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International Women’s Day: looking back at the past year

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Laura Bridgestock,
Rosy Moorhead,
Jackie Gregory,
WVoN co-editors 

As part of our celebrations for International Women’s Day today, three WVoN co-editors take a closer look at the stories of the women who have stood out for them over the past 12 months.

Laura Bridgestock

The stories that have stayed with me are the ones that combine almost unimaginable suffering with awe-inspiring strength.

I was really struck by this story of rape victims in the Democratic Republic of Congo, who’d lost pretty much everything, but were still somehow carrying on – working, helping each other, even laughing together.

The original article on the Al Jazeera site includes a 25-minute video (watch it now), which conveyed the incredible courage of women like Masika, who had established a scheme to help other women, and also the immense suffering and trauma being caused by rape.

The statistic to go with the story is brutal – every hour in the day, 48 women in the eastern region of the country are raped. That’s 1,100 women every day whose lives are changed forever by one act of brutality.

The video makes no attempt to hide the absolutely devastating impact on the women, for example showing the trauma of a young girl newly arrived at the refuge, and Masika speaking about how she manages to look beyond her own pain to focus on helping others.

I was just blown away by their ability to keep going.

Rosy Moorhead

One story that really stood out for me this year was that of the 2011 Nobel Peace Prize winners.

On December 10, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, Leymah Gbowee and Tawakkul Karman were awarded the prize for their “non-violent struggle for the safety of women and for women’s rights to full participation in peace-building work”.

A great day – three women taking the prize, and the Nobel committee recognising that democracy and lasting peace cannot be achieved in the world until women have the same opportunities as men to influence developments at all levels of society.

The article that I wrote to mark the occasion outlines the invaluable work of Sirleaf, Africa’s first democratically elected female head of state; Gbowee, who organised and mobilised women to bring an end to the brutal civil war in Liberia; and Karman, who played a leading role in the struggle for women’s rights during the Arab Spring, and for democracy and peace in Yemen.

Three remarkable women; three remarkable stories.

Jackie Gregory

It was Sabine Clappaert’s Profile of a revolutionary: Maryam Al-Khawaya which stood out for me. I had started to follow Maryam on Twitter and this article gave an insight to the woman who is constantly raising awareness of the persecution  in Bahrain.

I was particularly struck by the reason that she chose to wear the hijab – so that people heard her before looking at her. This was not how my westernised eyes had seen this before.

It was a statement which made me confront my own assumptions, at a time when women are so often leered at but not listened to.

Al-Khawaya’s philosophy of hating the act and not the person comes across in her tweets, some of which are truly harrowing eye-witness accounts of death, torture and imprisonment.

I saved a tweet she sent on December 22 when state-backed forces were systematically gassing towns in Bahrain, which showed children hiding in a cupboard to keep out of the gas.

Around 60 towns were affected that night. Not one major news outlet in Britain reported it the next day.

I’ve just checked her Twitter account and she reports how an elderly woman has died of teargassing.

These tweets intersperse my timeline  which is so often filled with TV trivia or day-to-day doings, and sometimes the suffering in Bahrain passes me by; but  Al-Khawaya is steadfast, she is a voice for the voiceless and we should listen.

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