Guest post by Martina Sola

Our adventures continued together that night in this tiny town only a few kilometers away from the border of Serbia, a town which US President Barack Obama would later refer to as a place which “forever will be associated with the darkest acts of in history.”  Despite the experiences which haunt the minds of those who remain, we were greeted with great hospitality.  We dined with new friends in local restaurants and mixed with soldiers, locals, political dignitaries, and international visitors in simple cafés.  We were each different but had come for the same purpose and a valuable common bond was established. 

July 11th marks the official yearly memorial ceremony for thousands who were killed in Srebrenica in July 1995.  This year, 520 people were buried along side another 5,000 already resting in the nearby village of Potocari.  2,000 people remain unaccounted.   One of the longest ongoing human excavation efforts in modern day history continues in surrounding areas. 

It was another fiercely hot afternoon and the town had now filled with thousands who had come to pay their respects.  We walked through mounds of dirt which had been dug to make space for the new caskets.  Despite the heat, women sat with their heads covered and bowed in prayer.  Men greeted one another and stopped to touch the caskets.  Politicians arrived with escorts, police kept close watch on the crowd, and all I could think was that this didn’t have to happen. 

The emotional day continued as we visited two large factories originally meant to be UN Safe Haven’s for refugees attempting to escape Serbian forces.   Tragically, they were no place for peace and instead marked the locations where families were dramatically torn apart.  All men and young boys were sent to their deaths, some women were thrown into buses, and others were kept behind to service the impulses of enemy soldiers.  We continued to a more remote area up narrow, curvy roads and onto nearby mountains which provided breathtaking views.  We met with two older women who had lost their entire families and had been participants of the Women for Women program.  They offered us simple, yet delicious homemade pastries and traditional Bosnian coffee.  We sat on their hand made rugs beside a tiny home where they showed us their garden and shared their stories.  At times their voices wavered and their eyes filled with tears. At other moments they teased each other and smiled warmly upon us.  Their hearts were broken but the strength of virtue in their spirit remained, and while they thanked us generously for our time, it was each of us who walked away with the gift of hope.

Onwards we went with our journey, returning to Sarajevo, a city filled with layer upon layer of history.  The streets were filled with exotic bazaars selling colorful scarves and glimmering copper coffee cups.  The beats of Bosnian music could be heard from nearby shops during the day and by night every corner buzzed with the voices of beautiful people.  It’s hard to imagine that this was a city under siege, but a look closer reveals scars in the forms of shell marks on buildings, eerily abundant gravesites, and wounds on the bodies or in the hearts of many who I spoke to. 

It’s been said that tragedy begets passion and progress forward can be seen.  Attending Women for Women International training centers in the heart of Sarajevo and in nearby Zenica provided examples of women who wanted to create.  It was visible in the form of the clothing pieces I saw being knitted in partnership with international fashion brands such as Kate Spade and Anthropologie.  It was visible in the enthusiasm of women who draped me with beautiful jewelry they had made by hand.  It was evident in the intensity of a legal training session regarding farming cooperative contractual agreements.  It was seen by the proud support of men waiting for their wives to finish their classes. 

We finished the week by attending the Sarajevo Film Festival and by taking part in an inspiring dinner with many of those we had met along the way.  Gifts were shared, speeches were given, business ideas exchanged, friendships forged, and vows declared to return again.

I think back upon the woman I met during my first evening in Srebrenica standing on the side of the dusty road.  An older man walked by the procession with tears streaming down his face.  She reached out to him and said,

“Don’t cry…everything will be OK.”  

This type of strength is a reminder that while we may not always understand the actions of others, we know where we are now and we have a choice.  Women for Women International provides opportunity and through such an organization I have received far more than I could ever give.

Over the next few months, WfWI’s new CEO Afshan Khan will be visiting each of WfWI’s eight country offices and sharing her experiences of the different people and places that are part of WfWI’s mission to change lives, one woman at a time. This is her first blog post on her journey.

In the past few days I have had the opportunity to travel to Afghanistan and see first-hand the impact of the work of Women for Women International. In a country that has recently been in the press for the brutal treatment of women, including the public execution of a young woman by the Taliban for alleged adultery, I witnessed the diversity of opportunities for women. As I met and spoke with women there, I was reminded that even in the harsh reality of a country where 90% of rural women are illiterate and maternal mortality is one of the highest in the world at 460 deaths per 100,000 live births (compared to 21 per 100,000 live births in the US) all the women had dreams of a better future for themselves and their daughters. Against all the odds, they had sought change and created opportunity so that as women they could define their destiny.

I found none of the passivity nor victimization that is so readily portrayed in the press – what I found were determined women, who broke barriers to enroll in WfWI’s program, where they learn to sustain an income, improve health and wellness, engage in family and community decision-making, and participate in social networks and safety nets. They continued to challenge the boundaries around them by opening their own business, forming networks or associations, and daring to dream of a future where they can readily earn an income, contribute to their families’ needs, send their sons and daughters to school, and act as agents of change in their own communities. This was the story of Zergona Sherzad a WfWI graduate who was producing women’s clothing and employed more than 80 women. It was the story of Raisa Jahn and Mehbooba Jahn who welcomed us to their modest home in Kabul where in the front room they had set up a very small beauty parlor where they cut hair, shape brows, and provide make-up to brides. They proudly showed us their products, and I watched as they carefully plucked the brows of their client.

Nowhere was this determination more apparent than in Istalif. There I met a young woman, Shazia, who had walked two hours from her neighboring village to try and enroll in WfWI’s program that will start in September. I cannot get the image of Shazia out of my mind, a young woman in her early twenties who no doubt had to seek the permission of her husband or her brother or her father to make the long trek from her village of Shurawa to Istalif, a verdant village in the hills surrounded by mountains. Her piercing eyes showed her determination as she told us she had walked for two hours to get to the enrollment session. With her blue burqa tossed over her head and her headscarf casually draped over her curls, she was adamant in her commitment to attend the yearlong training sessions. She spoke clearly of her burning desire to learn a craft that would give her the dignity of being a contributor to the household income, and allow her the opportunities to share her dreams, her hopes, and her fears beyond the confines of her home with other women whose imaginations went far beyond the four walls of their mud homes.

