March 11, 2005

Women together change the World

By Luis Alonso Pérez

This world is still an unjust place for women. Thirty years from the declaration of their day, violence, slavery, traffic, prostitution, lack of political representation and opportunities; continue tormenting millions of women around the planet.

In the United States, a country that continuously demonstrates a severe voluntary blindness to the problems of those who live beyond their borders, it’s admirable to see efforts from civil institutions in discussing the challenges that women around the world have to face everyday, as it occurred in the event “Women to together change the world”, organized by the Institute of Peace and Justice (IPJ) of the University of San Diego, on Tuesday, March 8th.

Mesa de trabajo en pasada reunión de mujeres.

Dozens of working women and university students got together to share information from social workers and activists that work hard to improve the situation of their less fortunate sisters.

The event began with the screening of the documentary “Woman... Making peace, seeking justice”, a short video that shows some of the injustices undergone by people living in underdeveloped countries, as well as the results of the work of four activists who comprised the “Women PeaceMakers program” developed by the IPJ, in which Hyun-Sook Kim Lee of Korea, Ray Kadyrova of Kyrgyzstan, Zahra Ugas Farah of Somalia and Dalit Baum of Israel had a ten week residence in the IPJ, with the purpose of documenting in written and audio-visual form their social work, and share their experiences with their colleagues and the community, in an atmosphere of relaxation and reflection.

After the screening; six participants created a report on the present situation of the women around the world titled “Global Dispatches.” The report began with the collaboration of Shelley Lyford with the subject of human trafficking, one of the fastest growing illegal businesses in the world –the third one, after drugs and weapons– that has created an estimated 8 to 10 billion dollar a year industry. Her report described the traffic of women and children with purpose of forced labor, prostitution and pornography, with its roots in poverty, oppression, lack of opportunities or armed conflicts in Asia, Latin America and Eastern Europe countries.

A definitive situation for the development of women’s rights is the lack of political representation in key legislative positions. This subject had the collaborations from the current situation in the United States, Iraq, Iran and Somalia. Anne Hoiberg reported on the low female representation in this country –which occupies the 60th place in the world– with less than 15 percent of female representation.

Reem George talked about the results of female representation in Iraq’s new government, which obtained 31 percent, and extended woman’s employment, marriage, and travel liberties. Scarlet Moh-amed reported about the situation in Somalia, where woman have a 12 percent female representation in the parliament. Still “good intentions have not translated into practice” stated Mohamed. In her country women still can’t fully participate in the political life and are confined to their labors as housewives. “No woman can be part of a political change without being actively involved in her government and being part of the decision making” said Mohamed “As the old saying goes, the one who rocks the cradle with her right hand, rocks the world with her left.”

Another subject of extreme importance was the report on violence to women in Guatemala, with the participation of Lilia Velasquez, who stated the depressing statistics of a problem practically ignored by mass media, even though in a period of four years (2001 to 2005) 1,300 women have been assassinated, in most cases after being raped and tortured, specially native women, in particular those who work within their communities.

This is such an alarming problem that –without any intention of minimizing the killings in Ciudad Juarez, Mexico– “in a year, more woman have been killed in Guatemala than in a whole decade in Juarez,” keeping in mind that Mexico has a population of over 100 million and Guatemala around 12 million. “The problem is that people perceive this problem as normal. People’s skin is rigid when it comes to this problem” said Velasquez. “I believe that the challenge in Guatemala, like in many underdeveloped countries is educating women about their rights. The key is to create conscience that they have rights, and most important, that they have to demand their rights. If we can achieve this, we will have a better world” said Velasquez.

For more information about USD’s Institute of Peace and Justice visit their web site

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