About Daphne Jayasinghe

Daphne Jayasinghe is the former Advocacy Director for Women's Human Rights. Daphne worked on Women's Human Rights issues including AIUSA's advocacy on the International Violence Against Women Act. Daphne has conducted academic research with women employed in Export processing zones in Sri Lanka and the Anglophone Caribbean, presented her work at international conferences and published her research findings in a number of forums including the journal Gender and Development. She previously worked for the NGO Oxfam International and as a Senior Policy Advisor for the UK Governmentís Women and Equality Unit where she developed policy recommendations for the Women and Work Commission report on women in the labor market. She holds an MA in Sociology from the University of the West Indies and a BA in Social and Political Science from the University of Cambridge.
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Tweet to Stop Violence Against Women!

There’s just a few weeks remaining of 2010 and even fewer remaining of the 111th United States Congress.  Time is running out to pass critical legislation.  This week Congress has the chance to take action to move the International Violence Against Women Act (IVAWA), a Senate Foreign Relations Committee vote is scheduled to take place on Thursday, December 2nd.

Many of you have taken action in support of IVAWA, made phone calls, written letters and sent letters to the newspaper.  During the 16 days of activism against gender based violence which began on November 25th don’t forget the other effective way of letting Congress know that you oppose the abuse of women and girls worldwide and you that you want the United States Government to use the opportunity to take action. Join the pass IVAWA tweet-a-thon! On November 30th, the IVAWA coalition is calling on activists across the country to tweet messages of support for IVAWA and calls for action.  If enough people tweet about IVAWA we can really draw attention to the bill, generate more calls and activism and potentially make this a trending topic on Twitter.

Some sample tweets are:

  • Not one more woman, not one more rape. http://bit.ly/ezlk8T #IVAWA
  • Call your member of Congress NOW @202-224-3121 & say pass #IVAWA (S2982/H.R.4594)!
  • Help end violence against women globally! http://bit.ly/ezlk8T #IVAWA

Or make up your own tweet, just don’t forget to include the #IVAWA so we can make this an important trending topic for the day.

If you are a really dedicated social media activist check out the IVAWA activist toolkit for other campaigning tactics.  Also don’t forget to make a call and urge your member of Congress to pass IVAWA as well.  See how its done on this fun “how to” video:

Act now, there’s no time to delay in the struggle to stop the violent abuse of women and girls globally.

Progress for Women Fighting for Peace

Yesterday the United Nations Security Council strengthened the commitments it made a decade ago to women affected by war.  High level ministers, including Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, met to mark the 10th anniversary of  a resolution adopted to formally recognize that women are integral to all efforts to create and maintain international peace and security – Security Council Resolution 1325. 

Women are deeply and disproportionately affected by conflict including as displaced civilians or targets of sexual violence.  Yesterday, not only did the Security Council reconfirm that women have the potential to promote peace, but they committed to taking steps to harness that potential.

In particular the Council commited to improve the measurement and reporting of women’s active participation in peacebuilding.  The Council also made a commitment to fight impunity and uphold accountability for serious crimes against  women and girls and drew attention to justice mechanisms including the International Criminal Court and national reparation programs for victims.

In her statement, Secretary Clinton demonstrated the United States’ recognition of the value of women’s participation in conflict prevention by promising $44 million to initiatives designed to empower women and committing to develop a United States National Action Plan to accelerate the implementation of Resolution 1325.  Secretary Clinton, who came face to face with the horrors of violence when she visited the Democratic Republic of Congo last year, spoke about the reported mass rapes there earlier this year.  As she put it, “those rapes and our failure as an international community to bring that conflict to an end and to protect women and children in the process stands as a tragic rebuke to our efforts thus far” she went on to say “..we may have to challenge some conventional wisdom about how best to end the impunity of those who not only conduct these horrible violations of human rights, but those who permit them to do so.” 

The steps taken by the Security Council yesterday and the commitments made mark significant progress in global recognition of the critical role women play in maintaining international peace and security.  They also reinforce the role the international community must play in strengthening the rule of law and justice institutions in order to end impunity and war waged against women.  These commitments can help turn words into action and facilitate an increased role for women who are on the frontlines fighting for peace.

Support Women as Peacebuilders

Almost 10 years ago, on October 31, 2000, the United Nations Security Council adopted resolution 1325, calling for women’s equal participation in peace building. Security Council Resolution (SCR) 1325 was a response to the disturbing trend that women and girls often suffer most during conflicts, including as displaced civilians or as the targets of sexual violence.  A recent horrific example of widespread sexual violence was the reported mass rapes in the Democratic Republic of Congo in August of this year.  Despite women deeply suffering the consequences of conflict, they have few opportunities to contribute to peacebuidling - women account for only 10% of the people who negotiate peace after conflict has ceased.