Sweeta Noori, WfWI-Afghanistan’s Country Director, and I sat and listened to women as they identified barriers to building on the assets and skills they already possessed. They needed to create a market where women could sell and buy. In Afghanistan while women are often buyers in markets, they are traditionally not allowed to sell their goods. Men are the sellers in the markets. These women wanted help in setting up a local market for women, and they wanted to learn the business skills necessary to determine the costs of producing their goods and the market price at which they could be sold. A few of them had sewing machines but needed additional training so that their products would be of good enough quality to sell. Many of them had chickens and eggs but wondered what was a safe way for them to sell their produce, and how could they access the market? Sweeta patiently translated these concerns and many more. I listened and learned of the profound importance of adapting Women for Women International’s income generation programs to the cultural realities of each community we work in.

Women enrolling in WfWI’s yearlong program in Istalif, Afghanistan.

Several hundred women squeezed into the women’s community council in Istalif, a small building with wooden beams and concrete walls that had been built with support from a woman in Virginia. This small building allows women a place to meet and gives the WfWI enrollment team an opportunity to interview and screen potential candidates for our yearlong program.

In the room, three women carefully screened and interviewed each of the potential candidates. One of the head trainers tried to keep some semblance of schedule and order as hundreds of women jostled and pushed to be first in line and enter the room. It was a brutal reminder of how committed these women are to redefining their lives. Women for Women International in Afghanistan could make it possible for 245 women in this group to have that opportunity; others who squeezed into the room were put on a waiting list, and some may have to wait another year before they can join. The resources are not available to accept them all. Women for Women International will enroll more than 4,750 women in the core program in 2012. What this day made clear to me was that if Afghanistan could seize the potential of its women, they would surely change the image and the destiny of their country.

Learn more about how you can become involved and support Women for Women International’s work in Afghanistan.

Guest post by Martina Sola

It was close to 40 degrees Celsius outside.  Sweat had soaked through our clothing and dirt was blowing through our hair.  People were greeting one another with faint smiles and polite kisses on both cheeks. Bottles of water were being shared; the murmur of other languages mixed in with camera shutter clicks could be heard in abundance.   There was a sense of anticipation in the crowd that stood under the golden glow of the scorching sun, but this was no summer festival.  

“This is a shame on humanity,” softly spoke a middle-aged women standing beside me on a street near the town of Srebrenica.  Steps in front of us, dozens of caskets were being carried out of a factory which marked the former site of a failed UN Dutch peace haven.  Each casket carried by solemn, young men contained a few remains of their loved ones which had been discovered in nearby mass grave sites.  Each box was draped in green, a symbolism towards their faith which remained steadfast in spite of the horrific atrocities they had faced.  The woman standing next to me had been forced to watch the deaths of three of her brothers.  Her losses were in addition to another 8,000 men and children who were systematically killed in a matter of days in July 1995.  She had been held captive prior to their deaths, beaten and threatened.  With intent to remain respectful of her privacy and pain, I asked how was she able to not give in and reveal her brothers’ whereabouts? 

“Had I told them, they would have continued to abuse me just the same.”  

My heart skipped a beat.  I looked into her sad eyes with all the sympathy I could gather realizing the best I could do was just continue to stand beside her.  In that moment, any reservations I had about the foreign surroundings I had put myself in or the discomforts of the day were washed away.  I felt grateful for the opportunity from Women for Women International to not only gain first hand knowledge of a significant historical event, but be a symbol of support to those whose lives have been shattered.

I met fellow Women for Women supporters that afternoon in the town of Srebrenica.  Young women who had roots in America, the UK, Germany, Sweden, Ireland, and Bosnia had walked 120 kilometres from Tuzla to Srebrenica as a part of a larger internationally organized march for peace in commemoration of the victims of the area.  They walked near mine fields, mass grave sites, picturesque villages, and destroyed homes meeting interesting people along the way.  Most shared their passion, some did not…but they continued fearlessly forth alongside thousands of others proving that a greater good can reign.

Tomorrow a group of Women for Women supporters will embark on a journey to Bosnia and Herzegovina where Women for Women International opened its first office in 1993.  They will participate in the annual "March of Peace", a 120 km route through Bosnia and Herzegovina to Srebrenica, which commemorates victims of the 1995 genocide and have the unique opportunity to visit the Women for Women programmes in Sarajevo and Zenica. Read more.

Guest blogger: Martina Sola 

Martina Sola is a business woman, writer and committed supporter of Women for Women International. She lives in California and is part of the group visiting our programmes in Bosnia and Herzegovina. She will be sharing her experiences here. 

Twenty years ago an international city fell under siege.  A city which had hosted the Olympic Games, rich with diversity was suddenly a setting for some of the worst acts of humanity in modern day history.  I have been to the region countless times to visit family. 

….a mere three hour drive upon curvy roads, across mountains, and along fields away from the entrance to a city which once displayed a sign with the words: 'Welcome to hell.'

The city of Sarajevo marks a unique point where the East meets the West and is the capital of a country which is home to my own Croatian, family roots.  I have seen the first hand remains of completely destroyed villages, I have heard the stories of lost lives, and I know the look of strain in a human being who has had their family and heart broken.   I was only a little girl when I last visited Sarajevo before the siege and now return as a woman with great curiosity and empathy for a place where horror has turned to hope.

Women for Women International is an organization that has had a piece of my own heart for three years.  Their work in war torn regions globally allows others in better circumstances to truly touch women in dire need.  The women of Sarajevo and Bosnia-Herzegovina are noble examples of those who have seen the face of evil and have managed to gather strength to rise above extreme adversities.  It is a great honor to join them on their journey. 

Guest blog post by Maria Andrews, Women for Women International UK Marketing and Communications Director

I met up with English actress Jenny Jules on a lovely sunny day in her home town of Brighton to talk about her leading role in the award-winning play Ruined written by Lynn Nottage.

Ruined is based on the horrific conditions endured by women caught up in the deadly war in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) which has claimed over 5.4 million lives since 1998 and has led to extreme levels of sexual violence against women and girlsIn Ruined Jenny played the role of Mama Nadi, the Madam of a brothel set deep in the Congolese rainforest which serves the soldiers fighting over territory and the miners digging for coltan –the precious metal which is vital in computers and mobile phones.

When asking Jenny about how she prepared herself to play Mama Nadi, Jenny admitted that before being chosen to play this role she didn’t know there was a war going on in the Congo.

In order to immerse herself into knowing more about the Democratic Republic of Congo and the effect of the war on Congolese women, Jenny read widely and watched documentary films by and about Congolese men and women.

It was difficult at first to understand why women were at the centre of this conflict.  The Second Congo War began in 1998. Hutu militia forces fleeing from Rwanda and joining Congolese armed forces to ethnically cleanse Eastern Congo of its Congolese Tutsis; battled with a coalition of armed forces from Rwanda, Uganda, and other neighbouring countries and those in Congo who were opposed to President Mobutu’s dictatorship. Ultimately Mobutu was deposed but control of the mineral resources is the main reason that the war continues in Eastern DRC today.    The militia on all sides use techniques of rape and mutilation to demoralise and subjugate the local population.’

