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Archive for the ‘violence’ Category

As part of their efforts to reduce violence against children, Plan Benin is rallying motorcycle-taxi drivers to use SMS to report violence against children that they witness in the streets.

Florence Cisse, Plan West Africa’s regional communications officer, says:

The Zemidjan or “Zem” swarm the streets of Cotonou like bees. They are everywhere; silent observers to all comings and goings. Now, they have received training on how to recognize cases of child trafficking or kidnapping which often occur on the same busy streets. Using SMS texting on their mobile phones, they send information which is tracked and mapped by Plan using Ushahidi, an open source web-based technology platform. Plan then alerts authorities through partnerships with the Benin Central Office of Child Protection and ministries of Family, of Home Affairs and of Justice who begin the process of retrieving the children or investigating the abuse.

“The Zem are always working on the streets, which is where children experience the greatest risk,” said Michel Kanhonou Plan Benin Programme Manager. “The use of Ushahidi to track SMS texts and map the incidents of violence has helped to inform the authorities where, block by block, they need to invest greater resources to keep our children safe.”

The Zem join youth, heads of police squads, community and religious leaders and others who have received the training on how to recognize abuse and report it through simple SMS from Plan. Plan promotes a phone number that is used to collect the SMS on billboards and radio programmes.

This is the kind of innovation I think is most interesting – identifying existing networks and systems, and seeing how to enhance or expand them via new technologies. I’m looking forward to seeing how the program advances, and what Plan Benin learns from this effort to engage broader networks in preventing, tracking and responding to violence against children.

The team in Benin has created a video about the violence reporting system, which uses both FrontlineSMS and Ushahidi. The technology tools, however, are only part of the program. In addition, the team launched billboard and community radio campaigns to promote the violence-reporting number; engaged local communities, government, child protection agents, and NGOs; and trained children, families, teachers, school directors, parents and community leaders (and now moto-taxi drivers!) about violence, its impact on children and how to respond to it. Children and young people have been involved in program design and implementation as well, and there have been thorough discussions on how to manage this type of sensitive information in a private and secure way.

For some older posts that demonstrate the evolution of the project, which started off in early 2010, click here.

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Continue reading on Storify…

Amanda’s workshop was educational, thought-provoking, well-researched and participatory. The youth who participated in the workshop were from Bangladesh, Liberia, Haiti and across the US. They were incredibly savvy and insightful in their thoughts, analysis and comments. I learned a lot about ethical advocacy as well as about what makes a campaign or initiative interesting for well-informed, globally engaged young activists.

The rest of the workshop is captured here, including my favorite part:

The advocacy Do’s and Don’ts that participants generated during group work:

And a key take-away:

Summary of the full workshop.

Amanda’s ebook “Beyond Kony2012: Atrocity, Awareness and Activism in the Internet Age.

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‘Breast flattening,’ also known as ‘breast ironing’ or ‘breast massage,’ is a practice whereby a young girl’s developing breasts are massaged, pounded, pressed, or patted with an object, usually heated in a wooden fire, to make them stop developing, grow more slowly or disappear completely.

Rebecca Tapscott* spent last August in the area of Bafut, in the Northwest, Anglophone region of Cameroon, where a 2006 study by the German Society for International Cooperation (GIZ) found an 18% prevalence rate of breast flattening. The practice has been known as breast ‘ironing,’ however, Rebecca opts to use the term ‘flattening’ to decrease stigma and encourage open conversation about a practice that remains largely hidden.** Rebecca wanted to understand the role of breast flattening in the broader context of adolescence in Cameroon, including past and present motivations for breast flattening; cultural foundations; relation to other forms of gender-based violence such as female genital mutilation or cutting (FGM/C); how and where it is practiced; the psychological and the physical implications of the practice on individual girls.

Rebecca published her findings via the Feinstein International Center in May 2012, in a paper titled: Understanding Breast “Ironing”: A Study of the Methods, Motivations, and Outcomes of Breast Flattening Practices in Cameroon.

She visited our office late last year to share the results of her work with staff at the Plan USA office, explaining that there is currently very little research or documentation of breast flattening. The GIZ study is the only quantitative study on the practice, and there do not seem to be any medical studies on breast flattening. It’s a practice that is believed to affect 1 out of 4 girls in Cameroon, more commonly in some regions than in others. Of note is that research on breast flattening has thus far only been conducted in Cameroon, thus creating the impression that the practice is uniquely Cameroonian, when in reality, it may be a regional phenomenon.

Organizations working to end breast flattening do so with the aim of protecting girls. However, the question of protection is an interesting one depending on who you talk with. Rebecca found that those who practice breast flattening also believe they are protecting girls. “Many mothers believe that unattended, a girl’s breasts will attract advances of men who believe physically developed girls are ‘ripe’ for sex. Breast flattening is seen as a way to keep girls safe from men so that they are able to stay in school and avoid pregnancy.”

According to Rebecca, breast flattening is practiced out of a desire to delay a girl’s physical development and reduce the risk of promiscuous behavior. Proponents of the practice consider that “men will pursue ‘developed’ girls and that girl children are not able to cope with or deter men’s attention. They see that promiscuity can result in early pregnancy, which limits educational, career, and marriage opportunities, shames the family, increases costs to family (newborn, loss of bride price, health complications from early childbirth or unsafe abortion).” In addition, there is the belief that girls are not sufficiently intellectually developed to learn about puberty, and therefore should not yet develop breasts. Another reason given for the practice is the belief that girls who develop before their classmates will be the target of teasing and become social outcasts. There is also, for some, the belief that large breasts are unattractive or not fashionable.

