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Next week London will host the largest ever conference on the issue of ending sexual violence in conflict – organised by Foreign Secretary William Hague and UN Special Envoy for Refugees Angelina Jolie.

Women in DRC protest against sexual violence in conflict
Women in DRC protest against sexual violence in conflict
Photo: ActionAid

Sexual violence in conflict, including the rape of women and girls, is one of the most destructive and widespread violations of human rights. According to former UN Peacekeeping Commander Major General Patrick Cammaert it is more dangerous to be a woman than a soldier in modern conflict.

Among the thousands gathering at the Excel Centre from 10 to 13 June will be government ministers from around the world, technical experts, survivors of sexual violence and people who work on the issue in countries affected by conflict. The first three days will also be open to the public with more than 150 free live events, including 60 debates and discussions, exhibitions, films and a marketplace.

Anyone can come along to these events so do come down - you can check out the full programme of events here - and come and see what ActionAid is doing at the summit. We will have a video booth, being run jointly with the Guardian, where people will be asked to record a message to world leaders on ending sexual violence in conflict. The Guardian has also asked people to send in their video messages in advance.

Abducted by rebels

Ten women who work for ActionAid around the world will be attending the summit to give their firsthand experience of working on projects to end sexual violence. Women like Raisa Ndogole from the Democratic Republic of Congo, which has suffered years of conflict.

In 2000, Raisa’s sister was abducted, raped and abused by rebels. She was kept in the bush for two years before being returned to her family. Raisa’s father has also been harassed, kidnapped and interrogated by rebels during the country’s ongoing civil war.

Despite these atrocities and being forced to flee her home in Goma, Raise finished her diploma of graduate law and soon after established the Association for Women Lawyers. The association has been operating for over a decade and supports survivors of sexual violence to seek justice. Raisa now works with ActionAid as a Policy and Campaign Coordinator.

Time to act

If you can’t make it to the summit you can add your voice to the debate by using the #TimeToAct hashtag on Twitter. The Foreign Office have also launched a global photo campaign encouraging people to take selfies of themselves holding a sign with #timetoact on it with a watch or clock in the picture.

The aims of the summit are hugely welcome, but what's also important for ActionAid is to act to reduce all forms of violence against women and girls in times of peace, as well as times of war, and to recognise that these are intrinsically linked because they are fuelled by the same attitudes towards women which mean they are not listened to or valued. It is also not uncommon for violence against women and girls to increase after conflicts have formally ended.

That is why ActionAid’s She CAN fundraising appeal will help young women break the cycle of poverty so they can fulfil their potential and live lives without fear. The appeal runs until 25 June and all donations from the public will be matched by the UK government.

Warning: we’re going to blog about periods. A subject that most people don’t want to talk about, let along blog about. At ActionAid we don't agree.  Our appeal "The worst period of her life" aims to help women retain their dignity during the hardest times in their lives and beyond.

Mugunga refugee camp, the Democratic Republic of Congo
Mugunga refugee camp, the Democratic Republic of Congo
Photo: Lionel Healing/ActionAid

Many of us have been there, caught short of sanitary products – tampons, menstrual cups or sanitary towels – at the worst possible time: at work, travelling, during an important event. It’s frustrating and can ruin your day.

So much so, that in a survey published this week*, almost half of British women admitted they would not to go to work if they found themselves on their period unable to access sanitary products.

Feeling unclean and the fear of visible stains 

This doesn’t surprise me. I can imagine how uncomfortable I would be in the office, stressing about feeling unclean and the fear of visible stains when I’m in a long meeting.

It seems I’m not alone as fear of stains and feeling unclean were seen to be some of the worst impacts of not having access to sanitary products for British women*.

So if we consider what a negative effect this has on the lives of many British women, for a moment please think about what it would be like for women and girls in refugee camps.

Travelling long distances is a reality for thousands of refugees

One in four British women believe the worst time to get a period would be while travelling long distances. I’ve been there. It’s not nice.

Now, imagine being in the shoes of a refugee, perhaps a young girl who has fled her home with few or no belongings. She has limited access to water or soap and has to travel long distances often on foot. When she gets her period, the chances are she has no sanitary products either. She has to cope with this on top of everything else.

