Raising My Voice To #BringBackOurGirls

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My son in a local march to Bring Back Our Girls

On Mother’s Day, I spoke at a local march and rally to show support for the nearly 300 school girls abducted a month ago in Nigeria.

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Here’s what I said:

Bring Back Our Girls Twin Cities March

May 11, 2014

Thanks to organizers and to all of you for being here.

I’m here as a lawyer and Deputy Director of The Advocates for Human Rights, a non-profit based in Minneapolis that works on human rights issues around the world.

But I’m also here as a mother.  My kids Simon and Eliza are here today as well to stand in honor of the nearly 300 girls abducted simply because they were pursuing their human right to education.  I think that’s pretty much the best Mother’s Day gift they could give me.

There are a lot of things that we don’t know about the situation in Nigeria.  We don’t know where the girls are or what is happening to them.  We don’t even know the exact number abducted and we only know a few of their names.  We can only imagine the agony their families are going through.

But the tragedy of the nearly 300 girls in Chibok shines a spotlight on the systemic human rights abuses against faced by women and girls worldwide.

And there are many things we do know about violations of the rights of girls and women:

  • We know that girls around the world lack equal access to basic education  (in the NE region of Nigeria where these girls lived, girl enrollment is the lowest in the country –  only 22%.  In part, they were targeted because they were seeking an education that would change their lives.
  • Educating girls, we know, is one of the strongest ways to improve gender equality.  It is also one the best ways to reduce poverty and promote economic growth and development
  • We know that girls and women are not valued equally as boys and men in many parts of the world.  The Nigerian government’s lack of action both before and after certainly makes it seem that these girls were not deemed worthy of protection.
  • We know that when these girls are found and hopefully rescued, they will need support in the form of psychosocial and health care.  Women’s access to health care is woefully limited.
  • We know that 1 in 3 girls under age 18 are still being forced into marriage too early.  By some estimates, that’s about 14 million girls a year. Too many girls still endure harmful traditional cultural practices such as FGM.
  • We know that girls and women suffer the most in times of conflict.  What these girls have experienced is likely a war crime.  Trafficking remains a huge problem around the world and in our own community.
  • We know that 1 in 3 of the world’s women experience violence, including domestic violence (The Advocates for Human Rights works on domestic violence legal reform around the world);

And we know that these are all things that have to change.

We need to do more to push our governments to make this change a priority.  We can’t stop with just these 276 girls.

Now these are human rights abuses that may seem intractable.  It may seem like you are powerless to make a difference.  But you can:

  • Continue to educate yourself about girls and women’s rights.  Here in the Twin Cities, there are many opportunities.   Through The Advocates for Human Rights alone, you can attend the free St. Paul Public Library Women’s Rights Film series, learn more about the issues on www.StopVAW.org, or participate in our Human Rights Book Club.
  • Support the NGOs that work on issues you care about. No amount is too small – a little money really does go a long way in this area.
  • Write to our members of Congress and the President to encourage support for women’s rights as a critical part of our US foreign policy.
  • For those of you with young people in your lives, teach them about the world around them so that they will grow up to continue the fight to ensure that every child, wherever he or she lives in the world, has the chance to live in safety and dignity and to achieve their greatest human potential.

For those of you doubting whether sharing this story on social media really makes a difference, I’d like to share a message I got on my blog from a woman named Winnie in Nigeria:

we here in nigeria are so angry and feel very helpless, the government and opposition leaders have politicized this, while our daughters are still in captivity. the government officials do not want to listen to ‘ordinary’ people. and word  has it that the Nigerian press have been ordered to kill the story (as the have killed other stories in the past).  pls this is a passionate plea to the international community to keep this story alive until our girls are returned home safely.

Here in the Twin Cities and all around the world, we are working to keep this story alive until our girls are returned home safely.

And after our girls come home, I hope we can keep working together for a future where all girls around the world can go to school in safety and grow up to reach their full human potential.

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Image used with permission of RaSam Photography. Thank you!

 

See also:  Nightmare For Nigeria’s School Girls   originally published on The Advocates Post.

