Reports on Women Survivors

Women for Women International began commissioning and publishing briefing papers in 2004 on a variety of topics concerning women in post-conflict societies. Click on the links below to read the papers.

Gender, Conflict and the Millennium Development Goals

"We can't have peace without development, but development without peace will not be possible either" Ngozi Eze, WfWI Country Director, Nigeria.

Stronger Women, Stronger Nations

2010 DR Congo Report: Women for Women International U.S.

Stronger Women, Stronger Nations

2010 DR Congo Report: Women for Women International U.K.

Stronger Women, Stronger Nations

2009 Afghanistan Report

Stronger Women, Stronger Nations

2008 Iraq Report

Amplifying the Voice of Women in Kosovo

2007 Kosovo Report

Men's Leadership Training in the DRC

Summer 2006

Ending Violence Against Women in Eastern Congo: Preparing Men to Advocate for Women's Rights

Over the past decade, a complex web of local, regional, and national conflict has devastated much of the eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC). Ethnic strife and civil war broke out in 1996, sparked by a large inflow of refugees from the neighboring Rwandan genocide in 1994. Rebel groups from neighboring countries entered the conflict in 1998. The war, involving seven African nations and many groups of armed combatants, is the deadliest in documented African history. Mortality surveys estimate that nearly four million people have died as a result of the conflict, which has been marked by gross human rights violations, often directly targeting women by using rape and other forms of sexual violence as weapons of war. A fragile transitional government of national unity has been in operation since June 2003. General elections, the first since independence from Belgium in 1960, are scheduled for July 30, 2006.

In response to horrific reports of rampant sexual violence from the international NGO community and Congolese women themselves, Women for Women International launched its multi-tiered program of direct aid and emotional support, rights awareness and leadership education, vocational skills training and income-generation support in the DRC in May 2004 to provide services to the socially excluded Congolese women who endured, witnessed and survived these atrocities.

Echoing the reports from humanitarian and human rights organizations, many of the program participants told stories of the horrors they had endured during the conflict, including gang rape, mutilation and sexual slavery. The women also reported that because of the social stigma attached to rape in Congolese culture, they were rejected by their husbands and other members of their communities, in some cases being deserted or literally turned out of their own homes. Still others talked about the daily battles of private violence behind closed doors. As these women began to find seeds of hope through Women for Women International’s program, they called upon the organization to help them educate the men in their communities.

Read Zainab's message about men's training and the DRC's historic elections

Read the report: Ending Violence Against Women in Eastern Congo: Preparing Men to Advocate for Women's Rights

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Beyond Darfur: War’s Impact

Beyond Darfur: War’s Impact on Sudanese Women

Beyond Darfur: War’s Impact on Sudanese Women and Their Hopes for a Peaceful Future

Women for Women International is launching operations in southern Sudan, an area almost entirely without basic infrastructure, such as roads, health facilities or schools. It is expected that more than two million displaced Sudanese people will return to southern Sudan in the coming months. The media and international community have focused much of their attention on Darfur. However, that region is only one piece of a complex puzzle and it appears that much of the world has very little understanding of the devastating reality beyond Darfur. Women for Women International sent an assessment team to Sudan in July 2005 to evaluate the feasibility of helping the country’s socially excluded women rebuild their lives, families and communities after conflict. What began as a two-week trip has turned into a long-term commitment to working in southern Sudan. We witnessed Sudan’s harsh realities firsthand. We found a vast country with a tangled and complex history of conflict—a history that you can see on the faces of the Sudanese people.

Click here to read the full report and recommendations.

We conducted extensive interviews with women at the grassroots level and met with representatives from the government and community based organizations (CBOs). We confirmed reports that women are bearing the brunt of the horror, suffering through unthinkable acts of gender-based violence and sexual slavery, trying to manage survival for them and their families in what were often subhuman living conditions. Amid the horror stories, we also found hope. We discovered a strong civil society and an organized women’s movement with clear optimism for the future of Sudan and keen insight into what is needed to make those hopes a reality. If the international community plans to assist with the country’s reconstruction in any meaningful way, it must seek the wisdom and counsel of Sudanese women.

