Saturday, May 20, 2017

One of the side panels of this year's Commission on the Status of Women (CSW) Conference at the United Nations was sponsored the African Citizen's Development Foundation. The session was called, "Developing Africa with Active Citizenship: Empowering Women and Girls." The group aims to foster better leadership, advocating for the empowerment of women and girls, and building a cultured society. The session was moderated by Lehigh University graduate student Kelsey Leck.

The ACDF vision reads: 
Our mission is to establish a meeting point between different educational agents from all around the world. We wish to provide new opportunities for creation, dissemination and exchange of experiences and multi, inter and transdisciplinary knowledge that serve for formulation and organization of a new, complex thinking and humanistic and philanthropic feeling to interpret the current world, respecting their cultural diversity fully, because the peace, poverty eradication and sustainable development can only be the result of equity, sprouted from the appreciation and respect for cultural diversity.

In the Session the group stressed the importance in building strong institutions. And that for society to change, we needed to work together and complement each other. This includes working with the local male population.

The point was raised that the whole society benefits when more people are brought to the table to achieve common goals. It should be looked at as a thing of pride for men to have their female counterparts empowered. And that better laws need to be in the books, but also focus has to be on implementation.

Thursday, May 18, 2017

The People's Movement for Human Rights Learning at the United Nations

by Meriam Sabih 

One of the side panels of this year's Commission on the Status of Women (CSW) Conference at the United Nations was sponsored by the People's Movement for Human Rights Learning. It was called "Women and Girls: Sharing the Ongoing Process of Learning Human Rights As A Way of Life." The session stressed the importance of incorporating human rights values into our daily lives.

When we speak of human rights, do we practice those values in our homes and work places? Or are we living in small monarchies at home? Often it is harder to speak up about human rights in the home, school, or office rather than to speak about it generally within society where one may not have to face personal consequences. Even in our interactions with collegues or children, human rights values need to be practiced.

Speakers from the organization said it is important to study the "Universal Declaration of Human Rights" to know what those rights are. And in particular Article 30 reads, "Nothing in this Declaration may be interpreted as implying for any State, group or person any right to engage in any activity or to perform any act aimed at the destruction of any of the rights and freedoms set forth herein." This stresses the importance of not transgressing another's rights as a priority in seeking one's own. 

The panel stressed that the learning of human rights is important because if we do not know what our human rights are, we in essense don't have them. And in most places around the world there is a deficit. A state cannot "violate" something if a law protecting it simply does not exist. In the same way we must know that we have the right to privacy and the right to live free from violence. We should know that even our children have the right to give an opinion and be heard and that they should not be punished simply for being children. Workers have the rights to not be overworked. Prisoners have rights to not be tortured, and so on. 

We should all aim to also see ourselves as human rights workers working to ensure human rights each day was their message. Doctors, Firefighters, Writers, and so on are human rights workers trying to make a difference in their various spheres of influence. And the world is slowly changing for the better. 30 years ago there were not laws present to protect women and children such as we have now.

And yet a lot more needs to be done. There is still not one country in the world that fully incorporates all 30 articles of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Even at the United Nations, the UN is said to have three pillars, one of which is human rights. That gives the impression that we can have security and development, the other two pillars, even if human rights is lacking. Kreston instead suggested perhaps there should be two pillars: security and development, but under a foundation of human rights. This relays the message that human rights must be our foundation for both development and security.  

Essentially human rights is based on how we treat other people with respect. We train each other by how we treat each other. It is increasingly important now to be able to empathize and story-tell. Once qualities that were considered feminine traits are now being seen as a means of being a successful, well rounded person. It is also important that we raise boys to be compassionate, said the speaker, Robert Kreston.

