Preventing Gender-based Violence: The Role of Religious Actors #CSW63

Report by Grove Harris, TOU UN Representative

On March 22, 2019, the final day of the CSW, I attended a side event on “Preventing Gender-based Violence: The Role of Religious Actors.” It was co-sponsored by the Permanent Missions of Botswana and Finland to the United Nations, the UN Interagency Task Force on Religion (co-stewarded by the UN Office for Genocide Prevention, UNAIDS, UNFPA, UN Women), and the ACT ALLIANCE.

From the event description:

“The interactive discussions will assess the specific contributions of faith-based and faith-inspired actors, when partnering with governments and UN system entities, to deal with diverse forms of gender-based violence. The conversations aim to contribute to the wider discussion and mobilisation around the implementation of the landmark ‘Plan of Action for Religious Leaders and Actors to Prevent Incitement to Violence that Could Lead to Atrocity Crimes.'”

The room was full, indicating the high level of interest in this topic. Mr. Dieng, United Nations Under-Secretary General on the Prevention of Genocide and the Responsibility to Protect, opened the session via video. His exemplary work is documented with video and written statements available.

Muslims for Progressive Values President Ani Zonneveld spoke on hate speech and her work on empowering reform of education in Muslim societies. She suggested that rather than investing in funding travel to international speaking opportunities for high-level men, the same funds could bring youth to advocacy training camps for better net result.

The rights of LGBTI individuals were brought up as part of the commitment to leave no one behind. It is no longer acceptable to allow religious or cultural attitudes to infringe on the basic human rights of all. The event was sponsored by the Office of the Special Adviser on the Prevention of Genocide (OSAPG) and co-sponsored by UN WOMEN, UNFPA, UNAIDS and ACT Alliance.

I was honored to attend an earlier expert consultation, part of this line of work on preventing genocide, entitled “Preventing Polarization, Building Bridges and Fostering Inclusivity: The Role of Religious Actors” held in NYC earlier in March. This brilliant session brought academics and religious actors to the table, and a publication is planned.

A previous session focused on religion and ultra-nationalism. The dedication and effort of Simona Cruciani and others working on this initiative are phenomenal.

#CSW63 – Report on the 2019 Commission on the Status of Women

Report by TOU UN Representative Grove Harris
63rd Commission on the Status of Women, 11-19 March 2019

The Temple of Understanding’s events at CSW63 were well-attended and brought a heart-centered attention to the work.

Systemic Commitment Towards Peace, Justice and Transformation

The singing of Kristin Hoffman lifted spirits and encouraged our speakers to move right to the core. The synergies between speakers Eileen Llorens, calling for a debt audit and justice for the people of Puerto Rico, and Katherine Power, calling for personal practices of peace that inform action, fed the audience. We were gratified by the number of young people present and respect the voice of one participant who called out those who want to simply turn over the world’s problems to the younger generation. We all have to stand and own our parts and work for change.

Katherine Power, Eileen Llorens, and TOU Executive Director Alison Van Dyk

 

For inspiration, check out Imagine a Puerto Rican Recovery Designed by Puerto Ricans. There is also current New York Times reporting on unequal treatment and the reconstruction challenges still facing Puerto Rico, which include hunger, lack of medical care, and damaged bridges and other infrastructure:

“Puerto Rico was in financial distress and had crumbling infrastructure before Hurricane Maria, and many residents complain of government malfeasance that exacerbated the storm’s impact, echoing criticism from Washington. But Puerto Rican leaders say the delay to the Vieques hospital and thousands of other stalled projects is a reflection of unequal treatment from the White House and Congress, which last week failed to pass disaster relief legislation because of a dispute over how much money to send the island.”

 

 

The Fifth Annual Interfaith Service of Gratitude and Remembrance

The service of remembrance was a sorely needed time for the community to come together in spirit. We at the Church Center lost many colleagues in the tragic airline crash in Ethiopia, and while our work and the CSW can be hectic, ultimate concerns call us to stop and pay attention to the losses in our midst. We also heed the practice of gratitude, which co-exists with grief. Music and prayerful remembrances of individuals who have passed on, recollection of our connections to the Earth, and honoring of all of our mothers, helped us join together for an hour of peace.

Conversations on Social Cohesion: Stories of Women, Faith, and Leadership

It was an honor to join this group of women in speaking from the heart.

TOU Executive Director Alison Van Dyk commented, “It was heartwarming to hear women in leadership positions being so forthright about their experiences of being ignored, put down or belittled by unwanted advances. As someone in a leadership position I agree that we can no longer accept this behavior as the norm. We must speak out more forcefully about our right to be acknowledged and call out all unacceptable behavior towards women worldwide.”

Our colleague Jillian Abballe from the Anglican Communion posted on Facebook afterwards, “This doesn’t feel like an event. This feels like a witness to the stories of amazing, powerful faith-full women, that I am so grateful to work with, to walk this path with, to dream with, to shake things up with. I feel healed by this conversation.”

Together, we can end “business as usual” and pursue transformation.

CSW63, March 2019: “Social Cohesion: Stories of Women, Faith, and Leadership”

More details on the speakers at these sessions is available here.

Outcomes

The TOU attended many more sessions during the CSW for solidarity, inspiration, education, and collaboration. Resources and links are in this complementary blog post. We offered support to those civil society members advocating during the proceedings inside the UN.

Our colleagues at WILPF, the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom, reported on outcomes of the CSW in detail, explaining that:

The Agreed Conclusions represent a step forward in identifying and removing barriers to women’s and girls’ access to public services. The Conclusions contain notably stronger language on the need for increased investment in social protection, public services and sustainable infrastructure to support the productivity of women’s work, including in the informal economy.

Though discussions varied widely, the civil society movement and Member States joined together in their call for:

  • acknowledgement of the synergies between and among sectors;
  • a holistic, intersectional, and intersectoral approach to peace-building and security;
  • and a recognition of the implementation of such approaches as a precondition of sustainable peace. 

Member States highlighted concrete initiatives as clear and concise frameworks for the implementation of an integrated approach to economic and social development at both national and international levels. Examples of these initiatives include: the National Social Protection Policy in Zambiathe Social Cohesion Fund in Morocco, feminist international agendas, like France’s Feminist Foreign Policy and the 100% ODA Plan of the UAE.

 

And of course there is much more on Twitter:

#CSW63 WRAP-UP: SOCIAL PROTECTION AS KEY TO #MOVETHEMONEY FROM WAR TO GENDER EQUALITY AND PEACE

 

#CSW63 Wrap-Up: Resources

Collected by Grove Harris, TOU UN Representative

The Commission on the Status of Women in NYC is an incredible opportunity for connecting with others doing advocacy around the globe. So many of the sessions offer truly inspirational resources and are crucial for the systemic transformations we need. From systemic survivor-centered approaches to ending trafficking in sexual exploitation, to critique of the Vatican, to art as a form of healing, to an overarching strategy to meet the Sustainable Development Goals within planetary boundaries, to the concurrent environment assembly in Nairobi, incredibly diverse efforts to reshape our world in more just and sustainable ways are happening.

Sex Trafficking

Our colleagues at Mercy International Association released Inherent Dignity: an Advocacy Guidebook to preventing trafficking for the purposes of sexual exploitation and to realizing the human rights of women and girls throughout their lives.

