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The Vance Center Supports Women’s Rights in the Global South in the #MeToo Era

May 2018

With the recent #MeToo and #TimesUp movements, courageous women all over the world are speaking out about their experiences with sexual assault and harassment and spearheading initiatives to bring about accountability and change. Celebrities from the world of politics, film, music, and sports have stepped up as allies to magnify the voices of these women and encourage positive change. While these movements have garnered significant press and set a positive example in the West, it is important to remember the women who are notably absent from this conversation, including those in the Global South.

The Vance Center has been a long-standing ally of, and advocate for, vulnerable women all over the world, particularly those living in challenging environments. A critical element of this work is focusing on women in marginalized communities, seeking to even the playing field for those who face increased systemic challenges in realizing the rights guaranteed to them under international law. The Vance Center’s long-standing partnerships on women’s rights cut across several issues and regions.

In Brazil, following the brutal gang rape of a 16-year-old in a Rio de Janeiro favela, the Vance Center entered into a multi-year partnership with Equality Now and local civil society organizations in Brazil, including pro bono law firms, in a campaign to ensure that all systems and laws work to protect and promote the rights of women and girls. The campaign seeks to secure access to justice both in law and in practice for survivors of sexual violence and hold authorities accountable. To do so, the Vance Center and its partners are studying the domestic legal framework, monitoring case developments and legal reform initiatives, and leveraging the U.N. Sustainable Development Goals platform to pursue legal advocacy.

In Colombia, the Vance Center has focused on amplifying the voices of women in the country’s transitional justice process, working for more than three years with victims’ organizations, human rights NGOs, and the United Nations in support of the peace process. The work has focused on the most vulnerable, including Afro-Colombian women, who have been disproportionately affected by Colombia’s long civil war, supporting leading Afro-Colombian women’s organizations to build capacity to engage effectively in the transitional justice process and make their voices heard in key decisions regarding accountability for crimes committed during the conflict and reparations for victims. The work also seeks to tackle the taboo and lack of knowledge surrounding conflict-related sexual violence. The Vance Center is empowering women and justice actors to seek accountability for conflict-related sex crimes.

In Nicaragua, the Vance Center is supporting indigenous Miskito women, a particularly marginalized group facing the highest rates of violence against women and girls in the country. The project aims to create tools to educate these women about their rights and the means to access the justice system when those rights are violated. In partnership with leaders from the Miskito community, the Vance Center is making the tools available in the local language so that Miskito women can have meaningful access.

Another important element of the women’s rights initiative is recognizing how some issues disproportionately affect women. For a number of years now, the Vance Center has worked at the intersection of women’s issues and incarceration, first with research on the criminalization of pregnant women and then later partnering with local organizations to address women’s incarceration challenges in Jamaica. This has led to the organizing of an international conference on women’s imprisonment in the context of the United Nations framework on incarceration of women, the “Bangkok Rules”. This conference — “Women in Prison: Evidence, Advocacy and Reform”, taking place in Colombia in September 2018 — will bring together practitioners, including formerly incarcerated women, from all over the world to share experiences and engage in capacity building. The goal is to empower those working on this issue to improve the situation for women in their countries prison systems.

The recent tidal swell around accountability for violence against women through the #MeToo movement is a welcome development. However, we all must remember the women who face challenges that exclude them from trends and hashtag-based conversations. The Vance Center has for years been a strong ally for these groups of women, with long-standing projects emphasizing meeting the needs of marginalized women and recognizing challenges that disproportionately affect them. This work will continue to close the impunity gap for vulnerable women around the globe during the #MeToo movement, and beyond it.