Thursday, September 22, 2011

World Leaders Draw Attention to Central Role of Women's Political Participation in Democracy

United Nations, New York — Women make up less than 10 percent of world leaders. Globally less than one in five members of parliament is a woman. The 30 percent critical mass mark for women’s representation in parliament has been reached or exceeded in only 28 countries. At a high-level event today, during the 66th session of the UN General Assembly in New York, women political leaders made a strong call for increasing women’s political participation and decision-making across the world. Stressing that women’s participation is fundamental to democracy and essential to the achievement of sustainable development and peace in all contexts — during peace, through conflict and post-conflict, and during political transitions — the leaders signed on to a joint statement with concrete recommendations on ways to advance women’s political participation.
“It is a solidarity that we see represented here today among this important group of women around me,” said Michelle Bachelet, Under-Secretary-General and Executive Director of UN Women, at the event. “We are bound by a common goal — to open the way for women to participate in all decisions affecting not only their own lives, but the development of our world, at the global, regional, national and local levels. By making full use of half the world’s intelligence — the intelligence of women — we improve our chances of finding real and lasting solutions to the challenges that confront us.”
Signatories of the joint statement included: H.E. Dilma Rousseff, President of Brazil; Honourable Kamla Persad-Bissessar, Prime Minister of the Republic of Trinidad and Tobago; H.E. Hillary Rodham Clinton, Secretary of State of the United States of America; Rt. Hon. Baroness Catherine Ashton, High Representative of the European Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy and Vice-President of the European Commission; H.E. Roza Otunbayeva, President of the Kyrgyz Republic; Lilia Labidi, Minister of Women’s Affairs, Republic of Tunisia; Helen Clark, Under-Secretary-General and Administrator, UN Development Programme; and Michelle Bachelet, Under-Secretary-General and Executive Director, UN Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women.
Details of the event, including webcast archive:

Joint Statement
On Advancing Women’s Political Participation

New York, 19 September 2011
We, the undersigned Heads of State and Government, Foreign Ministers, High Representatives, and senior UN officials affirm that women’s political participation is fundamental to democracy and essential to the achievement of sustainable development and peace.
We reaffirm the human right of women to take part in the Governments of their countries, directly or through freely chosen representatives, on an equal basis with men, and that all States should take affirmative steps to respect and promote women’s equal right to participate in all areas and at all levels of political life.
We stress the critical importance of women’s political participation in all contexts, including in times of peace, conflict and in all stages of political transition.
We recognize the essential contributions women around the world continue to make to the achievement and maintenance of international peace and security and to the full realization of human rights; to the promotion of sustainable development; and to the eradication of poverty, hunger and disease. Even so, we are concerned that women in every part of the world continue to be largely marginalized from decision-making, often as a result of discriminatory laws, practices, and attitudes, and due to poverty disproportionately affecting women.
We reaffirm our commitment to the equal rights and inherent human dignity of women enshrined in the United Nations Charter, Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and other relevant international human rights instruments. We call upon all States to ratify and fulfill their obligations under the UN Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) and to implement fully Security Council resolution 1325 (2000) on women and peace and security and other relevant UN resolutions.
We call upon all States, including those emerging from conflict or undergoing political transitions, to eliminate all discriminatory barriers faced by women, particularly marginalized women, and we encourage all States to take proactive measures to address the factors preventing women from participating in politics, such as violence, poverty, lack of access to quality education and health care, the double burden of paid and unpaid work, and to actively promote women’s political participation, including through affirmative measures, as appropriate.
We reaffirm and express full support for the important role of the United Nations system in achieving gender equality and the empowerment of women, and we welcome UN Women and its mandate in this regard.

