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About two weeks ago Julia and I attended the US Global Leadership Council’s annual conference. The day was filled with brilliant speakers, but in the end we both agreed that one of our favorites was Gary Knell, President and CEO of Sesame Working shop. He discussed “Muppet Diplomacy”, the idea that through educational television we can develop nations and encourage a more positive relationship between the U.S. and other nations. As Julia mentioned in an earlier post, this was a refreshing viewpoint on a panel that mostly focused on the direct impact of development on business’ pockets (not so surprising since it was a panel on development’s economic impacts).

Sesame Workshop was founded thirty-eight years ago to help low income children in the U.S. prepare for school. The concept was simple: use television to address the developmental needs of children. Since then, the Sesame Street model has gone global. Sesame Workshop works with 18 countries (Australia, Bangladesh, Brazil, Egypt ,France, Germany, India, Indonesia, Israel, Japan, Jordan, Kosovo, Mexico, Netherlands, Northern Ireland, Palestine, Russia, South Africa ) on locally produced media following the Sesame model. Each production team involves the top educators, researchers, psychologists, child development experts, artists, writers and musicians in their respective countries. Today Sesame Street if the most researched show in history.

What is most interesting about this process is how local productions are using the Sesame model to talk about regionally relevant issues. Rechov Sumsum, the production in Israel features Arab-Israeli and Jewish- Israeli muppets living together in harmony. Alam Simsim, Egypt’s production features a bright young female muppet, Khokha, to promote the empowerment and education of young girls.

South Africa’s Takalani Sesame embodies the spirit of the “rainbow nation” and features muppets that speak with accents that reflect the diversity of the nation. Most notable is Kami, a young female muppet who is HIV positive. As South Africa continues to be devastated by the HIV/AIDS epidemic, the show is attempting to dispel the culture of silence and stigma surrounding the issue.

The name “Kami” comes from the Setswana word “Kamodelo” which means “acceptance.” Kami is a Read the rest of this entry »

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“What have you done today to make you proud?”

Yvonna Chaka Chaka posed this question to the audience at an event I attended last week and it has been on my mind ever since.

The Global Health Council and Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health hosted a film screening of The Motherland Tour- A Journey of African Women with Yvonne Chaka Chaka and discussion on the links between global health, development, gender and the Millennium Development Goals.  Speaking on these issues were Dr. Matthew Lunch (Director of the Global Program on Malaria at the Center for Communication Programs, CCP, Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health), Louis da Gama (Malaria Advocacy and Communications Director, Global Health Advocates), and Yvonna Chaka Chaka (Entertainer and Humanitarian).

The Motherland Tour documents Yvonne Chaka Chaka’s travels to meet with women across Africa and discuss the most pressing issues they face– including malaria, maternal and child health, HIV/AIDS, women’s empowerment, education, and poverty. The film features personal stories and women-lead grassroots efforts to tackle these issues. Although optimistic and uplifting, the film does not shy away from highlighting the gravity of the present situation. The narrator reminds the audience of the harsh realities.

Malaria kills an African child every 30 seconds.

For rural populations the closest health clinic may be up to a four day walk away.

Most of these clinics are understaffed and under stocked.

In Sub-Saharan Africa over 24 million children and adults are estimated to be living with HIV.

After the screening, Yvonne Chaka Chaka and Louis da Gama explained that they created this film with the intent of “giving voices to the voiceless.” They pointed out that leaders must be reminded of the women they are meant to be representing and who brought them into this world. They also stressed the need for programs focused on empowering women to help themselves. In Yvonne’s words, “I will hold your hand as you help yourself.” Her overall message is that “Africa has hope”, and that hope lies in empowering women (or Well Organized MEN as she joked).

Louis da Gama reminded the audience that just because the economy is in recession does not mean that HIV/AIDs, TB and malaria are also in recession. We need continued funding, to the Global Fund in particular, if there is to be any hope for the improvement of health conditions in Africa.

So back to the question. “What have you done today to make you proud?” Yvonne Chaka Chaka and Louis da Gama recommend that you contact your representatives to encourage them act boldly in support of global health funding. Here are some actions you can take today:

Sign this petition asking Obama to commit $6 billion to the Global Fund in the next three years.

