Can COVID-19 bring a cycling revolution to Ireland?

Can COVID-19 bring a cycling revolution to Ireland?

ENVIRONMENT

Can COVID-19 bring a cycling revolution to Ireland?

cycling in Dublin city
Elizabeth Quinn

Elizabeth Quinn

4th November 2020

Covid-19 has prompted us to re-think our systems of travel. In particular, it has encouraged many people to lose a few extra wheels and take to a saddle, handlebars and peddles instead. Many cities around the world have put in place temporary and permanent measures to encourage people to cycle during this time. The question remains – will these measures be enough to lead to a future where people see cycling as a viable and efficient way to travel?

 

I moved to Sweden in September 2019 to begin my master’s studies. In all of my introduction meetings and meetings with other students, I was given one piece of consistent advice – get a bike. Biking is a way of life here and one I have adapted. My friend and I, who also moved to the Netherlands recently, had a conversation about how we loved the freedom we had with our bikes. We can safely cycle anywhere we want because of the infrastructure for biking which exists where we live. I cycled in 2015 in Dublin and cannot say that I felt the same. Lacking infrastructure, Dublin created a sense of insecurity in me.

 

With Covid-19, the thought of a lot of people in confined spaces on public transport is not ideal. Social distancing on public transport is next to impossible, especially in highly populated cities. Countries worldwide have had to re-think how to promote travel and keep everyone safe. 37 out of 94 biggest EU cities announced cycling measures in response to Covid-19, providing a chance to redesign our cities for the future.

 

Milan is one of Europe’s most populated cities and has been hit hard by Covid-19. The city has begun schemes to reallocate street space for cyclists and pedestrians. There are 35km of new cycle paths and cyclist numbers on Milan’s main shopping street have risen from 1,000 cyclist pre-Covid-19 to 7,000 now. Generally, 55% of people who live in Milan use public transport to get to work, but the average commute is less than 4km which makes the switch from public transport to cycling a realistic potential for many. The government is also supporting those who wish to cycle and have pledged up to €500 to citizens who want to buy a new bike.

 

“37 out of 94 biggest EU cities announced cycling measures in response to Covid-19, providing a chance to redesign our cities for the future.”

Paris has also been leading the way in investing in cycling. €20 million euro has been ring-fenced for cycling since the start of the pandemic and uptake has increased. The French government is giving people €50 subsidies towards bike repairs and offering free cycling lessons for the general public. The number of people learning to cycle with these courses has increased from 150 people to over 300 people during the pandemic.

 

The Irish Cycling Advocacy Network which was set up with the goal of cycling becoming a normal part of everyday life in Ireland has been a force for change. They believe that Covid-19 is prompting us to reimagine our lives and our systems and rethink the way in which we commute. There have been record sales of bikes reported. The Irish government has responded in some ways to this uptake in cycling but more needs to be done for it to remain a sustainable alternative to public transport.

 

Some suggestions of what the Irish government should do are included in the Irish Cycling Advocacy networks pre-budget submission. Recommendations include allocating 10% of the transport capital expenditure (€360 million) annual budget on cycling projects, increasing subsidies for e-bikes and expansion of the bike to work scheme to be more inclusive to focus on low earners, students and unwaged. Institutional changes are also highlighted as needed in order to create a system which respects and encourages cycling. Legislative changes are also needed such as 30km/ph becoming the default speed limit in built-up areas and cycling promotion, especially among marginalised groups. Focusing not only on measures which should be taken but also institutional and legislative change which will provide the best long-term results for cycling encouragement.

 

The government have allocated the suggested amount of 360 million on walking and cycling projects in the Budget 2021. The government will support cycling projects in main cities, increased funding in greenways and the roll-out of the safe routes to school programmes. Greenways are traffic-free paths which are predominantly in rural areas. The Minister for Transport stated that a greenway must also link to urban areas efficiently in order for them to be used not only by tourists but also by the local population. This makes sense in order to have the best long-term results. The budget seems to take the suggestions of the Irish Cycling Advocacy Network seriously.

 

The change to cycling that COVID-19 has prompted has been long fought for. Cycling is having a moment. In order for this moment to be a lasting one political leadership is needed. Many schemes set up have been temporary. We must actively engage with politicians to keep the political will alive to invest in cycling not only now but also in the future.

