Celebrating World Refugee Day by Becoming a U.S. Citizen

20 06 2009

June 20 is World Refugee Day. 42 million people worldwide are refugees. Angelina Jolie serves as UNHCR (United Nations High Commission on Refugees) Goodwill Ambassador. She and Brad Pitt have donated $1 million to help Pakistani refugees displaced because of war. Angelina says that the number of Pakistani refugees is jumping at a really high rate…as much as 100,000 people a day…and 2 million Pakistanis are now refugees.

Austin, Texas (where I live) takes in about 500 – 600 refugees per month; the most challenging thing is helping them find work. Here’s an article that is currently online and will appear in Sunday’s Austin American-Statesman newspaper about 21 refugees who became U.S. citizens today in Austin.

Refugees who fled horrors of war, famine now call Austin home.

Jeremy Schwartz
AMERICAN-STATESMAN STAFF
Sunday, June 21, 2009

They’ve fled war, famine, genocide and concentration camps. But in an intimate ceremony Saturday at the Bullock Texas State History Museum, 21 refugees from 11 countries took an important step on their roads to a new life: They became U.S. citizens.

The naturalization ceremony took place on World Refugee Day and marked the second consecutive year that the U.S. Department of Homeland Security has commemorated the day in Austin with a citizenship ceremony for refugees.

“They’ve gone through so much,” said Mario Ortiz, the San Antonio district director for U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Service. “So it’s only right that as an agency and as a country we recognize the contributions they will make to this country.”

For Amir Causevic, a 34-year-old who left his hometown in Bosnia-Herzegovina when war broke out in the early 1990s, Saturday’s ceremony was the culmination of nearly two decades of struggle.

“This is the biggest day in my life so far,” said Causevic, who lives in Hutto with his wife and son and works as an installer for Time Warner Cable. “You have so many bad memories of your country that you want to start your life over again.”

John Mohinga and Wife (with family) become Citizens in Austin 6/20/09 - Credit: KUT's Erika Aguilar

John Mohinga and Wife (with family) become Citizens in Austin 6/20/09 - Credit: KUT's Erika Aguilar

John Mohinga, a 52-year-old from Congo, urged his fellow newly anointed citizens to take advantage of their second chance.

“Here you can live in peace and see your children go to school and get degrees and so on,” he told the crowd during the ceremony. “Here, you can be whatever you want to be.”

Mohinga, who works as a security guard and is the assistant pastor at North Austin Christian Church, fled Congo during a civil war that killed about 5 million of his countrymen more than a decade ago. He and his wife were forced to leave, he said, because she was an ethnic Tutsi originally from Rwanda, putting her on the wrong side of local militias.

The couple and their children were rescued by Red Cross workers who delivered them to United Nations forces and ultimately to a refugee camp in Cameroon. They came to the United States in 2000.

“I want to thank the great people of Texas for this peaceful welcome,” Mohinga said.

After the 21 refugees — all of them Austin-area residents originally from places such as Sudan, Afghanistan, El Salvador and Cambodia — took their oath of citizenship, immigration officials handed out certificates. The new Americans held them as if they might break or fly away and posed for pictures with smiling family members.

“Thank you for inspiring us,” Ortiz told them. “Thank you for humbling us.”

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Run for Congo Women – Women for Women

11 04 2009

run-for-congo-women2A story on Oprah about the plight of Congo women and what Women for Women International is doing to help them spurred Lisa Shannon of Portland, Oregon to take action. She organized Run for Congo Women to raise money to help the women there and today bloggers are uniting to bring attention to this cause.

I wrote about the incredible HBO documentary The Greatest Silence: Rape in the Congo in a November post. Women and children continue to suffer greatly there. The 3/27/09 United Nations Security Council report of the United Nations Organization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (MONUC) reports the following:

  • As of January, there were an estimated 1.4 million displaced people in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) with 707,000 of those being in the northern area of the province of Kivu.
  • Attacks on humanitarian workers, human rights, and the socio-economic and financial situation there have worsened “significantly” even since the start of 2009.
  • Members of the Armed Forces of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (FARDC), the Congolese National Police, and other armed groups have committed egregious human rights abuses such as arbitrary executions, torture, extortion, abduction and disappearance of citizens, and rapes.
  • Sexual and gender-based violence continues with 11,00 rapes being reported each month. Varying from area to area, 35% to 50% of the victims are between 10  and 17 years old and 10% were younger than 10 years old.

