News You May Have Missed (17-23 January)

A student at the Hamar Jajab School in Mogadishu holds a peace-themed comic book for children produced by UNSOM during the commemoration of Somalia’s ratification of the Convention on the Rights of the Child on 20 January 2015. UN Photo/Ilyas Ahmed
A student at the Hamar Jajab School in Mogadishu holds a peace-themed comic book for children produced by UNSOM during the commemoration of Somalia’s ratification of the Convention on the Rights of the Child on 20 January 2015. UN Photo/Ilyas Ahmed

There was some good news about human rights around the world this week.  

SOMALIA has become the 195th state party to ratify the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC). A ceremony was held to mark the ratification at a local school in the Somali capital of Mogadishu.  In agreeing to be bound by the treaty, the government of Somalia is obligating itself to take steps to improve the lives of its youngest citizens.   The CRC is the most widely ratified human rights treaty in existence.  Once Somalia’s ratification is officially deposited with the UN, the United States and South Sudan will be the only countries in the world that have not yet ratified the CRC.  (The US has signed but not ratified the CRC and South Sudan – the world’s newest country, established in 2011 – has taken no action on the CRC yet.  If you are wondering why the US hasn’t ratified the CRC, you can read more here.)

In SAUDI ARABIA, the public flogging of blogger Raif Badawi has been postponed for a second consecutive week.  As I previously reported, Raif Badawi, founder of Free Saudi Liberals blog, was brought to a public square in Jeddahon on January 9 and flogged 50 times before hundreds of spectators – the first of 20 weeks of punishment with 50 lashes.  Protests and vigils have been held in public places and outside Saudi embassies across the world, keeping up the momentum after a medical committee said last week that he should not undergo a second round of 50 lashes on health grounds.  There is widespread belief that the postponements are not based solely on medical assessments, but also reflect increasing pressure on the Saudi government from the international community.  

In GUATEMALA,  a former police chief has been sentenced to 40 years in prison for his role in the 1980 deadly raid on the Spanish embassy in Guatemala City. A group of indigenous rights activists had occupied the embassy to draw attention to government repression during Guatemala’s civil war. (According to United Nations estimates, almost a quarter of a million people, mostly indigenous and rural, were killed or forcibly disappeared during the 36-year-long conflict.) Thirty-seven people burned to death in a fire triggered by the police when they stormed the embassy; Vicente Menchu, the father of indigenous rights activist and Noble Peace Prize winner Rigoberta Menchu, was one of those killed in the fire.  Pedro Garcia Arredondo was found guilty this week of ordering officers to keep anyone from leaving the building as it burned. Indigenous rights activists and relatives of the victims, who have been waiting more than 3 decades for justice, celebrated a sentencing.

Indigenous activists and relatives of the victims welcomed the sentence. Photo (c) REUTERS
Indigenous activists and relatives of the victims welcomed the sentence. Photo (c) REUTERS

U.N. peacekeepers in the CENTRAL AFRICAN REPUBLIC have arrested Rodrigue Ngaibona, (known as Andilo), a senior leader of the anti-balaka militia, wanted for crimes including murder, rebellion, rape and looting.  In 2013,  the mostly Muslim Seleka rebels seized power in the majority Christian CAR.  Their brief rule spawned a backlash from the Christian and animist anti-balaka militia.  The U.N. has documented that the anti-balaka used ethnic cleansing in their attacks on the Muslim minority, and reported that “Andilo is currently the most enigmatic, feared and powerful military commander of the anti-balaka.”  Andilo could potentially be tried at the International Criminal Court in The Hague, which is investigating the violence in Central African Republic.

One piece of negative human rights news that has not received much mainstream media attention:  BAHRAIN sentenced Nabeel Rajab, one of the highest-profile democracy campaigners in the Arab world, to six months in jail on Tuesday over remarks critical of the government.  The founder of the Bahrain Center for Human Rights, Rajab took a leading role in Shi’ite-led demonstrations in Bahrain in 2011 that demanded reforms in the Sunni-ruled Gulf Arab Kingdom.  

