Statelessness: Life Without a Nationality

A persons eyes, looking directly into the camera.
Eyes. Source: Demietrich Baker, Creative Commons

Nationality is a privilege which is often taken for granted.  For most, nationality is something that we are born into or that we inherit from our parents.  In these cases, it requires little, if any, effort on our own part.  Because of this, we often fail to realize that not everyone is recognized as a national by a state.  You could have been born in a country and lived there your entire life, and still not be claimed by that country.  This is statelessness.  According to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), a stateless person is “a person who is not considered as a national by any state under the operation of its law.”  As of 2014, there were 3,242,207 known stateless persons in the world.  This does not include the numerous stateless persons who were unaccounted for.  The United Nations adopted the Convention Relating to the Status of Stateless Persons in 1954 and the Convention on the Reduction of Statelessness in 1961.

People begin to experience the serious consequences of statelessness as children, when they are most vulnerable.  It impedes their access to a quality education and healthcare.  The effects of statelessness follow them as they grow up, keeping them from finding legal employment and taking care of themselves and their families.  Statelessness is then often passed on to their children, grandchildren, and so on.  It creates a vicious cycle, which is extremely difficult to break.

What Causes Statelessness?

There are numerous circumstances which may lead to person being without a nationality.  Gaps in nationality laws are a significant part of the problem.  An example of such a gap is seen when nationality is inherited from a parent in a specific country.  If the nationalities of a child’s parents are unknown, then the child is not seen as a national of that country, and the child is stateless.  Sometimes, nationality laws have discrimination built in to them.  In countries like Barbados, Iraq, and Sudan, mothers cannot pass their nationality on to their children.  If the father is unknown, the child is left stateless.  Statelessness can also occur if new states are formed or a country’s borders change, and people are left living a different state than they originally did.  For example, when Yugoslavia dissolved, the Roma people and other minorities of the area were left, struggling to gain citizenships in the states that came into existence, and continue to have great difficulty in acquiring documents for identification.  There are even times when an individual’s nationality is taken away by legislation changes or if they live outside of their country for a certain amount of time.

Real People

It is important that, as we discuss the issue of statelessness, we remember that this is an issue that affects real people.  It is more than an abstract concept.  Take Jirair, for example.  Jirair was born to Armenian parents in Georgia.  They moved to Russia soon after he was born but had passports from the Soviet Union (from before it dissolved) and were unable to obtain citizenship.  Jirair did not legally have a nationality.  He had no legal ties to Russia and no proof of his birth in Georgia.  He was unable to work legally or acquire life insurance until 2016, when Georgia’s citizenship laws changed.

The entirety of the Makonde people of Kenya were stateless until 2017.  Though they were originally from Mozambique, many of the Makonde people have been living in Kenya since before 1963.  They lacked citizenship and any official documents.  This made it difficult for them to work, travel, and even to obtain birth certificates.  Generation after generation of the Makonde people experienced statelessness, vulnerable to discrimination, harassment, and poverty.  Everything began to change when Kenya’s 2011 Citizenship and Immigration Act was put into full effect and the Makonde became recognized as the forty-third tribe of Kenya.

Four children, standing together.
Children. Source: Lead Beyond, Creative Commons

Statelessness and Human Rights

Statelessness is heavily tied in with numerous human rights violations.  The first and most prominent violation is found in Article 15 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which states, “Everyone has the right to a nationality.”  It violates Article 23, which describes the right people have to employment, as statelessness often keeps people from working legally.  Without work, individuals cannot provide for themselves or their families, and will also have an even more difficult time gaining nationality.  Statelessness is also a violation of Article 25, which says that “Everyone has the right to a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of himself and his family,” due to the poverty and lack of access to basic healthcare that result from statelessness.  In order to have a quality living situation, one needs to be able to afford safe housing, a balanced diet, and basic healthcare and insurance.  Many countries deny access to education to children who are not nationals of those countries, violating Article 26, which says, “Everyone has the right to education.”  Education is key in a child’s ability to have a better living situation in the future and to flourish in life.

In the Convention on the Rights of the Child, Article 7 states that every child has the right to acquire a nationality.  Article 24 recognizes the child’s right to “the highest attainable standard of health and to facilities for the treatment of illness and rehabilitation of health,” and Article 28 recognizes the right to an education.  Children do not have access to these rights without a nationality.

The extent to which statelessness inhibits access to basic human rights makes it an issue with a severe need to be addressed.  Though the rights violations it causes are reason enough to justify a change, the problem is magnified by the way statelessness impacts entire groups of people and passes from generation to generation.

Lacking a nationality also impedes an individual’s ability to participate in political processes.  In many countries, such as the United States, you must be a citizen of that country in order to vote.  People who are stateless have a significantly lessened opportunity to have their voice heard, especially since it is not uncommon that entire groups of people are stateless, like the Makonde people.  This makes it even more important that people who do have a nationality of their own help to not only speak up and increase awareness of statelessness, but also to support a platform from which stateless people can be heard.

What Can We Do?

So, what can we do now?  One of the most important things that we can do as part of the general public is promote awareness of the issue.  Many people are not aware that it is even possible to lack a nationality, and more people do not know how serious the consequences of statelessness are.  The more people know about the issue, the more it will be pushed to the forefront of conversations.  Change cannot occur if people do not know that change is needed.

The UNHCR currently has a campaign called #IBelong, which aims to promote awareness of statelessness and work towards its end.  You can sign their “Open Letter to End Statelessness,” which declares the need to end statelessness.  The UNHCR also provides resources to those who are do not have a nationality.  If you are stateless yourself, you can click here.  You can select the country you reside in, and the website will provide you with resources that can help you on a path to acquiring a nationality, documentation that proves your nationality, or civil registration.

 

Angélique Kidjo Brings Batonga to Birmingham

On Thursday, March 22, Grammy Award-winning Beninise performer and human rights activist, Angélique Kidjo, offered a lecture at UAB’s Alys Stephens Performing Arts Center titled, Give Her Wings – Teach Girls and Empower Women. After bestowing the audience with an opening melody, Kidjo spoke of her diverse musical influences, such as R&B, funk and jazz, then shared stories about her childhood, personal growth and activism for girls — periodically breaking out in song whilst incorporating the crowd.

Angélique Incorporates the Crowd. Source: UAB Institute for Human Rights

Born into a music family, Kidjo was not shy about her childhood, confessing she had “cool parents” shared with nine other siblings. Claiming to have never lived with fear, she was pressured into her first stage performance at the age of six, gracefully under spotlight, displaying her young talent which led to a standing ovation. However, during her adolescence, her singing become an issue for some boys in her community in which she became the victim of sexist ridicule and physical confrontation. Being discouraged by this incident, she told her mother she no longer wanted to sing, but was uplifted when told, “If you let people define who you are, you will never have a life”. Her father also claimed that once you engage in a physical fight, you have lost the battle – the most powerful tool is your brain. This encouraged Kidjo to coin the term Batonga which confidently means, “Get the heck out of my life. I’ll be whoever I want to be”.

In secondary school, Kidjo started noticing children not attending class, which confused her, then realized keeping girls in secondary school limits helping mothers in the home. This gave her conviction that without secondary education, girls are limited to being mothers and wives, influencing her activism for children’s education and girl’s empowerment. Kidjo’s Batonga Foundation addresses the gender disparity in secondary and higher education throughout Africa, offering scholarships, books, tutoring, mentoring and meals.

Kidjo believes educating girls will engender world peace and influence them to not raise macho men who hijack women in the name of fear. She asked the crowd, “How do you view your kids, if your wife is viewed as inferior? Man up!”. She then briefly touched on her experiences as an African woman living in 1980s Paris, being shocked by blatant racism but standing her ground, and declared the brain and soul have no color, the world is yours and don’t be afraid to challenge people – a mindset inherited from the empowered women who raised and supported her.

Kidjo ended her lecture with one final number that included the crowd. With her grace and leadership, the crowd joined her and steadily chanted, “Chez mama, chez mama Africa”, a precursor to the following night’s concert.

