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Promoting women’s rights worldwide

Equality for girls and women has been a core focus of The Elders’ work ever since the organisation was founded. To mark International Women’s Day 2012, we revisit some of their work with women in Sudan, the Middle East, Cyprus, Côte d’Ivoire and North Korea.

Promoting women’s rights

Equality for girls and women has been a priority running through all The Elders’ work since the organisation was founded – from promoting peace in the Middle East to encouraging reconciliation in post-conflict societies like Côte d’Ivoire.

Over the past year The Elders have worked to support the growing global movement to end child marriage, one of the most widespread and neglected obstacles to development today. This harmful practice robs millions of girls every year of the chance to complete their education, lead healthy lives, and develop their communities.

Wherever they travel and whomever they meet, the Elders always make time to listen to girls and women, convey their concerns to leaders, and encourage their full participation in the economic and political life of their communities – as well as in peace-building and civil society initiatives.

Read more about The Elders’ work to promote equality for girls and women around the world.

Photo: Tom Pietrasik | The Elders

Sudan, October 2007

Lakhdar Brahimi, Jimmy Carter, Graça Machel and Desmond Tutu travelled to Sudan in 2007 – their first mission after The Elders was founded earlier that year – to call the world’s attention to the humanitarian tragedy taking place in the region.

They listened to women in camps for internally displaced people in Darfur, as well as meeting humanitarian workers and government representatives. At a press conference later that week, Graca Machel told reporters:

“I was particularly struck by many horrific stories of rape or gender violence from young girls, mothers, elderly women. No age is spared. Rape has become a norm. The government of Sudan seemed not to understand the gravity of this reality... I believe they don’t want to face it. We tried as much as we could to bring them to understand how this violates the very existence, rights and dignity of these women. But it seems to us that the government of Sudan is trying to hide and saying rape is not taking place in the camps.”

See more photos from the visit.

Photo: Frederic Noy | The Elders

The West Bank, September 2009

During The Elders’ first visit to Israel and the West Bank they met a diverse range of Israelis and Palestinians, including young women and representatives of women’s organisations.

Throughout the visit Mary Robinson emphasised that “peace making is too important to be left to politicians alone. It needs the active, sustained involvement of all sectors of society – civil society, business, young people, women’s groups – supported by all international friends of peace and justice.”

The Elders have tried to amplify the voices of these ordinary citizens working for peace – see all all our guest blogs from the Middle East.

Photo: Haim Zach | The Elders

Young women in Gaza, September 2009

Though unable to visit the Gaza Strip as planned, the Elders spoke to women in Gaza via video link. They told the Elders their concerns about increasing religious conservatism, the pressure on women and girls to wear the hijab and the diminishing space for women in public life. Later, the Elders conveyed these concerns to members of Hamas, which has controlled the Gaza Strip since 2007.

One young woman emphasised that they do not wish to be seen as victims: “Don’t look at us with the eye of sympathy. We can do things like anyone else. Don’t look at us like poor Palestinians. We have dreams, goals, we are not crippled. We have brains on our shoulders, personalities. It is not Gaza that is killing our dreams, it is leaders.”

This photo was taken by the 21-year old photographer and blogger Eman Mohammed, who seeks to portray the positive potential of the Gaza Strip despite the harsh realities she documents through her photography. See more of her photos.

Cyprus, September 2009

The Elders have visited the divided island of Cyprus several times to support local initiatives working for reconciliation and peaceful coexistence between Greek Cypriots and Turkish Cypriots.

In September 2009 Gro Brundtland and Lakhdar Brahimi arrived in Cyprus at a critical time, just as the second phase of negotiations on the reunification of the island were beginning. They spent time with leading women from civil society, business and politics, including the first ladies of the two communities, Elsi Christofias and Oya Talat. They encouraged all those they met to press for a more active role for women in the peace process.

See more photos of The Elders’ work in Cyprus.

Photo: David Hands | The Elders

North Korea, April 2011

Jimmy Carter, Martti Ahtisaari, Gro Brundtland and Mary Robinson travelled to the Korean Peninsula in 2011 to encourage North and South Korea to resume dialogue.

The North Korean authorities in Pyongyang had already raised the issue of improving women and children’s rights, and the Elders were looking forward to meeting the chairwoman of a women’s union to discuss the subject. Unfortunately the meeting was less constructive than the Elders had hoped, and failed to seriously address the problems facing girls and women in North Korea.

See more photos and The Elders’ trip report.

Photo: Richard Lewis | The Elders

Côte d’Ivoire, May 2011

Following months of post-election violence, Kofi Annan, Mary Robinson and Desmond Tutu visited Côte d’Ivoire in May 2011 to encourage a process of national reconciliation and healing.

Women’s groups and other members of civil society were glad of the opportunity to come together – many of them were unable to meet each other during the violence. The Elders encouraged these representatives to continue to meet regularly, rebuild their relationships and work together towards national reconciliation.

The Elders supported women’s organisations’ call to be included in the peace process. “I want to highlight the role that women should play in all stages of the country's healing and reconstruction,” Mary Robinson said.

See more photos from the visit.

Photo: Jeff Moore | The Elders

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