Stopping the scourge of rape, domestic violence, acid attacks, and honor killings perpetrated against women internationally has been an important priority for Secretary Clinton, an unflagging advocate for women and girls. And the Senate Foreign Relations Committee took an important step toward advancing that priority yesterday when it approved the International Violence Against Women Act (IVAWA).
IVAWA, drafted after consultations with more than 40 women's groups in developing countries and more than 100 experts and other organizations, will support local NGOs addressing the problem of violence against women and girls. The problem will be tackled through various means, such as services for survivors, economic-empowerment programs, girls' education, and legal and judicial training programs.
The act targets countries where violence against women and girls is rampant, but where three things are going for them, according to an op-ed by Ritu Sharma of Women Thrive Worlwide: The national government is receptive (or at least not opposed) to anti-violence efforts, local women's groups are active and ready to expand, and the United States has a positive relationship with the country.
As Clinton said last week at the TEDWomen conference, women's issues are a security issue. Sen. Benjamin Cardin, an original co-sponsor of IVAWA, referred to that rationale when hailing the bill in a statement yesterday, stating:
The Joint Chiefs of Staff stated that one of the most effective forces for defeating extremism is female safety and education. Violence against women undermines the effectiveness of existing U.S. investments in global development and stability, whether fighting HIV/AIDS, increasing basic education, or creating stability in Afghanistan and Pakistan.
The bill was approved with an amendment that constrains the funding the act would receive if passed. A news release from the Foreign Relations Committee states: "Chairman [John] Kerry offered an amendment in response to concerns raised by Republicans and some faith-based groups. Among other things, the amendment reduces authorization levels to 'such sums' in order to focus on existing resources. While the use of new funds is possible, the focus is on transparency, accountability, inclusion, and longevity."
Sadly, too many lawmakers seem to have difficulty coughing up funds to help marginalized women in developing countries, while spending billions on pork-barrel projects. But supporting women benefits us all. As Clinton said at TEDWomen last week:
Give women equal rights, and entire nations are more stable and secure. Deny women equal rights, and the instability of nations is almost certain. The subjugation of women is, therefore, a threat to the common security of our world and to the national security of our country.
Next step for the bill: Get passed by the Senate and House by the end of the year.
Arif Ali/AFP/Getty Images
Here's an amusing anecdote that Secretary Clinton told during her speech last week at the TEDWomen conference. It illustrates how education and economic empowerment can slowly, but surely advance the well-being of women and girls:
I love this story about a teenage girl and a cow, which drives home the challenge but also the opportunity that we face today. This teenage girl's father expected to force her into an early marriage, but she had been to school and she received a cow, perhaps through the Heifer Project, designed to encourage her to stay in school. When her father demanded that she drop out of school and get married, she said no. When he insisted, she insisted right back. And finally, she pulled out her trump card -- "If I leave and get married, I'm taking my cow." (Laughter.) "That cow belongs to me." So, guess what? She stayed in school. She was spared an early marriage all because her father couldn't bear to part with the cow. (Laughter.)
But the lesson goes beyond the human nature of the story. Even a small intervention can change a girl's life.
Clinton didn't say what country the girl was in, but the give-a-girl-a-cow program appears to at least exist in Bangladesh. The information provided with the 2008 Getty photo above of a teenage girl in rural Bangladesh says that she acquired her cows through a program that provides financial investment for adolescent girls and is funded by the Bangladeshi NGO BRAC (Bangladesh Rural Advancement Committee) and the Nike Foundation.
Brent Stirton/Getty Images
Secretary Clinton was a surprise speaker at the TEDWomen conference in D.C. yesterday. I haven't seen a transcript of her talk yet, but according to the @TEDWomen Twitter feed she said, "Give women equal rights, and an entire nation is more stable, more secure." Here are a couple of other Clinton-related tweets from @TEDWomen:
- Hillary Clinton: Women's issues are a vital interest of the US. It is a security issue, a prosperity issue, a peace issue
- In reviewing a key US defense & diplomacy policy, Hillary Clinton made sure women were represented throughout
Update, Dec. 14, 2010, 5:31 p.m.: Click here for an amusing anecdote Clinton told about how a cow can change a girl's life.
U.S. Department of State/Flickr
Secretary Clinton has most likely just finished speaking (she was scheduled to speak at 12:30 p.m.) at the TEDWomen conference here in D.C., where according to the @TEDWomen Twitter feed, she said, "Give women equal rights, and an entire nation is more stable, more secure."
In recognition all the varying degress of challenges that women and girls across the world face, here are a few recent links pertaining to the subject:
•"Ending child marriage helps communities across the developing world" (Washington Post op-ed by Desmond Tutu and Mary Robinon)
•"'Second Shift' Pressure High on Indian Working Women" (Wall Street Journal)
•"Poll Shows Support for Afghan Women's Rights - But What Comes Next?" (Huffington Post)
•"Pakistan woman recounts ordeal under Taliban" (Associated Press)
•"Bruni gives hope to pregnant women with HIV" (Hindustan Times)
•"Iran president, clerics battle over women's sports" (Associated Press, on Washington Post website)
Aisha, the 19-year-old Afghan whose nose and ears were hacked off by her husband and who appeared on the cover to Time magazine this summer, has a new prosthetic nose!
