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It was we, the people; not we, the white male citizens; nor yet we, the male citizens; but we, the whole people, who formed the Union.... Men, their rights and nothing more; women, their rights and nothing less. ~Susan B. Anthony
Life for and with women's rights!
SOLWODI is the short form for SOLidarity with WOmen in DIstress. Sister Dr. Lea Ackermann laid the foundation for this charitable organisation in October 1985 in Mombasa, Kenya. As a nun there, she encountered women and girls who were forced into prostitution as a result of poverty. Today, SOLWODI has 10 counselling centres along the Kenyan coast and supports a widows and orphans project in Rwanda.
Since 1987 SOLWODI has also been active in Germany with 15 counselling centres, 1 reception centre and 7 shelters for foreign women and girls in distress or who are victims of human trafficking and forced prostitution, domestic violence or forced marriages. Other women turn to us due to problems with residence permits or integration.
A new SOLWODI counselling centre in Romania was opened in 2010. SOLWODI was also established in Austria in 2012.
SOLWODI offers holistic psychosocial care and counselling, shelter, legal intervention and medical assistance as well as support in returning to their home countries when migrants return. In order to help effectively, we have a close network with other counselling centres and organisations in Germany and abroad. In addition, we strive to increase public understanding for these women and girls by organising awareness-raising publicity events.
On the website of Solwodi are informations about their work and aims, as well as tips on how people can help. Many distressed migrants are isolated without access to the internet.
Sowoldi ist fighting against trafficking and violence!
The Trafficking of Women
According to statistics of the European Union, about 500.000 women are annually being forced into prostitution in Western Europe ( also see the United Nations` Development Programme for 1999 ) The majority of those women come from Eastern Europe.
It`s only possible to estimate those figures; exact figures can only be stated, when traffickers are being arrested and brought to court. In Germany there were in 2005 317 legal proceedings with 614 proved victims of trafficking. In only 23 cases, the traffickers earned a sum of 1.160.000 Euro.
The German Federal Criminal Authorities estimate, that a woman forced into prostitution will have a turnover of 35.000 – 100.000 Euro per year.
Traffickers earn the highest profits by abusing trafficked people as workforce or prostitutes. The International Labour Organization ( ILO ) estimates that worldwide every year 2,4 million people become victims of traffickers, who earn with their victims 32 Billion Dollar per year.
Highest profits are being made with sexual exploitation. The ILO estimates that a women, forced into prostitution, in an industrial country, earns an annual average of 67.200 Dollar.
Those women are deprived of one of their basic rights. Many of those women, who were forced to marry, experience in their marriage often violence and sexual abuse.
To get out of that miserable situation, the only way is often to break completely with the family and to try to start a new life in another environment. If they don`t do that, women are very often threatened by reprisal, violence or even murder, since relatives consider such a breakout as a violation of their honour code. In spite of such a threat, many women feel guilty when breaking with the family or acting as a witness in court against those men depriving them of their rights.
Women threatened to be forced to marry as well as those women trying to break out of such an enforced marriage can get support from SOLWODI. As a first step they can be safely accommodated in a distant flat provided by SOLWODI. An advisor will then take care of the next administrative steps, making sure, the woman can`t be found by her husband and she can stay in Germany as long as necessary. After the first critical days or weeks, a perspective for the future will be developed. In detail, SOLWODI will assist in finding a job, a flat and in getting integrated in the new environment. For a long time those enforced marriages were considered to be a private problem of those women concerned. However, on 19. February 2005 the German criminal code was changed such that an enforced marriage is now considered to be a severe form of compulsion. As a result, more women, threatened to be married, were approaching SOLWODI in the last years for help.
Victims of Violence
Many women become victims of violence in their marriages or relations. Beside massive psychological violence they often experience also physical violence. Especially women from abroad are often economically and emotionally dependant on their husbands, many of them have no friends or they don`t know people they could go to, to talk about their problems.
Also those women can get help from SOLWODI. In many cases it`s necessary to accommodate those women for a certain time in a safe flat. SOLWODI safe flats are also suitable to accommodate the children of those women who need help. In addition, very often legal advice is required if a divorce is imminent, or the question comes up, who will take care of the children, or how can a permit of residence be obtained. Especially the question ,who will take care of the children, is a great problem, since it`s often being used by the fathers to put pressure on their wives.
It`s important, to support women intensively to get independent, both economically and emotionally as well. In this context, SOLWODI provides support to find a flat or a job, to get integrated, to attend language courses and to get legal advice, if necessary.
The problem of sextourism
As a result of underdeveloped economies in some Asian, African, Southamerican and also in some middle and eastern European countries, the living conditions for unmarried women with children, especially when living in rural areas, are extremely bad. When looking for a job in tourism centers, those women and their children are competing with many other jobless people. Under those miserable conditions, they offer themselves as prostitutes to tourists, paedophiles or even national policemen, thereby having no medical or legal protection. Emotionally, sexually and financially exploited, those women become separated from their normal social environment.