Could you?

We work to ensure women and girls retain their dignity

We have distributed sanitary kits to women and girls who have fled their homes in Syria and the Democratic Republic of Congo.

We’ve also distributed 3,000 sanitary kits to women affected by the recent flooding in Afghanistan.  We are working to ensure that women and girls retain their dignity during the worst periods of their lives

Now you have put yourself in their shoes, we’re asking you to donate to our She CAN appeal, running until June 25, to help some of the world’s most vulnerable women and girls.

Donations to the campaign will be matched by the UK government, so ActionAid can do twice as much to help women and girls escape poverty.

There’s less than a month to go to donate to ActionAid’s She CAN appeal.

* All figures, unless otherwise stated, are from YouGov Plc. Total sample size was 1181 British women (aged 18+) of which 606 are currently working and menstruate. Fieldwork was undertaken between 15th - 16th May. The survey was carried out online.

With Boko Haram releasing film of the abducted Nigerian schoolgirls and news of Nigeria’s acceptance of international assistance, ActionAid believes it remains important for the Nigerian government to take an active lead in promoting local solutions to the crisis.

Walking to school in Nigeria
Walking to school in Nigeria
Photo: Kate Holt/Shoot The Earth/ActionAid

Nigeria’s citizens and the parents of the abducted girls have been relentless in demanding action. And, the Nigerian-led ‘Bring Back Our Girls’ campaign – which my colleagues in Nigeria and around the world have been endorsing on social media – has been crucial in driving the plight of the abducted schoolgirls up the global agenda.

Yet as ActionAid in Nigeria keeps reiterating, long-term change is dependent on government action which in turn is dependent on political will.

In addition to internal security, Nigeria must address the social and economic development of its poorest people more systematically. That includes tackling underlying attitudes to gender inequality and the undervaluation of girls’ education as ActionAid’s Head of Programmes, David Archer has written in the Guardian.

ActionAid joins demonstrators marching through the Nigerian capital Abuja calling for the release of more than 200 schoolgirls abducted by militants.ActionAid joins demonstrators marching through the Nigerian capital calling for the release of the abducted schoolgirls.

Nigeria is home to more than 10 million out-of-school children

Nigeria is home to more than 10 million of the 57 million out-of-school children globally and this number is rising. The majority of these children in Nigeria are girls and most are in Northern Nigeria. Of those who do enrol, less than two-thirds complete primary school and even fewer begin, let alone complete, secondary school.

ActionAid has seen some significant successes in Nigeria by working with children, teachers, parents, community and religious leaders to make the case for girls’ education. So what is evident to my Nigerian colleagues is that nationally, much more government investment is required.

It is dispiriting that Nigeria invests less in education than almost any other country in Africa and that the response to horrendous attacks on schools has been to allow them to stay closed. Tellingly, the government only spends about 6% of its national budget on education when accepted best practice says it should be nearer to 20%.

Investing in education 

Action is needed to guarantee children’s safety, rightly starting with the safe return of the kidnapped schoolgirls. But increased investment in education is also important as is a renewed determination to tackle the inequality that causes poverty.

No-one pretends this is easy, but such ambition is well within Nigeria’s scope and could be pivotal in bringing about transformative change.

Worldwide, ActionAid is committed to helping women and girls break the cycle of poverty: to fulfil their potential and live lives without fear. The UK government is doubling all donations to our She Can appeal until 25 June.

Helping seaweed farmers in the Philippines rebuild their lives

Jane Moyo's picture Jane Moyo Head of Media Relations

It is exactly six months since Super Typhoon Haiyan slammed into the Philippines on 8 November 2013. ActionAid was supplying relief within a fortnight of the disaster. Now we are helping affected communities rebuild their livelihoods over the long-term. One of these communities is the women seaweed harvesters of Maniguin Island.

Worldwide, ActionAid is commited to helping women and girls like those living on Maniguin Island break the cycle of poverty: to fulfil their potential, to earn a decent living and to live lives without fear. The UK government agrees with us and via our She Can... campaign will double all donations to ActionAid until 25 June.

Double your donation

Donate to our She CAN… campaign by 25 June and the UK Government will double your donation so we can make twice the difference.