With her new look, she attended the Grossman Burn Foundation's benefit event in California on Oct. 8 and received an Enduring Heart award from Maria Shriver, wife of California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger. "This is the first Enduring Heart award given to a woman whose heart endures and who shows us all what it means to have love and to be the enduring heart," Shriver said.
The Grossman Burn Foundation paid for Aisha's surgery in California, and plastic surgeon Peter H. Grossman, co-director of the Grossman Burn Centers, is hoping that a "permanent solution" can be found, perhaps reconstructing Aisha's nose and ears from bone, cartilage, and tissue from other parts of her body, reports the Daily Telegraph. Now, Aisha is beginning a new life in the United States. What a brave young woman.
Update, 4:13 p.m.: The brutality inflicted on women like Aisha shows us why Secretary Clinton is so adamant that absolutely no political reconciliation in Afghanistan should come at the price of Afghan women's well-being. As she said in July in Kabul:
I don't think there is such a political solution that would be a lasting, sustainable one that would turn the clock back on women. That is a recipe for a return to the kind of Afghanistan -- if not in the entire country, in significant parts of the country -- that would once again be a breeding ground for terrorism.
Here is a CNN video about Aisha, whose surname has not been disclosed, and her new look:
Thumbnail images, left to right: Grossman Burn Foundation, Getty Images
Brazil's Dilma Rousseff is on course to become the first female president of Brazil. In yesterday's election, she won the most votes -- 46.6 percent, with 98 percent of ballots counted -- and on Oct. 31 will face No. 2 Jose Serra in a runoff vote, which she is expected to win.
Secretary Clinton, whose presidential hopes were dashed in 2008, must be so happy for Rousseff. To learn more about Rousseff, a Marxist guerrilla turned economist, grandmother, and cancer survivor, check out the recent FP article, "Becoming Lula."
Also, for a photo essay on the world's female presidents and prime ministers, check out FP's "Women in Control."
JEFFERSON BERNARDES/AFP/Getty Images
Secretary Clinton yesterday announced an international alliance to improve infant and maternal health in sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia. The five-year effort joins the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation with the development agencies of the U.S., Australian, and British governments in an effort to "increase access to family planning and reduce maternal and neonatal deaths," as Clinton put it.
Our effort will contribute [to] increasing access to family planning by 2015 for 100 million women who now lack it. It will also boost the number of skilled birth attendants, babies delivered in clinics or hospitals, and women and newborns who receive quality medical care.
Infant and maternal health is an issue that people both agree on and disagree on so strongly. Everyone agrees on promoting infant and maternal health. How can anyone be against healthy babies and healthy moms? But then there are the divisive issues of contraception and abortion.
U.S. Rep. Chris Smith (R-N.J.), ranking Republican on the House Foreign Affairs subcommittee on Africa and global health, wrote an op-ed in Sept. 19's Washington Post warning that abortion-rights activists could sidetrack this week's meetings on the Millennial Development Goals. He singled out Clinton, pointing out that she "has said publicly that she believes access to abortion is part of maternal and reproductive health." (And indeed, her remarks on the topic irked many Canadians when she visited Canada in March.) Smith cautioned that "Including abortion in the U.N. Outcome Document or in its implementation will undermine the Millennium Development Goals."
Curiously, Smith's op-ed never mentioned the term "contraceptive" or anything that could be interpreted as its synonym. Maybe it was outside the scope of his op-ed, but if you want to reduce abortions, one of the obvious things to do is to improve access to contraceptives for women who want them. Without a conception, you can't have an abortion.
For the sake of women and infants worldwide, let's hope activists on both sides of the abortion debate don't let their disagreements get in the way of important mutally-agreed-upon measures that save the lives of some of the most vulnerable people on Earth.
DESHAKALYAN CHOWDHURY/AFP/Getty Images
Secretary Clinton today launched an initiative that could save millions of lives around the world -- the Global Alliance for Clean Cookstoves, a public-private partnership to which the U.S. government is committing $51 million over the next five years.
Sounds a bit wacky, but this effort will improve health, empower women and girls, and mitigate climate change. For real. As Clinton explained in a speech today in New York at the Clinton Global Initiative, where she was escorted to the podium by her husband, Bill Clinton:
The World Health Organization considers smoke from dirty stoves to be one of the five most serious health risks that face people in poor, developing countries. Nearly 2 million people die from its effects each year, more than twice the number from malaria. And because the smoke contains greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide and methane, as well as black carbon, it contributes to climate change.
There are other consequences as well. In conflict zones like the Congo, the journeys that women must take to find scarce fuel [such as firewood] put them at increased risk of violent and sexual assault. Even in safer areas, every hour spent collecting fuel is an hour not spent in school or tending crops or running a business.
People have cooked over open fires and dirty stoves for all of human history, but the simple fact is they are slowly killing millions of people and polluting the environment.
The solution? Clean, efficient, afforable cookstoves that cost as little as $25. The Global Alliance for Clean Cookstoves aims for 100 million households getting clean cookstoves by 2020. The initiative will involve research and development for improved designs and lower costs, an effort to create a market for the stoves (which will include lowering trade barriers and fostering public awareness), and weaving clean stoves into international development programs, including women-owned microfinance networks.
