Articles by Sarah OMalley

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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!

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!

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.

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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.
 

There has been universal praise for Rwanda's post-conflict recovery, economically, socially and legally, and in terms of women's rights Rwanda has also made huge progress. At 51% it has the highest proportion of women's parliamentary representation in the world, and these female politicians are playing a central role in achieving equality and justice for women in Rwanda.

The UN Women's 'Progress for the World's Women in Pursuit of Justice' report for 2011-2012, praises the work of these women as a 'pivotal factor in achieving progressive legal reform on land, marriage and inheritance'. Thanks to their dedication and hard work women now have legal rights of inheritance and land ownership equal to that of their male counterparts. They have also pushed through reforms that give women greater access to legal protection against violence. Rwanda led the way on justice for women raped as a consequence of war, with the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR) securing the first ever conviction for rape as an instrument of genocide and crime against humanity.

However, the provision of justice for women who have suffered violence or sexual violence, does not mean that it is always achieved. In the 1994 genocide it is estimated that between 250,000-500,000 women were raped over 100 days, yet only 1-2% of investigators at the ICTR are dedicated to the area of sexual violence. Another problem faced by rape survivors seeking justice is the social stigma attached to rape. One survivor highlighted in the report had this to say of her experience: 'When I returned, everyone knew I had testified. My fiance refused to marry me once he knew I had been raped…today I would not accept to testify, to be traumatised for a second time.' Often, after rejection by their husband or family, women are unable to support themselves or their children financially.

The work Women for Women International do in Rwanda can help women seek justice and rebuild their lives by helping them through the specific problems they face. This is achieved through the year-long Women for Women International programme, where legal and women's rights is an important part of the curriculum. The rights awareness training helps women identify opportunities to seek justice for the suffering they have gone through. In addition to this women are taught skills like tailoring and basket-making techniques, that allow them to make a living independently and support themselves and their children. At the end of the programme participants will have begun their road to recovery, gaining practical skills, knowledge of their rights, and the confidence to turn this into a life they want to lead.

Do your part to help Rwandan women on their road to recovery by getting involved in our 2012 Join me on the Bridge campaign. By taking part in an event or organising your own, you can help raise awareness of the situation faced by women in war-torn countries like Rwanda, and also fundraise to sponsor a woman on one of our programmes. Visit the website to find out more.

The idea and inspiration for the Join me on the Bridge campaign came from the Women for Women International country directors and programme participants in Rwanda and the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC). These women decided that they wanted to meet on the bridge that joined their two countries on International Women's Day, to show the world that they could come together and build bridges of peace and hope for the future. So, on 8th March 2010, women marched from DRC holding one side of a banner, and from Rwanda holding the other. When they met the two halves of the banner were joined to reveal their message: "Women are building bridges of peace".

Have a look at this video of the event, and listen to the moving words of the women who took part.

 

Inspired by the strength, courage and determination of these women, a global campaign began. Joining on bridges became a symbolic way to show women bridging the gap between peace and war, equality and inequality, and a way to stand in solidarity with women in war-torn countries. Last year 75,000 people joined us on 464 bridges in 70 countries around the world, and this year we hope there will be even more of you.

Despite peace being declared, the lives of women in DRC and Rwanda are still plagued by violence and hardship. Their road to peace and equality is a long and hard one, but by showing your support on March 8th this year you can give these women the strength to carry on, by letting them know: "we are with you." Find out how by visiting the Join me on the Bridge website.

For many of the women we work with in war-torn countries across the globe, peace is something they hope and strive for on a daily basis. In countries like Rwanda, Democratic Republic of the Congo and Afghanistan, recent wars have left peoples' lives in tatters. We frequently hear heartbreaking stories of the personal losses and violent attacks suffered by women in these countries, and also of the day-to-day struggles they face trying to access basic resources like food, water and healthcare.

The conflict of war does not end when negotiations begin – the transition from war to peace is a long and hard one. It is essential that during this transition women's voices are heard at peace negotiation tables, in parliament, and in their communities. In many of the countries we work in peace has yet to be fully realised, and is a fragile concept that must be strengthened by the solidarity of the international community. Our support can ensure that women are given an equal voice on the road to peace, and their dream of equality can be fully realised.

One way we are asking you to show your support for these women peace builders is by sending us your message of peace to share with them as part of our Join me on the Bridge campaign. Last year Bridge events were held in 70 countries worldwide, including the war affected countries Women for Women International work with. Sharing your messages of peace with women in these countries lets them know that they do not stand alone, and that they have the support and solidarity of women and men all over the world as they continue their struggle to achieve peace and equality. To add your message of peace visit the Join me on the Bridge wesbite, or tweet @womenforwomeuk using #msgofpeace. Without women sustainable peace cannot be achieved.

