Event Recap- Zero Tolerance: Making Society Accountable for Women’s Safety

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Last week I attended the UN Women event Zero Tolerance: Making Society Accountable for Women’s Safety which included an amazing panel including Abigail Disney, Michael Guarnieri, Dorchen Leidholdt, Patricia Latona, and Steven Rotolo. Though the conversation spread among many topics, a major issue that kept coming out was the Super Bowl being a magnet for human trafficking. It was interesting to hear the perspective of not only women, but also the two male contributors. Both men worked as police officers for major transit hubs: Michael for Port Authority in Manhattan and Steven for Newark Airport in New Jersey.

This Super Bowl season isn’t the first time Michael had run into trafficking within New York City’s Port Authority. His unit often stops youthful people who are alone to question them. It is then that he may find out that they are indeed there to meet someone. An example he had seen too many times was a girl with little education from a poor area who believed a man who bought her a ticket to a better life, only to be raped and then sold into trafficking, gun/drug running, or forced labor. He mentioned Port Authority’s Y Issue Unit, which is one of the most successful models in the country to find and help runaway youth which is impressive for a bus terminal that sees 220,000 people each day. They watch for signs and if they take someone in, they are interviewed with a social worker. One thing I did wonder, though, was how the police treated young women and girls who were prostitutes, whether voluntarily or involuntarily. I have been to other events and panels who highlighted this mistreatment in particular.  The NYPD has vocalized their plan to hold sex buyers accountable, but it still is often the case that the girls are the ones who get in legal trouble rather than the pimps or johns.

At Newark Airport, Steven and the police there have been planning for the Super Bowl for a year and a half (before NY/NJ even knew for sure they would host it). They learned a hard lesson from New Orleans where the authorities were unprepared and appalled by the level of trafficking they ended up encountering. In Newark they developed a taskforce and are extending beyond transit to hotels, cabs, and more. They must also keep a close eye on backpage ads and social media outlets. Steven stressed the importance of authorities needing constant education as issues like human trafficking evolve.

Images from UN Women's powerful campaign this year

Images from UN Women’s powerful campaign this year

Abigail suggested that we are having more trouble defining sexual violence today. The media tends to make it casual and funny. She also mentioned that this upcoming generation is the first to grow up with access to porn on the internet, which by the way accounts for 60% of internet traffic. So how to we speak out against bad media and reward media? Sure, the NFL often shows support for women related causes such as wearing pink for breast cancer. However, in the next breath are ads featuring a sexy woman by a car. Abigail believes that mixed signals like these make a bigger impact than we think. This leads to a failure of empathy between men and women and Abigail suggested that men do not cringe when they see violence against women as much as when they see another man being hit between the legs. However, I didn’t particularly care for this generalization because I have men in my life who are very empathetic and deeply disturbed by these cases. I think it’s important to not point fingers as much and offend or blame those men who are advocating for the safety of women and girls. However, it is popular for masculinity to be defined by power and domination. Society will always have a minority number of psychopaths, but when the average individual is influenced by things like the media they become the tolerator, bringing about more individuals to commit these violent acts against women then the small number we might otherwise see. “Rape should be as embarrassing as child molesting,” Abigail said. Unfortunately this typically isn’t the attitude that surrounds it.

Dorchen asked, “How do men and boys get socialized to behave in this way?” Just as Abigail had, Dorchen mentioned porn and media and how it contributes to sex trafficking. “Why are these things sexy and OK?” she asked, referring to the fact that these platforms often show women as objects that exist for another person’s pleasure. Sure laws have passed to legislate that this is not the case, but the media too often puts the negativity in the spotlight rather than showing and reinforcing these laws. She brought up an accountability model that is working in Scandinavia where the country asked themselves, “what is driving sex trafficking?” They found that the demand seemed to be for women considered young and exotic since the men could easily separate them from their moms, sisters, and wives visually. Of course it is the men’s demand that is driving this industry .The country began holding the buyers accountable and using media in various campaigns including simply stating “it’s a crime to buy sex.” I actually recently saw an outdoor advertising campaign in New York City trying to do something similar. My question to Dorchen though would be, how do certain countries get law enforcement to hold these buyers and sellers accountable? In many places police are easily bribed and can sometimes be just as violent to the girls as their pimps and are often even clients in brothels.

Patricia made a point that for gender based violence we have a cause being discrimination and the result of that being oppression. She allowed us to face disturbing facts including that 70% of women across the world live in poverty and 800 women die in child birth each day. Of course each country in the world is difference and it’s essential to look into culture as well to determine what is influencing the violence. Patricia asked us to consider what lens boys from different cultures are looking at girls through.

The discussion in general brought up important points and allowed the audience to ask difficult questions while considering these violent acts against women from different angles. I am glad UN Women included a mixture of men and women since these issues face everyone in society.

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Why It’s Crucial to Include Women in Peace-Building: Excerpts from Leymah Gbowee’s Memoir

Gift bags from the Women in the World Next Generation Leadership Academy allowed the inspiration to continue beyond the event with an amazing memoir by Leymah Gbowee.

Gift bags from the Women in the World Next Generation Leadership Academy allowed the inspiration to continue beyond the event with an amazing memoir by Leymah Gbowee.

I first encountered Leymah Gbowee when I saw her speak at the Women in the World 2012 summit. I wrote a blog about her for Girls Who Rock and was looking up videos for the better part of a night that showed her giving interviews. What struck me most was not just how inspirational she was, but her great sense of humor.  Recently, I was lucky enough to have another Women in the World event in my life when I was accepted into their Next Generation Leadership Academy. In the gift bags they so generously gave to us was Leymah Gbowee’s memoir. Remembering the woman I saw on the stage in 2012, reading her story was incredible. It showed her personal life in Liberia throughout the years of war as she faced death, domestic violence, health issues, fleeing the country, refugee camps, and family heart aches. Throughout her personal struggles and the war that tore Liberia apart, she overcame what would seem like the impossible to show the strength that women have in peace building. Her passion and belief in the power of women is what helped to finally put an end to years of conflict.