 Jenny Jules as Mama Nadi in Ruined. Photograph: Tristram Kenton

During the Helen Hayes Award earlier this year, as Jenny collected the award for 'Outstanding Resident Play 2012' Jenny took the time to acknowledge and pay tribute to all women and children still being affected by the ongoing conflict in Congo. 'There is war going on- it is real, this is happening, I therefore dedicate this award to all the brave women and children in Congo'. 

You can learn more about the Women for Women programme in the Democratic Republic of Congo by visiting our country website.

You can also choose to join our next Run for Congo on September 2nd, 2012 to raise funds and awareness of the conflict in the DRC.

 

 

 

 

Earlier this year Women for Women supporters Valerie Boffy and Becky Bellworthy set off to summit Mount Everest and plant the Women for Women International flag of peace. We are now happy to announce that not only did they reach the summit, but Becky Bellworthy is now officially the youngest British woman ever to climb Mount Everest at only 19 years old!

To find out more about Becky's journey to Mount Everest read one of our previous blog posts and check out Becky's Everest 2012 page. You can also read about Becky's experience in this Daily Echo article. 

You can continue supporting Valerie and Becky by sponsoring them through JustGiving



copyright: Becky Bellworthy

For your chance to take part in the Women for Women International trek to Everest Base Camp in November 2012 (link coming soon) or to Bosnia in July 2012 please contact Izzy Clark at iclark@womenforwomen.org.uk. 

 
Mende Nazer told the heartbreaking story of her early life in the 2005 book ‘Slave- My True Story’, in which she documented her ordeal as a slave in Sudan from the age of 12. She is now releasing the sequel, ‘Freedom’, in which she tells of risking everything to return to the Nuba Mountains of Sudan, her homeland, in 2007. We spoke to Mende about her life, her new book and the plight of women in Sudan:
 
 
Could you tell me more about your background, where you were born?
 
My child hood was cruelly cut short at the age of twelve when the Mujahidin rode in to my village in the Nuba Mountains of Sudan. I was abducted and sold to an Arab woman in Khartoum. For seven long years I was kept as a domestic slave, an 'abida', without any pay or a single day off.
 
What was it like growing up in Sudan as a woman?
 
Growing up in the Nuba Mountains it is peaceful and amazing, even though the lifestyle is tough. Women in the Nuba Mountains do more than men, working equally in the field with men. In addition to that they collect water and fire wood from long distances, and cook.
 
When you returned to Sudan in 2007 what differences did you find? Were there positive changes? What was still wrong?
 
There is nothing much changed, people are still struggling from shortages of food and medical attention. Children study under trees or in ruined class rooms without any equipment whatsoever. At present in the Nuba Mountains so many children and pregnant women die due to lack of hospitals.
 
What is your message to people around the world about the women in Sudan and South Sudan?
 
My message to the world would be I'm crying out loud for the international community to intervene and to save the Nuba people who have been displaced by aerial bombardment and ground offensives, or who are hiding in caves or forests, with no shelter or access to essential supplies including food and water. Khartoum has continued to deny access to aid organisations, and once the rains begin, they will be unreachable.
 
In your book, ‘Freedom’, you say: 'I had realised then how important it was for me to tell, and keep retelling, my story.' For you, why is storytelling so important? How far is it grounded in Nuba tradition and how far is it (if at all) connected to the notion of healing the trauma of the past?
 
It is important for me, as living proof of the horror of slavery, to raise awareness and be the voice to those who have no voice. It is grounded in the Nuba Mountains because we tell stories orally, that is our way of getting messages around. It is also very much connected to the notion of healing by telling your story to someone. Ultimately you are sharing your plight, which is a massive relief. Telling your story, it seems like seeing a psychologist.
 
Although you are Nuba, and your family obviously would always accept you as Nuba, was there ever a fear that you wouldn't feel a sense of belonging in Sudan? Was there also a fear that you wouldn't find this sense of belonging in London? Is this one of the most awful things about slavery? That it can tear you away from your home and the right to feel a sense of belonging anywhere?
 
My early memorise about my upbringing in the Nuba Mountains are very vivid. The strong relationship between my family and I in that small land where we shared so much laughter and love, it's our treasure. So my sense of belonging has never faded away, my heart and soul were buried there. That kept me alive in my darkest days.
London is my second home, where I was reborn. It had offered me what I had missed during my seven years in slavery in Khartoum, so I miss London wherever I go.
 
What does the word Freedom mean for you? Do you consider yourself to be truly free now?
 
Freedom is light of life and priceless, you are in charge of your life. And being able to say NO. Am I truly free? Yes partly, leading the same life like anyone else, but in today's world some children in Sudan are still in slavery. I know how they feel, my heart goes out to them.
 
 
Women for Women International has operated in South Sudan since 2006, and has helped more than 8,500 women. Our programme in South Sudan includes direct financial aid, rights awareness classes, job-skills training and emotional support. From 23rd April to 4th May 50p from every copy of ‘Freedom’ sold will be donated to support the programmes we run in war-torn countries. You can pick up a copy here.

Last year nine of our supporters joined Susan Harper Todd in the first Women for Women International trek to Everest Base Camp, to raise awareness and funds for women in war-torn countries. This year one of the original group members, Valerie Boffy, will be joined by the youngest woman ever to attempt to summit Everest – Becky Bellworthy. Together they aim to reach the summit and plant a Women for Women International flag of peace.

Becky's first attempt to summit Everest last year ended in disappoinment and frustration as she was taken ill and forced to abandon the expedition. This year she is determined to finally conquer the summit, realising her dream of becoming the youngest British woman ever to have achieved the feat at only 19 years old.

Their journey began earlier this month and you can keep up to date with their progress on Becky's Everest 2012 page, or on the Everest Trek section of the Women for Women International UK blog. As well as achieveing incredible personal goals, Becky and Valerie are climbing to raise valuable funds for the programmes we run in war-afflicted countries – show your support by sponsoring them through their JustGiving page.

We look forward to reading about their progress over the coming days and wish them both the very best of luck!

by Nora Russell

The day I had the honour of meeting my sponsor sister was a glorious blue sky day in Rwanda. I was part of a group of 20 who were visiting the office of Women for Women International in Rwanda. The mist of the Thousand Hills had lifted from the surrounding hills and we met two classes of women at the Women for Women International office in Kigali. We were invited to join different life-skills classes, including a lesson on maternal health and another on small business skills. 

