16 DAYS OF ACTIVISM Stories about gender violence

 Bosnia and Herzegovina, Georgia, Kosovo, Montenegro, Serbia
 10th Dec 2010

Read and watch 16 stories from survivors of gender violence during the 2010 international campaign 16 Days of Activism Against Gender Violence.

December 10th - Speaking for Peace and against Violence, Burundi
December 9th - Child Marriage, Ethiopia
December 8th - Sold by her grandmother, the Balkans
December 7th - Political Violence against Women, Kenya
December 6th - Chaupadi: Pushing Women into Isolation, Nepal
December 5th - Female Genital Mutilation, Kenya
December 4th - Now I Have the Right, Georgia
December 3rd - Beaten, not Broken, Zambia
December 2nd - Standing up for Women's Rights, Nepal
December 1st - Child Marriage Increases Risk of HIV, Zambia
November 30th - Strength of my Will, Bangladesh
November 29th - A Woman is not Helpless, Afghanistan
November 28th - Trafficking in the Balkans
November 27th - Life After War, Burundi
November 26th - Men Championing Women's Rights, Uganda
November 25th - A Survivor's Story, Haiti

December 10th - Speaking for Peace and against Violence, Burundi

Having recently come out of decades of war and conflict, the current peace in Burundi is still fragile. Conflict can arise because of ethnic or political tensions, competition for scarce resources, the increase of returning refugees, unresolved land-tenure issues, gender-based violence and social exclusion, to name a few.

Watch the first video on the left to find out more about Peace Clubs that are committed to building peace and unity.

December 9th - Child Marriage, Ethiopia

Tume Mida is 10 years old; her husband, Dida Malicha, is 22.

Tume was born in a village 100 kilometers away from her husband’s home, where she now lives. Despite the distance, their families knew each other because of an earlier marriage. When it was time for Dida to marry, he and his father came to Tume’s family and proposed to one of Tume’s sisters, who was 25.

Both families agreed to the wedding, part of the bride price (through coffee and tobacco) was paid and the date of the ceremony was set. But, when Dida and his father returned to the village some time later they were shocked to discover the bride had married somebody else. Dida’s family was very angry, but agreed to discuss with Tume’s family to find a solution. It turned out Tume was the solution.

10-year-old Tume was offered as a replacement bride. Nothing prevented Dida and his family from looking for another family, but because they already had an agreement with Tume’s family, and had paid part of the bride price, they decided not to look elsewhere.

Dida explained his feelings about Tume’s older sister. “When she refused, I was so angry, I cried a lot. I thought I would not marry at all.” He had no desire to marry the young girl, and started to look for another bride to avoid doing so. But finally, his family calmed him down and convinced him to marry Tume. He resigned himself to marrying her. “My father asked me whether I wanted this girl or if I preferred to ask another from a different family. But it is our culture: if you first propose to a girl of one family, you have to accept to marry another girl from the same family in case it does not work with the first one.”

Dida’s father said that Tume’s reaction to the marriage has been good: “She knows properly why she came to this family and she is happy with it. She is active, she knows everything and is acting as if she were the housewife.”

Asking Tume if she missed her family, she answered “I don’t think about my family. My family is here, not there.”

CARE’s Healthy Unions project works with communities to reduce harmful practices such as early marriage, abduction and female genital mutilation (FGM).  CARE has worked with Dida’s family to encourage them to protect Tume from having sex until she is much older.

More about child marriage:

Child marriage is a gross human rights violation that puts young girls at risk and keeps them mired in poverty. Besides being it a serious human rights violation, child marriage is also a severe health issue: many married adolescents are pulled out of school at an early age, meaning being less familiar with basic reproductive health issues, including the risk to HIV.

  • More than 60 million girls under the age of 18 are married, many to men twice their age or older.
  • An estimated 100 million girls in developing countries will be married within the next decade. That's 25,000 new child brides every single day for the next 10 years.
  • About 14 million adolescent girls become mothers every year. More than 90% of these very young mothers live in developing countries.
  • Girls between the ages 10 and 14 are five times more likely to die in pregnancy and childbirth than women ages 20 to 23.