Are Women Better at Peace? by R.M. Schneiderman

As CGI continues, Leymah Gbowee tells a striking story about women as peace makers.
The empowerment of women: It’s a concept we often think of in moral terms. Yet in an afternoon session at the Clinton Global Initiative today, Leymah Gbowee, the executive director of the Women Peace and Security Network-Africa, told a story that speaks to the importance of empowering women as a social good.
In Liberia, in December of 2003, a brief ceasefire occurs in an otherwise brutal civil war. The United Nations plans to symbolically disarm 300 fighters. But more than 2,000 fighters show up, and the U.N. can’t control the crowd.
Gbowee and others set out to calm the men, to provide them with aid. One day, a woman came to her office in tears. She had been at one of the relief camps, where a young boy whom she was giving food looked up and asked for her daughter.
“My daughter is dead,” the woman said.
And the boy responded: “I know.”
“How do you know?” the woman said.
“Because I killed her.”
Sitting in her office, Gbowee was shocked.
“Did you stop feeding him?” Gbowee asked the woman.
And the woman said no.
“This is what peace building is,” Gbowee said. “To stare at the killer of your child in the eye and continue to show him that kind of compassion. And I’m sorry men … from all my readings I’ve only seen it with Jesus.”
The moderator of the panel, former U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, echoed this sentiment: “If women are economically and politically empowered … it makes for more stable societies. When I was in office, I went to Burundi and we got women of different ethnic groups to talk to each other when men couldn’t.”
In a world where women comprise more than 50 percent of the population, and many continue to lack the same basic rights and opportunities as men, that’s reason enough to make their rights a priority.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Aicha el-Wafi: "My Pain Grows Worse By the Day"

This interview contains certain controversial ideas which we are sure will prompt discussion. Please leave your comments in the 'comments' section below.

This article was published in Die Presse on September 11, 2011.

Her son was presumably meant to be the 20th hijacker in the September 11th attacks, but was arrested before that fateful day. His mother recounts how 9/11 also changed her life forever.

A US court condemned him to life in prison for his involvement in the terror plot.

It was the first sentence passed against someone involved in the September 11, 2001 attacks. In early May 2006, a twelve-person jury in Alexandria (near Washington) sentenced Zacarias Moussaoui, a Frenchman of Moroccan origin, to life in prison. Moussaoui only escaped the death penalty because the jury did not unanimously agree that he had been involved in the 9/11 plot, although he pleaded guilty.

It is possible that he would have flown a plane into the White House as the 20th hijacker, had he not been arrested at a US pilot training school several weeks earlier after making his trainer suspicious. A few days after the sentencing, Moussaoui surprisingly retracted his guilty plea and unsuccessfully filed an appeal. Aicha el-Wafi, the mother of the alleged terrorist, has accused the US of having turned her son into a “martyr.” After the September 11th attacks, she reached out to the families of the victims.

You wanted to raise your son Zacarias to be a perfect French citizen. Why did he nonetheless head down the wrong path; what went wrong?

Aicha el-Wafi: I tried to raise my son correctly, and to show him the path of respect and tolerance. At first he did live like a French citizen; he went out with his friends, drank alcohol, and smoked.

Where did Zacarias first come in contact with extremists?

In a mosque in Great Britain while he was studying there, not in France. He went to England to improve his English.

Did you see any warning signs? At which point did his behavior begin to make you suspicious?

I never saw any warning signs. After he left for Great Britain, he came to visit me multiple times. That’s when I noticed that he was praying a lot. But that is not unusual for a Muslim. I thought he was praying for me. I never would have thought that he was surrounding himself with extremists.

You came to France as a young bride at the age of 17. You worked hard and studied to ensure that your children would have the best lives possible. Did Zacarias accept the image of a woman that you portrayed—firmly anchored in French culture and daily life?

I came to France in 1965; I was 17 years old and already had two daughters: Nadia and Jamila. My sons were born in France. It was a very difficult period in my life: we had no work, we had nothing to eat, and my children’s father regularly beat me. It was really hard. That is why I decided to take charge of my own life and left my husband, with whom I could no longer live.

What about your children?

When my children were young and I picked them up after school, their classmates always asked them whether I was their sister. They were proud of me and respected me; they did whatever I asked of them. That all changed when they left home and went to university. In particular, my sons’ personalities changed a great deal. All of a sudden they wanted me to wear a veil. They no longer went out with friends, stopped drinking alcohol, and no longer smoked. I did not want to accept these changes. My sons were growing up and changing, but I was already grown, and did not change.

Did you never ask your sons about their friends?

In France, my children even had Israeli friends! I never asked too many questions about who they were spending their time with. When Zacarias began attending university in Great Britain, I wanted to go visit him. He told me that I would have to book a hotel room. I asked him why—he had his own apartment. He answered that other people were now sharing his apartment with him—he called them his “brothers.” It did strike me as strange, but I thought that perhaps that was normal in Great Britain. I didn’t visit him in the end, because I did not want to stay in a hotel room. But I was never really suspicious. Only later did I realize that he was referring to the Islamists as his “brothers.”

