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As so many around the world did, I watched the Nobel Peace Prize ceremonies, or as much as I could until work so rudely interrupted. It was a wonderful celebration of women and their various political and governmental roles, both on a grass-roots level and in leadership positions. I don’t feel that I’m going too far out on a limb to say that at no time in history has the effect of and possibilities of women in leadership roles been more apparent, especially in the political realm. The roles of women has changed considerably in this young century, changed to the point that they are finally getting the respect they deserve as it becomes more and more apparent that in no country can there be a true peace or democracy without the direct input, active participation and leadership of women.

However, as always in the cause of civil liberty, those gains have come at a very high price. In his ceremony speech to present the Nobel Peace Prizes, Thorbjörn Jagland, the chairman of the Norwegian Nobel Committee said this,

“Men and women have at all times experienced war in different ways. Although women, too, have fought in wars through the centuries, and today even engage in terrorism, it is the men who to a far greater extent have engaged in the actual warfare. In modern wars the majority of the victims are often civilian and very many of them are women and children.

Rape has always been one of the horrors of war. But in recent years, in Bosnia-Herzegovina, in Darfur, in Rwanda, and in Congo, among many other places, we have seen rape working not just as a massive violation in itself. Rape has become part of the tactics of war. The aim is to break down the enemy’s morale, to force populations to move, and to punish opponents also after the war is over.

This was defined as a crime against humanity and as war crimes by the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia. The International Criminal Court (ICC) has since reached the same conclusion.

Popular opinion in favor of this view must be strengthened, and that is what we are doing here today.

We are doing so by attracting renewed attention to the resolution adopted in October 2000 by the UN Security Council, Resolution 1325. The resolution for the first time made violence against women in wartime an international security issue. It underlined the need to have women become participants on an equal footing with men in peace processes and in peace work in general. Women had to break out of their roles as victims; they must themselves become players who will contribute to creating peace. These goals were then hammered out further in four new Security Council resolutions, 1820, 1888, 1889 and 1960.These resolutions must be given prominent and visible places on the desks of all heads of state.

For there is still a long way to go before the goals of these resolutions are reached. In recent peace negotiations in various parts of the world which are surveyed, fewer than 8 per cent of the participants in the negotiations and fewer than 3 per cent of the peace agreement signatories were women. No woman has ever been appointed chief negotiator in any peace negotiations led by the UN.

Meanwhile the rapes continue, thousands of them, day after day.”

One female journalist that I know from twitter, New York resident Mona Eltahawy was in Cairo on Nov. 23rd,where she was arrested and held for 12 hours and subject to beatings and sexually molested, not raped but groped and molested repeatedly by a group of 5 or 6 men while being called terrible names. Her left hand was broken and her right arm was broken so severely that it required surgery, including a titanium plate and screws to hold it together. She describes her ordeal in this article..  http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2011/nov/24/journalist-mona-eltahawy-sex-assault-cairo

Obviously her story is hardly the only one, and as she points out, it may have been her dual citizenship, (Egyptian and American) that kept her from suffering a worse fate. I bring this up not to minimize what is happening daily to other women, but to give those other women who suffer in silence a face and a strong voice. She has taken on the mantle of many oppressed women throughout the world and I applaud her for that.

On December 17, a video went totally viral over the Internet. It showed an Egyptian woman being grabbed by her black robe, dragged, beaten kicked and partially stripped at Tahrir Square during a protest calling for the end of the military rule. Women, who played a substantial role in the protests leading to the fall of Mubarak are now feeling as if they are being targeted.

During the Bosnian war, Serbian troops established houses for the entrapment of Bosnian women and young girls. The most infamous was what became known as the “Karamans’ House” where Bosnian women and girls were brought against their will, trapped as sex slaves and repeatedly raped, beaten and abused and extremely humiliated. The youngest victim being only 12 years old as the Muslim women were targeted only as a means for the Serbian troops to assert their superiority and feeling of victory over them. Estimates are that during the Bosnian war Serbian soldiers raped between 20,000 and 50,000 Bosnian women. This number doesn’t even factor the men and boys who suffered the same fate. In Somalia, women in refugee camps reported being afraid to even go outside to gather firewood for fear of being raped by Kenyan gangs waiting in the bushes to demoralize them. This barbarism is sadly commonplace in such places as the Democratic Republic of Congo, Somalia, the Sudan and numerous refugee camps.

War rape is a type of slow genocide that affects the victims in many forms because of the physical impact on the victims including vaginal fistula, seen in the widespread rapes in the Democratic Republic of Congo, but also unwanted pregnancy and sexual transmitted disease. It can lead to them being jailed as prostitutes in places like Afghanistan and being totally ostracized and outcast from society and family and left with an unwanted child and feelings of hopelessness fear and anxiety, shame and anger. The effects on the child can be catastrophic as well, Imagine having this as your legacy! Not to mention the enormous psychological effects on the victims themselves.

In Libya, during the conflict that saw the fall of Gaddafi, the International Criminal Court reports that as an official policy troops were given Viagra to ensure that they were prepared to rape at any time. The chief prosecutor Luis Moreno-Ocampo reports that it is difficult to know exactly how often it was used but that certain areas reported rapes numbered in the high hundreds at least.