December 8th - Sold by her grandmother, the Balkans

Mara Radovanovic is a 63-year-old Bosnian woman who fights against the trafficking of women in the Balkans.

In the late 90s, after the end of the war in Bosnia, Mara founded the organisation “Lara”. With support from CARE Lara manages a shelter for abused women. The majority of them are Roma, a group which faces much discrimination. The women are often forced into prostitution at a young age, under brutal conditions.

Mara explains how it works: “A young girl from a poor family is impressed with expensive gifts. A trafficker gives the girl a cell phone or cosmetic products, things the girl could otherwise never afford. She takes these presents, and then the trafficker blackmails. He threatens to tell her parents that she slept with him in exchange for these gifts. This is a total disgrace for a young woman from traditional backgrounds.” The girl is then in the hands of the trafficker who forces her into prostitution. Once thrown into this circle of coercion, the girl has little chance to get out.

Girls who are not impressed by gifts are seduced by drugs. It works like this: “The traffickers mix drugs into a drink which numbs the girl. Then she will be raped in a room. The rape will be filmed and the traffickers blackmail the girl. That’s how they get the girls in their hands.”

SiedlungLara’s shelter, whose address must remain secret, has been a safe house for Sweta for the past three months.  At just 17 years old, Sweta has experienced betrayal, pain and abuse on an unimaginable level.  She explains: “When I was 14 years old, I lived with my grandmother. My mother was mentally ill and could not take care of me. My grandmother always locked me in a room. With men. I couldn’t do anything. My grandmother has told all my relatives what a bad girl I am. The whole family has disowned me. Then my grandmother sold me to my teacher. In the shelter of Lara I feel safe for the first time.”

Mara listens to such disturbing stories every day. The trade of girls is a lucrative business in the Balkans, and high political circles are often involved. But perpetrators are almost never arrested or charged. Because of her commitment, Mara faces many enemies. “A few years ago I was threatened by a nightclub owner,” the former lawyer says. “He sent men to intimidate me. But a commander of the international forces helped out. Now the criminal is in prison.” Mara has built a wall of protection around herself with the support of local media, other organizations and attorneys. CARE helps her manage the women’s shelter and connects Mara’s organization with other regional women’s movements.

While Sweta is searching for a new life, with hopes of one day becoming a police officer, Mara will continue assisting other girls. Girls who are trapped in the back rooms of Bosnia’s hotels, bars or nightclubs and who are abused every day. This knowledge is the basis of Maras’s motivation. “It’s a dangerous job. But when we have saved a girl like Sweta, it is a compensation for all the dangers and efforts. That’s why I am doing this job.”

Around 1 million girls are trafficked annually into situations of forced prostitution. These girls are sold for sex or used in child pornography in both the developed and the developing world.  

December 7th - Political Violence against Women, Kenya

Often in times of political violence, women are specifically targeted. CARE works with women who were affected by the post-election violence in Kenya in 2007 and 2008, supporting them to document, report and recover from the violence they experienced.  Watch the second video on the left to hear directly from survivors of the political violence.

More on political violence in conflicts:

Violence against women during or after armed conflicts has been reported in every international or non-international warzone. Women as old as grandmothers and as young as toddlers have routinely suffered violent sexual abuse at the hands of military and rebel forces, often targeted as a tactic of war to humiliate, dominate or forcibly relocate members of a community/ethnic group.

  • Between 20,000 - 50,000 women were raped during the war in Bosnia and Herzegovina in the early 1990s.
  • An average of 40 women raped every day in the province of South Kivu, DRC. It is estimated that more than 200,000 women and children have been raped over more than a decade of the country’s conflict.
  • One effect of sexual abuse is traumatic gynaecologic fistula: an injury resulting from severe tearing of the vaginal tissues, rendering the woman incontinent and socially undesirable.

Ensure sexual violence is addressed in all stages of conflict resolution and peace building processes.
Strengthen data collection on the prevalence and patterns of sexual violence against women in (post) conflict settings.
Support adoption of national laws to punish all forms of sexual violence against women and girls.
Increase public awareness and social mobilization on sexual violence issues.