Contact your member of Congress urging to honor the promise of $1 billion a year by supporting full funding for malaria.

Contact your members of Congress and urge them to continue exercising leadership on this critical issue.

Go ahead, make yourself proud!

Post by Claude Joseph, Brooklyn College.

The CARE’s National Conference 2010 is the most far-reaching event that I have participated in in the past three years. The reasons are twofold: first of all, it approached the eradication of global poverty with a paradigm focused on empowering women. Since women are the cornerstone of any society, this approach is, in my opinion, the best one. I was so proud to meet Her Excellency Sia Nyama Koroma, First Lady of the Republic of Sierra Leone and Her Excellency Ida Odinga, wife of the Prime Minister of Kenya–two women who are committed to play a significant role in the fight against global poverty.  I had the opportunity to chat briefly with these two venerable women about the 7.0 magnitude earthquake that hit my country, Haiti, on January 12, 2010. In this short meeting, I realized how deeply struck they were by what was happening in Haiti, despite being an ocean away.

Secondly, thanks to this conference, I have joined the CARE Action Network, a social network of great magnitude in terms of people who are committing their lives to the struggle for a better world. I am proud to join these people who welcome each other with open-minds and share their experiences on many subjects.

Also, it is worthwhile to mention that the CARE conference inspired me to further engage with the Haitian Youth Leaders’ Symposium, held in Haiti last week, where more than two thousand young people gathered to discuss reconstruction efforts.

Read the rest of this entry »

Like Lisa and Ashley, I was also lucky enough to be in attendance at the CARE National Conference and Celebration last week. As they have already written, the conference focused on three different bills and three main targets: (H.R. 3077/S. 384) the Global Food Security Act and addressing the Millennium Development Goal #1 of eradicating extreme poverty and hunger; the International Protecting Girls by Preventing Child Marriage Act (H.R. 2103/S. 987), which condemns child marriage as a human rights violation; and the Global and Maternal Health Bill (H.R. 5268/ not yet introduced in the Senate), which seeks to reduce rates of maternal mortality with cost-effective and women-empowering solutions.

Global issues like hunger, poverty, or lack of access to education are enormous, and need to be addressed in comprehensive ways.  I’m always a big fan of programs that build the capacity to address the issue in the population most affected. People have the ability to solve their own problems. The Food Security Act places much more emphasis on funding for long-term agriculture rather than emergency aid, and, in doing so, the empowerment of communities to feed themselves. It was with this in mind that I chose the Food Security Act as my focus for the lobbying visit. This wasn’t my first time lobbying on Capitol Hill, but it was the first time that I actually had the job of conveying key elements of the group’s agenda to the Hill staffers.

And I’m certainly glad I did.

As of May 19th, my House representative officially co-sponsored the Global Food Security Act. (Curious about your own reps? Click here for the House, and here for the Senate!). As one of over 900 conference participants with 345 Capitol Hill visits, I definitely felt part of something larger than myself.

But that wasn’t the only type of change at this conference.

Read the rest of this entry »

Hi, I’m Lisa – the new Global Environment intern here at Americans for Informed Democracy.

Yesterday morning I had the opportunity to attend a breakfast briefing celebrating International Women’s Day. The breakfast was organized by Women Thrive Worldwide and UNIFEM to educate policymakers and private sector leaders about successes and challenges facing women in Afghanistan and Haiti. Speakers included The Honorable Maria Otero – Under Secretary of State for Democracy and Global Affairs, Senator Mary Landrieu (D-LA), Ines Alberdi – Executive Director of UNIFEM, Kathy Mongones – UNIFEM Haiti Program Coordinator, Suraya Pakzad – Founder of Voice of Women in Afghanistan, and Ritu Sharma – President and Co-founder of Women Thrive Worldwide.

The take away message was clear: it’s time to make women’s empowerment a central focus of U.S. foreign policy. But how do we do this? According to Ritu Sharma, you listen.

