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Ending Sexual Violence in Conflict: Addressing Women’s Needs and Rights on the Frontlines

Well. This has been the most inspiring, frustrating, overwhelming, depressing and hopeful few days. I hope to collect my thoughts for you on it next week. For now, the third (and last) plenary at the Nobel Women’s Initiative conference on Ending Sexual Violence in Conflict starts at 10:00AM ET (give or take a few minutes) today, and I’ll be liveblogging it right here. I really hope you’ll join in the conversation.

Here’s the description of our charge for this session:

What does a survivor-centered strategy look like? How are women activists on the frontline defending and surviving violence and risk? This panel is meant to spark discussions around possibilities and approaches for a comprehensive response for women activists and survivors of sexual violence in conflict. By drawing the links between trauma, justice, health, livelihoods, security and reconciliation, participants reflect on what is needed to support women in finding their voice and reclaiming their lives to forge a new security.

And here are the featured presenters:

Moderator: Lisa VeneKlasen – Just Associates, USA
Wangu Kanja – Wangu Kanja Foundation, Kenya
Shereen Essof – Just Associates Southern Africa, South Africa
Parvin Najafgholi – Iranian Women Cultural Center and One Million Signatures campaign, Iran
Patricia Ardon – Sinergia N’oj, Guatemala

And here’s the liveblog!

You can also follow me tweeting from the conference this morning (including from a conversation with the Nobel Laureates at 9:15am) at @jaclynf, and follow the conference hashtag on twitter at #endrapeinwar. And don’t forget — we’re all taking action together tomorrow.

Ending Sexual Violence in Conflict: Justice and Accountability

Whew. What an overwhelming first day. Second plenary at the Nobel Women’s Initiative conference on Ending Sexual Violence in Conflict starts at 3:00PM ET today, and I’ll be liveblogging it right here. Hoping to get some of your questions in live!

Here’s the description of our charge for the afternoon:

This panel aims to give a round up of efforts to prosecute perpetrators at the international and local levels. From the International Criminal Court to grassroots mobile courts, women have spearheaded various alternative and innovative forms of justice. What is needed to strengthen these efforts to ensure greater accountability and prosecution?

And here are the featured presenters:

Moderator: Susannah Sirkin – Physicians for Human Rights, USA
Anuradha Bhagwati – Service Women’s Action Network, US
Naw K’nway Paw Nimrod – Women’s League of Burma, Thailand
Andrea Medina Rosas – Red Mesa de Mujeres de Ciudad Juarez, Mexico

And here’s the liveblog!

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Ending Sexual Violence in Conflict: Prevention and Protection

OK, folks, it’s time to dig in. First plenary at the Nobel Women’s Initiative conference on Ending Sexual Violence in Conflict starts at 11:00AM ET today, and I’ll be liveblogging it right here. Hoping to get some of your questions in live!

Here’s the description of our charge for the AM:

Where are we now and what needs to be done? This panel will review what is being done and what needs to be done to prevent sexual violence in conflict. Reflecting on successes and obstacles, speakers will discuss initiatives/techniques at the international, national and local level to prevent atrocities and protect women.

And here are the featured presenters:

Moderator: Joanna Kerr – Action Aid International, South Africa
Joanne Sandler – UN Women, USA
Charlotte Isaksson – Armed Forces, Sweden
Godelieve Mukasarasi – SEVOTA, Rwanda
Binalakshmi Nepram – Manipur Women Gun Survivor Network, India

And here’s the liveblog!

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Ending Sexual Violence in Conflict: Liveblogging the NWI Conference

Greetings, Feministe-rs! Jaclyn Friedman here.

I’m beyond honored to be attending the Nobel Women’s Initiative’s conference on Ending Sexual Violence in Conflict, at which over 100 women from around the world – activists, academics, security experts, corporate leaders, and Nobel Peace Laureates Jody Williams, Shirin Ebdai and Mairead Maguire – are coming together next week to forge a new security, and a future free of sexual violence in conflict. You can read a great (though definitely trigger-warning-worthy) overview of the issue and the conference’s approach to it here.

I’m also super excited that I’ve been given permission to liveblog and livetweet some of the proceedings, so that y’all can listen in and I can share some of your comments and questions with this incredible group. I’ll be doing the liveblogging right here (as well as at Yes Means Yes), and I’ll be focusing on the three overview panels, which are:

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“Well, having been a [demographic identifier]…

When I first told one of my law school friends that I was going into the JAG Corps, he laughed. It was going to be a life of quiet irony, he said, being a liberal feminist in the Army. I knew what he meant, but I think that it’s genuinely important to have liberal feminist types in all areas. Especially in a place where we prosecute a lot of sexual assault cases. I would say that the biggest portions of my work are drug and AWOL (absence without leave) cases. Sexual assault cases are a significant part of my work, but by no stretch the biggest. Of course, I am only one of many prosecutors in my office, and at any given time, we have at least a handful of active sexual assault cases. And being lawyers, we talk about our cases. A lot. (And I am singularly grateful, that I work with an amazing group of attorneys who handle these kinds of cases with dignity and professionalism.)

