"It is not enough to go through life being 'a good guy,'" he said. "Men must take a greater role in human rights on behalf of women everywhere. This is our gender-based job. We have to be human rights advocates and defenders of women everywhere." Halperin ended his opening statements by saying, "these women have done more than survive. They have triumphed."
Quotes from Dr. Rick Halperin, Director of the Human Rights Education Program at Southern Methodist University Dallas, Texas USA
Symposium brings violence against women to the forefront
They come from different backgrounds: Uganda, Iran, Argentina, Palestine and the United States. Their stories are different: wars, religious dictatorships, military coups and sex trafficking.
But these five women have all experienced violence.
They came together on Thursday night to share their experiences and to bring awareness of the global issue of violence against women.
"These are the great crimes in the world," said Rick Halperin, Director of the Human Rights Education Program. "No county is immune from this plague...
...Women are targets everywhere."
Halperin said these crimes will be passed down and a legacy of anger will be in future generations if these crimes are not solved and if there is no punishment or justice.
He said the main problem is men. According to Halperin, men commit most of the crimes in the world. The average human rights violation act is committed by a man against a woman.
"All men have women in their lives; we just call them different names," Halperin said.
He went on to say that they were mothers, daughters, sisters and friends. He noted that most men are outraged when such acts are committed to women that are in their lives. However, Halperin said it was a "pity" that these feelings don't extend beyond their own immediate circle.
"It is not enough to go through life being 'a good guy,'" he said. "Men must take a greater role in human rights on behalf of women everywhere. This is our gender-based job. We have to be human rights advocates and defenders of women everywhere."
Halperin ended his opening statements by saying, "these women have done more than survive. They have triumphed."
Kidnapped, tortured in Argentina
Ana Maria Careaga was one of the "disappeared. "
During the Dirty War of Argentina that lasted from 1976 to 1983, many citizens were detained and tortured. It is estimated that 30,000 people were "disappeared" during this time, including about 500 babies who were stolen from their mothers and whose real identities were replaced.
Careaga, speaking through a translator, said the babies were taken as "war booty." About 95 of these babies have been recovered and identified due to the efforts of the Grandmothers of the Plaza de Maya.
The military coup that occurred in Argentina on March 24, 1976 was one of the "most cruel and unprecedented, " according to Careaga, who noted that it was not the only coup in the area. She explained that Operation Condor,a campaign of political repressions, occurred throughout South America and was supported by the United States.
In Argentina, there were 502 clandestine detention centers, 46 in the capital of Buenos Aires. Though the number was great, Careaga said the methodologies used were the same.
About 500 people were taken to the Naval Mechanic School (ESMA) during this time. Careaga herself was taken to another detention center, Club Atletico, which was located in the basement of the supplies building on the federal police.
She was 16 and three months pregnant when she was taken in 1977.
"I was tortured there for four months," she said. Careaga explained that while she was detained, she lost her identity and became "K04."
"In those places, being a women meant more cruel punishment and torture,"
Careaga said her family had been persecuted; her parents were refugees from Paraguay. When she and her brother-in-law were kidnapped, her family began to meet and walk in the Plaza de Maya because they could not find any information about what happened. People still walk in the Plaza today.
Careaga was eventually released and fled to Brazil. She then moved to Sweden as a refugee. After she was released, Careaga had her daughter. Three days later, when she called her family to let them know, Careaga found out that her mother had been kidnapped.
In what is now known as the "Abduction of the Santa Cruz Church," Careaga's mother and several others were taken when a naval officer infiltrated the Grandmothers of the Plaza de Maya.
Careaga did not discover her mother's whereabouts until July 2005, when declassified documents showed that the U.S. embassy in Argentina had identified the remains of her body in 1977.
"It proves that the U.S. embassy knew what took us 20 years to find out," she said.
Today Careaga is the director of the Space for Memory Institute, which promotes public policies for the memory and human rights. She also speaks out against state terrorism in Argentina.
Careaga said that her mother and the others continue to fight today, even though they are dead.
"They will tell the world what happened," she said.
A country ravaged by conflict
Jessica Okello believes "you can't talk about women without talking about children."
She said women and children were the "most vulnerable."
In Uganda, she said, many have lost their "dear ones," in the struggle of one rebel tribe against the government.
Okello is the National Coordinator in the Women and Children Ministry in Uganda.
"The people who has suffered the most is the women," Okello said.
Why? Because, she said, women must watch as their children are forced to fight. In addition, girls are not allowed to go to school. Many are forced to be mothers at 12 or 13 because they have lost their parents in the war.
"It's much safer for children to sleep on the side of the street," Okello said, "because it is safer than staying in their homes, where they would be abducted."
Okello said boys are forced into the military and brainwashed. Girls are given away as sex slaves. Many become infected with diseases such as HIV/AIDS and have children.
