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The Bigger Picture: #BringBackOurGirls is Only the Tip of the Iceberg

It has been two years since the abduction of 267 schoolgirls in Chibok, Nigeria. The tragedy initially shocked the world. Since 2014, the coverage of continuing kidnappings has dwindled, and the international community has seemed to remove itself from immediate concern.

However, the relative ease at which Boko Haram was able to carry out the kidnapping in Chibok has only led to an increase in abductions over the past two years. In order to educate the international community on the tragedies occurring in Nigeria, the female victims of Boko Haram deserve the ability to share their stories with the public both through peace negotiations and the media.

Beginning in 2012, schools became Boko Haram’s central target for abductions, which only worsened the already drastic education indices in northeastern Nigeria. The group has since destroyed almost 1,000 schools and targeted thousands of teachers and students.

The tragedies endured by the Chibok schoolgirls, which sparked the #BringBackOurGirls campaign, has been endured by thousands of young women in northeastern Nigeria over the past six years. Unfortunately, many of the victims continue to remain invisible to the world’s eye. According to the International Organization for Migration, the number of displaced people, or IDPs, in northeastern Nigeria has skyrocketed to 2.6 million, along with 17,000 people killed due to the six-year insurgency by Boko Haram.

Loss of Youth: Growing Concerns over Child Brides in Ethiopia

A 14-year-old girl prepares for marriage in the West Nusa Tenggara province of Indonesia. (Credit: UN Photo/Armin Hari, CC BY-NC-ND 2.0,

For privileged children in the United States, their biggest worries are getting their homework done in time to watch TV and being able to play outside with their friends. However, for young girls in Ethiopia, they are worried about getting a proper education and hoping their parents don’t force them into marriage.

According to Girls Not Brides, two in every five girls are married before their 18th birthday and one in five girls marry before the age of 15. For these young girls, forced marriage brings their childhood to an abrupt halt.

In Ethiopian culture, some believe that a woman's main job is to be a wife and mother. Patriarchal ideals such as these contribute to the issue of female genital mutilation: 80% of women in Ethiopia become victims of this practice before the age of one.

Many of the girls who are married off at a young age will be unable to complete their education, either because their families cannot afford it or because their husbands refuse to allow them to attend school. It is common for girls not to even find out they are getting married until a week or a few days prior to the wedding. They are forced to marry men they do not know and who are eight or more years older than they are.

Women Are Not Property, So Why Are We Selling Them?

Human Trafficking, Sexual Slavery, Prostitution

Every year, thousands of women and children are sold into sexual slavery, also known as human trafficking. When people think of human trafficking they often think that it’s like the movie Taken; there is a mistaken assumption that sexual slavery only happens overseas and that the victims are snached off of the street from their families. This is not the case. A majority of sexual slaves are prostitutes.  

The reality is that every prostitute on the street is a sex slave. They have been manipulated and coerced into selling their bodies, often for the profit of their pimp. Predators use methods such as “minimization and denial of physical violence, economic exploitation, social isolation, verbal abuse, threats and intimidation, physical violence, sexual assault, and captivity” to manipulate women and children into sexual slavery. Those who are not under the control of a pimp are often backed into prostitution by economic necessity, drug addiction, or mental health issues. These women have been forced into sexual slavery not necessarily by another human being, but by both internal and external circumstances out of their control.

Will the European Union End Its U.S. Visa Waiver Program?

Visa-free travel throughout the world is one of the biggest perks of carrying a U.S. passport. Today, you can visit 154 countries without the paperwork, but that could change this summer. The European Union may slam the door on traveling freely, a decision with consequences beyond tourism.

On April 12, the European Commission met to consider altering visa requirements for U.S. citizens, 15 years after establishing the program that allows Americans to travel to EU countries for up to 90 days without a visa. The move is an attempt to pressure the U.S. government into adding Bulgaria, Croatia, Poland, and Romania—all EU member states—to the list of countries entitled to visa-free travel in America. But the U.S. has held out on extending the same program to all EU members, citing security concerns. (Canada faces a similar threat over Romania and Bulgaria.)

While European national parliaments are unlikely to ratify an end to the program given the value of U.S. tourism, the issue could impact negotiations over the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP), an agreement three years in the making.

“There’s no doubt that if the EU were to slap a visa requirement on the U.S., it would be very, very bad news for the European tourism industry,” said Jacob Funk Kirkegaard, a senior fellow at the Peterson Institute for International Economics, a Washington D.C.-based think tank. "It would also quite frankly send the wrong political signal in the middle of TTIP negotiations.” 

On the other hand, the U.S. State Department hasn't expressed concern over the repeal of the visa waivers.  

Sustainable Agriculture: One Way to Promote Food Security in Fragile Countries

The United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) pursue broad benchmarks in food security such as ensuring local food production systems, installing resilient agricultural practices, and maintaining ecosystems. By way of international donors, the UN advocates for these practices to be guaranteed in all countries.

Ideally, the involvement of the international community should expand the capacity of the developing country so that they can sustain themselves once the aid flow stops. Endorsing methods of local autonomy, such as sustainable agriculture, can decrease the likelihood of fragile states like Rwanda becoming dependent on food aid.