At the end of her speech, Clinton asked us to do the following:
The next time you sit down with your own family to eat, please take a moment to imagine the smell of smoke, feel it in your lungs, see the soot building up on the walls, and then come find us at the Global Alliance for Clean Cookstoves. Hearths, whatever they look like, and wherever we gather around them, where we tell our stories and pass down our values, bind families together. And the benefits from this initiative will be cleaner and safer homes, and that will, in turn, ripple out for healthier families, stronger communities, and more stable societies.
And, check out the video:
Mario Tama/Getty Images
Want a breakthrough in Mideast peace negotiations? Open the talks to women -- that's the nontraditional approach that two women from the Institute for Inclusive Security advise in a recent opinion piece.
Of course Secretary Clinton, a woman, is already facilitator in chief for the peace talks, taking place today in Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt. But the opinion piece, by Carla Koppell and Rebecca Miller, argues for the direct and indirect inclusion of women, women's groups, and other civil-society organizations. When such groups are included, the peace process becomes more transparent and the "fog of pessimism" brought on by secrecy lifts. The authors write:
Research shows that when women are included in negotiations, they regularly raise key issues otherwise ignored by male negotiators. Women often facilitate cross-conflict talks on the margins of formal negotiations that cultivate public investment in negotiations. When formally involved, women often help talks gain traction.
Importantly, the authors argue that transparency, not secrecy, drives peaceful resolution, and they point to research by Darren Kew and Anthony Wanis-St. John that demonstrates a correlation between the degree of involvement of civil-society groups during peace negotiations and the likelihood that a peace agreement will hold. (I think it's this study.)
Koppell and Miller advise Clinton that she can be more inclusive of women and civil-society groups by doing the following:
•Soliciting topics for the negotiating agenda from civil society and women;
•Organising public consultations with women and civil society organisations to hear their perspectives on the core issues;
•Creating a formal consultative mechanism for civil society groups to feed input indirectly into negotiations;
•Appointing gender advisers or civil society liaisons to assist official delegations; and
•Offering negotiating teams additional seats at talks if women are added.
You never know. This outside-the-box approach just might work. At the very least, it can't make things worse.
Thaer Ganaim /PPO via Getty Images
An Iranian woman who received a stoning sentence could be executed -- possibly in a week's time after Ramadan ends -- but will Secretary Clinton do anything to save her?
France's foreign minister, Bernard Kouchner, said Sept. 6 that the case of Sakineh Mohammadi Ashtiani has become his "personal cause" and declared, "I'm ready to do anything to save her. If I must go to Tehran to save her, I'll go to Tehran."
Today, European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso called the stoning sentence "barbaric beyond words." In late July, Brazilian President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva offered Ashtiani asylum, though he was rebuffed by Iran. The Vatican is considering using behind-the-scenes diplomacy to save the woman's life. People worldwide have held demonstrations, such as the Aug. 5 one in Berlin, as seen above.
Clinton's only public effort on Ashtiani's behalf has basically amounted to an Aug. 10 statement in which she said, "We remain troubled by the case of Sakineh Mohammadi Ashtiani" "Troubled" is putting it mildly; horrified is more like it.
Of course, the United States does not have official relations with Iran, and Clinton must consider how anything she does on Ashtiani's behalf would affect other Iran-related issues, such as the country's nuclear program and support for Hezbollah.
Still, being a defender of persecuted women is right up Clinton's alley; it's something she's deeply passionate about. So, it's disheartening that one of the world's most powerful women isn't doing or can't do more.
Ashtiani's stoning sentence for adultery was stayed in July after international outcry, and Iran has said she could be hanged instead. Her fate is unclear. Her son told a Paris news conference by phone on Sept. 6 that he fears his mother could be executed after Ramadan ends late this week.
(If you wish to send a message to Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei about this case, you can do so through Amnesty International's website by clicking here.)
Sean Gallup/Getty Images
It's absolutely deplorable that anyone would poison innocent children just trying to get an education, but it appears to be happening in Afghanistan, with children -- especially girls -- becoming poisoned at school by toxic gases over the past two years. Blood tests have found toxic levels of organophosphates in victims of 10 mass poisonings, the New York Times reported Aug. 31. Organophosphates are found in herbicides and insecticides and are used in the development of chemical weapons, such as the nerve gases VX and sarin.
Just last Wednesday, Aug. 25, another gas poisoning occurred at a girls school Kabul, and dozens of girls and teachers had to be taken to the hospital, as seen in the photo above and video below. These poisonings are particularly tragic because as humanitarian Greg Mortenson of Three Cups of Tea fame puts it, education promotes peace "one school at a time." With every girl who can't learn to read and every school that is attacked, Afghanistan remains one giant step farther from peace.
Details -- whether all the poisonings were deliberate and how the gases were delivered -- are still under investigation, but Secretary Clinton, an unflagging advocate for the empowerment of girls and women, has condemned these disturbing attacks through the following statement, issued Aug. 31:
The United States is deeply concerned by the recent poisonings of Afghan school children in Kabul. While details of these attacks are still being verified, Afghan schools, teachers, and students, particularly girls, are regularly targeted by anti-government elements seeking to destabilize Afghanistan and undermine progress. We condemn such attacks and are working with the Afghan government to address this important issue and prevent further incidents from occurring.