Rebecca cites a poor understanding of human biology as one reason that the practice persists. Some of the beliefs around it include: “Belief that sensitivity and pain during breast development indicates that the growth is too early and must be artificially delayed until the girl is older. Belief that when a girl develops breasts she will stop growing taller. Belief that puberty can be delayed by delaying breast development. Belief that for breasts to grow properly, the first growth should always be repressed (like baby teeth). Belief that if breasts begin growing at a young age, they will grow too large or be misshapen, resulting in a displeasing or disproportionate female form. Belief that breasts and other outward signs of sexuality develop in accordance with a girl’s interest in sex, and therefore a developed girl is soliciting sexual advances or is a ‘bad’ girl. Belief that when a girl develops breasts, she believes she has matured and subsequently, she becomes less obedient. Belief that it will improve breast feeding at a later age.”

“…For mothers there is the perception that we should delay the development of girls as much as possible, believing that physical development shows maturity. Men look at girls and talk amongst themselves and say, “she’s ripe for sex.” They are not looking for marriage prospects…Men are aggressive. In pidgin, they say “she got get done big,” meaning, she’s matured and ready for sex. I can go after her now. Women, on the other hand, know that their daughters are just kids.” ~ journalist that Rebecca interviewed.

Rebecca also heard explanations such as “A girl will stop growing taller because the weight of her breasts will hold her down. One can delay puberty by delaying breast growth. If the breasts hurt during puberty, they are developing too early.” There are also many beliefs related to a girl’s development and her sexual reputation. Some of these beliefs include that a girl with large breasts is a ‘bad girl’. This stems from the belief that breasts start to develop when a man touches them or if a girl is thinking about sex, going to night clubs or watching pornography. Rebecca found that many of these beliefs were held across all segments of society, from the very well educated to those with no formal education.

“The body responds to psychological ideas. If a girl looks for a “friend,” her breasts will grow faster. If she is interested in boys or watches pornography, her body will develop faster.” ~ Interviewee at the Ministry of Social Affairs

“If a girl is interested in sex and thinks about it a lot, she will develop faster. I saw two girls of 12 years, one of whom was very developed physically and the other was not. The one who was developed could speak very frankly about sex, showing that she was knowledgeable from some experience, while the other girl was very naive and shy.” ~ Teacher

Because of potential stigma or harm to girls who talked about undergoing breast flattening, Rebecca only interviewed a few teenaged girls directly during this phase of her research. Instead, she mainly interviewed older women, as well as a few boys and men. She found that most women who had experienced breast flattening didn’t seem to remember the experience as extremely traumatic; however, she commented, “most are remembering from back in the day. Most at first said didn’t really hurt but then after a while into the interview, they’d remember, well, yes it hurt.” Rebecca was surprised at the number of people who said that heated leaves were used, because the media normally reports that a grinding stone or pestle is used for breast flattening.

“When I was 11 years old, my grandmother did a form of breast flattening to me. This was in 1984. I was walking around with her shoulders hunched forward to hide my developing chest, so my grandmother called me to the kitchen. She warmed some fresh leaves on the fire and said something in the dialect, like a pleading to the ancestors or spirits. Then she applied the leaves to my chest, and used them to rub and pat my breasts flat. She would also rub and pat my back, so as to make the chest flat and even on the front and the back. It hurts because the chest is so sensitive then—but they are not pressing too hard.” ~ 38 year old woman from the community

“To do the practice, I warmed the pestle in the fire, and used it in a circular motion to press the breasts flat. I did it once per day for over a week—maybe 8 or 9 days. I massaged them well, and they went back for seven years.” ~ 53-year-old woman attending a maternal health clinic in Bafut, attending with a different daughter whose breasts she did not flatten

“Until about a year ago, I believed that when a girl is interested in sex, watches porn, or lets boys touch their breasts, her breasts will grow larger. I think my mother must believe this. My ideas changed when I saw my own friends—I knew they were virgins, but they had large breasts. Also when my own breasts got bigger, and it was not because a man was touching them.” ~ Journalist in Bamenda

There is currently no consensus on whether the practice is effective at reducing the size of a girl’s breasts or if it has long-term effects on breast size. “People told me completely different things gave the same result, or people cited the very same practices as yielding different results,” said Rebecca.

Rebecca’s findings indicate that the practice of breast flattening is not a longstanding ‘traditional’ practice. Many people reported that it became more popular with urbanization. “People [who immigrated to cities] didn’t know their neighbors and they were worried about the safety of their daughters. It seems that an old practice that was used for ‘shaping’ was repurposed and adapted. Breast flattening is a very intimate and personal thing between mother and daughter. It doesn’t happen to all daughters. It’s very difficult to track, and there is no association with ethnic groups, education, socioeconomic levels, religion, etc.,” she explained.

“Most men don’t know about it. One boy said he thought it was good to protect girls.” When she talked holistically with men about what they look for in a woman, Rebecca said, “an interest in chastity and virginity came out very clearly. In Cameroon the average age for girls to lose virginity is 13-17, and it’s the same for boys. According to studies, for most, the first sexual experience is unwilling.”

Most doctors that Rebecca talked to had never heard of the practice. One doctor in Yaoundé said he had seen first and second degree burns as a result. Some cite that edemia may be a result. Development organizations like GIZ say it can cause cysts, cancer, and other difficulties but also cited that only 8% of women report suffering negative side effects, while 18% report that their breasts “fell” or sagged at an early age.

Many women who Rebecca interviewed considered the practice a very low concern compared to other problems that impact on their development, such as illiteracy, sexual exploitation, poverty and unemployment. “The women that I talked to,” said Rebecca, “often asked me, ‘Why are you asking me about this? It’s such a small thing compared to other things we have to face.’”

