Saturday, March 31, 2012

Freedom From Fear. The world needs Aun San Suu Kyi's win!

I am eagerly waiting to see if the voters in her Kawhmu vote in Aun San Suu Kyi and do the world proud. I cannot sleep. I wan to see the results of her campaign.  Two years ago when she was still under house arrest four of us in Nairobi held vigil for the night of her birthday. We sent our energies to her. Now I believe she is marching to the top. She has only just begun. She has got to help the world focus more sincerely on what democracy really is. We have to unite for good and undo the union with evil that comes from our history.

You might not know this but the British rule took our uncles and grandfathers from Kenya and other African countries to fight in Burma in the Second World War.  Whey should we not unite with her now in the struggle for freedom? That night we as women did our bit to accompany her. We had invited the late Wangari Maathai to the vigil in Nairobi but she was in Australia and busy on a trip, serving the world.  Now Aung San Suu Kyi is free. She is still working hard for democracy. This is a life we can never ignore and in focusing on it, we see so many others. Tonight, she is The Lady with the light.

And her win and the road to democracy for Burma should mean something for Kenya, Mali, Sudan, Somalia, Mauritania, Gabon, Ethiopia, Eritrea, Egypt, Equatorial Guinea, Niger, Chad Zimbabwe and all countries on earth that are under oppression. She has much to offer to the world. Aung San Suu Kyi's name should ring in Syria, Palestine, Israel, the USA, South America, Iran and Iraq and in Afghanistan. Her triumph should matter in Tahrir Square, in Tunisia and all lands of the Arab Spring. It has to matter in Germany and elsewhere in Europe where the right wing is setting the pace against a world that believes in people. It needs matter in Scandinavia where even if long strides have been taken, still women need to be heard and felt more, where still the girl faces challenges in a different way.  We should not look at Burma as a remote place where people have not understood for long. It matters to the world that Burma burns in people power tonight through the vote.

In his foreword to her book, Desmond Tutu of South Africa, writing at a time she had been set free did not hesitate to position her as he should have. "Aung San Suu Kyi is free. How wonderful - quite unbelievable. I tis so very like when Nelson Mandela walked out of prion on that February (11*) day of 1990, and strode with so much dignity into freedom. And the world was thrilled at the sight."Mandela was in prison for 27 years and Aung San Suu Kyi under house arrest for 15 years. She is seasoned in deprivation and enriched in what one learns when their only companion is oppression.
"Aung San Suu Kyi cannot be silenced because she speaks the truth and because her words reflect basic Burmese and universal concepts!" Vaclav Havel in a foreword to her book, Freedom from Fear.

For most of us, Aung San Suu Kyi is only beginning her march to the presidency and Burma is making history.

I know the political path is tough. I have been there. What is important is to be steadfast in one's beliefs in spite of the difficulties particularly a woman has to endure on this path. I have heard Aung San saying in her campaigns that stones were thrown at her. Thus respond cowards when they see that the spirit of a person is able to burn deep into the peoples' consciousness. I have empathised with her when she said that her campaign venues were not being respected. I remembered a day I arrived at the last campaign venue and found my opponent a very well heeled old man had his vehicles all over the field and I could not hold my last rally in the village where I was born.

So I reflect on something beautiful. That Aung San Suu Skyi has not given up the struggle ever. And this inspite of so many difficulties. She acknowledges the role other people have played their part in the struggle for freedom in Burma. She knows that she is not the only one.

I read her old address in Rangoon in 1988. It is a speech to a  mass rally at the Shwedagon Pagoda. It is moving to see how long she has stayed the course to this day of 31st of March 2012 when she is exhausted in her campaign and aware that manipulation could be used to make her lose. I do not want to think about that.

In that address so long ago, she is explaining that living away from home and being married to a foreigner did not take away her love for her land. ""It is true that I have lived abroad. It is true that I am married to a foreigner. These facts have never interefered and will never interfere with or lessen my love and devotion for my country by any measure or degree."

" Democracy is the only ideology wich is consistent with freedom. It is also an ideology that promotes and strengthens peace. It is therefore the only ideology we should aim for."

Her involvement in the movement for Burma's freedom was very political. But people everrywhere take long to believe in women. There is a proverb in my mother tongue about that and it makes me very impatient.  But Aung San Suu Kyi is very patient.  "Another thing that people are saying is that I know nothing about Burmese politics. The trouble is that I know too much. My family knows best how complicated and tricky Burmese politics can be and how much my father had to suffer on this account."