As I read, I tend to take notes. When I went back through the book once I had finished, I saw within the first few pages I had written “hope and courage” at the top. That’s because this woman’s story and the women she portrayed were examples of those two things to the full extent. Prefacing the book, she touched on what the world is used to seeing of women because of the media.

“Now watch the reports again, but look more carefully, at the background, for that is where you will find the women. You’ll see us fleeing, weeping, kneeling before our children’s graves. In the traditional telling of war stories, women are always in the background. Our suffering is just a sidebar to the main tale; when we’re included, it’s for “human interest.” If we are African, we are even more likely to be marginalized and painted solely as pathetic–hopeless expressions, torn clothes, sagging breasts. Victims. That is the image of us that the world is used to, and the image that sells.”

It made me wonder, why is the media still reporting in this same way as it always has? With the world changing and an interest in human rights, social good, and women’s issues, is the world finally ready to see women as a source for hope and courage instead of always just the victims? At the Women in the World Leadership Academy, Zainab Salbi, founder of Women for Women International, made a very important point. Women victims of war and violence are not just getting help, but they are teaching those of us who haven’t experienced such atrocities what courage really means…what it really means to look fear in the face and be brave. This change in reporting would not just be the right thing to do, but it could benefit multiple cultures allowing empowerment and understanding to cross borders.

These women living through conflict are the ones who have really come to know it. “Why were women, who bore the brunt of war, expected to remain quiet while men debate how to make peace?”  Listening to this local community is crucial for peace building.  Gbowee used this as a tool as she gathered women to join the peace movement and stand up to their leaders and demand an end to the violence.

 “As part of adapting it to the situation in Liberia, we were supposed to identify local leaders and groups throughout the country and teach them how to teach others. By helping people and communities heal themselves, we’d be helping our fragmented, suffering country mend itself.”

Although women often suffer the most during war through domestic violence heightened by the stress on the family, rape, seeing their husband/children murdered or kidnapped, lacking control over their bodies as husbands often are forceful for sex causing multiple unwanted pregnancies during a time when money and health resources are scarce, and desperation leading to options such as prostitution instead of education. Through all of this, it seems that “women are sponges.” They must take in what is going on around them and with their families without truly having an outlet to talk about it. Early in Gbowee’s social work career, she discovered how important this outlet was as one woman who was so grateful for one of her sessions expressed its importance.

“The UN brings us food and shelter and clothes, what you’ve brought is much more valuable. You’ve come to hear the stories from our bellies. Stories that no one else asks us about. Please, don’t stop. Don’t ever stop.”

“You can’t cure trauma when violence is ongoing, so the primary effort must be working for peace. You can’t negotiate a lasting peace without bringing women into the effort, but women can’t become peacemakers without releasing the pain that keeps them from feeling their own strength.”

Through these sessions, a movement began to formulate. “They built a form of sisterhood that transcended the power of guns.” These sisterhoods even spread across the borders throughout north west Africa. When Liberia once again fell into war, the connection allowed women to be less alone as collections were taken up to help with any emergencies. This shows the importance of getting to know the faces behind the conflict and just how strong a group of women can be even if they are from different backgrounds. “Over the last few months, we had discovered a new source of power and strength: each other.”

“I did not meet helpless victims, but women of strength, bravery, and determination.”

The women that Gbowee organized showed the changes they can make because they understand the culture and the war firsthand. International help and aid was important, but it seemed that it wasn’t doing its best. It wasn’t reaching its full potential in the difference it could make in such dire circumstances for one simple reason: nobody was listening to the citizens of Liberia who were living it.

“The UN and ECOMOG peacekeepers could provide only temporary help. Above all, they wanted to get back to their own homes alive. We needed to help ourselves.”

“You can tell people of the need to struggle, but when the powerless start to see that they really can make a difference, nothing can quench that fire.”

“[UN Agency] never consulted with anyone from civil society how best to do things. The result was entirely avoidable disasters…Every war is different…People who have lived through a terrible conflict may be hungry and desperate, but they’re not stupid. They often have very good ideas about how peace can evolve, and they need to be asked.”

Post war Liberia is still filled with its share of issues. “Unemployment is around 85%, only half our population can read or write, and life expectancy hovers at fifty-eight years. Official corruption remains rampant and crime is a serious problem.” But what these women showed in the face of a brutally violent war, was that there is always hope. If you don’t have hope, then what other option do you have? Some of these points really stuck with me as words of wisdom to keep that hope alive and keep moving forward.

“Peacebuilding to me isn’t ending a fight by standing between two opposing forces. It’s healing those victimized by war, making them strong again, and bringing them back to the people they once were. It’s helping victimizers rediscover their humanity so they can once again become productive members of their communities. Peace-building is teaching people that resolving conflict can be done without picking up a gun. It’s repairing societies in which the guns have been used, and not only making them whole, but better.”

“There may be tyrants and murderers, and for a time, they may seem invincible,” Gandhi said. “But in the end, they always fail. Think of it: always.”

“Because of women like us, I believe that in the end tyranny will never succeed, and goodness will always vanquish evil.”

It is common that when wars do come to an end, the attention is drawn away from the region and they quickly become forgotten. However, war leaves devastation that is equally as important to tend to so a country and communities can rebuild to prevent violence in the future. Walking out immediately after a peace deal is only a recipe for more destabilization.  This is when it’s important to look at social topics. Some preventative measure in the book suggested having these women and girls stories told on a global stage and making them heard, finding those who would like to run for office and training them/matching them with mentors, and teaching activism to young women.

“Donor communities invest billions funding peace talks and disarmament. Then they stop. The most important part of postwar help is missing: providing basic social services to people.”