"Many [of the girls] don't love those children," she said, "because of the circumstances they were brought in."
Okello said many women are forced into prostitution to feed their families.
"She [a woman] will struggle," she said, "but because she has children, she will stand strong."
According to Okello, many women are raped in front of their children and husbands. Sometimes they are forced to have sex with their own children. Okello said many women have committed suicide because they could not live with themselves after this.
"They would rather die than live knowing they sleep with their son," she
Men of the rebel tribe cut off their lips, nose or hands "to show them [the government] that the rebels exist." Okello said many pregnant women have their stomachs cut open.
"They remove the babies and hit their heads against a tree trunk," she said.
For the abducted children, escape can mean punishment and death.
Stress and trauma have plagued the women in Uganda. Okello said 40 percent of women have post-traumatic stress disorder and that the trauma has led to mental illness. She said survivors are often feared because of their disfigurements.
"You can't walk out with our head high," she said.
Okello said there is hope. "Women will always fight for peace."
Islamic government represses women
By a coincidence, Mina Ahadi was born into a Muslim family and was a Muslim.
When she was 9, her traditional garb meant that you could only see her eyes. Ahadi asked her mother why she had to wear the scarf. 'Because we are Muslim,' she replied.
At 14, Ahadi began to read the Quran and said through a translator she realized that "if I did not wear the scarf, I would end up in hell and not paradise."
Her perceptions changed when her grandfather criticized Islam and spoke to God himself. Ahadi then began to criticize the religion herself. At 16, she began to read books by authors such as Marx. "I stopped praying," she
This was not a problem, according to Ahadi, because there was no Islamic government.
When she grew up, Ahadi said she threw her scarf away and put on a miniskirt. She went to a university and studied medicine. She had been at the university for four years when the revolution began.
Ahadi actively participated, saying she "hoped they'd be able to shape a better life for people." It was until later that she heard it was an Islamic organization that was leading the movement.
Two months after the revolution ended, the government announced that women had to wear the traditional scarf. Ahadi said she looked in the mirror as asked "should I wear the scarf or not?" To Ahadi, the scarf was like a prison. She said no.
Ahadi knew this decision would have consequences, and she said she was thrown out of the university for it. She said she was visited first by men with beards, and then by men with knives.
Ahadi worked in a factory to support herself and protested the government's rules. These rules included a law that prohibited women to divorce. Men, however, could divorce their wives.
The government also made it legal for a woman to be stoned. Ahadi described one stoning she saw when she was 20, calling the practice "a barbaric act against women." The act of stoning involved burying a woman in sand up to her head. Stones are then thrown at the woman's head until she is dead. Ahadi said women and men continued to be stoned to death today.
In everyday life, "everything was divided," Ahadi said. She gave an example of this by describing how women were forced to sit in the back of the bus while men sat in the front.
Police arrested Ahadi's husband and five other guests at their apartment. She said she had to flee to Tehran because the government was searching for her. She later found out that her husband had been executed. Ahadi later received her husband's bloody clothing.
The government began to publish a list of those executed in 1980. Ahadi said the government would sometimes execute children and pregnant women. Sometimes, she said, they would execute 50 people in one day.
Ahadi then fled to Kurdistan, where she lived for 10 years and fought against the Islamic regime there.
Ahadi said she "believes there is no Islamic country-there are countries with Islamic governments. Within these countries, Ahadi said women are threatened daily. "Political Islam is an anti-women movement." Ahadi also said that "terrorism is part of the movement."
Although Ahadi discussed her story, she said "not everything is dark." Ahadi has meet many women who are secular and fighting for human rights.
Today she is the founder and head of the International Committee against Execution and Stoning.
"Hope is people just like you," she said, referring to those involved in human rights activites, "We need to join together."
Studying at SMU was a hard struggle won...
According to Doaa Mansour, women in Palestine face two types of violence: social and political.
She should know, as she has lived most of her life in Nablus, Palestine, a city located in the West Bank.
Mansour said that Palestine, as part of the Arabic world, has the same social characteristics as many other Islamic countries. They are a traditional and patriarchal society, she said, and exhibit three types of violence against women.
Domestic violence in Palestine is physical, psychological and sexual, Mansour explained. It is men against women, mainly husbands against wives. Mansour noted that often violence was used for "silly, stupid reasons."
She cited a 2005 survey of married women in which 61.7 percent were found to have suffered psychological abuse, 23.3 percent were found to have suffered physical abuse and 10.5 percent suffered sexual abuse.
Honor killings are also practiced in Palestine. Mansour said many of the honor killings were done so by husbands to wives based on rumors of sexual activity outside of marriage. She noted that the killings are "carried out by both Muslims and Christians alike."