(Unite Fact Sheet 2008 & UNIFEM 2009)

December 6th - Chaupadi: Pushing Women into Isolation, Nepal

“I wonder who started this practice of Chaupadi and the practice of treating menstruating women as untouchables. A woman’s life here is meaningless. I sometimes feel people don’t even acknowledge our existence.”

Shobha Kalel is 22 years old. She, like most Hindu women in her part of western Nepal, stays in a shed during the first five days of her menstrual cycle. Shobha had her first periods at the age of 13. She was made to stay in a shed away from her house that had no doors or ventilation. She could not even get fresh air. She was not allowed near the house, and was not allowed to drink milk or any dairy products.

As a child, Shobha’s mother told her that her father would start shivering and be possessed by gods if she touched him or even sprinkled water at him during her periods. Those five days were a period of turmoil and terror. One could be bitten by a snake, eaten by wild animals or even raped while staying in those sheds. The hygiene was poor. She was not allowed to bathe for 4 days after her periods or comb her hair.

She lived in fear during her periods until she was 17, when her father rented a room in his house to a female health worker supported by CARE. Shobha shared the room with her, and through her, Shobha realized that periods were just a natural cycle in every woman’s life.

Changing norms in Doti is not easy, especially cultural and religious ones like this. The health worker supported by CARE also had to live outside the house during her periods, otherwise, she would not get a room anywhere in the village. However, instead of living in the sheds, both of them sought shelter at the health post which was safer and cleaner. Through her roommate, Shobha also learnt about hygiene, as before she had been unaware of even wearing underwear during her periods. Shobha now uses soft cloths during her periods as pads. She no longer walks around the village in stained clothes. Discrimination still exists, but the extent is gradually decreasing.

Of all the cultural practices that oppress Nepali women, none is as degrading as chaupadi. Women live in small huts made of mud, straw and wood which are barely two feet high and two feet wide. Sometimes, a common shed is built where all the women in the village stay. Women spend a total of about eight years of their life in such sheds. Medical doctors have often cited the practice of chaupadi as one of the reasons for increased cases of uterus prolepses in these parts of Nepal.

The Supreme Court of Government of Nepal has declared this practice unlawful but enforcing the law is challenging. CARE Nepal and several other national and international organizations are working to influence implementation of the law and change behaviours.

December 5th - Female Genital Mutilation, Kenya

CARE’s Assistant Gender Officer in Kenya, Fardosa Muse, describes her efforts to discover more about the practice of Female Genital Mutilation.

The Somali community is one of the groups which practices Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) on a large scale in Kenya. FGM is done for religious reasons, often without a girl’s consent, to curb their sexual desire and to preserve their sexual honor before marriage. FGM is irreversible and extremely painful, but it is deeply rooted in social, cultural, and traditional practices, and therefore difficult to combat. Yes, attempts have been made by international and local groups to stop the practice, but FGM is ingrained in peoples’ beliefs and traditions. In an effort to explore FGM, I traveled into the Dadaab refugee camps.

During a discussion with a senior ex-circumciser, a girl was brought for circumcision by her immediate family members. I tried to ask the girl about her situation, but the relatives intervened when they realized I was a gender officer working with CARE International in Kenya. The mother of the girl pleaded with me to leave for fear of victimization and notification of law enforcement officials.

I asked the mother of the girl how safe her daughter was from infection and other complications that arise from FGM. She responded that it’s a historical practice and that they have never had any problems related to it. I explained that many women have died from complications due to FGM, causing untold grief to their loved ones.

Later, on my way back to the office, in the adjacent blocks, I came across a group of women and girls weaving baskets. I asked to speak with them, and presented my personal story as a survivor of FGM to bring up the topic.

As we were speaking, Halima, a 24-year-old mother of two, passed by, joined us, and told of her experience with FGM: “I have been in pain ever since and keep attending hospital with back pain and kidney problem. There is no single night I have gone to bed with comfort, unable to put my feet to the ground because of fistula operations. I have been subjected to this outdated practice due to strong belief of my grandmother on FGM.”