Given that there is not much research or consensus around breast flattening in Cameroon and the broader region, Rebecca’s work may be of use to local and international organizations that are working to promote women’s and children’s rights. Rebecca emphasizes that most people who engage in what are commonly referred to as ‘harmful traditional practices’ including female genital cutting (FGC) and breast flattening, actually do so with their child’s best interest in mind, as a means of protecting and promoting the child within the community and following social norms. Therefore, frightening or berating people may not be the best approach to discourage the practice of breast flattening. Community input will be needed to identify the root causes of the practice for it to become obsolete. Better sex education and a reduction in stigma around talking about sexual reproductive health may also help. Men will need to be part of the solution, and so will mothers who currently feel the need to take protection of their daughters into their own hands. Like many similar practices, it’s not likely that breast flattening will end until other systems and environments that set the stage for it also change.

*Rebecca worked with Plan Cameroon for several weeks on the Youth Empowerment through Technology, Arts and Media (YETAM) Project last June and July. She traveled to Bafut following her internship to conduct independent research.

**This distinction is similar to the difference between the terms female genital ‘mutilation’ and female genital ‘cutting.’

Read the full report.

Contact Rebecca for more information: rebecca.tapscott [at] gmail.com

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Starting yesterday (I’m late on writing about this one!) people from across the African continent are meeting at the Conference on Child Protection Systems Strengthening in Sub-Saharan Africa in Dakar, Senegal, to discuss how child protection systems work effectively in the African context. Follow the conference at the #cps12 hashtag or via @CPSystemsS and check out a day one summary on Storify.

“Dozens of African countries are engaged in strengthening child protection systems and mobilizing new sectors for child protection. For example, education and health sectors are engaged in violence prevention work, and social protection is becoming an essential part of efforts to reduce child labour and child marriage. Child justice initiatives are being embedded in broader national justice and security reforms and the health sector is supporting birth registration. Mobile technologies are being used for the reporting of violence, family reunification and rapid assessments. Donors are also increasingly supporting child protection systems….

“’Just the way a health system deals with many diseases, a child protection system addresses a broad range of violations of children’s rights. Children cannot be protected effectively unless social workers, police officers, justice servants, teachers and health workers and communities work together to prevent and respond to abuse and violence…. Investment in national child protection systems leads to better outcomes for children because of children’s improved access to protection services, new investments in frontline workers to identify and respond to children in need; and improved partnerships to mobilize and use resources for children, families and communities,’ according to Joachim Theis, Regional Child Protection Advisor, UNICEF, West and Central Africa.”

Key conference themes include:

  • Mapping and assessment of national child protection systems
  • Strategies and approaches to strengthening national child protection systems
  • Community based child protection mechanisms
  • Children as actors and partners in child protection systems
  • Social welfare workforce strengthening
  • Services delivery in Sub-Saharan Africa
  • Aligning traditional child protection agendas with child protection systems
  • Strengthening monitoring and evaluation for child protection
  • Mobilizing resources for child protection systems

Resources and a discussion forum are available at wiki.childprotectionforum.org. Some relevant background papers include:

A few webinars are recorded here on the topics of systems strengthening, budgeting for national system and core competencies for better national child protection systems.

There’s also a good paper on community-based child protection systems that I summarized awhile back.

Coming up soon, a few of us from different organizations will be looking more closely at the role new ICTs can play in child protection systems. Some examples of ICTs and child protection systems are here.

(Thanks to Joachim Theis at UNICEF West Africa for sending over the info on this one.)

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This is a guest post by Alana Kapell. Alana has recently joined the Office of the Special Representative on Violence against Children as the children’s participation expert. As part of her work to further define a child participation strategy and identify key opportunities for learning and collaboration, she is researching projects and initiatives related to the UN Study on Violence against Children (UNVAC) specifically focused on involving children in preventing violence.

Six years after the UN Secretary General’s Study on Violence against Children (2004-2006) and in preparation for the 2012 Statement to the General Assembly, the Special Representative of the Secretary-General (SRSG) on Violence against Children is currently assessing progress made since the Study recommendations were released in 2006. This is a strategic occasion to gain perspective on progress achieved and to reflect on good initiatives, factors of success and define opportunities for further advancement.

Many initiatives, projects, networks and advancements were born out of the process, including continued efforts to support children’s participation. In order to gain further insight into children’s own efforts and perspectives, partners are invited to help inform the analysis of ‘progress made’ by sharing information (reports, publications, videos, research, etc.) about children’s own efforts to end and prevent violence.

Contributions should be current (e.g. developed from 2007-2012) and focus on ‘progress made’ with children or how children themselves perceive violence in their lives and communities.

Additional areas of interest include:

  • Research: any research or data collection done with children.
  • Links to UN Study: initiatives that were started as a direct result of the UN Study process.
  • New forms of Violence: material or details where children have identified and/or addressed new, hidden or emerging forms of violence.
  • Prevention: examples of initiatives undertaken by children to raise awareness in their communities and projects aimed at preventing violence against children.
  • Evaluation: information that measures the impact or outcomes of children’s participation and efforts related to ending violence against children.

In addition, there are numerous partners and networks supporting and facilitating children’s participation to prevent and end violence. Community, national, regional and international efforts exist to ensure children’s views, opinions, realities, recommendations and actions are informing and shaping our collective efforts.

We would also like to update our contact lists and map the individuals, organizations, children’s groups, etc. who are supporting children’s participation to prevent and end violence. We want to reconnect with groups who were involved with the UN Study process, including the follow up and to also identify new partners who are doing innovative and important work.

We are looking to connect with both adult led organizations and child led organizations and initiatives working on issues related to violence against children and children’s participation.

Please be in touch with me [akapell at unicef dot org] if you have any information to share!

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In this guest post, Keshet Bachan, gender equality activist and blogger at The XX Factor, questions whether mobile phone applications addressing street violence are an effective way to prevent violence against women. What do you think? 