Especially for children this situation is a catastrophe, since they are being more frequently abused by sextourists. As a result, a normal start into life becomes impossible.
Prostitution is forbidden in most countries. In regular swoops the policemen only arrest the prostitutes and the children, their clients however run no risk, since they bring most welcome foreign currency into the country.
Trafficking of women, pretending to arrange a marriage for them
In order to assure the survival of their family, many women consider, beside prostitution, the marriage with a man in another rich country as a suitable option. Traffickers, pretending to arrange such a marriage, but also paedophiles exploit this emergency situation of women. It`s disastrous for the women, that they neither know the living conditions nor the legal situation in the foreign country. Most of them don`t know, that for example in Germany, according to paragraph 19 of the foreigners`law somebody must have been married for a certain number of years and also have lived together with the husband in order to get an unlimited permit of residence.
Difficulties also stem from the different expectations of the marriage partners. Women very often feel obliged to support their family abroad financially, whereas the German husband, contrary to that, expects a grateful, submissive wife without great demands. This difference of expectations can lead to psychological and physical violence against those women from abroad.
The Problem of Trafficking
Until some years ago, mainly women from Africa, Asia and Latinamerica were recruited for jobs in rich countries and when they accepted such an offer, they were forced into prostitution. Meanwhile we observe a greater demand for younger prostitutes from Eastern Europe. When they arrive in Germany, the traffickers confiscate the passport and money of those women and sell them into brothels. Threatening them or even using sheer violence ( also raping them ), they are forced to work as prostitutes.
Desert Flower Foundation (Desert Flower Desert Flower Foundation – Association for the Promotion of aid operations for Africa, founded by Waris Dirie eV), Germany, Austria and Switzerland
Desert Flower Foundation ist fighting against FGM
Action: Save a little Desert Flower
What is FGM?
Female Genital Mutilation (often referred to as FGM) is a destructive operation, during which the female genitals are partly or entirely removed or injured with the aim of inhibiting a woman’s sexual feelings. Most often the mutilation is performed before puberty, often on girls between the age of four and eight, but recently it is increasingly performed on babies who are only a couple of days, weeks or months old.
Circumcision Type III
Beschneidung Typ III
The clitoris and the labia are cut without anaesthetic. A variety of sharp objects are used, such as knives, scissors and razors - usually not disinfected.
Who performs FGM?
FGM is usually performed by professional circumcisers; women who have a high reputation within their societies. It is also performed by traditional midwives and occasionally by healers, nurses or doctors trained in Western medicine. The procedure is usually performed without anaesthetic and under dreadful and unhygienic circumstances.
The cutting instruments
Where does FGM happen?
Female Genital Mutilation happens primarily in Africa, in particular in North-Eastern, Eastern and Western Africa. However, it also takes place in the Middle East, in South-East Asia – and also among immigrants in Europe. According to estimates by the World Health Organisation (WHO) 150 million women are affected by FGM worldwide. In Europe, the number of mutilated women or girls and women threatened by FGM amounts up to 700,000.
Affected women worldwide (WHO)
700,000 cut women
How many forms of
The World Health Organisation (WHO) differentiates between four different types of Female Genital Mutilation:
Type 1 + 2
Type 1 Excision of the clitoris prepuce (“Sunna-circumcision”) and of the clitoris or parts thereof.
Type 2 Excision of the clitoris prepuce, the clitoris and the inner lips or parts thereof.
Type 3 Excision of part of or all of the external genitals (“infibulation”, also referred to as “Pharaonic Circumcision”).
Afterwards the remaining parts of the outer lips are sewn together leaving a small hole for urine and menstrual flow.
The scar needs to be opened before intercourse or giving birth, which causes additional pain. Infibulation is mainly spread in the Horn of Africa and its neighbouring areas – in Somalia, Djibouti and Eritrea, as well as in the northern part of Sudan and in the southern part of Egypt. It is the most severe form of FGM.
Type 4 Any other procedure, which injures or circumcises the female genitalia. Pricking, piercing, cutting or stretching of the clitoris or the labia, also burning or scarring the genitals as well as ripping of the vaginal opening or the introduction of corrosive substances or herbs into the vagina in order to tighten it.
FGM in Europe:
Dates and Facts
Up to 700,000 girls and women living in the EU are affected by FGM. 140 000 of them live in the UK, 100 000 in France, 50 000 in Germany, Austria and Switzerland. The victims are migrants, whose continued this practice when they migrated.
In spite of the fact that FGM is in most European countries either directly or indirectly prohibited, the laws are either incomplete or they are not enforced. Although FGM is spreading in Europe, there are hardly any criminal charges and penal procedures.
Most European countries hardly invest in awareness training and in investigations. Any efforts – which vary tremendously in their degree – take place within the country borders. FGM is still not considered to be a European problem.
The victims are usually approached in the health sector and by authorities in an inadequate way, ignorance prevails.
FGM is in hardly any European country a regular part of the vocational training of doctors, midwives and social workers.