This work gets at the systemic causes and promotes transformation. Listening to survivors is key to their systemic approach, which was beautifully demonstrated at their session at the CSW. Their advocacy guide, available in its entirety online, is a comprehensive and accessible tool to move us forward towards ending human trafficking.

From the forward:

A human rights approach to trafficking means that all those involved in anti-trafficking efforts – from law enforcement agencies to victim service providers – should integrate human rights into their analysis of the problem and into their responses. This approach requires us to be rigorous in considering, at each and every stage, the impact that a law, policy, practice or measure may have on women and girls who have been trafficked or are at risk of being trafficked. It means embracing responses that empower and protect. Critically, it also means rejecting responses that risk compromising rights and freedoms. A useful example of this risk is the still-common practice of detaining women victims of trafficking in shelters. While there may be good reasons to seek to protect trafficked women from further harm, denying adult victims their right to freedom of movement in this way is not in keeping with a human rights approach.

The trafficking of women for sexual exploitation is a global wrong that implicates us all. But like so many challenges facing our fractured, troubled world, it is not amenable to a quick, technical fix. More than money or expertise, an end to the exploitation of human beings for private profit requires moral and spiritual leadership – it requires us all to stand up and say “this is wrong, this must stop”.

From 1.5:

Survivors of trafficking report that they were victimized from childhood to early adulthood, making them prey to traffickers. Their opportunities for decent work were severely limited, as were the supervision and support provided by their families, their safety at home and in the community, and their education. These precursors to trafficking all reflect a more sinister and structural oppression in which girls and women are made vulnerable to predators. Understanding systemic victimization over the life course is key to a holistic and preventative approach to human trafficking.

 

Catholics for Human Rights

Another CSW parallel event featured a panel of powerful speakers, a coalition of Catholics for Human Rights. It was followed by an afternoon forum for further discussion on abuses, harm reduction and healing. According to their press release, they discussed

the central role the Holy See has played in obstructing any progress by the CSW in many areas of human rights, including in sexual and reproductive rights, and how the Holy See as a religious body exceeds their powers at the CSW and at the UN. In part, this is manifested by not complying with treaties related to the treatment of women and children, as well as to condemning and denying rights of those the committee is dedicated to protecting, from women and children to LGBTQ people.

 

Gender and Science, Technology, and Innovation

A side event on Gender and Science, Technology, and Innovation: UN Initiatives offered a panel of women speakers on topics such as investing financially in women and encouraging women to register patents, on employment pathways such as “African Girls Can Code,” and on other ways that women need to “redesign the table” rather than simply sue for inclusion. At that session, Chantal Line Carpentier of UNCTAD mentioned an important strategic report about our way forward to sustainability, written for the Club of Rome, October, 2018. The report lays out four pathways – “same,” “faster,” “harder and smarter,” and finally simply “smarter,” a much more compelling option.

Transformation is Feasible: How to Achieve the Sustainable Development Goals within Planetary Boundaries

Excerpts from the executive summary:

This is the world’s first study – to our knowledge – on how to optimally achieve all SDGs within all PBs through an integrated Global System Model. We find that a piecemeal approach to attaining the goals sets up trade-offs and conflict among goals. The pursuit of each and all SDGs is necessary, but not sufficient to succeed in the longer run, and potentially even counterproductive. A transformational approach to SDG achievement is needed. The elements of this transformation are presented in our scenario 4) but further analysis and modelling are needed to support the necessary changes worldwide.

It seems necessary to implement transformational and extraordinary policy changes, in order to achieve near full success of SDGs within PBs. These policies need to go well beyond the conventional policy toolbox. …

2. Transformative change is possible, through five strategies that seem to be powerful ways to reach most SDGs within most PBs. The five measures are:

1) accelerated renewable energy growth sufficient to halve carbon emissions every decade,
2) accelerated productivity in sustainable food chains,
3) new development models in the poor countries,
4) unprecedented inequality reduction, and
5) investment in education for all, gender equality, health, family planning.

The choice is the simplest way we have found to achieve all SDGs both social and environmental. They represent five “leverage points” to intervene in the globally interconnected geo-bio-socio-economic system. Together, they are capable of shifting the global system onto a new path in the decades ahead.

Women, Girls, and Families

Not all sessions are as rigorously intellectual; blessedly, for example, there was a parallel event on art as a tool for self-esteem and healing for girls in Rwanda and Haiti.

The Temple was also present at a strategy session with UN Women, where we learned of their forthcoming edition of Progress of the World’s Women (June 2019) which will focus on the theme of “Families in a Changing World.” Note that it is families plural, which indicates a feminist perspective that there are diverse forms of families, all of which need respect and support. It is anticipated that the data shows about 25% of families are currently in the “nuclear” model. Other family forms include single-headed households, multi-generational families (more than two generations), and family structures impacted by migration.

Interfaith Climate Advocacy at UNEA

At the same time as the CSW in New York City, the 4th United Nations Environment Assembly (UNEA) took place in Nairobi. Ms. Maimunah Mohd Sharif, the acting Director-General of the United Nations Office in Nairobi and Executive Director of UN Habitat opened the session:

“The theme of this Assembly – ‘Innovative solutions for environmental challenges and sustainable consumption and production’ – is both timely and relevant. Changing today’s unsustainable consumption and production patterns, including through innovation and creative approaches, is essential if we are to succeed in tackling the mounting environmental challenges facing our world.”

You can review her statement and those by other opening plenary speakers, regional and political groups, and national statements online.

The interfaith presence was strong through our colleagues on the Parliament’s Climate Task Force. The TOU has been consulting with the Climate Task Force as it gains in strength.

 

2018 Parliament of the World’s Religions Report

Report by Grove Harris, TOU UN Representative, and Alison Van Dyk, TOU Executive Director
 
The Temple of Understanding greatly enjoyed connecting with colleagues and friends at this year’s Parliament of the World’s Religions in Toronto, Ontario. We are especially proud to have worked with environmental activist and food sovereignty advocate Dr. Vandana Shiva at her second Parliament. Dr. Shiva’s new book is entitled Oneness Versus the 0%: Shattering Illusions, Seeing Freedom (check it out via Spinifex Press or Amazon).
 

Executive Director Alison Van Dyk, Dr. Vandana Shiva, Board member
Laxmi Shah, and UN Representative Grove Harris, Toronto, 2018

 

Dr. Shiva first spoke at a Temple of Understanding event at the 2012 UN Rio Conference, and the TOU helped seed her work by bringing her to the Parliament for the first time in 2015. At the Toronto Parliament this year, she came as a major speaker in the Climate Change plenary. Dr. Shiva appeared on multiple panels and was increasingly warmly received, so that at her last session she spoke to a packed room. Her decades of advocacy and her passion for seed freedom and environmental justice helped Parliament participants move forward in their understanding of climate issues.
 
 

Highlights from the 2018 Parliament

Our colleague Joyce Dubensky of Tanenbaum has provided reflections on the Parliament of World Religions that include the full text of the plenary speech of Dr. P.L. de Silva, Director of the Institute for Strategic Studies and Democracy (ISSD). His talk entitled “Cultivation of Hatred” was offered as part of the Countering War, Hate, and Violence Assembly. Dr. de Silva writes of “Pope Francis’ condemnation of the sowing of hatred” and asks, “Aren’t those who cultivate hate culpable?” He suggests “the leading armaments countries… be condemned as war profiteers” and concludes that “reconciliation, faith and ethical leadership is what is most URGENTLY needed.”
 