And then—did you stay in touch with your son?

We did not speak for years, but when I returned home after a long break in Morocco, I suddenly found several messages on my answering machine from Zacarias. He kept saying “Mama I love you,” and “Mama I hug you.” On September 13, two days after the attacks, I went to Great Britain. There were many protests in front of the mosques. I was completely shocked, because this was my first interaction with Islamists. Everyone knew me; they all knew I was Zacarias’ mother. But I did not know anyone.

The 9/11 attacks changed your life forever. But you also changed the mindset of many people in the Western world toward Muslims, because you approached the family members of the victims. What do you learn from those meetings?

I met those families during an extremely difficult time; they had just lost loved ones. We shared those hard times and I learned a lot from them, and I hope they also learned from me. Our fates are similar, but we are different in one key aspect: my pain grows worse every day, because I don’t know how my son is doing. The family members of the victims at least know where their loved ones are: they are dead. The pain those families feel will lessen over time. But Zacarias is buried alive; he has no contact to the outside world. My stomach hurts every single day, because I do not know how my son is doing. I have so many questions that remain unanswered. I cannot and will not accept this.

In your opinion, did your son not deserve this sentence?

I demand to know what exactly the US government is accusing him of having done. Of course I am thinking of the family members of the victims and their pain. But Zacarias was not sentenced to death, he was condemned to life. It is terrible that he moved in Islamist circles, but he did not engage with those people responsible for this terrible act. He was arrested on August 16, 2001 for visa problems.

Zacarias will spend the rest of his life in prison. If he were to accept a visit from you, what would you say to him?

I have been in touch with him for the past five years, but FBI agents are always nearby and listen to our conversations. He couldn’t tell me how he ended up where he is now. I am sure he would have told me if we had been alone. But he cannot speak in front of the FBI agents. So there is always a barrier between us. But he says that he will read letters.

You encourage mothers around the world to be gatekeepers. In your daily work, do you communicate with mothers whose sons may be susceptible to extremists?

My message to all mothers and parents is: be watchful, and show respect and tolerance. It is not easy to raise children. When they are young, they are with us, but when they get older, they leave and you do not know what they are doing. It is not about Black or White, Jews, Arabs, or Christians—we must respect everyone. I am thinking of all the families who have lost someone. But my pain grows worse by the day. My son is buried alive.

Interview by Edit Schlaffer, founder of "Women without Borders" and SAVE (Sisters Against Violent Extremism). Translated by Elaine Hargrove, Anna Gabriel

Monday, September 12, 2011

Shobhaa's Take on Recent Mumbai Blasts, by Shobhaa De

Yup. It happened. The nineteenth terror attack on the Capital in fifteen years. So far, the body count is 12 deaths and 90 injured. By the time someone takes the trouble to total it all up, India will have moved on (24 hours later, most people already have), and those who don’t live in Delhi will shrug and talk about ‘intelligence failure’, ‘security lapses’, ‘crisis in leadership’. Out-of-work movie stars will tweet away, offering prayers and condolences, and television anchors with grim faces will attempt to grill the usual suspects, embarrass a few and reprimand the rest. There it shall remain. Manmohan Tauji will tut tut ‘It’s a long war’ and beseech the ‘People of India to stand united’, to remain ‘calm’ . Chidambaram Chhacha will issue some more somber sounding statements (does he just recycle them from a master list?). And that will take care of the situation… till the next blast… and the next. And till such time as every Wednesday will make Indians fear it may be another Black one. There is something called immunity. Just as cockroaches, dog ticks, certain strains of bacteria stop responding to powerful drugs and pest control chemicals, human beings too develop a resistance to acts of terrorism. How many times can we go ‘Hai Hai’ and beat our breasts? Those responsible for the safety and security of the nation count on just that. This ain’t America, boss. Nor is it Australia. Or any other country that has declared zero tolerance for terrorists. Here, we keep those accused and convicted of terror attacks in conditions that are denied to a majority of God-fearing, law -abiding citizens. Even the Sri Lankan assassins of a former Prime Minister have been spared from the gallows so far. Afzal Guru? Let’s not even go there! Ditto for Qasab. So long as we play these dangerous political games in a clumsy attempt to prove something dubious to the world (“ Look guys! We are a democracy. Please be impressed.”) we shall have to resign ourselves to living with terror. And slippery, weak politicians whose sole objective in life is to hang on to their kursis and make money.

