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Activists prepare to take action on Uganda’s anti-gay bill

Photo credit: The Guardian

Photo credit: The Guardian

Ugandan lawmakers have threatened to pass a so-called “Kill the Gays” bill for years. In December, they finally succeeded—and the bill now awaits approval or rejection from Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni.

Calling for life imprisonment for homosexual acts, the bill is poised to create serious penalties for LGBT people and anyone who advocates for their rights. If the bill becomes law, simply discussing homosexuality in Uganda—without simultaneously condemning it—could lead to a prison term.

Contrary to many international media reports, a recent letter Museveni wrote about the bill does not amount to a legal rejection of it. In the letter, Museveni described LGBT people as “abnormal” and lesbians in particular as suffering from “sexual starvation,” but he also said they should not be jailed or killed for their “deviant” behavior.

“The letter was offensive no matter what side you are coming from,” Caroline,* AJWS’s Ugandan country consultant, explained. Museveni still has weeks to sign the bill or reject it.

Photo credit: The New York Times

Photo credit: The New York Times

Some LGBT activists in Uganda are reconsidering whether they feel safe mobilizing opposition to the bill. A few human rights organizations in Uganda have “backed off,” Caroline said. “If we’re all out there [advocating] now, it could come back to haunt us,” she explained. “[Human rights NGOs] already have so many challenges in dealing with the government.”

But many Ugandan LGBT activists —including several AJWS grantees in the country—continue to bear the potential risks of speaking out. On Monday, Feb. 10, Ugandan activists are launching a “Global Day of Action,” working with advocates inside the country and throughout the world to oppose the anti-homosexuality bill and the hatred it represents. AJWS is joining with our partners to take action at this critical time.

After years of brainstorming ways to halt the bill’s progress, Ugandan LGBT rights advocates are also coming up with legal strategies for challenging its constitutionality, should it become law. Caroline said the bill has not created the anti-LGBT movement in Uganda that its masterminds intended.

“It’s been positive in a strange way,” Caroline said. She cited the way human rights groups and activists from Uganda and across the globe have consistently worked together to fight the bill. “I think the discussions that have happened never would have happened otherwise.”

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TAKE ACTION: Speak out against Uganda’s anti-homosexuality bill and join the Global Day of Action on Feb. 10. 

*Last name excluded to protect Ugandan staff from any potential government retribution.

Elizabeth Daube is a communications officer for American Jewish World Service.

Posted in Human Rights, LGBTI Rights, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , | 1 Comment

That’s a Wrap: What We Won in the Farm Bill

Photo credit: Nehanda Radio

Photo credit: Nehanda Radio

When we launched the Reverse Hunger campaign on World Food Day 2011, we set out to ensure that the U.S. Farm Bill reflected our Jewish values, ensuring that our international food aid programs feed more hungry people and support local farmers abroad. Never could we have imagined how incredible, sometimes dysfunctional, and downright comical this journey would be.

Today is the culmination of that journey. Later this afternoon, the President will sign the U.S. Farm Bill (officially known as the Agricultural Act of 2014) into law. While AJWS does not have a position on the entire bill, a massive piece of legislation that shapes the majority of U.S. food and agricultural policies, we welcome the modest, yet critical improvements to international food aid programs.

The changes in this bill are aimed at increasing flexibility: making it easier to utilize alternative food aid approaches and to move away from inefficient practices that slow down delivery and sometimes undermine our goals of helping people for the long-haul. Read More »

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Life on $3 a Day: Garment Workers and Cambodia’s Struggle for Human Rights

Monks bless the crowd at a human rights demonstration in Phnom Penh. Photo: Evan Abramson for AJWS

Monks bless the crowd at a human rights demonstration in Phnom Penh.

A month ago, I stood outside Cambodia’s National Assembly with hundreds of Buddhist monks. They chanted in Sanskrit and tossed lotus petals into a crowd of protesters, blessing them. Many of them had walked from rural villages to Phnom Penh over 10 days. They rallied at the palatial seat of the country’s parliament, to mark International Human Rights Day and hopefully draw the government’s attention to the rights Cambodia’s people have yet to fully grasp—rights related to labor, land and a fair legal system.

People passed out water bottles and wrapped towels around their heads to protect themselves from the harsh midday sun. Others held up signs (“WE ARE WOMEN WE ARE NOT SLAVES”) and loudspeakers buzzed, ready to call people to action. We were not supposed to be there; the government had prohibited marches. I searched the crowd, waiting for something to happen.