Can mobile ‘apps’ really prevent or discourage instances of violence against women? This question has been on my mind since a colleague shared this video from Voice of America about a mobile app called ‘Fight Back’, marketed as ‘India’s first mobile app for women’s safety’.

The video sparked an email discussion that raised some interesting questions that deserve a closer examination.

The VOA story provides a holistic view of violence against women and the developers of the mobile phone application admit that they are but one element in a broader system that needs to respond to instances of violence. They discuss the involvement of police and other duty bearers, such as municipal bodies, which need to address reports women make and do more to reduce their risks. I applaud this approach and the way in which the developers acknowledge the limitations of their application, which I find refreshing.

At the same time I feel this application distracts attention away from more prevalent (and deadly) issues. According to the World Health Organization 10-69% of women stated that they had been physically assaulted by an intimate partner at some point in their lives. The WHO also reports that 40-70% of female murder victims were killed by an intimate partner. A recent survey in the UK showed that one in three girls aged 13 – 17 reported sexual abuse from a partner and one in four had experienced some form of physical partner violence. The UK police receive a call for help regarding relationship abuse every minute.

The degree to which this mobile phone application promotes the notion of ‘stranger danger’ distracts attention from the urgent and more prevalent issue of family and intimate partner violence. Moreover, the fact that the application has a GPS tracker to trace a woman’s route home could inadvertently contribute to both increasing women’s fear of violence in public spaces as well as playing into the hands of those who seek to control women’s mobility by pleading the need to ‘protect’ them by knowing their whereabouts at all times.

In this context a colleague commented that a GPS enabled function could allow ‘even a moderately tech-savvy user to trace the woman in question’ – which could serve to increase traditional control over women who dare to step outside the confines of convention (and the home) even further.

There’s a disparity between the actual risk of being molested or assaulted in the street, and the level to which women fear it. One thing this mobile app could help with is mapping the actual instances of violence. This could in fact serve to reduce women’s fear, proving that violence outside the home is not as common or as severe as people might believe. At the same time the app could also shed light on the places where women are more prone to abuse (dark alleys or well lit train stations?) and call for concrete actions like streetlights to improve safety.

The application (as always) leaves it up to women to try protect themselves and does little to tackle the root causes of violence. For instance, research from India (where this application was developed) found that almost all police officers interviewed agreed that ‘a husband is allowed to rape his wife’, while 68% of judges felt that ‘provocative attire was an invitation to rape’ (Khan and Battacharya, 2010). The application would do well to connect its users to a platform for social mobilization and consciousness raising work that could create a critical mass of people who will work together to challenge traditional attitudes around gender.

Some of the other questions raised by this application, and others of its ilk, concern the development of such applications and the development of technology itself.

Does the sex of the person developing the application have an impact on the relevance of the application for persons of the opposite sex (i.e. can men develop useful applications for women)? Is technology itself biased in favor of one gender over the other (i.e. is technology inherently male)? As these questions assume rigid gender binaries the answer must inevitably be ‘no’. At the same time, research has shown that women use technology differently and that they are not well represented amongst technology developers.

Technology can be useful to both sexes and really it is a question of how one applies it that counts. In the same vein, it shouldn’t matter who’s behind developing the application but whether or not the application is answering a real need. (Let us recall that simply being a woman, doesn’t mean you’re more in touch with other women — the CEO of playboy is Hugh Hefner’s daughter).

I’m not convinced that women need a mobile phone application to protect them from strangers on a dark street. If I were asked ‘what do you think would make the streets of Delhi safer for women’, an app is not the first thing that would spring to my mind.

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Last October, UNICEF West Africa wrote up a nice briefing note on mobile tech and its relevance in child protection programming. You can download it here.

According to the document, pulled together by Mirkka Mattila, ‘This is an area of rapid innovation and new applications are being developed all the time. Telecommunications is one of the fastest growing sectors in Africa and the relevance and reach of mobile technologies for development and humanitarian work is only going to increase over the coming years. Many technical, legal and security aspects of these new technologies remain to be fully addressed and worked out. The dependence on technology, network coverage and electricity supply also mean that mobile technologies cannot be used everywhere.’

The paper includes examples on the use of mobile technologies for:

  • gathering and transmitting data by child protection service providers; including surveys, rapid assessments, case management, family tracing and reunification of separated children, and birth registration
  • self-protection and complaints mechanisms; such as child helplines, violence reporting and community mapping for violence prevention
  • transmitting information and money via mobile; eg, SMS campaigns and cash transfers.
Some of the examples and tools highlighted include: RapidSMS, RapidFTR, Nokia Data Gathering, Child HelpLines, FrontlineSMS, Ushahidi, OSM and Map Kibera, and M-PESA.

It pulls out challenges and advantages of the different use cases and offers some guiding questions to assist in the selection of the most appropriate applications, such as:

  • Is there a need to create new applications or can existing solutions be used?
  • What are the characteristics of the user group and the environment (urban – rural, existing networks and coverage etc.)?
  • What technical expertise is required for installing and maintaining the system?
  • How well will investments in equipment and capacity meet the needs, expected impact, benefits and outcomes in terms of results delivery?
  • What are the potential partnerships for sustainable capacity-building and service delivery? What are the roles of public and private service providers?
  • What are the financial resources needed in the short, medium and long-term to establish and maintain the system?

The document ends with some arguments and counter arguments around the use of mobiles in child protection work. It’s nice to see this paper as there is not a whole lot of research and/or documentation on use of mobiles and ICTs specifically in child protection work.

Download it here.