I am waiting to hear that Aung San Suu Kyi has won. That she is freer again! The faith of Aung San Suu Kyi and her film - The Lady must become more popular than just her person . No matter what, she is a winner! But in this regard, many lands in Afrika and elsewhere must only just begin. To search for democracy and to live it as if it mattered for our next breath because it does, and especially so for the women and youth!

"We must make democracy the popular creed. We must try to build up a free Burma in accordance with such a creed. If we should fail to do this, our people are bound to suffer. If democracy should fail the world cannot sit back and just look on, and therefore Burma would one day, like Japan and Germany, be despised. Democracy is the only ideology wich is consistent with freedom. It is also an ideology that promotes and strengthens peace. It is therefore the only ideology we should aim for."

Monday, March 19, 2012

Rape: Amina of Morocco kills herself? the IMF & Human Rights

Amina Filali, of Morocco, only 16 years old was supposed to be married off to a man who raped her. Instead she chose death in the month in which the women of the world celebrate International Womens' Day. A huge campaign against Morocco's article 475 started. It was alive on the streets and passionate. It was rolling off in tweets, fb and many social fora. But Amina Filali is no more. She committed suicide. Was it Amina Filali who killed herself or the rape supported by the law of Morocco in article 475? I understand her thoughts. The day is cursed and the soil of a land where this is practice. It is debasement of the highest order. Most of us condemn this situation in the strongest words possible, in all languages and including body language. Our memories are stirred deep for rape bestrides a so called progressive world, a global village. We shall not relent. The solutions must be global.

Rape. It does not matter where it occurs and to who, rape is a hideous crime. It cannot be 'rewarded' in any way and least of all with marriage as is done in some countries. Justice must be done and not delayed. To tolerate rape in families is criminal. To make a woman marry a rapist is to do that. There are many unspoken deeds of incest and rape. Experts say that rape is more commonly commited by those who are close to us and not strangers. No community should allow any custom to cover up rape. The solution to the problem should be close to us, just as the perpetrators are. Within family rape must be shamed and named. No violence is purely domestic. Rating high among abuses of human rights in the world, rape must also feature high on the global agenda in monetary terms. 

I cannot imagine how it is for women who have had to live with someone who violated their being. It is an ubearable thought but a certain reality in the Middle East and other parts of the world.  The strategies to overcome this henious crime should be visible to all  everywhere. The strategies should be perpetually alive and in many ways. They should be abuzz in social media where everyone seems to be after and during working hours, during travel and in dreams.

Silence came too soon after UN soldiers raped women they were supposed to defend in the DRC Congo in the intense rape zone of Kivu. Crimes committed by westners disappear like shooting stars from our media. Not that anyone holds the light in Darfur very persistently. Instead there is consistent scandal. 

In the last few months, anyone who has worked with human rights must have been truly concerned about the devaluation of rape in the world.  No one has forgotten the case of Julius Assagne, the accusations and the trivialisation of rape. For indeed when he was accused of rape in the storm of the Wikileaks things went into a surreal gear. This is not to say if he had been guilty he should not have been accused; but we all remember how everything was muddled up and then, the silent disappearance from the eye of the media and many being left wondering just what was what.

It was a deadly blow to the real survivors of rape to have had a man in the limelight accused of rape in the moment he was  being lionised by many for the Wikileaks. In the end it was more about rape being used and the Swedish law versus the UK law and the US law. This did not leave women and rape in a better standing. We firm unshakeable grounds on rape with balance sheets as real as  money is in the IMF. The West and Europe's leaders stay awake at night when the Euro is sick but not when Amina commits suicide because she like many women cannot live with rampant abuse and be said to be alive. Is there a real conviction for human rights?

Let us prod the recent past a little further. There is Dominique Strauss the boss of the IMF then. His swift arrest from a plane and the accusations caused a stir in the world of those informed. It was with baited breath that many waited. And then the unexpected happened. He walked away free. Many were saying, 'You see, these women are always after rich men and fixing them.'  The woman from the Gambia, his accuser, became a liar who had lived on the same lie of being raped happily, it was reiterated. We were told she enjoyed saying she was raped so that she could get to live in Europe. Many hung their head in shame.  What is missing in this picture?

I said to a friend that am prepared to bet that in the hospitality industry and in high society hotels women are part the service 'given', 'negotiated' or 'organised' for those who would. I hear that the Strauss is being investigated with connection to a prostitute ring connected to hotels.  Of course his wife might be right in saying he is innocent but such words have come from the lips of many wives.