The day was heating up, so I took a break to join a small group of women outside sitting in the grounds of the Women for Women office, under the shade of a tree. The four women I joined were like so many enrolled in our one-year programme, varying in ages and experiences, from 23 to 48 years. One, a new mother with her 9-month-old on her lap; another was a mother of 40 who looked so much older, worn down by years of hardship and the horror of losing her two sons during the war. Another was Francoise, a 30-year-old mother of three.They had all been recently enrolled in the programme and had just finished their life-skills class: the 9am session which focused on the importance of family planning. 

Later on, I was waiting to meet my sponsored sister and through the crowd came Francoise – the woman I had already met under the tree! She said she had hoped that I was her sponsor when we were talking earlier in the day. She was so lovely but shy at first – she spoke of her life in Mahunga, of her three sons aged five, seven and nine, and her hopes for the future. Francoise invited me to visit her home – something I never thought could happen, but the following day we were actually able to visit a bakery nearby and so it was possible to pay a visit. 

Francoise was only 10 years old when the genocide began. In the district where she lived, the local government used the radio to warn local Tutsi like Francoise that the militia were coming, and where the best places were to hide. She lost an uncle during the genocide as he left their hiding place to collect his cattle. Members of her family also fled across the Uganda border. She did not speak a huge amount about the war and thankfully both her parents were able to bring her up. 

Francoise enrolled in the Women for Women International programme in October 2011. She has completed the first module and is implementing the health and wellness training she has learnt, including building a new heat efficient stove in her home. She has one cow and one pig, which she fattens for market and breeding, with the young piglets selling up to 30,000 Rwandan Francs (about £30). The cow is pregnant with its first calf and she is looking forward to milking it eventually. Francoise also keeps rabbits which she sells in the market (a cheap meat in high demand) and she kills one every two to three weeks for her family. She is a diligent and hard worker – you can feel the muscles in her back! And she obviously takes pride in her work and her home. Francoise says meeting her sponsor is like winning a lottery, and that she was so excited to meet me. She and I have such different lives, such different knowledge and understanding of the world. She is very ambitious for her children and wants them to 'marry happy', as she says. 

Francoise is determined that the next time we see each other I will be married and with a baby – family is so important in Rwanda and she was shocked that we were the same age and that I was yet to start a family. I am going to keep her updated on my progress through letter writing! 
 
Photo: Nora and her sponsored sister, Francoise. Photo by Lauri Pastrone. 

Nora is Major Gifts Manager at Women for Women International UK
 
 

It is hard to know where to start when discussing the atrocities that have afflicted the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) in recent history. On a national scale corruption, disease, famine and war have blighted the country and disrupted its development, and on an individual scale there are hundreds of thousands of people living with the physical and emotional scars these events have wrought.

Statistics can never tell the whole story, but they do begin to give an idea of the scale of the problem:
 
  • Four women are raped every five minutes – 1,152 every day
  • The conflict has claimed over 5.4 million lives since 1998. A death toll equivalent to a September 11th every 2.5 days
  • In 2011 DRC was named the second most dangerous place in the world to be a woman
  • Only 1% of pregnant women with HIV are receiving antiretroviral drugs
  • 45,000 people are expected to die each month – some from military action; most from lack of safe access to food, clean water and medical treatment.
As a group, women and girls in DRC bear the brunt of the suffering, both historically and presently. For a long time the shocking statistics surrounding gender based and sexual violence remained somewhat buried in Western media. However, more recently the international community is becoming more aware of the unimaginable suffering women and girls face in DRC.
 
But alongside the horror and sympathy evoked by the shocking stories women tell of their experiences, is the utter amazement and admiration felt when you realise they are telling these stories not just as victims, but as survivors. It is this journey from victim to survivor to active citizen that Women for Women International aims to facilitate through the programmes we run for women in DRC.
 
Women like 22 year-old Alliance Ntakwinja, who spoke about her ordeal for the first time after enrolling on one of our programmes:
 
“I was raped in 2005 while I already had two children. Four men raped me. When they came to my house, they took my husband outside and tied him to a banana tree and then they raped me.
 
While in the district I am living in at the moment, Women for Women enrollers were visiting door to door and they said they were enrolling women.
 
We get to choose what we learn as a job skill. I said I would like to be trained in soap making and so this is what I am doing…In the future when I start making my own soaps, it will be very profitable to me and to my whole family.
 
I have made a lot of friends with other participants. I first spoke to my life skills trainer about what happened to me and some of my friends know what happened to me; that I was raped. I told them.
 
Fortunately as a Women for Women participant I am now receiving monthly sponsorship funds. What I received last month, I used for food and I have saved five dollars. Now I am freer and more independent."
 
The in-country programmes we run empower women emotionally as well as financially, giving them a holistic package of skills that allow them to go on and live independent lives, contributing to decisions affecting their families and communities. It is truly inspiring to see the transformation women like Alliance make during their year in the Women for Women International programme, and heartening to know that there is a way to help women who have suffered so much to regain their lives.
 
If you would like to help a woman like Alliance rebuild her life then why not join us on 3rd June in Regents Park and take part in Run for Congo Women. There are only 150 places available, so visit the Women for Women website now to reserve yours. There is plenty of information to help you fundraise and collect sponsorship for your run, and 100% of the money you raise will go directly to the programmes we run in DRC. If running isn’t your thing there are still plenty of ways you can join in and help raise valuable funds, why not organise a bike, dance, walk or swim for Congo? The possibilities are endless! For more information on organising your own event or joining our 10km Run for Congo Women event in Regent’s Park visit the website.

The International Criminal Court (ICC) has delivered its first verdict, after ten years in existence, in finding Congolese warlord Thomas Lubanga guilty of recruiting and using child soldiers.
 
Lubanga was head of the Union of Congolese Patriots (UPC), an organisation he set up when fighting began in the Ituri region of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) in 1999. During this time he forced children as young as nine to join the armed wing of the UPC, using them as soldiers and bodyguards. These children, both boys and girls, were subjected to a cruel training regime with brutal punishments if they resisted, before being sent to the ‘front-line’ of a bloody conflict that claimed tens of thousands of lives.
 
The conviction handed down by the ICC is the first to rest solely on the use of child soldiers, and has been welcomed by human rights activists and NGOs around the world. It is hoped that Lubanga’s guilty verdict will set a precedent for future convictions and deter other military groups from using child soldiers. However, the prosecutors on the case have been criticised for not charging Lubanga for sexual violence crimes, despite allegations that the UPC raped the young girls they took and forced them to become sex slaves.
 