Halima’s story moved me to tears.  I could only entreat her not to allow such a gruesome act to be performed on her own children in the future.  In fact, Halima’s father saw circumcision as unacceptable, but he was overruled and deemed disrespectful to his mother in-law. "The dispute almost led to our family breakdown.  It was only saved when elders forced my father to apologise to my grandmother in accordance with the Somali culture, and warned him not to meddle in 'women affairs.’ I had no idea that it was such a horrible and traumatising process. It still lingers in my mind today.  I shed tears when remember how I had to drop out of school due to incontinence, pain, trauma and  low self-esteem from with FGM."

More About Female Genital Mutilation:

Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) refers to several types of deeply-rooted traditional cutting operations performed on women and girls, involving partial or total removal of the external female genitalia, or other injury to the female genital organs for non-medical reasons. The procedure has no health benefits for girls and women.

  • It is estimated that more than 130 million girls and women alive today have undergone FGM. 2 million girls a year are at risk of mutilation.
  • In Africa an estimated 92 million girls from 10 years of age and above have undergone FGM.
  • FGM is internationally recognized as a violation of the human rights of girls and women. In 2006, 15 of the 28 African States where FGM is prevalent had made it an offence under criminal law.

Develop guidance for health systems and guidelines for health professionals to help them treat and counsel women who have undergone FGM.
Generate knowledge about the causes and consequences of the practice, how to eliminate it, and how to care for those who have experienced FGM.
Developing publications and advocacy tools for international, regional and local efforts to address FGM.

(WHO Fact Sheet FGM 2010, UNITE Factsheet February 2009)

December 4th - Now I Have the Right, Georgia

Lela was only 15 when she got married. She was abducted by her future husband, but she loved him, and therefore she does not describe it as an act of violence. Kidnapping brides is common in some provinces of Georgia and is often not perceived as violence even by the ‘victims’. Bride kidnappings often result in rape, and victims have nearly no chance of remarrying, feel disgraced, and are afraid to return to their families. Although Lela’s case was a lucky exception—no rape was involved—her early marriage affected her entire life.

Sixty percent of women in Georgia are married before 20, and young brides’ education is often not a high priority, as families make the decision as a whole. Lela managed to finish secondary school. “I always wanted to become a nurse,” she says. “Helping people, emotionally and physically, must be something priceless. Wearing a white gown, a white mask and gloves, giving aid to people in the hospital – this was the future I pictured for myself. The present day is so much different.”

Lela was devastated at 22 when her husband died in a car accident. In Georgia, a husband’s death creates many difficulties for women. Young female widows are expected to wear black as a sign of bereavement for at least a year, but Lela is still wearing black five years later. This is not her choice, but that of her in-laws.

During the war, Lela was forced flee her home with her children and in-laws. The family’s sole source of income became the state-issued monthly compensation. People in Lela’s position were doomed to starvation.

“I was in despair, without any hope or way out. But I felt I had to stand up. I was responsible to my children and wanted to prove to myself that I could do something. Then I heard that an international organization called CARE was giving money to poor people with business ideas. I decided I should come up with an idea. I found a simple one, but it worked,” says Lela.

Lela applied to participate and became one of the 85 internally displaced women who each received USD$1000 grants for the launch of a business. With this money, she opened a beauty salon in her own cottage, which now serves residents from the Karaleti IDP settlement and Gori. Lela calculates she will have about 30 clients per month. Her income will amount to USD$200-250: more than enough to keep her family from starvation.

Today, Lela thinks that she is freer and stronger than ever.

“I respect my family and my deceased husband,” says Lela. “But respect has more value when it comes from the heart, and is not forced upon you. I feel more independent now and I think I have the right to have a say in the family.”

December 3rd - Beaten, not Broken, Zambia

“He beat me. He thought I was cheating on him, and so he struck me.” And when he had yet again had too much to drink and was overcome with jealousy, Gladys’ husband picked up a gun. “I saw him coming at me with the pistol and could only scream. I screamed and ran,” says Gladys, describing the moment that changed her life. No one came to her aid that night. In her homeland, Zambia, it’s not unusual for women to be beaten by their husbands.

Since then, the 31-year-old has hidden, along with her youngest daughter, from the man she married 14 years ago. She lives in a women’s shelter in the Zambian capital, Lusaka. The address is a tightly kept secret. From there she travels in the daytime by means of back roads to a center for women in downtown Lusaka. Sometimes she has to change cars several times, out of fear her husband might be following her. Downtown she speaks with employees who give her psychological and legal support. “I have gotten a divorce,” explains Gladys, “but my other three children are still with him.”