I noted a couple of items of good news on LGBT rights this week:

  1. In CHILE, the House of Representatives on Tuesday approved a bill that would allow same-sex couples to enter into civil unions.  The bill passed by a wide margin with 86-23 vote with two abstentions. The Chilean Senate last October advanced the measure, known by the Spanish acronym AVP that roughly translates into “life partner agreement” in English. –President Michelle Bachelet has said she will sign the civil unions bill into law.
  2. In the UNITED STATES, President Obama made history by using the terms “lesbian”, “transgender” and “bisexual” for the first time in a State of the Union address. President Obama was the second US president to use the word “gay” (somewhat generically) in the 2010 State of the Union address; President Clinton was the first.

Finally, I read an inspiring story this week about teens in BANGLADESH called “Golden Girls” who are volunteering their time to ensure that Bangladeshi women have access to maternal health care.  Bangladesh has been working to reduce maternal mortality by training government female health workers as highly skilled birth attendants, but only 27 percent of pregnant women have access to these birth attendants. To fill the gap, the Community Health Foundation, a nonprofit based in Dhaka, educates nearly 300 girls in grades 9 to 12 about pregnancy and childbirth and then links them to pregnant women in their community through the government birth attendants.  

The Golden Girl Project volunteers help increase awareness among pregnant women and facilitate access to skilled birth attendants, bringing down maternal mortality risks.  Their efforts are proving critical in a country where 7,000 women die of pregnancy-related causes every year. For example, when a woman in her village went into labor in the middle of the night her panicked family turned to 14-year-old Khatun, a grade 10 student who lived nearby and was able to arrange for the community’s skilled birth attendant to come in time, saving the lives of the mother and newborn. In addition to their training in reproductive and sexual health, the Golden Girls themselves also commit to completing high school and campaigning to end early marriage and delaying motherhood. Volunteers’ parents consent to the training and affirm their daughters will not be married before graduation. This contributes to reducing dropouts as well as early marriage. You can read more about the Golden Girls here

I’ll close with a powerful advertisement from AUSTRALIA called “The Invisible Discriminator” which reminds us that subtle or ‘casual’ racism can be just as harmful as more overt forms. #StopThinkRespect encourages everyone in Australia to check their behaviour.

The Radius of Hollow

I am not a poet.  But when my son was injured in a hockey game this week, it seeded an odd inspiration to write a poem about an important life lesson.  Pain and disappointment are part of the human experience, an inevitable part of life.  I witness this on almost a daily basis because of my work in human rights, but I also know it as a person who has sometimes experienced it. I want my son to understand that, while many things are outside of his control, how he responds to adversity is almost always within his control. I want him to know that learning from his disappointment will build courage and resilience – “sharp edges” for life.

I am not a poet, but, in truth, anyone can write a poem.  I hope you enjoy it.

The Radius of Hollow

Two players collided at
Mad hockey speed.
Fully padded – protected – and yet
My son was cut open.
Steel blade freshly sharpened,
One swift, true stroke that
Slashed through the sock,
Bit hungrily into his tender skin.

My own son, down
On his knees in the cold.
A supplicant pleading.
Or praying.
Blood pumped out and
His white sock bloomed crimson.
His heart’s blood,
Congealed dark on the ice.

I remembered his tears,
That morning they posted the team.
His name was not there.
He was in.
But then,
In a flash,
He was out.
He was the last to be cut.

A skate’s blade has twin edges.
In the center, a valley:
The radius of hollow.
Dull edges, you fall.
Yet sharp edges require
A rift through the core,
This concave depression.
The radius of hollow is what gives you control.

No need for stitches, coach said.
It’s not deep. But it hurts.
Violet and sallow-green blossoms on pale skin.
An angry contusion that will resolve.
Rough edges of torn flesh
Will adhere.
Up! Back on the ice, my son!
These wounds will heal.

Believe In The Beauty of Your Dreams

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Sunrise and mist on Lake of the Isles. October 11, 2014. Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA

 

The future belongs to those who believe in the beauty of their dreams.

                                                                                                               –  Eleanor Roosevelt

This post is a response to the Weekly Photo Challenge:  Dreamy.