The use of rape as a weapon of war in DRC is becoming common knowledge, and the statistics surrounding it are shocking – four women are raped every five minutes. The situation for women and girls in DRC has been, and continues to be, one of the worst in the world. The conviction of Thomas Lubanga will offer some comfort to the girls who were taken, and the mothers they were taken from, but there is still so much that needs to be done to combat the violence Congolese women and girls face on a daily basis.
 
On 3rd June 2012 Women for Women International will be hosting ‘Run for Congo Women’, a 10km run in London’s Regents Park to raise money for the programmes we run in DRC. All the money raised through sponsorship will go directly to the programmes and to helping women survivors of war rebuild their lives. There are 150 places and we would encourage you to sign up soon as places are already going fast! If running isn’t your cup of tea, or London is a bit far, why not organise a bike, swim, dance or run for Congo near you? The possibilities are endless and we would love to hear your ideas and are help you turn them into a fun, fundraising event for the women we work with in DRC.
 
To find out more about organising your own event, or to book your place on the London run visit our website or email runforcongouk@womenforwomen.org

The first thing everyone at Women for Women International UK wants to say is – THANK YOU! Thank you to all our wonderful supporters who came out to the London Event today, it was phenomenal. The event would have been nothing without you all there to march, sing, chant, dance and celebrate with us.
 
From the moment we arrived this morning to get set up the sun was beaming down on Millennium Bridge, we couldn’t have asked for a better start to the day. Supporters started arriving at about 10:15 to get stuck into some banner and sash making, and lots you had your photo taken sharing your message of peace with women in war-afflicted countries. It was so inspiring to meet and talk to so many amazing people today, and to read your banner slogans and messages of peace. It was especially great to see so many young people joining us and adding their voice to the global movement for peace and equality.
 
Once it was time for the march to start we all grabbed our things and headed for Millennium Bridge. It was a sea of colour, banners, balloons, placards and smiling faces – combined with our enthusiastic and extremely loud singing and chanting, no passers by could fail to take notice! Alongside us on the march were lots of other great NGOs and women’s organisations, including Soroptomist International and The Cherie Blair Foundation, who have been amazing partners throughout the Bridge Campaign. We also had a whole host of celebrities leading the march: Bianca Jagger, Cherie Blair, Kate Smurthwaite, Pattie Boulaye, Helen and Laura Pankhurst, and Wunmi Mosaku.
 
When the march finished at the Southbank Centre we all filed in and enjoyed some uplifting and empowering speeches from Andrew Mitchell MP, Shabana Khanam and Hajera Khanom (two truly incredible girls from Mulberry High Schoool), Bianca Jagger and Cherie Blair, to name a few. It was a perfect way to round off the event, and at the same time launch the Southbank Centre’s WOW Women of the World Festival.
 
Now we are all back in the office, reflecting on the event and looking at all the fantastic pictures and thoughts being shared with us on social media, we don’t know how the day could possibly have gone any better. We would love to see your pictures, read your blogs and get feedback on your Join me on the Bridge experiences – share them with us on Facebook, Twitter, or email a link to: multimedia@womenforwomen.org And keep an eye on the website for all the lastest pictures from events around the world.
 
Once again, thank you to everyone who came to the London Event and made it such an amazing day. Happy International Women’s Day, we’ll see you on the bridge in 2013!

This is a guest blog by journalist and campaigner Jude Wanga

Campaigning for human rights is something that comes quite naturally to me. As a dominant and quite bossy person by nature, I have always had a knack at standing up and demanding to be heard, and luckily for me, I was raised in a country that allowed this and actually listened from time to time.
 
I first got involved with Women for Women International shortly after I finished working on my documentary ‘The World's Most Dangerous Place for Women’. At a round-table discussion I learnt that here was a charity so in tune with my own beliefs and passions. Too long, women have been the footnote on the narrative of society.
 
Women for Women International seek to change that, and to highlight that without empowering and involving women we can not achieve true peace and stability.
 
Being from the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and having gone back to film a documentary there, I saw first hand the suffering and the horrors my fellow women are being subjected to.
 
The Join me on the Bridge Campaign, in both origin and mission statement, was the perfect event for me to take part in. Is there a more powerful sight in the world than that of men and women coming together on bridges in New York, Bukavu, London, Sydney, Toronto, Helsingborg, Gulu and Kosovo, and demanding equality, peace and justice for themselves and for all? It's a statement so powerful, so moving, you cannot help but get swept away by it all.
 

Jude speaking at last year's event in London
 
Having been invited to speak at last year's event, I saw a beautiful day unfold. From the primary school class who attended with their teacher with faces painted, to the Women's Institute representatives, generations of women (and some amazing men!) marched in solidarity with each other, showing that when it comes to equality, every voice counts.
 
And that's why Join me on the Bridge is so special, it appeals to all ages, it shows you that small actions can have huge consequences. Sometimes, all it takes is being surrounded by people with the same hopes and beliefs as yourself to ignite a fire and passion inside you. Every year, Join me on the Bridge keeps mine burning.
 
So I will be there on the 8th of March with my face painted and my banner held high and I hope to see many of you in the crowd marching and chanting along because, as we sang so loudly down Embankment last year as we made our way to the South Bank: “Women, united, will never be defeated.”

Excitement and activity levels are going through the roof in the Women for Women International UK office this week in the build up to International Women's Day and the Join me on the Bridge campaign. After months of hard work we can't wait to see all the amazing Bridge events going on around the world, and the different ways our supporters have found to celebrate and support the work of women peace-builders. This year marks the third anniversary of the campaign and we are convinced it is going to be the biggest, brightest and best year yet.

Everyone in the UK office will be heading down to Millennium Bridge at 10:30am on 8th March to take part in our flagship London event, and we have plenty of activities and entertainment ready to share with you all. Here is a little sneak peek at what you can look forward to on the day:

Sash Making – We will be showing off our own homemade sashes as well as helping you create your own to wear on the march over Millennium Bridge. The suffragettes made sashes their trademark when they campaigned for the vote for women over 100 years ago, and we are following in their footsteps as we wear our sashes to call for peace and equality for women around the world. You can make your sash as bright and colourful or as sombre and serious as you like, we have started collecting some sash inspiration on our Pinterest page if you need a bit of help.

Face Painting – Get creative and paint a symbol of support on your face! It could be a dove, a women for women logo, a peace sign, or anything else you can come up with – we will have plenty of supplies to help unleash your inner artist.