 

Featured photo by IrishCycle.com

 
 

 

The conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan, explained

The conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan, explained

BUSINESS + POLITICS

The conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan, explained

Armenia and Azerbaijan disputed region
Emily Murphy

Emily Murphy

3rd November 2020

Beginning research on the current Armenian-Azerbaijani war, I had no idea how little I actually knew. I was aware that there had been a surge in missile strikes reported on both sides, that civilian deaths were in the hundreds, and that the conflict was centred around the Nagorno-Karabakh mountain region. On top of the gaps in my knowledge, most importantly, I knew nobody was talking about it, and most people I had spoken to didn’t even know that there was anything to discuss. We live in a globalised world with access to more information than ever before, yet only a few hours away people are suffering and dying at an unfathomable rate without our knowledge. I assume that the lack of awareness is generated through current global obsessions on rising Covid-19 cases and the upcoming US election that’s dominating news feeds. Perhaps a less obvious reason is that this conflict is old news. While the resurgence is relatively new, the conflict is a continuation of a previous war. This probably explains why my mother’s generation vaguely remembers the fighting and my generation had almost no idea what was happening. So here it is, a breakdown of the current situation, how it unfolded, how it seems to be progressing, and if there is a solution in sight.

 

We must first of all keep in mind that this is not a new conflict, in fact, the current struggle has been ongoing for more than 32 years. The origins of tension can be traced back almost three millennia, when (despite disputes by Azerbaijani historians) a variety of Armenian kingdoms were established in the vicinity. The mountain region was at times ruled by the Turks, Persians, the Ottoman Empire, and later by the Russian Empire. Throughout the early 19th century respective people lived somewhat peacefully in Transcaucasia (modern-day Armenia, Azerbaijan, and Georgia). However, during the First World War tensions began to rise, as many Armenians fled to Russian occupied territories to escape persecution from the Ottoman Empire. As the Muslim population (who would later become Azerbaijani citizens) identified themselves as Turks and held allegiance with the Ottoman Empire, a deep sense of mistrust grew between them and the remaining Armenian Christians.

 

In May 1918, three months after clashes within Transcaucasia, Armenia, Azerbaijan, and Georgia declared their independence. The region now referred to as Nagorno-Karabakh was, and remains, home to an Armenian ethnic majority, however, at the time of independence the region lay along the Armenian-Azerbaijani border. As the Armenian state had only just been established, it was unwilling to exacerbate tensions with Azerbaijan who to this day have strong ties and support from Turkey. In 1919, after the Ottoman troops withdrew from the region, the British stepped in, attempting to convince the Armenians to surrender the area to Azerbaijan. This was by no means an attempt to create peace, the British were simply trying to develop an alliance with Azerbaijan to protect their access to oil in the Caspian Sea.

 

In 1920, Armenia launched an attack that was quickly quashed by Azerbaijan, who retaliated with force, all but destroying the Nagorno-Karabakh capital. This event sparked riots that led to the deaths of possibly thousands of people. The war ended when the Bolsheviks gained control of both countries. However, they only complicated matters further when Soviet officials redrew the map enclosing the Nagorno-Karabakh autonomous zone in Azerbaijan but pushing the border several miles into Armenia. At this point, the autonomous zone in Azerbaijan was home to 94% ethnic Armenians.

 

“We must first of all keep in mind that this is not a new conflict, in fact, the current struggle has been ongoing for more than 32 years. The origins of tension can be traced back almost three millennia, when (despite disputes by Azerbaijani historians) a variety of Armenian kingdoms were established in the vicinity.”

While the regions were under Soviet control there were no open conflicts and only a few ethnic clashes, but nothing like what the area had seen before. During this period, Armenian leaders regularly petitioned Moscow to return Nagorno-Karabakh to them, all of which were denied. In 1988 after large-scale demonstrations in Yerevan, local authorities in Nagorno-Karabakh requested to be rejoined with Armenia. In January 1990, in Baku, Azerbaijani nationalists killed dozens of Armenians. As tensions in the region continued to grow, the Soviet army was sent to regain control, but this only intensified the situation. Clashes between the two sides became commonplace and several hundreds of people were killed.

