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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New bill to end violence against women:"An act of compassion.."

I was honored to attend the event to mark the re-introduction of the International Violence Against Women Act (I-VAWA) on Thursday February 4th.  There was quite a turn out – politicians, activists and advocates all committed to ending the global scourge of violence against women and all gathered to celebrate the long awaited introduction of this landmark legislation. 

The bill  is a comprehensive response to this global human rights violation that places women’s rights at the center of United States foreign policy and supports programs which have been shown to reduce rates of violence – including education, health, legal reform, economic opportunity and public awareness raising programs.  A bipartisan team of sponsors from the House and the Senate were represented at the event and they were joined by two important  women who had first hand experience of confronting violence against women.  Humaira Shahid, an editor and legislator in Pakistan, was behind groundbreaking legislative reform to defend the rights of women in Pakistan, including a resolution to abolish acid attacks, amendment of criminal laws to increase protection of women from domestic violence and the Women’s Protection Act.  As Humaira put it during her speech “..women are the untapped reservoir we should invest in to bring real change…and I-VAWA is the way to do it” 

The other guest of honor was our very own Amnesty activist Irene Safi Turner.  Irene has worked on gender issues in Central Africa for almost a decade.  She made a moving speech on the value of I-VAWA to women like those affected by the conflcit and violence in the Democratic Republic of Congo.  “The legislation will bring a sense of hope and purpose for thousands of Congolese women victims of violence who are traumatized and stigmatized by their community” she said “The International Violence Against Women Act is an act of compassion and solidarity”.

(C) Alexandra Robinson. Sen. John Kerry, Rep Schakowsky and Humaira Shahid applaud Irene Safi Turner after she spoke at the IVAWA introduction event.

(C) Alexandra Robinson. Sen. John Kerry, Rep Schakowsky and Humaira Shahid applaud Irene Safi Turner after she spoke at the IVAWA introduction event.

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Mourning the loss of Haitian Women's Rights Leaders

The reports from Haiti are more tragic everyday.  The loss, the devastation, the aftershock, the grief and the suffering.  Today, there are reports of losses to the women’s human rights movement- Myriam Merlet, Magalie Marcelin and Anne Marie Coriolan are Haitian women’s human rights defenders who were victims of the earthquake.  This tragic loss will be mourned throughout the global women’s rights community but the impact will be felt deeply as Haiti rebuilds.

Women’s rights and gender equality must be promoted during the humanitarian relief process but also during the rebuilding process.  On the Dianne Rehm show yesterday, academics and relief organizations spoke about the importance of recognizing the risk of gender based violence in refugee camps and the threat of violence against displaced women. 

Amnesty recently reported on sexual violence against school girls in Haiti. The women’s rights leaders who lost their lives spoke out against the issue of gender violence in Haiti before the earthquake.   The people of Haiti, and all of us, relied on human rights defenders like these to take a stand.  My thoughts go out to the families of them and all of the victims of this disaster.

Women: The Smartest Investment

In an empowering speech on Friday, January 8, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton reiterated her commitment to women’s rights as human rights. Exactly 15 years since the UN’s International Conference on Population and Development was held in Cairo, Secretary Clinton praised the progress made in improving the health and lives of women and children around the world since this groundbreaking gathering.

This progress has included a marked increase in the use of modern contraceptives from less than 10% in the 1960s to 43% today; an encouraging increase in child survival rates; and an increase in female enrollment in schools. Despite this progress, Secretary Clinton rightly emphasized the crucial need for a continued commitment toward reaching the Conference’s goals by the target year, 2015.

Secretary Clinton cited alarming statistics: half the women in the developing world deliver their babies without access to crucial medical care and 215 million women worldwide lack access to modern forms of contraception – as Clinton put it, the “numbers are not only grim, but after 15 years, they are intolerable.” Vast gendered inequities remain; and women continue to represent the majority of the world’s “poor, unhealthy, and under-fed.”

Secretary Clinton and the Obama administration’s recognition that investing in women is “the smartest investment to be made…” shows that they’re on the right track. Earlier this year, President Obama and Secretary Clinton demonstrated their support for these issues by appointing Melanne Verveer as Ambassador-at-Large for Global Women’s Issues.  The creation of this position sends a strong message to the world that the United States, in its deliberations on foreign policy and foreign aid, will give top priority to issues that affect women. Ambassador Verveer has since been a strong advocate on behalf of women around the world.  In October, she testified before Congress in hearings in both the House of Representatives and the Senate on violence against women.

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Real men are not afraid of women's empowerment!

As UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon put it “Violence against women and girls will not be eradicated until all of us – men and boys- refuse to tolerate it”. Globally, men are taking a stand. Kenya’s Men for Gender Equality Now (MENGEN), a member of the Say NO – UNiTE to End Violence Against Women global coalition, stands out as an inspiring organization.  Since 2001, MENGEN has worked to involve men in the struggle against gender-based violence and gender-inequality. To date, the organization has reached thousands of men and women in 21 constituencies across Kenya, championing equality and rejecting violence against women.