Music & Singing – All girl choir Gaggle are composing a special Bridge March song for the day which we all be singing at the top of our voices as we march over the bridge and into the Southbank Centre. We will also have music before and during the march, so don't forget your dancing shoes!

Balloons – We have got loads of bio-degradable balloons ready for everyone to release when we arrive at the Southbank. We will release them together to symbolise the sending of hope and support to the women we are standing with around the world on March 8th.

Celebrities & Speakers – We have a whole host of speakers and celebrities lined up to inspire, educate and amuse you. This year we are thrilled to include Andrew Mitchell MP, Cherie Blair QC and Laura & Helen Pankhurst amongst our line-up for the day.

But the best part of this event by far will be the meaning it has to the women we work with in war afflicted countries. We are told frequently by women participating in our programmes that the support they receive through letters, and the solidarity they feel through events like Join me on the Bridge, mean more to them than they can ever say. Let these women know that they are not alone, and that you are with them in their fight for peace and equality by coming along to our London Bridge event on March 8th.

Lots of you have already signed up on our website and confirmed you are attending, and plenty more will be turning up on the day. The event is open to absolutely everyone so we encourage you to spread the word and bring along as many friends, family and work colleagues as you can. Details of the event, including timing and directions, can be found here.

If you can't make London there are plenty of other events around the UK, Europe and the rest of the world to choose from, you can find a full list here. And if you can't make any of these you can still support the campaign by donating, fundraising or sharing your message of peace with one of our programme participants.

We are so excited about this year's campaign, and can't wait to meet lots of you at Millennium Bridge on March 8th. See you there!

 

Written by Juan Williams, Meet Us on the Bridge is a thoughtful poem that brings to light the essence of the Join me on the Bridge campaign. Inspire yourself with her words and join us on the 8th of March on bridges around the world to take a stand for peace and equality.

For more information, please visit http://joinmeonthebridge.org/

 

Meet Us on the Bridge

On March 8th, the world celebrates International Women’s Day,
It’s also the time when WFWI supporters stand together and pray.
That maybe, just maybe, this will be the year when lawmakers everywhere,
Will finally begin to show some measure of care.
 
On bridges everywhere, we begin the march for peace, unity, and support,
The real tragedy here is if all our efforts amount to naught.
Women, especially those in war torn nations, simply want to be heard,
They want to know they have a place in their own world.
 
Survivors are alive because they fought against unspeakable odds,
The fight is not over; there are more battles to be won.
Standing proudly, they represent symbols of hope, faith, and will power,
Rebuilding requires sacrifice, strength, and all the courage they can muster.
 
We march to say “no” to acts of violence, torture, and rape,
We march because we know these women deserve a much better fate.
We march to show unanimity, strength, and solidarity,
We march to demand better treatment, peace, and equality.
 
We are standing with women who live in constant fear,
Our presence on March 8th lets them know how much we care.
To the thousands of women who will stand on bridges this symbolic day,
Women in war torn nations join together and say “thank you for caring this way”!
 
We also march to support the brave women, who risk personal safety,
By taking part in this global movement, to demand peace, and equality.
We stand in awe of their amazing strength and examples,
They fight daily battles many of us will never know.
 
Are you a woman, or man, willing and able to join us on the bridge?
We understand time might be the only resource you can give.
Please know by lending your voice to support this worthwhile cause,
You are letting these women know, the fight is not lost after all.
 

 

Hannah Lowy Mitchell describes her experience of meeting  Fatuma, a graduate from the Women for Women International programme in Rwanda

“I love you from my heart” says Fatuma as she embraces me fiercely in her skinny arms and holds me with her burning, unflinching gaze. “I love you from my heart”. I am overwhelmed with a mixture of sorrow and despair. What words of comfort can I give this extraordinary woman? What can I do to alleviate any of the grief that pours out of her as she tells me her story? The only thing I can do is to reach out and hold her for a moment, to write her letters when I get back home, to tell her I am thinking of her, to make her feel that she is not alone.

I have come to visit Fatuma as part of my week-long visit to see the work that Women for Women International does in Rwanda. I never for a moment doubt that what we do is important, but when you see for yourself how our work changes people’s lives I know that the comfort we bring goes way beyond the reaching out of one woman to another. Fatuma is 64 years old, she is a graduate of our programme and she now makes a small living plaiting hair. She lives in a very poor slum behind the smarter slums of Kigali. To get to her house we walk up a long steep flight of steps mainly made of sand sacks. As we approach her hut a small group of tiny children with bare feet and dirty rags on their backs run up to her and she stops for a moment to smile and touch their hair. “No sweeties today”, she says, and shoos them away, for she wants us to herself.

“Welcome to my home,” says Fatuma, as she unlocks the padlock on the rickety door of her hut.

Fatuma lives on her own in the hottest, tiniest, neatest little hut of a house, about the same size as a single bed in my spacious London home. The sole piece of decoration on the wall is a picture of President Kagame. We sit on two small narrow benches, knees touching, either side of the ‘front room’ of her hut. A well-thumbed Bible sits on a shelf along the wall. Fatuma opens it and sings us a prayer of welcome. She has a beautiful, serene voice.

After the prayer, she turns to me and says “I am going to tell you my story”. I look at her and I know that it is not going to be easy.

Next to Fatuma’s Bible is a cardboard roll. “These are X-rays” she tells us, almost with pride. Fatuma gets out the x-rays to show us and then realises that they are covered in dust. She grabs something to clean them and I see she is using an old lacy bra to dust this precious medical record, which seems somehow filled with importance as a tangible proof of her sufferings. “These are x-rays of my broken shoulders”, she tells us. Shoulders that were smashed by the machetes wielded by the Hutu soldiers who came to murder her husband and three children fifteen years ago during the genocide that ripped Rwanda apart. Fatima tells us how the soldiers made her watch as they murdered her husband.

And then how they butchered her children in front of her eyes, despite her pleas for their lives.

My tears will not bring her children back, nor comfort her. But Fatuma has seen sympathetic tears before and has not finished telling me her story. She pulls up her pink frilly dress and shows me horrific scars running up her belly “This is where the soldiers ripped me open with their machetes and tore out my baby and killed it,” she weeps inconsolably now, the tears running down her cheeks as she mops them away with the lacy bra and her sleeve and anything else that comes to hand. She tells us she was saved by a neighbour who dragged her to hospital, she was unconscious for weeks. How she survived at all is beyond me.

“Now I have no family, I just live with my memories.”