What does the average Joe do in such a desperate situation? I received a really dumb email with a request to stand in silence and pray for the dead. Respecting the memory of those innocent people who were blown to bits on 7th September is one thing. But the pointlessness of such chain mails makes me see red. There was another email which expressed outrage at the fact that not a single politician in the last 5 years was directly affected by terrorist attacks. It was as if the chattering classes would have felt a little better had a couple of netas lost their limbs or lives in similar attacks. This is just such a childish and churlish reaction! But one can understand where it’s coming from. There is so much repressed rage against the ruling class right now, that it would somehow appease the masses if those lofty politicos enjoying z-category protection at tax payers’ expense were as vulnerable as that poor Pawan Jaswal from Gurgaon who had come to the HC to attend a hearing on his employer’s case and was instantly killed. Increasingly, affected people are vociferously articulating their anger and contempt for leaders as was evident when Rahul Gandhi was heckled when he showed up at the RML Hospital. This is the bold writing on the wall that politicians need to pay close attention to. It indicates a shift in people’s attitude towards those in power. So far, the high and mighty have been insulated from such outrage because the cowering masses have grown accustomed to treating VIPs like ‘maap baap’, bowing and scraping in their presence. But, watch out! Nobody is likely to be spared in future, least of all bechara Manmohan Singh, whose kamzor position at present is encouraging dissidents to shout him down, when he trots out platitudes like, “Co-operation, not accusation, is the need of the hour.” Try saying that to 21-year-old victim Amanpreet Singh Jolly’s grieving father. Or to the wife of 54-year-old Vinod Jaiswal, who was blissfully oblivious she’d been widowed till much after 4.30 p.m. when the sad news was finally broken to her by Ashok, Vinod’s brother. Unfortunately, not too many people will remember these tragic stories even a week from now. Not even the media.

The government cannot hope to get away with alibis and excuses each time the nation is shattered by demonic acts of terror. The buck does stop with those in power. It is the primary duty of our elected representatives to protect lives of citizens. People don’t care if it is the ‘LeT hand’, or Harkat, IM or some other terror group’s ‘foot’ that’s responsible for the HC attack. 68% of people polled blamed the blast on ‘the lack of a political will to tackle terrorism.’’

Sharam karo, bhai, sharam karo. The mood of the nation is belligerent. Public anger is as lethal, as dangerous as an IED. All that’s required is a trigger. And such a symbolic blast can cause far greater damage than anything placed in an abandoned suitcase.

It’s ‘champi’ time for politicians. The smart thing to do would be to keep shut and get to work. Oh yes - netas should definitely stay away from the RML Hospital – we don’t need any more casualties there.

Friday, September 9, 2011

SAVE: Commemorating 9/11

Around the world, we all recognize just how much 9/11 has changed our lives. This recognition is not merely intellectual; it is an emotional reaction to increased security measures when traveling, the constant refrain in the evening news, and a growing suspicion of ‘the other.’

9/11 impacted the family members of the victims most immediately, but also had far-reaching consequences for the global community. Two wars, thousands of deaths, and a divided world have resulted from those terrorist attacks. All of us—not only the West, but also the Muslim world—were shocked to the core. The attacks fundamentally rocked our views, just as the clash of cultures also led to a far-reaching clash of emotions. Belief in military solutions has since dissipated, and SAVE exists to fill this void.

SAVE sensitizes women to their as-yet untapped potential to combat violent extremism. Women witness what is happening in their families and communities every day, and the vast majority want to prevent their children from being drawn into extremist activities. First, however, they need to learn to how to read the warning signals. SAVE’s core belief is once women recognize their role in combating violent extremism, they will serve as the foundation for a valuable new security platform.

SAVE supports the commitment of women to embrace the power of soft power. And women are experts in soft power skills: listening, persistent negotiation, and dialogue. Long-term education programs and alternative security networks are the building blocks of a peaceful future, and the inclusion and promotion of women are integral components of such programs and networks.