There are two distinct threads which come out of these conversations. The first is about our (the attorneys’) attempted understanding at what happened. We have conversations which are essentially “There is something mechanically confusing about how the accused* says he did this,” “Well, if he’s in this position/in this part of the room,” “I don’t understand how that would work,” “Do people really do that? That seems like something CSI made up,” “How does this piece of physical evidence fit in with what the witnesses say happened,” etc. The more awkward conversations are when someone really wants to just say, “Well, in my experience, X is normal or I’ve tried Y and I don’t think it’s weird or anything,” but would rather not air their entire sexual history or proclivities to a third of the office. Obviously, some of that is professionalism. But it’s also that talking about sex is frequently thought of unseemly, that it’s not dignified.

Most of my fellow prosecutors are my peers, in terms of age, education, and professional experience. We have to be comfortable getting up in front of officers who outrank us to explain in very clinical terms how someone was assaulted. It’s essential that we be able to say “Where did he put his penis?” without feeling foolish, flustered, or embarrassed. We have to be able to talk with survivors and victims and help them come up with some kind of vocabulary for explaining what happened to them both as a matter of sexual mechanics and personal experience. This is the sort of thing that gets easier with practice, but it requires talking about sex in a way that’s both detached and understanding. The facts of a given situation really determine how difficult this is likely to be. For instance, at my installation, we prosecuted a case where the fact that a threesome had occurred earlier in the evening was relevant to the case. Getting people to talk about that (and to figure out a way to put it in front of the panel**) was hard. And there were definitely points in the conversation where some people wanted to say “Look, I’ve done that. Could we please stop talking about it like no one on the planet’s never done it before and that it’s some sort of deviancy that has to be hidden away?” Talking about sex as though it’s a normal part of the human experience isn’t somehow perceived as professional: there must be some prurient interest hidden behind.

The second line of conversation seems to involve trying to make sense of the behavior of the people involved. We are always looking for ways to explain why someone might have done something: an accused, a witness, a victim. Can you make someone (i.e., a panel member**) understand why a victim of sexual assault might still continue to attend parties where her assailant was also present? Why she might not tell anyone? Believe it or not, there are experts to hire who attempt to explain counter intuitive victim behavior. (After spending enough time this job, I don’t believe there’s such a thing as intuitive victim behavior or an expected pattern of responses. Sexual assault affects every person differently and putting stock in their reactions isn’t going to provide any meaningful information about the veracity of the allegation.)

And it’s that second line of conversation that I seem to inevitably utter a sentence which begins “Well, having been a [insert relevant demographic identifier]…” When I worked on a case that involved a young teenager who had had a “consensual” sexual relationship with a significantly older soldier, I felt like I was constantly saying “Look, I was thirteen years old once…” I worked on a case where a young female soldier was groped by another soldier who banged on her barracks room door in the middle of the night while absolutely smashed and essentially pushed his way in past a very sleepy woman when she answered the door. Someone (thankfully not one of the attorneys) kept asking why she didn’t just push him out and lock her door, why she said please when she asked him to leave, why she didn’t call the police. I began every other sentence “Well, I know that when I was [in a position that bore a remote resemblance to the fact pattern]…” or “Well, having been a [demographic identifier]…” I kept hoping that by offering some point on which this individual could empathize, I might not have to say “Look, he’s drunk, out of control, and terrifying her. What is so fucking hard about understanding that he is not behaving rationally and reasonably represents a threat to her safety, well-being, and general peace of mind about her goddamn living space?!”

Which is why I think you need liberal feminist types in places like the JAG Corps: you need to have people who are willing to engage on those points of discussion, to try and persuade commanders and others in positions of leadership that this sort of thing needs to be taken seriously, and so on. When Justice Sonia Sotomayor was going through the confirmation process and there was all of this discussion about empathy, I was genuinely excited. I think that having people who don’t have the standard experience can provide a lot of awareness that might otherwise be overlooked, either deliberately or just through the exercise of privilege. I’m not claiming that I am single-handedly helping bring enlightenment into my work place or anything like that, but I am hopeful that these discussions are moving the ball forward.

*In the Army, a defendant is referred to as the accused.

