Kvinna till Kvinna: Our history

Photo: Bertin Mungombe
Photo: Christopher Herwig

25 years for women's rights

The Kvinna till Kvinna Foundation was founded in 1993, when reports reached Sweden of mass rapes in the wars in Former Yugoslavia. The Swedish peace and women’s movement made a joint appeal under the name of “Kvinna till Kvinna” (Woman to Woman) and took a series of fundraising initiatives to support women’s rights organisations in the Balkans.

Since then, Kvinna till Kvinna has grown considerably. Today, we work with more than 110 women’s rights organisations – not just in the Balkans, but in conflict-affected areas across the world.

Below we present some highlights of the past 25 years…

Kvinna till Kvinna 1993 - 2018:

The call to action at the start of it all

“Genocide is happening in the heart of Europe. Powerless, we’ve stood by. Now, the time has come to put an end to this war! That is why we are launching a call to action: ‘Kvinna till Kvinna.’”

These words are published in a 1993 op-ed article in one of Sweden’s biggest newspapers. A group of women comes together to protest the horrific abuse women are being subjected to in the wars in the Balkans. Their call to action triggers a massive response. It is the start of Kvinna till Kvinna.

Tens of thousands of women join the movement across Sweden. Every Friday, meetings are held on Norrmalm square in Stockholm to raise money. By September, we have raised one million Swedish crowns, allowing us to travel to Bosnia & Herzegovina and Croatia for the first time.

Read an interview with one of the women who was there at the start »

Photo: Margareta Winberg and other female politicians in Stockholm in 1993.

20 000 packages for women in the Balkans

A fundraising campaign is launched in Sweden to send support packages to internally displaced women in Bosnia & Herzegovina.

The packages provide women with hard-to-come-by goods like food, toiletries, menstrual pads and candles for when there is no electricity. Each package also contains a little note with a message of support.

Many internally displaced women live in the city of Tuzla, where they keep schools and hospitals running without any outside support. Swedish volunteers send 20 000 packages to the women of Tuzla.

Read the story of Anna, who helped send support packages in 1994 »

Women, peace and security at the Beijing Conference

The Kvinna till Kvinna Foundation settles into official headquarters in Stockholm. At the same time, we open our first regional office in Croatia.

1995 is also the year of the historical UN World Conference on Women in Beijing. Tens of thousands of participants and activists travel to China from across the globe, with a single goal in mind: advancing women’s rights.

Together, they produce the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action. The document specifically condemns the disastrous effects of armed conflict on women – and calls on world leaders to take action.

Hillary Rodham Clinton speaking at the Beijing Conference. Photo: Sharon Farmer / White House Photograph Office

Support for rape survivors in Balkans

We start providing health care for women through our clinic-on-wheels in Bosnia & Herzegovina.

The clinic not only offers health care and anticonception, but also becomes a safe space for women to meet and interact.

In the course of just two years, our clinic’s gynaecologists and pediatricians help 7 000 women and 5 000 children. A large part of our work is providing support to women who have suffered mass rape and other forms of violence.

Today, we still work in the Balkans, but our focus has shifted to increasing women’s political participation, empowering them economically and preventing gender-based violence.

Groundbreaking gender analysis of peace agreement

In 2000, we present our report “Engendering the Peace Process: A Gender Approach to Dayton and Beyond.” The report exposes the consequences of the Dayton Agreement’s lack of a gender perspective.

It is the first time ever a gender analysis of a peace agreement is published.

The same year, the UN Security Council adopts resolution 1325 on women, peace and security. It confirms the importance of women’s participation in peace processes. Our report “Engendering the Peace Process” is one of the foundations of the resolution.

Photo: Christopher Herwig

Winning the "Alternative Nobel Prize"

We become the proud recipients of the prestigious Right Livelihood Award in 2002.

The Right Livelihood Award is widely known as the “Alternative Nobel Prize,” given to those who strive to make the world a better place.

The award was founded in the eighties by journalist and philanthropist Jakob von Uexkull, after the Nobel Foundation turned down his suggestion to establish two new awards, for protecting the climate and alleviating poverty.

Meanwhile, Kvinna till Kvinna continues to grow: we open offices in Tirana in Albania and in Tbilisi, Georgia’s capital city.

Photo: Anna Lidén (one of Kvinna till Kvinna’s founders) and Kerstin Grebäck (our former secretary-general) accepting the Right Livelihood Award.

Ten years for women's rights

Kvinna till Kvinna celebrates its tenth anniversary in 2003!

Our organisation now has 25 employees and cooperates with up to 70 women’s rights organisations in the Balkans, the Middle East and the South Caucasus.

That summer, we invite all our partner organisations to a conference in Dubrovnik in Croatia, for several days of intense networking and best-practice sharing.

Also in 2003, the United Nations invites Kvinna till Kvinna to participate in its expert panel, to set the agenda for next year’s Commission on the Status of Women.