During December 2011 the world's attention was drawn to two high profile cases of violence against Afghan women. The first was the case of Gulnaz, a woman jailed for adultery after being raped by her cousin's husband. After national and international outcry Gulnaz received a pardon from Afghan president Hamid Karzai, but reports suggest this only occurred after she agreed to marry her attacker. The second case was the heartbreaking story of Sahur Gul, a 15 year girl who endured months of torture at the hands of her husband and his family. After escaping her basement prison and being brought to local authorities, she was then returned to the hands of her torturers before eventually being rescued by Afghan police after a relative reported their concerns. 

More recently, an article published by The Women's UN Report Network highlighted the case of a young girl named Yasmin, who was married at the age of 12 to a 60 year old man. After 4 years of unhappy marriage she fled with a man from her village who she had fallen in love with. The pair were later caught by the police and imprisoned, with Yasmin giving birth to their child whilst in prison. Yasmin has since been released and is living at a shelter in Kabul, but lives in fear of violent reprisals from her family and first husband.

As shocking as these cases are, the sad fact is that they are not isolated events, and cases of rape, domestic abuse, forced marriage and unjust imprisonment of women are still commonplace in Afghanistan. In fact, a Thompson-Reuters poll published in June 2011 named Afghanistan as the most dangerous place in the world to be a woman. The Afghan legal system fails to protect or provide justice for women like Gulnaz, Sahur and Yasmin. Frequently women are imprisoned for the crime of "zina" (sex outside marriage), after being raped or fleeing violent or forced marriages. This is despite the introduction of the 'Elimination of Violence Against Women' (EVAW) law in 2009, a landmark that many human rights and women's groups hoped would improve the situation for women in Afghanistan. A UN analysis of the EVAW law notes that it has yet to be widely implemented, and Human Rights Watch researcher Heather Barr has reported that most zina trials lack thorough investigation or proof, and the women accused are often poorly represented.

The failure to implement the EVAW law is indicative of the widespread attitude towards women's rights in Afghanistan, a country that is still enshrined in patriarchy. There is much work to be done to achieve gender equality, both culturally and legally, in Afghanistan, and to ensure the women there are free to live their lives as they choose without fear of reprisal. The work Women for Women International does in Afghanistan provides a real chance for women to begin their journey to achieving this. Our Join me on the Bridge 2012 campaign offers you the chance to lend your voice to the cry for peace and equality in Afghanistan, and other war torn countries across the world. Have a look at the website to find out how to join an event near you, or organise your own event to raise awareness amongst your local community. It is also a great opportunity to fundraise and contribute towards the programmes Women for Women International runs to educate and empower women who have suffered the atrocities of war. Join us, on March 8th 2012, and help spread a message of peace and equality around the world.

Come and join us for our London Join Me on the Bridge event on Thursday 8th March over the Millennium Bridge. Last year we were joined by singer and activist Annie Lennox, along with thousands of other women, as we released doves of peace to mark the 100th anniversary of International Women's Day. This year we hope even more of you will join us to stand in solidarity with women across the world to call for peace and equality.

Check out the highlights from London 2011 event in this short video.

This year the event will start at 10:30am when we meet on the south side of Millennium Bridge for banner making and face-painting, before marching across the river and west towards the Royal Festival Hall for speeches. Chanting and entertainment along the route will be followed by exciting guest speakers at the Southbank Centre, as we launch the Women of the World Festival. Speakers, entertainment and VIP's will be announced soon – watch this space!

Schedule for the day:

10:30 – Meet on south side of Millennium Bridge for face paint and banner making

11:15 – Start marching!

12:30 – Speeches, stalls and entertainment at the Royal Festival Hall 

For full details of the event, including directions and information on how to sign up, visit the website.

Throughout the world hundreds of thousands of women are living with the physical and emotional scars inflicted by war. Join Me on the Bridge is a chance for people to stand in solidarity with these women on International Women's Day (March 8th), and join their fight for peace and equality.

International Women's Day (IWD) is an important day for women worldwide, celebrating the economic, political and social achievements of women past, present and future. As well as a day to celebrate achievements, it is a day to remind the world of how far we still have to come in the fight for global gender equality. As Women for Women International's founder Zainab Salbi says: "we envision a world where no one is abused, poor, illiterate or marginalised; where members of communities have full and equal participation in the processes that ensure their health, well-being and economic independence; and where everyone has the freedom to define the scope of their life, their future and strive to achieve their full potential." Join Me on the Bridge is part of our fight to achieve this goal.

Join Me on the Bridge began in 2010 when women from Congo and Rwanda joined together on the bridge connecting their two countries, showing that they could build the bridges of peace and hope for the future. This action sparked a massive global movement, involving thousands of people on hundreds of bridges worldwide. Women in Afghanistan and Iraq joined the campaign for the first time last year, bravely adding their voices to the call for an end to war and violence against women. Alongside them were 75,000 people in 70 countries worldwide. Bridge events have taken place in all the countries Women for Women International work with: Afghanistan, Iraq, Kosovo, Bosnia & Herezgovina, Democratic Republic of Congo, Rwanda, Nigeria and South Sudan. Women survivors of war in these countries have lived through unimaginable suffering and hardship, but they find the strength and courage to call out for change and demand peace and equality for themselves and their loved ones.