Lisa Shannon is one person who decided to do something to make a difference. Below is a 2008 video of her speaking about Run for Congo Women. Another video from Women for Women follows that talks about how we can change the lives of women there by sponsoring a Congolese woman or donating to the organization. Go to http://www.womenforwomen.org to find out more or make a donation.





Honey, I Have a Headache – Not in Afghanistan You Don’t

4 04 2009

You can’t say no if your husband wants sex and you’re a Shiite Muslim woman in Afghanistan. You are required by a new law to have sex with him whenever he asks unless you are ill. Convenient for the men…and critics are outraged at the worsening of women’s human rights in Afghanistan. Estimates put the number of Shiite (or Shi’a) Muslims there who are affected by the new law at 10 – 25% of the population.

The new law signed by Afghanistan’s President Hamid Karzai restricts a Shiite woman’s rights even further:

  • She cannot leave the house without her husband’s permission and it can be only for a “legitimate purpose.”
  • She cannot seek work or hold a job without her husband’s permission.
  • She cannot get an education without her husband’s permission.
  • She cannot make a doctor’s appointment without her husband’s permission.
  • She cannot be granted child custody in the case of divorce; custody goes only to fathers and grandfathers .
  • She cannot inherit houses or land from her husband, but he can inherit them from her.

An United Nations press release was issued about this on 4/2/09 and begins by stating this:

The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay on Thursday urged the Afghan Government to rescind a new law, reportedly signed by President Karzai earlier this month, saying it would seriously undermine women’s rights in Afghanistan and contravene the Afghanistan constitution as well as universal human rights standards.

The press release quotes Ms. Pillay as saying that:

This is another clear indication that the human rights situation in Afghanistan is getting worse not better. Respect for women’s rights – and human rights in general – is of paramount importance to Afghanistan’s future security and development. This law is a huge step in the wrong direction.

I got a small taste of these lack of freedoms for women when I lived in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia in 1979 and 1980. I could not drive a car. A man had to accompany me anywhere I went. I had to have my arms and legs covered when I went to the main souq (marketplace) downtown (with a man, of course). I wasn’t allowed to work except to teach in the American school. I could not even go to Jeddah to join my husband until he had established himself as a legitimate person working in that country. I was left behind in the U.S. pregnant for several months and had the baby without him by my side as a result.

But my restricted freedoms were nothing like what the Afghan Shi’a women are now being faced with. The new law legalizes a husband raping his wife. He has total control over what she does and when. If you are a woman, ask yourself how you would like to have no choice on whether you have sex or not with your husband. How would you like to be told that you cannot get an education or a job or leave the house or even go to the doctor without your husband’s approval?

The freedoms we enjoy in the United States as women are immense compared to those that are slipping away from or nonexistent to women in other parts of the world. We don’t have pay parity with men. We don’t have many women in executive positions. We have never had a woman president. But we can choose to say no to our husbands when we don’t feel like having sex.

Let us remember our sisters all over the world and join Commissioner Pillay and President Obama in denouncing this new Afghan law that makes a woman less than a person.





Celebrating International Women’s Day March 8 with a 100th Post

7 03 2009

Did you know that 70% of people living under $1 a day are women? In celebration of  International Women’s Day, I am writing my 100th post and providing some important information about women globally. First observed in the United intl-womens-day-logoStates on February 28, 1909, it is now celebrated every year on March 8th. Wikipedia includes this information about it:

International Woman’s Day (IWD) is marked on March 8 every year. It is a major day of global celebration for the economic, political and social achievements of women. In some celebrations, the day lost its political flavour, and became simply an occasion for men to express their love to the women around them in a way somewhat similar to Mother’s Day and St Valentine’s Day mixed together. In others, however, the political and human rights theme as designated by the United Nations runs strong, and political and social awareness of the struggles of women worldwide are brought out and examined in a hopeful manner.