Read the rest of this entry »

Decades of research leave little doubt about the vital role of women in global development. While women often bear poverty’s heaviest burdens, focused investment in that portion of the population has proved a near-surefire way to build healthier, better educated, more prosperous communities. Last month, the Global Resources and Opportunities for Women to Thrive Act (GROWTH Act, S.1425) was introduced in the Senate. This legislation is an exciting opportunity to ensure that US foreign assistance and development efforts adequately (and smartly) invest in the power of women in the developing world.

Though women comprise a disproportionate percentage of the world’s extremely poor, studies have demonstrated that women who are given extra income are more likely than men to invest it in their children, improving the family’s health, lowering child mortality and malnutrition rates, and boosting education rates. Women’s successes in the microfinance industry over the last 30-40 years have been breathtaking as well. The GROWTH Act proposes much wider administrative and financial support for such initiatives, including microenterprise, improved land and property rights for women, more access to formal employment, skills trainings, and focused investments from trade (the latter four components have been widely absent from general microfinance initiatives).

CDTD cooking class

Somali refugees attending a cooking class that will enable them to secure better jobs and earn higher wages

I’ve had the luck to witness the results of such initiatives in Kenya, and am now very much a believer in the power of women in development. I spent several months in early 2008 interning at the Centre for Domestic Training and Development, an organization led by an inspiring Kenyan woman to help other impoverished women thrive. Edith Murogo, the Centre’s founder, is a wife and mother who recognized a problem in her community and began working to solve it, raising money slowly to establish and expand her organization. Today she is one of the most well-known and respected social entrepreneurs in Kenya.

Read the rest of this entry »

Over the last eight months, many scholars have questioned whether Africa might escape the worst effects of the economic crisis. Some have hypothesized that the continent’s limited involvement in the world economy and international financial system might insulate it from a crisis stemming from credit systems and lending markets. In March, AIDemocracy blogged about surprising economic growth in Africa thanks to heavy Chinese investment and trade (African Trade Booms as World Economy Collapses). New economic reports, however, suggest that the situation is a little more complicated than it seems.

transafrica forumOn June 18th, the TransAfrica Forum held a roundtable discussion on the impact of the economic crisis on Africa. Panelists discussed the causes and consequences of the crisis on Africa and argued over some of its potential benefits. The speakers could whole-heartedly agree on two points: first, that the crisis has and continues to affect Africans dramatically, and second, that it provides an opportunity to achieve structural change through investment in women, workers, and other marginalized groups.

After nearly a decade of steady growth rates of 5-7%, the crisis is expected to make African nations’ growth negative. More developed countries like South Africa have seen stock market crashes and jumps in unemployment, as in the US and Western Europe. Developing economies, which had previously escaped the worst effects of the crisis, are now suffering as primary export prices fall. The crisis has reached these countries not through the stock market, but through the commodities trade in raw materials on which they depend. The implications of this crisis for an underdeveloped and impoverished continent are thus quite serious.

Read the rest of this entry »

I never thought I would disagree with Gloria Steinem. As a notable feminist, fabulous writer and co-founder of the Women’s Media Center, Steinem has been a leader in the women’s movement for as long as I can remember.