 

After the fall of the USSR, war broke out in the region, and in the summer of 1994, the self-proclaimed Nagorno-Karabakh Republic, with the support of Armenia, occupied several towns in Azerbaijan and broke through to the Armenian border. While successful in theory, the region is still recognized internationally as part of Azerbaijan. The war claimed the lives of over 15,000 soldiers and a similar number of civilians. The outbreak of small fights along the border is common, however between the end of the war and 2016 only 30 people had been killed.

 

On September 27th, 2020, Armenian officials claimed that the Azerbaijani military bombed civilian settlements in Nagorno-Karabakh, and in response, they shot down two Azerbaijani helicopters and three drones. The Azerbaijani defence ministry launched a counter-attack with fighter planes, tanks, and 1000 Syrian fighters, courtesy of Turkey. In early October, attacks began once again, less than thirty minutes after a ceasefire had been called. Both sides have stated that they were acting in retaliation to the other side’s breach. Within less than a month of fighting, over 1000 people, including civilians and troops have been killed. Although Russia, who has typically acted as a peacekeeper between the two nations and who has a long-standing alliance with Armenia, has yet to step in, Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan has said that he is more than willing to visit Moscow for talks. If Russia were to enter the conflict, it is assumed that they would side with Armenia, thus increasing tensions between Russia and Turkey.

 

The latest reports suggest that the Armenian and Azerbaijani foreign ministers will hold separate talks with US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo in Washington, DC. It is hoped that the two will down arms and create a permanent treaty, however, based on previous events, I remain hesitant to believe peace is in sight. While talks are ongoing, outbreaks of fighting on both sides are expected to continue. This is not an issue that will be easily resolved, however for the sake of the civilians on either side I hope it stays as amicable as possible.

 

 

Featured photo by DNA India

 
 

 

Voices from Direct Provision: An Online Conference 2020

Voices from Direct Provision: An Online Conference 2020

HUMANITARIAN

Voices from Direct Provision: An Online Conference 2020

“Voices from Direct Provision Conference
Aoife Burke

Aoife Burke

2nd November 2020

On 27 September, the organisation Abolish Direct Provision Ireland (ADPI) held an online conference titled “Voices from Direct Provision.” The purpose of the event, which was chaired by ADPI volunteer Louise, was to raise awareness about the adversity experienced by asylum seekers and provide a platform to share their stories. As well as those currently living through Direct Provision, speakers included activists and experts who shed a light on the major human rights violations perpetrated by the system. The conference was structured around three main questions; “What is Direct Provision?”, “Can it be reformed?” and “What are the alternatives?”.

 

The event kicked off with an informative outline of Direct Provision and its incompatibility with human rights. Karina Savchuck, a volunteer with ADPI, explained how the fundamental right to seek asylum is undermined by the lengthy and punitive nature of the Direct Provision system. Although Direct Provision is supposed to be a temporary accommodation system, the majority of residents live in these centres for years. Karina explained that asylum seekers are at risk of numerous human rights violations during their time in Direct Provision. These include the right to a private and family life, which is often undermined by crowded and inappropriate living arrangements and the right to health, which is under particular threat today due to the inability of residents to self-isolate. Karina also highlighted how, based on the broad interpretation of liberty in human rights instruments, Direct Provision amounts to arbitrary detention. Overall, the discussion highlighted the complete failure of the Irish state to protect the rights of asylum seekers.

 

Direct Provision cramped conditions

Image from Millstreet Direct Provision Centre demonstrates cramped living conditions (Say No to Direct Provision in Ireland, October 2020).

The extent of these human rights violations was further illustrated by James, Preet and Edita, all of whom are residents of Direct Provision and bravely shared their stories. James recounted the outrageous treatment he and other residents endured from the manager at their centre. He spoke about how the manager, who is paid €100 a night per person, belittled and disrespected residents and used the threat of reporting people to RIA as a way to exercise control. Furthermore, despite the significant number of Muslims at the centre, the manager refused to let residents alter their meal times during Ramadan. This blatant attack on freedom of religious expression prompted residents of all faiths to stand up and demand their rights, however, nothing was changed. James explained how when residents complained, they were told to go and “see the Irish people sleeping outside”. James believes this kind of abusive treatment is killing people.