In fundamentalist Muslim countries such as Iran, women are still being stoned to death for being raped, the view being that it is the victims fault that the man is a total animal and unable to know right from wrong, and how to treat people with any modicum of respect.  Obviously this has to stop! This oppressive, inhuman treatment of women is the extreme male perspective, and supported by an extremist regime. There are people who are trying to fight against such hatred.  I have the utmost respect for anyone willing to stand up to such an oppressive barbaric regime.

But things are not all dread and doom, dear reader. Women are making incredible gains around the world.

I am inspired by the story of  Tawakol Karman from Yemen, who started the revolution against one of the most oppressive governments in the world, in one of the world’s poorest countries. It began in 2005 when she co-founded the group Women Journalists Without Chains. The groundswell, which became the revolution, was started in 2007 by, as she said in an interview during the Nobel Peace Prize activities, three women who had simply had enough.  (For more information please refer to the links below) Despite being arrested, beaten and chained for 36 hours, and having her life threatened numerous times, she held on to her belief and it led her to the Nobel Peace Prize.

It moved me tremendously to think that in Yemen, a country where women are not allowed to even be outside after 19:00, that three women could start a movement that would topple a ruthless dictator.  It is still very dangerous for women in Yemen, in Syria, in Egypt and all through the Middle East and Africa. In fact it is still dangerous for women all over the world.

Yesterday was Christmas. Today I want to believe in all the dreams I grew up with. Peace on Earth, goodwill to men and women, a safe place where Muslim children can play with Christian or Israeli children without fear, where men no longer victimize women for their own pathetic sense of self-esteem.

I began writing this with the memories of my own youth in my head. When women’s political involvement was, in the minds of many typically ill-informed and unsympathetic men, seen as little more than Greenpeace and green tea, where the idea of being environmentally aware for a guy was ok, but not always with the idea of actually accomplishing anything, but only as a way to meet women. I actually had a male friend suggest exactly that to me in college. Obviously he didn’t get the response he expected. We didn’t stay friends after that.  (Having said that, I want to say that I mean absolutely no disrespect to the wonderful work of Greenpeace, rather that at that time, in the early 80s they hadn’t gained the respect they were due among many American men.)

I am more and more convinced of the fact that there can be no peace without women being actively involved in government and decision policy making on every level. We’ve come a very long way in my lifetime. I am very aware of how far we have to go, of course, but I am so very buoyed by the confidence that as information flows and outside opinion becomes more accessible, as more and more women stand up against oppressive gender fascism, as tyrants are overthrown and democracy builds, that women may well be on the way to getting the power and support they so richly have deserved.

References and recommended reading;

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tawakel_Karman

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-middle-east-15216473

http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2011/nov/01/west-must-not-forsake-yemen

http://www.nytimes.com/2011/06/19/opinion/19karman.html?_r=1

http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2011/apr/08/revolution-saleh-yemen-peace-historic

http://www.amnesty.org/en/library/asset/AFR16/002/2007/en/6e0e217b-d37f-11dd-a329-2f46302a8cc6/afr160022007en.pdf

