Tag Archives: violence

Making History for LGBT People Around the World

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AJWS’s Executive Vice President Robert Bank welcomed Randy Berry as the U.S.’s first Special Envoy for the Human Rights of LGBT People at the State Department on February 27th.

The headlines from almost every corner of the globe in the past few weeks have been endlessly depressing. February may be New York’s coldest month since 1934. And yet, I’m feeling rather elated because something spectacular just happened.

On Friday, February 27th, AJWS President Ruth Messinger and I traveled to Washington, D.C. to represent AJWS at Secretary of State John Kerry’s Welcome Reception to commemorate the announcement of the first-ever Special Envoy for the Human Rights of LGBT People, Randy Berry.

Thousands of AJWS supporters, activists and donors from around the country worked tirelessly to advocate for the appointment of this Special Envoy. And, together, we did it! We made history.

It is difficult to convey the excitement and emotion of Friday’s welcome reception for Randy Berry. Ruth and I were both deeply moved. Having spent so much of our careers fighting for the human rights of LGBT people and people living with HIV/AIDS, this day was truly momentous.

And as a Jewish gay South African who came to the United States fleeing apartheid, I have longed for a day when my newly adopted country would not only recognize my human rights as a gay person, but would recognize the need for foreign policy leadership against the brutal discrimination and subjugation of LGBT people in over a third of the countries in the world. And that day has come!

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It’s been five years since Haiti’s earthquake. And the ‘redevelopment’ hasn’t been about helping Haitians.

Originally published in The Washington Post.

Anti-government protesters in Port-au-Prince last month called for President Michel Martelly’s resignation. (HECTOR RETAMAL/AFP/Getty Images)

Anti-government protesters in Port-au-Prince last month called for President Michel Martelly’s resignation. (HECTOR RETAMAL/AFP/Getty Images)

Five years ago this month, a terrible earthquake struck my country. I was in the capital city, Port-au-Prince, when suddenly the earth shook and buildings around me and across the city collapsed—taking with them hundreds of thousands of lives and the hopes of my nation. The world stood with us that day and in the weeks and months that followed. Donations poured in; the United States and many other governments pledged to help us rebuild Haiti. But five years into the reconstruction, as a Haitian, I must ask: For whom are we rebuilding our country?

Haitians are not benefiting as fully as they should from this global aid. Despite billions of dollars earmarked for Haiti, nearly 100,000 people still live under plastic tarps in displacement camps. Poverty has worsened all around the capital: more beggars on the streets, an increase in teen pregnancy, and more people turning to sex work. A cholera epidemic has wrought further devastation, killing thousands; the CDC and others have suggested the strong possibility that cholera was brought to Haiti by United Nations peacekeepers, the very force tasked with stabilizing the country. In truth, a great deal of the “redevelopment” has gone to help the rich and powerful, not the impoverished and displaced people who need it the most.

The Haitian government is using its scarce resources to invest furiously in tourism, the mining of gold and other natural resources, massive industrial construction projects and the exportation of our agricultural products. There are reasonable arguments for each of these strategies—after all, stimulating Haiti’s economy could increase the quality of life for people at all economic levels. But it takes little digging into recent investments to find stories of criminal abuses of power that have provoked outrage from Haitian citizens, whose land is being taken to make room for these projects without their consent.

Haiti’s building boom often appears to serve the purposes of Haiti’s elite and of outsiders, who stand to benefit from the land, resources and untapped potential of our country. Take, for example, Île-à-Vache, a tiny, pristine island off Haiti’s southern coast that remains unknown to most of the world. The island holds Haiti’s sole remaining untouched forest, a green oasis in a country where all but 1.5 percent of the land has been stripped bare by logging. Île-à-Vache is home to tens of thousands of villagers who have lived there sustainably and peacefully for generations.

All that changed in 2013, when the government declared the island a public utility and launched plans to build an international airport, 1,500 hotel rooms, a golf course and night clubs—a plan completely out of scale in a place formerly without cars, technology or government infrastructure.