Kidjo and the IHR Gang. Source: UAB Institute for Human Rights

Soon after, young girls and boys rushed to the microphone and asked Kidjo how they could be leaders just like her. She expressed to many of these young, impressionable minds how the liberating power of music gives one the confidence and strength in the face of adversity – Batonga.

Protests: Movement Towards Civil Rights

** The National Walkout Day last week and the upcoming March for Our Lives protests organized by the surviving students of the Parkland school shooting in February has prompted this blog repost from 2016. 

Signs carried by many marchers during March on Washington, 1963. Source: Library of Congress, Creative Commons.

 

Have you ever considered the pilgrims’ decision to leave England over religious freedoms, as a protest? Or slave rebellions as a protest to the dehumanizing treatment of being viewed as less than human or 3/5 of a person? Or the suffragettes dressed in white marching for the constitutional right to vote? Often most people point to protest images of the Civil Rights movement or Vietnam War as finite examples of protest, believing that protests are a thing of the past and no longer applicable in 2016. What I find fascinating is how quickly a protest is discounted as merely a group of unsatisfied people gathering together under a banner of their perceived oppression.

I use the phrase “perceived oppression” because it was used as a matter of fact, rather than projected opinion, by Facebook webstar Tomi Lahren in an interview two weeks ago. During a segment, Lahren assumed that Colin Kaepernick’s national anthem protest was rooted in his “perceived oppression” about how black people and people of color are treated in this country. Aside from The Daily Show audience, Tomi Lahren’s videos boast between 7-17 million views – an incredible feat for someone who doesn’t seem to understand the power of her platform. Lahren is entitled to her opinion. She is granted that right as a human being and a citizen of this country, as written in the first amendment. Additionally, Colin Kaepernick, Black Lives Matter, gay rights activists, and anti-abortionists do too. Here’s where I have issue: the lack of regard for fact and truth. So where does a disregard for truth and fact leave the minorities who are oppressed? They remain outcasts due to opinion rather finding allies through fact.

The fact is oppression is real.

It is not just an impact felt by American minorities; it is an international way of societal coexistence to which the natural response is protest and resistance. **For the sake of this blog, the term ‘minority’ means every group that is not a part of the majority, whether by race, gender, class, ethnicity, sexual orientation, and/or ability.

Many have concluded that the not-so-silent white majority came out in force in support of Trump over Clinton in this election. The narrative is that for the past 6-8 years, their voices had been silenced under a lack of jobs, healthcare, and education. In this election and with this new president, their voices are now being heard. Yet, what about the voices of the minority groups who have been asking for the same things for longer than 6-8 years… how about centuries? When and how will their voices be heard?

Most major languages have a word for violence; however, the idea of nonviolence is the combination of the words that mean ‘not violence’. The Sanskrit word, ahimsa, means ‘not doing harm’, and Mahatma Gandhi reiterated that ahimsa “does not mean meek submission to the will of the evildoer, but it means pitting one’s whole soul against the will of the tyrant.” Gandhi and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. are names synonymous to the principle and practice of nonviolent resistance.

Gandhi was the first to explore the expansion of nonviolence from an individual lifestyle into a concerted political and social justice strategy, believing that nonviolence was used with more frequency and brought about more success than violence. Dr. Erica Chenoweth and Maria Stephan analyzed 323 violent and nonviolent resistance movement from over 100 years, substantiating Gandhi’s claim: “nonviolent resistance campaigns were nearly twice as likely to achieve full or partial success as their violent counterparts.” Dr. Stephen Zunes concludes that nonviolent action, in the form of resistance, has been taking place as a part of political life for centuries. It is their success which has garnered attention as the cause of human rights has advanced as a direct result of “toppling or dramatically reforming repressive regimes.” Nonviolence protest is a deliberate tool for social change. It is not an ad hoc strategy. It is, rather, a methodical method of struggle which is no longer simply rooted in religious or ethical principles. Gene Sharp labels it as political defiance.

So what is protest?

Protest is a right. The first amendment of our Constitution grants all Americans the right to peaceful assembly and to express dissatisfaction to the government. Additionally, according to Article 20 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR), peaceful assembly has been declared a human right. The clarifying word is peaceful, or nonviolent, in both documents. It is imperative to understand that a riot is not a right.

Protest is different to riot. Dr. King emphasized that the riot is socially destructive and self-defeating but it is also the “language of the unheard,” thus the counteraction to a riot is to organize in nonviolent resistance based on the principle of love.

Kiev monk hearing confession during protest. Source: Jim Forest, Creative Commons.

 

Protest is not passive. Students in Serbia (Yugoslavia) organized a nonviolent resistance in cities around the country as a means of protesting the dictatorship of Slobodan Milosevic. They called themselves, Otpor!. By adapting Gene Sharp’s book as a manual, Otpor! positioned themselves under a threefold banner of unity, planning, and nonviolent discipline. The strategy was nonviolent resistance with concerts, sprayed painted slogans, and ridicule of the government, including a “birthday party for Milosevic”. The resistance which began as a student-led protest became a movement of more than 700,000, resulting in an overthrown government.

Protest is the struggle for recognition of an injustice. By honing in on societal structural violence, which is made manifest through cultural and social institutions, nonviolent protests are not about ‘attacking people’ as much as they are about calling attention to and addressing the “psychological, social, economic, and political weapons applied by the population and the institutions of the society”, believes Gene Sharp. In New York City 1985, at the height of the AIDS epidemic, the gay community and their heterosexual allies took to the streets in protest of governmental failure to fund and research a cure. At the time, millions of people worldwide had succumbed to AIDS-related illnesses. Activists under the banner of ACT UP and TAG sought to bring awareness and solution to governmental decision to penalize human beings for their lifestyle choice. Therefore, not only were they denied their constitutional right to protest but their human right to medical care which is included in the standard of living, identified in Article 25 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR).

The UDHR is the international standard for the treatment of human beings. The document sheds light on Dr. King’s pronouncement that “Justice is indivisible. Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.” What interesting is that the Pledge of Allegiance and the Constitution of the United States of America both speak of liberty and justice is for all, and that all men are created equal. Equality is a misnomer for some citizens of this country and the world.

How does justice exist for all if you are the target of a hate crime or laws designed against you?

Gandhi said, “The first condition of nonviolence is justice all round in every department of life. Perhaps, it is too much to expect of human nature. I do not, however, think so. No one should dogmatize the capacity of human nature for degradation or exaltation.” To find justice all round in every department of life, a person must begin with self. Johann Gottlieb Fichte announced, “if you are to see differently, you must first of all become different.”

Source: Revolution Messaging, Creative Commons.

Protest is the courageous outward expression of inner dissatisfaction or disapproval. Angela Y. Davis asserts that the struggle is exemplified in protest. Grassroots nonviolent movements, or as Diana Francis refers to them as “people power” movements, have consistently challenged repressive and unjust systems for generations. So what can you do to join nonviolent resistance movements which seek to expose and eradicate structural violence directed at minorities in the form of oppression and repression? Adapt four characteristics of a nonviolent ethic as exemplified in Gandhi and King. The four characteristics of identity and ethics from the lives of Dr. King and Gandhi are a compassionate, cosmopolitan worldview, a truthful reality, an educated voice, and love. As students of their work and life, we can possess and impress these characteristics upon others, transforming the world through personal change in order to garner social change.

  • A compassionate, cosmopolitan worldview: The word cosmopolitan comes from the Greek words cosmo meaning world, as in universe not earth, and polis referring to the city that one owes loyalty. Voltaire says, “Cosmopolitans… regard all the peoples of the earth as so many branches of a single family, and the universe as a state, of which they, with innumerable other rational beings, are citizens, prompting together under the general laws of nature the perfection of the whole, while each in his own fashion is busy about his own well-being.” Therefore, the possession of a cosmopolitan worldview means we have placed ourselves under the loyalty of the world and the citizens who share this common space, with the added dimension of compassion.
  • A truthful reality: A truthful reality is not a denial of the past. It is the understanding that the past and those who endured it, are the launching pad for those of us living in the present. Davis states, “in the 1960s we confronted issues that should have been resolved in the 1860s. And I’m making this point because what happens when 2060 rolls around? Will people still be addressing these same issues? And I also think it’s important for us to think forward and imagine future history in a way that is not restrained by our own lifetimes.”
  • An educated voiceWilliam Ellery Channing concluded that “others are affected by what I am, and say, and do. And these others have also their sphere of influence. So that a single act of mine may spread in widening circles through a nation or humanity.” Everett Rogers studies the diffusion of innovations in societies. He has concluded that for an idea–whether true or false, good or bad—to become embedded in society, it only takes 5% of the population to believe it, and if 20% become aware of the idea, it becomes unstoppable. In Rwanda, the genocide of Tutsis by Hutus in April 1994, was because of untruths spewed from the radio.
  • Love: Dr. King professed that “love is the only creative, redemptive, transforming power in the universe.” The beauty of love is that you can love and disagree. Love is a choice. You choose to be ruled and guided by love, just as you choose to be ruled and guided by fact or opinion, or emotions and feelings.