“We had survived the war, but now we had to remember how to live. Peace isn’t a moment–it’s a very long process.”

To fill in the gaps that wouldn’t quite fit into a blog entry including details on the Liberian wars, Leymah Gbowee’s life, and the women’s movements and organizations she organized as well as those that are still helping throughout Africa and the world today, I suggest checking out her memoir for yourself and watching the documentary Pray The Devil Back To Hell.

Ohio Needs A Wendy Davis.

I’m angry. Why am I angry? Ohio is my home. I am a woman. To watch a group of white men blatantly strip away the rights and resources to women after those who have worked so hard to get them infuriates me. Moving to New York City, people from the urban northeast don’t know too much about good old Ohio. Many people picture it all cows and cornfields (which honestly is what my town, no, my village actually is). What they don’t realize, is everything there is to love about it. Though I am someone passionate about culture and diversity, people don’t realize how friendly Ohio is. How beautiful and peaceful the wide open spaces are, but at the same time how, believe it or not, progressive some of the cities and universities have become. In fact, I found my love of diversity and fighting for rights at Ohio University. A university that had one of the best international programs in the country and students from around the country and world from all different backgrounds, all of which I loved learning about.

Ohio

That love and sense of home is what boils my passion when I hear about nonsense legislation that gets nation wide attention such as Kasich’s latest budget bill. Some may think that this is typical for Ohio, ignore it, and move on. But it’s not…it’s disgusting and unacceptable. Even though Governor Kasich did take the time to veto 22 line items, he very much deliberately left in the ones that would cause a huge blow to women’s progress in Ohio. In fact, the bill has very similar qualities to the nationally popular one in Texas that has Wendy Davis fighting hard against. I loved her, her fight, her passion, her strength and courage. Ohio is in desperate need of a Wendy Davis.

Headlines read again and again “budget bill will close abortion clinics” or “budget bill will cut abortion funding”. The expected debates quickly take hold: prolife vs prochoice. However it’s not that simple. The “a” word is not that simple. In fact, using it so often without researching the deeper measures of this legislation is hiding even more of the issues that will become detrimental to the wellbeing of many Ohio women. I think very few women are “pro abortion”. Women don’t WANT to get abortions. The irony is, the more of these resources that get stripped away, the more abortions (and unsafe abortions at that) will occur. For those who strongly oppose terminating a fetus, what better way to avoid this than providing the health education and family planning measures to help avoid getting to that point? Some 99% of women use a form of birth control. Regardless of what belief you might have, what gives anyone the right to take away something from that kind of majority? Here’s a quick look at what Ohio women are facing:

  • Rape clinics could lose funding if they are caught counseling victims on abortion.
  • Reproductive health clinics will close due to lack of funding making them less accessible to women in those areas. This is more likely to occur in areas already facing economic hardships, which is often where women need them most.
  • Planned Parenthood and similar organizations will be last on the list to get “left over” state funding. Whatever that means.
  • Reproductive health clinics are forced to cut their ties with public hospitals. This leaves only private hospitals, which are often religiously backed and therefore me refuse any sort of partnership.

So what does this mean? Well, in a nutshell, women are going to be lacking sexual health education, access and understanding of contraceptives and family planning options, cancer screenings and overall healthcare for those who can’t afford to see a private physician, counseling, and will lose an overall place to turn to that they’ve been able to rely on when they have nowhere else to go. When all of these issues add up and a woman in difficult circumstances does become pregnant, there is a sense of panic. This same point that someone might come to is exactly why so many women ended up at Kermit Grosnell’s horrific clinic in Pennsylvania. Once they do end up in an unsafe situation after feeling like she has no other options (mainly because she has little chance of knowing them without these resources) the clinic will not be able to quickly and easily get her to a hospital to help either her or her unborn child. What kind of sense does this make?

I want to see abortion numbers go down as much as the next person. However, taking them and these resources away so abruptly will do the opposite. We have already learned this lesson over the years, why are we back here again? Why are we going to let history tragically repeat itself? People need to open their minds before they open their mouths. Every person’s circumstance is different. Put yourself in various positions and really see the struggle that some women are facing out there and how much they rely on this help. Whether they are a victim of violence or of poverty, or not a victim at all; everyone is fighting their own battle. Just because this may not affect you directly, think outside of the box. Realize that this is a bandaid on a bullet wound. Well, more like pouring acid on a bullet wound really. Women are people, and people have a right to their own bodies and their own choices. Let your beliefs be where they are, but open your eyes and see that not everyone is the same and can’t be treated as such. Though this might not affect you and might just make you feel a bit more settled in your mind that your “religion is being respected” as you sit at home on your comfortable couch, realize that this is causing so much more damage to others that will last throughout their entire lives.

Wendy

I’ll never forget Leymah Gbowee’s speech at the Women in the World Summit 2012 when the “war on women” and reproductive rights was reaching its height. This African woman called on American women and asked, “where are all the angry women?” And where are we? If this strikes a chord in you like it does to me, you aren’t wrong. Don’t be afraid to stand up and fight this much needed fight. Women are strong and influential. As I read more about the legislation I was shaking with anger. This is my home. This hits me right in the heart. Shame on these men. I’m calling on you Ohio. Fight.

A Whirl Wind Week of Politics

This has been an extremely busy week in terms of politics in the U.S. Both good and bad. Here’s a quick wrap up on the steps forward, steps back, excitement, emotion, and disappointment. 

Early in the week the Supreme Court chose to gut the Voting Rights Act. This has been an issue that I’ve always been on the fence about. It didn’t sit right with me that only a few states were singled out to have their voting decisions basically babysat by the federal government, though I did understand why. However, within days of the decision, these states were immediately taking steps forward to take measures that would make voting difficult or even impossible for minorities, young people, and low income communities. After seeing these reports, that’s when the anger finally became apparent within me. One argument used to strike down the Voting Rights Act was that “this is no longer 1965”. It was said that our country has come a long way since those days and measures such as VRA were no longer necessary. However, it is very apparent that in fact some of our country is still living in 1965 and has not joined the rest of us here in 2013. Texas, for example, wants to move forward with its strict voter ID law that would require either a passport or a birth certificate to vote. Passports are not affordable for everyone in this country and a birth certificate isn’t something that many immigrants or people in general have easy access to if any at all. This is just one example that has already come up, but NPR has reported on others as well.