 

Humanity

Yaounde, Cameroun

“All humanity is one undivided and indivisible family…”

– Mahatma Gandhi

I took this photo of a young girl coming home from school in Yaounde, Cameroon.  It is a photo that always reminds me that, as Gandhi once said, all of humanity is one family.

To see more responses to the Weekly Photo Challenge: Humanity, click here.

A Transatlantic Dialogue

 

When you look out at the ocean, do you ever wonder who is on the other side?  I do! So when we were at the beach in South Carolina, I felt compelled to look it up.  Turns out that Morocco is directly across the Atlantic from South Carolina.  I had recently been to Morocco, so I could vividly picture what was on the ocean as I walked along the shore.

For this week’s Photo Challenge: Dialogue, we are asked to bring  two photos into dialogue.  The first photo, taken on Sullivan’s Island, South Carolina, looks directly east across the Atlantic Ocean towards Morocco.  The second photo, taken in Rabat, looks directly west towards South Carolina.  The photographic dialogue even reflects the time difference; the first photo was taken in the early morning, which is afternoon in Morocco.

Sometimes we need a reminder that our beautiful world is really not so big after all. And that often our connections can be greater than our differences.

 

What to find out what’s on the other side of the ocean from where you are?  The Washington Post published a quick reference – check it out here!

Art Therapy in Cameroon

 

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In Cameroon, an NGO called RENATA (Reseau National des Associations des Tantines)

encourages women and girls who have experienced violence to use art therapy in their healing process.

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These are just a few of the works of art that I had the privilege of seeing when I visited the RENATA office in Yaounde.

While I found these works of art profoundly sad,

I also saw them as bold statements of empowerment by the survivors who painted them.

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And so, while these works of art may never hang in a gallery, to me they are inspirational.

 

This post is a response to the Weekly Photo Challenge:  Work of Art.  Click on the link to see more responses.

Injustice Anywhere Is A Threat To Justice Everywhere

justice

As the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. once said,

“Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.”

 

Use your voice.

Say it loud.

speak

 

This post is a response to the Weekly Photo Challenge:  Letters.  Click here to read more entries.

For another post that is not new but meets the same challenge, see Weekly Photo Challenge: The Sign Says. 

 

 

International Women’s Day 2014

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I have a complicated relationship with International Women’s Day (IWD).  On the one hand, it vexes me greatly that we have only one day a year – designated by the United Nations General Assembly in 1977 as March 8 – to celebrate the many contributions of women around the world.  On the other hand, we still need to focus attention on the fact that women, who make up half of the world’s population, still face almost incomprehensible inequality in societies throughout the world.  Not just inequality, but inexcusable pain and violence.

One in three women in the world still experience violence (including rape and marital rape, spousal abuse, and child abuse) in their lifetime.  The numbers are closer to one in four in the West – numbers that are still shockingly high.

Even before birth, preference for male children leads to feticide and infanticide in many parts of the world. Millions of girls and women around the world face obstacles to education, access to health, freedom of choice in marriage and divorce, land ownership and political participation. Even in the West, women continue to face inequality, including professional obstacles.

The UN theme for IWD 2014 is “equality for women is progress for all”.  And there is no question that that statement is true.  As UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said in a statement for IWD 2014:

“Countries with more gender equality have better economic growth. Companies with more women leaders perform better. Peace agreements that include women are more durable. Parliaments with more women enact more legislation on key social issues such as health, education, anti-discrimination and child support. The evidence is clear: equality for women means progress for all.”

IWD means different things to different people around the world.  For some, it is a day to celebrate the strength of personal relationships with mothers, grandmothers, daughters and friends.  Some choose to celebrate the overall contributions of women; in 2014, I noticed a particular interest in celebrating the “bad ass” women in our collective history (which I do applaud).  For others, it is the opportunity to highlight all that still remains to be done.

For me, IWD is all these things.  It is also about wanting a world where my daughter and my sons are treated equally without thought or legal requirement.  It is about teaching them that this is what they – both boys and girl – should expect in their future. But it is also about celebrating the strong community of women that has brought us this far.

