Telling her story—gender studies in Russia

As more gender studies courses are cut in Russian academic institutions, students of both sexes are deprived of learning about women’s rights and history.

Why we care: Women’s history and experiences are often disregarded at Russian universities, particularly in South Russia and the Northern Caucasus.

How we’re solving this: A regional conference will strengthen the network of women researchers and activists to ensure women’s voices and experiences are documented in academia and beyond.

The political and social climate in Russia has not always fostered academic freedom, much less support for feminist and gender studies. As more and more gender studies courses are cut, students of both sexes are deprived of learning about women’s rights and history. Furthermore, women academics in Russia receive little financial support; they are excluded from leadership positions, face minimal job security, and receive little to no maternity leave. This is especially true for women historians and academics in South Russia and the Northern Caucasus.

Since 2007, the Interregional Non-Governmental Organization of Researchers in Women’s History (INGORWH) has worked to foster educational and research spaces for and by women. It has advocated for gender and women’s studies programs in Russia and for the inclusion of gender topics in the university curriculum. It supports and coordinates research projects on women’s history and encourages resource, information, and faculty exchange among universities, scholars, and activists. In particular, the INGORWH aims to shed light on the history of women in the Caucasus, along with their life experiences, values, and needs. Research practices and findings are then integrated into a growing body of studies that constitute Russian women’s history.

INGORWH’s annual conference brings together up to 300 researchers and social activists from the region. This year the organization is preparing a forum from October 3-6, 2013 in Nalchik, with a focus on the experiences of women from the South of Russia and Northern Caucasus. Participants will explore the complex ethnic and religious tensions in the region, identifying opportunities to raise women’s awareness and activism. Conference proceedings will be disseminated in universities and research centers throughout Russia. The conference will increase support for women’s studies, and women’s rights, improving the quality of life of women, their families, and communities.

Empowerment for women living with disabilities

“Disability is a condition – not something that defines a whole life.” – Jagoda Risteska, CEO of MC-Mobility Challenge

Why we care: Discrimination against women living with disabilities in Macedonia leads to their low self-esteem and social exclusion.

How we’re solving this: Personal empowerment workshops raise women’s awareness of their rights and the fact that disability is a condition, rather than an identity.

Due to physical and social barriers. many women with disabilities in Macedonia cannot access schools, hospitals, and public transportation. Without an education, they cannot gain meaningful employment. Additionally, prejudice from family members and social stigma results in low self-esteem, isolation, mistreatment, and social exclusion. It is difficult to address the challenges that women living with disabilities face since officials in Macedonia have no statistics on the exact number of people living with disabilities and no system for collecting relevant information.

Founded in 2009, by a group of nine women living with and without disabilities, MC-Mobility Challenge works to promote the rights and social integration of all people living with disabilities, regardless of their background. This year, Mobility Challenge will provide women’s rights and leadership development workshops in the capital city of Skopje to 20 women from marginalized Albanian, Turkish, and Bosnian ethnic communities.

Businesswomen and mothers living with disabilities will provide support and mentorship to women participants, showing that it is possible to overcome stereotypes, to lead companies, and build thriving families. Participants will work with a certified coach on personal and professional empowerment by setting goals, building self-esteem, and improving their communication skills.

By challenging their perspective on their own disabilities, participants will come to embrace their innate right to participate in every aspect of community life. The benefits participants receive through this training will hopefully spread to their families, workplaces, and communities, ensuring greater inclusion of all people living with disabilities. 

Overcoming domestic violence in Southern Bulgaria

Violence against women is viewed as acceptable in Bulgaria, and women who speak out are often blamed for causing it and shamed for not braving it.

Why we care: Women and children in Bulgaria experience high levels of domestic violence and incidences are on the rise as a result of the current economic crisis.

How we’re solving this: Preventing violence by changing discriminatory policies and attitudes, and providing free counseling, legal aid, and life-saving information.

Women in Bulgaria seek help only as a last resort when violence threatens their very existence and the future of their children. Often, they are not aware of their legal rights and do not feel safe enough to report violence. The government has failed to implement policies protecting survivors, and at the same time NGO anti-violence services are limited and underfunded.