On a good note, the Supreme Court DID strike down DOMA! I sat at my desk at work with tears in my eyes and goosebumps throughout my body as I thought of all the people who have fought so passionately hard for this change. This decision will change the lives of so many in a positive way as they are finally recognized by the federal government for being who they are. I got to celebrate that night with good friends of mine who were ironically also celebrating an anniversary. It was so amazing to see them finally able to discuss their future and look forward to plans that they were unable to have prior to this incredible day. I could go on and on about DOMA, however, I’m going to wait. Sunday is the Pride Parade in NYC and I get to participate with Amnesty International this year. I’m sure the photos and energy of the day will add even more to this celebration that I look forward to capturing. I would like to say congratulations to California though who Human Rights Campaign announced can resume same sex marriage immediately today after years of dealing with the ugly shadow of Prop 8.

Another inspiration of this week was Wendy Davis in Texas. This woman stood for 11 hours–no food, no bathroom breaks, and unable to sit down or lean against anything. She did this to stand up for the women of her state. Texas is working to pass a budget bill that will essentially close reproductive health clinics throughout the state only leaving around 6. Think of how big Texas is. That fact will make these resources inaccessible to the majority of the state, especially women in low income communities. Despite the majority being against her, Wendy stuck it out with an incredible filibuster that caused time to run out before the bill was passed. At the end, dozens of Texas women joined her in support, and as news spread, so did women around the country as #standwithwendy began trending on Twitter. Unfortunately, Rick Perry (who I cannot stand), is of course bringing the bill back to the table. There is a similar budget bill trying to be passed in Ohio, my home state, which saddens me when I think of the women whose health care this will effect. Closing clinics will not stop abortion, it will only cause more unsafe instances such as Kermit Gosnell. And even more than that, these clinics are not just about abortion. They promote family planning education so it doesn’t get to the point of abortion and healthcare such as cancer screenings. 

Immigration reform. Amazingly, the Senate passed the immigration reform bill that was put together by the “gang of 8”. As it has been expressed, the bill is not perfect, but something needs to be put into motion and amendments will then be made to fit our country best. However, to get to that point, something must be passed. It infuriates me that the Senate was able to come together to get to the point, but before it even hits the House the GOP representatives are already saying they will absolutely reject and not let it true. The partisan issue to me has turned into people acting like children and just holding out for the purpose of being difficult and not working together. We will see what happens, but it’s not looking good. And our country wonders why we can’t get anything done. 

Through everything that has happened this week and in general, it’s important to keep the important aspects of life above politics. People seem to forget that we are dealing with actual human lives and that everyone is different. Any inequality or abuses on human rights in unacceptable. This world is not black and white, people’s lives have circumstances that might be different from another’s. I encourage you to open your mind, put yourself in a situation that is different than yours. How would you feel? What would you be facing? Be willing to think differently, have conversations, and remember that politics is not just a game. It is something that has an impact on a person’s life for better or worse. It concerns me when I see the lack of empathy.  For example, as I watched the news the day that DOMA was struck down, I saw same sex couples crying, so emotional and passionate about what their lives would now be like. How can anyone seeing that, those REAL people with feelings, not be happy for the more positive life they are now able to have? I think it’s something to take a step back and think about, don’t you?

 

Feminism Should Not Mean Making Assumptions About All Men. What’s With The Labels?

This morning I saw one of my favorite organizations post a quote via social media, similar to quotes I see quite often from women’s rights type organizations.

“Women are willing to reinvent themselves, & I think that’s one of the secret ways that women are luckier than men.”

This is just one example of language that seems to try and empower women, but putting down men. Who says they can’t reinvent themselves?  As much as I believe in fighting for the rights of women, and am very involved in many initiatives to take action for the, I have a hard time agreeing when these organizations put out quotes and ideas that undermine men such as this. It sometimes seems that the message is women have the only ability to change themselves, be sensitive, and have the ability to change the world. We work with the idea of women making up half of society and therefore dismissing them we can not move forward. This is absolutely true. I realize that right now men are in the majority of power positions, but with thoughts like this aren’t we dismissing their gender all the same? How are they supposed to gain these positive traits and also be relied on to do the right thing if we in our minds are assuming that they cannot and that it is women’s turn to essentially take over? Wouldn’t it be most beneficial to work together? To have the program and initiatives give the empowerment to both kinds but in the right away?

Making assumptions about groups of people such as some are about “men” seems hypocritical. Here we are as human rights activists saying that we can not judge all Arab groups as terrorists, as some people unfortunately do, but yet many organizations stand there and put out quotes that group all men together and cause people to jump to negative conclusions as well. Isn’t this doing the same thing? We should not characterize anyone in a group of people based on traits of which they cannot control. We should only look at the individual. The idea of feminism should not be based on ganging up on a particular side, but it should instead be based on making sure that women’s rights and opportunities are equal without dismissing men because some of them have been oppressive.

We have come to be in a world where women aren’t given these equal rights, but if the initiatives that are working so hard today succeed in making the difference for this to change, will this language cause the future to hold men as being looked down on instead? If so, we still have not won even if women do gain these great roles. I am a fighter for women’s rights, but when I see certain quotes that are so 1 sided and filled with assumption, it frustrates me and makes me disappointed that they shed light on the stereotypes that feminists are extreme and blame men. Do gay rights advocates assume that they are better than straight? Do those advocating for those who are disabled  assume that anyone who is not will not be on their side?  What is with all the labels? We are all our own unique individuals who deserve our own representation and chance to show who we are without being looped into a stereotype. We are all people and need to work together for those groups who are being denied all of their human rights without causing unnecessary negative connotations around another group in the process. If we do, we will never be able to have the best of all people to in turn reach their full potential collectively for a better world.

