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Silent Violence Against Women

How many victims of silence there are, and at what cost! Silence has its laws and its demands.... Silence demands that its enemies disappear suddenly and without a trace. Silence prefers that no voice of complaint or protest or indignation disturb its calm. And when such a voice is heard, silence strikes with all its might to restore the status quo ante—the state of silence.     —Ryszard Kapuscmski, The Soccer War


November 25 is the UN-proclaimed International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women. Violence against women is a year-round occurrence and continues to an alarming degree. It presents an attack upon women’s bodily integrity and their dignity. We need to understand the universality of violence against women; the various forms it takes; and the ways in which gender-based violence, discrimination, and the broader system of domination are inter-related. The value of a designated day is that it serves as a time of analysis of the issue and of rededication to taking action.

Belarus: The Wild Card

It seems that every time I look at my phone, there is a news alert telling me about a new catastrophe somewhere around the globe. In the midst of the Paris terror attacks and the latest confrontation between Turkey and Russia, it is easy to assume that human rights abuses today are centered around violent conflict, often on an international scale. While these crises are worth our attention and concern, it is important to remember that there are still domestic issues being overlooked.

Human Rights Watch (HRW) reported earlier this year on the status of human rights in Belarus, and the outlook was—and continues to be—bleak. HRW stated:

The human rights situation in Belarus has deteriorated drastically and was marked by flawed presidential elections in 2010 and an ensuing crackdown on peaceful protesters and opposition activists. During the Human Rights Council’s initial review of 2010, the government rejected recommendations to protect freedom of speech, association, and assembly, as well as to implement a moratorium on the death penalty…Belarus continues to use the death penalty and to severely restrict freedom of expression and association, including through harassment and intimidation of journalists and restrictive nongovernmental organization (NGO) laws.

The Refugee Crisis: How the United Nations is Dealing with the Problem

Syrian refugees walk past UNHCR tents at Zaatari refugee camp in Jordan

The events of November 13th have truly rocked civilized peoples of the world to the core. For many Parisians, it was just another Friday night: some decided to attend a soccer game; others made plans to have a quiet dinner at a favorite restaurant; and other people went to hear a concert.

However, as the world knows, this was no ordinary night. An evening of tranquility quickly turned to chaos. “The City of Light” was suddenly darkened, and what would happen next was uncertain.

The same group wreaking havoc across the Middle East brought its terror to the streets of the French capital. Yes, the Islamic State of Syria (ISIS) struck at the heart of Europe by hitting key soft targets in an attempt to inflict as much pain and suffering as they could. They place no value on human life, as they are willing to sacrifice their own lives in the name of a very twisted and perverse ideology.

What began as peaceful protests against the Syrian government in 2011 rapidly shifted to a violent insurgency. In its wake, the world is left with the decision of what to do next. One of the unintended consequences of this conflict is the mass exodus of refugees flowing across the Syrian border into neighboring states, like Jordan, Lebanon and Turkey. These countries are now burdened with caring for the many innocent victims of this violence.

"Think global, act local"

Climate change. Terrorism. Nuclear warfare. Pandemics. Today more than ever, we are being confronted with issues that are global in nature. Gone are the days when a country’s biggest problems were confined to its own boundaries. Nations are so economically, socially, and technologically intertwined that they are forced to depend on one another.

We are all, whether we realize it or not, impacted by globalization. Globalization doesn’t just apply to migration and other large-scale situations; it is present in everyday life.

People around the world are exposed to other cultures on a daily basis without crossing any borders, via international calls, emails, satellite TV, social media, and more. Most of the material possessions we own aren’t from our own country. Even much of our food has traveled: the average American meal is transported 1500 miles before being eaten! Furthermore, people might interact with immigrants, refugees, or tourists or frequent establishments that bring other cultures in close proximity to their own. This phenomenon is described by some as “internal globalization.”

As we can see, our lives have an inescapable global dimension. For this reason, it is becoming harder and harder to ignore the living conditions of our fellow humans across the world.

Convention on the Rights of the Child: The Vital Role of NGOs

Students in Mali (UN Photo/Marco Dormino)

When the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) was unanimously adopted by the United Nations General Assembly on November 20, 1989, governments took a major step forward in establishing a framework of world law to protect the basic dignity and rights of children in all parts of the world. 

On November 20, we remember with gratitude those who worked to develop the concepts and reality of the Rights of the Child, but also to measure the tasks that are before us. This year the CRC saw major progress in the form of ratification by South Sudan and Somalia, which leaves the United States as the only country absent.

This universal framework is based on the principle that each child should have the possibility to develop into an active and responsible member of society. The way in which a society treats its children reflects not only its qualities of compassion and protective caring, but also its sense of justice, its commitment to the future and its urge to better the human condition for continuing generations.

TheCRC covers a wide range of human rights, which can be summarized as the three Ps: provision, protection and participation.

Too Young For Marriage: Why Children Wed and What You Can Do to Help

Young Sudanese girl holding a baby near USAID tent in Al Salam internally displaced persons camp. UNICEF estimates 33% of Sudanese women aged 20-24 were married before 18. Credit: Sven Torfinn/CC By 2.0

When you're a teenager, there is a lot to worry about—school grades, friend groups, identitybut for 700 million women alive today, they also had to worry about their husbands. While in the west we usually complain about our parents as teenagers and our mothers-in-law as adults, child brides often need to worry about their mothers-in-law as teenagers. They enter into the household of their spouse with no economic or social power, expected to cook, clean, and be obedient to their new family at the expense of their own health and well being.