I wonder how anyone can endure such terrible physical violence and such devastating grief. ”The government gave me this house because I am a survivor of the genocides, but I never know if they are going to come and take it away from me. What will I do if they come and take my house away from me?”

I cannot bear to think of Fatuma homeless. But our translator, Claire, who is one of the trainers at the Kigali Women's Centre, assures me that Fatuma is safe in her house. She is not safe from her nightmares, though, and never will be. “I dream every night that I can die and be with my husband and children again.”

Claire tells us that Fatuma has spared us some of the more gory details of her story. After the soldiers forced her to watch as they butchered her husband and children, they gang-raped her. And ever since, like many other women who were raped during the genocide, Fatuma has HIV. 

But Fatuma has found it in her heart to forgive. And to sustain her, she has the friendship of the other women she met at the Women’s Centre – a friendship with other women who have been through the same traumas as herself.

With great pride, Fatuma shows us her two graduation certificates from Women for Women International, “With Women for Women I have somewhere to go and feel hope for my life. I keep in touch with them and go and braid hair at the Women’s Centre.”

We speak of religion, of God, of the power of forgiving, of the hope that prayer can bring, of family and of the friendship and comfort of other women. I never cease to be amazed at the power of forgiveness and the huge love that someone like Fatuma can feel despite the horrors she has faced.

I look at this tall, elegant woman, clad in her bright pink frilly dress with her hair done up on a matching pink headband and my heart feels as if it will burst. I reach out and touch her hair. Fatuma follows my gaze and pulls off her hairband to reveal an ugly scar that runs along the top of her head and I gasp. She doesn’t need to tell me how this happened.

“Fatuma” I say, “What can I do for you?”

Fatuma reaches behind her few possessions to pull out a tiny peace basket. She gives it to me and tells me to open it. Inside I find a folded piece of paper with her name and address on it. ”You can be my family,” Fatuma says as she gives me that look of hers, that look that binds and sears at the same time. ”You must be my new Mama.” How can I say no? “Fatuma, “I say, “I will be your Mama and you will be my new daughter.”

I think of Fatuma and of Women for Women International and I know that what we do goes far beyond the teaching of basic skills and the training we give our women. We send our graduates out with empowerment, with the knowledge and skills to run small businesses, to tend their fields and take their produce to market. But maybe even more than that, we forge human links. We bring a small degree of emotional support and hope to women like Fatuma that someone out there is thinking of you. Someone special. I am Fatuma’s Mama and hopefully that can bring her some comfort. Fatuma says “I love you from my heart.” And she hugs me. I hug her back, and I hold on to her so as not to show her my tears. She needs strength, not vulnerability. Somehow it seems as though Fatuma feels better. She has such strength, such dignity. She has told us her story, we have listened, we have taken her seriously. “I am not alone now.” she says. No, Fatuma, you are not alone. 

Through sponsoring a woman like Fatuma, you bring huge joy and comfort to women who need your support, your letters and your thoughts, and who will appreciate everything you do for them.  

Lady Lowy Mitchell travelled to Rwanda in January. She is on the Board of Women for Women International UK and is Chair of the Policy Working Group.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

In two statements released earlier this month the UN expressed its concern over the fresh rounds of violence faced by civilians in South Sudan and Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC).

The United Nations Human Rights Office reported the deaths of 78 people during a cattle raid in a northern state of South Sudan, most of whom were women and children. Exact details of the attack are still unclear, but it has been reported that most of the killings were carried out with machetes, leaving as at least as many injured as dead. This attack comes in the wake of the violent clashes that rocked the Jongelei state in December last year, leaving many dead and tens of thousands displaced. In a statement released last week UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon voiced his own concerns over the lack of progress in post-independence negotiations, and also the possibility of escalated tensions in the region.

In the same week Herve Ladsous, the top UN peacekeeping official, stressed the importance of boosting peace keeping operations in DRC. This came only days after the UN refugee agency reported that displaced people have been tortured and killed in their camps by armed elements in eastern DRC. Adrian Edwards, the spokesperson in Geneva of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, said: "Displaced Congolese are constantly threatened by various groups and militias who accuse them of collaborating with one armed group or another."

In many post-conflict countries the threat of violence becomes a part of people's every day lives, and this threat becomes actualised all too often. In DRC 48 women are raped every hour, in Jonglei, South Sudan, some 140,000 people have been forced from their homes due to ongoing violence. We must continue to ensure that the suffering of women in war-torn countries is given a voice on the international stage. It is only by doing this that we can make sure the international community gives its support to the courageous women in South Sudan, DRC and other war afflicted countries, in their struggle for peace and equality.

Women for Women International works with women in post-conflict countries to help rebuild their lives and their confidence, and enable them to become active citizens with a voice in their community. By empowering these women and raising awareness of their plight, we can help make sure they stand shoulder to shoulder with men and have an equal voice at peace negotiation tables. Here are just a few of the ways you can show your support:

1. Attend or organise a Join me on the Bridge event

2. Take part in our Run for Congo Women

3. Sponsor a woman through one of our in-country programmes

4. Make a one-off donation

So get involved, and join us in making the world a safer more equal place for women throughout the world.

The 8th End of the Pier International Film Festival (www.eotpfilmfestival.co.uk) took place on Saturday 11th February, at the Butlins’ Conference Centre in Bognor Regis. Women for Women International Director of Marketing Communications, Maria Andrews, was invited to represent As if I am Not There writer and director Juanita Wilson and lead actress Natasha Petrovic, who were unable to attend.

Juanita Wilson received the Best Director of a Feature award for the film at the End of the Pier International Film Festival Grand Prix. Juanita provided Maria with her acceptance speech: 

"Thank you for this award which I am deeply honoured to accept on behalf of my team. I am sorry we cannot be here in person but I really appreciate the work you do at this festival, bringing films like this to an audience here. Without all your hard work and commitment, stories like these would simply not get told. So many, many thanks. I accept this award on behalf of my creative team – Nathan Nugent, Tim Fleming and my main producer James Flynn without whose support and skills this would and could never have been made. Finally, I dedicate this award to the up to 60,000 brave women of Bosnia, whose courage to speak out about their experience has resulted in rape being officially recognised as a war crime for the first time ever in our history”. 

Natasha Petrovic received the Best Performance in a Feature award. Natasha made her on-screen debut in 2007 in a Macedonian film called Shadows – in 2009 she landed the lead role in As if I am Not There, which premiered in 2010. The film has gathered many great reviews; ‘Powerful’ – Sunday World, ‘Astounding’ – The Sunday Times, ‘A superb film’ – Irish Examiner, as well as numerous awards and accolades. Natasha’s own performance has earned her international recognition in the USA, Italy, Ireland and the UK. She was thrilled to accept the award and thanked everyone involved in supporting the film and story of the women of Bosnia. 