 

Preet, who has been living in Direct Provision for over two years, discussed the challenges facing LGBT asylum seekers. He spoke about how as a gay man he endured traumatic homophobic bullying in his centre. Though he reported this issue to managers, it wasn’t addressed and Preet continues to be victimised daily. Living in a rural, isolated area, he has little access to LGBT networks or resources. He explained how with no protection from harassment and with limited access to support systems, LGBT asylum seekers are disproportionately harmed by Direct Provision. Preet spoke about the toll these conditions had taken on him and suggested that an LGBT centre be set up in Dublin, where residents would have access to necessary services. Edita also shared the severe difficulties she has faced in Direct Provision, where she lives with her two elderly parents. She described the inadequate food they were given which sometimes included undercooked meat. She also highlighted the lack of access to cleaning facilities; although her centre accommodates over 150 asylum seekers, there are only three working washing machines. Edita and her fellow residents also endure cruel and sarcastic comments from the manager who, in her words, treats asylum seekers like they are bad people.

food in direct provision

Food in direct provision is often described to be below-par with a greater emphasis on profit margins (Say No to Direct Provision in Ireland, August 2020)

Next up in the conference, there was a discussion about the feasibility of reforming Direct Provision. Eoin, one of the founders of ADPI, explained the failures of attempted reform in the past. In 2014, after a series of protests by asylum seekers, the government established a working group on the issue which published its report in June 2015. However, by 2017 less than half of the recommendations of the report were implemented. After continued campaigning and protests, an expert group was established on Direct Provision in 2019. While this group has not yet published their report, there have already been concerns about a lack of consultation with asylum-seekers. For instance, there was no engagement with the asylum seekers in the Skellig Star Direct Provision Centre who went on hunger strike in July. Eoin also highlighted that since attempts at reform began, the number of direct provision centres in Ireland has continued to grow, the costs of these centres is increasing and the deaths of asylum seekers in the system have continued. Julie Currie of Unite the Union also spoke on the reform process. She argued that the 2019 Expert Group was an unnecessary delay in progress, as the conditions in Direct Provision are the same as if not worse than those reported in 2015. Julie also warned that while a government white paper on replacing Direct Provision is due to be drafted by the end of the year, a lack of political will could mean major delays in passing legislation. She advised people to mobilise and put pressure on their politicians to make this issue a priority.

 

This informative discussion was followed by personal insights into Direct Provision by Nasreen and Flutura. Nasreen explained how asylum seekers in her centre were in practice denied the right to work. Her centre was in a remote area with little to no employment opportunities and due to lack of access to transport, residents couldn’t find employment elsewhere. Without job opportunities, residents were completely reliant on an inadequate weekly allowance of less than 40 euro and the food provided in the centre, which was often rancid. Despite these conditions, the managers told residents that they were taking away from Irish people who needed it more. Flutura, who is living in Direct Provision with her husband and baby, shared similar concerns about access to work and treatment by managers. She also spoke about her fears of deportation. She argued that a judge cannot decide whether the threat that someone faces in their country of origin is real; only asylum seekers themselves can know their fear.

 

SKELLIG STAR DIRECT PROVISION CENTRE

In July, more than 30 residents went on hunger strike in protest at conditions in Cahersiveen centre, Co. Kerry (Say No to Direct Provision in Ireland, July 2020)

This informative discussion was followed by personal insights into Direct Provision by Nasreen and Flutura. Nasreen explained how asylum seekers in her centre were in practice denied the right to work. Her centre was in a remote area with little to no employment opportunities and due to lack of access to transport, residents couldn’t find employment elsewhere. Without job opportunities, residents were completely reliant on an inadequate weekly allowance of less than 40 euro and the food provided in the centre, which was often rancid. Despite these conditions, the managers told residents that they were taking away from Irish people who needed it more. Flutura, who is living in Direct Provision with her husband and baby, shared similar concerns about access to work and treatment by managers. She also spoke about her fears of deportation. She argued that a judge cannot decide whether the threat that someone faces in their country of origin is real; only asylum seekers themselves can know their fear.  