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Other child protection resources/posts on Wait… What?:

Child Protection: From emergency response to a sustainable mechanism

Community Based Child Protection

Child Protection, the media and youth media programs

Children in Emergencies: Applying what we already know to the crisis in Haiti

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Imate: gocentralamerica.about.com

One of the signature pieces of architecture in downtown San Salvador is the Municipal Cathedral located in front of Plaza Barrios (popularly known as la Plaza Civica). The Cathedral, along with the Plaza are perceived by most Salvadorans as public space. Both the cathedral and the plaza hold a million memories of destruction and rebuilding.

La Armonia de mi Pueblo is the title of the work that Salvadoran artist Fernando Llort created in 1997 to adorn the front of San Salvador’s Cathedral. Armonia is easy to translate into English – it means harmony. Pueblo is a bit more difficult. It’s a term in Spanish that includes the notion of both place and people. It comes from the Latin populus and can refer to a) inhabitants of a nation, country or region who share a similar culture; b) a population that farms in a particular zone (eg., a village or community); or c) the peasant or working class.

So in essence, the title of the work is “the Harmony of my People”.

The cathedral in the 1950s

Rather than a history of harmony, the cathedral itself has a history  of destruction and reconstruction. It was erected in 1888 and destroyed by a fire in 1951. Reconstruction began again in 1956. Archibishop Oscar Romero became the Archbishop in 1977, inheriting the partially restored cathedral. He reportedly deferred work on reconstruction, preferring to spend the church’s funds on projects to benefit the poor. The earthquake of 1986 damaged the structure further. In 1990 reconstruction began once again. The mosaic gracing the front was completed by Llort in 1997 and the current cathedral was inaugurated in 1999.

Aside from earthquakes and fire, other tragedies have marked the cathedral and the plaza.

1979. A massacre took place on the cathedral steps on May 9, 1979, as recounted here by journalist Ken Hawkins in a BBC article called “Witness to a Massacre“. Video footage in this accompanying article 1979: El Salvador Cathedral Bloodbath is eerily similar to the kinds of videos coming out on YouTube lately from Egypt and Syria, with armed troops shooting live ammunition into the backs of protesters. Towards the end of the 1979 video, people clamber up the steps of the cathedral in an attempt to find shelter inside. The military contends that protesters fired first, but witnesses have said the gunfire began on the side of National Guard.

A close friend of mine was present during the May 9th massacre. She took me to a photo exhibit about it last year at The Museo de la Cuidad de Santa Tecla, telling me her personal story as we wandered through. She was 15 years old at the time and had gone to the protest in her school uniform, thinking she would be there just a few hours. She ended up trapped in the church for much longer, fearing what might happen next and helping others tend to those wounded who were still alive.

The museum where we saw the exhibit was originally the Santa Tecla Municipal jail. After the civil war began, it housed political prisoners. My friend used to visit her husband there. He had been captured while participating in activities with the teachers’ union.  The Santa Tecla museum is a remarkable feat in taking a painful history and reclaiming it for the public good. Among other things, it has served as a place for people with similar histories, those former families of political prisoners and the former prisoners themselves, and families of the disappeared and dead, to reunite, share their memories and losses, and build community.

The Municipal Museum in Santa Tecla (photo by Carlos Rodriguez Mata)

My friend told of going to the steps of the cathedral on a recent May 9, the anniversary of the massacre. She found a few other survivors there, standing on the steps, remembering. One of those people was the journalist who had photographed events that day. ‘It was so strange,’ she said, ‘after so many years, we were somehow drawn to each other, there on the steps.’ In addition to the journalist she met a rural man in a straw hat, who had also been there in 1979, and who showed her his gunshot scars. A couple of other women who had lost a relative were also there, sitting on the steps, paying their respects.

1980. Archbishop Oscar Romero, a friend of the pueblo and considered a martyr by many, was assassinated on March 24, 1980, while giving mass at a private chapel. On the 31st, his funeral was held at the cathedral and people traveled in from across the country to pay their respects, packing the Plaza Civica with an estimated 50,000 people, many old women and children.

People filled the square during Monseñor's funeral

A bomb exploded somewhere in the plaza setting off panic and gunfire. Some say it was a ‘propaganda bomb’ designed to blow leaflets out to the crowd. Others say it was some other type of bomb. A journalist recounts his experience here. Dozens were killed in the resulting crush. My Salvadoran mother-in-law tells the story of one of our neighbors’ brothers being trampled to death that day, and how in hindsight, she is glad she wasn’t able to attend the funeral given what happened. The dead and wounded were carried up the stairs into the cathedral and many people hid inside until the dust cleared. Members of the leftist guerrillas were also stationed in and around the cathedral, guns loaded.

Monseñor’s funeral, captured on film here, is usually cited as the official beginning of the civil war in El Salvador.

http://youtu.be/EN6LWdqcyuc

1992. On January 16, 1992, the Peace Accords were signed and I remember the resulting celebrations. My husband and I were afraid to openly participate in the street fest as you still couldn’t be too sure of what might happen. There were separate celebrations for the opposing sides: Arena and the FMLN; a couple of blocks from each other. Arena celebrated in Parque Libertad, right up the street from our apartment in Barrio Candelaria. The FMLN celebrated in the Plaza Civica, adorning the Cathedral with banners. We wandered through both celebrations, not stopping for long in either place out of fear, but feeling a tremendous joy all around us, especially in the Plaza Civica.

Celebrating the Peace Accords in 1992. Image from the Museo de la Palabra y la Imagen in San Salvador; photographer Francisco Campos.

1997. One thing that I always loved about Catholicism in El Salvador was the way that people made it their own, merging local culture and belief systems into it, and celebrating their spirituality in their own unique style. So when the front of the Cathedral was decorated in 1997 by Fernando Llort, whose art resembles a folk art style popular in La Palma, Chalatenango, it seemed fitting. Given the history of the cathedral, the history of the country, and the events that had happened in the square, to me, the cathedral always seemed to belong to ‘the pueblo.’