The government promotes the project as a shining example of land, community and development existing in harmony, with equitable distribution of benefits for all. But villagers tell a very different story. The government forged ahead without assessing how the project will affect the land and its people. The islanders have not been compensated for their land and will likely be forced to migrate to the cities in search of jobs. And contractors have brazenly razed a virgin old-growth forest, dredged the untouched Madame Bernard Bay and cut down fruit trees that families depended on for their livelihoods.

When the community protested peacefully, requested information about the plans and asked to be included in decision-making about the project, the government sent heavily armed law enforcement teams to the island to suppress dissent. Local police officer and community leader Jean Mathelnus Lamy was arrested after organizing peaceful protests.

Elsewhere in Haiti, citizens are concerned that officials will not be able to properly regulate the burgeoning mining industry, which has the potentialto displace farmers from their land and negatively affect the environment; already, mining contracts have been awarded to foreign companies without public or parliamentary scrutiny. Meanwhile, the government is building industrial parks, including one for a South Korean clothing manufacturer on a tract of fertile farmland, instead of housing for earthquake survivors, even as the displacement camps that house them are closing. With no long-term plan to house them elsewhere, many of these displaced people may find themselves homeless again soon.

Fortunately, there are Haitian activists seeking to redress these wrongs. As a consultant to American Jewish World Service (AJWS), I work with 29 Haitian grassroots organizations that are using AJWS’s support to advocate for accountability in how relief funds are spent. These groups are working to rebuild Haiti for the benefit of all of its people, including those living in poverty and other groups that have been traditionally excluded, including rural communities, women and LGBT people.

One such organization, Collective for Île-à-Vache (Konbit Peyizan Île-à-Vache, or KOPI), is behind the peaceful protest movement on the island. It is demanding that construction stop and that the government consult the community and conduct an environmental assessment (which is required by Haitian law) before the project resumes. If the government continues to threaten this community and the land, KOPI plans to bring the case to international courts.

The world’s attitude toward Haiti and my own government’s attitude toward its people must radically shift. The U.S. government has taken steps in the right direction with last summer’s passage of the Assessing Progress in Haiti Act, which insists that the State Department be more transparent and accountable in the use of reconstruction funds. If Haiti fails to ensure that development benefits its people—something the government might be likelier to do with international oversight that the act promises to provide—then the earthquake will have meant not only a natural disaster, but also a radical redistribution of assets from the poor and vulnerable to the rich and powerful.

 

NixonBoumbaNixon Boumba, born in Haiti, works as an in-country consultant there to American Jewish World Service, an international aid and human rights organization.

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A Message from Cynthia Nixon

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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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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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The End of the Road

Despite global praise for Burma’s democratic reforms, the country hasn’t resolved its decades-long legacy of ethnic persecution. Burma’s refugees fear what will happen to them next. To learn more, American Jewish World Service’s Elizabeth Daube interviewed refugees living along the Thailand-Burma border.

Karen refugees on the Thailand-Burma border

Karen refugees on the Thailand-Burma border

Naw Htee Ku doesn’t want to talk about the past. She’s sitting on a concrete floor not far from the amplified music and clapping of Mae Ra Moe refugee camp’s public square, where a crowd has gathered to celebrate the birthday of Thailand’s king.

He’s not their king, of course. But it’s a Thai tradition that the Karen refugees—pronounced Kah-REN—have grown accustomed to in the camps. Over the past 30 years, hundreds of thousands of Karen and other ethnic minorities have fled from Burma* and into Thailand, for reasons Naw Htee Ku prefers not to dwell on.

“Even if we discuss it, we can no longer do anything about it,” she says, slowly chewing on a betel nut. “Things that happened to me in the past will remain in the past. If we talk about these things, we will just feel upset.”

What Naw Htee Ku wants to talk about is happening now. The Karen refugees fear a forced return to Burma—and with it, more of the oppression that pushed them into Thailand in the first place.

As we walk back to the festivities in the square, green mountains enclose us on all sides. I know there’s a way out of this place: a tedious drive past the clusters of thin bamboo houses, past the Thai border guards, climbing up and up a winding road. But it’s nowhere in sight.

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Global Pride: Celebrating LGBT Activists Around the World

Originally published in Out Magazine.