 

Following these speakers, there was a discussion on the alternatives to Direct Provision presented by law graduate Katie Prendergast. Case studies from Portugal, Scotland and Sweden were referenced to illustrate the possibility of a humane process for asylum seekers. The key to success in each of these systems is a focus on social integration. In these countries’ asylum seekers are not shoved to the margins of society, but are given opportunities to engage with local communities. In particular, Sweden’s system allows for most asylum seekers to be accommodated in private housing, work and fully participate in society. This approach means that asylum seekers can find a sense of community and belonging while their applications are being processed. This is in direct contrast to the Irish system, where integration is actively undermined by state procedures. The importance of integration was further highlighted by Linda, who spoke about her work combatting social exclusion through the Friendship Project. This is a programme that matches local people with asylum seekers in the hopes of promoting integration and mutual cultural sharing. The project, which has now gone online, is particularly valuable during the pandemic, when asylum seekers are experiencing increased isolation and adversity.  

 

The last speakers of the event, David and Fortune, are facing deportation after over four years in Ireland; they shared the struggles and fears and highlighted the importance of finding a support system while in Direct Provision. Fortune described the difficulties and injustice they faced throughout their journey in seeking asylum. The couple’s solicitor was confident they had a strong case, however, in her interview Fortune felt she was deemed a liar before she even spoke and was unfairly scrutinised over petty details. Fortune described the pain and fear that has persisted every day since the deportation order came and how she feels they are now only hanging on by a thread. David echoed her fears, saying receiving the letter was like someone telling you your death is prepared and you just need to get in the box and be buried. Despite everything, David reminded us that it’s not over until it’s over. He told us about the importance of being part of a community and said that showing love to other people is the only way to heal. David and Fortune are both third-year students at AIT and active community volunteers. The AIT Student’s Union has started a petition calling for Fortune and David to be granted leave on humanitarian grounds.  

 

While there was much suffering and injustice brought to light by this conference, there was also a sense of solidarity, determination and hope. The speakers at this event were not just sharing their individual stories but were standing up for everyone in Direct Provision and coming together in the name of change. This united approach is clearly reflected in the work of ADPI and will be crucial in bringing an end to Direct Provision.

 

Sign ADPI’s petition to abolish Direct Provision here.

Volunteer with ADPI here.

STAND Festival 2020: Indigenous communities must be heard

STAND Festival 2020: Indigenous communities must be heard

OPINION 

STAND Festival 2020: Indigenous communities must be heard

STAND Festival 2020: 'The impacts of climate enforced migration among the most vulnerable communities'
olivia moore

Olivia Moore

28th October 2020

On Tuesday 13th October, STAND, with support from UCC Enviro Soc, TCD Enviro Soc, UCC Fáilte Refugees Soc and TCD VDP Social Justice, held an online panel discussion on “The impacts of climate enforced migration among the most vulnerable communities”. Chaired by Amali Tower of Climate Refugees, the panel included Jackie Qataliña Schaeffer (Alaska Native Tribal Health Consortium), Hindou Oumarou Ibrahim (Association for Indigenous Women and Peoples of Chad); Jannie Staffansson (Indigenous Peoples Rights Activist) and Genevieve Jiva (Pacific Islands Climate Action Network).

 

The panel members began by discussing the field of their work and their personal involvement. Jiva described her work with PICAN which, comprising 130 member organisations across the Pacific, champions knowledge and leadership into the effects of climate action on the area. The Pacific, she detailed, is considered to be at the front lines of the climate crisis, as climate forced migration and relocation align with intense cyclones, coral bleaching, king tides and sea-level rise. Staffansson, growing up in a reindeer-herding family, is seeing fast changes occurring as a result of temperature-rise, which caused many of the indigenous species to suffer. Accordingly, she decided that she would try to adapt by educating herself in indigenous knowledge to adapt to climate change.

 

Schaeffer, from a traditional Alaskan background, is also witnessing the suffering of her own community as a result of rising sea levels and temperatures and tries to help science and research to understand the importance of the elders’ knowledge of nature in order to help with adaptation to the new climate. Ibrahim, by contrast, coming from a nomadic culture in the Chad Basin surrounded by desert, looked back on her childhood, noting that so many of the different species of birds, insects, flowers and animals that she played with have now disappeared, mentioning that in 1960, Lake Chad measured 25km2, whereas now it only measures 2km2. Ibrahim summed up what all the panellists were working towards: “a platform at the international level to make the voices of indigenous communities heard and taken into consideration in the realm of climate change and climate forced migration.”