Protest gives an AND rather than an OR.

 

A practical guide on how to confront hate

Poster saying "Hate has no home here."
Poster in my office.

 

** The succession of package bombings presently terrorizing the citizens of Texas has prompted a repost of this blog. 

After the events in Charlottesville and the incredible outpouring of hate and violence, many of us are wondering – what can I do to confront hate, white supremacy, and racism? I know that many of us feel disheartened, furious, or even helpless in the face of evil. What can we do to take action?

Here is a practical guide based on my experience in human rights and peace advocacy.

1. Know your human rights.

This is an important step that often gets forgotten. Learning the content and extent of basic human rights will give you the tools and language to confront hate. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights is the key document guiding human rights advocacy. It is based on the universality, inalienability, and indivisibility of human rights and is founded on the core values of equality, non-discrimination, and human dignity. Each human life is of equal value, and the human rights of all are worth fighting for.

Discrimination, suppression, racism, marginalization, and violence against individuals or groups are human rights violations that must be confronted. There are many different ways to do that: by reporting human rights violations to the authorities or other entities (e.g., you can report civil rights violations to the ACLU; if you are at UAB, you can contact the Office of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion), by documenting them, or by learning about them and educating others.  You can learn more about international human rights by visiting the website of the United Nations Human Rights and by reading our blog, in which we cover international human rights issues.

2. Speak up in the face of injustice.

Once you know what human rights and human rights violations are, I encourage you to pay attention and speak up in the face of injustice. Document, record, and monitor what’s going on around you. Pay attention to what happens in your everyday life, and if you see injustice, say something. Notice if someone speaks over your colleague of color or always disrespects the points made by the women on your team. Think about diversity when creating a job ad. Call your friend out on that racist or sexist joke. Talk to your relatives about your views (I know, that is a hard one). If you feel uncomfortable confronting the perpetrator, team up with others who agree with your view that racism, sexism, Islamophobia, anti-Semitism, etc. are unacceptable. Again, document and report what happened and find a way to inform authorities, your diversity officer, or your equal opportunity department. Look for ways to empower the victim by expressing your support, talking to him/her, and educating them about their human rights.

The goal is to make “every day” suppression of a specific group based on race, color, religion, ethnicity, immigration status, sex, gender, sexual orientation, age, or disability status just as unacceptable as the violence and hatred in Charlottesville. It’s these “normal”, hidden human rights violations that are particularly dangerous to our society and that we have to confront together.

3. Be aware of your own biases.

The last months, and especially the events last weekend in Charlottesville, have shown that racism, sexism, xenophobia, and any other systematic suppression of specific groups has become socially acceptable in certain circles. Racism is now fully in the open; white supremacists feel emboldened to show their faces while expressing their hateful views. This has an impact of how we view ourselves and our position in society. It is on all of us – and especially on white people – to confront hate. As a former neo-Nazi said to the Huffington Post,  “White people need to solve the problem of white supremacy. It’s white people’s problem, we created it, and it’s a problem we need to fix.”

It is incredibly important to be aware of your own biases (and we all have them). Realize if you cross the street when a black man walks towards you. Notice if you assume that someone is less competent because she is a woman, a person of color, or Muslim. Think about systemic racism and structural violence in your own environment and find ways to confront them. Actively learn about how our society has grown to marginalize some to the benefit of others.

One of the ways to overcome some of these biases and stereotypes is to engage with those who are different. Research reveals that interpersonal contact is one of the best ways to reduce prejudice, a theory usually referred to as “contact hypothesis”. I encourage you to reach out and make new friends outside of your race, religion, and gender.

4. Join a movement or a cause that fits your passions and interests.

Obviously, being aware is not enough. Join a movement and talk with others who feel the same. Look for a rally in your community. Organize a vigil. Participate in a discussion. Engage with others. Get together formally or informally. Look for opportunities to talk. Here in Birmingham, you can become part of the StandAsOne Coalition . If you are a UAB student, you can join the Students for Human Rights student club or come talk to us at the Institute for Human Rights.

It is important to find a cause that fits your interests, your passion, and your skills. I know I said this before – not all of us are born to be activists or community organizers. We cannot all become Martin Luther Kings, Nelson Mandelas, or Leymah Gbowees. But we all can contribute by supporting the movement. Maybe you have great writing or social media skills. Maybe you like to organize or have great experience on how to implement ideas. Maybe you know about technology. Maybe you love public speaking. Think about what you are good at and how your skill and talent can be used to move the cause forward.

5. Call your representatives.

One of the most effective ways to achieve policy change in this country is to call your representatives. It is a very easy and quick thing to do. FYI – calling is much more impactful than writing an email, Facebook message, or letter. The message can be brief and go something like this:

  1. My name is ____________________.
  2. I live in Representative/Senator ______________________ ‘s district. (Since you can vote for/against the legislator, your opinion is more important.)

(At some point the staff will probably ask you for your zip code. This helps them verify that you do live in their district.)

  1. I would like Representative/Senator _________________ to denounce the violence and hate in Charlottesville (or support any other cause relating to human rights, civil rights, etc.) (This is a general request.)
  2. I would like Rep/Senator _________________ to vote in favor of House Bill XYZ/Senate Bill XYZ (This is a specific request.)
  3. You can also include a personal story of how your human rights have been violated or about injustices you observed. Keep it brief and to the point.
  4. Thank you, __________________ for your time.

Please be polite to the staff (which is who you will most likely get on the line). The staff does not have influence on the decision-making process, but they will record your call. They do not mind taking opposing views as long as the conversation is civil.

If you are nervous, this is a good summary of what happens if you call.

6. Educate others.

Educating others about the dangers of evil is key to confronting hate. The movement will grow momentum by gaining new members. Education does not necessarily have to be formal (as in “let me sit you down and tell you about human rights”, although this is important too), it can be informal, by leading by example, or by bringing a friend along to a conversation you’re having. It can happen person to person, on social media, or any other platform you use to connect with others. Creating art, poems, and performances are incredible ways to get your point across to people who might find formal education doesn’t resonate with them.

Personally, I think it is such a privilege to be an educator. It is one of my favorite parts of my job to talk to students about issues that affect the world and to encourage them to learn more about these topics. You can do that too: Teach your children (or your nieces, nephews, cousins…) about kindness, human rights, and peace building. Teach them also about systemic suppression, racism, and the way our society has oppressed minorities. Talk to them about what bothers you and what you would like to achieve. You don’t have to be a professor or teacher to educate others. You have learned about human rights, and sharing this knowledge with others will be useful not only to them, but also to you. It will help you specify your ideas and clarify what you deem most important.

7. Donate.

One of the fastest and easiest opportunities to make an impact is to donate to an organization that fights for human rights or civil rights. We at the Institute would certainly appreciate your donation because raising awareness for human rights is our daily business – thank you for thinking about it – and here are some other organizations to consider as well:

American Civil Liberties Union
Southern Poverty Law Center
NAACP
Anti Defamation League
Council on American-Islamic Relations
National Organization of Women
Human Rights Campaign
National Disability Rights Network
National Network for Immigrant and Refugee Rights
Human Rights Watch
Amnesty International

8. Take care of yourself.

Finally, and most importantly, self-care is incredibly important for all of us who work in advocacy. Confronting hatred, violence, and suppression is a big task, and honestly, it is exhausting, depressing, and hard to deal with mentally and physically. It is easy to get discouraged and to give up. It is therefore important to know what you can do (and what you cannot do), what you are willing to do, and what your priorities are. You cannot do everything, but if everyone does their part, we will eventually get there, step by step. Focus on the local level, your own community as a start. That is how we change the world – person by person.

