Category Archives: Uncategorized

Kenyan women speak out against sexual violence

Grace Mbugua, founder and director of Women’s Empowerment Link (WEL)

Grace Mbugua, founder and director of Women’s Empowerment Link (WEL)

KENYA—Grace Mbugua was riding in a matatu van when the attendant started to harass her. First, he started flirting with her. When Grace made it clear that she was not interested, he tried touching her anyway.

“When I came out [of the matatu],” she said, “I actually felt abused … How often [must this experience occur] for those who have to commute every day?” Read More »

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Congress Passes Bill to Assess U.S. Funding in 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.

More than four years after a devastating earthquake hit Haiti, the country is still struggling with deep-rooted inequality, rampant poverty and a troubled government. Congress recently passed a new bill to reform how the U.S. tracks the progress of its development projects in Haiti—with the hope of making those projects more effective.

“Our government laudably committed a significant amount of aid to help Haiti rebuild, but a lack of transparency made it difficult to understand how U.S. government funds were being used,” said Ruth Messinger, president of American Jewish World Service. “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.”

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A Must-See Movie: “Finding Fela”

Fela Kuti

Fela Kuti

If you’re looking for a powerful, thought-provoking film to see this summer, look no further than Finding Fela—a new documentary that opened this past Friday in New York City at IFC and has bookings throughout the country opening on various dates this month.

Fela Kuti was the brilliant Nigerian performer who became a human rights activist challenging the corrupt government in his country. He used his music as a mobilizing force, galvanizing others to join him in the battle for social and political change. During his lifetime, he became a beacon for oppressed peoples in Nigeria, in Africa and elsewhere in the world. He also became a target for his government, which was eager to silence him and stop his organizing. Read More »

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Nigeria: Update on Abducted Girls, AJWS Allies Respond

Over the past week, the search for more than 250 girls abducted from a school in northern Nigeria has intensified. The U.S. and other countries are now assisting the Nigerian government in an effort to quickly locate the girls and their captors, the Islamic militant group Boko Haram.

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Protesters in Nigeria call for an end to Boko Haram terrorism, including the kidnapping of the schoolgirls. Photo courtesy of Spaces for Change

International media and U.S. activists and politicians have continued to focus attention on the story, particularly after the Monday release of a video showing the girls in captivity. In addition to repeated calls for the girls’ freedom, the story has sparked debate about a spectrum of problems facing Nigeria and how foreign countries should (or should not) assist in counter-terrorism efforts there.

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Nigeria: AJWS Allies Respond to Girls’ Abduction

Protesters around the world have drawn unprecedented international attention to the plight of more than 250 girls in northern Nigeria. Most of the girls, who were kidnapped by the Islamist militant group Boko Haram on April 15, remain missing.

American Jewish World Service and other human rights groups—in Nigeria and many other countries—spread the word about this horrific situation over the last week or so, using the popular hashtag #bringbackourgirls. In response to this outcry, governments ranging from China to the U.S. have offered to help Nigeria’s government track down the missing girls.

 

Much of the media coverage of this story has emphasized the roles of American celebrities and activists, while overlooking Boko Haram’s ongoing attacks in Nigeria during this time, including a bombing this week that killed hundreds of people in the northeastern town of Gamboru Ngala. Read More »

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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.

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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.

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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.

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

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