The Parliament of the World’s Religions has posted short highlights of the Parliament as well as 13 full live streamed videos of major plenaries on their Facebook page.
 
 

The Temple of Understanding at the Parliament, 1993-2018

When the Parliament of the World’s Religions was launched in 1993, Juliet Hollister was invited to represent the Temple of Understanding as founder of the organization. Incorporated in 1960 and having been active at that time for over thirty years, the TOU participated in the Parliament as one of the oldest American organizations in the international interfaith movement.

Juliet brought a delegation of her board and staff to the 1993 gathering and walked in the opening procession of leaders of the interfaith movement. Rather than seeking special recognition for the TOU’s early contributions to the interfaith movement in the United States, Juliet’s position was as a kind of “Johnny Appleseed” of interfaith. Since, as she maintained, the job was “too big for any one organization,” she saw organizations like the TOU and Parliament as collaborating to spread seeds of dialogue, peace, and justice throughout the world.

Nelson Mandela, Cape Town, 1999

 

At the 1999 Parliament in Cape Town, South Africa, the TOU organized a wide variety of programs and honored Nelson Mandela with a Hollister Award. By the time of the third modern Parliament gathering in 2004 in Barcelona, Spain, the TOU had launched an educational cooperative with eleven interfaith organizations called the Consultation for Interfaith Education (CIE). CIE sponsored a three-day symposium at the Parliament and featured Ela Gandhi, Mahatma Gandhi’s granddaughter and now a Hollister award recipient, as a speaker. Hollister Awards were presented to Dr. Hans Kung for his work on Towards a Global Ethic (a document articulating the ethical commitments held in common by the world’s religious traditions) and to Pir Vilayat Inayat Khan for his leadership in the interfaith movement representing Sufism. The event was capped by two stunning performances by the Taiko drummers. 

In Melbourne, Australia in 2009, the TOU again collaborated as part of the CIE on a one-day experiential process including a group mosaic art project and the sharing of Indigenous perspectives by Chief Oren Lyons and Chief Jake Swamp. The program ended with a workshop from a group of Indigenous Maori elders, who taught the use of animal postures in dance as a form of nonverbal communication. The day ended with an open invitation to all to view the finished mosaic project and experience a group dance circle.

Starhawk, Grove Harris, and Vandana Shiva, Salt Lake City, 2015

 

In Salt Lake City, Utah in 2015, the Temple of Understanding brought environmentalist and food sovereignty advocate Dr. Vandana Shiva to the Parliament, where many religious leaders were exposed to her work for the first time. The TOU also connected its work at the United Nations with its long-standing goals of interfaith education by presenting a panel on “Faith at the United Nations” that focused on the Sustainable Development Goals. Vandana Shiva joined our own UN representative Grove Harris and ecofeminist theologian Starhawk for a panel on community resilience around food and water justice.

In Toronto, Ontario in 2018, the TOU contributed panels on topics including ecojustice, climate change, and women’s leadership in interfaith, and we hosted Dr. Vandana Shiva at three of those panels. We were also pleased that our film Roots of Change: Food Sovereignty, Women, and Eco-Justice was accepted for presentation in the Parliament’s film category. 

TOU at the 2018 Parliament in Toronto, Ontario

We started our interfaith work in Toronto a day before the Parliament by attending the Unity Earth Toronto Convergence, where our colleague A.K. Merchant from the Temple of Understanding–India spoke. This convening laid groundwork for mutual understanding and future events around the globe.

AK Merchant, Temple of
Understanding–India, 2018

 

Our first Parliament panel “Religion and the Work of the United Nations” included brilliant colleagues from our UN work, including Azza Karam, Denise Scotto, Levi Bautista, Lopa Banerjee and Bruce Knotts (not pictured).

“Religion and the Work of the United Nations” speakers, 2018

 

We were proud to support our youth representative 2018 TOU summer intern Larkin Cleland as he spoke on “Forging Alternatives to the Culture of Consumerism and Violence.” This session was sponsored by the India chapter of the Temple of Understanding and the text of Larkin’s presentation can be found here.

Larkin Cleland, 2018 TOU Summer Intern

 

As part of the innovative Women’s Mentorship program, Lopa Banerjee spoke to a full room of younger attendees, which provided a more intimate setting for interaction. 

Banerjee said that human rights underpin harmony and prosperity, and now in a new world order, national interests are seen as if they are in opposition to global interests. Movements of faith can extend to political acts. The UN SDGs are defending human rights and morality, with social justice at the center. We can reclaim faith’s moral core and the UN’s moral core.

Lopa Banerjee speaking as part of the Parliament’s Women’s Mentorship program, 2018

 

We decorated the panel on cracking the “stained glass ceiling” that women face in interfaith leadership with color and focused on gratitude for those who have taught us and gone before in the work. The panel addressed obstacles, but focused more on kinship among women, including sharing diverse perspectives.

Are Our Stained Glass Ceilings Cracking Yet?:
Women and Leadership in the World of Interfaith, 2018

 

On our panel on women of faith speaking out, Dr. Shiva spoke of the immense concentration of wealth from large corporate mergers, so that approximately five men own most of the world’s agro-chemical industry. We must find courageous compassion and pursue caring for the earth as the highest religion; protection with love is a duty. 

Women of Faith Speak Out: Towards Resetting the Global Moral Compass, 2018 
Alison Van Dyk, Chung Ohun Lee, Vandana Shiva, Azza Karam, Lopa Banerjee

 

Chris Peters spoke as part of Dr. Shiva’s panel on Earth Democracy. As part of the Seventh Generation Fund for Indigenous Peoples, he presented a powerful “Platform for Action: To Do More Than Survive, Thrive.

Click for PDF in English and Spanish >>

 

Speaker Hugh Locke joined us for Dr. Shiva’s panel on seed freedom. He is co-founder of the Smallholder Farmers Alliance, doing innovative social justice work around “tree currency“. 

Hugh Locke at “Seeds and Seedlings: Agents of Change”

 

Speaker Grove Harris opened and closed the session on “Interfaith Engagement: Past, Present and Future.”

Tarunjit Singh Butalia, Donna Bollinger, Sari Heidenreich

 

And of course, there was time for “selfies”! Here Alison and Grove pose with plenary speaker P.L. de Silva.

Grove Harris, PL de Silva, Alison van Dyk

Toward a Greener Attica: Preserving the Planet and Protecting its People

Report by Grove Harris, Representative to the United Nations for the Temple of Understanding
The Saronic Islands, June 5-8, 2018

The Temple of Understanding’s Executive Director Alison Van Dyk and Representative to the United Nations Grove Harris were honored to be invited to participate in the Green Attica Symposium. The symposium brought together 200 diverse thought leaders, including theologians, scientists, political and business leaders, activists, and journalists from around the globe.

Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew, a 2010 Hollister Award recipient, is famous for seeing environmentalism as a spiritual responsibility and has hosted such symposia since 1996. Settings have included the Adriatic Sea, the Amazon River, the Arctic Ocean, and the Mississippi River. His environmental writings set the tone for the event:

His All Holiness Patriarch Bartholomew, known affectionately as the Green Patriarch

Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew
Photo © Sean Hawkey 2018

Climate Change and Social Justice

If human beings were to treat one another’s personal property the way they treat the natural environment, we would view that behavior as anti-social and illegal.  We would expect legal sanctions and even compensation.  When will we learn that to commit a crime against the natural world is also a sin?

Sacrament and Sin

We have traditionally regarded sin as being merely what people do to other people. Yet, for human beings to destroy the biological diversity in God’s creation; for human beings to degrade the integrity of the earth by contributing to climate change, by stripping the earth of its natural forests or destroying it’s wetlands; for human beings to contaminate the earth’s waters, land and air – all of these are sins.

Healing and Repentance

Ecology cannot inspire respect for nature if it does not express a different worldview from the one that prevails in our culture today, from the one that led us to this ecological impasse in the first place.  What is required is an act of repentance, a change in our established ways, a renewed image of ourselves, one another and the world around us within the perspective of the divine design of creation.  To achieve this transformation, what is required is nothing less than a radical reversal of our perspectives and practices.

Water

Any abuse of our earth’s resources – and, above all, of water as the source and symbol of life and renewal – contradicts our sacred and social obligation to other people, and especially those who live in poverty and on the margins of society. Water is a fundamental human right… [Read Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew’s full Statement on Water]

The Symposium was a stunning opportunity to visit Greece and connect with old and new friends for more inspired and connected work towards climate justice. We spent three days visiting the islands of Spetses and Hydra, with intense program sessions considering religion and science, economics and the market, refugees, and the future, all including faith perspectives.

Dr. Vandana Shiva addresses the symposium, calling for protection of the world’s sacred waters, and also of the farmers who enable us to have sacred bread.
Photo © Sean Hawkey 2018

 

You can read a detailed description written by Rev. Margaret Bullitt-Jonas and the Washington Post article “Climate change is a top spiritual priority for these religious leaders,” both on the website of our colleagues at the Forum on Religion and Ecology.

Prior to the Symposium, we visited the world heritage site of Delphi, to meditate in the place considered the navel of the universe in ancient Greece.

The circular temple at Athena Pronaia Sanctuary at Delphi, the navel of the universe in the ancient Greek world, likely honored an even more ancient earth goddess. Photo by Grove Harris.

 

At the Symposium, the Temple of Understanding:

  • responded to Dr Jeffrey Sach’s economic presentation by reminding him that people of faith make an even more prophetic call for radical action, based on love and faith demanding more responsive action to redress environmental wrongs
  • convened a small round table with water justice expert Maude Barlow and other participants towards more effective actions after the Symposium
  • called for ethical guidelines to constrain economic growth, as part of the Symposium’s inclusion of corporate responsibility
  • promoted the Water Justice Guide

His All-Holiness with TOU Executive Director Alison Van Dyk
Photo © Sean Hawkey 2018

 

After the symposium we visited the island of Aegina and learned of the water challenges there, where most of the water is shipped to the island by tanker, and people buy bottled water to drink. We supported local activism with connection to the water justice work and Sustainable Development Goal 6 at the United Nations, as well as with ideas about local plastic recycling, including the Plastic Whale, a project that takes people out to fish plastics from Amsterdam’s canals and then processes the plastic into boats. Back at the UN in New York City, we raised concern about the water supply and plastic bottles during the Voluntary National Review provided by Greece during the High Level Political Forum.

The Temple of Aphaia on Aegina. The temple is a house for this lesser known goddess, with a large outside altar for worship. On a clear day one can view the Acropolis in Athens from here, potentially connecting the temples in a triangle with the Poseidon Temple. Photo by Grove Harris.

 

Meet the 2018 Temple of Understanding Summer Interns!

The Temple of Understanding is excited to welcome our 2018 student interns to New York City and the United Nations! Read on to meet our interns and learn about the projects they will be pursuing this summer.


My name is Isabella Amaro and I am a student from Guadalajara, Mexico. My keen interest in the Temple of Understanding internship stems from my experience volunteering in my community and my drive to solve the problems that I see present in Guadalajara. From a young age I began helping Central Americans and Mexican migrants in my city. At first, my family and I prepared sandwiches and bought juice to bring to these people. Years later, I realized that providing migrants with a meal was not doing enough to help them improve their situation, so I began to volunteer at a local shelter where, with a group of friends, I give English lessons to migrants. Although learning English provides migrants with a tool that can open the door to new opportunities and improve their communication skills, I wanted to intern at the United Nations because I still believe that legal action and international measures are needed in order to fully tackle this problem. I hope that by participating in the Temple of Understanding internship I am able to see and understand how problems, such as immigration, can be dealt with through diplomacy.

Throughout the program, I would like to analyze different methods being used to help migrants adapt to a new country, focusing on methods used to prevent migrants from Central America and Mexico from resorting to organized crime or gangs in order to adapt to life in their final destination, or survive the journey.

 

My name is Caroline Beshay, and I am a first year student at California State University, Long Beach, studying Political Science and International Studies. I am an 18-year-old Egyptian woman aspiring to change the world by becoming an international lawyer and working at the United Nations. I have always been passionate about the nature of politics. Unfortunately, in my county and the Middle East in general, democracy has not yet prevailed. I have encountered tolerance, understanding, and love in my country, but there is still a lot of corruption. I have also personally experienced a lot of religious and political intolerance alongside gender intolerance and injustice. Organizations like the Temple of Understanding and the United Nations have given people like me hope for this world, and I want to be a part of that hope for the world around me. I am pursuing this interest in hopes of expanding my knowledge and understanding of the world around me. I am interested in peacemaking and international relations as well as women’s initiatives. Peace is the first step to prosperity. I am hoping that this will be the first major stepping stone for a lifetime of world changing experiences. I am looking forward to this eye-opening experience.

 

My name is Larkin Cleland, and I am from Medina, Ohio, which I like to describe as the town the furthest south where people still pretend to be part of Cleveland. I am 18 and will be starting college this fall as an Eminence Fellow at The Ohio State University in Columbus, Ohio. I have grown up in an interfaith family, but in an area that is very homogeneous in many ways. I think because of this, and because of the opportunities I have had to meet people of completely different backgrounds, I feel driven to encourage communication between people from diverse situations. I am extremely excited to be able to interact with an institution as diverse as the UN while working towards the main goals I share with it: namely encouraging peace and equality. I am particularly interested in religious minorities and how they relate to majority groups in their countries and regions, as well as the unique challenges they face when they must flee as refugees. Specifically, I want to look at parallels between the various minority groups in the Middle East and South Asia.

 

Hello! My name is Molly Galant, and I am 18 years old and from New York City. I had the opportunity to research the United Nations 17 Sustainable Development Goals during my junior year of high school, which propelled my interest in advocating for ecological prosperity in developing nations. In addition, as part of my senior year course load, I enrolled in the AP Environmental Science course. I found myself immersed in each lesson, and curious as to how to find viable solutions for global issues such as the decline in natural resources due to demand. I am most interested in advocating for Ecological Justice. The political and social climate, particularly of the United States, remains volatile as climate change is at the forefront of concern. Global warming is often disregarded due to personal prejudice and economic incentives. An era of “denial-of-facts” is being ushered in. Our priority, as current inhabitants of the planet, is to advocate for reducing the irreversible trends in climate change. Finally, I am interested in working towards the implementation of improved and advanced education regarding the environment for future generations because I believe that access to this knowledge is vital to the future of creating sustainable lifestyles.