More than 90 percent of Zambian women regard it as completely normal to be beaten by their husbands.  In order that women not be exposed to such brutality, CARE, local organizations, and the Zambian police founded the women’s center to which Gladys travels daily. The red brick building lies in a quiet side street from which the honks and rumblings of cars can only be distantly heard.

Girls in green school uniforms, laughing, saunter with their schoolbags past the high white wall that surrounds the center. On it, in blue figures, is the telephone number, together with the instruction to report acts of violence against women. “Since our establishment last July, approximately 400 women have come to us,” says Nelson Mwape, the head of the center. “The majority of those are women who were beaten by their husbands.” But Nelson also talks of child molestation: “Because there is a persistent myth in Zambia that a person who sleeps with a virgin will become immune to AIDS, many young girls have experienced sexual assault.”

The centre has struck a delicate nerve in Zambian tradition. “We cannot change our thinking and way of life between today and tomorrow,” says Nelson. “Organizations like CARE can only give the impetus; Zambia needs to change from within. The fact that so many women come to us shows that people’s awareness is gradually shifting.”

Gladys has learned to take her life into her own hands. She is standing up to tradition and trying to secure custody of her children. As she needs a regular job to accomplish that, she now works in the center herself, helping other women to begin a new life free of violence. “I forgive him,” she says thoughtfully. “Although he abused me, I forgive him. For the sake of my children and for the sake of finding my own peace.” And for the sake of showing Zambian tradition that women can fight, too.

December 2nd - Standing up for Women's Rights, Nepal

It is estimated that 70 percent of women will experience some form of violence in their lifetime. For Pushpa Shreevastava the violence she experienced was so extreme she was confined to bed for three months.

Pushpa’s husband paid six men to beat her and rape her because, in his eyes, she had failed him by giving birth to a third baby girl.

“He paid someone to break my leg,” said Pushpa. “He also hit my back with a hammer. I was in bed for three months. At the same time as the attack he had organised for six people to rape me. He hoped I would commit suicide.”

Puspha’s husband had illegally married another woman and wanted Pushpa dead so that he could start his new life. Pushpa was left homeless with three children, but they were taken in by an elderly couple who lived in the village.

Pushpa joined a community group supported by CARE which gave her the confidence to file a legal case against her husband. She knows she is entitled to half of the land her husband still lives on. She has also filed a case against him on charges of polygamy.

Pushpa said, “I filed a case against him for half our property and was told I could also file one for polygamy. He keeps trying to meet me so I will drop the case. I would rather die than meet with him.”

As Pushpa’s own fight for justice continues she concentrates her energies on helping other abused women in her community.

“I didn’t have any way to express myself but the group helped me to meet people. Thanks to CARE I have learnt about women’s rights and I now help other women. I have taken people responsible for rape to the police as well as a young girl’s in-laws who weren’t feeding her when she was pregnant. People in the community now know they will be held accountable,” said Pushpa.

Nepal’s civil war ended in 2006 but violence against women still continues as society takes it frustrations out on women.

More About Domestic Violence:

Violence against women is a problem worldwide, occurring, to a greater or lesser degree, in all regions, countries, societies and cultures, cutting across all social and economic backgrounds. Violence has serious health consequences for women, from injuries to unwanted pregnancies, sexually transmitted infections, depression and chronic diseases.

  • Women aged 15-44 are more at risk from rape and domestic violence than from cancer, motor accidents, war and malaria, according to World Bank findings.
  • In Colombia, one woman is reportedly killed by her partner or former partner every six days.
  • A 2005 WHO study based on data from 24,000 women in ten countries noted that 55% to 95% of women who had been physically abused by their partners had never contacted the police, NGOs or shelters for help. Stigma and fear prevent women from seeking assistance and redress.

According to the UN, there are 102 States that have no specific legal provisions against domestic violence. Marital rape is not a prosecutable offence in at least 53 States. In many places, laws contain loopholes that allow perpetrators to act with impunity. In a number of countries, a rapist can go free under the penal code if he marries the victim.