But it was peaceful.  Despite a day filled with marches and demonstrations, Phnom Penh remained relatively calm. The only government reaction: quietly relocating a dozen protesters who had camped outside the U.S. embassy.

Fast forward a few weeks, and the demonstrations have taken a dramatic and deadly turn. On Jan. 2, after escalating tension over the minimum wage, police shot AK-47s and handguns into a crowd of protesters, killing at least four and injuring more than 29. Most of them were garment workers—the very people I traveled to Cambodia to meet. Read More »

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Grassroots Girls Initiative: Empowering girls in West Bengal

This guest post from the Grassroots Girls Initiative tells the story of Mohammad Bazar Backward Class Development Society (MBBCDS) and their efforts to end child marriage and empower marginalized women and girls.  MBBCDS is an nonprofit organization that AJWS supports in West Bengal, India.  

The Situation for Girls

West Bengal is one of the poorest states in India and its tribal villages are labeled “economically backward.” Female literacy is extremely low; more than half of adolescent girls are either pulled out or drop out of the education system by high school. Girls in tribal villages are extremely vulnerable to early marriage, early pregnancy and domestic violence.

Read More »

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Human Rights in 2013: Our End-of-Year Top 10

As we get ready for the New Year, we’re also taking a moment to celebrate the joys and victories in human rights that took place in 2013—an exciting and tumultuous year for human rights around the globe. Read on for 10 human rights happenings that AJWS celebrated in 2013, listed in chronological order. Let’s celebrate the strides we’ve made together and take heart for the work still ahead of us!

10.  India: Supreme Court ruling upholds indigenous people’s rights over contested land (April 2013)

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Children from the Dongria Kondh community. Credit: Survival International

In a landmark ruling, India’s Supreme Court rejected an appeal that would have allowed a UK-based company, Vedanta Resources, to mine the Niyamgiri hills. The court recognized the indigenous community of Dongria Kondh‘s right to the land, which they make a living from and worship as part of their traditional beliefs. The ruling affirmed that people with religious and cultural rights to land must be involved in decisions about how to use it.

This marked a major win for the rights of indigenous people in India, and it shows the power of social action. Thousands of protesters rallied to protest the mining effort last December, and hundreds of Dongria pledged to stay in the Niyamgiri hills.

1st item video screengrab

Click to watch Survival International’s video story on the mine. A new window will open.

Read More »

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Congo peace activists celebrate defeat of M23 rebels

DRC edit 2

Women in Goma marched in the streets to celebrate the defeat of the M23.

For many months, I have heard tragic reports of rising conflict from our partners in the Democratic Republic of Congo. Eastern DRC has been engulfed by conflict since 1994, when Hutu militias fled across the border from Rwanda—where they had just slaughtered Tutsis and moderate Hutus in one of the most organized genocides of the 20th century.

But in the last week, we have started seeing signs of hope. The notorious M23 rebels have finally surrendered, after years of unrelenting attacks against both civilians and the DRC military.

Here in DRC, people have been celebrating this important milestone. Women have dressed in white to show their support to the Congolese army and government in Goma and Kinshasa. There is a festive mood in the air.

However, grassroots advocates for peace are also calling for caution.  People are waiting to see what happens next and how the pending peace negotiations between the government and the M23 unfold. Still, this is a huge step toward breaking the cycle of recurrent violence in the Eastern DRC. We hope the United Nations and the Congolese army succeed in fighting the remaining rebel groups. There will be challenges ahead, particularly when human rights groups seek justice for war crimes—but this is a huge first step.

Read on for reflections on this news from AJWS partners in Goma and Bukavu, DRC, who will continue working with their communities to recover from this conflict and demand their basic human rights.

Read More »

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Dominicans of Haitian descent deserve full equality in the Dominican Republic

DR protest

Protesters organize outside the Dominican Republic’s Constitutional Court.

Daniela lives in a batey—a town of sugar cane workers—in the Dominican Republic. At 17 years old, she has just graduated from high school and now volunteers as a community health educator. Her dream is to go to college—but that dream was crushed last month, when the country’s Constitutional Court revoked citizenship from all Dominicans of Haitian descent born after 1929.