 

 

Lessons Learned and Ideas Inspired by Kofi Annan’s Memoir

Kofi Photo

After recently finishing Interventions: A Life in War and Peace by Kofi Annan, former Secretary General of the United Nations, I found myself not being able to stop thinking about many of the points he made. After jotting down random notes, underlines, and bookmarking several pages, I wanted to put this all together somewhere that I could reference in the future. His ideals on peacekeeping made so much sense in a world that is often chaotic with unnecessary conflict. Without letting himself be influenced by major powers, including the United States, he stayed true to what he believed in even if it led to disagreements with the security council or permanent UN member states.

A Christmas gift from my fiance, he bought it for me because of my curiosity for the UN, passion for peace keeping and preventing mass atrocities, and recent experience in Ghana and admiration of their culture. It resonated with me how Annan’s ideals and values seemed to stem from the culture I experienced while I was volunteering in Ghana this past summer. It also coincided with my belief in the benefits of cross-cultural communication and understanding. Not only would it eliminate conflicts essentially based on cultural misunderstandings, as many of the wars in the world often resonate, but also nations could learn how to better themselves by taking in lessons and ideas from places different from themselves. I know the United States and other major western powers often spread their practices to other countries with intentions of bettering theirs, but there is a lot that these powerful nations can learn from others as well. I thought of this a lot once I returned from Ghana and reflected in a post on who really are the rich and lucky ones in the world, and how are those two areas defined. In Annan’s writing, I found another example that especially if the United States related it to congress and our partisan conflicts today, might help finally move the country forward.

“For Ghanians, the concept of the African palaver tree has always been a tangible part of our heritage, and a source of the relative peace and harmony among myriad tribes and religions. A place to meet and talk, to seek compromise and settle disputes, to bridge differences and foster unity–this was the meaning of the palaver tree.”

“If you have a problem and you can’t find a solution, you meet again tomorrow and you keep talking until you find a solution. You can disagree with behavior or a particular position, but you do not resort to calling an opponent worthless. This notion extends to the relationship between traditional chiefs and their tribes, where there is accountability in the case of abuse or arrogance, including providing for the removal of chiefs who have lost the trust and respect of their people.”

What if this was the way for Congress and the White House today in the United States? Annan also highlights similar lessons he learned from his father.

“He taught me that when others insisted that sides must be chosen, and that it had to be either/or, there was another way that was truer to the reality of a complex world. His own life had been defined by the coexistence of tribe and language, place and purpose–the mix of heritage and hope that could bring Africa a new beginning, with dignity at its core.”

Annan also brought up a point of spreading democracy. An area I always questioned, because different cultures have different needs, he claimed that African countries are actually not being “westernized” when accepting democracy. It is in fact an idea that used to exist for them before colonization though not called democracy at the time, but contained many of the same ideals. As an African, he also stood strongly on the fact that colonization could no longer be used as an excuse for Africa’s problems. They need to look forward rather than letting the past inhibit them forever. Many countries such as Rwanda and Ghana have proven to be successful and peaceful democracies in recent years. They can serve as a model for states around them with cultural similarities, but who are still stuck under the result of a long military coup that took over once they obtained their freedom again and allowed corruption and prejudice to run rampid.

Under Annan, The United Nations also made poverty alleviation a global fight. Prior to September 11th, Annan reflected on near success of having the permanent member states ready to commit their share to make this goal closer to a reality. However, after September 11th this was pushed to the side. A very ironic move considering that poverty and all of the aspects that come along with it (lack of education, hunger, disease, etc.) are often what push men into extremist terrorist cells. Fighting poverty would likely have a considerably better result on the fight against terrorism than going in and fighting in countries that are already facing instability. This new tension, fear, and instability only leads to the growing number of terrorist activity which is now showing up in recent reports from the use of drones, for example. Imagine constantly living in fear and anxiety as unmanned killing machines flew above you without ever knowing when they would unleash their weapons. I think that may be enough to drive any person into a panic.

He touched on the importance of empowering women to make a substantial difference in the world, a common theory arising today and the importance of contraception access to give women these equal opportunities and also in reducing HIV/AIDS infections that continue to make it impossible for state’s with lack of awareness and resources to rise above.

In the situation in the Middle East he stood for the change the Arab Spring was working to bring, and sympathized with the battles they faced to finally have a better future that must include focus on young people and women to fully succeed. He reflected on lessons in Bosnia and Kosovo (an area I need to learn more about), and the cruelties between Israel and Palestine. To this day Israel continues its disagreements with the United Nations, seeing them as siding against them. Annan showed it in a way that showed the instability rising up over history, but the extreme retaliations often coming from the Israeli government only deepened the instability. That, and their persistance to not recognize international law and Palestine as a state, giving Palestinians a chance at rights and growth rather than keeping them oppressed, again something that feeds into growing extremist groups. An example here being Hamas.

He touched on the struggle during Rwanda as the world turned its back was especially interesting, since after the tragedy in Somalia gave nations reluctance to put troops on the ground in a country again. This has consistently undermined the theory of “responsibility to protect” that holds true how our world today is more interconnected than ever. A threat to peace anywhere is a threat to stability everywhere. We are very much a part of a global society.

As you can see there is so much inside the pages of this book, I’m sure I could go on talking about it forever. It’s great to read a perspective of someone who is on the side of all the world’s peoples rather than biased by what nation he may belong to. This was especially apparent to me in the chapters regarding the U.S. invading Iraq despite disapproval from the security council. We are seeing the results of this mistake now as we leave the country still in turmoil.