History of Conflict

Sudan gained its independence from the United Kingdom and Egypt in 1956. It has spent most of the years since then embroiled in what has been called “one of Africa’s longest running civil wars.” A Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) was signed in January 2005, which achieved a fragile peace between rebel forces in southern Sudan and the government in Khartoum, but the protracted violence and insecurity have devastated Sudan’s infrastructure and the country currently ranks near the bottom of nearly all development indices. What makes the situation in Sudan so complex is that there are currently three separate, highly volatile situations in different parts of the country. While there are hopes that the CPA will help to stabilize the country as a whole, it only directly addresses the situation in the South. Sudan’s Darfur region is in the western part of the country, near the border with Chad. In 2004, the United States government issued a statement saying that violence in Darfur had risen to the level of genocide.4 The United Nations is expected to dispatch a contingent of peacekeepers to the Darfur region to supplement existing forces from the African Union. While the international community focuses on Darfur, Sudanese people in other parts of the country are trying to maintain the fragile peace as they begin rebuilding their country.

Issues and Needs Identified by Sudanese Women

The following issues are those most frequently mentioned by the women we interviewed as being critical to the country’s future: income generation and employment opportunities for women; girls’ education and illiteracy among women; access to resources, including water, electricity, housing and jobs; customary and family laws regarding early marriage, wife inheritance, ghost marriage and criminal ramifications of adultery, polygamy and divorce rights; gender-based violence; and women’s health, including HIV/AIDS, female genital cutting, reproductive health and maternal and infant mortality and morbidity. We spoke with Sudanese women’s organizations that are deeply committed to these issues. These organizations are also in dire need of resources and support to build and sustain their organizational capacities. They identified the following primary needs: expand the reach and resources of CBOs through international partnerships; train women leaders in advocacy, coalition-building strategies and negotiation skills; launch a national advocacy program about the importance of including women in reconstruction and transitional development agendas at the local, regional and national levels; promote organizational and staff development with tools and financial resources that improve institutional capacity.

A Window of Opportunity

A critical window of opportunity exists for women’s participation in the development and reconstruction of Sudan. During our assessment, we uncovered both a great need and a great desire for our services and resources, particularly in southern Sudan. Not only has the protracted civil war destroyed any semblance of infrastructure, but the area has some of the highest female illiteracy and malnutrition rates in the world. Over the last several months, internally displaced people (IDPs) and refugees have begun to return to southern Sudan. It is expected that more than a third of Sudan’s two million IDPs will ultimately return to this region. Economic opportunities for women are vital in making sure that women are fully involved at all levels of society. Despite the devastation wrought by protracted conflict, the population, especially women, is eager and hopeful for change. Women for Women International aims to use our expertise with women and post-conflict societies to help integrate socially excluded women and women’s organizations in Sudan’s reconstruction and development.

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The Iraqi Constitutional Committee

Read Iraqi women’s recommendations to the Constitutional Committee to ensure their rights in the new democracy.

The Iraqi Constitutional Committee is scheduled to complete a final draft of the Constitution by August 15, 2005. Most Iraqis view the Constitution as a critical document that will create a foundation for a stable democracy and establish the full and equal rights of all citizens. In attempt to create a safe forum for women's advocates and members of Iraq's Constitutional Committee to meet in person, share views and craft a set of recommendations on the Constitution for the full Committee, Women for Women International convened a conference in Jordan in late June.Participants expressed a variety of viewpoints on issues such as how to define gender equality in the Constitution, the relationship between religion and state, the need for quotas to guarantee women's representation in the legislature and the constitutional drafting process.The major areas of debate highlighted below represent key issues discussed at the conference, which led to a series of final recommendations. The recommendations, summarized below, reflect the views of a majority of participants.

  • Constitutional Timetable: Some participants strongly urged that the timetable for drafting and approving the Constitution be extended by up to six months, while others argued that an extension would only increase Iraq's instability and violence. Participation of Women in the Constitution-Drafting Process: Some attendees advocated for greater participation for women in the constitutional drafting process; others defended the current composition of the Constitutional Committee. Language of the Constitution: Some participants argued that the language of the Constitution should specifically articulate the rights of men and of women and others believed the language should refer to citizens collectively. Role of Islam: Participants debated the role of Islam in the Constitution.
  • Quotas for Women's Political Participation: Participants argued about whether the current quota for the percentage of women in the National Assembly should be increased and whether it should eventually be phased out.