 

Hi! My name is Yasmeen Khan. I’m 18 years old, and I’m from Los Angeles, California. I am incredibly excited to intern with the Temple of Understanding. I have always been very passionate about human rights and politics. I have interned on numerous political campaigns and am very dedicated to getting the youth in my local community involved in politics to encourage reform and progression within our society. I have participated in activities such as Speech and Debate and Model United Nations where I engaged in topics such as the refugee crisis and sexual assault. As a female I have experienced firsthand the prevalence of sexism and inequality in our society. This summer I anticipate researching how to make education more accessible in order to counter various oppressive issues plaguing young girls around the world like genital mutilation, child marriage, and poverty. A couple of years ago I had the honor of touring the United Nations, and ever since I knew that the United Nations is where I want to end up. This internship is the first step on my journey!

 

Hi! My name is Sofia Manekia. I am 18 years old and from Princeton, NJ. This fall, I will be a freshman at the School of International Service at American University. Ever since I was a little kid, I have always been fascinated by the world and how each country contributes to the global society at large. Those intimate connections between nations that link economies, societies, and humanities are what intrigue me and what drew me to international relations. The United Nations is the epicenter of those connections – it’s where these relationships thrive and are further enhanced. That is what led me to intern at the UN – to delve deeper into those relations and truly discover the unique attributes each nation has to offer.

Through my internship with the Temple of Understanding, I aim to further my understanding on the psychology of genocide as a form of mass killing and the social/political circumstances that facilitate it. Specifically, I intend to conduct meaningful research on the Yazidi Genocide in Iraq and Syria and the Darfur Genocide in Sudan. Two ongoing genocides that, unfortunately, have no end in sight. I am incredibly thrilled to be a part of the Temple of Understanding’s Summer Internship Program and am excited to start working on the pressing issues of today.

 

My name is Olwethu Mfeka, and I am an eighteen-year-old University of Cape Town student from Durban, South Africa. Given my country’s history of institutional racism and racial segregation, whilst growing up, I found that it was not reasonable for me to simply ignore socio-economic issues, such as disparities in access to healthcare, education inequality and housing segregation, which arose as a result of the injustices of the past. In high school, I began to show greater interest in current affairs. I sought opportunities to expand my knowledge and understanding of the world and its events, and was able to do so by attending youth conferences. This internship was a discovery I made whilst searching for ways to make meaningful use of my free time during holidays. Through the Temple of Understanding and the United Nations, I believe that I can learn more about women’s initiatives and peacemaking, on which I intend to focus for my research during the program. I am particularly interested in the rising number of cases of violence against South African women and in the effects of past and present United Nations peacekeeping operations, such as in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

 

My name is Danielle Miller, and I’m 18 years old. I live in Morgantown, West Virginia and will be attending Trinity College this fall. My main interests revolve around international relations and trade, human rights, and peace and conflict studies. I chose to apply to the Temple of Understanding internship because of my desire to learn more about world religions and how they relate to political systems, trade, and food sovereignty.

Last summer, I traveled to Peru and became interested in how Latin American countries use cultural and traditional methods for their organic food production, rather than the production methods of huge conglomerates that are detrimental to the environment and economy of small business owners. I have particular interest in food sovereignty, and would like to assist communities in becoming more sustainable and resilient by the use of traditional cultivation methods. I’m interested in researching food sovereignty methods in Peru and the role religion plays within food sovereignty. I would like to study the historical Incan techniques, as well as the use of historical irrigation systems — canal beds, cisterns, terraces, crop rotation, and smaller scale production for indigenous communities and families to preserve their environment and culture.

 

My name is Alessia Casson Milstein, and I am an eighteen-year-old from New York City. What led me to intern with the Temple of Understanding was my interest in international relations. Over the summer of 2016, I did a pre-college program at Oxford University and took an international relations course shortly after Brexit. I enjoyed the class greatly and wanted more experience working around international law, and I felt an internship would truly help me determine if this is a field I wish to pursue. I am also considering majoring in international relations. I am particularly interested in the justice issues (specifically involving the United Nations), of the Syrian refugee crisis and the Palestinian/Israeli conflict. While these are my initial interests, they are issues I still feel fairly uneducated on; I also hope to learn more about social justice issues the United Nations is working on while pursuing this internship. I am particularly interested in exploring the current peacekeeping initiatives that the United Nations is involved in, and their direct impact on global conflict resolution, along with the Temple of Understanding’s role in related issues. While I am not a particularly religious individual, I look forward to exploring various faiths through religious site visits during this internship while also discovering the role of faith in creating global peace.

 

My name is Eric Muthondu, and I am an 18-year-old from Richmond, Texas. This fall I will be a freshman at Harvard University potentially pursuing degrees in African Studies and Economics. My interest in the United Nations and wanting to be an intern mainly stems from my passion for understanding the expanding interconnectedness of the world we live in as well as the social, political, religious, and economic factors that contribute to modern global trends. Through summer programs on foreign policy and discussions with diplomats, I have gained valuable insight into the complex nature of global relations and the pressing issues that often impede recognizable progress. During my time at the UN, I hope to explore the history and implications of education in Africa and its impact on children’s rights, access to higher standards of living, and national brainpower. Nonetheless, I hope that my time at the Temple of Understanding will be a time of growth, reflection, and empowerment to continue asking questions and pursuing answers.

 

My name is Amparo Nieto. I am 18 years old, and I am from Argentina. This year I’ll be a freshman at Drexel University. I have always had a deep interest in the workings of the world. Since I was a kid, I liked to read the newspaper, even though, back then, I did not understand much of what it said. As years passed I began to understand, and with that, something clicked in my mind: I realized we lived in a world that was full of problems. That was when I realized that I could not stay with my arms crossed in the reality we live in. My goal in life is to work at the United Nations, and this internship is the first step to accomplishing this. I hope to gain a perspective on many different issues: ecological, religious, political, racial, and so on. I hope that after these four weeks I will be a different person with more knowledge and more experiences. I believe that in order to help the world we must first become global citizens and that this internship will help me with that.

I am currently deeply interested in the Rohingya situation in Myanmar. This conflict represents one of the biggest issues in the world: religious persecution. I hope that I can gain more insight on this conflict, try to come up with ways we can stop this crisis, and see how we can help future generations to be more understanding toward different religions.

 

My name is Joel Punwani, and I am nineteen years old. I come from many different places — I have three passports, I’ve lived in five countries, and parts of my family come from at least seven nations. If asked where I’m from, though, my short answer is London, the great city to which I always return. I first became interested in the UN through Model UN, which I’ve done and loved since eighth grade, going to ten conferences representing countries from every continent on issues of every kind — from the Central African Republic on Malaria prevention to Vietnam on the South China Sea. This fostered a greater interest in international relations, which I will be studying at University, and development. Though I’ve since gained interest in other aspects of governance, the UN remains my first passion, and to work and intern there with the Temple of Understanding is a wonderful opportunity. I hope to research a topic around the current rapid and ongoing urbanization, one of the most momentous changes to the state of humanity in history, and especially how it ties in with sustainable development, as most of the world’s greatest cities are now in developing states, and will continue to be so in the future.

