December 15, 2014
By Garry Walsh, Programme Officer, Occupied Palestinian Territory and Israel
I was really happy to get access into Gaza, to be able to visit Trócaire’s projects on the ground and to meet old colleagues and friends, yet I was almost dreading this visit. I knew there would be heart-breaking scenes in this war-ravaged territory.
It was my first time visiting Gaza since the devastating conflict with Israel this summer that saw over 2,200 Palestinians and over 70 Israelis killed. Although the violence has stopped, there is still a widespread humanitarian crisis in Gaza.
For despite the cessation of hostilities, and the pledges of billions of dollars in international aid, there has been little rebuilding and reconstruction of Gaza. Some emergency aid is getting through, but the Israeli and Egyptian authorities have imposed crippling restrictions on the flow of many vital materials, such as cement, that are necessary to begin reconstruction.
As I visited neighbourhoods in Gaza that lay completely in ruins, the scenes reminded me of images of European cities after World War II. These are the effects of the third war in Gaza in just six years.
Over 100,000 people remain homeless in Gaza, their homes being either completely destroyed, or being too severely damaged to live in. Some people are living with extended families, others in temporary accommodation and UN schools. Yet some still have nowhere to go. I met some families who were living in half-destroyed apartment blocks, with entire walls missing and their homes exposed to the elements.
The Shejaiya neighbourhood has been one of the worst affected areas from this summer's conflict in Gaza. Almost the entire neighbourhood lies in ruins. (Photo: Garry Walsh, Nov 2014)
Ramadan Nurfil stands in front of a partially destroyed apartment block in Beit Hanoun, Gaza. His shop has been destroyed, yet despite the damage to the building, he and his family are still living in the apartment in the first floor. They have nowhere else to go, and are afraid of the coming winter weather. (Photo: Garry Walsh, Nov 2014)
Mohammed Wahdan stands on the site of his destroyed home, where 8 members of his family were killed this Summer in Gaza. Mohammed claims he was also used as a human shield by the Israeli armed forces as they made house-to-house searches. Trócaire’s partner organisation the Palestinian Centre for Human Rights are providing the Wahdan family with legal assistance to try and achieve justice. (Photo: Garry Walsh, Nov 2014)
Rasmi Najar stands in front of the temporary shelter that he is now living in with his family, following the destruction of his home in this Summer's conflict in Gaza. The five-floor building was destroyed by Israeli armed forces, and 35 members of his family have been left homeless. (Photo : Garry Walsh, Nov 2014)
Trócaire has been responding to the crisis over the last few months, and is working with local partner organisations on the ground in Gaza to protect some of the most vulnerable people. We have provided communities with emergency aid, including medical supplies, food and blankets. We are also working with our partners to provide psychological care to people, especially children, who have experienced the trauma of violent conflict.
After a few days in Gaza, I say my goodbyes to my colleagues, and I have one last mint tea before rushing back to get through the Israeli military checkpoint before it closes for the evening. A colleague in another international organisation tells me that as he was finishing his visit to Gaza, a young child in one of the communities left in ruins waved over to him and shouted “See you next war!”
The sad reality is that if there is no change in the status quo, another round of devastating violence is almost guaranteed. As such, Trócaire is also working to support Israeli and Palestinian human rights organisations to work towards building a long term lasting and just peace and the prevention of future rounds of conflict.
Ireland and the EU also have a role to play. There is an urgent need for international pressure on Israel and Egypt to end restrictions to allow Gaza to rebuild again. Yet reconstruction is not enough. We need accountability for potential war crimes that were committed. We also need a political solution that addresses the cycle of violence and ends the Israeli occupation of the Palestinian territories.
Otherwise that child will be proved right, and we will be visiting Gaza again after the next war.
December 09, 2014
By Lucy Fitzgerald & Ian Dunne
Trócaire volunteers Lucy Fitzgerald and Ian Dunne report from the 2014 annual seminar of the Irish Consortium on Gender Based Violence, held at the Royal Irish Academy.
The theme of this year’s seminar was ‘Moving Beyond Fear: Prioritising the safety of women and girls in societies’.
Attending the annual seminar of the Irish Consortium on Gender Based Violence on behalf of Trócaire, we were treated to a gathering of inspirational and experienced individuals who brought forth pressing issues of gender based violence.