Knowledge, Success, Change is the only NGO that provided psychological support, legal advice, and representation, mediation services, and shelter in Southwest Bulgaria. In 2011, the Center recorded 167 calls on its telephone hotline, facilitated a total of 17 lawsuits, and conducted 196 psychological consultations for women and children survivors of domestic violence. A key aspect to success of the group’s work is that they educate citizens that perpetrating domestic violence means breaking the law. The group challenges the common view that domestic violence is a problem to be dealt with in the home.

This year, Knowledge, Success, Change is partnering with media, police, lawyers, and courts to combine resources in support of survivors of domestic violence. The organization has trained networks of police and medical staff to recognize domestic violence and provide gender-sensitive support to survivors in two district towns, Kjustendil and Blagoevgrad. Knowledge, Success, Change will officially open a 24/7 consulting center in Blagoevgrad. The center will be a vital resource for women and children to receive support in overcoming trauma, access healthcare services, and build a future of dignity, independence, and success.

Broadcasting leadership and empowerment

La Radio Q Género is using radio as a tool to raise public awareness about gender discrimination in Colombia.

Why we care: In Colombia, women from marginalized populations are often ignored by media and society.

How we’re solving this: Training women in communication, media, and technology skills to raise their voices and bring their opinions into the media.

Colombian women living in rural areas, as well as young, Afro-descendent, indigenous, and lesbian, bisexual and trans gender women face discrimination and often do not have the opportunities, or the skills to express their opinions in public forums.

In many rural areas in Latin America, radio is the cheapest, most accessible, and widespread form of mass communication. La Radio Q Género, founded in 2005, is using radio as a tool to raise public awareness about gender discrimination, an issue that is rarely touched on in the media. Radio Q is now taking its programming one step further by developing women-led radio emissions. Through technical, communication, and advocacy trainings, women will take the lead in developing messaging and web and radio broadcasts to raise their voices and influence public opinion. Initially 10 women from Cali, Colombia will participate in five technical training workshops.

Radio Q aims to have over 100 women, equipped with digital media skills, produce radio emissions, blogs, and websites. Broadcasts will call attention to the need to end sexist stereotypes and attitudes, and encourage more women to get involved in local and national politics. Radio and website broadcasts will also spread awareness on the reality of gender discrimination in Colombia, and will pressure media and political representatives to ensure gender equality in the workplace, family life, and in educational institutions.

Most importantly, radio will be used as a tool to empower women who usually don’t get the opportunity to share their opinions and speak out in public. Women participants will gain a supportive network that cares about what they have to say and will encourage them to express their opinions.

Center on equality for LBT women in Croatia

Lesbian Group Kontra is bringing positive attention to the LBT community and the need to uphold their rights.

Why we care: Discrimination and violence are daily realities for LBT persons in Croatia, affecting their mental and physical health and overall wellbeing.

How we’re solving this: Creating a community center in Zagreb where LBT individuals can find information, safety, and support.

“One of the foremost needs of lesbians, bisexual women, and transgender persons is a safe space in Zagreb where they can freely and openly acknowledge their sexual orientation.” – Sandra Brumen, Lesbian Group Kontra

The lesbian, bisexual women, and trans persons (LBT) community in Croatia faces extreme discrimination from the public and within the police, legal, and healthcare systems. Women in particular are targeted for verbal and physical harassment because of their gender as well as sexual orientation. Few cases of abuse are reported, as individuals fear worse consequences if their sexual orientation or gender identity is revealed in a public forum. LBT individuals bear trauma as a result of discrimination and continuous harassment, yet it is nearly impossible to access healthcare services and psychosocial counseling.

As one of the first lesbian and bisexual women’s groups in Croatia, Lesbian Group Kontra is bringing positive attention to the LBT community and the need to uphold their rights. Kontra started the first lesbian SOS and information line in Croatia in 1997 and the first counseling center aimed at promoting mental healthcare of lesbian and bisexual women in 2006.

This year, Kontra will open a center for lesbians, trans, and bisexual women in Zagreb to provide a safe space to discuss sexuality, sexual health issues, and how to overcome societal discrimination. The center will fill a critical need for lesbian, bisexual and the trans community by providing both in-person and on-line mental healthcare and counseling. During its first year, the center will offer four workshops, and bring in guests speakers to discuss topics such as sexual health, relationships, coming out, and violence. Staff will also moderate support groups and facilitate discussions. Women and their loved ones will share experiences about gender identities and dealing with conflict, and then brainstorm solutions to obstacles, empowering each other along the way.