Also, make sure you do not get overloaded with terrible news. Take care of your needs and shut down Facebook, Twitter, cable news, etc. when you start to feel overwhelmed. Enjoy time with your friends and family. Be kind to yourself and realize that real progress takes patience.

Remember, we are in this together. We can do it, one step at a time.

Where Do We Go From Here? An Event Recap

On Wednesday, February 28, the UAB Institute for Human Rights hosted Dr. Samantha Nutt, founder of War Child, to talk about her experiences working in war zones. During her conversation entitled “Where Do We Go from Here? Stories from the Frontlines of the World’s Major Crises”, Dr. Nutt covered topics from ranging from personal stories from her time in Somalia to gun violence statistics in the United States. You can read more about her background here.

The illicit and licit automatic weapons market is incredibly saturated in Somalia and the United States. In this post, I argue that this oversaturation and easy access creates a gateway for violence.

Dr. Samantha Nutt at the UAB Hill Student Center Ballroom
Dr. Samantha Nutt. Source: Tyler Goodwin, author.

Recap

The talk began with Dr. Nutt explaining how she began working in warzones – she was a volunteer doctor assigned to work in one of the world’s most dangerous countries, Somalia. She was contracted by an organization who was unable to pay her more than one dollar for her services, yet she decided to go anyway. To this day, Dr. Nutt carries with her the four quarters she received as payment.

Living in Somalia, Dr. Nutt met many people who considered this crisis area as their home. She told the story of a woman named Edith, who was a single mother who came to Dr. Nutt for medical assistance. The first time Dr. Nutt met with Edith, she was told of when Edith attempted to take her newborn child to the medical facility that was down the road. On the way there, she was ambushed by a group of boys armed with firearms who would not let her pass until she paid them a toll even though she possessed no money. As a result of being denied access to the medical facility, Edith’s child died due to malnutrition.

After suffering the loss of her child, Edith asked, “Do people where you are from know what is happening? Do they know what we go through?” Dr. Nutt replied with “I am afraid not.” On the international black market, an AR-15 can be purchased for ten dollars or less apiece; this happens in Somalia and many other states, according to Dr. Nutt. The AR-15s found in Somalia are commonly made in the United States. Upon further research, Dr. Nutt revealed that other women in surrounding villages were blockaded from accessing medical facilities by young men wielding guns as well.

Dr. Samantha Nutt giving her lecture with gun violence statistics in the background
Dr. Samantha Nutt with gun violence statistics. Source: Tyler Goodwin, author.

“Globally, we are currently spending about $249 per person on war; that is twelve times more than what we spend on humanitarian assistance across the world.”

Glancing at the statistics, one may assume that, globally, we prioritize the sale of guns and military weapons over the safety and welfare of humans. At home and abroad, we are quick to sell a rifle but question whether or not humanitarian action is necessary at every turn.

Dr. Nutt told of another visit by Edith, immediately after Edith was subjected to an act of violence. Dr. Nutt was in her office with her phone, laptop, water, and other items an average American would consider a necessity. Edith pointed Dr. Nutt’s possessions and said, “all of this is for you. We die for nothing.”

Addressing the faults of a failed state is necessary. Ignoring these issues perpetuates cycles of violence we see in war-torn Somalia, which causes Edith and countless other people to lose their families and threatens their very existence. Education provides the tools to combat issues that threaten peace. With knowledge of what is happening in Somalia, we are indirectly fighting for Edith and the other Somali citizens that say they “die for nothing.”

“We begin to tip the balance in favor of peace when we question the institutions that infringe upon it.”

Dr. Nutt also presented on the massacre in Parkland, Florida, where seventeen high school students were murdered. She mentioned the gun used in the Parkland shooting was the same grade as the ones commonly used in Somalia to block access to health facilities. Bangalore and Messerli of the American Journal of Medicine argue that the easier it is to access firearms, the higher the chances of violence are. With the average price of an AR-15 being about ten dollars on the black market, it is safe to say that these firearms are easily accessible.

In Dr. Nutt’s recent post on the Parkland shooting titled “The Kids are not Alright,” she calls for legislative action within the United States by citing other nations’ gun control legislation:

“…every developed nation that has imposed stricter gun control in the wake of mass shootings saw a precipitous decline in mass shootings and other gun related deaths. In Australia mass shootings dropped by 93% percent after a successful government gun ‘buy-back’ program following the 1996 Port Arthur massacre, which saw 35 people slaughtered. In the United Kingdom, after strict gun control measures were introduced in the wake of the Dunblane massacre of 15 kindergartners, there has not been another mass shooting in the 22 years since. Gun homicides have dropped to one third of their former levels. In Canada, a country with looser gun laws than the UK but tighter controls relative to the United States, gun related homicides are 8 times less per capita than the country’s southern neighbours.”

We have seen the Parkland shooting survivors gather support across the nation and assemble at our nation’s capital. By calling for change, they are calling for their form of peace. This is not to say that all gun owners disrupt that peace, but a military grade assault rifle should not be available for purchase on the black market for ten dollars and should not be available to purchase at your local Wal-Mart.

Dr. Nutt concludes by stating, “It does not matter how much you give, it matters how you give.” In her post mentioned above, she says, “Political candidates who openly advocate for gun control need financial and volunteer support. And those who resist gun control measures should be actively and consistently opposed, until NRA endorsements and contributions are seen as politically toxic.”

Human rights education gives us the tools to prevent acts of violence and teaches us how to fight against it when we see it. Like the students of Parkland, it is our duty to fight for our peace both at home and abroad. By fighting against the oversaturation of guns and regulating the market here in the United States, we can hope that the number of guns circulating through the black market, and ultimately Somalia, will decrease. As human rights activists, it is our duty to fight for peace. So, where do we go from here? We go toward peace.

Peace sign
peace. Source: Ken Swinson, Creative Commons

“Invest in peace, not war.”

To see more upcoming events hosted by the UAB Institute for Human Rights, please visit our events page here.

 

Disclaimer: emboldened quotations were provided by Dr. Samantha Nutt on the February 28, 2018 IHR Event.

Black Panther: A Game-Changing Film

A laughing boy.
Child laughing. Source: cheriejoyful, Creative Commons

On February 16, 2018, the revolutionary movie, Black Panther, was finally released for the world to enjoy.  The film provides the audience with a much-needed source of representation for the black community, both on and off-screen.  Black Panther is part of a revolutionary change in an industry that has historically disregarded people of color.

Depiction of Black Characters

It is easy to see that Black Panther is a game-changer in the film industry in relation to its production, but it also includes a much-improved depiction of black characters.  They are multi-dimensional and have their own personal histories and experiences.  They are not forced into any one single role, challenging the idea that people of minorities are limited to the surface-level narratives that society usually expects.  They are real people who have struggles, fears, and triumphs.  It lacks the stereotypes that films often use to create characters of color.  The normative roles given to black actors are often of dangerous criminals with limited education, such as drug dealers and con-artists.  These kinds of characters worsen the incorrect and harmful perception that much of society has of black men.  When black roles are actually given positive characteristics, they are still generally given littles depth, and are used as nothing more than support for the white main character.

The Black Panther himself, T’Challa, is not just a superhero (though his being a superhero is significant in itself).  He is the king of Wakanda and acts as a diplomat, representing and speaking on behalf of his country at the United Nations.  He is respectful of women and recognizes their value and strength, as seen through his female bodyguards, the Dora Milaje.  He does not let toxic masculinity impact his actions and has a strong connection to his family.  T’Challa is brave, intelligent, and compassionate, making him a well-developed main character and hero.