Afghanistan and the United States, together with 40 other co-sponsors, presented a joint resolution to the Human Rights Council that was adopted by consensus in June concerning attacks on innocent students, particularly girls, in Afghanistan. We urge the international community to continue their support for the Government of Afghanistan in combating repression and violence against girls seeking an education, and in bringing to justice those responsible for these appalling attacks.
Our deepest sympathies are with the families of the victims, and we assure the government and all the people of Afghanistan that the United States will stand by you as you continue working to bring peace and stability to your country.
Below is an Al Jazeera video about the gas attacks:
SHAH MARAI/AFP/Getty Images
Secretary Clinton must have read the blog post I wrote Tuesday in which I encouraged her to at least make a statement about the more than 179 horrific gang-rapes that occurred in Congo recently. Wednesday she issued a statement in which she strongly condemns the atrocities and states that "my thoughts and prayers are with the victims and their families."
She also mentioned that only 11 months ago, she presided over a U.N. Security Council session in which members unanimously passed a resolution to end wartime sexual violence. It's an absolute shame then that the United Nations hasn't acted fast enough on this resolution, and it's outrageous that this despicable violence occurred only about 20 miles from a U.N. peacekeeping base, likely with peacekeepers' foreknowledge that rebels were in the area where the rape spree was perpetrated.
The United Nations spends $1 billion annually on this peacekeeping mission, which is tasked with protecting civilians. The international body claims the mission only found out about the rapes after they occurred. When Inner City Press asked why the mission was unaware of a four-day rape spree so nearby, a U.N. spokesman said the area is "densely wooded." You would think that by now the peacekeepers would have figured out how to operate in a thick jungle. Inner City Press offers a great suggestion: Use some of the $1 billion to give civilians flares and satellite phones so they can communicate about danger.
The Security Council will be holding emergency consultations on Thursday, the 26th, at 10 a.m., Inner City Press reports, so at least something appears to be happening. But really, so much more could have been done since the resolution's passage last September.
Clinton says the United States will do all it can to work with the United Nations to "create a safe environment for women, girls, and all civilians" in eastern Congo. Let's hope she and the State Department will continue to press the U.N. on this serious issue.
Clinton's complete statement:
The United States is deeply concerned by reports of the mass rape of
women and children in the Democratic Republic of the Congo by the
Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR) - an armed,
illegal rebel group that has terrorized eastern Congo for over a decade -
and elements of the Mai Mai, community-based militia groups in eastern
Congo. This horrific attack is yet another example of how sexual
violence undermines efforts to achieve and maintain stability in areas
torn by conflict but striving for peace.
The United States has
repeatedly condemned the epidemic of sexual violence in conflict zones
around the world, and we will continue to speak out on this issue for
those who cannot speak for themselves. Less than a year ago, I presided
over the UN Security Council session where Resolution 1888 (2009) was
unanimously adopted, underscoring the importance of preventing and
responding to sexual violence as a tactic of war against civilians. Now
the international community must build on this action with specific
steps to protect local populations against sexual and gender-based
violence and bring to justice those who commit such atrocities.
violence harms more than its immediate victims. It denies and destroys
our common dignity, it shreds the fabric that weaves us together as
humans, it endangers families and communities, it erodes social and
political stability, and it undermines economic progress. These
travesties, committed with impunity against innocent civilians who play
no role in armed conflict, hold us all back.
When I visited
the DRC last year, I learned an old proverb -- "No matter how long the
night, the day is sure to come." In the depths of this dark night of
suffering and pain, my thoughts and prayers are with the victims and
their families. The United States will do everything we can to work with
the UN and the DRC government to hold the perpetrators of these acts
accountable, and to create a safe environment for women, girls, and all
civilians living in the eastern Congo.
Spencer Platt/Getty Images
At least 179 women were gang-raped in a weekend orgy of sexual violence in the Democratic Republic of the Congo last month, the United Nations revealed yesterday. Most women were raped by two to six men at a time, while their children and families watched, an NGO source told the New York Times.
This horrific news comes just roughly a year after Secretary Clinton defied security advice and personally visited Goma, the epicenter of the Congolese region where rape has been used as a weapon of war. As her eyes brimmed with tears, Clinton listened to a woman explain how she was raped while pregnant and lost her baby. Clinton called the sexual violence "evil in its basest form" and announced $17 million in U.S. aid to respond to it.
Clinton has a jumble of issues to address, from Middle East peace to wishing Ukraine a happy Independence Day, but it would be encouraging to see her at least make a statement on this sickening tradegy. Maybe Melanne Verveer, ambassador at large for global women's issues, could do something?
Over at Inner City Press, Matthew Russell Lee has taken the United Nations to task. It spends $1 billion annually on a peacekeeping mission in Congo that is tasked with protecting civilians. Nevertheless, these rapes occurred just 30 kilometers (about 19 miles) from a peacekeeping base. Then today, the day after the announcement about the rapes, the Security Council met, but no one called for the issue to be taken up!
ROBERTO SCHMIDT/AFP/Getty Images
FP blogger David Rothkopf has written an impassioned post, "Women and Islam: The real test of our values," in which he states that the way women are treated in many Islamic countries is "a disgrace every bit as grand and incomprehensible and awful as the Holocaust -- only it is much bigger, much more ancient, and if possible, much more evil if only due to the extent of its reach and the breadth of our acceptance of what has happened."
