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Join Me On The Bridge

International Women's dayAs the world gets ready to celebrate the 100th anniversary of International Women’s Day, it is a ‘grave concern’ of mine that one day, when news about war in places like the Democratic Republic of Congo, Sudan, Afghanistan, the Central African Republic, which by the way is the least reported nation in the world, among other war torn regions of the world comes on television; people will switch channels because they feel like they have heard enough or they have heard it all. In fact, I wonder if some people are not doing that already. If and when we become desensitised to the atrocities that take place during war, what hope is there for the millions of women currently living with the carnage that war lives in its path? We saw what happened in Bosnia and how women were dehumanised and their dignity taken away. Imagine being given a number not to collect food rations but it is your turn to go into the room where you will be raped repeatedly by men in uniform who have forgotten the role of a solider but result to violence, rape among other vile acts to prove they are in control and weaken the communities they want to conquer and take over…

As horrid as that may sound, that was the reality then and it is still the reality now in the DRC, Sudan and who can forget Afghanistan, where women are still fighting to be heard. I grew up with the understanding that children are to be seen and not heard. It is ironic that for girls…that reality follows them into adulthood in some societies. Now, don’t get me started on domestic violence or the abuse of widows and women, who have been accused of witchcraft in some countries like Ghana, Nigeria and other West African countries. This is not an attack or some flimsy generalisation. It is the current existence of thousands of women who suffer in silence. While those who fight back face dire consequences.

Violence against women comes in different forms but how long can we stand back and watch it be excused in the name of culture, tradition and religion? Hence, I wonder when we are done celebrating on 8 March 2011, will it be business as usual? Who is going to hear your voice and what you stand for where equality for women in the workplace stands? Who will know that you are against the use of rape and violence against women and their children in the conflict regions of the world? Who will agree with you that its time we educate the social understanding about a woman’s place in the home, society and on the world stage? Are you willing to take the risk and call for the political participation of women in more prominent positions in the corridors of power? So they are involved in the decision making process on policies that affect them and their families?

The world got tough with its ‘War on Terror’ agenda which it is still waging. Hence, why can’t we as women stand up once more and start building another defining centenary started by the Suffrage women’s movement 100 years ago? They fought so we could vote among other things that have been accomplished by women over the last 100 years but more needs to be done and it is to that effect that I say, Join Me On The Bridge and let’s agree on our commonalities and fight inequality, violence against women and girls, abuse among the many ills that we suffer in silence. And then talk about our differences and find a common ground to work together and create a better world for our daughters and the next girl child waiting to be born.

At a recent lecture/talk given by Zainab Zalbi, founder of Women for Women International, she talked about how crucial it is for women to have a voice in times of turmoil in any nation’s political landscape.  We have watched in amazement as a political cyclone sweeps across North Africa but have we heard the voice of women in these places and what they want to take a way from this revolution and create their own new beginning within this new era? Egypt had a notorious reputation for the inequality suffered by women and there have been numerous voices and articles on that subject, led by the likes of Nawal el Sadawi but can this momentum be sustained? Will the women really come out and demand that they too occupy their rightful place at the political, corporate and decision making table in ways they have not been able to do in previous years? Truth be told, women are still widely marginalised in society and the world. No where is this more visible and transparent like peace negotiations in a country that has been affected by war? Afghanistan being the best example I can give. Imagine the women being sacrificed all over by the government of Ahmid Karzia in order to achieve some level of peace with the Taliban? It means the war would have been a wasted war and the lives of service men wasted in my opinion. However, this has been the practice over the years and though we see changes in places like Liberia and Rwanda as women politicians get involved, there is need for a radical overhaul. We are not asking for a free ride, we are willing and ready to work like our male counterparts.

Join Me On The BridgeJoin Me on The Bridge was an initiative started in 2010 by Women for Women International and I would have you know that the idea came from the country directors of the organisation based in Rwanda and Congo, two countries that have lived and continue to live with the ravaging effects of war and the destruction its leaves in its path.  In case you didn’t know, both nations share a border but they are not the best of friends either. Hutu militias who escaped from Rwanda during the 1994 genocide are still heavily involved in the raping and looting of eastern Congolese women. They share border and a history, the use of rape as a weapon of war.  When women from these two countries came together, healing took place in their hearts because they were strengthening each other. They were brave and stood up for themselves together on the bridge, building a bridge of peace and burning hate. It is not enough to come to the bridge, at the bridge, demand for a call to action from our governments and the international community but the strongest call should go to the young men you know about the need to value women. The men in your neighbourhood need to understand that a woman is precious and the ideology that she is there to serve men is wrong. We are to serve not dominate each other.

Join Me On The Bridge2011’s event needs your help and attention. If women in china are meeting at the Great Wall, women in Sudan, Saudi Arabia and once again Rwandan and Congolese Women meeting up at the Gisenyi-Goma border, what’s stopping you in the country you live not to join other women and say, enough is enough! Personally, I am tired of talking about it and sitting on my backside. Though I know my body will be in pain and great discomfort for a few days after the march, I am going to the bridge. The question is, will you join me to ensure women are empowered in order to go from being victims to active citizens?

Aid is not the solution, empowerment is and that process starts with education, political and economic participation. Women hold the key to strong communities/societies but I am yet to figure out, why they are still widely marginalised and mistreated.  100 years is a long time but if the next generation, when we are long gone are faced with the reality we live with today, I wonder what they will think about our role in this defining moment? You have the weekend to plan Tuesday 8 March 2011. You don’t have to stay out all day, a couple of hours will do the trick. Join Me On The Bridge!!

Recently, Lieutenant Colonel Kibibi and 9 government soldiers of crimes against humanity for the horrific   mass rapes of women on New Year’s Day in the village of Fizi, South Kivu, DRC, were convicted for their actions. We need to ensure that precedence continues by speaking out and people are brought to justice for their role in the abuse of women or other crimes against women.  The bridge is about building peace but is also a call to action.

To find out more, visit: Join Me On The Bridge


4 Responses to “Join Me On The Bridge”

  1. Helen says:

    What an inspirational, thought provoking piece. I look forward to Joining you on London’s Millenium Bridge and joining thousands of our sisters and brothers around the world on 8 March calling for peace and an end to violence against women in areas of conflict .

  2. Great piece Belinda! Thank you. Its the evolution of girl power – now united we can change the world one woman at a time – and with all of you joining us on the bridge – many women can everything!

  3. Belinda Otas says:

    Thank you Maria and that’s the spirit!

  4. Belinda Otas says:

    Thanks Helen and I shall see you there!

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