Through the center, an increased number of lesbian, bisexual and trans persons will become informed about their human rights, become advocates, and find the strength to be themselves.

Minority women in Bulgaria rising online

Women in Bulgaria, particularly Roma and Turkish ethnic minorities, experience high levels of poverty and social exclusion.

Why we care: Lack of education and technological skills perpetuate poverty and social exclusion of minority women in Bulgaria.

How we’re solving this: Technology training, English language skills, and legal and career counseling help women overcome barriers to gain economic independence.

Minority women in Bulgaria are also discriminated against at home as well. Many are victims of domestic violence and single mothers who rely on social welfare. They tend to be the most economically dependent, and some even face the threat of losing children in judicial proceedings. Work in the information technology sector presents an economic opportunity for these women; however, they lack access to information due to low levels of education and limited freedom of movement.

Gender Alternatives Foundation seeks to establish a Women’s Resource Centre in Plovdiv, Bulgaria to expand minority women’s access to quality training and education programs. The Centre will provide skills-building trainings on information technology, English language courses, and legal and career counseling to ensure participants have the confidence to meet market demand in a globalizing economy. Through these activities, women will also analyze the causes of poverty and violence, voice their concerns, and build their capacity to participate as equals in society.

In the Centre’s first year, 64 women will take part in the information and communication technology (ICT) and English language courses and more than 50 women will benefit from legal consultations on their social and economic rights, along with access to career counseling. The Centre will build partnerships among the marginalized women, their communities, and the society as a whole to bolster the ability of local economies to compete in the national and international marketplaces.

Advocating for indigenous women in Guatemala

Indigenous Women’s Watch works to ensure that indigenous women actively participate in leading their communities to recognize and reduce violence. 

Why we care: Indigenous women of the Mayan K’iche’ communities of Guatemala experience discrimination and are at risk for violence.

How we’re solving this: Training more than 200 indigenous women and girls, public officials, spiritual leaders, female leaders of nonprofit organizations, and community groups on how to prevent and reduce violence against women, as well as provide support for survivors. 

Mayan K’iche’ women are highly susceptible to experiencing gender-based violence; one in five will experience rape, domestic violence or sexual exploitation. In whatever form it takes, gender-based violence is a violation of human dignity. Lack of awareness and advocacy against these issues make it difficult to establish public policies and laws to protect the women. In addition, the governments of Mayan K’iche’ communities frequently argue that they need more data, both quantitative and qualitative, on violence against indigenous women in order to create legal protections. Much of women’s struggles therefore go unseen.

Foro Internacional de Mujeres Indigenas (FIMI) created the “Indigenous Women’s Watch against Violence” initiative to advocate for women in Central America and Mexico. The initiative creates a space where indigenous women’s voices are heard and their battles are brought to the attention of the government. Indigenous Women’s Watch is striving to ensure that indigenous women actively participate in leading their communities to recognize and reduce violence.

The initiative will train over 200 indigenous women and girls, public officials, spiritual leaders, female leaders of nonprofit organizations, and community groups on how to prevent and reduce violence against women, as well as provide support for survivors. Participants will become advocates and human rights defenders in their communities, encouraging others to speak out against violence. With the support of their communities and prevention skills at hand, indigenous women will be empowered to create lasting change in ending violence against women.

Break the silence for violence survivors

The Women’s Support Center in Yerevan advocates to change the culture of shame and stigma surrounding sexual assault and domestic violence.

Why we care: Over a half of women in Armenia report physical or emotional abuse, yet the topic is taboo and lifesaving services are denied to survivors.

How we’re solving this: Providing shelter, legal advice, and counseling for women survivors and their children while changing the social and legal structures that condone violence.

“Women leaving the shelter are stronger, their self esteem and confidence are built up, and they are empowered to start life on their own, away from abuse and violence.” – Mary Matosian, Executive Director of the Women’s Support Center

In January 2013, Armenia’s government once again failed to pass legislation in support of survivors of domestic violence and sexual assault. There are no legal provisions or social programs to protect and support survivors. Given this hostile context, less than a half of all women affected by violence seek help.

