Co-written with the contribution of the Sri Lanka section by Meghana Bahar, WITNESS’ Social Media and Communications Consultant for Asia-Pacific and Laura Salas, WITNESS Program Manager for Latin America and the Caribbean.

In honor of the achievements of the women and human rights defenders who fought before us and those who fight alongside us now, WITNESS wishes everyone a happy and safe International Women’s Day. Today we’re launching a new tipsheet on Interviewing Survivors of Gender-Based Violence, adapted from a more comprehensive guide, offering guidance on preparing for an interview, filming tips, and more resources. Download and share it here!

Below we feature three of the women and organizations who are currently working to ensure equal rights, safety, and freedom from discrimination and harmful practices for all women.

Serbia

ATINA, an NGO based out of Belgrade, Serbia, focuses on supporting women who are survivors of human trafficking and gender-based violence. Working in mobile response teams and centers for asylum seekers, ATINA’s staffers do not call themselves employees, rather they are activists – activists borne out of the feminist and anti-war movements following the bloody wars and conflict-based rape tactics of Yugoslavia’s breakup. Over the last two decades, ATINA shored up expertise in supporting those communities most at risk in the Balkans, specializing in advocating for and supporting children, unaccompanied minors, LGBT groups, and refugees.

It is thus surprising, at first glance, that ATINA’s Up The Road, a documentary made in 2014 in collaboration with a young journalist, featured no interviews with women. Facing a critical mass of women, children, and men traveling North, ATINA found themselves pivoting to support survivors and at-risk communities speaking different languages, from different cultures, and those with long roads ahead of, and behind them. With some 65% of women reporting knowledge of violence against a woman in refugee camps, and over 11% of women reporting direct violence by police or military staff, these individuals often arrive in Serbia after some time on the “Road North” – through Greece and Macedonia carrying a mistrust of, and trauma-based reactions to, journalists, human rights defenders, police and NGO workers.

Milica Gudovic, ATINA’s communications manager, explained the challenge ATINA faced in building an advocacy plan for Up the Road – with their commitment to protecting the communities they work with, ATINA decided to forego interviewing  women for Up The Road in order to avoid pressuring those who didn’t feel safe enough to be on camera. Instead, they amplified their support network and services in order to build that trust and security. This is a principle which ATINA retains in practice today – whether it is vetting journalists who wish to speak to survivors or while filming their own productions, ATINA refuses to compromise the safety of survivors for the sake of storytelling. And this is exactly why training support staff on interviewing survivors of GBV and sharing resources across organizations and borders is pivotal to the shoring up of the international support systems of south east Europe.

With close to 90,000 unaccompanied minors in EU member states, children have become targeted victims of human trafficking and gender-based violence. As a result, ATINA now operates in partnership with the Greek ARSIS and Macedonian Open Gate: La Strada to help track those at risk who are moving through south east Europe, especially unaccompanied minors, and to share resources on training materials and security. With between 7,000-8,000 people tracked on this regional network, it is more important than ever to have groups like ATINA advocate for and support women and children who are on their own, without families or states to go back to.

Today, ATINA’s launched an International Women’s Day campaign with a list of wishes as both a guiding point and inspiration to those working to support women’s rights. For the full campaign, visit http://iwd.atina.org.rs/

 

Sri Lanka

Sri Lanka recently celebrated its 69th year of independence from colonial powers on 4th February 2017. And yet, Victorian legislation still persist on issues surrounding sexuality and sexual orientation, whilst laws recognizing the existence of transgendered persons are virtually non-existent.

Section 365 and 365A of the Sri Lankan Penal Code introduced by the British in 1883, 134 years ago, criminalize same sex unions as a “gross indecency” and “against the Order of Nature.”

Recently, the Sri Lankan parliament adopted against decriminalizing homosexuality, lumping it as a cultural matter and not one of human rights concern. Currently, no laws exist that intend to protect the rights of the LGBTQI community in Sri Lanka.