This year the global United Nations theme, which changes each year, is Women and men united to end violence against women and girls. Here are some statistics on violence against women from the United Nations website:

  • Today, many women – in some countries as many as one in three – are beaten, coerced into sex or otherwise abused in their lifetimes.
  • Worldwide, one in five women will become a victim of rape or attempted rape in her lifetime.
  • Half of the women who die from homicides are killed by their current or former husbands or partners.
  • For women aged 15 to 44 years, violence is a major cause of death and disability.
  • More than 80 percent of trafficking victims are women.
  • More than 130 million girls and women alive today have undergone female genital mutilation.
  • 4 out of every 10 births in the world are not attended by a doctor or healthcare professional, resulting in maternal mortality being the leading cause of death for women of reproductive age in developing countries.
  • On the basis of data collected from 24,000 women in 10 countries, between 55 percent and 95 percent of women who have been physically abused by their partners have never contacted NGOs, shelters or the police for help.

Here are some other interesting facts about women globally. All are sourced from InternationalWomensDay.com.  

  • 2/3 of the world’s illiterate adults are female and 2/3 of the world’s uneducated children are girls. Educating girls is considered the single most effective strategy for economic growth.
  • Women do 2/3 of the world’s work, but receive only 1/10 of the world’s income.
  • Females in developing countries on average carry 20 liters (5.3 gallons) of water per day over 6km (3.7 miles). 
  • Only 21% of all news subjects (people interviewed or whom the news is about) are female. 
  • The Global Gender Gap Report measures the size of the gender gap (the disparity in opportunities available for men and women) for 130 countries in four critical areas: economic participation and opportunity, health and survival, educational attainment, and political empowerment. Here are how some countries ranked, with 100% representing gender equality.
    • Norway, Finland, and Sweden – all around 82%
    • Iceland (80%)
    • New Zealand (79%)
    • Phillippines, Denmark, the Netherlands, and the U.K. – 74% – 76%
    • United States (72%) – 27th on the list
    • Chad, Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, and Yemen (the worst at 47%) at the bottom of the list

We have a long way to go for women to realize the same rights as men, the same freedoms as men, the same education as men, the same freedom from violence as men, the same health care as men, the same pay as men, etc. etc. Take the time to appreciate the women in your life and all over the world.

Here’s a video about gender equality that the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) put together to celebration International Women’s Day. As the video says, “It begins with me, it begins with you, it begins with us.” Take a look.

 





Chris Brown: A Witness to Violence, A Perpetrator of Violence

11 02 2009

As a child, Chris Brown says that he witnessed his mother being beaten. Now he’s the one who did the beating.

REUTERS

Chris Brown and Rihanna Performing - Photo: REUTERS

Less than 24 hours before mega R&B 19-year-old star Chris Brown was to be one of the featured acts at the Grammys, he allegedly (and there doesn’t seem to be much alleged about it) punched his equally mega star girlfriend Rihanna (who was also to perform at the Grammys) in the face, bit her, and caused some horrible damage to her after an argument. Both cancelled their Grammy performances on the biggest night in music when they were both going to have the chance to shine with millions of people watching.

Here is strong example of how violence against children or in a children’s presence takes a toll on them. Yesterday I wrote a post about corporal punishment in schools and the affect that has on children. In 2006 the United Nations published a study on violence against children. In it, they state that:

Studies from many countries in all regions of the world suggest that up to 80 to 98 percent of children suffer physical punishment in their homes, with a third or more experiencing severe physical punishment resulting from the use of implements.

Think about it. 80 to 98% of children across the world are physically harmed in their homes. DISTURBING. The report discusses the affects of this violence:

Physical violence is often accompanied by psychological violence. Insults, name-calling, isolation, rejection, threats, emotional indifference, and belittling are all forms of violence that can be detrimental to a child’s psychological development and well-being— especially when it comes from a respected adult such as a parent. It is of critical importance that parents be encouraged to employ exclusively nonviolent methods of discipline.

In addition to the physical and emotional damage done to children from being abused themselves, the report states that 133 to 275 million children worldwide are estimated to witness domestic violence annually and this takes a toll:

The exposure of children to violence in their homes on a frequent basis, usually through fights between parents or between a mother and her partner can severely affect a child’s well-being, personal development, and social interaction in childhood and adulthood. Intimate partner violence also increases the risk of violence against children in the family….