The third type of violence involved families. Mansour said women have family concerns and that men often use violence as a means of control. She explained that many women experienced violence if they spoke to their husbands the wrong way or failed to raise the children as their husbands wished. She also explained that a man can veto any decision a woman makes.
Political violence in Palestine began in 1948, when Israel was given lands that were traditionally Palestine, Mansour said. The Palestinians had two uprisings-one called the Stone Uprising, and another in 2000 in which 2,000 men and women were killed.
Mansour said "women have suffered the impact of occupation."
Mansour said she has lost some of her family and friends because of this.
In particular, Mansour emphasized the appearance of Israeli checkpoints
throughout the area which "enforced a policy of movement restraint as well
as economic and social restraint."
"There are so many narratives that have been heard about checkpoints, " she said, recalling stories of weddings ruined, women in labor stalled going to the hospital, and even one women having a baby at a checkpoint and naming him 'Checkpoint. '
Mansour's own story involved a checkpoint.
She wanted to study in America. So in January 2008, Mansour began to work on getting her visa and paperwork completed. The only problem was the closest U.S. embassy was in Jeruselum, and as a Palestinian, Mansour said it was impossible to travel to the embassy without permission.
So Mansour applied for permission, but was declined for reasons unknown. She then decided to sneak into Jeruselum.
Mansour said Israel was contructing a separation wall between the two countries, but in some places the wall has not been built. Instead, it is fenced. Her plan was to cross at one of these points.
While crossing, Mansour said she was surprised by an Israeli military jeep. The men shouted at her and shot a gun into the air, according to Mansour.
She explained to them that her goal was to get to the U.S. embassy and not one of violence, but Mansour said the men arrested her anyways, even after she offered to give up her ID to them and then retrieve it after she was done at the embassy.
Mansour was taken to a military base, where she was interrogated for hours. She was then left alone for a long period of time, at the end of which she was told that she was not allowed to enter Israel.
Undeterred, Mansour said she decided to try to sneak across a second time.
It was a success, she said, and "Thank God."
When she arrived at the embassy, she was lectured on the importance of being punctual. But Mansour obtained her visa. Today she is a graduate student in anthropology at SMU.
While she lives thousands of miles away from her home country, Mansour said she "still lives in Palestinian fear everyday."
But she said, her biggest fear is losing that fear and the connection to her people it symbolizes.
It happens in the United States too
Theresa Flores lived in an upper-middle class neighborhood. Her father had a very important job that meant Flores moved around a lot.
When she was 15, her family moved to Detroit. Flores said she was "amazed" at how different it was from the countryside, from where she had moved.
She started a new school, and developed a crush on a boy. However, Flores said the boy was of a different race and that others told her at the school that they could not be together because that was the way it was.
Flores said she didn't understand why it was like this in the United States.
When the boy offered to give her a ride home, Flores said yes.
But a red flag went up in her mind when the boy drove in the opposite direction of her house. Another flag appeared when the boy said he needed to go get something from his house. Another red flag went up when he asked if she'd like to come inside.
Flores said she ignored all the red flags and went inside, where she found out that all those flags had been correct. The boy she had a crush on date raped her.
Flores said it was humiliating for her, a virgin Catholic girl. What she didn't know was that a group of men had been photographing her.
The men turned out to be involved in a large underground ring of human traffickers. Flores said they forced her into slavery by threatening to show the photos to everyone she knew, including her parents and her priest.
"I was to earn back those photos," she said.
Flores said she was too afraid and embarrassed to tell anyone, so for two years the men followed her. She said there was no way of escaping from them and that they were "planted everywhere."
Her life was threatened daily. Dead animals were found in her mailbox. Once, the men killed her dog.
At night, Flores said she would get phone calls and would have to sneak outside to a waiting car immediately, often in pajamas without shoes. She would then be forced into having sex with many men.
She would travel to strange places and Flores said every time she saw the car, she didn't know if she would get back home.
Flores said one night she "was sold to the highest bidder," and was beaten and drugged until she was unconscious. Waking up in a strange place, she was escorted home by the police.
Her parents, she said, assumed she had been out all night and were embarrassed that their daughter was being escorted home. They didn't know she wasn't wearing shoes.
"I was vulnerable," she said, "I was afraid to tell anyone."
Flores eventually escaped, and now is a licensed social worker and author of The Sacred Bath, a book about her experiences. She said she was lucky.
"We think we don't have any problems," she said. "Slavery didn't end 150 years ago. Human trafficking is America's dirty little secret.' It is a $9.5 billion business and the second largest business in the world."
Flores said it was also the fastest growing industry in the world.
"We have allowed this in turning away," she said. "We used to be a society of nosey neighbors, but we've built up fences. We need to open our eyes o this. It will require all of us to stop trafficking. Slavery is not God's will."
(source: Southern Methodist University "Daily Campus")