Summary of Recommendations on the Constitution.

  • Preamble: There should be a strong preamble to the Constitution that establishes a vision for a united and democratic Iraq.
  • Supremacy of the Constitution: The Constitution should be acknowledged as the supreme law of the country.

Individual Rights

  • Citizenship: The Constitution should stipulate a single Iraqi citizenship that includes both men and women.
  • Bill of Rights: There should be a bill of rights that enshrines the rights of all Iraqi people and affirms the values of human dignity, equality and freedom.

Balance of Powers

  • Federalism: There shall be a central federal government as well as local governments, which should be established for administrative reasons, based upon geography, and not on the basis of ethnicity or other reasons. Judiciary: There should be an independent Supreme Constitutional Court that will ensure redress for the violation of constitutional rights by the state. Religion: Islam is the official religion of the country, but all other religions shall be respected. Commissions: The Constitution shall include a mechanism for creating commissions that include those dedicated to human rights and gender equality.
  • Gender Equality:
    • Quotas: The Constitution should guarantee at least 40 percent of the seats in the legislature for women.
    • Monitoring: At every level of government, there should be an advisor to monitor the protection of women's rights and ensure gender equality and women's access to government service
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Iraq Constitution Press Release

Click here to read the press release from the conference on the Iraq Constitution

2005, 4:30PM LOCAL / 9:30AM EST

CONTACT: USA: Cathy Renna or Kristina Kulin, 212 584-5000 or
JORDAN: Beth George, 079 654-4913

Conference Held on Women's Rights in Post-War Iraq; Iraqis Make List of Recommendations to Constitutional Committee

June 29, 2005, AMMAN, Jordan-Iraqi women want their rights clearly defined in their country's new constitution, according to recommendations released today from a historic conference sponsored by Women for Women International. The two-day conference brought together male and female members of the Iraqi National Assembly, including members of the Constitutional Committee, Iraqi civil society leaders and women's rights advocates.

As the deadline looms to complete the new constitution, the conference focused on discussing strategies for enshrining women's rights in the new constitution. In closed-door sessions, conference participants said they wanted women to have equal rights with men and for there to be a bill of rights protecting all Iraqis. They also recommended that at least 40 percent of the seats in the National Assembly be reserved for women. They recommended making Islam the official religion of Iraq, but they agreed that there should be an independent supreme constitutional court that would protect Iraqi citizens' rights under the constitution. A list of draft recommendations is attached.

"This is a critical stage for women in Iraq," said Zainab Salbi, CEO and President of Women for Women International. "After wars and conflicts, there is a window of opportunity for women to help set the direction of their country and to protect their rights in a constitution. As the constitutional drafting deadline nears, that window is closing for women."

The conference created a secure environment to open a dialogue about women's rights in Iraq and to share knowledge about the various ways women's rights have been enshrined in other post-conflict constitutions, particularly in Islamic countries, Salbi added.

Women for Women International does not advocate for specific language in the constitution. Instead, its staff works with Iraqis to help them decide for themselves what they want and to learn how to advocate effectively for women rights. For over a decade, the Washington, D.C.-based group has worked with women survivors of war to rebuild their lives on a personal, economic and political scale. Its mission is to help move women survivors of war from crisis and upheaval to self-sufficiency and stability so they can become active participants in their communities and rebuild their countries. "Women are a bellwether for future of a country," said Salbi. "When women prosper, the entire country prospers. But if women are oppressed, like they were under the Taliban, it's a sign of bad things to come." Because of security concerns, the conference was held in Jordan and its location was not disclosed. Journalists were not permitted to attend and a list of conference attendees will not be released. Insurgents have repeatedly targeted Iraqi women, particularly educated middle-and upper-class women. Since 2003, women's rights leaders, women candidates and a woman Iraqi Assembly Member have been assassinated. On Tuesday, the conference attendees learned that a male Iraqi Assembly member was assassinated as well.