Nigerian schoolgirls' abduction: the facts

Anjali Kwatra's picture Anjali Kwatra Head of News

The shocking story of the kidnapped schoolgirls in Nigeria is back in the headlines today with the US and Britain offering military support to help find them. But with conflicting reports on the number of girls who were abducted and escaped, the facts of what exactly happened are still unclear. Here’s what we know so far from media reports and our colleagues in ActionAid Nigeria.

Vyapbong Dorkat, Headmaster LEA Primary School
A girl at school in Nigeria
Photo: Kate Holt/Shoot The Earth/ActionAid

On the night of 14 April the girls were taken from their boarding school in Chibok village, in Borno state in north-eastern Nigeria by 200 armed militants from the Islamist group Boko Haram.

The girls were aged between 16 and 18 and were taking exams at the school which was one of the few still open in the area.

Once they realised the girls were missing family members started searching in the Sambisa Forest, one of the hideouts of Boko Haram.

It is still not clear how many exactly were abducted – at first it was reported that 234 were taken. Last week the Nigerian authorities updated the number of girls kidnapped to 276 and said at least 53 of the girls escaped, leaving 223 in the hands of their captors.

Reports of deaths and illness

At least two have died of snakebite, and about 20 others are ill, according to reports quoting an intermediary who is in touch with their captors. There are also unconfirmed reports that some of the girls had been forced to "marry" their abductors, who paid a nominal bride price of $12 (£7). Others are reported to have been taken across borders into Cameroon and Chad.

On 16 April the Nigerian media reported that the military had rescued most of the girls, but the Defence Ministry had to withdraw that claim a day later.

Nigerians, including colleagues from ActionAid in Nigeria, have taken to the streets to protest in almost all major cities, urging President Goodluck Jonathan to act quickly to find the girls, and the hashtag #bringbackourgirls has trended on Twitter, with more than a million tweets so far using the tag.

On Sunday 4 May Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan addressed the abduction publicly for the first time, acknowledging it was a painful time for his country and admitting his forces had no idea where the girls were.

The following Monday, Abubakar Shekau leader of Boko Haram, (Boko Haram means “western education is forbidden”) said that his group had taken the girls. In a video message he threatened to "sell" the girls.

Today it was revealed that eight more girls were abducted from another village in the north east on Sunday night.

Some facts on girls' education in Nigeria:

  • 10.5 million children are not in school in Nigeria out of 57 million globally.
  • Out of that 10.5 million, about six million are girls.
  • There are more children out of school in Nigeria today than in 1999.
  • Nigeria spends about 1.5 per cent of its GDP on education annually. Globally, the recommendation is that states should spend about 6 per cent.
Read more about ActionAid's work on helping to get girls into school in Nigeria here.

Colleagues from ActionAid Nigeria will join a march today through the capital Abuja to protest at the abduction of nearly 200 girls from their school two weeks ago.

Girls in class at a school in Nigeria
Girls in class at a school in Nigeria
Photo: Kate Holt/Shoot The Earth/ActionAid

They are demanding more action from the government to find the girls, who were taken on April 14 in the north-east of the country, allegedly by the insurgent group Boko Haram.

Some girls managed to escape but the parents of the rest of the girls are increasingly fearful that they will never see their daughters again.

ActionAid has condemned the abductions and has called on the government to do everything in its power to find and rescue the girls and to also immediately implement special protection mechanisms to “safeguard the lives and education of all children in Nigeria, particularly in the vulnerable north-east region”.

Early marriage is an obstacle to education

ActionAid Nigeria’s Country Director, Dr Hussaini Abdu, told me that the north-east of the country is already lagging behind the rest of the country in terms of the number of children in schools, particularly girls.

“In this area parents are already reluctant to send their daughters to school because of cultural and religious reasons. For example many believe that girls should be married at a young age and therefore they drop out of school,” he said.

ActionAid has found that once married, girls stop going to school. More than 40% of girls surveyed in northern Nigeria said early marriage was a major obstacle to their schooling. Another obstacle is a lack of female teachers and even a lack of toilets for girls.

ActionAid has been working for many years to help greater number of girls go to school in Nigeria and our work has increased enrolment and completion rates in primary schools by up to 50%.