 

My name is Ariana Rodriguez, and I am a junior at The College of New Jersey from Cranford, New Jersey. My biggest motivation for wanting to work with the Temple of Understanding at the United Nations is because I one day hope to work at the United Nations as a human rights lawyer. Many of my life experiences have led to this goal; I have traveled and have taken International Law classes that have opened my eyes to some of the struggles women face, and I cannot stand by without action. I am a part of a social justice-oriented community service scholarship at my college that has driven me to seek change on a larger scale. I am very passionate about all social justice issues, but particularly those of race, gender, and identity. My current area of particular interest is the ways in which we can remedy the inequalities women face around the world whether it be because of their race, gender identity, religion, or sexuality.  I hope to incorporate these issue areas into my research for the summer and ultimately compile in-depth research on the medical and social inequality women around the world face, as well as the steps we can take to make a more inclusive world.

 

Hi, my name is Chris Toward and I have just finished my first year at the University of St. Andrews, Scotland, where I study International Relations. I first became interested in the work of the UN through my travels to countries where the UN has been involved in conflict resolution, such as Bosnia-Herzegovina. I have built on this and learnt more about the UN over the past few years, both at Sixth Form College where I studied the UN from different perspectives in History, Geography, and Politics and now at St. Andrews where I have researched and discussed the role of the UN in international affairs in greater depth. I am unsure what specific issue I will focus my summer research on, but I anticipate that it will be based around the UN’s role in conflict resolution, especially the part it plays in harmonising relations between specific ethnic and religious groups. I am excited to be interning with an NGO that specializes in this.

I heard about the Temple of Understanding internship through a previous intern who is studying my degree in the year above at St. Andrews. I knew immediately that spending time at the UN would be a worthwhile and exciting way to spend a month of my summer, so I seized the opportunity and applied!

 

My name is Alessandra Viatore. I was born in Rome on February 13, 1999. Since I was a child, I have had the opportunity to travel and learn about other people and cultures. During my travels and experiences abroad, my curiosity and my interest in knowing and understanding life in different countries has been growing. At the same time, I have been in touch with very difficult realities, which have also influenced me, and have encouraged me to prepare myself to give my contribution to world peace. My experiences, the countries I have visited, and the people I have met, with their difficulties and their happiness, have motivated me to start my studies in International Relations. I believe in the work that many international organizations are doing in maintaining international peace and security, and I believe that to develop friendship among nations, while promoting and encouraging respect for human rights, is superb.

This is why I am so excited to have the opportunity to do an internship with the Temple of Understanding. I am sure that experiences of this type can change the professional future of many young people. For me it is important to prepare myself to be a good professional, but it is also very important to prepare myself as a person, without losing the principles and values that my family has given me. The opportunity that the Temple of Understanding is offering will help me to grow, personally and professionally, and an experience like this will help increase my knowledge and allow me to receive suggestions and ideas that can help me in my international studies and that may focus my mind for a future career. Particularly, I am very interested in learning more about religious understanding, which is clearly one crucial aspect of peace building. In recent years, we have been seeing an increase in tension, fear, and misunderstanding about Islam. There is also a link with the topic of women, which I am also extremely interested in. During my experiences with the Temple of Understanding this summer, I would like to delve deeper into root causes and possible solutions for peace through interfaith understanding and through developing leadership in young people.

 

My name is Monica Weglarz and I am an eighteen-year-old from northern New Jersey. I never realized how fortunate I was until I spent the summer in the Dominican Republic volunteering in a makeshift medical clinic. Through an organization called Unidos para la Salud, I had the opportunity to travel to Santo Domingo to help administer medication, assist with dental care and hand out school supplies to impoverished people. We converted an empty gymnasium into a facility of sorts dedicated to triage, dentistry, and pharmacy. While working in the pharmacy department, I read prescriptions and then distributed the appropriate medication. I connected with some people, learning their stories, dreams and goals. Through this experience, I realized I am blessed to have the luxuries that surround me back in the United States: a loving, nurturing home; the opportunity to conduct my own research and study; a steady supply of food and clean clothes. I took for granted and assumed I was entitled to all these things. I was wrong.

Through the smiles on the faces of the palomos, I experienced a new type of happiness that comes from helping others: love in action. This joy sparked a new desire within me. One day, I hope to work with the UN to bring humanitarian aid to suffering and impoverished communities internationally, especially the victims of genocides. As an intern with the Temple of Understanding, I am particularly interested in human rights, specifically the conflicts in Iraq and Syria where these innocent individuals are stripped of these rights. In both of these countries, ISIS has worked to exterminate the Yazidis, Shiites, and Assyrian Christians in mass genocides. With my time at the UN, I want to make a tangible difference in these anguished people’s lives.

 

My name is Abigail Young, and I am an 18-year-old girl from Pelham, New York. When looking for summer internships, I knew that I wanted to do something along the lines of what I hope to study in college: international relations, diplomacy, and languages. I was particularly intrigued by the Temple of Understanding because it works so closely with the UN, and I think international organizations like the UN are crucial to promoting peace among different societies and cultures. Upon finding this internship, I knew that it was the perfect combination of many of my interests: international relations broken into smaller segments like women’s initiatives, environmental activism, and more. This brings me to my interests regarding justice issues that I hope to study this summer: I would be very much interested in delving more into the topic of women’s initiatives. I was co-vice president of the Women’s Empowerment Club at my school, and one thing that we tried to place a strong emphasis on was bringing light to women’s issues around the world. I think this program would be the perfect medium through which I could continue my attention to these issues. I would also be interested in studying ecological justice, because environmental issues do not only concern the environment itself, but the people living on the land, the policy surrounding environmental initiatives, and what role the environment plays in the global community. I look forward to learning more about any and all global issues this summer, and I have no doubt that this will be an unforgettable experience!

 

#CSW62 – 2018 Commission on the Status of Women

Grove Harris, TOU UN Representative:

As always, this year’s CSW was intense and complex. The Temple of Understanding’s sessions were highly successful, and we anticipate sharing video from the panel in the near future.  A hallmark of the Temple’s spiritual work is joining heart, body and mind, and learning deeply from the wide array of international speakers inside and outside of the UN. 

Our CSW speaker Dr Veena Adige with two generations of her family and executive director Alison Van Dyk. One secret to a good panel is gathering beforehand to share refreshments and get to know each other personally.

 

Dr Veena Adige, our panelist from India, described CSW62 as follows:

The Kaleidoscope of the thousands of women who attended the CSW62 revealed that women the world over have similar problems, solutions and thinking. The energy, the excitement and exchange of ideas can be transformed into a better world for all. Though women who live in rural areas are at a higher risk of being left behind, the 50-50 in 2030 can soon become a reality. I saw that there was no discrimination among the delegates, there were instant friendships made, business contacts fixed and future plans made. There was laughter in the cafes in the UN but pin drop silence during the sessions. Temple of Understanding certainly paved the way to better understanding of people and situations. I enjoyed the whole program.