The Women’s Support Center is the only shelter in Armenia’s capital city of Yerevan, and one of only two domestic violence shelters in the country. It provides critical services including counseling, legal assistance, employment consultations, life-skills and health education classes, and support to children of survivors to enroll in educational programs. The shelter houses an average of 30 women and 50 children yearly, in addition to providing counseling to over 70 women in individual and group settings. Through the shelter’s wide spectrum of services, 96% of the women in its program have been able to restart their lives in safety.  

In addition to providing critical direct services, the Women’s Support Center advocates to change the culture of shame and stigma surrounding sexual assault and domestic violence. It raises awareness of the issue of domestic violence in the media and through social networks and engages in roundtable discussions with youth to change patriarchal stereotypes that justify violence against women. The Center’s advocacy and outreach has been reflected in the growing number of calls to its 24-hour hotline, as every day more women break the silence to seek services and refuge from batterers. In 2012 the Armenian government recorded 277 cases of abuse and 5 deaths of women by their violent partners, while non-profit organizations serving survivors received 947 cases and over 2,000 hotline calls.

This project will enable the Women’s Support Center to maintain its shelter and counseling services to allow more women to heal from violence, establish careers, and start independent lives.

Getting down to business

Women in Rarámuri communities face high levels of illiteracy, violence, unemployment, and malnutrition.

Why we care: Large numbers of women from indigenous communities like the Rarámuri cannot read or write and have few job options.

How we’re solving this: Ensuring Rarámuri women gain literacy, business skills and the self-confidence, to obtain stable jobs and uphold the dignity of their communities.

The Raramuri communities are located in the high Sierras of Chihuahua, and have remained relatively isolated from Mexican society, allowing them to preserve their rich culture. However, due to their isolation, access to education, healthcare, and job opportunities is minimal. Rarámuri communities–particularly Rarámuri women—face high levels of illiteracy, violence, unemployment, and malnutrition.

ALCADECO has worked with the Rarámuri communities to ensure their economic sustainability so that women are not forced to move to cities, accept poorly-paid jobs on drug plantations, become dependent on the sale of handicrafts to tourists, or beg for their livlihood.

ALCADECO has designed an educational program that will teach women to read and write in Rarámuri and Spanish, as well as basic math skills. Women will train to become resource persons in their communities by participating in workshops and conferences, discussing taboo issues such as violence, healthcare, and drug addiction. Women will also learn how to start their own business projects to benefit themselves, their families, and their communities.

These programs will empower Rarámuri women while acknowledging the rich history of traditional indigenous values. After the workshops, women will be able to confront problems associated with health, family violence, poverty, and other prominent issues in their communities.

Empowering the girls of Northern Cyprus

Equip teachers in Northern Cyprus with the skills to support teenage girls to stand up against discrimination and violence.

Why we care: Girls and young women in northern Cyprus experience discrimination and violence based on their gender and sexual orientation.

How we’re solving this: Training high school teachers to be advocates for girls and support them to overcome discrimination and violence.

In northern Cyprus girls and women are vulnerable to discrimination, physical abuse, and exploitation. Their struggles are often unseen as the social and legal system and patriarchal beliefs do not recognize gender-based violence as a crime. Violence against women has profound implications on girls and young women. There are often severe and lasting health consequences such as sexually transmitted infections and posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) . The social and psychological trauma of gender-based violence affect survivors, families, and entire communities.

KAYAD is developing a teacher training program for high school educators in urban and rural areas, giving teachers the skills and resources they need to empower teenage girls to stand up against discrimination and violence. KAYAD will train 100 teachers through four programs in different communities.  The participants will learn how to train other teachers on organizing discussions in the classroom on sexual identity, sexual orientation, sexual and reproductive rights, and reproductive health. Teachers will also be equipped to adequately handle problems that students face around these topics. Lastly, teachers will develop advocacy campaigns to raise awareness in schools and distribute informational materials on sexual and reproductive health rights.  

With hundreds of teachers advocating for girls and women’s rights in schools, over 30,000 girls will be reached. This strategy to empower younger generations of girls will reduce a culture of impunity that perpetuates violence. Together women and girls in northern Cyprus will be part of the solution to make all forms of violence and discrimination a thing of the past.