Just as I did last week, he mentions that Secretary Clinton "argues we will not forget the women of Afghanistan -- that they are one of the reasons we are there." When it comes to the rights of women and girls, he states, "No one has been more tireless or vocal in pursuit of these goals than Clinton." Which makes me wonder: In what ways would the U.S. strategy in Afghanistan be different if Clinton had been elected president?
SHAH MARAI/AFP/Getty Images
On International Women's Day this March, Secretary Clinton said:
Investing in the potential of the world's women and girls is one of the surest ways to achieve global economic progress, political stability, and greater prosperity for women -- and men -- the world over.
When you educate girls and women, you change attitudes and increase women's earning power. And when women have a broader view of the world and increased earning power, that changes the internal dynamics of a household, and across many households, that can change a society.
That's why Clinton would be impressed with A Girl Story, the world's first donation-based film series. The animated 11-part film, launched by Nanhi Kali, a nonprofit that helps underprivileged girls in India get an education, follows a fictional Indian girl named Tarla. When I first learned about the short film in late June, I could only view the first few parts, which showed Tarla dreaming about going to school, but being unable to attend. Her big brownish-plum cartoon eyes welled with blue tears, as seen above in the clip from chapter 2.
For the film to advance and show Tarla realizing her dream to attend school, viewers must make a donation. The idea is that it's up to the viewers whether Tarla gets to go to school, or not.
Yesterday I checked out the film, and I was heartened to see that it had advanced to the sixth part of the series, with the story progressing to show Tarla receiving a book and a school bag, but still not making it through the schoolhouse door. But then the film halted, and Tarla told us that to "unlock my next chapter," we must contribute $844 more. (Nanhi Kali's website says it costs just 1,800 Indian rupees -- about $39 -- to send a girl to school for a year for grades 1 to 7, and 2,500 rupees -- or $54 -- for grades 8 to 10.)
Nanhi Kali -- which means "Little Bud" in Hindi -- presently supports the education of more than 58,000 girls in India, but hopes to grow that number. It was founded in 1996 by the Mahindra Education Trust in India, which is registered in the United States as the Mahindra Foundation, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit. So check out the film, and if you're like what you see, consider making a donation to the foundation.
Video: "A Girl Story Chapter 2," tarlavideo, YouTube
Last month, Secretary Clinton commended the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation for its $1.5 billion contribution toward women's and children's health, saying, "Focusing on women is not only the right thing to do, but it is also the smart thing to do, because investing in the health of women also improves the health of their families and communities."
I expect Clinton would thus be intrigued by a program in India that aims to reduce maternal morality by providing $30 cash incentives to poor women to give birth in hospitals, and not on the dirt floors of thatched-roof homes.
Why would any woman need to essentially be paid to give birth at a hospital, where the chances of death are much lower? Turns out, getting to a hospital is not so easy, for a variety of reasons. Last week's Washington Post article about the program mentions one rural woman for whom it would cost $4 to take a taxi to the hospital -- a long of money in a poor farming community where the $30 incentive is about three weeks of a family's pay.
The hurdles aren't just economic, but also related to education, class divisions, and patriarchy. The articles says lack of education means a lot of people don't fully appreciate that medical care in a hospital setting can mean the difference between a happy, healthy mom -- and a dead one.
Also, in a society with sharp caste and class divisions, many poor, illiterate mothers-to-be don't have the assertiveness to set foot in the hospital, according to the article. Perhaps if you're from a marginalized, look-down-upon caste or social class, going to a relatively modern and clean hospital can be intimidating. One woman told the Post, "Before this [program], we didn't have a hint of what to do.… The hospital was very confusing. We weren't sure who to talk to or what we needed." Another woman in the article said she was scared to go to the hospital.
The article also mentioned the patriarchal culture, stating that in rural India, many poor husbands don't let their pregnant wives to go to the hospital.
But money talks -- including in Indian languages. In Bihar and Uttar Pradesh, two of India's poorest states, the percentage of women delivering in medical facilities more than doubled from less than 20 percent in 2005 to almost 50 percent in 2008. Physicians say that's due to the incentive program.
India still has a long way to go on maternal mortality -- its rate of maternal mortality is around 10 times China's rate. Women's education and economic development are the long-term fix to the problem, but until then, it's the lure of $30.
Emily Wax/The Washington Post via Getty Images
Can you even begin to imagine the heartache of watching your newborn baby being tossed into the sea? That's what happened to Salima, the young Somali refugee in the photo above. I was alerted to her photo and story by an email last week from the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR). The woman who captured Salima's image, photojournalist Alixandra Fazzina, is being honored with the UNHCR's Nansen Refugee Award for her "tireless dedication to uncovering and portraying the overlooked human consequences of war." Fazzina spent two years in Somalia following refugees escaping across the Gulf of Aden to the Arabian Peninsula. Salima's portrait graces the cover of Fizzina's resulting book, A Million Shillings: Escape from Somalia,
forthcoming in September.
Here's a summarized paraphrasing of the moving caption that accompanied Salima's photo:
Basatine, Yemen, March 2008 -- Salima, 19, now lives in a cramped, dark safe house controlled by human traffickers. Once she saves up $25 through begging, the traffickers will drive her to the desert, allowing her to get to Saudi Arabia, where she'll most likely spend her days enslaved as a maid in someone's home.