 So nothing appeases the mind that wants to see rape addressed as it should be. If we cannot win on this for women and for a better society then essence is lost. There was a French journalist in the middle of the two events. Her case was against Dominique Strauss too and it was quashed. It is great that Dominique Strauss is no longer the head of the IMF and Christine Lagarde has taken over.

Rape. Norwegian newspapers are still reporting that the year 2011 had the highest number of rapes in a long time. The sad thing is that one does not see a visible anti-rape campaign in Norway. One does see an ocassional poster against spitting with a huge ugly mouth. I have seen some TV debates on the topic but I have not seen as I used to see in Nairobi any sign posted to indicate dangerous grounds for women. Yes, I have heard there are escorts and that girls have been adviced not to drink late and walk through parks. But this reminds me that it is clear that the victim is often seen as the perpetrator. Debunk the myths.

The latest headline I saw in Aftenposten about this topic screamed that only one man had been judged out of 96 cases of rape in courts. Many are incensed by the slow pace in this but they are continue saying it to the media in a country where one has got to wonder about the percentage of the readers of newspapers. There is no activism in the air.

But Amina Filali, and between her and the few mentioned cases there are thousands of women, is dead. At 16 she chose to die. I saw a demonstration in Rabat in the wake of her death. I am not seeing it taking the dimensions of the Arab Spring. Perhaps the revolution in the Arab speaking world does not touch the women?

Amina Filali reminded me of Mohamed Bouazizi of Tunisia. But I look and see that women are far behind in these days of the Arab Spring. Where is the revolution that will cast out laws like law 475 in Morocco? How can a 16 year old get married to a man who raped her or any man for that matter? Is this tenable in our days? In1946 the Universal Declaration of Human Rights was published in Europe. Has it reached the Middle East? Is this Declaration  where our money is?

 I was watching Christine Lagarde on a BBC documentary. No doubt a formidable woman. She said she was no longer French nor for that matter European because the IMF is a global concern. I am glad to note that I can therefore say that Christine Lagarde is Moroccan and also Mexican? Christine Lagarde also stated that she is happy to see women in high positions obviously because she is a woman and secondly because if women are absent we cannot talk of democracy. And true even when one watches global channes such as CNN and BBC one has to wonder where the gender balance is even in interviews. Count the number of women interviewed versus men on any show and publish the statistics.  On one of these channels men sat around the table by themselves discussing leadership! That is just unbelievable.

I go back to Christine Lagarde and the IMF and rape. For I think it is very urgent that we put our money where our mouth is. I am disappointed to find old articles which are reminding the IMF that money must be connected to human rights more seriously. I am sad because it would appear that this has been a concern for many for years. I am not talking about sanctions just now even though that should apply in some instances. I am talking about the Head of the IMF going to Mexico and other countries in search of money because the European economy is shaken. Lagarde in that documentary is asking Mexico for money. Of course IMF may ask for the money where she will.  But I am thoroughly disappointed to see that the journalists interviewing Christine Lagarde do not ask her how the IMF could take money from Mexico and not talk about the rampant abuse of human rights in Mexico. Why? How many journalists die in Mexico for daring to probe rights issues?

It would appear strange to me that the IMF considers sanctions or some form of punishment for the non-compliant but will on the other hand take money where it is to be found and that includes Mexico, without a warning to the giving government regarding  human rights abuses.

One of the article I read about IMF and human rights quotes 'Development is Freedom'by Armayrta Sen. It states that freedom of expression is a fundamental basic for the fight against poverty. This is a  clear idea which one can easily understand.
In my view, we cannot speak to Mexico only about supporting Europe and not insist at the same time that human rights violations to cease. For accountablity for the many writers and journalists who have been killed in Mexico in recent memory is our duty and the West must come out strongly or forget about human rights ever being taken seriously by some governments.

I am convinced that for things to work for women as Christine Lagarde says she would like to see, we must essentially change our ways of working. The Human Rights agenda must not be something we say for the screen. It must be real. We must put good money in for Human Rights. We need to act fast on this for if not, in countries like Morocco, there will be no change at all. Young women will continue to  commit suicide to escape the shackles of outdated laws and Dafur, Kivu and other parts of the world will bleed to death. I would like to see the key turning both ways. I would like to hear the IMF speak clearly and strongly condemning human rights abusers. I would like to hear the IMF speak out against rape and tell member countries that this an urgent matter which should be discussed whenever a chance arises I would like the IMF not to beg money from countries that have it and have made it whilst abusing human rights.  

  We cannot do business with dictators or people who have unjust laws and say we are working for global stability. Commitment must be real and organising has to be many notches higher.