And what about Women?

“Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter” – Martin Luther King.

Today, on a day celebrating the life and legacy of Martin Luther King, I want to talk about something that matters to me. Amidst the furore of the #metoo movement and the general conversation surrounding female empowerment, I think it is important to get to the root of these issues and that, in my view, is female education.

Article 26 of the universal declaration of human rights establishes education as a fundamental right necessary for developing the human spirit and promoting the virtuous ideals embodied by the declaration. Yet today over a billion individuals are deprived of their basic right to education, the vast majority of whom are young women in developing economies.

I was fortunate enough to be born in a country where it was expected that I would go to school, where my parents had no choice in enrolling me. But I have fought countless battles with my parents on furthering my education, I have fought to be strong and independent and I have shrugged off the weight of gender expectations time and time again.

But my struggle is a fraction of the struggle faced by young girls like Malala Yousef. I have fought with slammed doors and angry faces. They fight for their lives.

I have watched the backlash against the #metoo movement, and against feminism as a whole. I have had people tell me that feminism isn’t needed anymore, that women are equal enough. But feminism will only disappear when we live in a world where we no longer need to point out that two thirds of the 774 million of the illiterate adults in the world are women. It will disappear when being born a girl is no longer a cause for exclusion.

Study after study has shown that educating women leads to prosperity, just for them but for society as a whole. But more than that, education teaches girls to stand up for themselves, to have a voice and a chance.

So today, when we reflect on all the battles we have won and all the atrocities still going on in the world, it is important to remember that human rights violations are not always violent, they are not always bloody, sometimes human rights are violated with a simple “because you are a girl.”

Time for a fresh approach to Human Rights in Syria – and everywhere

This week Vladimir Putin visited Bashar al-Assad in Syria. This is also the very week on which the United Nations General Assembly adopted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in 1948. Because of which, the Next Century Foundation would like to reiterate some of the values and principles it believes in and the significance of Human Rights to all peoples of this world.

The Human Rights issue affects the entire global population. Rather than transient national glory, the pursuit of Human Rights is an achievement of which the entire human race can be rightfully proud. Every human being, regardless of their race, sex, religious belief, nationality, language, birth, property or other status, is inherently entitled to inalienable rights and those rights are embodied in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. By standing up for Human Rights we defeng the principle of human dignity, and recognise the equal moral worth of every individual.

Whilst we certainly believe in the symbolic importance of marking this occasion, concrete measures must be taken to uphold human rights where they are constantly and flagrantly violated. Abuses of human rights in the Syrian Arab Republic have made headlines for almost seven years now, with international reports condemning what many regard as the indiscriminate ruthlessness of the Syrian military and the Mukhabarat’s oppressive methods, ranging from torture to alleged mass prisoner executions. Similarly many are horrified by the war crimes and crimes against humanity committed by opposition insurgent groups.

The barbarism of Daesh and the Nusra Front is well known, and their crimes are well documented. Groups such as Ahrar al-Sham and Jaysh al-Islam, deemed ‘moderates’ by Arab and western governments,  have also resorted to terrorism and caused civilian deaths on numerous occasions.

Human Rights mustn’t be used as a political tool. As long as we pick and choose who to punish and who to pardon, human rights will not be firmly upheld and respected anywhere.

On the Syrian dossier, we call on the UN to condemn all violators of human rights in a balanced and proportionate way. The Syrian authorities have often complained, with some justification, about what they consider to be impartial or biased UN reports. If both sides are scrutinized fairly, President Assad’s government may feel reassured, and the Syrian government could potentially soften their position on allowing UN monitors greater access. A United Nations which protects human rights without political considerations, and slams those who abuse them, whoever they may be, would gain the trust and confidence of all parties to any conflict.

Human Rights can be upheld more effectively without resort to the traditional method of imposing economic sanctions. In the vast majority of cases, sanctioning a country has devastating impact on the civilian population as opposed to the political authorities. This is the case in Syria today. It is the Syrian people who pay the price for the alleged sins of the government. In Russia, sanctions have barely impacted Russian President Vladimir Putin or his inner circle, whilst simultaneously rallying more Russians behind their leadership who, as statistics indicate, have grown to despise the West more than ever before. We support a different approach to encouraging respect for human rights. It is our conviction that greater liaison between governments called into question and the international community can ensure that human rights abuses no longer go unchecked.

#syria #humanrights #russia


Democracy in Afghanistan

ajmal khan.jpg

Ajmal Khan Zazai

The following is based on a panel discussion entitled “Afghanistan: The Way Forward” at the Conference on the Middle East Migration Crisis: Genesis and Response, hosted by Initiatives of Change in collaboration with the Next Century Foundation.

One of the results of the U.S.-led invasion of Afghanistan was the instatement of what is nominally a multiparty democratic political system. However, democracy in Afghanistan faces several key challenges which raise the question of whether its implementation should be treated as a top priority under the current socio-economic, military, and political circumstances.

Ajmal Khan Zazai, Paramount Chief of Afghanistan’s Paktia province, has pointed out that a functioning democracy requires that at least a portion of the voter base be well-educated. This issue is especially salient when women are considered separately; having previously enjoyed more rights and freedoms, they now fear to leave the house unveiled. Women’s rights in Afghanistan are virtually non-existent.

This is partially due to the misappropriation of funds send to Afghanistan to be used for development projects. Shabibi Shah, Afghan poet and former chair of the Paiwand Association, noted that most of the money ends up in warlords’ pockets. The Western governments providing this aid could follow through in order to ensure that it is delivered to the intended recipients. A similar issue is the misuse of funds by NGOs present in Afghanistan; many allegations have been levelled against them for wasting money on living lavishly in Afghanistan and other countries where they operate

Ajmal believes that the aforementioned warlords must be completely removed, with help once again from the American military, in order to root out corruption. According to him, the daily drone attacks and presence of 10,000 active troops and 20,000 CIA operatives indicate that political will for Western military involvement in Afghanistan is alive and well.

Democracy in Afghanistan should be perceived as a long-term goal, the eventual achievement of which will be aided by the resolution of more immediate and tangible issues. Conditions for good governance must first be created by reining in the warlords and putting development aid to good use in educating people and promoting the position of women in society.