The last six weeks have been a nightmare for Salima. She had been living in Mogadishu, Somalia, with her baby boy and husband. Six weeks ago, while pregnant with her second child, she left her home to buy bread. While out, mortars hit her house. "I found my husband and child, but they were not with us anymore," she told Fazzina, the photojournalist. The two had perished in a random attack perpetrated by the very soldiers who had been entrusted to protect the people.
Seven months pregnant, Salima decided to escape. She journeyed northward 20 days in a truck until she reached the area near Bosaso. Salima, along with 120 others, entered the water and were hauled onto a small, wooden boat. Because she was pregnant, she was allowed to sit with her legs out. Everyone else had to sit with their knee to their chins.
In the rough seas, Salima began to get contractions and started bleeding. The crew, who had been drinking gin and smoking marijuana, and who were armed with guns, knives, and hammers, moved her to the front of the boat. She thought they were helping her. Salima passed out. When she woke up, she saw a crew member toss her newborn baby into the sea -- like it was nothing more than a ball. "My baby was all I had left of my husband," Salima told Fizzina.
After landing at a deserted Yemeni beach, Salima was registered at a UNHCR-operated center. She even saw a doctor, but it was too painful for her to talk about what had happened. Now, all alone, without family, she is a traumatized teenager, barely an adult. So, she's back with the traffickers. Her final destination? "Where Allah takes me," she says. Realistically, she'll toil in virtual slavery as a maid in someone's home in Saudi Arabia.
On June 18, in honor of June 20's World Refugee Day, Secretary Clinton spoke about what the refugee issue means for Americans:
[Supporting refugees] goes to the core of who we are as a people and a country because the United States is not only a nation of immigrants -- we are also a nation of refugees. We know from our collective experience that most people want the same basic things in life: safe communities, food, water, lives free of political and religious and other persecution. And when these basic needs go unmet and families are forced to flee their homes in desperation, we should all be there with a helping hand.
She also said:
We help because it is the right thing to do. We happen to believe it's also the smart thing to do, but even in cases where it doesn't appear all that smart, it's still often right. And therefore, we proceed.
Alixandra Fazzina, Courtesy of U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees
Japan's new first lady, Nobuko Kan, has been affectionately called by the country's ruling-party lawmakers "the Japanese Hillary" because she had been a "brilliant campaigner" for her husband, as Singapore's Straits Times put it. She also spends a lot of time at home debating politics with her husband, Naoto Kan, now the prime minister. She once said of her husband during a TV interview, "He is a good debater in parliament because he is well trained at home."
Nevertheless, Nobuko Kan rejects the comparison to Hillary Clinton. While in Toronto this weekend for the G-20 summit (as seen above with her husband, Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper, and Canadian first lady Laureen Harper), she told the Global and Mail of Canada through an interpreter:
"I am the opposition party within my family, so we spend a lot of time discussing politics at home and that's probably the reason people equate me as 'Hillary of Japan,' but I'm very different from Ms. Clinton."
One similarity though: Just as Hillary Clinton took up health-care reform as first lady, Kan has her own issue she's pushing: doing away with sales taxes on produce and medicines.
SATORU IIZUKA/AFP/Getty Images
It's a big day in women's history today: Australia just got its first female prime minister!
After Kevin Rudd stepped down as prime minister, Julia Gillard stepped up. She said she was "truly honored" to be prime minister and said to reporters:
"I think if there's one girl who looks at the TV screen over the next few days and says 'Gee, I might like to do that in the future,' well that's a good thing."
She also said today:
"I'm aware I'm the first woman to sit in this role, but I didn't set out to crash my head against any glass ceilings."
She may not have set out to break any glass ceilings, but she has. Secretary Clinton -- who famously said her supporters helped put "18 million cracks" in the "highest, hardest glass ceiling" during the 2008 Democratic presidential primary campaign -- must be very happy for Gillard.
Clinton will be visiting Australia for defense talks sometime at the end of the year, and husband Bill Clinton will be visiting in November to talk about disadvantaged women and children at the Asian Pacific Global Issues Forum. It's not known whether their visits will overlap.
Scott Barbour/Getty Images
Rowdha Yousef, a Saudi woman, was alarmed when some of her female compatriots started advocating for greater personal freedom, so last August she started a campaign called "My Guardian Knows What's Best for Me" (with "guardian" referring to the male relative who serves as a Saudi woman's guardian and has authority over her when it comes to many legal and personal issues.) Given Yousef's conservative views, as reported in this great New York Times article, it might be surprising to many Westerners that she's an admirer of Secretary Clinton. I wonder what Clinton would think!
Here's the Times description of Yousef, with my bolding:
She is a 39-year-old divorced mother of three (aged 13, 12 and 9) who volunteers as a mediator in domestic abuse cases. A tall, confident woman with a warm, effusive manner and sparkling stiletto-heeled sandals, her conversation, over Starbucks lattes, ranges from racism in the kingdom (Ms. Yousef has Somali heritage and calls herself a black Saudi) to her admiration for Hillary Rodham Clinton to the abuse she says she has suffered at the hands of Saudi liberals.
My hunch is that much of this reaction against calls for greater women's freedom is driven as much by anti-Western sentiment as by a sincere conviction that the conservative status quo is the best. Calls for women's rights can represent Western influence seeping in, meddling, interfering -- and a lot of women don't like that. (Of course, stilettos and Starbucks seem to be acceptable forms of Westernization. Fashion and food can be hard to resist.)