**Panel=jury, member=juror

a force more powerful

“We may not currently have the might of the Israeli army and the power of traditions confine us in certain roles, however, we know that one woman standing behind another in a line of solidarity is a force more powerful than both.”
–kefah, speaking in at-tuwani village, west bank, palestine

i am going to start with kefah. kefah will be on a speaking tour in italy this fall.

i met kefah in the fall of 2004 under horrible circumstances. we were living in the southern west bank. and a couple of international friends had been walking with palestinian children passed an israeli settlement, when the israeli settlers jumped out of the woods and beat my two friends down. luckily, the kids weren’t physically hurt, but they were scared, very scared. but my two friends were taken to the hospital with a punctured lung, broken knee and arm, and psychological trauma. so i and a couple of other internationals who were living in palestine went to at tuwani and walked with the children the next day passed the settlement. and the day after that.
those kids were amazing. they faced death just so they could go to elementary school.
the israeli soldiers told us that if the settlers attacked us, they would not protect us. and we believed them since a lot of the soldiers were from neighboring israeli settlements.
at night we slept in the women’s museum, a palestinian women’s craft co-op started by kefah.
kefah is amazing. she is a wife, a mother to four sons, a self-avowed feminist, a leader in her village, a visionary, a business woman, a community organizer. when i think of revolutionary motherhood, i think of kefah.
and she has a great raunchy sense of humor.
kefah expanded for me what i understood motherhood to mean. well, actually not just kefah, a lot of palestinian women did that for me. women who daily confront israeli soldiers just so they can work in their fields, harvest plants, leave their house, go to the clinic, go to the neighboring town. women who do it with a babe riding on their shoulders. women who do it with little money and a lot of strength. women. who. do. it.
dont get me wrong, i dont romanticize living under an occupation. its not pretty. its too little food, and too many people dying. its your husband, your son, your father, your brother in jail and you trying to figure out how to get the money to get him out, if that is even allowed. its eid under curfew. its watching your house be demolished simply because it was standing and then rebuilding it just to watch it be demolished again. its your mosque, your school be demolished. apartment buildings being shelled. its never having enough. its living on the breath of survival. its life. and its painful.
revolution aint pretty and it doesnt come cheap.
but it was kefah that i became friends with. and kefah who i watched as she organized women while mothering young boys.
and it was kefah and her village, at tuwani, that i wanted to return to when i tried to return to palestine in the winter of 2009.


in late december of 2009 israel decided to bomb gaza. and bomb her and bomb her. my lil family and i traveled during the bombing. first to scotland to see our friends theresa and jim. and then we got on a plane in mid january and flew to tel aviv, israel. (you have to enter israel in order to enter the west bank). instead of allowing us to enter israel, the airport security put me, my partner, and my one year old daughter in israeli jail for three days. (and no, we dont know why they would not allow us to enter israel, israel is like that, we have some good guesses, but no hard facts…)
there is a lot i can say from those three days in jail. i can tell you that all the guards are hopped up on speed and uppers and live in a world of paranoia that wafts through the jail like cigarette smoke. i can tell you that they refused to give us diapers for aza so she had to piss on the floor for a day until the cleaning lady came in and told the guards to give us diapers or else. i can tell you that in the cell next to us was an eight month dutch nigerian pregnant lady with her husband who had their passports confiscated. and that through the vents aza and i heard the guards torturing him while they videotaped it.
and there are things i cannot tell you. i cannot tell you the sound of aza screaming because she was locked in a room for over twenty four hours, ill never forget it, but ill never be able to describe it either. i cannot tell you the soft look in aza’s eyes when the guard told me: i dont care what happens to your daughter, whatever happens to her is your fault. because you are in here.
even though i had spent the past couple of days trying to get the fuck out of there.
i can tell you how by the end of that experience, no matter how horrifying many of the guards had been, i was so grateful that i was not them. that i still walked with my humanity. that i still could feel compassion for them even if they could not afford to do so for me.
i can though tell you that what we experienced was normal. and whatever was abnormal about our experience in jail was due to the privilege we were extended as us citizens.
after three days they let us go and flew us to amsterdam.
the bombing of gaza ended while we were in jail. and obama was inaugurated a day after we got out. i can tell you that i wasnt feeling very much hope as i watched pieces of the inauguration celebration from our hotel room television set.
i was missing palestine deeply. i wanted kefah to meet aza.


a lot of people want to quibble over israel and palestine. they want to start with the right of israel to exist. they want to start dividing up land for a two state solution. they want it over with. done with. cause they are tired of it.
no body i have ever met is more tired of the occupation than palestinians. bone tired. they dont get a day off from genocide.
and that means they dont get a day away from struggle.
people ask me what do i think about hamas and their refusal to acknowledge israel’s right to exist.
ummm…i have a lot of critiques of hamas. a lot. but israel does not have a right to exist. no nation based on occupation and genocide does (and that most definitely includes my home country the us of a). and no one should require that the oppressed acknowledge the ‘right’ of the oppressor to abuse, violate, and murder. no real peace can be bought at such a price. (i do not believe in rewriting history and so israel does exist, whether or not it has a right to. and we have to deal with it as it exists. but damn, dont ask for the natives to thank the conquerors for their chains…)
and there are few places where this is better articulated than in palestinian hip hop.

so i will end with darg (da revolutionary arabian guys) team. a few amazing mc’s from gaza. they had been trying for months to be allowed to leave gaza and after the massacre on the mavi marmara a couple of months ago and in response israel opening the gazan borders, darg team was able to escape to switzerland where they are hanging out now, planning to come to the states in september and go on tour. if we can get the visas and the funds for them to do so.