Lesbian couple Pen Nol, left, and Chhon Nhoeng, live together on their farm in rural Cambodia. They are members of Rainbow Community Kampuchea (RoCK), a Phnom Phen-based LGBT advocacy organization supported by AJWS.

 

Nheap Pen, center left, and Yarn Mok, center right, live with their grandchildren in rural Cambodia. The couple has participated in LGBT advocacy trainings at RoCK. The couple first met in the 1980s, and they have slowly gained the acceptance of other people in their village—a rare phenomenon in Cambodia. “It’s kind of unique,” Mok said. “We do not have this so many other places.” Pen added: “We are genuinely in love. We care for each other. We help each other in times of trouble.”

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Photography by Evan Abramson for American Jewish World Service.

 

A man who works with and AJWS-supported LGBT rights organization in Uganda shields his face with a local tabloid article. The piece incited public hatred and revealed the names and faces of LGBT advocates; many of them fear violence from homophobic extremists.

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Photography by Evan Abramson for American Jewish World Service.

 

Srun Srorn has worked with RoCK and other LGBT rights groups in Cambodia.

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Photography by Evan Abramson for American Jewish World Service.

 

Members of Transgender Equality Uganda (TEU) dance in drag at one of the few bars in Uganda that has accepted LGBT people. Many TEU members work as sex workers due to limited job opportunities; in particular, transgender women who sell sex in Uganda often face violence and abuse from their clients.

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Photography by Evan Abramson for American Jewish World Service.

 

Kasha Jacqueline Nabagesera is the founder of Freedom and Roam Uganda (FARUG), a human rights organization devoted to equality for lesbian, bisexual and transgender women. She is open about her lesbian identity, and she’s facing increased threats in her country because of intense hostility toward LGBT people.

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Photography by Evan Abramson for American Jewish World Service.

 

FARUG member “Sara” used a grant from AJWS to start a business selling shoes at a shopping center in downtown Kampala. Many FARUG members have lost jobs after employers discovered they were homosexual, bisexual or transgender.

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Photography by Evan Abramson for American Jewish World Service.

 

Dayanara Nicole Diaz Gonzalez is a transwoman whose life has completely turned around because of her involvement with Asociacion Nicaraguense de Transgeneras (Association for Transgender Nicaraguans, or ANIT). As a teenager, Dayanara suffered discrimination in school and alienation from her family because of her gender expression. She dropped out of school and became a sex worker in Managua to support herself. She developed a drug addiction and ended up in prison, where was raped repeatedly. After her release from prison, she learned she was HIV-positive, and then discovered ANIT’s transgender rights advocacy and started attending their meetings; now she is finishing school, living at home again, and working as the ANIT’s health outreach coordinator.

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Photography by Evan Abramson for American Jewish World Service.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

In the remote town of Waspam in Nicaragua, LGBT activist Abimael Padilla, 22, suffered discrimination for many years at school. After receiving training and support from Movimiento de la Diversidad Sexual Costeña (Coastal Movement of Sexual Diversity, or MODISEC), he was able to improve the situation by engaging with fellow students, teachers and his own family.

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Photography by Evan Abramson for American Jewish World Service.

 

Activists from Minority Women in Action, an LGBT rights organization in Kenya.

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Photography by Evan Abramson for American Jewish World Service.

 

Activists from the Gay and Lesbian Coalition of Kenya (GALCK), which works to advance LGBT rights.

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Photography by Evan Abramson for American Jewish World Service.

 

An activist from GALCK.

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Photography by Evan Abramson for American Jewish World Service.

 

 

 

 

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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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Our Journey to Capitol Hill

Summit Capitol StepsMore than 150 AJWS supporters gathered in Washington, D.C. this week for the 2014 AJWS Policy Summit. Yesterday, after 48 hours of inspirational programming and skills building, we headed out to Capitol Hill to urge our legislators to pass the International Violence Against Women Act (IVAWA), which was introduced in the Senate on May 8th.

Together we visited 100 Congressional offices all in one day—and secured new allies in our fight to end violence against women and girls worldwide!

As a result of these visits, many Representatives learned about the bill for the first time—and others committed to support it as co-sponsors. We crisscrossed the Hill from the House to the Senate and back, and felt the momentum for We Believe building.

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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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