The workers' strikes at the Baghdad airport almost doomed the conference before it started. Because of the airport closure, many participants drove from Iraq to the conference, an extremely dangerous way to travel. Nearly sixty Iraqis attended the conference, with almost even representation of both men and women. The group represented a broad range of religious beliefs and ethnic groups. While the Constitutional Committee was kept at a standstill for weeks to determine the ethnic representation on the committee, fewer than 17% of the committee members are women, even though they make up over a third of the National Assembly. A record number of women flocked to vote in parliamentary elections in January 2005. After years of war and high death rates of men, women constitute 60 percent of the population, a larger percentage than any single ethnic group, but their representation has been largely ignored in the reconstruction of Iraq. Discussions behind closed doors were vigorous and sincere. The conference topics included the importance of women in post-conflict areas, identifying issues that may need to be addressed, how to build consensus, and effective ways to advocate and increase grassroots awareness. Conversations included the role of Islam in the government, the structure of local and federal governments and the looming deadline for the constitution.

Experts from South Africa, Rwanda and Malaysia spoke about the successes and lessons from their constitutional processes. Several of the experts warned the Iraqis about trying to develop a constitution in a short period of time without forums for public input. Some Iraqi men and women expressed concern about the deadline for the Constitution; the first draft is scheduled to be finished by August 15th. They feared that the lack of public engagement could hinder progress, particularly for women's rights issues. However, other Iraqis argued that the security situation forced them to need to move quickly and would prevent them from being able to hold public forums. The group recommended more public forums to discuss the new constitution but did not make a formal recommendation on the deadline for its completion.

There was also much debate about whether the constitution should be broad or very specific. Members of the Constitutional Committee explained to the group that because of the impending deadline - just six weeks away - they would only have time to address broad issues in the constitution. Iraqi participants learned that the constitutions of South Africa and Malaysia allow religious and cultural laws to co-exist side by side. South African citizens may choose to be governed under cultural laws as long as they do not infringe upon certain basic rights like dignity, equality and the right to privacy.

In Malaysia, Shari'a, or Islamic family law, governs Muslim citizens for issues relating to family matters. To protect women's rights, Malaysian advocates have worked to make domestic violence qualified as a criminal - not family - matter, which ensures it is governed by the secular federal government rather than Shari'a. They have also sought to ensure that interpretations of Islam are open to public discussion. While the text of the Qur'an is considered divine, according to the expert, interpretations of Islam are made by humans and are fallible. Malaysian women's right groups advocate for progressive interpretations of Islam that include women's equality.

A Rwandan expert shared the story of her country's success in protecting women's rights. After the genocides in the 1990's, women composed the majority of Rwandans. Rwanda has the largest number of women in the legislature of any country in the world. She discussed the importance to engage women in the constitutional process and to have commissions that ensure gender equity.

Women for Women International will release a full report on the conference and formal list of recommendations in the coming weeks.

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Windows of Opportunity:

The Pursuit of Gender Equality in Post-War Iraq Women for Women International Briefing Paper, January 2005

The report was made possible by a grant from The Sigrid Rausing Trust. We deeply appreciate the Trust’s financial support and leadership in supporting women's rights to equality and freedom from oppression, violence, or economic exclusion.

Click here to download entire paper in PDF form


Iraq’s post-war reconstruction period occupies a brief moment in time, but holds long-lasting implications for women. During this window of opportunity, decisions are underway which will determine women’s permanent roles in governance, their rights under civil law and their future status in Iraqi society. The outlook for women, and society as a whole, is diminished when individual women, and their representative NGOs, are excluded from decision-making processes.

As recent events have shown, Iraqi women have been marginalized and excluded by both the U.S.-led Transitional Governing Authority and its successor, the Iraqi Governing Council. The accelerated timetable for the turnover was one factor in women’s lack of participation, but the entire process was characterized by a series of unfulfilled promises. Without direct participation in the upcoming elections, constitutional votes and parliamentary decisions, the window of opportunity for women will permanently close.

In an ominous back drop to the political struggle, individual women have been targeted for retribution. Their profile is consistent. Women with Western dress and progressive ideas have been attacked. The abduction and murders of these prominent women have sent a ripple of fear through local communities. Though the press has covered the stories of high-profile foreign aid workers, Iraqi women have seen members of their own communities—pharmacists, lawyers, councilwomen —assassinated. The effect is chilling and threatens the participation of Iraq’s most educated women.