This is what Chris Brown says he experienced for years as a child…watching his mother being beaten by his step-father. He said it made him scared, timid, and he wet the bed. A child never forgets having witnessed or experienced abuse. Speaking from experience, I can tell you that it stays in your mind, in your emotions, and in your body.

When will people…and especially parents…all over the world wake up and learn that you can not be violent toward a child and expect it to have no affect on the child? Violence begets violence and/or anger, withdrawal, sadness, depression, and much more. Why are so many people in the world so angry that we take it out on a child or hurt each other in a child’s presence? When will it stop?

UPDATE: Today Chris Brown was charged with two felonies in conjunction with this: that of assault and of making criminal threats. CNN has a report of the extent of the assault and it’s shockingly worse than anyone thought. I really like Chris Brown as an artist and he seemed like a decent guy. This is totally unacceptable. He really needs to get some serious help and serving jail time would send a loud message that it is not okay to assault someone…even if it is your girlfriend.





Renditions and Torture: Outlawed

26 01 2009

A powerful 26 minute film that every American should watch. Go to this link to see it: http://hub.witness.org/node/8109. A description from the website is included below:

Human rights groups and several public inquiries in Europe have found the U.S. government, with the complicity of numerous governments worldwide, to be engaged in the illegal practice of extraordinary rendition, secret detention, and torture. The U.S. government-sponsored program of renditions is an unlawful practice in which numerous persons have been illegally detained and secretly flown to third countries, where they have suffered additional human rights abuses including torture and enforced disappearance. No one knows the exact number of persons affected, due to the secrecy under which the operations are carried out.

Outlawed: Extraordinary Rendition, Torture and Disappearances in the ‘War on Terror’ corroborates these findings through the harrowing stories of Khaled El-Masri and Binyam Mohamed, two men who have suffered as a result of the U.S. government’s disregard of the international legal instruments dealing with respect for fundamental rights. The film features commentary from Louise Arbour, the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights, Michael Scheuer, the chief architect of the rendition program and former head of the Osama Bin Laden unit at the CIA, U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and U.S. President George W. Bush.

OUTLAWED is a 27-minute WITNESS production in association with 14 production and distribution partners worldwide, including the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU); Amnesty International; Breakthrough (US/India); the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University School of Law; the Center for Constitutional Rights; the Center for Human Rights & Global Justice at New York University School of Law; Freedom House; Human Rights First; Human Rights Watch; the International Commission of Jurists (Switzerland); Liberty (UK); the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the USA; Redress (UK); and Reprieve (UK).





What the World Needs Now: R-E-S-P-E-C-T

10 12 2008

“It’s not my problem,” you say? Maybe you’d like to swap places even for a day with those with little or no basic human rights. We have lost respect for the basic human rights of our brothers and sisters throughout the world. We allow atrocities to continue or commit them against our fellow human beings: rape, slavery, human trafficking, starvation, torture, rendition, genocide, horrendous work conditions, refugee camps, battered women, child molestation, child abuse, less pay for women, “honor” killings of women, female genital mutilation, racism, sexual violence as an instrument of war, and so many more.

Today is the 60th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR). Eleanor Roosevelt chaired the committee that drafted these rights and they were adopted in December, 1948 as a response to the brutality of World War II. Here she is addressing the United Nations on the ratification of the UDHR:

So many of us bury ourselves in busyness and complacency. We are quick to express anger, to battle, to go to war. We are slow – or unable – to express love, acceptance, compassion, inclusivity, and peacefulness. Remember Dionne Warwick singing “What the World Needs Now is Love, Sweet Love”? Take a listen and  remember that every person on the planet is deserving of basic human rights. Do your part to respect, care for, and love your brothers and sisters on the planet.

 And if that doesn’t do it for you, take a listen to Aretha singing her classic “RESPECT”…that and love are what we all need.





Tis the Season…for Cutting Girls

5 12 2008

This is not a joyful time of year for girls in Kenya. It’s the cutting season.  Girls 10 years old or younger have their clitoris and sometimes their labia removed so they will be “clean” and to prepare them for marriage. This process is called Female Genital Cutting (FGC) or Female Genital Mutilation (FGM).