2011. I discovered this past weekend, however, that Llort’s tiles and his work, which he considered his greatest achievement of all time, dedicated to ‘God and Monsenor Romero,’ were being removed from the face of the cathedral. Some consider Llort’s work to be commonplace, saying it belongs ‘on a tourist’s towel, not on a church.’ Others feel that his work represents something truly Salvadoran. The latter are outraged that the mosaic was removed with no warning, and they are asking why. They are questioning the legality of the destruction of the mural, and wondering where is the respect given to art and culture in El Salvador.

Photo of the tiles, on the ground in front of the cathedral.

Church leaders have since apologized to the Llort family and to those who are upset by the surprise removal of the tiles. They contend that they consulted with the congregation of the cathedral, and got their approval to remove the tiles. But the Secretary of Culture has called the Catholic church out for their actions, condemning ‘the destruction of the face of the Cathedral,’ and accusing the church of violating the ‘Special Law on Protection of Cultural Patrimony’ which states that ‘although the mural on the Cathedral of San Salvador was not declared a Cultural Site, it was in process of being declared, meaning that under no circumstances should any interventions have been made.’ Any actions should have followed procedures according to the law, and these were not considered, according to an article in La Pagina.

A group has formed on Facebook called Indignados por el Mural (Angry about the Mural) where debate is happening around the value of art and culture in El Salvador. It was originally rumored that the tiles were being removed so that they would not clash with a ‘more elegant and timeless’ sculpture that was being donated. Details about this statue were never obtained, and the reason given officially by the church for the removal of the tiles is that they were damaged and irreparable. Many have questioned this, asking why the tiles couldn’t have been restored as with other works of art.

Tiles being dumped. Photo via Indignados por el Mural, @AnaCanizalez

The cathedral means so much to so many that it’s not surprising to see people upset by the sudden change in its facade. Given the cathedral’s history, one might wonder if the ownership and path of the Salvadoran Catholic church is again being debated, as it has been throughout history. Does it belong to the rich or the poor? Why would such an important piece of art be removed in such an undignified way? Does the cathedral belong to the congregation that attends church there? To the church leaders? To the Vatican? Or is it a public good, belonging to the pueblo?

In the wake of the destruction of the mural, one idea that has been suggested is to gather the smashed tiles and use them to create a new work of art in homage to Fernando Llort and Salvadoran art and culture in La Palma, Chalatenango. Given the cathedral’s history of ruin and rebuilding, and the notable ability of Salvadorans themselves to rise and rebuild from the ruins after earthquakes, floods and civil war, perhaps that is a fitting use for the remains of La Armonia de mi Pueblo. It still makes me sad, though.

…..

http://youtu.be/pr4UIHLk4r8?t=35s

(“los mejores artisanos del mundo….”)

Note: updated on Jan 4 to correct errors in the dates related to the construction of the original cathedral.

Updated: In this video, Fernando Llort reacts to the situation in a press conference on Jan 3, 2012. 

http://youtu.be/NHoedoaUnSc

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FMLN guerrilla with rifle poised in town of Chalatenango, El Salvador, 1988. This photo is from the article referred to below. Original at http://www.ontheissuesmagazine.com, Winter 1994.

A version of this post was originally published on the Peace Dividend Trust blog.

I lived in El Salvador for about 6 months during the civil war and over 9 years post-conflict.  So I was quite interested in the Society for International Development (SID) Congress July 30th panel on the “Nexus of Conflict and Development.”

The panel was composed of a high-powered, high level group of men*, presided over with humor and grace by a woman of the same caliber, Tessie San Martin, President and CEO of Plan International USA, SID Board Member (and my boss!).

Arthur Keys, President and CEO of International Relief and Development introduced the panel, asking questions like:  Can development be done in a conflictive environment. Is settlement of conflict needed before development can take place? Can development assistance be used as a tool for peacemaking?

Keys noted the changing, fluid environments in conflict zones and their inherent complexities – the interconnectedness of many variables that cannot be addressed in isolation.

Within that context the panelists discussed a variety of issues, from the changing nature of conflict and violence, to the pillars of post-conflict reconstruction, to local ownership and local government credibility and legitimacy to the role of the military in ‘delivering’ development to front loading funds in conflict areas to USAID branding in conflict zones. Listening to the discussion, I realized many of the questions that we were asking ourselves 20 years ago in post-conflict El Salvador are still unresolved today.

One of the most interesting conversations of the panel was catalyzed by San Martin’s question on local ownership and legitimacy. “We’re talking about ownership and local voices, but one question is whose local voice? There are a number of vulnerable groups,” she said. “How do you deal with the question of ‘whose voice’?”

Donald Steinberg, Deputy Administrator of USAID, answered by telling the story of his experiences negotiating a peace agreement in Angola under Bill Clinton.

“When I was asked how this agreement benefits women, I answered that not a single part of this agreement discriminates against women,” he said. “But what I learned is that a peace agreement that calls itself gender neutral is actually working against women.”

The Angola agreement was based on 13 separate amnesties, he said.

I learned that ‘amnesty’ means ‘men with guns forgive other men with guns for crimes committed against women.’”

Steinberg went on to comment that the closest woman to the peace process in Angola was a female interpreter, who would “raise her eyebrows when we men did something stupid.”

He described the peace agreement as being “come and hand in your weapons and you get benefits.” But most women involved in the conflict were not bearing arms, they were playing other roles. So when demobilization came, they got no benefits. On top of that, “we sent men back to communities where women had become very empowered in their absence,” he said. “The men returned and there was no role for them. Many drank off all their benefits. They started beating their wives. The incidence of sexual aggression rose. So you saw that the end of the one conflict brought about a new insidious form of violence against women.”