It was our first time at the Consortium and we were excited to hear the activists’ speeches. Former President of Ireland, Mary Robinson, explained that there was a common theme in all of the speakers’ personal stories: tackling impunity and gaining access to justice for victims of gender-based violence.
The first speaker was Tom Meagher, husband of the late Jill Meagher who was raped and murdered in Australia in 2012 while walking home from a pub. Tom was struck by the fact that Jill’s murderer, Adrian Bayley, had an extensive history of violence against women, but the parole board had failed to take him off the streets. He benefitted from a culture of impunity, as his previous victims were prostitutes whose deaths are treated by society as somehow less important. The experience encouraged Tom to become the national advocate for White Ribbon Ireland, the Irish arm of the world's largest male-led campaign to end men's violence against women.
Within Tom’s speech, there were hard questions. Why is there violence? What is a real man? What can be done? Questions with hope attached, where he spoke of the need for more care and compassion, and crucially education for men to create a new, more equal generation for tomorrow.
Claudia Paz y Paz with Mary Robinson. Photo: Paul Sharp/Sharppix.
Claudia Paz y Paz, the first female attorney general in Guatemala and one who made great strides in the areas of organised crime, corruption and human rights violations, spoke about how women continue to be victimised within a culture of violence and impunity stemming from the country's 36-year long civil war. We were shocked to hear that 700 women are killed every year in Guatemala.
Paz y Paz gave an informative glimpse into the struggle in Guatemala, where the change of attitudes towards women and towards the law is bringing about steady change. In 2005, the law was changed so that it was no longer possible for an aggressor to be pardoned if he married his victim. This resulted in a massive change of atmosphere for how women were portrayed in Guatemala.
Finally, Fiona Sampson, executive director for the Equality Effect, spoke about how she is gaining access to justice for those affected by gender-based violence in Kenya through the ‘160 Girls Project’. We were angered to hear about rape committed by police in Kenya, but hopeful that now thanks to a legal challenge, the police are enforcing existing laws that prohibit the rape of women and girls.
As our former President Mary Robinson noted in her conclusion, “Access to justice is the most empowering factor for women.”
Trócaire is a member of the Irish Consortium on Gender Based Violence, a network dedicated to helping the international community to end Gender Based Violence.
WATCH: Mary Robinson's closing address at the seminar
December 08, 2014
By Michael Solis, Regional Institutional Funding Officer, Latin American Region
“He put the knife to my throat, and all I could do was cry.” - Emelda from Upala, Costa Rica
Emelda moved from Nicaragua to Costa Rica with her family when she was eight in search of economic opportunity. She lived with her mother and stepfather, whose relationship eventually dissolved. When she was 16, Emelda was forced to marry her stepfather, who had already been abusing her for three years. For 15 more years she experienced a constant mix of physical, verbal, and psychological abuse.
"He was in the war in Nicaragua," she said, referring to the US-backed Contra War between 1981 and 1989. "He's still in the war."
Emelda’s stepfather/husband threatened her repeatedly with death. At the same time, he forced her to reproduce, even though Emelda did not want to bear him any children.
Eventually, Emelda found her escape. She applied for a non-profit housing initiative for low-income women and succeeded in securing a modest home. She packed up her children and moved to San José.
It didn't take long for Emelda's husband to force himself back into her life. After tracking Emelda down, he remained violent, his wartime trauma still untreated. On one occasion, he left the house slashing his machete and screaming death threats at the neighbours’ children. A self-made outcast within the barrio, he ultimately left Emelda of his own accord.
It was then that Emelda found Trócaire’s partner organisation, the Centre of Migrant Social Rights (CENDEROS), where she participated in psychological counselling and gender training.
For the first time in her life, Emelda vocalised what she had undergone over the previous 15 years. The act cast her into a tranced, zombie-like state. To this day, she can't recall any of the details of that session. She only remembers white.
Through CENDEROS, Emelda learned about the law and her rights. She acquired entrepreneurial skills and enrolled herself in primary school, since she hadn't finished the fifth grade. Today, she is close to graduating from high school. She plans on studying psychology at university level so she can become a counsellor for abused women.
"Despite the violence we've experienced, women can move forward," Emelda says. "We need organisations like CENDEROS. They show us that violence isn't the way to live. Many women have been able to save their homes. Others haven't."