This barbaric practice, considered a human rights violation by the United Nations, is done to girls as young as two years old with no anesthesia and a razor blade, knife, or even broken glass. Besides the initial severe pain, girls often experience lifelong problems and effects such as shock, excessive bleeding, infection, infertility, higher death rate for newborn babies, and even death.

The World Health Organization estimates that 100 – 140 million women and girls have experienced FGC. 2-3 million more are at risk every year, mostly in 28 countries in Africa, some Middle Eastern countries, some ethnic groups in South America, and Indonesia. FGC is a long-practiced custom and it is difficult to convince women to stop having it done to their daughters or granddaughters. In places where it is common, girls who are not cut are often ostracized.

The country where FGM is most prevalent is Egypt, with 78-97% having experienced it, followed by Sudan, Ethiopia, and Mali. Egypt passed a law banning FGM in 2007, as have many other countries. The U.S. passed a federal law banning FGM in 1996.

February 6, 2008 marked the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) fifth International Day against Female Genital Mutilation.  The UN has launched a multi-million dollar program to reduce the practice by 40% over the next seven years.

This video features some village women in Lunsar, Sierra Leone talking about the practice of cutting. Amongst their many startling (to our way of thinking) assertions is that if a girl bleeds excessively from being cut, it means that she is a witch.

Many girls in Kenya have recently fled to churches or rescue centers to wait out the November to December cutting season and escape forced genital mutilation. At this time of joy and celebration, if you’d like to do something to help protect the rights of these girls and women all over the world, consider making a donation to Americans for UNFPA.





One in Three…ONE IN THREE

25 11 2008

One in three women have been affected. It has affected my family and probably yours, too. Violence against women. Nicole Kidman, Goodwill Ambassador for UNIFEM, the United Nations Development Fund for Women, joined others in participating in several events at the UN today as part of today’s International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women, which has been marked since 1981. She handed to UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon over 5 million signatures of people who have joined Say No to Violence against Women. The United Nations, under Ki-Moon’s leadership, has a campaign called Unite to End Violence Against Women. Here is a statement released today by the Secretary-General:

We need to do more to enforce laws and counter impunity. We need to combat attitudes and behaviour that condone, tolerate, excuse or ignore violence committed against women. And we need to increase funding for services for victims and survivors. I am determined to strengthen these efforts, including through my global campaign “UNiTE to end violence against women”, which aims to raise public awareness, increase political will and resources and create a supportive environment to make good on existing policy commitments.

Here is Nicole Kidman speaking about stopping gender violence:

Today also begins the 16 Days of Activism against Gender Violence. This program is sponsored by the Center for Women’s Global Leadership and began in 1991. This year’s theme is “Human Rights for Women <–> Human Rights for All.” The Center for Women’s Global Leadership at Rutgers University “…develops and facilitates women’s leadership for women’s human rights and social justice worldwide.”

Here is an UNIFEM video well worth watching about what the UN Trust Fund is doing to help women:

If you’d like to know more about what you can do, visit the Stop Violence Against Women website. StopVAW is a project by The Advocates for Human Rights and has a newsletter, which you can sign up for. Amnesty International also has a Stop Violence Against Women program.

Here in Austin is the nationally-acclaimed Austin SafePlace, which “works to end sexual and domestic violence and abuse.” I went through their training and volunteered on their hotline years ago.

Lest you think that violence against women happens in other countries, Amnesty International reports that one woman in the U.S. is raped every 6 minutes and one woman is battered every 15 seconds.  Let’s work together to eliminate violence against women all over the world.





Remembering 13-year-old Aisha Ibrahim Duhulow from Somalia

13 11 2008

ANOTHER POST ON A POSSIBLE UNJUST STONING: Please read my 7/7/10 post about Sakineh Mohammadie Ashtiani, a 42-year-old Iranian mother unjustly accused of adultery who is scheduled to die at any moment by stoning.

While walking to see her grandmother in Mogadishu, Somalia, Aisha Ibrahim Duhulow was raped by three men. She reported it to the al-Shabab militia, hoping for justice. Instead, she was accused of adultery under Shariah, CLICK HERE to keep reading