Another area where the peace agreements forgot about women was in de-mining activities. “We cleared the roads of mines,” said Steinberg. “But we didn’t clear the fields. The water points. Places where women gathered wood. As communities returned home, and women went back to collecting water and firewood, they were blowing their legs off with remarkable regularity.”

The peace process started to fall apart a couple of years later, he said, but by then it was too late to bring women’s organizations into the process. “We tried to work with women’s groups but they would say, ‘This isn’t about us, it was about the men with guns. It hasn’t involved us at all.’” The country erupted into war again.

Steinberg said he was happy that USAID is addressing these issues now. “The first thing I put into place was support to women’s participation in peace processes and to provide them with protection to do so, as it’s dangerous for women to be involved in this work. Nothing about them without them – this is our phrase,” he said, and cited UN Security Council Resolution 1325 as a strong influence on him:

“The Security Council adopted resolution (S/RES/1325) on women and peace and security on 31 October 2000. The resolution reaffirms the important role of women in the prevention and resolution of conflicts, peace negotiations, peace-building, peacekeeping, humanitarian response and in post-conflict reconstruction and stresses the importance of their equal participation and full involvement in all efforts for the maintenance and promotion of peace and security. Resolution 1325 urges all actors to increase the participation of women and incorporate gender perspectives in all United Nations peace and security efforts. It also calls on all parties to conflict to take special measures to protect women and girls from gender-based violence, particularly rape and other forms of sexual abuse, in situations of armed conflict. The resolution provides a number of important operational mandates, with implications for Member States and the entities of the United Nations system.”

Ambassador Rick Barton, US Representative to the Economic and Social Council of the UN, agreed that the role of women is critical, and “it starts with who’s negotiating the peace process.” Barton noted that the percentage of women in peace negotiations is 5-7%, and that it’s a recurring concern. “If you are not there at the start of the race, it will be designed in a certain way and you will be disadvantaged. I’m hopeful that the UN Women’s Commission, led by Michelle Bachelet will bring attention and focus to this issue.”

“What about men and boys?” a woman in the audience asked. “It’s great to empower women, but what are you doing to change the attitudes and beliefs that men have? How can we get them to realize we are equal?”

Barton agreed that getting men’s attention is critical. “These are not women’s issues, they are society’s issues. Men and boys need to come a long way.”

“It’s easy to work on gender with this administration,” commented Steinberg, noting that USAID is trying to institutionalize it through the position of Senior Coordinator for Gender Equality and Women’s Empowerment. “It’s not only about protecting women or about victimization,” he said. “It’s about changing attitudes and instilling into our DNA the notion that women are key to building stable societies, ensuring sustainable growth and recovering from conflict situations. We need to focus on gender in addition to women.”

Sitting, there, listening to the panel discussions, I kept thinking about a Salvadoran friend from some 20 years ago. She was from a ‘conflict zone’ but would have never called herself an ex-combatant. For several years, she had moved around with the guerrilla, cooking and supporting the cause, but didn’t carry a weapon. Post conflict, she had lingering health problems stemming from that period, when she had been chronically malnourished. During her time with the guerrilla, she had contracted glandular TB, a condition that embarrassed her. At 34 years of age then, she had the ruddy, freckled and fresh face of a young girl, but she wore dentures as she had lost all of her teeth. She worked cleaning an office and always struggled financially. I’m not sure she ever got any benefits from demobilization.

I’m also reminded of a rather large post-conflict program that I was responsible for monitoring at the time, together with a few other privately funded donor agencies. Aimed at providing community-based psycho-social support to returning ex-combatants in several zones formerly held by the guerrilla, the program ended up mostly supporting women and children who were suffering domestic violence at the hands of the demobilizing men. The male ex-combatants either didn’t feel they needed psycho-social support or didn’t want to face the stigma of seeking it out, but the women took advantage of it. Community psycho-social support agents fully recognized that they were treating a secondary effect and not addressing the real causes of the violence.

According to a 1994 article by Betsy Morgan in On the Issues Magazine, ”Nearly one third of the FMLN guerrilla forces, who fought for 12 harrowing years in the mountains, were women. But neither of the restructuring plans [that of the government or that of the rebels] directly addressed women’s issues: equality in education, health care, job opportunities, and legal justice in instances of rape and domestic abuse…. Two female commandantes from the FMLN were on the negotiating team. However, when the peace accords were signed on January 16, 1992, all the signatories were male. The subsequent reconstruction plans called for demilitarization, but neither the government nor the FMLN addressed the hidden violence – domestic abuse, rape and incest – that invariably accompanies a military climate of violence, and neither side made provisions for the fair treatment of female ex-combatants, particularly in terms of land tenure. It can only be concluded that for all of the women’s influence during the war, at the point of peace, the women’s movement was still seen as a thing apart from the arena where real decisions were made.”

There were women involved in all aspects of the war, including negotiating the Peace Accords in El Salvador, but it didn’t guarantee that women’s needs were addressed during the negotiations.  It didn’t ensure that the post-conflict programs agreed to in the Accords were fully funded or that programs were designed and planned with participation of those they were meant to benefit or that women got fair treatment. It did not guarantee that the different efforts were non-politicized or that they were well-implemented. As Keys pointed out when introducing the panel: the nexus of conflict and development is a complex place, with every element impacting on every other, and as Steinberg and Barton pointed out, it’s not only about women, it’s about gender.

I’m glad to see the discussions taking place, and I hope that experiences, failures and successes from places like Angola, El Salvador, Colombia, Iraq, Afghanistan and so many others are fully examined and shared to see what more can be done to create environments where women are in decision-making roles before, during and after conflict; where the broader implications of gender and gender roles are considered; and where both women and men who achieve positions of power are really reaching out to, listening to and representing those who don’t have a seat at the table.