"Migrant women residing in Costa Rica are exposed to sexual harassment, labour exploitation and increased incidence of rape, sexual abuse, and femicide," says Adilia Solis, Director of CENDEROS. "The conditions of poverty, poor health, rootlessness, and isolation of these populations, the feeling of helplessness that prevails among them, trigger the cycle of violence."
One of the main reasons for CENDEROS's success in preventing gender-based violence is that it works directly with boys and men on reconceiving "masculinity" in hyper-machista societies. This involves deconstructing their upbringings, personal traumas, and how their surroundings have shaped their behaviour. They come to learn that it is in everyone's interests to allow women to do basic things like come and go from the home when they choose, share control of economic resources, engage in training and income generating activities, and make decisions.
"When a man says that he's ready to change, it's incredible," Emelda says. "It's the beginning of a new kind of relationship."
According to the World Health Organization's report on violence against women (2013), over one-third of all women (over 1.25 billion) have experienced physical and/or sexual violence. Moreover, 30 percent of all women who have been in a relationship have experienced physical and/or sexual violence by their intimate partner.
While Trócaire's programme works with over 850 women and 770 men in Nicaragua and Costa Rica, challenges persist. There are men involved who still exhibit violent behaviour, and there aren't enough resources to handle the overwhelming demand for individual psychological attention. But changing attitudes and practices prove that it is possible to unlearn machismo.
Emelda, who lives in Upala, Costa Rica, features in our film “Survivors”. Her life has been changed for the better thanks to the work of the Centre of Migrant Social Rights (CENDEROS), one of eleven civil society organizations in Nicaragua and Costa Rica funded by Trócaire that are committed to preventing GBV and responding to cases of abuse through psycho-social, community, and legal support.
December 02, 2014
By Aisling Walsh
“I thought I was alone, I thought everything I experienced was normal. I didn’t realize it was a form of violence. It was destroying my life but I thought it was normal.” Lucia, 50, from Tegucigalpa.
Just over one year ago Lucía decided to free herself from an abusive relationship of 23 years. She had accepted the violence she lived with day after day as normal, but when her partner began to threaten her granddaughters, she decided enough was enough and sought help.
“I saw that my sister had managed to leave a very painful situation and she was much happier. I wanted the same for me. She told me about a women’s refuge that had helped her leave her husband and that maybe they could help me. That’s how I came to Calidad de Vida.”
Calidad de Vida (Quality of Life) is a women’s refuge located in the heart of Tegucigalpa that has been working with the Trócaire office in Honduras for the last 14 years through the prevention of gender based violence programme. They support women experiencing violence – whether it is physical, sexual, emotional or psychological - to leave an abusive relationship, to seek justice and to become independent.
The women who come to Calidad de Vida can access legal help, psychological support, participate in occupational therapy and seek support and understanding from other women who have lived through similar situations. They have space to shelter up to 30 women and children who are escaping violent relationships and have nowhere else to go.
Lucía says that now “I am stronger, I have managed to survive and I have seen a radical change in myself. I look after myself as a woman, I feel better about myself. I don’t put up with any kind of violence from anybody now. The workshops and trainings have been incredible. I have learned about my rights as a woman and they have helped me leave the past and all that pain behind.”
Top: DENMAH project members march for International Women's Day 2014. Bottom: DENMAH women's group members. Photos: Aisling Walsh
Many of the women who have sought help at Calidad de Vida have also gone on to help other women experiencing violence to seek help. As part of a joint programme between Trócaire, the European Union, Calidad de Vida and a sister organisation Opportunities and Alternatives, local women have been participating in the DENMAH project (for the Protection and Promotion of the Rights of Women, Children and Adolescents). One of the main focuses of the project is on the education and promotion of women's rights and violence prevention. The project involves working with women in various rural and urban contexts including sales women in local markets, women working in ‘maquila’ factories and women who have sought help at women’s refuges.
Mayra, 51, has been a volunteer with Opportunities and Alternatives for 15. She has been working for 22 years selling cosmetics in the San Isidro market, Tegucigalpa, one of the most dangerous places for women to work in Honduras.