During the 2009 global 16 Days of activism against gender violence campaign, MENGEN spearheaded the Men’s Traveling Conference, recruiting male role models across Kenya to oppose violence and to start MENGEN branches in their communities. MENGEN mobilized men and women to sign commitment forms pledging their allegiance to fight gender-based violence; despite meeting heavy resistance in some towns, several police offices and provincial administrators pledged their support.

Activists march against gender violence in Kigali, Rwanda.

Activists march against gender violence in Kigali, Rwanda.

On November 25th, the first day of the 16 Days campaign, Malawi Minister for Gender, Children and Community Development, Hon. Patricia Kaliati, launched the official inauguration of MENGEN in Malawi with a powerful statement, “Real Men are not afraid of women’s empowerment.”

Amnesty International USA could not agree more!

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Honor Women's Rights Defenders by calling for a strong UN agency for Women

Gertrude Hambira, Zimbabwe. (c) Amnesty International

Gertrude Hambira, Zimbabwe. (c) Amnesty International

Amnesty International spoke to three inspiring women’s rights activists about the challenges they face in their work, the personal risks they endure and their motivation to continue their struggle.  Today, on World Human Rights Day, we should take a moment to recognize the work done by Gertrude Hambira from Zimbabwe, Zebo Sharifova from Tajikistan and Aminatou Haidar from Western Sahara, and countless women like them around the world, to defend human rights.

Despite threats and physical abuse women’s human rights defenders strive to improve women’s lives and promote human rights.  However, all too often, their work is constrained by limited resources and limited commitment to promoting women’s rights from their governments.

The United Nations is a galvanizing force in setting new international standards and commitments to protect and promote women’s human rights.  The UN needs the strength and the capacity to ensure that these commitments are fulfilled.  Amnesty is calling on the President of the General Assembly to make the United Nations more effective in realizing women’s rights by creating a strong, UN agency for women.  Today, on the final day of 16 Days of Activism Against Gender Violence and World Human Rights Day, take action to increase the UN’s effectiveness in realizing women’s human rights and sign the petition calling for a strong UN agency for women. Take action today in honor of Gertrude, Zebo and Aminatou.

The Effect of the Girl Effect

Yesterday I saw this clever, 2 minute video called the Girl Effect that basically says that a girl can save the world!  It shows how by giving a girl an education and opportunities she can improve the situation of an entire community.  It is thought provoking and inspiring and takes 2 minutes to watch. For me, the video underlines the importance of acheiveing human rights for women and girls.  Too many people argue that social practices that harm girls or in some way disadvantage them are just “culture” or “tradition” and therefore the West should not interfere.  My response? Human rights are universal.  We musn’t underestimate, or undermine the power of the girl effect by denying women and girls human rights.

Can a Women's Rights Treaty Make any Difference?

Earlier this week, President-elect Obama made a commitment to push for Senate ratification of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW). This treaty has been signed by several Presidents (including President Jimmy Carter in 1980) but has never reached the Senate floor. That’s a 20 year denial of women’s rights.  The United States bears the shame of being the only industrialized country which has not ratified it.

The question is, would ratifying an international treaty make any difference?  The answer is yes, CEDAW is important!  The treaty has been a vital tool for women’s rights activists in countries which have ratified it to demand their rights be enshrined in law.  It has been used to develop citizenship rights in Botswana and Japan, property rights and political participation in Costa Rica and to develop domestic violence laws in Turkey, Nepal, South Africa, and the Republic of Korea.

Arialle Crabtree demands support for Women's Rights!

Arialle Crabtree demands support for Women

Critics of the treaty say that women’s rights in the United States are enshrined in the constitution and therefore ratification is not necessary for women here.  I disagree, there are all too many women in the US whose rights are abused.  Furthermore, by not ratifing CEDAW, the US loses all credibility in demanding that women’s rights overseas be respected.  President-elect Obama has clearly recognised the value of this women’s rights treaty, both as a commitment to respecting the rights of women in the US and as a pledge to reinforce any diplomatic efforts to end abuses against women around the world.  I can’t help wondering if maybe it was the President-elect’s mother’s interest in international women’s issues that inspired him.  Whatever the reason, I hope he continues to be inspired to defend women’s rights throughout his Presidency. 

 

Parliamentarians Debate Women's Rights

© Jeronimus van Pelt; Former ‘Comfort Women’ lobby for parliamentary resolutions against violence in the Netherlands

© Jeronimus van Pelt; Former ‘Comfort Women’ lobby for parliamentary resolutions against violence in the Netherlands

The Inter-Parliamentary Union is bringing together members of parliament from around the world this week for a conference on “A Parliamentary Response to Violence Against Women”. During this conference, parliamentarians will discuss the role they can play in ending violence against women. The legislature can play a critical role in ending abuses and achieving rights for women, particularly by introducing laws that fulfill the “three ps” – prevent violence, protect survivors of violence and punish perpetrators of violence.

In our own United States Congress, there is a bill to end violence against women around the world, the International Violence Against Women Act. I hope that our Members of Congress will be inspired by the debates amongst their international parliamentary counterparts gathered in Geneva this week, and moved to support the International Violence Against Women Act. But, it is more likely that they will be inspired by their constituents in their own back yards. That’s where you come in.