*Members of the panel:

Tessie San Martin, President and CEO, Plan International USA and SID Board Member (moderator)

Ambassador Rick Barton, US Representative to the Economic and Social Council of the United Nations

Alonzo L Fulgham, Vice President, IRD

Donald Steinberg, Deputy Administrator, USAID

Tom Wheelock, Vice President and Sr Director, Communities in Transition, Creative Associates

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This is a guest post by Rebecca Tapscott who, along with Joe Paveyis interning with us in Cameroon for the next couple months. Rebecca wrote a first post about the what and the why of setting up an Ushahidi system in Cameroon to track violence against children and Joe goes more into depth about the technical side of setting the actual system up in his post Digitizing violence reporting. Sounds complicated… because it is!.

Here Rebecca writes about how she and Joe are better understanding mobile phone use and community context by living in the community. She also goes into how the team is training youth on how the system works and getting youth’s input into the design and use of this type of system in their community

Learning what information to include when sending SMS reports on child abuse.

One component of our ICT4D internship with Plan is working “in the field” with the community to help implement the Ushahidi reporting system for violence against children (“VAC”).  To this end, Joe and I are living in Bamessing community, a village in the North West Region of Cameroon, also one of the three program units (“PUs”) hosting the YETAM program.

Bamessing has no running water, limited network coverage, and sporadic electricity.  The region is also known for high rates of child/forced marriage, domestic violence and school dropouts.  If a VAC Ushahidi system can work here, it can work anywhere.

Piloting the site in Bamessing has several benefits as well.  First, we are working with a group of motivated youth who have received extensive training on the four categories of  child abuse and violence against children (physical, psychological / emotional, sexual, and neglect or negligent treatment), as well as their legal rights under the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child and other international and national protocol.

Second, the Bamessing community is saturated with cell phones, and most of the youth in the YETAM group have their own personal cell phones.  Joe and I had a discussion with Odelia, our “land lady” and the 30-year-old widow of the late pastor, who told us that she first noticed cell phones in Bamessing in 2010 (though some say they’ve been around since 2004).  Since then, she has owned five cell phones, although she never uses one to text, and makes only one or two calls a week.  Instead, cell phones seem to serve as a sort of portable doorbell.  Neighbors, friends, and acquaintances “beep” each other (give a missed call, which does not cost any credit) to relay a predetermined message.  Credit is expensive relative to other daily costs and, as previously mentioned, the network here is tenuous.  Texting requires literacy, dexterity, and decent vision, which are limiting factors for many of the adults in the community.

Finally, Cameroon seems to have the advantage of a functioning (albeit imperfect) offline system for reporting and responding to VAC.  I spoke with a delegate from the Ministry of Social Affairs (“MINAS”), who explained some of the system’s weaknesses to me, namely that the ministry is highly underfunded and understaffed.  He also lamented that reporting is lacking, due to inadequate knowledge of civil law (instead, most people are familiar with customary law, which often reinforces certain rights violations), and inability to report violations.  While knowledge of civil law must come from human led sensitization and education projects, the Ushahidi platform can enhance reporting ability in Cameroon.  Through our discussions with Plan staff in Yaoundé, we came to the optimistic conclusion that the government might increase investment in staff, resources, and educative programs in direct response to the number and severity of reports that come through the Ushahidi system.

Given these caveated benefits, our current challenge is to introduce the concept of reporting through Ushahidi to the YETAM youth group, teach the youth how to report incidents, integrate their feedback into the system, get the online system up and running, pilot it, and present it to MINAS.

Our first opportunity to present Ushahidi to the youth was during the YETAM refresher training, held June 22 – June 27, 2011 at a local high school in Bamessing.  Joe and I worked with Georges (Plan Cameroon’s ICT coordinator for the area) and Judith (the YETAM coordinator in Cameroon) to design a module to introduce Ushahidi and our particularized reporting system.  First, Georges and Joe explained Ushahidi and answered questions on a theoretical level.  We then described our intention to use Ushahidi for reporting VAC, what information must be included in reports of VAC, and what information will be displayed on the Ushahidi site.

We created an acronym (ChANGE) to help the youth remember what information to include in text message reports. (C: Community; h: False letter– we said “help” so people can remember, but really nothing should be reported there, A: Age, N: Name of victim, and your own if you are comfortable reporting it, G: Gender, E: Event.)  Then we gave a practice scenario and asked five participants in the class to show how they would report the message. We reviewed each message for number of characters, noting that a single text message is limited to 140 characters, and also checked to make sure that all the necessary components were included.  All five messages were similar, reading something like:

My name is Judith. I beg of you for my friend Mary who is 14 years old and whose father is taking her from school to give to a 60 year old man for marriage in Bamessing community.

Most of the messages ran long, but did include the five required components.  One area of confusion was what level of geographic specificity to include.  We explained that while the report must be as specific as possible to facilitate a response, the Ushahidi site will present a more general geographic location so as to preserve anonymity for victims and reporters.

We asked the youth for feedback on the system, which resulted in more questions clarifying what is appropriate to report, and the level of confidentiality of reporting.  One concern was that often the phone network is down, making it impossible to send text messages.  We clarified that all the old methods of reporting still exist, and that community animators and Plan staff can be sought out to report either by text message or the other ways.  By the end of the training, the youth agreed that this would be a useful system, and some commented that they particularly appreciate the unique level of anonymity associated with SMS reporting.

This month, Joe and Georges will finalize the Ushahidi system, Joe will create brief manuals for system users, and Joe and I will provide additional training on using the system.  We hope to have the youth send sample text messages to the site in the next month to test the system, to train the youth, and to provide sample data to present the site to potential government partners. Our colleague Nathalia (the Child Protection Advisor in Plan Cameroon) also suggested that we create a ‘child and youth friendly’ guide to how Ushahidi works that can be used for training, so we’ll get going on that also.

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