SAVE is committed to finding innovative, action-oriented, and purposeful forms of dialogue, which are based on the new world (dis)order. Such dialogue must include civil society in its entirety.

The SAVE Sisterhood is growing. We have had the privilege of hearing first-hand the experiences of Phyllis Rodriguez, who lost her son on 9/11. Phyllis has reaffirmed our belief that you have to “talk to the enemy.” There are mothers on the ‘other side’ as well, and we need to learn from each other to strengthen our bonds. By including such women, we can create a new solid security block.

Take, for example, Esther Ibanga and Khadijah Hawajah. Esther and Khadijah live in Jos, Nigeria, a state racked by ethnic tensions that have resulted in the bloody murder of hundreds on both sides of this ethno-religious divide. Esther, the senior pastor of Jos Christian Missions, and Khadijah, Chairperson of the Plateau State Muslim Women Peace Forum, have only recently begun to question prevalent stereotypes by reaching out, first to each other, then to the other community at large, to build a tangible and emotional bridge between women on both sides who are committed to ending the atrocities. After receiving encouragement from SAVE, Esther went against her community’s wishes to initiate a dialogue with Khadijah, with whom she now travels internationally to underscore the deep commonalities, rather than the entrenched divides, between their societies and customs.

In Indonesia, Lily Munir has implemented groundbreaking youth campaigns to empower students to challenge latent radical ideologies in their school and community settings. Girls especially have been given the opportunity to explore how extremist currents are affecting their daily lives during weekend-long workshops, and to develop innovative, creative, and student-driven campaigns to create a more stable and communal future for themselves. The Indonesian student network has expanded organically through alumni and class meetings to include hundreds of young future leaders committed to a world without violent extremism.

The tenth anniversary of the 9/11 attacks drives home once again the urgent necessity of finding new approaches to combating violent extremism. Terrorist acts take place with appalling frequency, and a new, female-led civil society movement to counter radical ideologies and to provide alternatives for a stable and secure future will be the way forward.

It is a privilege to work with these dedicated women who are transforming their losses into a commitment to build a safer future for all of us. Over the past ten years, I have learned so much from them, and from all the women who courageously stand up against violent extremism.

I have learned that we are all truly Women without Borders, and that we will change the world.

Join SAVE: Together we will stand up against violent extremism the world over.

A Call To Action After the Abuja Attacks, by Esther Ibanga and Khadija Hawaja

Nigerians woke up to a rude but not unexpected news of violence visited on the United Nations building in Abuja on Friday 26th Aug 2011. It is no longer news that global terrorism is right on the doorsteps of Nigeria. We join the millions of shocked peace-loving people within and outside Nigeria to condemn in strong terms the senseless and wicked killings of innocent lives and the destruction of property that achieves nothing in gaining any support or sympathy for the violent ideologies of the perpetrators of this crime.

The violence in Abuja, the nation’s capital, is just a build-up of what had been going on in Jos, Plateau state, where we have consistently been decrying violent extremism in this country. We only hope that this will be a wakeup call for the government of this nation and every peace-loving human being to be more proactive and vigilant in curtailing this monstrous cancer called terrorism.

Our sympathy goes to all victims and their grieving families at this time and we pray for God’s comfort at this time of pain.

We also call upon the National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA) to step into the 21st century in its rescue efforts and equipment as we decry the 4ft wooden ladder that was used to bring out a wounded woman, stripping her almost naked in the process. It is also a show of shame that the national hospital did not have the facilities to treat victims and they had to be flown abroad.

If we would not learn from history, we become history.

-Esther Ibanga, Senior Pastor, Jos Christian Missions

The bombing of the UN office in Abuja was quite alarming. It took me by surprise because it was something I never contemplated, not even in my wildest dream.

The bombing is condemnable and inhuman. It can never be justified.

I do not subscribe to violence of any form as a way of expressing dissatisfaction or anger. There is a better way of doing so without resorting to violence.

We must all fight against violence so that the World will be a safe place for you and I!

-Khadija Hawaja, Chairperson of the Plateau Muslim Women Peace Forum

Flash Points: Edit Schlaffer presents SAVE on CBS