Annan consistently kept hope alive throughout the horrific tragedies he was faced with. Important to do in order to inspire future peace makers and not turn anyone away from a situation that may seem impossible.

“A Swahili proverb holds that “You cannot turn the wind, so turn the sail.” Turning the sail-from conflict prevention to economic development, peacekeeping, human rights, and climate change-is now more than ever in the hands of each and every one of us. The wind will follow its own unsettled course, but men and women in every society today have the ability to determine their destiny in ways unimaginable in past eras. Tyrants and bigots, warlords and criminals, the exploiters of human capital and destroyers of our natural resources, will always be with us, but their sails are not the only ones that can harness the wind.”

His main goal in working to provide more legitimacy to the United Nations was to show that sovereignty was not something that a state could hide behind any longer to deny its citizens their human rights. The United Nations was “for the peoples” along with for the states and governments must be held accountable for the behavior toward its citizens.

Meeting A Role Model of Mine, Nick Kristof

On Monday evening I got to meet someone who is toward the top of my list when it comes to people I want to meet in life. Currently a New York Times Op-Ed columnist, Nick Kristof has lead his life as an adventure to help others and also get the message out on problems going on throughout the world that need exposure. I look forward to reading his work every single week and strive to live the kind of life that he has accomplished. I was unable to take notes during his Lecture at NYU Monday night after arriving late because Washington Square is VERY confusing, the hall was already filled with people eager to hear him speak and honestly we didn’t mind standing to listen to every word. Though I don’t have any notes, I wanted to post on a few points that really stuck out to me and have stayed with me ever since.

Near the beginning of his lecture, Nick Kristof told a story about a girl who just needed $13 in school fees, but did not have the money to spare. The New York Times began posting about these girls and soon enough letters started flooding the office, many with $13 donations.  One day, a donation of $10,000 showed up. Thrilled at this generosity the money was quickly used to sent many girls to school enough years to graduate and support programs that help them as well. Turns out, the $10,000 donation was an accounting error and the man actually meant to donate $100. Oops. As an error of the bank, Kristof told a senior level employee that he could take back that money, pulling all of those girls out of school and having a column written about it, or he could stand with his donation. Without hesitation the man exclaimed that the bank was thrilled to match the amount to keep the $10,000 donation. This made me think, if this bank could spare that money which impacted dozens of girls lives for the better, can’t others? This mistake was fortunate, but what is unfortunate is that it took an error to get the money in the first place. With the impact that it made, think of other that could go to school and create better lives for future generations through corporate social responsibility.

Kristof also drove home the point that it is extremely important for people to travel and have the influence of local communities in the movements and causes they are working for. He mentioned that if a group of people here sat down at a table and found a solution that worked without ever setting foot into the community and talking with those who are there it would be pure luck.  I couldn’t agree more, I’ve been wanting to travel abroad myself to experience my passion for helping others and cultural communication first hand, though it’s usually easier said than done. I’m always open to suggestions for great volunteer abroad opportunities that won’t take my entire savings.

One thing I did not know about Kristof is that during his time abroad, he actually purchased girls living in brothels to take them back to their families. It was shocking to hear him say that he was actually given a paper receipt for the transaction, and the brothel owner was a woman. Sadly, in many cases including one of Kristof’s rescues, the girls will go back to the brothel voluntarily after becoming addicted to meth and knowing they can access it there.

Though people talk about many of these girl and women issues going on abroad, trafficking and forced prostitution is actually a very large problem in the U.S. as well. Kristof told a story of a Brooklyn girl who was taken in by a pimp and sold on websites such as backpage.com. This girl in particular was dropped off at an apartment for a John and as she made her way to his door and the pimp waited outside, she went to another door and began frantically banging. Luckily, someone answered and she was able to call the police. Most situations are never found however, and it’s very rare for a pimp to actually get caught and charged severely for a crime. The Johns who buy the girls often don’t completely know the violent scenarios that go along with forced prostitution. A recent solution is to send them to John school once caught where they learn what issues they are fueling, so far it has been affective.

Kristof’s work does focus a lot on women and girls. However, he believes men are not the main problem. Women often support many of these harmful practices do to cultural beliefs. This is true in many cases such as FGM, forced labor, and forced marriage. I learned a lot about this at the Women In The World summit where it was often the grandmothers who were the most severe when it came to forced marriage. To change these cultural customs, Kristof believes education is key for a different future. He then shared a photo of a Ugandan girl who received a goat and support from Heifer International and just recently graduated from the University of Connecticut.

Though of course women are not always the main problem. Domestic violence is an issue that is still commonly accepted in many cultures who think that women should be abused in order to understand their place. However, Kristof told a story about a woman who brought in more of an income then her husband. This trend is becoming more common now, and will continue to grow as more girls are educated and getting good jobs. Usually when the woman does make more money, there is an absence of the domestic violence.

To close, Kristof reminded us of how much is going on the world that is often unfathomable to those here in the United States, which is another reason he believes everyone should spend some time abroad. “We won the lottery of life,” he said, reminding us how lucky we are no matter how we might sometimes complain. He then told a story of his friend was was a humanitarian worker in Darfur. The woman stayed strong through all her time on the ground. It wasn’t until one day at her grandmother’s birthday party she looked at a bird feeder and had a complete breakdown. The bird feeder reminded her of how much we have here, even enough to spare to make sure birds don’t go hungry, when the people she saw in Darfur were suffering immensely, starving, and facing unthinkable violence. It just never seems fair.

After Kristof’s lecture we enjoyed a reception to do some mingling. My two friends and I even had the privilege of meeting and speaking to him, a moment I know I will never forget. As he shook our hands and listened to our questions and goals, he remained very open and easy to talk to. It was great to see someone with such a huge following so human to a group of young professionals striving to make a difference in human rights. He left us with this advice:

” It’s not about confidence, it’s about humility. The more you question yourself the more you will find the answers within others and your adventures of travel and learning.”