However, I disagreed with Steinem after her article “American women are never front-runners” surfaced in the New York Times as well as the International Herald Tribune (Sat-Sun Jan 12-13, 2008). Steinem argued “gender is probably the most restricting force in American life, whether the question is who must be in the kitchen or who could be in the White House.” I will agree, gender is a pervasive and restricting force, but what about religion and citizenship? Can you imagine a Muslim being elected President? Our constitution does not allow foreign born citizens to run for president, nor can undocumented workers vote.
Steinem argues that if Obama was a woman, “her goose would’ve been cooked long ago,” in other words, s/he would have no chance. Perhaps there is some truth to that, but I would rather imagine both Clinton and Obama as women of color and compare their words and policies rather than their lineage and family members. Just for a moment, if Clinton were a woman of color, she would not be married to a former President, if history is any indication, multiracial couples don’t make it to the White House. In addition, she may or may not have had the resources to make it to Yale in the first place.
Women have not historically been front-runners and the reasons, according to Steinem, are “as pervasive as the air we breathe.” Including, but not limited to the fact that men feel as though they are “regressing to childhood when dealing with a powerful woman” and “there is still no ‘right’ way to be a woman in public power without being considered a you-know-what” (b**ch). Given the lack of female front-runners, Steinem does make important points.
Though she recognizes the interdependence of race and sex, Steinem is still a Clinton supporter on account of the four more years of Senate experience Clinton has over Obama (a moot point, if you ask me). In addition Clinton has “no masculinity to prove” and “the potential to tap a huge reservoir of this country’s talent by her example.” I am assuming she means young girls and women’s talents here, which is important, but what about the people of color, or women of color who don’t see anything in Clinton that resembles their own views, or those who may have reservations about a so-called feminist who takes back her husband after cheating? Is the personal political in the race of white woman vs. black man, and should it be?
What worries Steinem though, is that “some women, perhaps especially younger ones, hope to deny or escape the sexual caste system.” To you, one of my idols, Ms. Steinem, I will say I do hope to someday escape the sexual caste system, but I do not hope to deny it, I hope to recognize, challenge and abolish it.
In a recent Financial Times article, “Tears for ballot-box fears,” (Sat-Sun Jan 12-13, 2008) Chrystia Freeland contributes her own opinion to Clinton’s tears. In response to Steinem’s praise of women over 50 and 60 in Iowa who may be “more radical with age,” Freeland argues that perhaps “younger women are more demanding when it comes to feminist icons.”
Steinem ends her piece by arguing that “it’s time to take equal pride in breaking the barriers,” I would add that it is also time to evaluate our candidates by acknowledging the interlocking systems of domination, such as race and sex, and looking beyond, to their words, morals, policies and vision for change in the US.

Thanks to David in Amman for this.

U.S. Democracy Strategy:
An American-Jordanian Dialogue


April 19-21, 2007
Amman, Jordan


Conference Recommendations

The following recommendations were approved democratically by young
Americans and Jordanians (ages 18-28) at a conference entitled “U.S.
Democracy Strategy: An American-Jordanian Dialogue” in Amman, Jordan
from April 19-21. Each recommendation was developed by the participants
in small group discussions, then discussed and amended in general
session, and finally voted upon by the participants by secret ballot.
The recommendations were approved by a majority of the Americans and a
majority of the Jordanians.

The conference was organized by Americans for Informed Democracy (AID),
the Project on Middle East Democracy (POMED) and the al-Urdun al-Jadid
(New Jordan) Research Center (UJRC). Some of these recommendations are
directed toward the U.S. government, others to the Jordanian
government, and others to the media and civil society organizations.


Strengthening Democracy

1. Recognizing that the limits placed on freedom of speech and assembly
in Jordan are undefined and unknown, causing inconsistency in their
application of upholding and protecting such rights and freedoms, and
also causing a high degree of confusion, discouraging citizens’
engagement with the political system:
We recommend that these laws and their method of application be defined
and published for the people, to promote consistency of application and
also to promote and facilitate citizen participation and engagement.

2. In order to create a culture of participatory democracy, we
recommend compulsory civic education in Jordanian schools starting in
kindergarten. This includes:
a) engaging youth in voting activities that allow them to see the result of their participation;
b) empowering young adults to affect public policy and decision-making;
c) critical thinking skills; and
d) integrating into the basic curriculum available folklore that demonstrates democratic principles.

3. Any student council in a public school or university should be elected by popular vote.

4. Create independent public awareness tools, such as a website or
television campaign on a channel with a large Jordanian viewership, to
inform citizens of prospective changes in the existing Parliamentary
election system.

5. Universities should ensure that students are not penalized for their political affiliations. This includes:
a) an ongoing student dialogue regarding political participation among university students; and
b) in cooperation with university administrations, codification of
policies regarding the political activities of university students so
that they may be consistently applied.

6. To educate the general public on the importance of democracy, its
implications, and their freedoms and rights as citizens of a democratic
government, we recommend using television programs among other forms of
media communication as a vehicle through which to instill the values
necessary for a successful democracy.

7. Reaffirming the importance of America’s significant foreign aid to
Jordan, we encourage the United States government to demand
accountability for its financial support of Jordanian institutions in
order to ensure that the funds have been directed toward their intended
destination. This information should be made accessible to the
Jordanian and American publics.