Adoption of 1325  created an opportunity to promote women’s rights in conflict situations and called for full and equal access in all elements of peace-building negotiations and post-conflict reconstruction. However, implementation of the resolution has been too slow.

Mark the 10th Anniversary of SCR 1325 by taking action to  make women count for peace. Sign UNIFEM’s petition encouraging governments to act rapidly in taking steps to implement the resolution by prosecuting perpetrators of sexual violence, ensuring women participate equally in peace negotiations and all post-conflict decision-making institutions and increasing the number of women in troops, police forces and civilians within international peacekeeping efforts.  The petition will be delivered to the UN Security Council and the Secretary General next week so take action now!  Help make women count for peace. 

Women and children escape the fighting in Maidan, northwest Pakistan, 27 April 2009.

One Quick Call to Stop Violence Against Women!

Right now, we have the best chance we have ever had of passing the International Violence Against Women Act (IVAWA). Our elected officials need to hear that their constituents believe ending the abuse of women around the world is a priority for the United States.

In just three easy steps, you can make a quick call to your Representative and Senators to ask them to help pass IVAWA. Watch this instructional video from Laura, Katie, and Christina to find out the fun and fast way to call your elected representatives:

After watching this video you’ll realize it doesn’t take a celebrity to make a difference in the legislative process, it just takes one call from you, a constituent, to let members of Congress know you think the United States has an important role to play in stopping violence against women internationally!

Step 1: Visit Congress.org to find your Representative and Senators by entering your zip code. Then call the Congressional switchboard to ask to be connected to your Congressional represenatives: 202-224-3121.

Step 2: Identify yourself as a constituent and give your name. Ask the office whether the Congressman/woman supports H.R. 4594/S. 2982 the International Violence Against Women Act.

Step 3: If your Congressman/woman is a cosponsor, thank them and ask them to please vote YES when it comes to the House/Senate floor. If they are not a cosponsor, urge them to be one and vote Yes for IVAWA!

With the help of these three steps and this video from Amnesty, it’s easy to make the call to your members of Congress and urge them to pass IVAWA now!

And, if you have more than 1 minute to spare for IVAWA, check out the IVAWA fall 2010 activist toolkit that is packed full of great activist resources.

Pass IVAWA: "no time to waste"

Yesterday, members of Congress and human rights advocates, including Amnesty’s celebrity spokesperson Samantha Mathis, made the case for passing the International Violence Against Women Act (IVAWA) on Capitol Hill.  At the breakfast briefing in the Rayburn House Office Building, the audience listened to a distinguished panel present compelling accounts of the heroism and bravery of women and girls globally. The briefing, titled “Stories of Courage and Success: Surviving and Ending Violence Against Women and Girls Internationally,” was infused with the possibility of overcoming gender based violence around the world.

The panel was joined by members of Congress who are IVAWA champions in the House, Representatives Ted Poe (R-TX) and Jan Schakowsky (D-IL).  Both members, who coordinated the event along with lead bill sponsor Representative Bill Delahunt (D-MA), made inspiring remarks on why they personally endorse and support the legislation.

One of the panelists, Rose Mapendo, a survivor and advocate from the Democratic Republic of Congo, gave some of the most gripping testimony. She began by sharing a song she had gained strength from when she was imprisoned with her family in the Democratic Republic of Congo. Rose detailed how she escaped with nine of her 10 children and eventually resettled in Arizona. She was finally reunited with her lost daughter more than a decade later. Ms. Mapendo has survived the violence of genocide and is helping to bring peace to her country and others. She is the subject of a new documentary by PBS called “Pushing the Elephant.”

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It's here – UN Women!

Today the UN General Assembly adopted a resolution creating a new entity for gender equality and the empowerment of women, otherwise known as UN Women. Amnesty has been campaigning for a stronger UN agency for women’s issues for some years and today our goal became a reality. On June 17th, 2010 Amnesty joined a delegation representing the GEAR Campaign, a global network of over 300 organizations, to deliver 34,555 signatures from 165 countries to the President of the UN General Assembly urging him to prioritize the establishment of a new UN agency for women (over 4,000 of those signatures were collected by AIUSA – so a big shout out to all of you activists who signed the petition!).  Your action made a difference and today, UN Women was established.

Amnesty International joined the GEAR campaign delegation that delivered the petition to the President of the UN General Assembly.

