence beyond the simple truth that there were, in fact, more white people than people of color in our car. It was unsettling to recognize the deep human urge to separate and draw distinctions—and to note my own reaction of anxiety.

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Why Yom Kippur Tells Us To Fight Ebola

Originally published in The Jewish Daily Forward.

ebola-Forward-093014

Photo: Getty Images

As Jews around the world prepare for Yom Kippur — a day when we pray to be “sealed in the Book of Life” for the year to come — the people of West Africa are struggling to save the lives of their loved ones from the Ebola outbreak, one of the most desperate crises of our day.

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Reflections on India and Behind the Beautiful Forevers

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Photo by Jeff Zorabedian

I was drawn to Behind the Beautiful Forevers by Pulitzer Prize-winning author and journalist, Katherine Boo, when it first appeared in 2012. Boo’s raw and vivid portrait of life in an Indian slum is 100 percent nonfiction, yet it reads like a novel. This past summer I returned to Boo’s book and was newly impressed by the candor and honesty of her writing. Her words shed light on the crucial human rights issues that American Jewish World Service’s grantees confront every day. And just a few weeks ago I was delighted to be in conversation with Katherine Boo to discuss the challenges facing India’s 68 million slum dwellers. Forty-two percent of India’s 1.2 billion people live below the international poverty line, earning less than $1.25 per day. Many of these people go unnoticed by our global community, and they are in dire need of our attention.

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Meet the 2014 AJWS New York City Marathon Team

On November 2nd, AJWS’s mighty marathon team will embark on a journey that will test their physical and mental strength: 26.2 miles! Inspired by the Jewish commitment to justice, these 15 runners have already spent months tirelessly training to run the 2014 TCS New York City Marathon. In addition to training for the race, the team is dedicating its efforts to raising money—more than $45,000—to support AJWS’s work in the developing world. You can support the team here. We hope you’ll cheer on Team AJWS as they race through all five boroughs to build a more just and equitable world. Learn why these runners are seizing this challenge:  Read More »

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How Are AJWS Grantees Affected by Climate Change?

This week, on the heels of the historic People’s Climate March, world leaders will convene for the 2014 United Nations Climate Summit in New York City to take action against the dangerous consequences of climate change. While the world’s developed countries have been the largest producers of carbon dioxide emissions, the world’s poorest countries are unjustly paying the highest price. Communities in Africa, Asia, and Latin America are experiencing droughts, sea-level rises, stronger storms, warmer temperatures, unpredictable rains, the depletion of habitable land, and severe weather patterns that are leaving people hungry, disrupting their livelihoods and forcing them to abandon their homes. At the Climate Summit, world leaders must create a vision that will incorporate a human rights framework to protect the world’s poorest communities.

Here’s how some of our grantees and their communities have been affected by climate change and how they’re working to build a healthier planet:

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