8. To strengthen democracy in Jordan, we believe in educating
Jordanians at the grassroots level for the purpose of generating
conditions upon which an organically cultivated, benevolent awareness
of democratic principles may be fostered. To this end, we recommend the
following:

Creating actual spaces where dialogue may occur between citizens and
governmental representatives in order to maintain clear lines of
accountability, including conferences, town hall meetings, open
parliament sessions, increased office hours for representatives, and
other initiatives.

9. Mobilizing an independent traveling troupe to engage citizens in a
tangible presentation of democratic principles by means of dramatic
performance.

10. Recognizing the overwhelming influence of the tribal and familial
pressures on Jordanian voter participation and considering it an
obstacle to genuine democratic reform, we suggest that the following
actions be taken to promote an empowered and educated electorate:
a) Each candidate should formulate their own platform based on constituent needs.
b) No candidate should be allowed to provide gifts, monetary or in-kind, in exchange for votes.

11. The Jordanian media’s involvement in political campaigns should be
expanded to using radio and television stations as well as newspapers
to increase candidate and platform recognition by:
a) A government-run television station that establishes and airs debates between candidates and allocates equal time.
b) Candidate newspaper advertisements should contain the following
information: 1) name; 2) past political activities and voting history
where applicable; 3) policy goals and platforms.

12. An independent non-partisan NGO, such as Project VoteSmart, should
be established and advertised to the general public. As a result, we
hope that grassroots groups would use this information for advocacy
purposes.

13. Remove or diminish limits on the number of individuals who can meet to discuss politics without a permit.

14. Change the one-man one-vote law to a system in which each voter has the same number of votes as seats in the district.


Engaging Political Islam

1. Recognizing that:
a) Islamist political groups are well-established and popular actors on the Jordanian political scene; and
b) As Prince Hassan bin Talal observed in his opening address for this
conference, excluding Islamist leaders from reform efforts invites them
to obstruct such efforts.

We recommend that the U.S. engage those Islamist individuals and groups
that express a credible willingness to participate in democracy by
offering the same dialogue to Islamist reformers that is currently
offered to other reformers. Even if dialogue is refused, the U.S.
should avoid stigmatizing Islamist politics in official rhetoric.

2. Recognizing the inclusion of mandatory religious education
throughout the Jordanian public school system and the importance of
religious issues in the region, we recommend the inclusion of open and
objective discussion on pertinent contemporary religious issues such as
the role of women in society, democracy and Islam, terrorism, and an
objective explanation of the beliefs of other world religions.

3. We encourage the United States to invest in and support local
Jordanian initiatives that would significantly encourage individuals
and/or representatives of all political parties to increase their
involvement in the political process, through the organization of
training sessions on campaign strategy, fundraising, media relations,
and similar skills.

4. We encourage American media to increase unbiased coverage of Islam.


Women’s Democratic Participation

1. To cultivate the delicate flourishing of democracy and share the
different processes thereby emphasizing the significance of women’s
participation upon which democracy relies, we recommend that
international collaboration be implemented between Jordanian and
American women through:
a) joint international projects and training centers; and
b) political exchange and fellowship programs.
2. We encourage the United States and Jordan to invest in and support
local Jordanian initiatives that would work toward the creation of a
Jordanian National Women’s Rights Charter.
3. We encourage the United States and Jordan to invest in and support local Jordanian initiatives that would:
a) Significantly encourage women to participate in the political
process through the organization of training sessions on campaign
strategy, fundraising, media relations, and related fields.
b) Encourage both men and women to promote the engagement of women in the political sphere, through public awareness campaigns.


Regional Impacts on Reform

1. Although democratic reforms in Jordan can and should be pursued
regardless of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the U.S. should
continue to consider the ways in which its policy toward the
Israeli-Palestinian conflict hinders democratization and strengthens
extremism.

2. We contend that economic stability will act as a buffer against the
impact of regional instability on reform. To attain this, we reaffirm
the promotion of small and medium enterprise initiatives and
micro-financing projects.