At the grassroots, the general lack of security is also demanding a high toll. Though low-income women benefited most from the informal economy such as street commerce, the spasms of violence have driven women out of their jobs and into their homes. Fear of violence, abduction and rape have emptied the streets of women and caused disruptions to education as children are also increasingly kept at home. Growing numbers of women are also leaving the country.

During this pivotal time, with its atmosphere of societal constriction, it is vital to report the opinions and needs of women. Women for Women International spoke directly to women in their homes through its 2004 Household Survey of 1000 women in seven cities in Baghdad, Mosul, and Basra, major political and commercial centers of Iraq. The survey shows women’s high degree of engagement in civic and political issues and dispels notions about tradition, customs or religion limiting their participation. The survey highlights include:

Women believe that their legal rights and ability to vote on the constitution are the most important items on the Iraqi national agenda:

  • 93.7% want to secure legal rights for women. • 83.6% want the right to vote on the final constitution.

Women want the opportunity to work:

  • 56.8% thought there should be no restrictions on women’s employment. • Of those who thought work should be restricted, only 15% thought tradition or custom should curtail employment. By a 4-to-1 majority, women gave circumstantial reasons to limit work (a total of 67.6% cited security factors and job availability).

Women support the education of girls and women:

  • 95.1% felt that there should be no restrictions on education.

Women see direct participation in local and national politics in a positive light:

  • 78.6% believe in unlimited participation in local councils.
  • 79.5% believe in unlimited participation in national councils.

Given the level of violence and the deprivation caused by lack of adequate food, water and electricity, another remarkable statistic emerged from the survey: 90.6% of Iraqi women are hopeful about their future.

During the reconstruction process, it is crucial that women gain inclusion and see measurable progress on a variety of legal and social issues. If the window of opportunity closes and the optimism of women is squandered, Iraqi society as a whole will suffer. If women are bystanders, their full range of potential as peacemakers, providers and educators will be lost. Some of the most potentially damaging influences are disingenuous parties who claim to speak for women or religious leaders who ingratiate themselves through token support while advocating restrictions for women. Women can and should speak for themselves, without proxy. There is an entire generation of educated Iraqi women prepared to represent women and a growing corps of determined grassroots women ready to step forward. The full and free participation of women is a barometer for the future health and prosperity of all members of Iraqi society.

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Women Taking A Lead

Progress Toward Empowerment and Gender Equity in Rwanda, Women for Women International Briefing Paper, September 2004

Progress Toward Empowerment and Gender Equity in Rwanda
Women for Women International Briefing Paper September 2004

Click here to download the entire paper in PDF form.


In the initial aftermath of the 1994 genocide, Rwandese women were traumatized and deeply divided.

In the course of 100 days, approximately 800,000 Rwandese were killed and 2 million fled into exile. Most genocide survivors were women and many were widows who suffered through bereavement, injury, trauma, isolation and illness. Women whose husbands were in prison, charged with committing the genocide, also struggled to raise their families alone. Women were represented in every category-- victims, perpetrators and bystanders-- and their communities were deeply divided.

In the ten years since the genocide, Rwandese women have worked together to rebuild their nation, turning catastrophe into opportunity.

In a society that previously undervalued the contributions of women, genocide survivors were thrust into new roles through necessity. In the immediate aftermath, 70% of the population was women. In order to survive and feed their families, they began working without concern for traditional roles. The great upheaval and uncertainty produced by the genocide also left empty spaces in the society, into which new ideas could be inserted. Inspired by their delegates to the 1995 Fourth World Conference on Women in Beijing, Rwandese women united to create organizations that were not defined by ethnic or cultural divisions or barriers. They began to re-build the country based on what they had in common as mothers and citizens, and have defined the past decade by their dedication to peace, education and progress.

Rwanda now has an unprecedented level of women parliamentarians.

After the 2003 elections, Rwanda reached 49% female representation, surpassing Sweden as the country with the highest percentage of women in elected office. Introducing this “critical mass” of women into decision-making positions holds out the possibility that the character of politics itself could be altered over time.

Rwanda has an innovative system of women’s councils that reach from the grassroots to the national level, creating a pipeline for women to participate in government.