Even Eric Killmonger is given depth and undeniably human experiences.  If one seeks a traditional villain among the movies’ characters, most signs point to him.  All of his actions are focused around defeating the Black Panther and taking over the throne, and he does not care what it takes to do so.  However, if we look closer, the circumstances are not so black and white.  His anger towards T’Challa stems from the death of his father and Wakanda’s years of ignorance of the suffering of African Americans.  His primary goal in defeating T’Challa, is to send Wakandan resources to people facing oppression.  His methods were misguided, but his motivations are fairly easy to understand.

The development of Killmonger conveys the idea that we all think of ourselves as the hero in our own stories.  T’Challa sees himself as the hero, fighting to save the country he knows and loves.  Killmonger sees himself as the hero, trying to correct the wrongs of the past and seek what he believes to be justice.  The only thing that changes is the framework of the story, the perspective through which you are experiencing it.  In real life, the vast majority people make the choices they make because they believe they are doing the right thing (even when they are wrong).  While this does not excuse actions that harm other people or mean that everyone is concerned with doing the right things, it does suggest that wrongdoings are not independent events.  Every experience we have impacts the choices we make.  If we want to make the world a better place, we have to address the causes and events that have led to different negative situations.

People are complex.  The fact that this concept is explored in a film about characters of color is indescribably important because it goes against the stereotypes and archetypes that are often used to create such characters.  It gives the characters dimensions which reflect the human experience that connects all people.

Depiction of Women of Color

The film’s use of well-rounded characters does not end with those who are male.  The character stereotype of black women in films is loud and dramatic and is perceived as having an attitude problem.  They are considered bossy, aggressive, and sometimes even mean.  The female characters in Black Panther defy traditional expectations and radiate empowerment.  Black Panther depicts numerous powerful black women without objectifying and over-sexualizing them as many movies do.  They are just normal women.  Realistic, intelligent, kind, and brave. These characters stand on their own and serve a greater purpose than supporting the development the male characters.

Shuri, T’Challa’s half-sister, is a sixteen-year-old genius who leads the development of Wakandan technology.  She offers representation for increasing number of women and young girls, especially those of color, who aspire to be part of the STEM field.  She is not limited to being “the smart one.”  When the time comes, she is ready and more than willing to be part of the fight to protect her country.  In addition to her brilliance and strength, she is also equipped with a vibrant personality.

Okoye is a member of Dora Milaje, the group of women who act as bodyguards for the Black Panther.  She is a fierce warrior, dedicated to serving her people to the best of her ability.  She is strong and loyal, ready to sacrifice her relationship to do what is right for her country.  She would do anything to protect Wakanda.

Nakia is a Wakandan spy, who goes undercover in an effort to undermine human traffickers in the beginning of the film.  She takes action and puts herself in dangerous situations in order to help others.  Her work is her passion and main priority, and she refuses to sacrifice it for the sake of romance. She also encourages T’Challa to share the resources of Wakanda with the rest of the world.  She is driven and wants to make the world better place.  She is a world-shaker.

A smiling boy.
Jamaican. Source: Ashley Campbell, Creative Commons

Watching Black Panther as a White Woman

This film is not just important for the black community, or even just for minority groups.  It is important for white people to watch the film as well.  As a white woman, I originally went to watch Black Panther to simply support a film I knew was important for people of color and to enjoy the experience.  However, as I sat in a theater full of children of color, listening to their reactions to the dialogue and every plot twist, I truly believe that I gained a deeper understanding of the film’s importance.  The kids were excited and absorbed in every moment.  I realized the extent to which I am privileged to have characters I can identify with in just about every movie and television show.  It is something that I have taken for granted for a long time.

I also realized how important it is that black people have an increased opportunity to speak.  White people need to be close allies of course, but we should not dominate the conversation.  We need to support the creation and maintenance of platforms from which they can represent themselves.  We have a history of making everything about us, and we need to ensure that that does not continue.  In the past, white people have stolen land, enslaved entire nations of people, and destroyed families for their own selfish gain.  We now need to be a part of fixing the damage that our ancestors have caused and work to empower people of color in every way possible.

Why Does this Matter?

There are some people who question the importance of representation in the media.  They do not understand why it is so vital to have well-developed characters of color and female characters.  Dr. Christopher Bell provided a thorough explanation of this in his TED Talk, “Bring on the Female Superheroes!”  In his talk, Bell explains public pedagogy, or “how societies are taught ideologies.”  This involves concepts such as what it means to be a member of the different genders, how to behave while in public, and how to be polite.  According to Bell, we now live in a 100% media saturated society, meaning every part of our lives, including public pedagogy, is influenced by what we seen on television, in films, and on social media.  The characters and the people that children see through the media are key in their understanding of the world.  When children are unable to see people they identify with as leaders, scientists, or artists, it is difficult for them to see a future where they are doing those things.  The media you consume impacts your outlook on who you can be.

The film shows traditional gender roles being smashed through all its characters.  Women can be warriors, scientists, and world-changers. They can be protectors and leaders. Men can be compassionate and emotional. They do not have to fit into ‘traditional masculinity’.  People can support each other in their choices, regardless of how it fits societal expectations.  In the film, the country of Wakanda contains a society in which gender roles do not seem to apply.  The proposal of a woman becoming the leader and Black Panther is not questioned.  The king’s guards are women, and no one tries to fight it or questions the Dora Milaje’s ability to protect their leader.  All people are equal and are offered the same opportunities.

In addition to its being a huge leap in representation, the film also acts as a proof that change is possible.  More representation, better opportunities, and a better future are all within reach for marginalized groups.  It is crucial that we maintain this momentum.  The Black Panther film is an immense milestone, but there is still more to do.  There still needs to be more representation for the black community and similar representation for other people of color.  We need to work towards a future where such a representative film is a norm rather than an anomaly.

 

Orphan Fever: The Dark Side of International Adoption 

Adopting a child from a country foreign different from your own is a complicated and controversial practice. If done correctly, you have saved a parentless child from a life of probable poverty and despair. If done incorrectly, you have either aided organizations who coerce parents into giving their children up or even facilitated child abuse, if the individual institution is unethically managed. Even if the adoption is conducted using appropriate channels and oversight, the adopting families are not always well intentioned.

International adoption peaked in 2004 and has been declining ever since, in part because of increasing restrictions fueled by incidents of violence. The problems that surround international adoption are complex and deeply intertwined with a variety of factors. Race, gender, religion, culture, sexuality, and global inequality together form the sticky, problematic web of international adoption.

Two children stand in a circular entrance to a tunnel holding hands.
“Tomorrow and the Next Day and the Day After That.” Source: Thomas Hawk, Creative Commons. 

“Orphan Fever”

At the peak of international adoption in the United States nearly fifteen years ago, much of the hype was driven by religious organizations. Adoption became a primary social welfare issue in the early 2000s after American Evangelicals began to champion the issue. This is not to be taken as an explicitly negative phenomenon; some religious organizations are instrumental in protecting human rights violations for international orphans. Many individuals who adopted in the name of their religion have vibrant, happily integrated families. However, religiosity does provides a cover of moral legitimacy that often discourages scrutiny of organizations or individuals.

Adoption agencies are not legally required to be accredited, and many faith-based agencies are not. Only 303 organizations are accredited per international standards of the roughly 3,000 agencies that perform adoption services in the United States. Central to this issue is the white-savior industrial complex, a term coined by notable author and activist Teju Cole. Cole explains that white people (often Americans) tend to view less developed regions but most specifically Africa as “a backdrop for white fantasies of conquest and heroism.” Families sometimes adopt international children with perverse motivations of piety and applause. Children are stripped of their culture and forced to adapt to Western norms overnight, and face dire consequences when they cannot conform. Individuals have relayed being severely disciplined for hesitating to eat unfamiliar foods, not adapting to American norms for eye contact quickly enough, and for speaking their own languages. This is a direct violation of the human right to culture. Internationally adopted children have the right to fully experience their birth culture for the sake of human dignity and the preservation of that child’s identity.

Adoption Facts and Flaws

The majority of international adoptees (71%) in the United States from the last twenty years have come from one of five countries: China, Russia, Guatemala, South Korea, or Ethiopia. All five of these countries have increased restrictions on foreign adoption, accounting for 88% of the decline since 2004 (Source: Pew Research Center). The restrictions come on the heels of majorly publicized cases of abuse and/or deaths of international adoptees.

