As we approach the International Day of the Girl Child on October 11th,
Women’s Freedom Forum marks its 20th year of progress in educational programs to promote women’s leadership and participation for peace, equality, justice and tolerance in the Middle East. We are happy to report that many of our initiatives and activities have had a significant focus on girls and young women. We have sponsored a fundraising effort in the area of providing materials for job training for refugees, provided education in Human Rights advocacy work in hands-on Legislative Internships, as well as conducting an educational panel for college age students at a university. In addition, we maintain an active website, and initiated a Twitter campaign to commute the execution of a young lady on death row in Iran. On International Women’s Day, we sponsored a panel of eminent political, secular, academic and interfaith women in leadership positions at the United States Congress on the challenges posed to girls and women in the current turmoil sweeping through the Middle East. Further, Working from Within (2013), our on-the-ground collection and documentation of Human Rights abuses against women and children in Iran, provides direct information gathered by mothers in-country and not available from other sources. More details are found below.
Activities for 2014:
1. “Gift for a Cause” Program provides new and refurbished laptop computers for women and girls refugees from the Middle East. In addition to free computers, the program provides training to youth refugees to help them pursue education which can empower their financial independence and aid in adapting to a new culture. We are committed to providing them with today’s level of technology and skills needed for their economic advancement.
2. Youth Legislative Internship Program: during summer internships, youth from Atlanta and Houston gained a stronger understanding about the legislative process. They learned the various policies regarding Middle East, women’s rights, and international Human Rights legal instruments. By the end of the internship, they had learned how to summarize reports and develop useful skills to help shape their future as engaged and competent leaders around these critical issues.
3. Educational Panel on Human Rights. On January 10, 2014, the Women’s Freedom Forum held a question and answer discussion with Virginia Commonwealth University professors, professionals and students to educate them about the current state of human rights violations in the Middle East and the steps being taken to bring about constructive change. Lively discussion concerning policy issues and steps individuals and groups might take ensued.
4. Release of the “Working From Within: 2013 Report on the Status of Women and Youth” in February 2014. This report speaks for those who cannot speak out or who have been deliberately silenced, and gives voice to people from all walks of life under suppression in Iran. With the election of Rouhani as president, civil liberty activists hoped that there would be fewer arrests and executions, but the flow of human rights violations recorded through our website and blogs have not only continued to date, but have increased in frequency and severity of cases. Seven hundred and fifteen cases of executions in 2013 were reported, including the execution of twenty-two women and thirteen cases of executions of minors were reported. This report has been distributed in the United Nations, United States Congress, United States’ and Canadian governments, major human rights Non-Governmental Organizations, academics from different universities, members of the legal professions, activists, and others.
5. Interfaith and multicultural community outreach programs. Womens Freedom Forum volunteers around the United States work on multi-cultural projects promoting peace, justice and tolerance with Christian, Jewish and Muslim leaders. In the chaos and violent circumstances that engulf the Middle East at this time, these multi-cultural projects educate communities about how to stand against that violence and unite for peace. Since religion is so often misunderstood as a component in the low status and worth of women in Muslim-majority countries, we believe it is very important to engage faith-based communities in basic education about the religions of our target region. Our educational goal is to provide resources which highlight the special issues in confronting Human Rights abuses of women and girls which are cloaked in religious garb, but are in fact not part of the religion.
6. On International Women’s Day, Women’s Freedom Forum hosted a Panel on the topic of Women’s Leadership in the Middle East and Iran in the U.S. Congress on February 27, 2014 entitled “Women in Leadership: Litmus Test for Democracy in the Middle East and Iran”. The co-sponsors of the conference included Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee (D-TX), Rep. Steve Cohen (D-TN). Women Democratic and Republican leaders, plus Christian, Jewish and Muslim women leaders. all contributed from their special expertise to a substantive, educational discussion about the phenomenon of Islamic fundamentalism, its implication role in violence against women and girls and the rise of human trafficking in the North Africa region and the Middle East. Participants included Congressional staffers, embassy counsellors, and human rights organization members. Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi welcomed Women’s Freedom Forum, and commended all of the speakers for providing education about this topic in Congress.