This pyramid system has successfully filled many of the 30% of seats set aside for women in government and has tremendous organizing potential. When it is operational, this system brings women into the political process and provides a ladder by which women can rise.

The quota system alone will not ensure advances for women in government or society as a whole.

The 30% of leadership positions set aside for women will not automatically create gender equity for women. In addition to filling those quotas, elected women need training that builds governing skills and personal confidence. As their leadership skills expand, women parliamentarians will gain the influence needed to ensure advancement and social protection for women.

Women have shown a commitment to work together across all sectors of society.

Rwandese women have made the effort to work collaboratively whether they are government employees, elected officials or members of non-governmental organizations. This accounts for many of the recent gains in gender equality.

Women parliamentarians should work to improve communication with ordinary women.

Rural and uneducated women assert that they are not informed and that those who have risen to political leadership do not consult with them. Only 48% of Rwandese women are literate. Rural women are especially isolated and place a high value on hearing directly from their representatives. Parliamentarians need to maintain links to these women and resources need to be developed to allow more convening and consultation at the local level. It is crucial that the “gulf” between women representatives at the national tier and those at the grassroots is swiftly bridged.

Until recently, women had no access to the fundamentals of economic independence.

By law, women couldn’t belong to profit-making organizations. Until 1992, women needed their husband’s authorization to open a bank account. Now urban and rural women engage in microcredit programs that support small business ventures. The Women’s District Fund is one initiative, established in 1998, to boost women’s economic capacities through micro credit lending. A Women’s Guarantee Fund that helps women who have no collateral for their loans accompanies it. These funds have direct positive benefits and are also an incentive for women to become members of the local structures.

There have been significant advances in the legal status of women, spurred on by the process of writing the new constitution for the Republic of Rwanda (2003).

Formerly, when a man died, his widow and children had no right to inherit his property, which was transferred to the man’s male relatives. Women now have the right to inheritance, polygamy is illegal and family law is under scrutiny and reform.

Women head both the Supreme Court and the Ministry of Justice.

In a system that has just recently granted fundamental legal rights to women, it is remarkable that individual women have risen to such prominence in the administration of the law. Women in positions of authority have the power to lead by example, create confidence and inspire other women to break barriers.

Enforcement of the law is uneven and attitudinal changes need to match legal advances.

Women are hesitant to claim their rights, particularly with regard to family violence and abuse. For example, although rape is now an offense punishable by death, abuses are not reported out of concern for the family’s reputation. Rights-based education is needed for both women and men.

Economic development programs need to meet the different needs of urban and rural women.

Women in urban areas see minimal barriers to engaging in micro-enterprise, and are eager to apply for credit. In order to succeed, they need assistance in the selection of appropriate business ventures, education on the regulations and credit counseling. However, nearly 95% of Rwandans live in rural areas and require services geared to their needs. Generally, rural women need more training, encouragement, the support of family and group business ventures based on successful communal effort.

Rural women live in extreme poverty and the division of labor according to gender is inflexible and limits the advancement of women.

In rural areas “women’s work” is physically punishing and unrelenting. Women do all of the domestic chores including fetching food and water, cooking, laundry and childcare. Women who attend community meetings or engage in commerce are routinely accused of shirking their duties or are labeled as bad wives and mothers. Women need support for challenging gender norms as much as they need legal rights.

Men must become partners in the advancement of women.

Persuasive economic arguments should be made clear—if women can generate income, the entire family benefits. Education programs, including media campaigns, are needed to promote the benefits of entrepreneurship and expanded roles for women. Personal meetings are arranged to persuade reticent husbands, but programs are needed to directly address ignorance and opposition. More men must be encouraged to come forward to signal support for women’s development. Women risk losing the progress they have gained if men are not brought on board.

Creative policies, incentives and oversight are needed to further lift the status of women.

The Rwandan government should be encouraged to further utilize innovative management tools such as “gender budgeting” that quantify the impact policies have on women. At the grassroots level, innovative incentives include the “grant” of cooking oil for women who continue to send their girls to school or bicycles donated to women who are community organizers. The Rwandan constitution calls for an independent Gender Monitoring Office, but it has not yet begun to operate.

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