Over these 22 years she has witnessed violence against women on an almost daily basis “you see lots of violence in the markets, women are very vulnerable. There is so much poverty, lack of work and opportunities. This leads to frustration and more violence. But I have learned to recognise when a woman is experiencing violence and I know about her rights and how she can seek help.”
“I like to share what I have learned and help other women. It can be risky sometimes and often the women are scared to do anything. You have to evaluate the situation, the type of violence she is experiencing first, then she has to be ready to accept help. The good thing is that we have good networks and support groups and, if the situation is very bad, there are refuges where the women can go to be safe.”
Honduras is one of the most dangerous countries in the world, outside of a war zone, to be a woman.
The DENMAH project offers women like Mayra and Lucia the opportunity to participate in a series of 12 workshops where they learn about their rights, mechanisms for reporting violence, opportunities and strategies for leaving a violent situation or relationship and support services for women who have experienced violence. At the end of these workshops they will be trained to identify women experiencing violence and support them in taking steps to free themselves from the violence. This accompaniment can include support through the legal process, referrals to women's refuges, finding alternative housing and ways to generate an alternative income.
Mayra says that the most important aspect of her work is “To help women realize they are not alone and they have a right to live a life free of violence.”
November 24, 2014
To mark this year’s 16 Days of Activism Against Gender-Based Violence (GBV), Trócaire has teamed up with other Irish development agencies in Malawi to produce an exhibition that tell the stories of 16 remarkable women.
The exhibition looks at how these women and their communities are addressing gender-based violence – its causes and its effects.
The images and stories were first displayed to commemorate the visit of the President of the Republic of Ireland, His Excellency Michael D Higgins to Malawi earlier in November 2014.
Top left to bottom right: Edrina Kenamu (28), Rose Simawo (32), Olive Gunyais (15), Veronica Obed (43), Mafulesi Matengambiri (62), Anonymous (13), Katrina Shako, Lucia Kanyoza, Malita Chikhosi (41), Martha Hiwa, Nellie Mhango (61), Ezinta Mzoze, Grace Petros (56), Ruth Julius (38), Duniya Mike (25), Duniya M’bwana. All photos by: Chipiliro Khonje
Gender inequality is pervasive around the world. In Malawi, it is rooted in strong traditional and cultural factors that both cause and enforce gender disparities.
Culturally it is the norm for women to be submissive and defer to men in most spheres of life. As a result, women and girls face challenges in accessing education and training, information, legal rights, healthcare, economic resources, livelihood options, and being in positions of decision-making.
Consequently, their vulnerability to violence in its many forms – the impact of climate change, food insecurity and HIV infection - is increased.
In this exhibition we meet girls and women from all over Malawi and learn ways in which they have been affected by these issues simply because they are female. These women and girls have bravely shared their life stories of humility, courage, perseverance and strength.
These experiences are representative of the untold stories of millions of women and girls globally. We hope by taking the time to read these stories you will demonstrate your solidarity with women and girls around the world who struggle on a daily basis to live lives free from hunger and illness, free from abuse and fear – for both themselves and their children.
Edrina Kenamu, is 28, and chief of Kandusiwa Village, in Salima District. She has three children, all girls, and is educated to primary school level. People in her village respect and like her and it’s easy to understand why. Her smile is contagious and she speaks with the confidence of a leader.
Edina married at 19 but her relationship was not harmonious. “When I married my husband was going out every day. I knew he was cheating on me. I was scared because our family was at risk of HIV infection. We stopped having sex. I felt bad and I felt unloved. I wondered if I should leave, I almost started an affair with another man.”
Her husband explains their violent home life. “I was beating her and I believed I had that right because I am a man. I was wrong. She took the beatings but in turn beat our children, perhaps she had learned this from me.”
After nine years of this, things changed dramatically when Edrina’s husband joined MIAA and Trócaire Tiyeni Tisinthe program in Salima. Edina says “It was the best thing that happened to me, to us. My husband stopped going out, and staying away and he started to help me at our home. I never thought that was possible. I am living in a dream. We sit together and we discuss everything, even sex. We trust each other now. There is no more violence in our home and we teach our children they too must live this way.”
Edrina is one of the 16 women who shared their stories for the collaborative 16 Days of Activisim exhibition.
- To support 16 Days of Activism Against Gender-Based Violence, follow Trócaire on Twitter or the hashtag #16Days.
- View the full exhibition on Flickr.