This week's editor
Rosemary Bechler is openDemocracy’s Editor.
Rosemary Bechler is openDemocracy’s Editor.
Mandela: the global icon
At the Group of Eight (G8) summit in Heiligendamm, Germany, on 6-8 June 2007, leaders of the world's richest countries will reaffirm their desire to promote democracy and development on the world's poorest continent. But at the same time, they risk undermining those ideals by welcoming Nigeria's fraudulently elected president into their midst as a partner. Unless the G8 countries use the occasion of the summit to speak out on Nigeria, they risk doing real damage to their own goals in Nigeria and across the continent.
As the German-led G8 summit begins in Heiligendamm this week, activists are taking the opportunity to press European leaders on commitments to Africa made at Gleneagles in 2005, before the presidency passes out of Europe again. While many people see those commitments as a real landmark and celebrate the increase in aid to Africa, especially from the UK, far too little attention is apparently being paid to the use and impact of such official aid. Indeed, the congratulatory air that currently emanates from senior staff in both the aid and non-government aid agencies in the UK around the poverty agenda appears to me seriously misplaced.
One of the important tasks of the 21st century is redefining social concepts. I would like to start redefining the word "peace". The main question here is whether peace means the absence of war. In other words, if a country is not involved in a war, do the people of that country live in a green peace?
For the first time, gender equality has been on the G8's agenda this year, under Germany's presidency. Women's rights and women's role in development have been championed by Bundesministerin Heidemarie Wieczorek-Zeul of the German Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ) in collaboration with civil society and in official discussion forums prior to the G8 summit of 6-8 June 2007.
In 1999, my sister Naela was killed in the streets of Jerusalem. Naela was a public-health consultant who dedicated her career to the rights to life and justice. But her death, as much as it devastated and distressed me, opened a tiny window of hope.
I have just returned from the first conference organised by the Nobel Women's Initiative May 2007 where strong and brave women's-rights activists from around the world - Afghanistan to Somalia, Burma to Uganda - shared their stories and work. Amid violence and mayhem, these women are creating amazing networks and capacities to help repair and rebuild their societies.
At the end of the last century Hawa Gréou spent five years in prison in France. Those years, she said, were the happiest of her life. She was able to pray to Allah in peace in a little room of her own; never mind that it was locked and that she could not walk in the courtyard during recreation because veils are not allowed in French prisons.
In Africa, globalisation builds on a history of slavery, colonialism and exploitation - a fact many recognize to have a continuing impact on the continent's experiences of the global economy. But globalisation also interacts with a history of gender inequality, casting a long shadow over the present and the futures of Africa's women. This combination harshly limits the lives and hopes of the female half of the population, while holding back a whole continent's people.
Far from being a disembodied force, globalisation takes place through people, organizations and institutions, who together determine its direction. Equality and fundamental human rights are now enshrined in the basic instruments of today's international community and are central to our vision of a democratic society. But the fine words of these documents stand in sharp contrast to the daily reality of millions of women.
These past two weeks, I have been blogging the United Nations meeting of the Commission on the Status of Women (CSW) for openDemocracy.
It was too easy for an ambitious tea-lady to exploit the indecisive MD at The Lemon Press. He could always be found by the photocopier, comforting the work experience girl. As she cried, he murmured: "stick with it, something will come up..."
Rattling her trolley along, Ms Slivovitz noticed the lump straining in the pleats of Maxwell Wynne's yellow corduroy trousers. His face remained softly sympathetic as he handed the girl a bundle of paper. "We need ten of these for the meeting. It's the new Armaminta Clark gardening novel. We're getting nibbles from Japan."
Otto was holding her chandelier as if it were a skirt. He was looking under it for loose wires. "Antiques are complicated. This won't be easy."
She could smell his fresh sweat and the cotton smell of his dark blue overalls, as he stood over her on the stool. He was a typical Scandinavian hard-working man, six feet tall, blond, quiet, looking down at her.
"Would it be too expensive to fix?"
He let the chandelier hang freely. Screwdriver in hand, he caught her gaze and smiled.
"How about an old-fashioned exchange of goods?"
Iranians are the first to know how easy it is for a whole nation to be reduced to the rants of a senseless politician, or for images of a handful of shroud-wearing crazies burning the American flag in Tehran to reach the western media's front-pages. But how easy is it for thousands of Iranian teachers protesting outside the Iranian majlis (parliament) - as they did on Saturday 3 March 2007 - to merit any attention?
The past three years have seen a stream of reports - in Britain and elsewhere - on Muslims and education. In a post-11 September 2001 context of rising religious fundamentalism across all faiths, this does not surprise groups such as the international network Women Living Under Muslim Laws (WLUML). Its 2002 conference and research it published in 2004 on the "warning signs of fundamentalisms" found education and youth to be a major ideological battleground between the authoritarian religious right and secular and pluralist forces.
When do you think women and girls were finally deemed to have "human rights" by the world's nations?
In the wake of the second Lebanon war and in the face of an Iranian nuclear threat, Israel's politicians and generals focused on their country's national security at the recent Herzliya Conference. Parallel to that high-profile annual event - which provides a platform for the prime minister, the military's general chief of staff and others to articulate policy - Israeli women's and peace organisations gathered to offer an alternative view: to examine security issues from a feminist perspective.
This is an "only in America" story that takes place in the small, conservative state of South Dakota. A few months ago, the national media were obsessed with this state's effort to ban all abortions. Recently, the story has faded, eclipsed by other electoral news, most notably the sharply worsening situation in Iraq and domestic scandals. But the effort to forbid all abortions is far from an insignificant matter.