“We are in this together”: Confronting Gender-Based Violence

CWS Indonesia | March 7, 2019

Laila adding final details on her sketch for the 16 days of activism campaign. Photo: CWS

16 Days of Activism is an international campaign that highlights violence against women as a fundamental violation of human rights. The campaign runs annually from November 25th, which is the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women to December 10th, which is international Human Rights Day. In November 2018, to include and educate unaccompanied refugee and asylum-seeking children who live in CWS-sponsored group homes in Jakarta about these issues, CWS encouraged all 180 children under our protection to take part.

Laila (not her real name) is an 18-year-old group home resident who has experienced gender-based violence, and so was the most eager of all the young people in CWS care to participate and share her experience through art. For a subject close to her heart, Laila used 16 Days of Activism to show her passion about this issue. While sketching the face of a woman with a fist on her cheek and tears in her eyes, Laila describes her drawing, “[These are for the] tears that many Afghan women shed with no one seeing them; they also have screams that no hears.”

The oldest of seven children, Laila grew up in Afghanistan’ isolated, conservative central highlands in a village that is known to be an inhospitable place for women and girls and where, among other things, girls are discouraged from attending school. Traditional thinking and local leaders still insist, in fact, that women should not have the same rights as men. So, while Laila and her siblings were cautious when they were outside their home, they always felt support at home because their father, who is a teacher, is also an advocate for women’s and girl’s empowerment and education. Not surprisingly, he was not liked by many people in the village, some of whom, including some leaders, threatened him. Then, one afternoon a few years ago, the threats became action and Laila was kidnapped while walking home from school one day. For three months, Laila endured unimaginable abuse from her captors until one evening she found an opportunity to escape when the men who were supposed to be watching her got into a fight, which distracted them so she could sneak out of the house. She recognized the neighborhood as being about two hours from her house, and she ran home to her family’s amazement and relief – and her father’s sad conclusion that Afghanistan was no longer safe for her. So, as countless Afghan fathers of children in danger just like Laila, he arranged for a smuggler to get Laila from Afghanistan to India and on to Malaysia and, finally, Indonesia.

Like thousands of children before her, Laila made her way to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) to register as an asylum seeker and then quickly, because of the Austalian government’s strong support for girls and young women in Laila’s situation, to a CWS-hosted group home. There, for the first time in her teenage life, Laila recalls, she could feel the tension leave her body. “I felt free [which] is such a great feeling. [Here] everyone is respectful towards one another. I’m feeling so relieved because I’m in a respectful society where men and women are seen as equal.” In her new home, Laila is with other Afghan women; and, despite the circumstances of her asylum-seeking journey, she is happy because she can also meet girls and women from other countries, “It is nice to live in a multicultural home, learning about and respecting other cultures. I am missing my family a lot, and I cry many nights. On these nights, even the non-Afghan girls from Somalia, Ethiopia and Iraq all comfort me, and this shows me one thing: that we are in this together regardless of our background.”

During her own 16 days of activism, Laila created three pieces of art and wrote a poem for all who face, survive and overcome violence that is done solely because they are female.

For all women, do not keep quiet.
Raise your voice, because your Rights are equal.
It is time to find yourself, because you are not someone that just does whatever a man says.
Women too are powerful.
Raise your hand and make your future better.
Do not keep quiet, even when they have handcuffed your hand.
Being a woman is not a crime.

Laila is just one of countless women with stories of violence and suffering based on their gender. In summarizing her 16, and more, days of activism, Laila said this, “This issue gets worse day-by-day, it seems; and I hope my story will not just raise awareness but also give strength and hope to victims”.

(For more information please contact broberts@cwsglobal.org )

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