Daniela was born in the Dominican Republic, but the government no longer considers her a citizen—just because of her family’s Haitian heritage. The impact on Daniela and her family will be devastating. Her college dream is now shattered, and she might be deported from the only home she’s ever known. Read More »

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Seynabou Male Cissé wins prize from Women’s World Summit Foundation

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Seynabou Male Cissé

Seynabou Male Cissé, leader of AJWS grantee Comité Régional de Solidarité des Femmes pour la Paix en Casamance*/USOFORAL in Senegal, recently won the Women’s World Summit Foundation (WWSF) Prize for Women’s Creativity in Rural Life. The annual prize celebrates the International Day of Rural Women on October 15. Every year, WWSF awards 10 notable women with this prize, honoring female leaders for their courageous and creative work in the rural women’s movement. Read More »

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From Puppet Theatre to Dancing about Condoms: Creativity and Innovation at the Global Village of the International AIDS Conference

At the International AIDS Conference, I’ve been spending a lot of time in The Global Village, a space with more than 280 organizations from all over the world demonstrating their ingenuity to fight HIV and AIDS by organizing networking zones, booths, art exhibits, theatre productions and film screenings. I took a tour of The Global Village and was overwhelmed by the creativity. Here are four organizations that are doing exceptional work and are living AJWS’s principles of social change: grassroots-based, human rights-focused and putting women and young people at the center:

Louis Chingandu, executive director of AJWS’s Zimbabwean grantee Southern Africa AIDS Network (SAFAIDS), leading a workshop in The Global Village.

Southern Africa AIDS Network (SAFAIDS)

SAFAIDS—an AJWS grantee based in Zimbabwe—developed an LGBTI Toolkit to share skills, tools and information to help people better understand the needs of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex people (LGBTI). The toolkit specifically addresses how sexual orientation and gender identity relates to HIV and gender-based violence.

Youth from The CONDOMIZE! Project doing educational dance in The Global Village.

The CONDOMIZE! Project

With its colorful bright posters and entertaining dancers, The CONDOMIZE! Project highlights the effectiveness of male and female condoms for sexual health and rights. The organization calls on governments, donors and activists to intensify access to quality condoms as a primary defense against HIV. It advocates for investing resources and materials into promoting condom use as the most efficient and available prevention technology in the global AIDS response.

U-Tena

U-Tena uses puppets, drama and theatre to educate people about sexual and reproductive health rights in the Viwandani-Mukuru slums of Kenya. In front of a huge audience in The Global Village, U-Tena did a fantastic puppet show about a young HIV-positive girl and her boyfriend experiencing discrimination, neglect and stigma in their own community.

Interactive art exhibit from YAHAnet.

Youth, the Arts, HIV & AIDS Network (YAHAnet)

YAHAnet is an interdisciplinary networking platform that integrates public health, education, art and digital technology to help young people from around the world participate in the fight against HIV and AIDS.

Terry Mukuka is an AJWS program officer for Africa.

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Activism in Asia – Link Roundup

April, May and June have unleashed a firestorm of media coverage for our grantees in Asia. Check out this roundup of the most significant stories:

For the first time ever, our Burma grantees garnered tremendous media coverage in major outlets around the world. But what’s so significant about this coverage? Our grantees are speaking and the world is listening. More than ever before, our grantees are being tapped by policy makers and journalists for their on-the-ground experience and their decades-long work on documenting human rights abuses. Though our grantees are excited about the changes happening in the country, they are quick to remind the international community that human rights abuses abound and there is still tremendous work to be done. Here are a few of the stories:

  • The Bangkok Post wrote a piece about the underbelly of an “open” Burma, highlighting that though cosmetic political changes have been made, activists are drawing attention to the stream of constant, brutal abuse committed by Burmese authorities against ethnic minorities and political prisoners. The first part of the article is told from the perspective of Moon Lay Ni, coordinator of Kachin Women’s Association Thailand (KWAT). Formed in 1999, KWAT works with vulnerable refugees and migrant workers from Kachin state in Thailand and Burma to provide leadership training and educational programs to increase awareness of women’s rights, health and environmental protection.
  • On June 5, The Nation ran an opinion piece by Jackie Pollock, director of Map Foundation, an organization that strives for Burmese migrant workers to be free from discrimination and live safely and securely in Thailand. Pollock’s article calls for Thailand to include domestic and migrant workers in national labor laws in addition to “act quickly improve the pay and conditions of domestic workers” in the country, particularly with the number of arrests that will follow any kind of nationality verification processes.

Sexual and reproductive health and rights has also been a critical topic this spring. From sex workers to LGBTI communities, AJWS grantees are making waves in the news:

  • In April, when a pregnant Indian sex worker was assaulted by the police and miscarried, SANGRAM organized a vast cross-section of organizations (including AJWS partner Awaaz-E-Niswaan) to protest the human rights violations that sex workers suffer at the hands of the police. Read the article about the protest in The Hindu here. Sign the Change.org petition here.
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