 

Schaeffer expanded on the struggles facing her community: the extreme weather variances prohibited infrastructure, due to the eternal truth in that “pitting modern infrastructure against mother nature, mother nature will win every time.” The summers are becoming hotter and longer, the winters colder and shorter, and as a people of the ecosystem, her indigenous community that depends on the land and food resources and agriculture are seeing climate change drastically affect plants and animals. However, she maintains that her people have lived for 17,000 years on the land; they successfully survived a period of time in which summer lasted all year round, and a lot more besides; so to Schaeffer, this instance is a mere “glimpse in time” which is not going to win.

 

Ibrahim summed up what all the panellists were working towards: a platform at the international level to make the voices of indigenous communities heard and taken into consideration in the realm of climate change and climate forced migration.”

Staffansson emphasised that some areas that were previously untouched by colonialism were now being destroyed in favour of windmill parks, for example. She asked, “Why not put them in places where you need them, beside the cities? In places where you have already destroyed the biodiversity?… We have paid for it enough.” She acknowledged that it is difficult to adapt and survive with climate change, but to also fight as a community against renewable energy destroying her lands: while it is preferred to fossil fuels, the price should not always be paid by indigenous people and their family, lands and animals. Ibrahim agreed also that it is not just about human species, but about the ecosystem as a whole.

 

Jiva acknowledged that the first thing that needs to be accomplished is visibility: the Pacific is so excluded in international spaces; and if it is not seen, then how can people care? A third of the world’s oceans are in the Pacific, lined with thousands of years of culture and history, and indigenous knowledge and science in the communities that are trying to survive. She noted how often neo-colonial thinking exacerbates suffering, for example, Australia’s grand compact.

 

Ibrahim described the impact that the Covid-19 crisis was having on her region – the Map of Hunger 2020 showed that Chad is the most vulnerable country, with an increase by 35% of food insecurity. She finds that countries are just focusing on Covid-19, when climate change is the main issue, as it makes people vulnerable. And those that are vulnerable will always be affected more by any crisis.

 

However, Schaeffer found some light at the end of the tunnel: because of the basic challenges of lockdown, her community had to revert to traditional methods of traditional medicines which were then shared across regions in the state. She emphasised the community mindset of such peoples, the focus on the bigger picture.  “The western mindset is self – family – community, while the indigenous norm is community – family – self.” This has never been more relevant than in the current climate.  She urged the youth to become their own inspiration – the voice of the youth has to be powerful but it has to be acknowledged first. The young should allow elders to tell their stories and share their knowledge; inspiration will only be what they know, and they can only know what they teach.

 

STAND Fest 20: The impacts of climate migration among the most vulnerable communities (STAND.ie, 2020)

Jannie urged the youth to take care of their community, “spend time with your sisters, gather around the fire. Gather with your community, and if you don’t have one you need to create one and take care of it.” She pressed further: “If you are young there will come a time where you need to walk the streets and protest, for us indigenous peoples that live so close to nature, seeing everything we love dying or already dead… There is still time.” 

 

Ibrahim called it the “youth battle, not only the indigenous fight,” imploring us not to “let them decide in your place, decide for the future that you want, and you can do it.” Jiva urged us to work as intergenerationally as possible – you can’t fix the future without learning from the past. Her final words were words that echoed the message of the entire discussion: “Get involved. You are our leaders.” 

 

Conall Keane, Social Justice Officer of Trinity Vincent de Paul Society, was also in attendance of the panel discussion: 

 

I thought it was a very insightful discussion that really showed just how diverse and widespread the issue of climate change is. Hearing from a range of communities around the world – a rare positive side-effect of the current restrictions on in-person events – with such different cultures, such different ways of living, and such different experiences, yet all sharing the common misfortune of struggle with climate change, brings to light the stark reality of what most people only loosely understand to be a global issue.”