There are currently four seperate agencies in the UN dealing with women’s issues: the Development Fund for Women (UNIFEM), the Division for the Advancement of Women (DAW), the International Research and Training Institute for the Advancement of Women (INSTRAW), and the Office of the Special Adviser to the UN Secretary-General on Gender Issues and the Advancement of Women (OSAGI).  UN Women will consolidate all of these bodies into one, a change that women’s and civil society organizations around the globe have been striving for since 2006 . We are very hopeful that the new body will necessarily strengthen the UN’s work on women’s issues, and more effectively support the rest of the UN system and governments to better protect and promote women’s human rights.

Furthermore, governments can take advantage of UN Women in implementing their women’s human rights obligations.  For example, the new body could help to integrate human rights into government implementation of all UN Millenium Development Goals (MDGs), including MDG 3 on gender equality and MDG 5 on maternal health.

The GEAR campaign will continue advocating in support of UN Women, to make sure that an experienced leader, who is committed to women’s human rights is appointed.  The Secretary-General is now considering candidates.  It is our role to keep up the pressure and make sure that gender equality and the empowerment of women remains a top priority for the UN.

Sad Loss of a Women's Human Rights Pioneer

Rhonda Copelon, American University

Rhonda Copelon, American University

I recently heard the sad news that Professor Rhonda Copelon died on May 6th 2010.  Professor Copelon’s work was critical to defining women’s rights as human rights.  It was her dedication to gender justice, combined with her tireless work  as founding faculty member of the CUNY Law School’s International Women’s Human Rights Clinic, that contibuted to the recognition in international law of rape as a crime of genocide and torture. It is thanks to her that domestic violence and other forms of gender violence can constitute torture under the United Nation’s Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or Punishment. 

It was no small feat to persuade the human rights community to treat gender violence as a human rights violation.  Feminists were met with resistence to the notion that violence committed by private individuals – such as domestic violence – could constitute a human rights violation.  As Professor Copelon put it “including private gendered violence, it was said, would “dilute” the human rights framework”.  However, Professor Copelon persisted in the struggle to integrate gender in the international human rights framework – and won.  

Many Human Rights NGOs expanded their work on women’s human rights and, thanks in part to the foundation Professor Copelon laid, Amnesty International launched a global campaign to Stop Violence Against Women.  Professor Copelon was generous with her time, advice and encouragement and was an inspiration to human rights activists around the world. 

Iwas fortunate enough to hear Professor Copelon speak about her work with the Women’s Caucus for Gender Justice, a group committed to ensuring that gender was integrated into all aspects of the International Criminal Court’s work.  What struck me was not only her passion, dedication and incredible intelligence but also her humility, collaborative spirit and sense of humor.  In her  opening remarks she said “I am not known for obedience.”  Well, thanks to her defiance and determination women’s rights really are human rights.  Her passing is a huge loss and she will be missed.

Human Rights Commissioners ask how the U.S. can end Violence Against Women.

Humaira Shahid speaking at I-VAWA introduction event. (c) Alex RobinsonEarlier this month, I attended the Congressional Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission hearing on Violence Against Women.  This hearing and the witnesses’ testimonies demonstrated the immediate need for passage of the International Violence Against Women Act (I-VAWA), a bill that was introduced in February in both the House and the Senate.  In a great showing of solidarity, the room was filled past “standing room only;” people were even sitting on the floor!
Demonstrating their bipartisan support, I-VAWA champions Congressmen Delahunt (D-MA) and Poe (R-TX) testified and spoke of their support for the bill’s passage.  Congressman Delahunt referred to domestic violence against women legislation, and noted its great impact.  “I daresay making violence against women a priority and a component in our foreign policy…over time… we will see the kind of results we’ve seen here elsewhere.”  Congressman Poe addressed the issue of the United States taking on this large leadership role in ending violence against women globally.  “The U.S. should be the leader on human rights around the world; it’s what we do in this country.”  Quoting his granny – and the philosophy of grandmothers worldwide – Poe continued, “You never hurt somebody you claim to love.”  The women being abused, raped, and murdered across the globe could easily be our mothers, grandmothers, daughters, and sisters here in the U.S.

The esteemed panel of witnesses was made up of  Ambassador-at-Large for the Office of War Crimes Issues Stephen Rapp, Lydia Mungherera, founder of Mama’s Club in Uganda and Board Member of Global Aids Alliance, Humaira Shahid, a former journalist and parliamentarian from Pakistan, Gary Barker from the International Center for Research on Women who spoke about the value of engaging men and boys in the struggle to against violence and Retired Major-General Patrick Cammaert, a former UN Force Commander.