On a related note: As seen in the photo above, Clinton received a rock-star reception when she visited Dar al-Hekma College this February, though it seems that the views of students at an elite Saudi women's college might not be representative of Saudi women as a whole. It's also worth noting that Clinton's reception there was in stark contrast with that of Karen Hughes (George W. Bush's undersecretary of state for public diplomacy) in 2005.
Secretary Clinton met with women civil society leaders in China this morning. It's wonderful that she's able to take time out of her busy schedule -- packed with talking to leaders about what to do with North Korea -- and support women in the strides they're making around the world.
[Update, May 27, 2010: The transcript from the meeting is here.]
Photos, from top: SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images, State Department Photo/Public Domain/Flickr, State Department Photo/Public Domain/Flickr
Secretary Clinton and Nancy Reagan have tied for best U.S. first lady since 1974, according to a recent survey by Angus Reid Public Opinion. Clinton and Reagan each received 19 percent, while current first lady Michelle Obama received 15 percent. (In the November 1997 photo above, then first lady Hillary Clinton stands with, from left, former first ladies Lady Bird Johnson, Barbara Bush, Betty Ford, and Nancy Reagan.)
There was a split among male and female respondents. Among women, the survey results were: Obama (20 percent), Clinton (18 percent), and Reagan (14 percent). Among men, the survey results were Reagan (24 percent), Clinton (20 percent), and Laura Bush (11 percent).
(The online poll, with a margin of error of +/- 3.1 percent, questioned 1,016 American adults from May 13 to 14, 2010, and was statistically weighted to be demographically representative of the United States.)
JOHN MOTTERN/AFP/Getty Images
Secretary Clinton met with four female Afghan government ministers yesterday and made a pledge to the women of Afghanistan: "We will not abandon you. We will stand with you always."
The Afghan government is planning to reconcile with and reintegrate "moderate" Taliban, and many Afghan women are understandably concerned that women's rights will be even more sidelined. Clinton reassured them:
It is essential that women's rights and women's opportunities are not sacrificed or trampled on in the reconciliation process.
And Clinton restated that message in her discussion with Afghan President Hamid Karzai later in the day when she listed the conditions that Taliban members would have to meet to reconcile or reintegrate. In addition to saying that they must abide Afghanistan's laws and Constitution, renounce violence, and cut ties with al Qaeda and its extremist allies, Clinton said, "[O]n a personal note, they must respect women's rights."
Let's hope this move to reconcile with and reintegrate "moderate" Taliban doesn't end up being a step backward for Afghan women.
I know Secretary Clinton is busy today with Afghan President Hamid Karzai, but I hope she continues to shine a spotlight on the rape capital of the world -- the Kivu provinces in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.
Last summer, Clinton boldly defied security advice and flew to Goma, the epicenter of the region where rape has been used as a weapon of war, as I wrote last August. Tears welled up in her eyes as women told her their horrific stories, like that of the woman who was raped while pregnant and lost her baby. Many of these women, like those in the photo above, have been raped so viciously that they must undergo surgery to repair the damage.
So, I was disturbed to receive this message from a representative of the UNHCR (U.N. Office of the High Commissioner for Refugees):
In the first three months of 2010 more than 1,200 women in the Democratic Republic of the Congo were sexually assaulted - an average of 14 assaults a day. The majority of the violence is taking place in North and South Kivu provinces in eastern DRC. The region hosts some 1.4 million people displaced by on-going violence in the country. Some 100,000 are living in camps run by the UN refugee agency. UNHCR is alarmed at the scale of the sexual violence and the lack of justice for the victims and is working to protect vulnerable women.
I know Clinton cares, so I hope she'll use her position to help bring an end to this barbaric violence.
ROBERTO SCHMIDT/AFP/Getty Images
"... it's like walking through the Old Testament" -- that's a description of Afghanistan's Uruzgan province provided by Dutch Army Brig. Gen. Tom Middendorp to the Washington Post last summer.
The United States wants 21st-century-style women's liberation in Afghanistan, but can the United States make that happen -- and fast? It took the United States 144 years (1776 to 1920) to grant women the right to vote. Now Afghanistan is expected to go from Old Testament times to the 21st century in something closer to 144 months.
It would be great if the United States had a magic wand to make Afghanistan a land of freedom, democracy, good governance, and women's rights. Gen. Stanley McChrystal even thinks he has one; he calls it "government in a box." Reality check: The only people who can create a stable, free Afghan government that is "of the people, by the people, for the people" is the Afghan people themselves. And unfortunately, it doesn't seem like a critical mass of them are onboard yet to make that happen. So, the United States and its allies find themselves trying to drag Afghanistan kicking and screaming into the 21st century.
Yes, this is discouraging. Every day that goes by is another day that Afghan women are treated worse than animals. But there are a lot of people out there who think that if the United States just perseveres and just continues plugging away at it, democracy and women's rights will happen -- just read Valerie Hudson and Patricia Leidl's excellent FP piece, "Betrayed," about why the United States must not let down the women of Afghanistan.