I took this photo of a painting that hung in the stairwell of a hotel I stayed in last year in Yaounde.  It was dark in the stairwell, but I paused every time I passed it.  The painting appeared original, but there was no name given to it.  No artist was listed.   But for me, it captures the spirit of International Women’s Day.  We still have a ways to go, but we are together in this effort.  We learn from each other and we support each other.  Here is my perspective on International Women’s Day 2014:

It may take us time, but when women work together, nothing can stop us.

 

Childhood Treasure

Little House

Recently, I bequeathed one of my childhood treasures to my eight year-old daughter – my box set of Little House books by Laura Ingalls Wilder. My daughter Eliza had to first prove herself worthy; I refused to pass it on to her until she had finished reading both Little House in the Big Woods and Little House on the Prairie.  

Little House in the Big Woods is the first “real” book that I can recall reading.  My grandmother Lillian started off reading it to me, but somehow, somewhere around the family goes to the “sugaring off”, I found myself reading it to her instead.  For the rest of my childhood, I read all the books in this pale yellow box again and again.

Even as a child, I picked up on the fact that Ma’s attitude towards Native Americans was racist and cruel.  It seemed wrong to me that Laura’s only occupational choices were schoolteacher or wife.  My daughter and I have been talking about these things as well.  It is a part of our history that is better to acknowledge than to ignore.  But my daughter likes the books because they include so many details about life in a very different time.  The books aren’t about heroes, but about ordinary people. Laura and Mary, Carrie and Grace, Ma and Pa, even Jack the dog are vividly alive for her.  Maybe next summer we will have to take a mother-daughter field trip to Walnut Grove, MN to visit the Laura Ingalls Wilder Museum.

The real treasure for me has been watching her discover the same joy in reading these books that I experienced as a child.  Maybe one day, she will pass this treasure on to her own children.

This post is a response to the Weekly Photo Challenge: Treasure.

Ski Selfie

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Skiing on my neighborhood lake
February 2014

I first learned to cross-country ski  when I was 19 and living in Norway.  Learning to ski in a country where skiing is the national pastime was both a blessing and a curse.  (The national slogan”Nordmenn er født med ski på beina” or “Norwegians are born with skis on their feet” may help you understand why little Norway is so dominant in the Winter Olympics.)  The curse part was that I was 19 the first time that I strapped on skis; I think I spent most of that first afternoon either falling down or trying to get up.  To add insult to injury, as I struggled to complete the “beginner” 2K loop, dozens of skiers zipped right by me – including both a 90+ year old pensioner and a baby.  I would call him a toddler, but not for the fact that later I saw him crawling around on a blanket in picnic area by the parking lot.  Nothing bursts your bubble quicker than the realization that even a kid who can’t walk yet can ski better than you can.

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The blessing part is that cross-country skiing can be such a joyful experience.  I learned in Norway that it is cross-country skiing is a sport that just about everyone can do.  I also learned that skiing allows you to get out and experience nature in a way that is very different from the rest of the year. The stillness of the snowy woods can be breathtaking.  In the silence, you hear your breathing and the rhythmic sh-sh-sh-sh-sh-sh of your skis, interrupted occasionally by the sound of an animal or a bird. Unlike summer’s cacophony, in winter each sound is individualized and accentuated, carrying alone across long distances. From afar, I heard the yank-yank-yank-yank of the red-breasted nuthatch while skiing on Lake Harriet last week; it was still calling when I skied up to it 10 minutes later.  When you are out in the cold, but not feeling it because your arms and legs are working hard, pumping heat through your body – that’s when cross-country skiing makes you feel the power for conquering winter.

And then there is this.  The unique light and colors of a deep winter day that perhaps can only be experienced on skis.

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It’s been years now since I learned to ski.  I rarely fall down anymore, although I am still passed on the trail by faster skiers.   Truthfully, I haven’t been out on skis much in the recent past.  Climate change and the warmer winters of the past decade have meant the snow conditions have been less than perfect in Minnesota.  This winter, however, the snow conditions are wonderful.  And I have rediscovered my joy in cross-country skiing.

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Skiing the Luminary Loppet with my oldest son.
February 2014

This post is a response to the Weekly Photo Challenge: Selfie.   See additional posts here.