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UN: Remember Women's Rights

As Women’s History Month comes to an end, it’s a good time to consider what still needs to be done to promote women’s rights globally.  Across the globe women are still confronted daily with inequality and discrimination.  Some face cupfuls of acid, hurled stones, and brandished knives.  Others are perpetually shrouded by the threats of rape, mutilation, and murder.  Even in countries where gross human rights violations are not a daily occurrence, women are not free from discrimination and subordination.  They face poverty, unequal rights in the workplace, and inequitable access to the basic human rights of health, food, shelter, and education.  Now, more than ever, is the time to sidestep complacency and take action for women’s rights.

stop_rape_protestbanner

Women’s History Month was an opportune, and hopefully auspicious, time for the 54th session of the UN Commission on the Status of Women (CSW) to be held.  Member states and representatives from NGOs and notable UN entities convened in New York to discuss the future of the UN’s role in promoting women’s rights around the world.  As of right now, the UN has four small agencies dedicated to women’s issues.  However, individually, they lack the clout necessary to implement their obligations and challenge global gender inequality and discrimination.  This past September, all 192 member states agreed to adopt a resolution consolidating these smaller agencies into one larger and stronger agency for women that can use its collective influence to enact change.  During CSW, 180 countries cosponsored a resolution supporting the creation of the new agency and UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon called on governments to take action to create the agency without further delay.

The UN needs to make this a priority.  Let Ban Ki-Moon know that in order to be effective, the new agency for women must have substantial and predictable resources from its onset.  It requires accountability mechanisms at both the national and international levels.  It also needs country presence, and strong policy and programmatic mandates.  All of these elements are essential for this agency to meet its obligations to improve the lives of women worldwide.  It is imperative that the President of the General Assembly ensures the agency’s swift establishment and operation in 2010.  Show your support for a new, strong UN agency for women, in honor of Women’s History Month and sign the petition!

Despite the obvious hurdles still to be overcome, there has been progress made for women worldwide during the past century.  Women have fought injustice and inequality to be awarded the right to vote, be elected to public office, file for divorce, gain access to healthcare, and attend institutes of higher education.  Governments have taken steps to ensure the safety of women and girls by passing key legislation.  Women have been threatened, jailed, and beaten for their advocacy and yet they remain undaunted and continue to push for change.  Let’s keep the momentum going strong and make every month women’s month!

Lauren Bishop contributed to this post.

Slow Road to Beijing

United Nations

United Nations

I always find today, International Women’s Day, incredibly inspiring but this year my source of motivation was the 54th UN Commission on the Status of Women (CSW) which began on March 1st and runs until March 12th. I had the chance to attend this year and find out what it is all about.

This year, the CSW focused on progress towards achievement of the commitments made in the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action which was adopted by 189 governments 15 years ago.  Over the 12 days, in addition to the official meetings of member states, there are parrellel events hostedby NGOs covering a diverse range of issues from women and climate change to women’s political participation from female condoms to women and the economic crisis.  CSW is a chance to meet and hear participants from around the world speak about their work and their view of progress made to achieving the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action’s objective to achieve women’s empowerment, the full realization of women’s rights and substantive gender equality.

It was evident that whilst some progress has been made in the 15 years that have passed since Beijing - there is certainly much more to be done.

For instance, the prevention and elimination of violence against women – a Beijing commitment – is far from fulfilled.  Amnesty highlighted the challenges to preventing violence globally during an interesting parallelevent on Obstacles to Justice for Violence Against Women at which the findings of our research on violence against women in Uganda, Cambodia and Nordic countries were presented.  What was evident about these research findings was that regardless of the wealth of the country, the status of women in public life, the religion or the ethnicity of the people, violence against women is a global phenomenonthat rears its ugly head in homes, in schools and on the streets in every country in the world.  The obstacles to justice include stigma associated with reporting crimes and speaking out against what is considered a “private” or “family”  matter.  All of the panelists gave accounts of women who had been laughed out of the police station or shamed into silence.  Too often, police or judicial officials are not aware of the appropriate response to complaints or even the national laws that exist to prevent and protect survivors of violence.  The practice of violence against women is often tolerated  or, worse still, condoned by society which reflects the gender inequality and discrimination against women which is pervasive in many societies.  Gender discrimination in itself creates an obstacle to justice which must be overcome.

Today, Amnesty launches a Six point Checklist on Justice for Violence Against Women which is a valuable resource for activists and advocates seeking to improve the judicial response to violence against women and identify laws policies and practices which need to be reformed.  Whilst the events at CSW demonstrated that more needs to be done to eliminate violence against women, it is also evident that the world over, there are activists working tirelessly to put an end to the violence and dismantle these obstacles.  A young woman activist from Nigeria in the audience at the Amnesty event said that her community creates obstacles “..they point at me for speaking out…” she said.  In the face of such hostility from her friends and neighbors she continues to demand an end to violence against women and she inspired me to do the same.