Photo: Networking conference in Dubrovnik, Croatia in August 2003.

Supporting women refugees from Jordan

We strengthen Kvinna till Kvinna’s presence in the Middle East by opening an office in Amman, Jordan. The year after, we start working in Iraq and Lebanon.

The move to Amman allows us to directly support women who have fled from war and conflict in Jordan’s neighbouring countries. Today, the Amman office is our largest regional office.

Read more about our work in the Middle East.

Photo: Christopher Herwig

Journalism to highlight women and peace

When reporting on conflicts, traditional journalism often takes a narrow perspective, focusing only on the drama and danger of wars. Peace initiatives go unmentioned, as do the efforts of civil society activists – and the plight of entire groups affected by the conflict, such as women.

In 2005, we actively start promoting “peace journalism.”

Our years of experience of working in conflict situations have shown us how traditional reporting often only intensifies conflicts. We believe a different kind of journalism can increase our understanding of conflicts – and help resolve them.

Read our report on the issue: “Peace journalism”.

UN awareness not mirrored by foreign minister

In 2008, the UN Security Council adopts resolution 1820, declaring that “rape and other forms of sexual violence can constitute war crimes or crimes against humanity.” It is the first time the United Nations explicitly links sexual violence with women, peace and security.

At the same time, we analyse how aware Swedish politicians are of women’s role in peacebuilding.

The result is stunning: Sweden’s foreign minister at the time, Carl Bildt, does not mention women even once in his 276 press releases on peace. We uncover that he has not met with a single women’s rights organisation during his many travels to conflict zones.

Nobel Peace Prize for Leymah Gbowee

The 2011 Nobel Peace Prize is awarded to three exceptional women – including Leymah Gbowee of one of our Liberian partner organisations

Leymah managed to unite Liberia’s women to stop the country’s brutal civil war, which raged from 1999 to 2003. The women protested every day in the capital city, Monrovia. When men finally gathered to hold peace talks, the women launched a sit-in protest, refusing to leave until the men had agreed on a peace treaty.

The strength of the Liberian women’s movement also resulted in Ellen Johnson Sirleaf becoming Africa’s first democratically elected female president.

The Nobel Peace Prize goes to Leymah Gbowee (right), Ellen Johnson Sirleaf (centre) and Tawakkol Karman from Yemen (left). Photo: Martin von Krogh

Support for more than 100 partners

In 2013, Kvinna till Kvinna celebrates 20 years of empowering women!

We have expanded our operations to 15 countries in Africa, MENA, the South Caucasus and Europe. In total, we support more than 100 local women’s rights organisations across the world.

The same year, our documentary film “Six Days” has its premiere. The film is a tribute to the thousands of women’s rights activists we have had the honour of working with. “Six Days” is shown at film festivals, the European Parliament and European delegations in countries like Nepal and El Salvador.

Watch the abbreviated version of “Six Days”.

Women hit hardest by Ebola

A massive ebola outbreak occurs in west Africa, hitting Liberia particularly hard. Kvinna till Kvinna is one of the few international organisations deciding to stay in the country.

For two years, Liberia battles the outbreak. When it is over, statistics show women constitute 75% of those who died of ebola. The reasons are simple. Women were often the ones taking care of sick relatives, and they constituted the majority of health-care staff: thousands of women died after catching ebola from those they tried to help. And because of low literacy rates, many women were unable to access important information about infection risks.

To this day, we continue working in west Africa to support those who were affected by ebola.

Photo: Master sgt. Jeffrey Allen / US Air Force

Major achievements against abuse of women

Jordan sees a breakthrough in 2015, when a woman who was domestically abused by her family is offered compensation for the first time.

After having abused their daughter for years, the woman’s parents are ordered to pay damages. The decision receives a great deal of media attention, causing the general public to start to question violence against women. The achievement is the result of years of hard work by Eva Abu Halaweh of our partner organisation Mizan, which offers legal help to female victims of abuse.

A second major success occurs in Liberia. In 2015, the country adopts a law against domestic violence and criminalises marital rape.

Eva Abu Halaweh of our Jordian partner organisation Mizan. Photo: Karin Råghall

25th anniversary: eyes set on the future

In 2018, Kvinna till Kvinna celebrates its 25th anniversary.

The anniversary is paired with worrying news: our “Suffocating the movement” report reveals how space is shrinking for women’s rights organisations to speak out, act and make a difference. State and non-state actors are increasingly targeting women’s rights activists. Spurred on by growing nationalism, extremism and fears of political change, they try to silence the movement with threats, hate campaigns and practical harassment.

But these developments only strengthen our determination: Kvinna till Kvinna has recently started supporting women in Rwanda and has opened a new office in Tunisia.

Our eyes are set firmly on a future of gender equality and peace for all.

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