3. We reaffirm the importance of a clear and effective strategy to
foster a more stable situation in Iraq, while using the Arab League
peace initiative as a starting point and encouraging the US to
re-initiate peace talks between all democratically elected
representatives and homegrown initiatives regarding Israeli-Palestinian
conflict.

4. Recognizing the interconnectedness of political, social and economic
affairs in the region, and the significant impact of events in each
country on the entirety of the region, in particular the approach of
the U.S. government in dealing with affairs in Iraq, Iran and the
Israeli-Palestinian conflict, which work to hinder the cause for
democratic reform within countries of the region, we recommend that:

The U.S. administration continue to approach the Middle East as a whole
region, and address the conflicts in it in the context of the region,
with the cooperation of states in the region, rather than as isolated
incidents, maintaining that different countries and peoples require
different frameworks for resolution and democracy promotion.

5. We call for organizing a series of regional conventions to let involved parties in
Iraq come together to discuss their demands and reach a consensus.

Cheers for Spain! Yesterday, the Spanish Parliament passed a women’s equality law aimed at helping women overcome pervasive sexual prejudice in the workforce and in politics.

From the Houston Chronicle:

March 15, 2007,  9:56PM

Spanish parliament passes women’s equality law

Prime minister says passing bill will transform society for better 
   

By DANIEL WOOLLS  Associated Press
 
 
 

MADRID, SPAIN — Parliament passed a gender-equality bill Thursday
aimed at getting more Spanish women into elected office and corporate
boardrooms — and more men heating baby bottles and changing diapers.

"Today is the first day of a different society," Socialist Prime
Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero, a self-proclaimed feminist, said
during a debate before the vote.

The final tally in the 350-seat Congress of Deputies was 192-0, with
119 abstentions. The latter were from the conservative Popular Party,
which has derided the bill as too interventionist. A total of 39
lawmakers did not attend the session.

The highlight of the so-called Law of Equality grants 15 days of
paternity leave to new fathers. In 2013, the 15 days’ leave will expand
to a month.

The bill had already been passed in the Senate, so Thursday’s vote was final.

Another provision of the bill says women must make up at least 40
percent of the lists of candidates that parties field in elections. It
will be applied for the first time in May when Spain holds regional and
municipal balloting.

In the business world, where Spanish women are grossly
underrepresented, companies that achieve more of a male-female balance
among their executives and at lower levels will receive favorable
treatment when they bid for government contracts.

Zapatero, who has made women’s rights and gender equality a hallmark
of a liberal-minded government that took power in 2004, said the law
"will transform Spanish society forever and for the better."

I love how Zapatero is a proudly self-proclaimed feminist. It’s awesome. Contrary to conventional wisdom, both women and
men can be feminists. In the United States, however, I know only a few
guys who would call themselves feminists, and they’re all college-age liberals. Can you imagine male lawmakers (forget about the president) calling themselves feminists? Yeah, right. Can you even imagine female lawmakers
calling themselves feminists? I can’t. Jokes about bra-burning and man-bashing
would roll of the tongues of Washington pundits. Feminist is the "other F-word" in this country. Even my male friends chuckle when I call myself a feminist. "Well, at least you’re not the crazy kind of feminist," one told me recently. Supressing the urge to throw my glass of water in his face, I responded by saying that he needed to clarify what a "crazy feminist" was, because I’d never met one and was curious about this exotic species.  His answer was basically a listing of stupid feminist stereotypes: the angry cat-lady, the bra-less college woman, the scary lesbian, the sexually dissatisifed man-hater, the denigrater of stay-at-home mothers. I am none of these things, and I told my friend that he might want to go out and actually talk to feminists before he makes another display of his astonishing ignorance.

It is my friend’s kind of ignorance, coupled with persevering cultural undercurrent of misogyny among political elites, that is responsible for the failure of the Equal Rights Amendment, and the United States’ rejection of the Convention on the Elimination of All forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW.) We still  have a lot of lawmakers who firmly believe that a woman’s ONLY place is in her home, raising children and tending to her career-man husband’s every need. When my generation (with its huge numbers of women going into law and politics) is running things, that will change.

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