Support local women’s groups on combating domestic violence
Organize community discussion, dialogue and debate on GBV, gender equality, violence, gender stereotypes, masculinity and engage men and boys in projects and discussions.
Work with traditional and religious leaders/ communities to sensitize, avoid stigmatization and discrimination of SV victims.

(WHO Feb 2009, CEDAW Declaration 1979, UNITE Feb 2008)

December 1st - Child Marriage Increases Risk of HIV, Zambia

World AIDS Day

Sixteen-year-old Brenda (not her real name) had refused to marry: an act of defiance which had resulted in her removal from school.  In response to this defiance, her sister duped her into going to the market at the busy border town of Kazungula.  There, she was forcibly taken by a 29-year-old man whom she did not know, and unwillingly became his wife.

On that fateful night, she cried to herself as the stranger repeatedly raped her.  The following morning she ran away from the house and told her sister what had happened, but was chased away and told that running from the marriage would curse their family.

After four months she could not endure the pain any longer.  She decided to flee to her parents in Bwiketo, Musokotwane, an area where CARE is implementing a training program for teachers and parents in human rights, counseling and voluntary HIV testing.

The organization has also been conducting educational awareness programs in the area, including the use of sports to attract children who are not in school.  Brenda enjoys playing sports, and had begun playing football with friends at school.  This prompted a teacher to ask her why she was not in school.  After telling her story, Brenda pledged to attend school if given the opportunity, and she was subsequently accepted as a student.Zambia

Fortunately for Brenda, she did not conceive during her forced marriage, and did not contract HIV, the virus that causes AIDS.  In addition to now attending school, she is an active member of the school’s AIDS club and encourages other girls to concentrate on school.  She says that her experience in forced marriage is what motivates her to work hard in school.

While Brenda’s story is encouraging, many stories of other girls in Zambia do not have happy endings.  In most rural parts of the country, the dropout rate of girls – especially in the upper grades – is high, and many are forced to marry as soon as they come of age.  Early marriages are thought to be a major contributor to higher HIV infection rates, and women and girls

November 30th - Strength of my Will, Bangladesh

When Begum Sheikh Hasina was 35, she was married off to a man chosen by her parents, as is often the case in rural Bangladesh. She and her husband opened a bread shop, but vandals from the local political party would often attack it. One day one of Hasina’s children was abused by these men, and when Hasina protested, four men picked her up, took her to a sandbank and gang-raped her.

Hasina closed the shop and went back home in shame—but her family found out what had happened and kicked her out of the house because of the social stigma associated with rape. Meanwhile, her husband was in Dhaka for work. He didn’t return or send money for two years.

Hasina resorted to sex work, but not out of choice. “I’d only take the work if I was really desperate for money, and my children needed food. This is the worst career you can have. In the hope of getting one customer, at least ten will rape you. It is better to beg in the streets.”

Her husband eventually returned, and Hasina became pregnant again. However, he gave little support and she struggled to raise four children by managing a tea stall.

Through serving tea to customers, Hasina came to meet staff from CARE’s Protirodh project, which supports migratory sex workers.  She joined the local Protirodh self-help group, and with the support of others in the group began to change her fortunes.

Hasina explains: “Dada from Protirodh came rescued me by giving me 1500 taka. Even if that does not seem to be sufficient, I was part of a Shomiti (union) where I saved what CARE gave me. I eventually made 5000 taka. Then I took a 7000 taka loan, fifteen days, and I built my shop. Now I make at least 100 taka profit every day selling tea, cigarettes, bananas, biscuits, and cakes.”

Hasina still faced huge challenges.  Local villains vandalised her shop, tortured her son, and beat her unconscious, accusing her of running a “whore-house”.

Hasina decided enough was enough.  She contacted a local politician who intervened, working alongside the Protirodh project to improve Hasina’s situation.

Hasina said, “I have been told by many sex worker women that they are inspired by what I have done. They are proud that after such hardship and violence, I have stepped forward. All of the women in my group are my examples and strengths.”