 

Listening to women peacemakers, who struggle for lasting peace based on justice.

 

The Women’s Major Group (WMG) holds introductory and strategy sessions when so many women members from around the world are in NYC for the CSW.

 

TOU Executive Director Alison Van Dyk reported that:

There were two main concerns from women around the world at the CSW parallel events this year: the persistent practice of FGM [female genital mutilation] and the trafficking of young women. What I heard in workshop after workshop was like a déjà vu of the UN Woman’s Conference in Beijing in 1995 but with the uncomfortable realization that things have gotten worse, not better. It is criminal that women are still being subjected to the dangerous practice of FGM and that worldwide, women have to put up with a nightmarish situation of sexual abuse, condoned and coordinated by a cartel that is lethal and spans the globe.  Non-profit organizations are valiantly trying to stop these horrific conditions, but their work feels like a mere drop in the bucket. The question we have to ask ourselves is: why has this gotten so out of control?  

 

The assassination of City Council member Marielle Franco of Rio de Janeiro, Brazil during the CSW brought home again the need to defend our women human rights defenders around the globe.

Listening to Emilia Reyes after her meeting with the Philippine Mission. We protested the listing of activists as terrorists, and the government listened.

 

Our colleagues report on successful negotiations inside the UN. Using “family” allows for diversity and is generally much broader than “the family,” which implies a stereotypical nuclear family. This was a huge win in the negotiations. Conservative groups also reported success because sexual orientation language was dropped from the outcome document. Multilateral negotiations are battles of strategy and compromise.

Good friends Sakena Yacoobi and Audrey Kitagawa after the memorial service. It’s so important to have time and space to share values, pain, memories and spirit.

 

Peaceful protest is a civil responsibility and an act of solidarity.

 

The experience of coming to CSW is empowering for many women. Louisa Eikhomun, the Executive Director of Echoes of Women in Africa, writes in detail of her experience, and commends Women Thrive Alliance for making it possible for grassroots women to attend and raise their concerns. 

Photos by Grove Harris

#MarchForOurLives – Photos from NYC

The NYC March for Our Lives on March 24, 2018 was huge, lively and both festive and serious. So many young people, and people of all ages, came together affirming life and demanding change in the U.S. gun culture and laws. Many called for a ban on assault weapons for civilians.

I spoke with a veteran watching on the side of the march who was dismayed to see the NRA characterized as a terrorist organization, although he agreed that their marketing tactics were problematic. He thought the polarized communications on both sides needed to be toned down. In this age of social media tweets, texts, and massive personal data harvesting and manipulation, we still need to talk to people one on one about our differences of opinion.

–Grove Harris, TOU UN Representative

Sisters in the streets.

 

Marching was a family affair.

 

Veterans for Peace show up everywhere.

 

Values on display.

 

Root cause and solution.

 

Clarity.

 

A religious voice.

 

Values called out.

 

Friends marching in NYC.

 

Grandparents backing up the youth.

 

Calling on men.

 

“Enough” in Hebrew.

 

All photos by Grove Harris.

Legal Mechanisms to Eradicate Poverty – Presentation by Grove Harris

Legal Mechanisms to Eradicate Poverty & Achieve Sustainable Development
Side event for the UN’s 56th Commission for Social Development 2018
February 7, 2018

Denise Scotto, Esq., Attorney at Law & International Policy Advisor, FIDA/FIFCJ UN Representative; Grove Harris, MDiv, Temple of Understanding; and Winifred Doherty, UN Representative, Congregation of Our Lady of Charity of the Good Shepherd

 

Presentation by Grove Harris, Representative to the United Nations, Temple of Understanding

Thank you for the invitation to join this panel.

So much is interconnected in all the sustainable development goals, and the eradication of poverty requires efforts on many fronts.  My colleague Winifred Doherty has laid out efforts within the UN over years, with treaties and agreements.  Our convener Denise Scotto has affirmed the value of action from all. We each can act, and act now. All of the Temple of Understanding’s work contributes towards a common welfare where we all have enough. 

Ecological Justice is crucial – we all need clean air to breathe, clean water to drink, and health free from chemical affronts, including pesticides.

Food Sovereignty speaks to local control over agriculture and food, including seeds and methods of production.  We call for a shift towards earth-centered politics and economics, and collective restraint of corporate exploitation.

The Human Right to Water requires an ongoing struggle to protect and increase community control and prevent exploitation and privatization of water, a common (and sacred) good.

Interfaith Education is important to regain curiosity and respect for our neighbors, and counter the “othering” that impoverishes our communities, our psyches, and our world.

Peacemaking, which practically defined requires food, water, and health, is crucial for ending poverty.  War only profits the arms manufacturers, and it devastates communities and the environment.

Women’s Initiatives are essential, as women are much more likely to be impoverished, along with their children, and gender justice can begin to redress this, for the good of the entire community. Poverty brings intense vulnerability and is systemic.

How can we get at the heart of systems and act for real change?

  • We need to break up concentrated wealth.
  • We need to focus on community flourishing.
  • We need to get much smarter about “partnerships.”
  • We need to protect frontline human rights defenders.
  • We need to act, aligning our spirit, our hearts, and hands.

We need to break up concentrated wealth.

The concentration of wealth into the hands of the very few is strangling the opportunities of communities.  Redistribution is key, through creative changes in the system. Some examples (U.S. based) provide some hope for real change:

How about free higher education? In California, this could be funded by reinstating the state’s estate tax on wealth over 3.5 million.  This idea has been put forth by Chuck Collins in Common Dreams.

How about reclaiming the markets for debt? The Occupy Movement has been buying up medical debt for pennies on the dollar, freeing people with major illness from devastating debt burdens, and then asking them to contribute towards freeing the next person.  Can we do the same for educational debt?  What about Puerto Rico, where one man in Boston bought up most of the country’s debt for pennies on the dollar, investing for “profit” (in this case greed) rather than shared prosperity?

How about holding corporations responsible for contributing to climate change?  For example, New York City is suing the top five oil companies to recoup damages from super storm Sandy, holding them responsible for climate impacts and their prior knowledge of environmental damage. NYC is also moving to divest.

How about holding governments responsible? Youth are suing the U.S federal government in courts – and winning – over their right to a future without environmental degradation, and government’s neglect in not protecting that.

How about shinning more light on the lengthy and slow work at the United Nations in Geneva towards an international legally binding treaty for corporate responsibility for Human Rights? 

We need to focus on community flourishing.

Daniel Perell spoke of community flourishing in the opening statement he delivered on behalf of the NGO Committee for Social Development. Clearly, we must shift from individualism and defining success by profit for the few.  Our individual struggles must be collective ones, ending poverty on a community basis, with goods and services circulating locally as well as nationally and internationally, in ways that distribute technology and leap frog towards more environmental sustainability, while supporting local strength and advancement. Cooperatives, credit unions, and community-based service delivery systems must be enhanced.  Re-localizing agriculture is essential, along with other service provisions. For example, in the U.S. the crisis of care for dementia is beginning to be addressed by locally based, free caregiver support systems.  There is great need, and so great opportunity, and it can be approached in collective, supportive, grassroots ways.