Sunday, May 14, 2017

Listening Across Our Differences

Sponsored by Anglican Women’s Empowerment, “Listening Across Our Differences: Empowering Women Cross-Culturally for Transformation” invited a panel to discuss deep listening as a way to heal from violence and oppression. Moderator Semhar Araia (of UNICEF), invited panelists Dr. Jacqueline Ogega (President of Mpanzi Empowering Women and Girls in Kenya), Rev. Dr. Paula Nesbitt (author), and Pumla Titus (Chair of the International Anglican Women’s Network) to talk about their work using listening as a way for women to transform those experiences that dehumanize them into a community of empathy and forgiveness. Though much of the discussion was based on cross-cultural research, panelists’ experiences with storytelling as healing came out of Africa and the African diaspora. The concept of storytelling between women as a tool to achieve inner-harmony posits that listening is an active, rather than passive act that incorporates intention, love, support, and vulnerability. Panelists have found that in running workshops that encourage women to share their stories, bridges are created that provide relief from the burden of trauma. Dr. Ogega told the story of an ill village woman in Kenya who needed some of her time that she felt she could not give. By the time Dr. Ogega returned to the village, this woman had passed, leaving Dr. Ogega with a strong sense that had she taken the time to stop and listen, she might have been able to help this woman heal. This got her thinking about her feelings of misappropriation by white women, causing her to ask the question, but am I even listening to the people that look like me? This is why the cross-cultural nature of listening is important: it can address historical power imbalances and encourage women to reevaluate the lines of their own power and others’ power, thus bringing about positive change. I came to realize that while my first impression was “what a simple solution”, there is nothing simple about it. A woman’s relationship with listening is complex and influential; so often assigned the role of “listener” to the patriarchy, turning this action from passive to active can lift us up and out of subjugation.

Sunday, May 7, 2017

Lesbian, Bi and Trans- Stop Leaving Us Behind

Venue: Church Centre of United Nation-         March 13, 2017

The main theme of this session was about the LGBTI (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Intersex) Inclusion Index. One of the panelists, representing the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) in Bulgaria, briefly explained the LGBTI Inclusion Index and how it was developed. Another panelist, representing LGBTI youth in China, explained the findings of recent research concerning the experiences of LGBTI students in that country.

Background on LGBTI Inclusive Index:
The first speaker briefly shed light on the background of the LGBTI Inclusive Index. In September 2015, a multi-sectoral group of experts met in New York from all over the world to share and discuss their work concerning LGBTI people. These experts aimed to reach consensus on a definition of LGBTI inclusion and to provide advice on what was necessary to measure it. Later in October 2015, a group of UN entities issued a “Joint Statement on Ending Violence and Discrimination against LGBTI People.” The Statement recognizes the “equal rights of all people to live free from violence, persecution, discrimination and stigma and expressed concern about widespread human rights violations” for LGBTI people (UNDP, 2017). This statement asked states to protect individual and LGBTI people from violence, torture and ill-treatment, including by:
  •        Investigating, prosecuting and providing remedy for acts of violence, torture and ill-treatment against LGBTI adults, adolescents and children, and those who defend their human rights
  •         Strengthening efforts to prevent, monitor and report such violence
  •        Incorporating homophobia and transphobia as aggravating factors in laws against hate crime and hate speech
  •        Recognizing that persecution of people because they are LGBTI may constitute a valid ground for asylum, and not returning such refugees to a place where their life or freedom might be threatened.
The Joint Statement repeals discrimination laws. States should respect international human rights standards, including by reviewing, repealing and establishing a moratorium of the application of:

  •         Laws that criminalize same-sex conduct between consenting adults
  •         Laws that criminalize transgender people on the basis of their gender expression
  •         Other laws used to arrest, punish or discriminate against people based on their sexual orientation, gender identity or gender expression.
Finally, based on the Joint Statement, states should uphold international human rights on non-discrimination, and the UN entities announced their readiness to support and assist member states and other stakeholders who work to improve the original statement to achieve the goal of promotion and fulfil the human rights of all LGBTI people.

 The indicators introduced to measure inclusion of LGBTI people will be as follows:

  •         Political and civic participation
  •         Economic well being
  •          Education
  •        Personal security and violence
  •        Health

Members of the audience addressed the importance of contextual factors for social inclusion for LGBTI people. Achieving the goal of social inclusion is more difficult in countries where homosexual relationships are illegal and counted as crimes. Almost 73 countries have criminal laws against sexual activity by LGBTI people. The second challenge will be the high cost of inclusive plans and programs to promote the human rights of LGTI people.

The second panelist explained the outcomes of research in the context of LGBTI students in China. This research was conducted through a Chinese youth LGBTI team with the purpose of gathering academically legitimate data about LGBTI students in China. The data were collected online through a survey. The stakeholders were the Ministry of Education, the public education system in China and students. The findings of this research showed the lack of legitimate data in the context of LGBTI people in China and the high frequency of violence against LGBTI people. The research was conducted mainly at the micro level, that is, individuals’ experiences in Chinese society as LGBTI persons.

 There was general agreement that a productive collaboration between governments, civil society, regional institutions and other stake holders is needed to advance the inclusion of LGBTI people.