Abuse and deaths in intercountry adoptive families are common. Numerous appalling incidents involving the misfortune of adopted children have circulated in the media in the past few years. International adoption is a tricky subject. Exploitation can occur on a number of levels, as the adoption process includes a variety of actors. The adopting families, the adoption agency, and the source institution can all be separately complicit in unethical behavior. To amplify corruption, there is little to no legislation to identify or prosecute exploitation on any level. “Sending countries” or the countries which children are most frequently adopted from, have had to become increasingly strict on foreign adoption policies. This is one of the most critical issues – the sending countries, who are most often relatively disadvantaged compared to receiving countries, carry the burden to make major policy reform in order to protect their children from exploitation. International policy on intercountry adoption is scarce, vague, and often unenforced.

Policy Issues

While the international adoption system contains many flaws, the most identifiable fundamental issue is lack of oversight and policy. Adoptions are most often conducted through private, individual agencies who each have different standards of what the adoption process should look like. These private agencies operate without much restriction placed on their activity. It seems unacceptable to permit adoption to occur through non-accredited agencies, yet that is the current norm. Lack of accreditation creates a wider pathway for unethical behavior. The market for adopting children is huge and incredibly lucrative, as it is full of wealthy potential adoptive families. The desperation for many families to find and adopt a child can often generate more demand than the current supply of available children can sustain; this eventually leads to gaps in supply being filled by non-orphaned children who were either stolen, coerced through misinformation, or otherwise manipulated into leaving their families.

Three boys stare up at the camera, smiling.
“Curious Children at an Orphanage, Mumbai.” Source: Tobias Leeger, Creative Commons.

Internationally-Adopted Victims of Child Abuse

One of the most recent and infamous cases was that of Sherin Mathews, a three year old girl from India who had developmental disabilities. Sherin died in October of last year from allegedly choking on milk that she was being forced to drink, though her adoptive father has made various claims about the circumstances of her death. The three year old was missing for a period of time but was found in a culvert. The international community was in an uproar after this crime came to light, and India quickly adopted legislation to reduce foreign adoption.

Ethiopia made similar measures last month following similar stories of abuse, though this act still surprised many, as the country has been well known for their high frequency of international adoption. Ethiopian adoptee Hana Williams died at age thirteen from exposure after being forced to stay outside for hours as punishment. Hana was adopted by Carri and Larry Williams in 2008, but was quickly subjected to torturous conditions after Carri became dissatisfied with Hana’s maturity. Carri reportedly said, “I expected to adopt a little girl, not a half-grown woman,” as Hana began to menstruate shortly after arriving in the United States. The Williamses forced Hana to stay in a closet for upwards of ten hours at a time and required Hana to use an outdoor portable toilet, while the Williamses’ biological children were never subject to such misery. The night that Hana died, the entire Williams family spectavted and allegedly laughed as she staggered around naked for several hours in the cold, rainy backyard.

Two victims who survived their abuse are Guatemalan adoptee Carolina and Russian-born Leonid, who together endured years of physical and psychological torture from Kathleen and Martin O’Brian. The O’Brians were originally charged in 2012 of abusing their adopted children, including allegations of “locking them in a room with no bathroom, forcing them to kneel naked on sharp rocks and stand in a feces covered dog pen, and withholding food from them.” Both Carolina and Leonid have been happily adopted by different families after both Kathleen and Martin were found guilty, but will likely always retain the emotional and physical scars from the hellish O’Brian family. Russia banned foreign adoption the same year that the O’Brians were charged, as nineteen Russian children have died at the hands of foreign adoptive parents in the past twenty years. Stories of child abuse inflicted upon international adoptees are depressingly frequent. It is imperative to identify which flaws in the system are to blame for these horrible crimes, and how change can be enacted to prevent future suffering.

A man, face turned away from the camera, holds a sleeping baby.
“Air Force family adopts child from Ukraine.” Source: Dvidshub, Creative Commons.

Re-Homing

Despite the seemingly endless desperation to adopt, it is surprisingly easy to exchange children online with no legal intervention or monetary exchange. Re-homing communities exist in niches of the Internet, where families with adopted children post advertisements to give their “troublesome” children away. Reuters gave a detailed investigation of this practice in 2013, recounting several personal narratives of individuals who have either taken part in rehoming children, been re-homed themselves, or otherwise interacted with the re-homing community. Laws vary by state and have become more common since Reuter’s report incited brief public interest, but many states still only require the signature of a legal guardian to transfer custody to another adult. The exchange can occur privately without notifying any government officials, which creates a dangerous avenue for predators to easily obtain vulnerable children from desperate parents. Within Reuter’s report, multiple detailed accounts were given of children who were re-homed with individuals with documented pasts of abusing children physically, sexually, and emotionally. This occurred because the original adoptive parents did not thoroughly vet the family who was taking their child, a common experience among re-homing communities. One mother stated of her twelve year old adopted daughter, “I would have given her away to a serial killer, I was so desperate.”

Re-homing perseveres despite ethical quandaries due to the imminent need for post-adoption support for adoptive parents. Most agencies provide little to no support after the adoption process has been finalized, despite the difficulties that many families have in acclimating to the change. Reuters found that 70% of the children being re-homed were of international origin, and many of those children had behavioral problems indicative of some form of trauma or disability.

Several young orphans in matching uniforms stand in a grassy area, holding some types of tools.
“Orphanage.” Source: Clay Junell, Creative Commons.

The Path Ahead: Hope and Reform

The dark side of international adoption is one shrouded in mystery and corruption. Vulnerable children all over the world are being victimized on all levels within the process of adoption. Abuse can occur at the hands of adoptive parents, in re-homing families, by private non-accredited agencies, and within local orphanages. Considering that these children are already incredibly vulnerable (as many are already impacted by compound discrimination of race, disability, and class), this systematic abuse is particularly heinous. The United Nations’ Convention on the Rights of the Child fully secures and protects all human rights of children, and specifically requires that “the system of adoption shall ensure that the best interests of the child shall be the paramount consideration.” Shockingly, the United States is the only UN member nation who has not yet ratified the CRC. This is a blatant failure to protect the most vulnerable members of our population. America cannot remain complicit in such an exploitative system; it is truly reprehensible that our country is so heavily engaged in the adoption of vulnerable foreign children yet refuses to protect them. This is a failure for the global community as well — international community has accepted a flawed adoption system for far too long. Both domestic and international policy reform are essential to preserving and promoting the human rights and dignity of children.

Angélique Kidjo and the Importance of Education

On March 22, 2018, Grammy-award winning singer and human rights activist Angélique Kidjo will be speaking at the University of Alabama at Birmingham about the importance of education for girls and boys. Angélique is from Benin, a small country in West Africa; the IHR has previously published on challenges facing Benin on our blog, which may be found here. One pressing human rights concern facing the Beninese people is access to education. The Batonga Foundation, Angélique Kidjo’s non-profit organization states, in Benin, 3 out of 4 girls do not make it do middle school, and 1 in 3 girls get married before the age of 18. Per UNESCO, in 2015, only 48.93% of students enrolled in secondary education were female compared to 68.52% of enrolled male students in Benin. Lastly, in 2012, the female literacy rate for female population aged 15 – 24 in Benin was only 40.94%.

Grammy Award winner Singer / Songwriter and Unicef Goodwill Ambassador Angelique Kidjo visits Kazanchis Health Center in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia 11 November 2013. Photo by Jiro Ose

As Angélique explained to CNN, unlike the majority of girls in Benin, she grew up in a household that emphasized the critical necessity of education. Growing up with ten siblings and one paycheck, Angélique used to sing for extra money for her family. She eventually wanted to drop out of school and work as a full-time singer, however, her father insisted females should be educated and made dropping out of school non-negotiable.

“My education has empowered me so much: it gave me the confidence not only to sing but also to speak on CNN or BBC and to meet world leaders to lobby on the behalf of the women of Africa.”