The speakers were Elaine Chao, former United States Secretary of Labor; Patti Solis Doyle, former aide and campaign manager for Hillary Rodham Clinton and senior advisor to President Obama’s 2008 campaign; Ingrid Betancourt, former presidential candidate and senator in Columbia and inspiring survivor of kidnapping for ransom; Sandy Pappas, state senator and President of the Minnesota Senate; Ruth Wedgewood, professor and chair in International Law and Diplomacy at Johns Hopkins University’s School of Advanced International Studies; Donna Hughes, professor and chair of Women’s Studies at the University of Rhode Island; Congresswoman Loretta Sanchez (D-CA); Frances Belisle, professor at Virginia Commonwealth University’s Wilder School of Government and Public Affairs and Antonia Felix, a Women’s Freedom Forum Advisory Board member and New York Times bestselling author of several political
7. Presentation at Yale University. On April 19, 2013, the Journal for Middle East Women’s Studies at Yale University in New Haven, CT offered a series of Research Workshops exploring the topic of “Gender and Activism in the Middle East, in conjunction with their prestigious Distinguished Lecture given by Dr. Nadje Al-Ali, Professor of Gender Studies at the University of London’s School of Oriental and African Studies. Women’s Freedom Forum presented a film, “A Century of Struggle for Iranian Women”. In addition, Women’s Freedom Forum presented a paper, “Prison Mothers and the Search for Peace: A Clandestine Human Rights Network inside Iran. This described an ingenious network of Mourning Mothers, their families and supporters, within Iran, and outside the country. These courageous women obtain and pass on information as they protest outside Iran’s notorious prisons. Based on the Mothers’ yearly reports which are gathered, vetted and translated by our international volunteers, the Women’s Freedom Forum has influenced the rating of the Islamic Republic of Iran as a Tier 2 country in its abuse of prisoners of all ages and types.
8. Social Media Campaigns. United Nations HeForShe.org Campaign: We must all take a stand for gender equality.
Women’s Freedom Forum joined this campaign and has promoted it via its website, network and social media to encourage men to commit themselves to take action against all forms of violence and discrimination faced by women and girls.
9. Twitter Campaign to Save Reyhaneh Jabbari from execution. Ms. Jabbari was a nineteen year old girl accused of killing an influential man in the Iranian government during his rape attempt against her in 2007. She has spent seven years in prison without a fair trial. The date of execution was September 30, 2014 but on that day, due to local and international public outcries, Iranian authorities delayed the execution for another 40 days. Join and support us to stop her execution!
Prospects for Future Projects to address the concerns of “The Year of the Girl Child: Beijing +20”
With the rise of the Islamic State in Syria and Iraq, and the intensification of sectarian violence in both countries caused by Iranian meddling in the Government of Iraq, women and girls are again-as always-the real losers in this conflict. So far we have seen since June 2014:
Human Trafficking soars as Islamic State sells Yazidi girls and other non-Muslim females into sex slavery.
Implementation of strict Shari’a codes restricting, movement, work, dress, and free association by women and girls, along with draconian punishments for mal-veiling, and supposed sexual crimes.
Desperate attempts by Syrian refugee parents to arrange child marriages for their daughters in a misguided attempt to protect their honor and well-being.
Rapes and executions used to terrorize the civilian population.
Rise of acid attacks on young women in Iran (especially in Isfahan) in response to the regime’s enactment of a new law enlarging the punishments for mal-veiling.
Directions from the Supreme. Leader of Iran to force girls into unwanted marriages in order to raise a stagnant birth rate, with the aim of providing a steady supply of disposable jihadis.
Approximately thirty thousand girl children have been forced into marriage, with puts them at greater health and fertility risks, and destroys any hopes of education and a better life someday.
To date, no peace negotiations in Syria or elsewhere have paid any attention to the items defined in United Nations Security Council Resolution 1325, concerning the protection of women and girls in conflict situations and their aftermath.
All Women’s Freedom Forum projects are made possible through generous donations from supporters and the tireless work of international, regional, and local volunteers. All Donations to Women’s Freedom Forum, Inc. are tax deductible as Women’s Freedom Forum has the legal, registered status with the Internal Revenue Service as 501(C) (3) organization. Women’s Freedom Forum status is a Public Charity (The deductibility limitation for contributions to a public charity is 50%). EIN: 20-0592833, Organization Name: WOMENS FREEDOM FORUM, INC.
In conclusion, the Women’s Freedom Forum sees no other option than to continue its work, and redouble all efforts to support and defend the rights of women and girls in the Middle East, North Africa, and South Asia.
Carole R. Fontaine, Ph.D.
Advisory Board, Women’s Freedom Forum