The Association for Defending Victims of Terrorism discussed avenues for empowering women victims of terrorism in a side event dubbed “Empowering Women Victims of Terrorism as a Necessity for the Future of Human Beings” at the 36th Session of the United Nations Human Rights Council in Geneva on September 18.
A panel of five activists and two victims of terrorism called on the UN to formulate mechanisms to empower the women victims of terrorism.
Ali Salami, professor at the University of Tehran, who also chaired the panel, said that women victims of terrorism have great potential for combatting terrorism and violence and that they should be supported and empowered to achieve this goal. He stated, “Callous exploration of women as sex slaves by terrorist groups such as Daesh or Boko Haram indicate that women and girls are more vulnerable to psychological and physical harm than men. If they are the most vulnerable to terrorism, then they should have their share of creating peace and security in the world.”
Another panelist Ruth Abril Stoffels, a professor of law at the Cardenal Herrera in Spain, said that terrorism is the use of violence for intimidating people with the express goal of achieving some political goals. The victims of terrorism affected either directly or indirectly by terrorism are victims on an equal scale. In most parts of world where women are wounded or maimed in a terrorist attack, they have little chance to keep living in a normal way. Women are pillars of society because they take up different duties. Due to prevailing discriminatory policy, women are more prone to harm than men. In the end, Stoffles suggested that 1) discrimination against women should be eliminated; 2) victims should be treated equally; 3) the victims should be paid for their loss; 4) social support and therapeutic assistance should be doled out to the victims; 5) the woes of the women victims of terrorism should be taken care of: 6) the families of the victims of terrorism should be supported; 7) the victims of terrorism should be provided with access to proper education.
Zohreh Haghpanahi, a victim of terrorism who is 50% psychologically and physically disabled, delivered a testimony of her plight. She said, “When I was only 22 years old, I was passing through Imam Khomeini Square with my husband, a graduate in mechanical engineering from an American university. A bomb exploded and my husband and I were burned. My husband was burnt so badly that he died in the hospital. My body was sieved with shrapnel pieces from the explosion. It took me quite a while to recover from the burns. Apart from the physical injury what really excruciated me day and night was the memory of the day of explosion which never left me alone even for a moment. I was denied sleep and only pills could help me sleep. Then I made up my mind to continue my studies and with the help of my present husband who was then a medical student, I took a job as a chemistry teacher in high school. In those days, there was scarcely any organization to give us assistance. Now there are NGOs which are tasked with assisting the victims of terrorism.”
Chongsi Ayeah Joseph, chairman of Human Rights Organization in Cameroon, talked about different aspects of terrorism in the world and the victimization of women in the process.
Mehdi Zakerian, a professor of international law at the Islamic Azad University, talked about the role of transitional justice, saying “Daesh has proven that terrorist groups can create inconceivable problems for human community. Women are the most vulnerable individuals to terrorism, women who have lost their loved ones in terrorist activities. The women afflicted by terrorism should be empowered so that they can return to their normal lives. So I believe transitional justice can contribute largely to the empowerment of women. The goals that transitional justice seeks and the empowerment of women are interrelated and the two approaches are geared towards democracy, human rights and peace.”
Mansoureh Karami, the ADVT Vice-President said, “We have gathered together to discuss justice, equal human rights and peace. Truth is the counterpoint to denial and falsity and is in fact an alternative to it. To know about what happens and what has happened is one thing but it is not enough. Knowing should be changed into awareness. Iran is a major victim of terrorism. Why should the US and the West delist Mujahedeen Khalq Organization which has assumed responsibility for the assassination of 12000 people in Iran from the terror list? She added, “I for one have witnessed the assassination of my husband Masoud Alimohammady who was a physicist and a professor at the University of Tehran. Why should I suffer psychologically for years to come? Women are the pillars of social life. So if women are afflicted with agony, the rest of society cannot find peace. In order to empower women, 1) they should be finically supported so that they can provide their children with better education: 2) they should be given proper psychological help; 3) in order to constrain terrorism, all countries should look at the issue from a non-political standpoint.”
Another panelist Anicee Van Engeland, professor of law at the University of Cranfield, said that believing in gender equality means that women can be terrorists or victims of terrorism. The fact is that those who are victimized by terrorism outnumber those who perpetrate acts of terrorism. So gender equality does not exist on that score. At all events, when a terrorist attack happens, women are the first to suffer the consequences. International law is still imperfect in the face of protecting women. The protection enshrined by the Geneva Convection is not enough in wars. Besides, terrorism is becoming more complicated. A more dynamic approach needs to be taken regarding the protection of women against terrorism.
Manizheh Safiyari, a victim of terrorism who is seventy percent psychologically and physically disabled and has a lost a leg gave a testimony and said, “When I was seventeen I became a victim of terrorism claimed by Mujahedin Khalq Organization and I lost my right leg from up the knee. My mother was also severely wounded. Despite the fact that I had only one leg I decided to boost the morale of people around me. I studied at the university and I started to drive. I engaged myself with dart throwing, swimming and track and trace and many other sports and succeeded in winning medals in the country. I got married at the age of twenty seven and could never deliver a child.”
The session was concluded by a proposal read out by Zahra Sobhani, the president of association for defending victims of terrorism. Part of the proposal reads:
1- ADVT calls on all state representatives to make efforts for women empowerment in the form of increasing awareness and information and increase of their self-confidence in the decision-making process on counterterrorism and extremism programs and stabilizing in crises; 2- Calls on international communities to establish centers, institutions, circles and organizations dedicated to women victim of terrorism in order to bring together women affected by terrorist acts to retell experiences and attitudes to overcome their sufferings and woes that result from the loss of the loved ones as well as the creation of a circle for narrative patience, perseverance and obedience to terrorism and extremism; 3- calls for promoting “Empowering women affected by terrorist acts” in the form of psychotherapy, medical care, recovery of survivors, creating self-confidence, creating a sense of life expectancy, creating satisfaction for relaxation and psychological security after the incident, 4- calls for creating or strengthening comprehensive legal measures to protect women affected by terrorist acts in the form of the empowerment of this group of women impacted by violence, both at national and international levels; 5- calls for making plans for national and international ceremonies commemorating women affected by terrorist acts and provides new solutions to revitalize and strengthen self-confidence and increase their life expectancy.