My Love Affair With Patrick Stewart

 
Our house was small, and when you grow up with domestic violence in a confined space you learn to gauge, very precisely, the temperature of situations. I knew exactly when the shouting was done and a hand was about to be raised – I also knew exactly when to insert a small body between the fist and her face, a skill no child should ever have to learn.”
-Patrick Stewart on The Legacy of Domestic Violence,
 The Guardian, 26 November, 2009
He had me at “Tea. Earl Grey. Hot.”  In my opinion, his Jean-Luc Picard is the only Star Trek captain worthy of helming the USS Enterprise;  Picard makes Kirk and the others look like a pack of braggarts, whiners, and wimps.  For more than 20 years, my love for Patrick Stewart has burned strong and bright, “the star to every wandering bark”.  A talented Shakespearean actor, Sir Patrick nails every role he plays, from Othello to Shylock to the Seattle Opera director with a crush on Frasier.  Then there’s his one-man version of Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol.  I can’t think of another actor who I would want to see play 40+ characters.  And let’s not forget the lecherous caricature of himself that he played inExtras. Good gravy, that made my heart beat faster!
My love for Patrick Stewart is sexless, as chaste and pure as that of the heroine in a Victorian novel.  I feel for him what the young X-Men feel for Professor Charles Xavier – admiration, respect, passionate loyalty.   It’s a love, I know, not meant to be tested in real life.  Yet I can’t help myself.
I’ve never met Patrick Stewart.  I know almost nothing of his personal life beyond the fact that he choses to use his fame to support human rights. He’s been a long time supporter of Amnesty International in his native UK. I’ve written recommendation letters for students applying to the internship program he endowed at Amnesty.  (None of them ever got the Patrick Stewart Human Rights Scholarship, so I can’t even claim that two-degrees of separation.)
What really took me ’round the bend on Patrick Stewart was his decision five or six years ago to talk about his own experience with growing up with domestic violence.
“I experienced first-hand violence against my mother from an angry and unhappy man who was not able to control his emotions or his hands. Great harm was done by those events – and of course I mean the physical harm, the physical scars that were left, the blood that was spilled, the wounds that were exposed – but there were also other aspects of violence which have a lasting impact physiologically on family members.  It is so destructive and tainting. 
It’s taken me a long time to be able to speak about what happened.  Then, two years ago, around the time of the launch of the Amnesty International campaign to  Stop Violence Against Women all that changed. After consultation with my brothers, we all felt that it was time for me to speak out about what had happened in our childhood, and to show people that domestic violence is protected by other peoples’ silence.”
– Patrick Stewart, Turning the Tide,
Domestic violence is a worldwide epidemic.  It violates the fundamental human rights of women and often results in serious injury or death. Studies show that between one quarter and one half of all women in the world have been abused by intimate partners.  Certainly men experience domestic violence as well, but women are victims of violence in approximately 95% of cases of domestic violence. (For sources and more statistics, see StopVAW.org)
It took the human rights community far too long to recognize domestic violence and other gender-based rights as human rights abuses.  Because the violence is committed by private actors rather than the government in the context of family life, domestic violence was long considered to be a “private matter”.  Fortunately, the international human rights law has progressed and violence against women is now considered a  human rights abuse.  The government has a responsiblity to prevent violence against women from taking place and to prosecute or punish the perpetrators of the violence.  The UN Committee Against Torture has even clarified that violence against women, including domestic violence, can in certain circumstances be defined as torture under the Convention Against Torture.
Implementation of laws that protect women from domestic violence is, of course, the ongoing problem throughout the world.
It is never easy for survivors of human rights abuses to talk about the violence they experienced.  It comes at great personal expense and sometimes that expense is just too great for people to overcome.  There has been a lot of outrage recently about Rihanna and Chris Brown. I wish Rihanna would become an advocate against domestic violence  – photographed holding an Amnesty International placard – but I can’t judge her or the decisions she makes about her life. It does make me think, though, that it is doubly important for male celebrities like Patrick Stewart to use their fame as a platform to raise awareness about violence against women.
I defy you to watch this video and tell my love of Patrick Stewart is wrong.
What will it take to end domestic violence worldwide?  It will take more than Sir Patrick Stewart.  As he says in this Amnesty video, it will take sustained government action to ensure that domestic violence is treated as a public health issue rather than a private matter.  But Patrick Stewart’s decision to use his celebrity to speak out about the domestic violence experienced in his childhood home puts us one step farther along that road.
“Violence against women diminishes us all.  If you fail to raise your hand in protest, then you make yourself part of the problem.”   
– Patrick Stewart, Turning the Tide,
Amnesty Magazine, May/June 2006
Stop Violence Against Women.
Captain Picard says, “Make it so.”