– Angélique Kidjo, ONE

Primary and secondary education for all children is now accepted as a universal basic need and human right. Data from the World Bank highlights the sobering relationship between education and development. The poorest countries in the world have national secondary education enrollment rates of less than 35%, along with low levels of tertiary enrollment of less than 15% (Sachs 254). Higher education institutions are necessary “to ensure that there are qualified teachers, sufficient numbers of technical workers, and a generation of young people trained in public policy and sustainable development (Sachs 255).”

In many communities, cultural roles and expectations create substantial gender gaps in the division of household responsibilities, economic opportunities such as employment, access to job-training skills, and education levels. The burden of gender inequality has detrimental and disproportionate impacts on the economic security, poverty levels, health, nutrition and environmental safety of women worldwide. These can also be prevented. Education provides mothers and children the opportunity to break the cycle of poverty and fuel social mobility, which here refers to the change in social class and socioeconomic status of individuals or families.

The Ripple Effect of Education on Social Mobility

  • Educating women equates to higher economic productivity. Studies determine lower female enrollment rates in school is associated with lower GDP per capita. Specifically, UNICEF states in 2011 that one percentage point increase in female education increases the average level of GDP by 0.37 percentage points. As a result of basic education and skills, women are able to work and contribute to the economic growth and productivity of their country. Likewise, education plays a key role in endogenous growth – economic growth based on new technological breakthroughs, such as the internet and advancements in computer science using research and development (Sachs 271). The current revolution of new information and communication technology (ICT) is exceedingly dependent on trained individuals with advanced degrees in their fields of study. Research and development is deeply concentrated in high income countries due the complex interplay of successful management systems ranging from universities to high tech business companies, and even national laboratories (Sachs 273). The fundamental anchor for the success of these institutions is strong systems of higher education in sciences, public policy and engineering.

At the local level, educated women are able to work and provide for their families. UNICEF states every added year of primary school enhances girls’ ensuing wages by 10 – 20% and another 15-25% for every additional year of secondary school. Employment opportunities provides financial stability, and thus averts families from falling into poverty due to the parents’ ability to invest in their children’s human capital. Human capital is here defined as the “collective skills, knowledge, or other intangible assets of individuals that can be used to create economic value for the individuals, their employers, or their community.”

  • Educating women translates to reduced child mortality. The number one indicator for the survival of a child under the age of five is the mother’s education level. Education establishes health behaviors and customs that have a constructive impact on an individual’s health. Specifically,“Educated mothers have a greater ability to identify healthcare services for treating their child’s illnesses; higher receptivity to new health-related information; familiarity with modern medical culture; access to financial resources and health insurance; better decision-making power; and increased self-worth and self-confidence.” (Bado 2016)

Reduced child mortality breaks the intergenerational cycle of poverty of the future generation. First, healthy children and less likely to miss school and more likely to complete their education. Higher levels of education are associated with better socio-economic status. Second, healthy children grow up to be active members of society, and contribute to the productivity of their national economy. Third, families with healthy children can invest money into other areas of development and human capital such as education rather than health services.

  • Parental educational level is an important predictor of children’s educational outcomes. Educating women translates to increased chances of education for the next generation regardless of one’s social environment or income. Educated parents understand the critical relationship between education and social mobility, increasing the likelihood of putting their children through school. Likewise, educated parents have the financial means to help put their children through school. Lastly, parent education levels are associated with the parents providing children a more stimulating cognitive, emotional physical environment in the household. Motivating home environments have a positive influence on a child’s achievements and aspirations (Gunn 518-540).

“The association of  family income and parent’s education with children’s academic achievement was mediated by the home environment. The mediation effect was stronger for maternal education than for family income.”

Educating girls and women is the most cost-effective way to reduce poverty and improve quality of life. Education enables both national and local social return that continue to affect quality of life years after formal education is completed.

Female education is an imperative stakeholder in the development of women all over the world. Angélique Kidjo uses her voice and social influence to advocate for female education all over Africa. In 2002, Angélique Kidjo’s advocacy journey flourished as she became a UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador for education. As a Goodwill Ambassador, Angélique has campaigned for education on behalf of UNICEF by attending high level meetings, speaking and performing at public events, and granting media interviews. Her advocacy work continues to bring attention to these issues. Along with her work with UNICEF, Angélique founded a non-profit, the Batonga Foundation. Angélique created the word batonga which means “get off my back, I can be whoever I want to be.” According to Angélique, she created the word during her Junior year of high school to protect herself against male bullies at her school. The word confused the boys, who eventually left her alone. The Batonga foundation focuses on the education of women and girls throughout Africa. Their services focus on providing scholarships, book materials, latrines across schools, shoes for walking to schools, and access to girls clubs.

The IHR is proud to host Angélique Kidjo. On Thursday, March 22nd at 6:00 p.m., Angélique will present an educational lecture at the UAB Alys Stephens Center. This event is free and open to the public.

Additionally, on Friday, March 23rd at 8:00 p.m.,  Angélique Kidjo give a musical performance at the UAB Alys Stephens Center. Registration for her performance can be found at the UAB Institute for Human Rights website.

References:

Sachs, Jeffery. (2015). Enviornmental Sustainability and Peace. New York: Colombia University Press

Greg, D., Brooks-Gunn, J. (1997). The Consequences of Growing Up Poor. New York: Russell Sage Foundation

Covenants without the sword: International humanitarian law (IHL) and sexual violence

by LISA SHARLACH, PhD

Miss Jiuliancheng and the Russian soldier (Kyûrenjô no heiki). Source: LOC Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division 2009630462.

**Trigger warning: this blog speaks about sexual violence against women.

How do we stop sexual violence in civil war?  My goal is not to offer a comparative assessment of various tactics to stop war rape.  Instead, I look at the ineffectiveness of one particular tactic – law, both domestic and international.  In the mid-1600s, Thomas Hobbes wrote that “covenants, without the sword, are but words, and of no strength to secure a man at all”.  Unfortunately, even today, international law and, to a large degree, domestic law on rape in conflict have not had the backing of the proverbial sword of justice.  No legal code condones rape, whether in war or peace. Regardless, as I demonstrate in the book manuscript I am completing, the international community and individual states’ willingness to prosecute the crimes has been lacking.  The end result has been near-complete impunity for wartime rapists.

This topic is not one limited to academia.  The London Summit of 2014 increased popular awareness of the problem of wartime rape.  Grassroots activists and transnational human rights organizations, such as Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch, have amassed country-specific information on sexual violence and, in their words, “demanding accountability” from governments.  These are positive steps, but insufficient.  Condemnation alone has not stopped mass rape.  For example, newspaper and television stories, human rights watchdog organizations’ reports, and U.N. General Assembly resolutions all condemned the political use of rape by ethnic Serbs in Bosnia-Herzegovina in the early 1990s.  However, none of this prevented Serbian soldiers and paramilitaries from using similar rape warfare tactics against ethnic Albanian women and girls in Kosovo in 1999.

The book I am finishing focuses on few case studies of mass rape:  Bangladesh; Cambodia;  Guatemala;  Peru;  Bosnia-Herzegovina;  Rwanda;  and India. (Rapists may, of course, target anyone, but the preponderance of these attacks have been upon women and girls).  I assess patterns and the scope of rape in these conflicts, and the miniscule numbers of convictions that courts and tribunals were able to secure for the rapists thereafter.  That only an infinitesimal fraction of rapes in the conflicts were ever prosecuted, much less convicted, sends a message to combatants today that they, too, most likely will be able to rape, if they so desire, without fear of punishment.

Bangladesh, Cambodia, Bosnia-Herzegovina, and Rwanda have tried or are trying sexual violence through international tribunals and/or truth commissions; the process has been expensive and ineffective.  In these countries’ civil wars combined, hundreds of thousands, perhaps even a million, rapes took place.  Only a couple of hundred sexual violence cases ever actually appeared before an international tribunal in all these countries combined, and the numbers of convictions is, of course, even lower.  The total number of rapes or other episodes of sexual violence in these countries that went to any sort of trial at all is approximately seven thousand.   The vast majority of these appeared in Rwanda’s informal gacaca courts, and a sizeable number were tried in the national courts of Bosnia-Herzegovina.   The percentage of the seven thousand or so trials that resulted in conviction of the rapist is unknown.  When there are only a few thousand convictions for hundreds and hundreds of thousands of rapes, the unintended message sent by the tribunals to militants around the world is that they can almost certainly rape – and get away with it.