Rwanda, a small landlocked country within Sub-Saharan Africa, remains a fragile country since the end of the 1994 genocide. Last week, the Comprehensive Food Security and Vulnerability Analysis (CFSVA) 2015 was released, stating that 80% of Rwandan households are now able to meet their essential food needs. The report highlights progress in the development policies implemented over the past several years. However, this means 20% of households are still food insecure, mostly in rural areas. Furthermore, 44% of children under the age of two are malnourished. CFSVA recommends “enhanced efforts and initiatives to reach the most vulnerable people living in rural areas.”

A Federal Syria: Kurdish Initiatives on the Rise

On March 17, 2016, the “federal democratic system of Rojava” (a Kurdish term for northern Syria) was proclaimed officially. Some 150 representatives of Kurdish, Arab, and Assyrian (largely Christian) groups met in the city of Rmellane in northeast Syria and voted in favor of the union of three “cantons” largely populated by Kurds--the cantons of Afrin, Kobani, and Jezireh.

The government as well as the Syrian National Coalition, a major opposition coalition present in the Syria negotiations (which have been going on in Geneva since the middle of March), both stated their refusal of a federalist system. They saw such a system as a first step to the breakup of Syria.

The Syrian Foreign Ministry said that “Any such announcement has no legal value and will not have any legal, political, social or economic impact as long as it does not reflect the will of the entire Syrian people.” There was no indication of how the “will of the entire Syrian people” was to be determined in the war-torn land.

While the Kurdish issues in Turkey have attracted international attention and the largely autonomous Kurdish region of Iraq is a major player in Iraqi politics, the Kurds in Syria have been less discussed.

Until now, the Kurds of Syria have not been as visible a factor as other ethnic or sectarian groups. As Michael Gunter, a specialist on the Kurdish world, writes:

Hey UN! Where Are All the Women?

As of February this year, less than 4% of all UN peacekeepers are women. Currently there are 105,314 troops, police and military personnel that encompass the UN peacekeeping force, and only 4,268 of that total are women. Why are there so few female peacekeepers?

Perhaps the most reasonable and logical explanation is,

Peacekeepers are soldiers from countries that commit troops to the UN mission, so it is ultimately the discretion of the member countriesand the percentage of women in national armies—that filter up to the mission."

Women are not trained in military professions as frequently as men in most countries in the world. Therefore, each country is producing less qualified women than men; obviously, this affects the potential pool of troops. Another (somewhat sexist) possibility that has been argued is that women are simply not willing to work in the rough conditions faced by UN peacekeepers.

Regardless of the reason, it is clear that there is a problem. The UN must increase the number of women in their peacekeeping forces if they hope to succeed.

Resetting U.S.-Latin America Relations

President Obama in Havana, Cuba

President Obama made headlines in March with his historic visit to Cuba, but his less sensational trip to Argentina may prove to be equally important in repairing U.S.-Latin America relations.

The move to normalize relations with Cuba will no doubt become a central piece of the Obama legacy. However, it's only one aspect of the Administration's engagement with the region over the past two years, which has involved a strategic pivot from previous policies. It began in late 2013 when Secretary of State John Kerry proposed a new beginning during his speech to the Organization of American States, in which he declared that the Monroe Doctrine was "over." In the years since, inviting Latin America to the diplomatic table has already been a success. Throughout the region, left-wing policies are going by the wayside while global engagement and free markets are taking hold. And anti-American rhetoric is becoming less popular as leaders discover it's no longer the battle cry it once was.

Ending the Cuban Embargo

Nuclear Zero: Let’s Think out of the Box

Many thanks to President Obama and the 50+ world leaders who came to Washington for the international nuclear summit on how to keep nuclear weapons and materials out of the hands of terrorists and rogue nations. Efforts to accomplish that goal are certainly to be lauded.

Nevertheless, I wish that all our world leaders could do more "out-of-the-box" thinking. Why do these nuclear weapons and materials even exist? I think that it is rather evident that like all the weapons of war, they have been created by national governments in order to dominate other national governments or to protect their own nation against possible attacks by other nations.

Why is the situation so different within our country? Why don't some states have to have nuclear weapons to protect themselves against a possible attack from another state? When we put the issue this way, it becomes evident that the problem is not really nuclear weapons or cruise missiles or drones or cyber warfare or any other kind of weapons. Rather, it is the need of national governments to be ready to use military actions and war because of the absence of another, better way of resolving international conflicts.

Selecting the Secretary-General

Next month, the international community will actively engage with the seven men and women who have put their names forward as candidates for UN Secretary-General. The manner of the engagement will be unprecedented. For the first time, member states of the UN General Assemblyrepresenting all UN member stateswill have the opportunity to hear from candidates and pose questions to them.

In the end, the selection will still be made by the General Assembly upon recommendation by the Security Council. The person they choose will guide the international community as it faces enormous challenges: implementing the new Sustainable Development Goals, ending the civil war and rebuilding devastated cities in Syria, and reducing carbon emissions to secure our climate.

These issues affect every man, woman and child on our planet. So they should have the opportunity to engage those who will hold the high office and lead this charge. In the organization’s 70-year history, the Council has always nominated a single candidate whom the Assembly has subsequently approved. Prior to the nomination, there was very little discussion outside Council chambers that would inform other member states, let alone the public, who was being considered. Since 2006, a number of countries and civil society groups have urged a more transparent process, one that would include periodic sharing of names by the Council with the Assembly and informal dialogues between candidates and other member states.