http://womennewsnetwork.net/2011/08/10/genocide-war-rape-female-survivors/

http://www.bim.ba/en/39/10/1776/

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Dateline Sarajevo 29/05-10 Beginning in the year of my birth and continuing throughout my youth, America was involved in what can best be described as a controversial war, perhaps the first truly “controversial” war in its history, Vietnam. The advent of television brought to moms and dads and the families back home the harsh reality of war right into their living rooms and dinner parties. Over the years, as the war dragged on and on, and the death toll continued to climb, the youth, pressed into compulsory service, began to question what they were dying for. This was the dilemma staring me directly in the face as I approached my 18th birthday. I was literally only one week away from being drafted into military service, or more likely forced into an illegal flight to either Canada or Sweden when the draft was finally stopped. America had lost the war, peace with honor was only a dream (or a lie depending on your perception) and the soldiers who did fight and survive came home to much less than a heroes welcome. Until today, this was as close as I had ever come to war. Now we move to Sarajevo, a beautiful, culturally diverse jewel in central Europe, and the capital of Bosnia and Herzegovina. The city, formed as we know it by the Ottoman empire in 1450 but with origins dating as far back as the Neolithic Age, is flanked by the Dinaric Alps on both the North and South sides, and the Miljacka river which flows through it winding like a snake. The city lies in a deep valley, the Alps rising like beautiful lush green monoliths on either side. When you see it from the plane it’s wondrously beautiful. Lush greens accompanied by tile rooftops looking down on a tranquil oasis of cooperation and community. When you ask the residents about their city one of the first things they point out is the broad cultural diversity. Religious diversity is especially important to these people with adherents of Muslim, Catholic, Judaism and Orthodox faiths peacefully coexisting for centuries. The minarets rise up joyfully proclaiming the presence and devotion. On our first day here, after checking in, my wife, Inger and I left our hotel to begin to explore the city. We hear the chants wafting down in multiple directions, surrounding us and calling to all. The cab ride from the airport is very revealing. New buildings flank ancient ones as the city continues to grow. The diversity, that word pops up again and again, of the architecture is striking. For this observer, however, my eyes are drawn to something else, something moving, something echoing a painful past. Sarajevo is also a city torn apart and almost destroyed by a dreadful war. The damage to the buildings is still painfully visible, although you don’t see as many buildings lying in rubble as you would have 10 or 15 years ago, there remains still many buildings that reveal their scars from mortar fire or shrapnel from the mountains around them. You realize immediately that you can’t escape the war, not yet, not easily. After the breakup of the former Republic of Yugoslavia, Serbian forces, which had aligned themselves with the Yugoslav Peoples Army which was made up of members of the army of the former Republic and very well armed, had begun a build up to capture part of Bosnia and combine it into Serbia, including Sarajevo. They fortified positions in the mountains on both sides and waited. In Sarajevo at this time there were peace demonstrations, which were quite large, and it was during one such demonstration that the siege began. Serbian militants, guards of a Serbian politician, opened fire on a peace demonstration from the top of the Holiday Inn, killing 3 and wounding 50. Thus began one of Europe’s darkest times. The Serbian forces had total control of most of the mountains on either side of the city traffic in and out was impossible. The residents were helpless and easy targets for artillery, mortars, tanks, anti-aircraft guns, heavy machine-guns, multiple rocket launchers, rocket-launched aircraft bombs, and sniper rifles. The roads in and out were cut off and the airport was closed down. About 450,000 residents were helpless and cut off from the world. If they needed to shop food or go outside at all, they were a target for sniper fire from the hills. Their buildings, offices, hotels, churches, markets, homes, hospitals, schools were targets and most buildings were either damaged or destroyed. Electricity and water were cut off, for days or weeks on end, making even preparation of food or heating their house almost impossible. Most of the trees in the city were cut down for firewood. Parks, of which there were many here, were used for cemeteries, with fast services done at night so that the snipers didn’t see them and open fire. The main cemetery lies on a lovely hillside overlooking the Olympic Stadium, however it was in the Serb controlled hills. Access was, of course, impossible. Over the course of almost 4 years, the residents of Bosnia were subject to almost every abomination imaginable, ranging from ethnic cleansing to mass executions, rape and starvation. Residents in Sarajevo came very close to complete starvation, and their only chance for survival weighed in the balance on the success of UN airlifts from the Sarajevo airport that was opened in late June of 1992. On June 1, 1993, at least fifteen people were killed and 80 more were wounded as a result of a mortar attack during a soccer game. Red Cross trucks, which were given clearance to enter Sarajevo, were raided and destroyed, and maternity wards were hit killing mothers and newborns alike. On July 12, 1993, twelve people were killed while in line for water, and on February 5 of the following year mortar shells killed 68, and wounding 200 others in the Sarajevo market place. The ONLY way the city and its residents survived, quite literally was via a tunnel, some 800 meters long running from Bosnian controlled territory to the airport, which even though it was controlled by the UN was still under attack. The tunnel became known as the “tunnel of life” and indeed it was. The more I hear about life here during that time the more I admire the people for their bravery. They are strong people, who have been through something so horrible that I simply can not even begin to comprehend and yet they welcome strangers with a smile. Obviously I am deeply moved by what I have found here. I look out my window now, I see the minaret, hear the chanting, and see the lush green hills. About 2 minutes walk from here is a large cemetery filled with graves, directly outside my hotel window is a small cemetery sitting next to the mosque filled with graves, all of them from the war and I realize that land may have been a park or a garden or a place where children played. In this city almost all of the parks are now cemeteries filled with names of the 11,000 people who died, around 1,400 of them were children. One of the joys of life, for me is to run up into the hills, kick off my shoes and feel the grass on my feet, but here in the hills of Sarajevo that could be deadly as the hills are, to this day, filled with land mines and no one has any idea of how many. There is of course work going on to find them, but it’s painfully slow and dangerous. Obviously the citizens of Sarajevo and Bosnia and Herzegovina have a very painful legacy. The Serbs who once lived within the city are now living outside it in a separate area “Republika Srbska” with their own police force, schools a separate nation almost and there is little social or personal contact between them and the rest of the Sarajevans, as our tour guide said on Monday as we drove through a part of their territory “ There is no contact, it would be too dangerous, no social contact and if one were to get out of the car and attempt it that would be very tense”. The wonderful diversity is almost gone in the aftermath. There are 5,000 euro forces (EU peacekeeping forces) here still and our guide expressed the hope that they remain indefinitely. The Dayton Agreement, which while it brought an end to the violence, is weak and there have been no further negotiations to ease the situation or bring any attempt at unity. This is the city which I find myself so drawn to. Is it because of the war or despite it? Perhaps I’ll never know, but I do know that I am taken by it, by the warmth, my wife and I have experienced almost the beginning, the friendliness of the people we met, by the beauty of the city itself. It is with some sense of sadness, that I start to pack my suitcase and head to Mostar tomorrow, eager for another new city, but very sad to say goodbye to Sarajevo. So it won’t be goodbye, it can’t be. It will be vidimo se, see you!

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