This finding is likely to make one despair of the value of international law in convicting wartime rape.  Unfortunately, the lesson learned from the case studies concerning the efficacy of national courts in this regard is that they are no better.  In India, Peru, and Guatemala, advocates have used the national court system to try to win justice for survivors of mass rape.  Guatemala and Peru have each convicted two of the men determined to have raped in those countries’ protracted, Cold War-era “dirty wars.” In India, only a few men have been found guilty of rape during the 2002 communal violence in Gujarat.  (Throngs of Hindu-nationalist men gang-raped hundreds of Muslim women, most of whom they burned to death immediately thereafter.  Their incineration, a Hindu funerary ritual, precluded a Muslim burial – and also destroyed forensic evidence, which in India is necessary to prosecute most instances of rape. The only Hindu women similarly attacked had Muslim husbands).  In sum, one may count on one’s hands the total number of men found guilty of raping during the riots in Gujarat, India and the wars in Guatemala and Peru combined, even though these instances of mass rape transpired at least fifteen and most often not quite forty years ago.

At present, legal covenants, whether domestic or international, are clearly an ineffective deterrent to rape in conflict.  The question of what might be a better deterrent is a subject open for much-needed discussion.  It is likely that Thomas Hobbes would suggest that “the sword,” or military might, is required, as law – words on paper – is meaningless without it.

In some instances of genocide or gross ethnic/racial inequality, such as during apartheid in South Africa, international actors have, in conjunction with domestic forces, deemed a violation of the norm of sovereignty to be warranted.  Third party governments, coalitions, or armies have intervened and stopped the killing, and, in the case of South Africa, pressured the white oligarchy to give up its monopoly on political power. Why should instances of gross sexual inequality – resulting in mental trauma, bodily injury and even death — matter less?

In recent history, there has been no international intervention intended specifically to protect women’s human rights, although mass rape has been used by governments as additional legitimization for a military campaign that was already underway for other reasons.  An example is President George W. Bush’s frequent allusion to Saddam’s alleged “rape rooms” as one justification for the U.S. invasion.  We do not know that these “rape rooms” ever existed; Bush ceased referring to them after the photographs of sexual violence at occupied Iraq’s Abu Ghraib prison became public.  We are all familiar with the rape accompanying the wars in Syria and in South Sudan;  with the kidnappings and sexual slavery perpetrated by ISIL and by Boko Haram;  and with the daily femicides, or sexualized murders, of women in Central America for which almost no one is ever charged, much less convicted.  And, to date, world leaders seem helpless to stop such increasingly open and aggressive sexual violence.  As long as the international community demurs that violence against women is of little consequence, a cultural practice, a matter of course or of nature, an unfortunate side-effect of ethnic rivalry, a domestic rather than an international problem, not a threat to our vital security interests, or a private affair, then the use of rape as a political weapon is likely to continue and perhaps even to increase.

 

 

Lisa Sharlach is an Associate Professor of Government and the Director of Women’s and Gender Studies at the University of Alabama, Birmingham. She received her Ph.D. from the University of California, Davis, in political science. The focus of her research is the intersection of ethnicity, gender, and political violence.

Neither Voice nor Representation: When and Where I Enter

Photo shows Mrs. Ella Watson by Gordon Parks
Photo shows Mrs. Ella Watson by Gordon Parks. Source: Library of Congress, Creative Commons.

**The first March from Selma to Montgomery occurred fifty-three years ago yesterday. Today is International Women’s Day. This blog post is meant to honor both.

As mentioned in part one of this blog, enfranchisement is the act of participating in the political process, namely through voting. It is the acknowledgement and acceptance of citizenship. White men determined and established citizenship for themselves as leaders in the public and political sphere during the founding of the United States. By securing citizenship for themselves, an automatic disenfranchisement of white women, Natives and the enslaved occurred.

The perception of female inferiority finds evidence in the engendered stratification implemented by the founding fathers. Identified as property and void of personal agency rendered women fully reliant upon men. Married women looked after the home and land while the rearing and socializing the children. The labelling of single women as witches and heretics remained commonplace by the religious elite. The depiction of female enslaved as promiscuous and animalistic positioned them at the bottom of the gender and race spectrum. This position for Black women becomes a point of division as the fight for enfranchisement persists.

With the establishment of the laws of the land, women began to resist because as Abigail Adams suggests in a 1776 letter to Mercy Otis Warren, “we would not hold ourselves bound by any laws in which we had neither a voice nor representation.” Adams reveals she threatened her husband, John Adams with a rebellion of a “Tribe more numerous and powerful than all the rest…” he scoffed at the idea. Sarah Moore Grimke wrote in 1838 that men selfishly subjected women to their will for sexual pleasures and promotion of their egos. The subjugation of women finds roots in the unwillingness of men to see women achieve their full potential.

Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony, along with Lucretia Mott challenged the political establishment and their regulated domestic life during the 1848 Women’s Convention at Seneca Falls, New York. During the convention, the women pronounced the “Declaration of Sentiments and Resolutions”, in which they changed the US Declaration of Independence by adding “and women” and “her” to each relevant statement. Frederick Douglass, orator and former enslaved person, spoke at the convention as a proponent for the acknowledgment of women as citizens. His push to include Blacks as a part of the campaign brought about a significant turning point for suffrage.

The purpose of the Seneca Falls Convention was to facilitate the procurement of the ballot for women, but not for all women: only white women. Following the Emancipation Proclamation and at the height of the Reconstruction Era, Douglass and Sojourner Truth lamented at the lack of solidarity that manifested in the failure to recognize Blacks as citizens. Douglass’ desire for the inclusivity of Blacks brought a division within the movement. For him, as Davis writes, Black suffrage was an emergency measure. “The ballot was not a means of ensuring…hegemony in the South. It was basically a survival measure—a means of guaranteeing the survival of the masses of his people.” The 13th, 14th, and 15th amendments granted citizenship rights to Blacks on paper and ‘under the law’; however, the right to the ballot for Americans of African descent, especially women, stalled under the discriminatory practices of the Jim Crow laws of the South.

The implementation of literacy tests, grandfather clauses, and poll taxes stripped the enfranchisement of Blacks created equally by their Creator but not under the law. The 1898 civil rights case of Plessy vs Ferguson confirmed the notion of “separate but equal”, further reducing American citizens of African descent to second-class. The work of Cady Stanton, Anthony, and Mott achieved fruition in 1920 with the 19th amendment, granting the right to vote to women. The path for Blacks to the ballot box remained marred for the subsequent 45 years.

The political system continues to rest on inequality. Cain argues that the expression of a true democracy is political equality. He suggests that those who view (and viewed) the Voting Rights Act of 1965 as a provision that allowed special treatment for Blacks fail to see the democratic system that favors one race or class over another as exclusively flawed and unjust. The decision to rationalize the discrepancy gives rise to a white populism. White populism, or white backlash as mentioned by Dr. King, becomes the expressive mode for the frustrations and concerns of whites who seek their claim to democracy through “referendums, recalls, and initiatives.” These referendums, recalls, and initiatives like gerrymandering and rezoning districts, denying restoration of voting rights to the formerly incarcerated, and closing DMVs for the purpose of limiting access to state identification for Black American constitutes constitutional and human rights violations.

The political establishment received a powerful blow in December 2017 by a group of unlikely citizens: Black women. Black women, including the former incarcerated, in Alabama, secured the victory for Senate nominee Doug Jones. Jones prosecuted and brought about the conviction of a klansman involved in the 16th Street Baptist Church bombing that killed Addie Mae Collins, Carole Robertson, Cynthia Wesley, and Denise McNair on September 15, 1963. The historic victory challenges the racist and sexist undercurrent of American politics because as Anna Julia Cooper remarked, “Only the Black Woman can say ‘when and where I enter, in the quiet undisputed dignity of my womanhood, without violence and without suing or special patronage, then and there the whole Negro race enters with me.” The enfranchisement of Black women—women excluded from the political and social narrative—brings about both the voice and the representation of all citizens.