The authors point out that Secretary of State Hillary Clinton -- an absolutely unflagging advocate for women and girls around the globe -- said in March, "... the subjugation of women is a threat to the national security of the United States." Hudson's research proves it: "states with higher levels of violence against women are also less peaceful internationally. Indeed, violence against women is a better predictor of bellicosity than level of democracy, level of wealth, or presence of Islamic civilization."
I share the authors' belief that the United States shouldn't abandon the women of Afghanistan, but I also think there are limits to what the United States can do. Just like you can't force someone to fall in love with you or command an atheist to genuinely believe in God, you can't make an entire society embrace women's rights. Yes, social change is possible -- the West went from burning women as witches to women burning bras -- but it unfolds indigenously, organically, slowly, over decades, centuries. Now the United States wants to hit the fast-forward button on social change in another country. Imagine if Dutch troops dropped into Alabama and pushed for sincere, societywide, approval of same-sex marriage -- how fast do you think social change would be?
Continued after the break …
SHAH MARAI/AFP/Getty Images
Mother's Day is this Sunday, and today Secretary Clinton announced, "Happy Mother’s Day to all of the proud parents of the State Department." (I'm sure daughter Chelsea and husband Bill will have a surprise for Clinton on Sunday.)
In her message, Clinton also recommitted the State Department to providing its employees with better parental-leave policies, saying:
I'm recommitting the State Department to do all we can to support parents, especially new mothers and fathers. We will continue to do all we can to advance paid sick leave to new mothers recuperating from childbirth, family members caring for the mother, as well as those caring for a newborn with a serious ailment or disability, and the employees that are in the process of the adoption efforts that I know can be so difficult."
It's not enough to just talk about the importance of family -- our policies must reflect our commitment and our values."
And before I depart for the weekend, here's a photo of Clinton yesterday as she left the Capitol after briefing senators on the new START Treaty (Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty) signed last month with Russia.
Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images
The United States and Canada may be good friends, but that didn't keep Secretary Clinton from getting tough and ruffling feathers there during her two-day visit this week. Three things have irked many Canadians:
•Clinton's criticism that Canada didn't invite indigenous groups and some Scandinavian countries to a meeting on the future of the Arctic.
•Clinton's public appeal on Canadian TV for Canada to stay in Afghanistan past its planned 2011 withdrawal date.
•Clinton's urging that Canada's initiative on global maternal health include contraceptives and abortion, the latter of which Prime Minister Stephen Harper (seen above) wants to leave out.
It takes a lot of guts to stand up for your beliefs and be critical of a friend.
Secretary Clinton -- who has made history herself -- celebrated Women's History Month yesterday in an event on Capitol Hill that was hosted by Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi. Among her remarks, Clinton said:
Nick Kristof said about two weeks ago something that has really stuck with me. He said, "You know, in the 19th century, the great moral struggle was the struggle against slavery. In the 20th century, the great moral struggle was the struggle against totalitarianism, and in the 21st century, the great moral struggle is to finish according women and girls everywhere -- [applause] -- the same opportunities and rights that their men and boys in their societies have." [Applause.]
For an argument for why the world needs more female lawmakers, check out the recent FP piece, "More Nancy Pelosis, Please."
TIM SLOAN/AFP/Getty Images
Secretary is en route to Russia right now to discuss the new START treaty and meet with the diplomatic "quartet" on Middle East peace. Meanwhile, here are some recent Clinton headlines.
•"With subtle shift in nuance, Hillary Clinton reiterates U.S. stance on Israel" (Washington Post)
•"Clinton to call Netanyahu soon amid row" (Agence France-Presse)
•"Foreign minister: 'Not reasonable' to stop building in East Jerusalem" (CNN)
•"Mrs. Clinton's hissy fit" (Washington Times)
•"Nirupama Rao briefs US on talks with Pakistan" (Indo-Asian News Service)
•"Pakistan, Afghanistan high in Rao's talks in US" (Indo-Asian News Service)
•"Clinton, Okada to meet in Washington or Canada in late March" (Associated Press)
•"Okada unlikely to present Clinton with Japan's plan on Futemma" (Associated Press)
•"Clinton looks forward to an inclusive Iraqi government" (Kuwait News Agency)
•Yesterday, Clinton met with 22 female Iraqi provincial council leaders. Her remarks are here.
At the United Nations on Friday, Clinton delivered some powerful remarks on women's empowerment, marking the 15th anniversary of the U.N. world conference on women. In the following excerpt, she pointed out how so often women's backbreaking work is simply ignored, not counted:
I have to confess that when we started our Food Security Initiative, I did not know that most food was grown by women. I remember once driving through Africa with a group of distinguished experts. And I saw women working in the fields and I saw women working in the markets and I saw women with wood on their heads and water on their heads and children on their backs. And I remarked that women just seem to be working all the time. And one of the economists said, "But it doesn't count." I said, "How can you say that?" He said, "Well, it's not part of the formal economy." I said, "Well, if every woman who did all that work stopped tomorrow, the formal economy would collapse." [Applause.]
The speech rounded ou a week in which Clinton devoted much attention to women's empowerment, her signature issue. (And for more about women's empowerment worldwide, check out Kathleen Parker's excellent column from yesterday.)
DON EMMERT/AFP/Getty Images
Madam Secretary is an obsessive blog about all things Hillary Clinton. From her policies to her pantsuits, Madam Secretary delivers up-to-the-minute news, analysis, and gossip about America's top diplomat.