I highly recommend checking out Half The Sky. The organization, book, and soon to be documentary share stories that the world needs to hear.

Day 2 of Women in The World

Continuing off of my last post regarding my time at the Women In The World Summit, I wanted to keep pulling in memories and points from my live tweeting. The summit itself made me realize that nothing is impossible. Here I am in New York City, coming here from a very small town. But none of that matters. Some positions seemed forever out of reach when I was growing up, but I’ve come to think more along the lines now of “why not me?”. Why can’t I be the one to do something? There is no reason. Of course it comes with a lot of hard work, and there are people out there who already start off miles ahead of you if they have the right background? But the support system I’ve developed while volunteering in this city makes me believe that I could be the one making a difference someday. This conference in particular made me think hard of what I want to do. I love writing, and I love learning about the world and how to make the biggest positive impact to give people a better life. All people. As of right now, after listening to Nancy Pelosi, Madeleine K. Albright and Hillary Clinton, I think I would love to study international relations/foreign policy in graduate school and go on to write policy in the U.S. for foreign affairs. Eventually I would also like to go into Academia and teach at a college level to continue my research, travel, and motivate future generations. Here is a continuation from the last post that got me thinking more along these lines.

More inspiring women speak at Women In The World

First of all, especially with the upcoming election even here in the United States, voting is extremely important. One point was brought up that “bad things happen when good people don’t vote”. Regarding women, this is even more important today when we are trying and close to getting more women into office, and also to stay fair on the issues up for debate that affect women especially. It’s important to stand together. I’ve never been one to be a strong feminist, but at the same time there are situations that just make sense. Women, not always, but overall tend to be a bit more sensitive and better at listening. These two characteristics are very important in trying to make a better world for everyone and not strive for power. But it’s not easy. “In our generation now we’re told there’s no longer barriers (being a woman) so when we hit them we think it’s our fault,” said Shelby Knox. The media often makes it appear that gender equality has been achieved, but in most cases that’s not true. Another issue is that women are often the toughest critics of other women, including those running for office. Instead of being supportive, there is this tendency to pull them apart, and without that support there’s no chance of taking steps forward. Jane Harman mentioned traits that women have off the resume that are important for leadership positions: instinct to protect, and trying to resolve problems.

I found many other points made by Jane Harman particularly interesting. She also reminded the audience that the areas with the most violence also has the most victims, who need help and not more harm. Therefore, it’s not best to attack a neighborhood, but to actually find the people causing the problems. This can be best done with the help of the victims since they are likely to cooperate, instead of angering them by upsetting their lives even further. “We must build trust with communities or you won’t know. They won’t help you find 1 bad apple,” Harman said.  She then mentioned the importance of women in building up communities. “If you have a secure woman you have a secure child, a secure family, a secure society.”

Another panel spoke on Afghanistan being the most dangerous place to be a woman. A solution that came up, which I always found to be an important avenue to follow, is focusing on the men. Women already know that they don’t want violence against them, rape, or to be less than any man. Therefore, the energy for change should be focused on teaching men and boys from the start to respect women since ultimately, in circumstances where these occurrences are common, can be diminished from the beginning.

As a panel opened up on murder and machismo in Latin America, another strong and incredible young woman told her story as she was personally effected by sex trafficking and child prostitution in Mexico. This issue is still extremely common today both in Mexico and across into the United States border. See my earlier post on solutions from a speaker at the Amnesty International Office.

Another favorite session of mine was with Nancy Pelosi, a person I have always admired. Her focus began with the recent debate of women’s reproductive rights. I found an important point she made of remembering that being a woman is not a pre-existing condition, and should not be treated as that. Which is why it makes sense for health coverage to include areas needed for the health of a woman. Valerie Jarrett later spoke at the summit bringing up the issues again in regards to her work with President Obama saying that he “was always surrounded by women and values them having a seat at the table.”

After much serious discussion on some very heavy issues, the summit moved to a lighter note with the Soccket Rocket. This was invented by two women. It is a soccer ball that harnesses kinetic energy while being played with. The energy is then used later to power a light in communities that don’t have electricity and use kerosene lamps which cause many health problems. Now that is innovative!

Soccket Rocket

Day 2 wrapped up with Lynsey Addario speaking of her photojournalism in Libya and being captured by rebels. A job of tremendous courage that I can hardly comprehend as I sat there in amazement of what she had faced to tell their story. It looks like she has no plans of stopping anytime soon. Charlie Rose even asked her “You now have a 10 week old baby, are you going to keep doing this?” To which she responded, “would you ask a man that question?” Going into the Arab spring, an uplifting quote came up to end the day. “There is no spring without flowers, there is no Arab Spring without women.” And with that, Anna Netrebko left us with her amazing voice, and we left anxious for the final day of the summit.

“There’s A Special Place in Hell for Women Who Don’t Help Each Other”-Madeleine K. Albright

The Girls Who Rock Team attends the Women In The World summit

The Girls Who Rock Team attends the Women In The World summit

Just a fair warning that this blog is probably going to be longer than a blog post is really supposed to be. However, after attending the 3 day Women In The World Summit, I can’t help but want to remember every moment and all of the inspired ideas and thoughts that I had throughout. This is going to be my documentation of it, but I promise everyt person and everything that happened at the summit is worth reading and learning about. Forgive me if my thoughts seem scattered, I’m trying to collect them through many many tweets. The whole reason I was there was because the Girls Who Rock team was invited, and throughout the whole event I was live tweeting for them (@girlswhorockny). It was an amazing experience! (When I wrote this I didn’t realize just how long it would be, so I have decided to break the summit down by day, this is day 1).

Friday, March 8th

The summit started out with Suma, an indentured servant from Nepal  who was forced into work by her parents where she was treated as a slave and abused daily. She was a beautiful and strong young woman who came to sing her song to help those still suffering this treatment which is common among girls in Nepal after being sent by their own parents.