The film itself tells the story of a young woman from Sarajevo whose life is shattered the day a young soldier walks into her apartment and tells her to pack her things.

Rounded up with the other women from the village and imprisoned in a warehouse in a remote region of Bosnia, she quickly learns the rules of camp life. The day she is picked out to 'entertain' the soldiers, the real nightmare begins. Stripped of everything she ever had and facing the constant threat of death, she struggles against all the hatred she sees around her. It's when she realises that surviving means more than staying alive that she has to make a decision that will change her life forever.

The story is based around the real life war and genocide that occurred in Bosnia during the early 1990s. During this time rape and torture were systematically used as weapons of war. Rape camps, like the warehouse mentioned in the film, saw women as young at 15 or 16 subjected to mass rapes by soldiers after being forcefully removed from their homes and families. The psychological and physical scars left by this abuse are still visible today, but many of the women affected found the strength and courage to speak out about the crimes they endured, and it is thanks to them that for the first time ever, rape was prosecuted in international courts as a war crime. Despite being over 15 years since the end of the war, the horrific acts that many women were subjected to see them still struggling to rebuild their lives. Films like As if I am Not There are important to bring global attention to the suffering of women in Bosnia during the war, and also to remind people that its affects are still felt by many of them today.

To learn more about As if I am Not There visit the website, or watch the official trailer for the film.

To find out how you can help a woman survivor of war in Bosnia to rebuild her life, visit the Women for Women website.

Photo: Maria Andrews and Bryan Gartside with the 3 awards for the As if I am not there film.

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When 31-year-old Nooria came home and declared her intention to take rights awareness and vocational training courses with Women for Women in Afghanistan, her war-wounded, heroin addicted husband told her she was forbidden. “He told me no, that it is wrong for a woman to work,” Nooria says, “What would the neighbours think? He managed to convince my entire family to support him in his decision, too.”

 
Nooria lost one brother to Afghanistan’s years of conflict, whilst another brother and her husband were both seriously injured in different attacks. Shrapnel from a rocket attack tore into her husbands head, arms and stomach, He’s unable to work, needs constant medical attention, and is addicted to heroin, she said.
 
With no means to earn a living in a war ravaged country, and inspired by the call for female trainees, Nooria spent months pleading with her husband and family to let her take the vocational course. In time, they gave in to Nooria’s request.
 
“Now, my role in the family, it has changed 100 percent.” Nooria now specialises in local styles of embroidery for a women’s cooperative.  “I support my husband and five children – I now have money and I have respect.”
 
Nooria takes inspiration from Women for Women, and told us of the impact it has had on her life, “With Women for Women, I was given the capacity to develop myself, to develop my children and to teach my family about many different things. I am so thankful for Women for Women and the gift they have given us. The more women who receive this training, the closer we will be to improving our positions in society and preventing violations against our rights.”
 
Women for Women International help women like Nooria by supporting them in their journey from victims to survivors to active citizens. When we enroll women in our one-year programme, they learn job skills and receive business training so they can earn a living. Women become confident, independent and productive, embracing their importance in rebuilding their families, their communities and ultimately their nations.  
 
The work that we do with women in Afghanistan and other war afflicted countries would not be possible without the money raised and donated by our supporters. Without this generosity we would not be able to run the in-country programmes that make such a difference to the lives of  the women who particpate. Women like Nooria.
 
Each woman we help is an individual, with their own unique story of suffering and survival. For many their struggle has left them physically and emotionally drained, but knowing that women around the world care enough to reach out and support them can give them the strength to carry on. As one of our programme graduates, and a rape survivor, from DRC, Honorata Kizende, told us: "It is one thing to have been through what I have been through. To have no one acknowledge it enhances that pain threefold." Our programmes need your financial support to continue, but for the women who participate in them it is about so much more than that. It is about knowing that somewhere in the world someone cares about their struggle, and is willing to help them rebuild their life.
 
This year we are asking you to give more than just your voice to the Join me on the Bridge campaign by donating and fundraising at your event. There are so many ways to do it, and we have plenty of advice and tips on the website - including a guide on setting up a JustGiving page. So please, get involved in our big fundraising push this year, and help raise the money we need to support women in war-torn countries around the world. Your generosity will mean more than you could ever imagine.

Despite the signing of a peace accord in 2003, the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) remains a country afflicted by violence. The levels of sexual and non-sexual violence faced by women as a result of the ongoing conflict led to it being named the second most dangerous place in the world to be a woman by a TrustLaw Poll last year.
 
The plight of women in DRC receives scant coverage in mainstream western media, but it is essential that their struggle remains a priority for the international community. Statistics suggest that 1,152 women are raped every day in DRC, and that most of these rapes are committed by uniformed men. The most recent report by the Secretary General of the UN project in DRC reports that the frequency of human rights violations remains high, and that levels of sexual violence are a concern. Perhaps even more shocking is the fact that an increasing number of rapes are being carried out against minors. One incident highlighted in the report is that of a four day attack in the Walikale Territory of North Kivu, in which 387 civilians were raped, 64 of them children.
 
A lot of the women and girls subjected to these attacks fall pregnant, many of them becoming carriers of HIV. A report by Doctors Without Borders this week states that only 1% of pregnant women with HIV are receiving antiretroviral drugs in DRC. One of the major reasons for the lack of treatment available is cited as the withdrawal of international donor support. The immediate and sustained suffering of women affected by ongoing violence in DRC is far from being resolved, and further work must be done to ensure their situation changes and the international community does not forget them.
 
These women have shown immense courage and bravery in living through the abuses they have suffered, and continuing to strive for peace and equality, but we need to stand alongside them and make sure their voices are heard. This is where Women for Women International’s Join me on the Bridge campaign comes in.
 
The campaign began in 2010 when women from our programmes in DRC and Rwanda came together on the bridge that joins their two countries, to show that they could build bridges of peace and hope for the future. This sparked a global movement, with women from 70 countries joining on 464 bridges around the world last year to show their support and solidarity with women from war afflicted countries. This year we want you to join us, and lend your voice to the cry for an end to violence and a beginning of peace and equality for women worldwide.
 
There are many ways you can get involved, whether it be attending an event, organising your own or sending us a message of peace to share with the women we work with in war-torn countries like DRC. Take a look at our short campaign video and be inspired to do something that can make a real difference to these women's lives.
 

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