Join Me on the Bridge asks people to stand with these women on International Women's Day (March 8th). There will be events taking place globally, so check the Join Me on the Bridge website to find an event close to you. We also encourage you to organise your own event, and have a variety of resources available to help you, including a free organiser's toolkit. There is also information on how to fundraise at your event, to raise money to sponsor a woman through one of our programmes. No matter how big or small your event, every person standing for peace on March 8th will make a difference. We will make a difference by showing women in war-torn countries that they do not struggle alone, we will make a difference by showing the world that we want peace and equality, and we will make a difference by not remaining silent.

Join us on March 8th and help build bridges of peace and hope for the future.

Take a look at this video showing some women in Sudan taking part in a Join Me on the Bridge event and discussing how important the issues of peace and women's rights are to them. To find out more about this year's Join Me on the Bridge campaign visit the website.

A new study by the Allard K. Lowenstein International Human Rights Clinic at Yale Law School has highlighted the ongoing gender based violence (GBV) in South Sudan, and the lack of action being taken to prevent it and bring its perpetrators to justice. The study reports that since the end of Sudan's second civil war in 2005 GBV has remained prevalent, with women and children in South Sudan being subjected to rape, forced marriage and abduction. It also warned that this type of violence was likely to increase in the wake of the 2011 referendum on South Sudan's independence. A letter written in November 2011 by civil society groups to President Salva Kiir Mayardit, asking for further action to be taken to end the violence they were still witnessing in their country, seems to support this prediction. 

Alongside this chilling insight into the abuses suffered by South Sudanese women and children, the report exposes the lack of action taken to rectify the situation by various international bodies. Recommendations for action are given to the UN Security Council, the United States, the Sudanese and South Sudanese Governments, and international and national investors and donors. Amongst these recommendations is a call for the Sudanese and South Sudanese Governments to amend laws to "afford women appropriate rights, and reduce the bureaucratic obstacles women face in seeking justice." The UN Security Council is also asked to ensure the full implementation of its own resolutions designed to prevent this kind of ongoing GBV. The full report can be accessed here.

These recommendations are still to be acted upon sufficiently, with the violence and unrest in South Sudan continuing. Only last week incidents of violence and unrest in the region were being reported, with local South Sudanese officials claiming 3,000 people were killed in a violent massacre – 2,182 of them women and children.

Women for Women International's programs in South Sudan include direct financial aid, rights awareness classes, job-skills training and emotionall support. Our one-year programme was developed specifically for South Sudan’s special challenges and demands, and includes vocational training that helps women earn an income and support themselves. As part of our 2010 Join Me on the Bridge campaign 5,800 people attended an event on the Barnam Bridge in Rumbek, Sudan – and in 2011 even more attended. The impact of this event was immense, as one participant said: "Today was a beautiful day for all of us! We are working hard to make it happen for the first time to surprise the whole world that we are women and can bring peace in our countries and in the world if we are strong together."

The Join Me on the Bridge campaign gives women in war-torn countries the strength to continue their struggle for peace and equality. Get involved in a local event, or organise your own, and stand in solidarity with these woman on International Women's Day 2012. To find out more about the 2012 Join Me on the Bridge campaign, visit the website.  


 

January 2012 sees the launch of our third Join Me on the Bridge Campaign. The campaign began in 2010 when women from Congo and Rwanda joined together on the bridge connecting their two countries, showing that they could build the bridges of peace and hope for the future. Their action sparked a global movement and last year they were joined by 75,000 Join Me on the Bridge peace builders, who took part in 464 events in over 70 countries worldwide. This year on International Women's Day (March 8th) we hope even more people will join us to stand in solidarity with the women of war afflicted countries like Afghanistan, Iraq and The Democratic Republic of Congo in their struggle for peace and equality.

There will be events happening worldwide and we would encourage you to have a look at our Join Me on the Bridge events page to find one close to you to take part in. And if you can't find one locally, why not organise your own? The website has plenty of advice and resources, including an Organiser Toolkit you can download to help you host a successful and effective event. Whether it is attended by 3 people or 300, every person standing together for peace and equality on March 8th will make a difference.

As part of the campaign we are also asking you to send us your message of peace to share with the women peace builders of war torn countries. Sign up on the campaign website to add your message of peace and see the messages left by other Join Me on the Bridge peace builders. You can also share your message of peace and event details with us on Twitter by tweeting us @womenforwomenuk, or by using the hashtag #Bridge12.

Join us in standing with women worldwide on March 8th 2012 to build bridges of peace and hope for the future.

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