No European country explicitly accepts the threat of genital mutilation as a reason for asylum.
What are the consequences of FGM?
Female genital mutilation has serious health (physical and mental!) effects which often occur immediately after the procedure and may cause severe bleeding , infections, tetanus, paralysis of the bladder or blood poisoning, and can even result in death. HIV / AIDS can also be transmitted via the use of dirty instruments.
In addition to the psychological trauma and the loss of sexual sensation, the victims often complain of long-term pain when urinating and during menstruation. Sitting or even walking can bruise and even re-open the scar tissue due to the constant rubbing of clothing. Cysts, abscesses, bladder infections and incontinence may occur. Infertility is one of the possible long-term consequences. Sexual intercourse is often painful.
Giving birth to a child can increase bleeding and tissue cracks. The birth may take longer than usual and caesarean sections are common.
For millions of Egyptian girls summer holiday has nothing to do with leisure and joy, but it is a time of losing an essential part of their body and dignity.
For millions of schoolgirls in Egypt, this time represents the start of the FGM season.
FGM has been illegal in Egypt since 2008. Since then the percentage of victims has dropped from 75 to 61 in 2014.
The overall situation in Egypt is still disastrous: 92 percent of all women have been “purified” and thus prepared for the marriage.
The practice is deeply rooted in Egyptian society and is accepted even by doctors, judges and teachers. To change something, you need to work on people’s convictions.
To that end, the UNFPA has hired a theatre group to perform comedic skits in the streets of communities across the country to foster debate and doubt about the necessity of FGM.
In January a doctor was sentenced on charges related to mutilating a girl – the first conviction of its kind since the 2008 ban went into effect.
An Desert Flower Foundation report:
Defenceless even in Europe!
"Oh a circumcision for your daughter. Of the genitals."
"Yes, a circumcision".
Now the doctor finally understood what this was all about. Outside we were already about to turn off the microphones – we expected him to turn down the request immediately. But no:
Suddenly he says abruptly, "this is not that easy in Vienna".
Then the secretary interferes, "Isn't it illegal?"
"It is not really prohibited, but not really permitted either", the doctor replies. "You can do it privately. May be somebody will do that."
A short break, "I don't do this myself", says the doctor, "but I know somebody, another doctor". He turns around to his secretary, "could you get me the number of Dr. H."
Then he turns again to Theresa. "In Austria this surgery is a problem. They don't like it here. They say it was bad for women. They believe that it is an African tradition. I have had women from Egypt here who wanted to have it done too. I sent them to somebody else as well." The secretary interferes again: but isn't it prohibited? But the doctor just replies succinctly, "ah, if they only cut a little, it is going to be ok. Give her the number." Theresa thanks them and leaves.
Again: no consternation. No effort to talk her out of it. The doctor – a licensed gynaecologist in Vienna – even provided her with the address of a colleague and it wasn't the first time that he sent women to somebody else.
We call Dr. H. Theresa explains briefly her "wish" to him: "My daughter gets married. I want to have her circumcised, in accordance with the traditional method. The doctor hesitated. Then he added, "I don't talk about such things on the phone. You have to come here. Give me your number and I will call you back". He speaks in a dry manner.
Theresa gives him her mobile phone number and after a while the telephone rings. We schedule an appointment. "Come with your daughter."
"How much money shall I take along?"
"I don't discuss these things over the phone", the doctor replies.
Then he hangs up.
The next few telephone calls are more positive experiences. "This is illegal! Give me your name, I will report you!" blustered a reputable cosmetic surgeon. Not a very effective reaction in a case of emergency. But at least an adequate one.
A few days later "Theresa" has her appointment at the practice of the recommended doctor. Again it is in a council estate in one of the poorer districts of Vienna. She brings along her "daughter" – a 19 year old girl from Nigeria who may easily be mistaken as a 17 year old. She has to remain standing in the treatment room, only Theresa is offered a chair. She explains her request, "I want my daughter to be circumcised." "Does she want that?" the doctor asks after he understood what this was about. "Yes. It is because of her wedding." Without taking a look at the "daughter" he continues to ask: Who is her future husband? Why does she want that? Is she still a virgin? And finally he refuses to do it, "We don't do that. It is not correct." But instead of trying to convince Theresa not to do it, he advises her, "You have to go to a hospital. You need anaesthetics for that. Without it she cannot be circumcised." And he writes down the name of a well-known Viennese hospital. "Try there. Perhaps they will do it for you."
This is where we break off our experiment. We have heard enough: hardly a single gynaecologist in the whole capital reacted appropriately to our fictitious request. Most of them consider it evidently to be legitimate to circumcise an underage girl. The three doctors Flora went to see at least would not have carried out the procedure themselves – but they were prepared to refer her on.
The sponsorship project “Save a Little Desert Flower” is an initiative by the Desert Flower Foundation. www.desertflowerfoundation.org
Thanks for adding your voice.
Thanks for adding your voice.