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19 January 2018

Kvinna till Kvinna – Woman to Woman

Right from the start there has been a close connection between the histories of the foundation Kvinna till Kvinna from Stockholm and medica mondiale from Cologne. Both organisations grew out of civil volunteer initiatives that started as a reaction to the mass rapes in Bosnia. Both organisations have been working ever since then to stop sexualised violence against women in war and crisis regions and improve the participation of those women in society. And both were awarded the Right Livelihood Award for their work (also known as the Alternative Nobel Prize).

United in their commitment to women’s rights

It is 1993. The Bosnian War is raging. For two years, harrowing reports about the conflicts in the countries of former Yugoslavia have been reaching the rest of Europe. But it is only now that the fate of the civilian population there has become obvious in its full horror. Hundreds of thousands of people are being tortured and murdered. Huge numbers of women and girls are being raped. Many of those hearing and reading the news are moved to take action or make a donation to help women there.

The young gynaecologist Monika Hauser is one of the courageous people who no longer want to listen passively to sensationalist media reports. She has heard how Serbian soldiers are abusing female prisoners of war in makeshift brothels in former hotels and factories. In the winter of 1992 she decides to immediately travel to Zenica in Bosnia, where she joins up with local women to offer gynaecological emergency aid. In April of the following year, the first therapy centre for raped women opens in Zenica and the charitable association medica mondiale is set up in Cologne. Exactly a fortnight later an opinion piece is published in the Swedish daily newspaper Dagens Nyheter which begins with the following words and marks the establishment of Kvinna till Kvinna:

“Genocide is being committed in the middle of Europe. All possible measures must be taken to put an end to this war. We will contribute through an action called Woman to Woman.”

Kvinna till Kvinna won the Right Livelihood Award in 2002 “for its successes in healing the wounds caused by ethnic hatred by helping war-torn women to be the major agents of peace-building and reconciliation”. Monika Hauser also received the Right Livelihood Award, in 2008, “for her tireless commitment to working with women who have experienced the most horrific sexualised violence in some of the most dangerous countries in the world”.

Lena Ag on Kvinna till Kvinna

Lena Ag, the longstanding Secretary General of Kvinna till Kvinna, explains how the Swedish women’s rights organisation works:
“Kvinna till Kvinna was established in the same year as medica mondiale – 1993. A few Swedish women active in the peace movement heard the devastating news about mass rapes in the Balkans. They quickly decided to do something to help the women there. The original idea was to encourage each Swedish woman to donate a small amount, which in total would improve the Balkan women’s situation. That is how the name arose: Kvinna till Kvinna means ‘Woman to Woman’. From the beginning it was important for us to take the Balkan women’s reality as the starting point for the help – instead of our perspective here. That is still our attitude.

When I look back, a story from the early years stands out. In 1995, one of our colleagues was with a group of Croatian women waiting for some Serbian women. The two groups had been active in the women’s movement and friends before they suddenly found themselves on opposing sides and lost contact. The bus stop in Zagreb where they were waiting then became the scene of a joyful and tearful reunion. We created the conditions for the two groups of women to share their experiences openly and safely – bypassing the propaganda being fed to them by governments and media. That experience left a lasting impression and still shapes the vision of Kvinna till Kvinna.

Currently we are working together with over 100 fantastic partner organisations in 20 countries. Some of them are, independently of us, carrying out very good international advocacy work, and others are just beginning. Sharing and exchange among these organisations is exciting and we learn a lot from it, too. Whenever I attend a transregional meeting I see how the organisations are sharing methods and experiences that we would never have been able to offer them.

And this is exactly what ‘woman to woman’ should mean: women supporting each other without (male) interference. Solidarity and sisterliness are the important things here, since women are the people who best know the needs of other women. Awareness, experience and understanding are given directly from woman to woman, so that everyone benefits.”

Joint workshop for Syrian relief organisations

For more than two years, medica mondiale has been working in the conflict region of Syria and Iraq. Together with Kvinna till Kvinna we held further training sessions for the managerial staff of Syrian non-governmental organisations. The participants learnt improved methods of self-care to protect their own health and that of their staff. As in all our projects, in this training course we worked with a stress- and trauma-sensitive approach that has an empowering and relieving effect on victims of sexualised violence, activists and working teams. A follow-up for all the participants has been requested and is being planned.

Kvinna till Kvinna campaign #femdefenders

With the #femdefenders (i.e. women’s rights defenders) hashtag, Kvinna till Kvinna aims to raise awareness about young women who are working to achieve women’s rights. In many countries women are expected to be “good housewives” who serve and obey their husbands. They have no right to education or physical self-determination. One of the young #femdefenders is Leyla Murshudova from Azerbaijan. She was not allowed to take up a job, but she rebelled and went her own way. Today her family is proud of her.

 

Background to the medica mondiale series “Women’s rights heroines in the focus”

Truly equal rights for women and men are still not reality – anywhere in the world. But without them there cannot be an end to sexualised wartime violence and there will not be peace – anywhere in the world. During the year we will present remarkable women and men from all over the world who have been or are active in the fight for the rights of women. We do this to pay tribute to their individual efforts and achievements, and also to remind us all that active commitment is still needed if we are to achieve gender justice and an end to sexualised violence.

 

Further women's rights heroines:

 

Twenty-five years ago, the historian Gabi Mischkowski received a telephone call from Monika Hauser offering to help her support women caught up in the Bosnian war. That call marked the beginning of the story of medica mondiale, the women’s rights organisation. 

Women’s rights heroine Godelive Kanyamuneza: "People need to learn that every single person is valuable.

"26-year-old legal expert Shakiba Amiri at Medica Afghanistan is working to ensure that women and girls receive justice.