“on December 27th 2008 Israel started it’s first strike on Gaza killing hundrends no thousands of lives for 23 days. DARG TEAM after the war recorded and filmed it’s first video clip ‘23 yoom”.
today, one year after the war and DARG TEAM steps in again but this time calling every one to participate and start rebuilding what the war left behind.”

rebuild by us

(it’s in arabic. i really can’t translate it.)

the question i hate the most when i write or speak about palestine is: but is there any hope? did you feel any hope when you were there?
what. the. fuck?
hope? fuck hope.
i saw mamas breastfeeding babies. and old men tending flocks of sheep in full defiance of the israeli military. i saw wild poppies covering a graveyard. and a boy etching graffiti on the apartheid wall. and a 12 year old girl in hijab and school uniform sing umm kulthum with a tenor that would make the stoic weep. i have seen a full bellied palestinian pregnant woman turn her back to an israeli soldier who had a gun pointed at her so she could talk on the cell phone to her four year old son and tell him that she would be home soon. and communities get together and remove the large earth mound road blocks that the israeli army puts down in the middle of highways to cut off transportation between neighboring cities. and grandmothers who will yell at soldiers and lock arms protecting their sons. thrown rocks off of mountains with seven year olds (who had a much better arm than me) and drank tea in front of the rubble that used to be my hosts bedroom.
hope? i have seen much more than hope.
i have seen life. and love. and revolution.

and someday i will see kefah again.

Class Action Against U.S. Military On Behalf Of Sexual Assault Survivors

Just got this news via the fine folks at CounterQuo:

The DC firm, Burke PLLC, is preparing to file a class action suit on behalf of those harmed by the military’s failures to address military sexual trauma. They are interested in speaking with anyone who has been assaulted or raped while in the military or by a member of the military. They plan on filing in the near future so if you know any victims/survivors who may be potentially interested in participating in this lawsuit, please have them contact Susan Sajadi at ssajadi at burkepllc dot com.

If this is you or someone you know, please do get in touch. Here’s some context, from playwright Carolyn Gage:

According to the website of the Military Rape Crisis Center, one in three women in the military will be sexually assaulted. Two out of three women in the military will be sexually harassed. Congresswoman Jane Harmon from California has done the math: “A woman who signs up to protect her country is more likely to be raped by a fellow soldier than killed by enemy fire.”

Over 90% of all females that report a sexual assault are discharged from the military before their contract ends. From the 90%, around 85% are discharged against their wishes. Nearly all 
of the 85% lose their careers based on misdiagnoses that render them ineligible for military service and ineligible for VA treatment 
after discharge.

This case has the potential to not only win some small bit of justice for the victims/survivors that have already suffered at the hands of an (at best) uncaring military (trigger warning on that link), but may also have a real impact on the way the U.S. military policy deals with sexual violence in its ranks, hopefully saving many people from ever being so traumatized.

(Cross-posted at Yes Means Yes)

Women in Uniform

I don’t know why, but I’m a sucker for slideshows. Add a feminist theme, and I’m all over it. So I really enjoyed stumbling upon this collection of images of women in the military, starting way back with the American Revolution. Here are some of my faves:

An unidentified Civil War women's volunteer unit of 24 women in 3 rows wearing dresses and holding guns
A women’s volunteer unit in the Civil War. I wonder exactly what these women were allowed to do – any war buffs out there who can let us know?

Group of 20 women dressed in white who were the first women to formally serve in the Navy
This is “The Sacred Twenty” – the first women to serve in the Navy.

Three women working on an aircraft engine, learning how to disassemble it
Women and heavy machinery! So cool! Apparently these women are learning how to disassemble aircraft engines which sounds (and looks) hella intense and complicated.

Woman standing several feet in front of an aircraft and repairing another at her side, off-camera, smiling at the camera
According to the story that goes along with this image, this is Sharon Hanley Disher and she’s part of “the first [family] in American history to send every member to the Naval Academy” – which is pretty awesome, I say. Her story is pretty cool, I suggest you read it if you have some time.

We’ve covered the WASPs (Women Airforce Service Pilots) before, but what are your favorite stories of women in the military?