From there, the evening went into a panel on forced marriages, specifically in Europe. There is an organization there currently called the Forced Marriage Unit that girls can call if they suspect their parents will be taking them away to be married soon. The Forced Marriage Unit then tells the girls to put a metal spoon in their underwear so that when they go through airport security as their parents take them out of the country, they’ll set the alarm off. From there they will be taken into a private room and be given a chance to talk to someone one on one.  However, as Lesley Stahl continued on with the panel, the horror does not end there. Most girls who do speak out against their forced marriage are then turned against by their parents. One woman on the panel, Jasvender Sanghera, hadn’t had contact with their families for decades. It is not uncommon for the cases to be even more extreme than that. Fathers will threaten suicide or divorce of the mother, abuse, or even murder. One woman on the panel had a sister who was constantly abused and raped by her husband she was forced to marry. At age 24 she went to her mother for help, but she refused saying if the woman did anything to ruin the marriage she would be a disgrace to the family. Shortly after, the young woman killed herself by setting herself on fire. The mother refused to let anyone in their family attend the funeral or speak of the young woman or her death again because she had dishonored the family. Stories like this have even come out of the United States. There was a case in Arizona where a mother burned her daughter’s face for refusing an arranged marriage. The awful connection these stories all have, no matter what country they come out of, are that the mothers and grandmothers are often the most brutal and show no remorse on the violence they afflict onto their daughters even if they end up in court for murder. How can a mother feel that way toward their own daughter? There have been 3000 cases of forced marriage in the United States in the past 2 years, but many many more that remain hidden.

Next up was a woman who I have admired for many many years. Madeleine K. Albright was interviewed by Charlie Rose. It was amazing to hear her life story and how she brought it with her into her career firsthand, and inspiring as she made it seem that any person no matter what background you have can have enormous success. She recalled her family who had passed away in concentration camps, which she only found out recently, and her personal experience in the Cold War as a child. “You have to remember those who perished to make a better life,” she said.  She then related the Holocaust in Germany to the current situation in Syria today commenting on how people back in World War II claimed that they didn’t know what was happening in Germany, though she doesn’t buy that, but today we know everything that goes on everywhere and we have a responsibility to protect (R2P). Then the question I think is on many minds today was voiced-how many people have to die in Syria before we can intervene? It’s a thin line right now to a huge regret remembered for all of history such as what happened with Rwanda.  Switching gears, Madeleine Albright began speaking about women in power and how there aren’t enough currently because if there was it would make a huge difference. “Some say there arent enough qualified women, thats the biggest load of bullshit I’ve ever heard,” she said. Then she gave a quote that would highlight throughout the rest of the summit: “There’s a special place in Hell for women who don’t help each other.”

Friday March 8, 2012 at Women in the World Summit

Sandra Uwiringyimana, an 18 year old Congolese woman, told her experience of surviving the genocide in 2004 at age 10. From my past experience working on projects for positive change in Democratic Republic of Congo, it was heartbreaking to hear her story as she spoke of her family fleeing Congo to Burundi and witnessing the massacre that occurred along the way. “Justice needs to be fought for and it can come from anyone, even a teenager like myself,” she said. She now follows her passion of photography and uses it to tell the story of the children she was with during the massacre and what their lives are like now. Hearing her choke up recalling the people she knew and her family, I couldn’t stop the tears streaming down my own face. She was so strong and beautiful, and so young to have seen so much.

To end the evening, Angelina Jolie told the story of a Somali woman. Dr. Hawa Abdi has stood as a strong woman throughout tragedy in Somalia. She has a camp that provides medical help and shelter to refugees and those who were suffering from the famine. However, once international NGOs started setting up camps as well they started paying locals more to work for them, and she began losing her employees. Finally, she had to give them a raise to stay, which took away most of her funds she had for the 2012 year, another example of the western world doing way more harm than good through poorly thought out aid plans. As the drought ended, a great rain occurred which then left most of the people sick with pneumonia. As if any of this weren’t bad enough, women often were raped by rebels if the wandered away from the camp at all. One day the rebels came and took all of the children from the camp. Once they were brought back the children said they were actually taken to a celebration, where they also met members of Al Queda. Now the rebels are wanting to take away areas of the camp to use for their own. Dr. Abdi took them to court, but since even law enforcement are terrified of the rebels, she lost. Now 400 people are being forced out of their shelter at the camp. They were given 5 days to leave with nowhere to go, and that 5th day was Friday March 9th. The only good news coming from this situation is that Dr. Hawa Abdi has been nominated for the Nobel Peace Price. I can not think of anyone who could possibly deserve it more.

Women in DRC Remind The World of A Local Voice’s Power

I was inspired by this Peace X Peace post that I read the other day. It reminded me of an important concept that many people forget. As organizations and people both in the United States and around the world strive to help communities, there needs to be a local voice. There should always be representation from the area that is trying to be helped. In this case, Democratic Republic of Congo. People assume, especially with the help of the media, that developing nations, or just places that are different that what they’re used to, are completely helpless. Worse than that, it is sometimes thought that the U.S. shouldn’t help people at all because they “obviously aren’t doing anything to help themselves”. This article titled Congolese Women: We’re Not Just Victims proves these arguments wrong.

Image from Peace X Peace article "Congolese Women-We're Not Just Victims"

Today, there are so many nonprofits and NGOs they are almost doing more harm than good. The system is flawed and unorganized, even when people mean well. That’s why there should always me a link within the community being assisted by these organizations to help guide the process and work together. Otherwise the voices of those in need can easily be lost, and they of course are the ones living it. I always felt it would be smart to have a central player in this system to keep nonprofits on the right track. A system that made an up and coming movement pass through the local community’s approval before becoming a registered organization. Maybe a policy that should be implemented so we can focus on solving problems rather than creating more. It’s something to think about.