Culturally deemed as outcasts, offered no means of government protection, and severely underrepresented politically, LGBTQI persons continue to live in fear, face daily obstacles, and are discriminated against throughout the island. The government does not include the community in its educational and gender equality initiatives. Socio-economically too, households headed by same-sex couples are ineligible for any kind of protection that may be afforded to cis-heterosexual couples. In the healthcare sector, initiatives exist to “correct” homosexuality, and mechanisms like the state police detain and harass LGBTQI individuals, as reported by Human Rights Watch. Hate groups, such as the nationalist-extremist group ‘the Island Nation of Sinhale’, have taken to social media to spread radical ideology and hate-filled vitriol against the LGBTQI community. Some clergy have been reported to use religious rhetoric to justify homophobic and transphobic speech and violence.

“Should the State be allowed into our bedrooms and dictate who we love and how we love?” – Rosanna Flamer-Caldera, founder & Executive Director of Equal Ground

In the recent past, Sri Lanka’s human rights record, particularly with regard to its treatment of Tamil-speaking minority communities, and women and girls, has come under major scrutiny by the larger international community, human rights movement and international treaty bodies. However, past and present governments continue to assert their independence to assess violent war crimes and crimes against humanity via the induction of in-country, autonomous judicial and prosecutorial mechanisms.

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EQUAL GROUND Executive Director, Rosanna Flamer-Caldera at CEDAW66

In such an environment, EQUAL GROUND, a Sri Lankan non-governmental organization, leads the fight to further equality, justice and the full dignity of LGBTQI individuals. In a country where the concerns of the LGBTQI community continue to be trod on or largely ignored, EQUAL GROUND stands out like a sore thumb. Currently, the Chair of the Commonwealth Equality Network, EQUAL GROUND represented the voices of Sri Lanka’s LGBTQI community at the 66th Session of the CEDAW Committee in Geneva, Switzerland, citing the misapplication and abuse of laws by State officials in the extended NGO Shadow Report.

No stranger to discrimination, violence, stigma, slurs, murder threats or hate, EQUAL GROUND has continued to champion the equal rights of Sri Lanka’s LGBTQI persons since 2004. Accessible on Facebook, Twitter and YouTube, they have produced a number of documentaries for the purpose of raising awareness on LGBTQI concerns. The group have also launched their ‘134 campaign’ to raise awareness on the archaic laws that criminalize homosexuality. Preceded by an online petition, the campaign uses video interviews to document the lived realities of LGBTQI persons in Sri Lanka.

 Mexico

We want to speak out about the life, struggle and resistance of women who change their realities!

On March 8, women and gender non-conforming people have decided to strike in Mexico as an action to protest to continued violence against them. 2016 was an intense year for the feminist movement. Thousands of women took the streets in what became known as #24A and pushed Mexico City´s government to the point that they tried implementing measures to reduce gender based violence. Media collectives supported the process through making videos.

voces de mujeresWomen in Mexico plan to continue producing audiovisual works to reject violence against them and gender non-conforming people by telling stories of their struggle and social transformation as a way to to inspire other people. “Voces de Mujeres” is a program that brings together women to develop audiovisual and storytelling skills using a variety of mediums.

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Still from video by Carolina Corral

The program launched its first call in March 2015 with women’s collectives and communication groups such as Luchadoras, Social TIC, Subversiones, La Sandía Digital and WITNESS. In this first edition, 20 women were selected to meet for six months in order to improve their video skills. The program ended with a video production which aims to tell the story of a female activists and organizers. Through this process, Carolina Corral told the story of the women who defend their territory in Tepoztlán, Morelos; Massiel told the story of Epitacia, a woman defending her land in Colima; and Melina told the story of a woman who had to travel from her state to Mexico City to exercise her right to abortion.

This year, the groups launch another call for women who want to tell stories of other female activists, this time including the voice of gender non-conforming people who also must fight daily to survive in deeply sexist and discriminatory societies where worst hate crimes are committed everyday. If you live in Mexico and you are interested in telling a story, please apply!

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