 

The unequal burden of the impact of climate change was evident to Conall who felt “hearing about the severe damage that we in Western countries cause for these communities serves as an urgent reminder that the issue of climate change needs to be brought more into the public eye; the fact that people from the places in the world that are least impacted by these issues are the ones who are making the key decisions on behalf of those who are suffering the most is awful and unjust, and listening to the accounts of the speakers added greatly to the frustration I felt with those circumstances. For that reason, I think it’s more important than ever that we educate ourselves and each other on the issue of climate change because unfortunately, we can’t easily shift the imbalance of influence so the only alternative is to cultivate an awareness and understanding of the problem in those places that are in the position to bring about the necessary changes.” 

 

You can watch back the panel discussion above or on Youtube here. For Conall, “the simultaneous wonder and frustration that the discussion evoked are a testament to how worthwhile a discussion it was! 

 

 

 

Featured photo by STAND

 
 

 

The Time for Action is Now – Beijing +25

The Time for Action is Now – Beijing +25

 WOMEN

The Time for Action is Now – Beijing +25 and Women’s Rights

Hillary Clinton at Beijing 25+ 1995
parisa

Parisa Zangeneh

27th October 2020

2020 is an election year in the United States. We are standing at the precipice of change in many respects. This year, we (Americans) have a choice to determine the path our country will be on not only for the next four years but for the foreseeable future that extends beyond the next presidential term. A crucial group that will be impacted by the results of the American election is women and girls. Which path will we choose? Additionally, this year marks the 100th anniversary of the Nineteenth Amendment guaranteeing women’s right to vote; why aren’t we hearing more about this?

 

These important developments aside, 2020 also marks the 25th anniversary of the Beijing Declaration supported by former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton at the United Nations Fourth World Conference held in Beijing, China. The Georgetown Institute for Women, Peace and Security commemorated this landmark event in a webinar, Beijing+25: Commemorating a Watershed Moment for Women’s Rights, including participants Ambassador Melanne Verveer and Secretary Madeleine Albright. All three women recounted their stories of the conference and of serving as women in foreign policy. The webinar was notable in the candor with which all three shared their experiences, recollections of the atmosphere, and the literal physical and logistical challenges they faced in attending and delivering their message. Secretary Albright amusedly shared anecdotes regarding their difficult reception in China. Cab drivers had been given sheets to put over the naked women apparently expected; at the hotel, someone fogged up their bathroom mirrors; and the Chinese government turned off the sound during Clinton’s speech. The conference location itself posed an obstacle to women’s rights: Albright recounted how the government put the conference in a far away, muddy location, which also proved difficult to access for people with disabilities and other participants. Albright also mentioned how someone present asked her “where is the country of lesbia?” because they were confused about people talking about lesbians.

 

What was striking about the event’s description was that women, as late as 1995, could face harassment and physical hurdles to participating in an event in foreign policy, especially women of privilege, social standing, and high political rank in the United States. Additionally, some anecdotes illustrated the difficulty faced in protecting not only women’s rights, but ensuring women’s participation in foreign relations and institutional goals. Albright recalled that during the establishing of the new war crimes tribunal, the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia, she also lobbied to ensure that there were female judges on the bench and to prevent rape from being used as a weapon of war. Clinton made a point of mentioning rape being used as a weapon of war in her speech: “Even now, in the late 20th century, the rape of women continues to be used as an instrument of armed conflict.”

 

First Lady Hillary Rodham Clinton’s Remarks to the Fourth Women’s Conference in Beijing, China, 1995.

Albright recalled that when she first become US Ambassador to the UN in February 1993, she asked her assistant to invite the other female ambassadors to her apartment for lunch: this was one of the first times she had not had to cook lunch herself – after she had become an Ambassador. At the time, there were 6 other female ambassadors to the UN. They formed a caucus, the “G7”. When considering the progress that women have made towards equality, it is easy for younger generations to forget that our mothers and grandmothers’ generations had to climb over obstacles to fight for women’s rights, and it is easy to ridicule and to dehumanize them if their views are different from ours. The act of remembering is crucial, not only to appreciate their efforts in pushing the envelope on women’s rights but in appreciating our own ability to live in a more equal society than that which held back our mothers and grandmothers. It is also crucial to understanding why our mothers and grandmothers may have views on issues of gender and sex coming to the fore in today’s political debates. Albright pointed out not only the moral dilemma of excluding women and girls from foreign policy and political participation but the pragmatic reasons behind empowering women, who constitute roughly 50% of the population. 