You thought dealing with your spouse's parents was hard. In NPR’s #15Girls piece on a child bride in India, 15-year-old Namir is fighting to keep her grades up in order to attend a boarding school that gives her an excuse to live away from her husband. While young girls in some high schools dream of weddings, drawing images of their dresses and fantasizing about a happily-ever-after, others’ weddings mark the beginning of slavery akin to Cinderella before she met her Prince Charming. 

Keeping Hearts and Borders Open

President Obama briefed on November 2015 Paris terror attacks

In the wake of the terrorist attacks that shook Paris last Friday, many have turned to analyze the alleged organizers of the event. One of the attackers from the Bataclan concert hall, Omar Ismail Mostefai, was born and raised in a Parisian suburb. Reports suggest that at least two other terrorists involved in the attack were French citizens.

In the days and weeks to come, there will undoubtedly be further assessments about radicalization and homegrown terrorism in the Western world. However, one suggested strategy for combatting terrorism has been disregarded vehemently by President Obama.

In response to some calls for a ban on Syrian refugees entering the United States, President Obama stated:

The people who are fleeing Syria are the most harmed by terrorism; they are the most vulnerable as a consequence of civil war and strife…We do not close our hearts to these victims of such violence and somehow start equating the issue of refugees with the issue of terrorism.

Paris Attacks: Symbols and Choices

The Islamic State (ISIS, or Daesh in Arabic) either is using a good public relations firm or has its own agents to choose telling symbols and timing for its actions. Within a short time period, the terrorist teams have destroyed a Russian plane with tourists returning from Egypt, badly damaged a Hezbollah center in Lebanon, and attacked symbolic sites in Paris on a Friday the 13th.

Three symbolic sites in Paris were chosen by a well-coordinated team of some 12 active agents and an unknown number of “helpers.” Eight of the ISIS men had explosive belts and were prepared to die to make their motives clear.

The first attack was at the Stade de France, the main sports stadium on the edge of Paris. French President Francois Hollande and his guests joined some 80,000 spectators to watch a football (soccer) match between the national French and German teams. A half hour after the match started, three ISIS agents blew themselves up just outside the stadium. They killed themselves and one person who was passing by.

Had they wanted to kill more people, they could have used their explosives an hour earlier when the street was full of spectators lined up to enter the stadium. But the symbolic strength of the action is that no one noticed the explosions and the football match went on normally. The French President had security agents with him who were informed of events, and he left at half-time. The symbol, however, is clear and goes back to the decline of the Roman Empire. As the Empire declines and will soon be replaced, the Emperors provide the people with bread and circuses to keep them happy. Thus, while the war is on, the French emperor watches a football match.

The Pregnancy Debate in Sierra Leone

Girl students at St. Joseph’s Secondary School in Freetown, Sierra Leone / Susan Markham (USAID)

While the debate about parental leave rages on within the US, Amnesty International released an upsetting report last week that revealed blatant discrimination against pregnant girls in Sierra Leone. The report states: “Visibly pregnant girls in Sierra Leone are banned from attending mainstream school and taking exams. This prohibition was declared as official government policy by the Ministry of Education, Science and Technology in April 2015, just before schools re-opened following the Ebola crisis.”

The ban is one more obstacle in the way of educating girls in developing countries. Amnesty notes that:

The ban on pregnant girls attending mainstream schools is being enforced, in some cases, through humiliating and degrading treatment of girls.... For example, girls have, publically, had their breasts and stomachs felt by adults on school premises to see if they are pregnant. Some girls have been compelled, by their schools, to take urine tests. Girls described acute embarrassment and fear at being subjected to this treatment when they tried to attend school or sit exams. Fear of being 'tested' for pregnancy and or turned away from school has meant some girls who are pregnant, stay away.

Moving Toward a World Parliamentary Assembly

Shirley Davis of Citizens for Global Solutions' Maine Chapter campaigns for World Parliament

The United Nations is an organization of states, not of persons—even though that’s what the UN Charter promises. The UN is far from democratic. Yet it makes decisions that greatly affect citizens of the 193 member nations. Our representatives at the UN are sent there by the ruling party in each country. They do not represent all of the people. Many believe that there should be more opportunity for the world’s people to have a say in the decisions being made.

One method that has been proposed as a step in the direction of more democratic global governance is a World Parliamentary Assembly (WPA) or UN Parliamentary Assembly (UNPA). Former Secretary-General Boutros Boutros-Ghali is among the supporters of this idea. Creating a UNPA will be difficult, of course. Many problems would need to be overcome, but the barriers are not insurmountable.

According to Joseph Schwartzberg’s Transforming the United Nations System: Designs for a Workable World, this development could occur through three stages of evolution:

  1. A WPA with only advisory power and representatives appointed or elected by their respective governments;
  2. A popularly elected body with gradually increasing legislative competence (exercised in conjunction with the General Assembly);
  3. Well into the future, a maximally democratic system in which national borders are often ignored and the number of constituents per representative is relatively similar everywhere.

I highly recommend this book to anyone interested in Foreign Affairs.