Access to world markets and goods, technology and capital essential for economic miracles must be tempered by human rights, by full cycle design and upcycling. Community prosperity is key, and governments must benefit from the prospering of business, not just subsidize that private prosperity.  Protection of the risks of entrepreneurs and investors must be tempered – the most vulnerable suffer risks every day without protection.  We need social systems where no one is expendable and protection is available to all, from investors to the most vulnerable.

Riki Ott, who served the Alaskan community after the Exxon Valdez oil spill disaster, found herself very useful, with her academic training in oceanography and the accompanying patience for reports and intellectual work, to the community of fisher people.  Her legal work brought financial rewards to the community, but those funds brought challenges of divisiveness and opportunity for some but not for all.  Her ongoing work to bring oil companies to task for the risks they run that inevitably lead to catastrophes and costs born by the environment and communities includes reaching out to law students, to train them to bring cases against all businesses that have not follow the due diligence laws already on the books.  Many do not have legally mandated emergency response plans and means in place.  In this sense, legal remedy for poverty looks like holding businesses accountable to existing laws, and can include work against the dark economy and illicit avoidance of taxation, profiteering drug and arms trading etc.

Poverty is not strictly economic – it can be cultural. Lack of human compassion, of human touch, and of welcoming community are part of what drive isolation and economic insanity.  People who survive eating sugar rather than real food, by being fed on advertizing rather than information or literature, shopping to fill holes in heart and soul, being driven to drugs rather than more balanced lifestyles, are impoverished. They are vulnerable to cancer and Alzheimer’s disease, struggling without community solutions to problems that cannot be managed by individuals or nuclear families in isolation. We cannot face powerlessness alone, and in coming together with others we can discover some power and flourish in community.

Indigenous peoples are fighting around the globe to protect sacred lands and sacred waters.  They honor their spiritual commitments and interconnectedness and resist in community.  I watched live web cast of native people at Standing Rock facing water cannons at night in the freezing cold of winter, protecting their sacred waters, which also protected the entire watershed and the water used by everyone downstream.  While these people may not have the means to afford material comforts, they have a richness that cannot be denied.

We need to get much smarter about “partnerships.”

There is much eager talk about partnerships to achieve the SDGs, and usually meaning between corporations and governments.  There is very little discussion of the dynamics of partnerships and the differing interests and accountabilities of the parties.  Corporations serve their shareholders via profit, and governments sometimes serve their citizens and other times serve their financial backers. In our interconnected world, none of this happens in a vacuum.

Dictionary definitions can lift up multiple layers of meaning.

Partner – one that is united or associated with another or others in an activity or sphere of common interest, especially a member of a business partnership or a spouse (emphasis added). Middle English, alteration of parcener.  Partner implies equal status.

 

Partnership is a legal contract entered into by two or more persons in which each agrees to furnish a part of the capital and labor for a business enterprise, and by which each shares a fixed proportion of profits and losses.  Mutual cooperation and responsibility is mentioned.

 

Parcener – (coparcener) one of two or more persons sharing an inheritance, a joint heir (emphasis added).

 

(All excerpted from the American Heritage Dictionary – Fourth Edition, 2000)

 

Our business partnerships can be subject to the same abuses that marriage partnerships sometimes involve.  Business needs more than capital and labor – all extractive industries take from the earth without replenishment. Natural resources are depleted – a common inheritance is taken from the public domain and misused as an invisible part of the model, for private profit.

Clearly there are large costs to be anticipated in negotiating major contractual partnerships, and globally a track record of dismal results from megaprojects and water privatization schemes.  And the “IN GOD WE TRUST” on the American dollar does not protect our common inheritance of clean and accessible water, or clean air or clean soil.

Protect frontline environmental human rights defenders.

Legal mechanisms continue to be developed, and it is a cutting edge question as to how international human rights law can effectively protect frontline environmental human rights defenders.  Note the diplomatic sentence on page 10 of the NGO Mining Working Group Water guide, “There are significant gaps in existing national and international legal frameworks for pursuing accountability against transnational corporations for human rights abuses.” We must remain cognizant that many front line defenders are making the ultimate sacrifice.  For example, Berta Caceres of Honduras was murdered after numerous death threats for her work defending a watershed against a dam project. Her international recognition with a Goldman environmental prize did not save her life. And outrage over her murder did not save the life of others in her organization, murdered within the year.

What has been effective in this case has been the lobbying of the investors in the dam, who have withdrawn their funds.  Hopefully legislation introduced in the US House will have some impact, prohibiting funds for Honduras police and military. H.R. 5474, The Berta Caceres Human Rights in Honduras Act is held up in committee; it outlines a set of measures and is available online. Similarly, a second bill H.R. 1299, March 2, 2017 seeks to protect front line activists and farmers who have been murdered defending their water and land.

The Women’s Major Group has developed a method of highlighting these tragic deaths at UN conferences. A group of women put tape over their mouths, and as the names of those murdered defending water and land are read, a woman pulls of the tape and says “presente”.  This is an attempt to bring voice to the voiceless, and call for necessary change on violations of the rule of law. May all of us remember the impacts on the ground of the issues debated here at the United Nations.

I have colleagues in the room who regularly refer to their congregations around the globe to find out how they might usefully shine a light on human rights abuses.  There are times when such attention might further endanger the lives of those on the front lines.  There’s a useful manual about how to appropriately engage in solidarity.  For those of us lifting up the stories of others, it’s about respecting their circumstances and their wishes, and not making the story about ourselves.  We need to keep the focus our mutual concerns, which are the water and land and their preservation for this and future generations.

In conclusion, we are called to act.

We need to act, aligning our spirit, our heads, our hearts, our hands and our feet.

  • Be alert to ‘fake’ language that covers over privatization that will benefit the few at the expense of the community.
  • Use U.N. mechanisms to support calls for action at local levels.
  • Lobby funders of development projects that are trampling on human rights.
  • Fund effective interventions like self-defense training for girls and self-respect training for boys.
  • Collaborate with those more in the know. Religious activists can work with local community experts and with global advocacy experts.
  • Plan on grief, my own and others’. We need to support each other and understand that anger may be a response to grief.  
  • Align our values and passion with action.
  • Welcome others to this work.
  • Own our own vulnerability. Avoid rigid defenses, to be able to respond rather than react to ongoing assaults.
  • Take Sabbath time, meditation time, and prayer time to help renew, refresh, and maintain clear focus.
  • Each of us can own whatever privilege we have, and strategize about how to use it.
  • Listen. Listen. To the Earth, to children, to the sacred.  And to other people.

 

2018 NYC Women’s March

A Report on the NYC Women’s March, January 20, 2018
From Grove Harris, TOU’s Main UN Representative
_________

The 2018 NYC Women’s March started with those converging on the subway, where the city is doing its part to promote supportive roles for men.

Crowd control is part of any large scale march, with long periods of waiting as good times to socialize. I met participants ranging in age from two months to 97 years. Marching bands and creative, poignant signs along with warm weather supported the community take-over of the city streets.  

Kindness emerged as a fundamental value, and this year many men came to stand in full support of women’s empowerment.  Many made this a family event.

Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King’s words were lifted up, linking religion and social action.

Marching, as one type of activism, seems to be the new normal.

You can hear speaker Halsey’s poem “A Story Like Mine” on YouTube:

 

[All photos by Grove Harris]