November 29th - A Woman is not Helpless, Afghanistan

International Day of Women Human Rights Defenders

After the death of her father, Maria and her siblings moved in to their uncle’s home. When Maria was 14, her cousin killed a person and the family of the murdered man asked for a girl as compensation. Although her cousin has sisters, they gave Maria as compensation.

Maria said, “When I was busy washing the dishes one of my cousins called me and said, “leave the dishes, we have engaged you to someone, we finalized your marriage contract  and now your husband’s family is coming to take you to their home."

“I spent 18 months with my husband and after that they sent him to Iran to work there as an unskilled laborer. My husband’s family was threatening me all the time and was saying ‘you are from a murderer’s family, we don’t pity you; you are as a slave for us.’ They provided me only a little food while I was pregnant. I gave birth to a child, but my husband hadn’t returned from Iran, so they expelled me from the house.

“I returned back to my uncle’s house; here I also faced violence. Again I returned to my husbands’ home.  When my son was six months old my husband returned from Iran.

“When my husband returned from Iran he had changed, and we started a good and friendly life, which was not acceptable to my in-laws. They expelled us from their house. We took refuge in Iran, but after some time they came to Iran, started their atrocities there too, and tried to create tension between us. We spent ten years in Iran.

“We returned to Kabul because my cousins were trying to sell my father’s house. The house sold and I was given a tiny fraction of the proceeds.

“I put a down-payment on a new house for us, but I was not aware that my husband was a drug addict. He took all the money from the property dealer. When I went to the property dealer he provided me the documents that showed my husband had taken the money. I asked what I should do with my five children, with no shelter and no income.

“My husband’s health got worse – he became like a madman, and three years ago he disappeared. The only way for me to earn a living was to wash people’s clothes.

Maria joined a CARE group. “I participated in all meetings of the group and transferred what I learnt about women’s and children’s rights and family law to other women as we washed people’s clothes. For my own inheritance I went to the Human Rights Commission; they hired an advocate for me and finally I got three acres of my inheritance land from my brothers-in-law.

“CARE recognized my hard work and the project hired me as a Community Mobilizer. I have been working, my children are going to school, I have enough income and I’m proud of this. I found that a woman is not helpless; a woman is the key to her own development when she is aware and supported.”

November 28th - Trafficking in the Balkans

CARE works in the Balkans region to strengthen the rights of Roma people and combat trafficking of girls.  The third video on the left provides first hand accounts from women who are trafficked and forced into prostitution.

November 27th - Life After War, Burundi

My name is Elizabeth. I am a veteran from the CNDD-FDD rebel group. I was born in 1981 to a poor, landless family. I have never been married but I had three children. In 1994, I abandoned my studies because my parents were no longer able to pay for tuition and school supplies. Encouraged by other young people, I joined the rebel group in 1995.

I was recruited to the rank of sergeant and was taught to treat the sick and wounded. Three months later I was promoted to lieutenant and head of the health department. A year later, I was transferred to Bubanza where there were many casualties of war. Arriving there, I was forced to have sex with my supervisor. It was forbidden to say "no" to your boss because it violated the rebellion's principles. I became pregnant. To get rid of me and so his bosses would not know, he suggested I return to my family.

Back home, fearing being caught by the government, I hid until my child was born. Then the real ordeal began. It was difficult to return to the rebellion with a child, so I was forced to stay at home fearing everyone. I also had no way to provide for my child. I had to start selling sex to find food. Being an unmarried mother, "prostitute" and ex-combatant, I was stigmatized by the community and have lived a difficult life for several years.

Last year, CARE started working to strengthen the economic capacities of women ex-combatants. I entered into a solidarity group of women and girl ex-combatants. The group focuses on savings and credit. Shortly after joining, the project trained us how to produce rice.

Our solidarity group has just collected 4,302,000 francs, which is equivalent to USD$3,585. Can you imagine what it means for a solidarity group of women ex-combatants like us? At rice harvest, I can eat and sell, earning more money. What an honor, thanks to CARE!

In addition, I asked for a loan of 80,000 francs(about $70) from my group so that I can sell kitchen utensils (like pots, cups, bowls, and plates) and I am now earning about 40,000 francs ($35 per month), an amount I never had in my life. My group has also opened a restaurant and we're earning more than 15,000 francs a day ($10). I can now take care of my children's food, healthcare and school needs.