 

The event also launched a report, Beijing +25 Accelerating Progress for Women and Girls. In the forward, Clinton pointed out that while we are at a watershed moment for women and girls, Beijing was a watershed moment as well (p. vi). The Beijing conference was revolutionary because of its focus: women and girls. It provided a platform for women to demand change and equal rights in the presence of representatives of 189 countries and women from around the globe. It underscored women’s historic demands for reversing ancient, deeply-entrenched misogyny and structural oppression with the following mantra, which is as relevant today as it was in 1995, if not more so: “women’s rights are human rights.” Secretary Clinton, wearing a pink suit, delivered these words. In 1995, I was 11 years old and remember looking up to Secretary Clinton and other women of my mother’s and grandmother’s generations. I also remember seeing them face constant criticism, ridicule, and harassment in the media and in everyday life due to their reproductive capabilities. The fact that Secretary Clinton boldly asserted this represents a monumental achievement on behalf of women and girls in the never-ending fight for equality. In 1995, Clinton argued that we need to break the silence regarding abuse of women, such as female genital mutilation, in her forward to the report. In 2020, Clinton reignited the call for structural and institutional abuse of women to be addressed, noting that “in some countries, there is not even a word for rape. In most, a culture of impunity thrives, allowing the subjugation, humiliation, and silencing of women who have been sexually harassed or assaulted in their homes and workplaces.” (p. vi)  

 

In Beijing, conference Chair Gertrude Mongella (R) with (L-R) WEDO’s Bella Abzug and Madeline Albright, then U.S. Secretary of State

In Beijing, conference Chair Gertrude Mongella (R) with (L-R) WEDO’s Bella Abzug and Madeline Albright, then U.S. Secretary of State (U.N. Photo)

One of the points also raised by Clinton in the report is how to counter backlash against strides made towards gender equality and fostering democratic inclusion and accountability. The report argues that men who benefit from the status quo may resist gender equality, and it argues that: “Political violence against women activists, political leaders, and demonstrators has emerged as a prevalent form of backlash […] Women most often faced violence when serving in positions of authority, reflecting resistance to women in power.” (p. 26) As the election draws near, it is important to remember that these issues, which have been showcased almost every day during the past several years in national headlines, are issues upon which we will be voting as we submit our ballots. Indeed, the 2016 presidential debates between Clinton and President Trump perfectly illustrate how male privilege and violence against women were quite literally utilized to block a woman from political office. Clinton recalled this experience:

 

“It was the second presidential debate and Donald Trump was looming behind me. Two days before the world heard him brag about groping women. Now we were on a small stage and no matter where I walked, he followed me closely, staring at me, making faces. It was incredibly uncomfortable. He was literally breathing down my neck. My skin crawled.”

 

 

The fact that a woman of Clinton’s stature in the American political echelons could openly face harassment and intimidation – acts of violence – on national television during a presidential debate – in 2020 – is staggering. In any other circumstances, Trump’s behaviour may have incurred criminal liability, but there he was, a presidential hopeful, unabashedly engaged in the act of harassing a woman who surpassed him in legal education and governmental and political experience. And he could get away with it.

 

Secretaries of State Hillary Clinton and Madeleine Albright keynote Beijing +25: Commemorating a Watershed Moment for Women’s Rights on Sept. 10

Secretaries of State Hillary Clinton and Madeleine Albright keynote Beijing +25: Commemorating a Watershed Moment for Women’s Rights on Sept. 10 (Georgetown Institute for Women, Peace and Security)

In a way, the participants’ personal recollections about their experiences in Beijing in 1995 overshadowed the actual launch of the report, and it captivated my mind and imagination far more. This is not saying that the report is not important – it is. However, a consistent source of fuel for my fire is that women could and still can be treated as objects of ridicule, harassment, and derision for having the audacity to demand that “women’s rights are human rights”, to demand respect, to demand inclusion –and to demand equality.  

 

Clinton made a call to action in 1995. 

 

The time for action is now. 

 

 

 

Featured photo by UN