Instead of the label of "prostitute woman ex-combatant", I have a new identity as a businesswoman and community leader. My life has completely changed; I'm not afraid to meet people, and I go and I share my stories of my past life with other community members. I participate in community activities. I am really happy.

My dream is to see other Burundian women overcome socioeconomic barriers. I will work for the peace and education of my children but also for other women in my solidarity group to create a positive legal framework for children who were born outside of marriage. Viva CARE Burundi!

November 26th - Men Championing Women's Rights, Uganda

The 16 Days of Activism Against Gender Violence (25 November – 10 December) are key dates for CARE in Uganda.  Their Voices Against Violence campaign aims to increase protection from sexual- and gender-based violence for women from the conflict-affected north of the country.

Charles Opira, 38, is married with 7 children, and lives in Pader district, northern Uganda.  He is a member of a CARE Savings and Loans groups, and campaigns for an end to gender-based violence.

This is his story:

‘I am involved in a CARE Savings and Loans project called Akwoki Cinga, which means “I work with my hands”.  We contribute money weekly to save for our families’ needs.  Through the group we’ve been trained in business skills.

‘Through the group we’ve also been sensitised on gender-based violence.  Now I’m an activist, I talk to men in my community about their behaviour, and encourage them to live like real men in their homes – without violence.

‘The conflict in my country caused a lot of poverty and led to a big problem of people not trusting each other; the trust completely broke down.  This led to an increase in violence generally, and has caused violence against women in their homes.

‘It is very difficult to change the minds of some men, especially concerning women’s rights. They are slow to change.  But some men are willing to listen and change, and that gives me hope.

‘I am hopeful that men are going to change, because they will see men like me, who are standing up against violence, as a sort of role model, and then change their ways.

‘The Voices Against Violence campaign is so important because people are starting to protect their rights, and the rights of their families.  Also, men and women are starting to plan their families together.

‘I feel very strongly that this type of intervention needs to continue because it is transforming people’s lives.  More men need to be sensitised and join groups – this will reduce violence against women.’

November 25th - A Survivor's Story, Haiti

On the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women, we start the 16 Days of Activism with a story from a rape survivor in Haiti.

Since the earthquake there’s been no running water. Tania*, the oldest of four children, is responsible for fetching water, which means a half-kilometer walk along a little-used road.

During one return trip from the well she felt a cold blade pressed against her neck. She turned around and smiled, thinking it was a joke, when she recognized the man who was threatening her as her friend’s boyfriend. “You move, you scream, and I’ll cut you into pieces,” he said. “I want to do it and I want to do it with you. You let me or I’ll kill you!”

“He took off my skirt and tied my wrists with it,” says Tania. “He didn’t stop hitting me with the flat of his machete and its point, until I collapsed.”

“I don’t remember what happened after that. I don’t want to remember. After he got up, he untied the knots and, still under the threat of his machete, he ordered me to walk. All around me it was dark, so I made a leap to escape.”

Tania’s mother, not seeing her return, had gone looking for her. “I fell into my mother’s arms and I told her what happened.” They went to the police to file a complaint.

“After taking my deposition, he advised me not to wash myself and to go to the closest hospital to have tests that are essential in order to prosecute. He congratulated me effusively for having filed a complaint against my attacker.

“That night was a real nightmare. Every time I closed my eyes, I felt the bite of the blade on my neck, the hot breath of my attacker and the weight of his body on mine.

The hardest thing was the visit of the rapist’s parents. They came to offer her money and anything she wanted, in return for asking the judge to be lenient with their son. “They went so far as to tell me to tell the judge that it wasn’t his fault.”

“It took me time and the support of my parents to understand I bore no responsibility for what happened. I thought mine was an isolated case but there were a lot of girls at the clinic for the same reasons as me. It was then that I understood why the policeman insisted that I press charges.”

“I will press charges and I will go to court in order to ensure that no other girl will ever be a victim of this guy. I want my testimony to help other girls understand that they aren’t alone and they are leaving themselves more in danger by remaining silent than by speaking up.”

*The survivor’s name has been modified for the sake of confidentiality.

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