Thursday, December 10, 2015

The Power of Model United Nations

by Julie Wang, Contributing Author

On November 14th  2015, over 280 delegates came together, not at the United Nations Headquarters in New York City, but at an ordinary high school in Maryland.

These delegates were a part of the 7th Annual Centennial High School Model United Nations Conference, a high school level conference held annually since 2009. As a completely student-run conference, it was amazing to see its success, and furthermore, its profound effect on students from all across the state.

At nine o'clock in the morning, delegates arrived to their prospective committees, among them the Social, Cultural, and Humanitarian Committee, the United Nations Human Rights Council (HRC), a Historical Committee, and two fast-paced Joint Crisis Committees. Each committee was lead by two co-chairs, both dedicated Model United Nations(U.N.) students across Howard County.

As a first-time chair of the United Nations HRC, I was unsure of what to expect, and even nervous for the entire process. The complex rules of parliamentary procedure seemed jumbled in my mind, and it took a lot of strength to gain confidence at the start of committee session. But as the day went on, the experience came naturally to me, and I can say without a doubt that it was one of the best Model UN conference experiences I’ve ever had.

In the HRC, delegates passionately debated the topic of the recruitment of child soldiers worldwide. Some of those leading debate included outstanding delegates from the Syrian Arab Republic, and the Democratic People’s Republic of North Korea. In committee, delegates were not only exposed to different aspects of the issue at hand, but were also amused by the theatrical performances of delegates in their country’s character. The excitement level definitely rose to a maximum when the delegate from the Democratic People’s Republic of North Korea stormed out of committee session in a perfectly executed act of fury.

Overall, each and every delegate was able to exhibit their extensive knowledge on a topic that, without the help of Model UN, they may have never thought about before. Novices and veterans alike were able to work with each other to pass a comprehensive resolution that supported the rehabilitation of child soldiers and prevent further recruitment. And for me, I was convinced that Model UN was something that I wanted to keep in my life. Seeing the impact of a successful committee session on the delegates and their positive response made me feel proud for all of the work that we, as students, can do to become better global citizens.

Thank you to my friend Amy Guo for coordinating this amazing conference, all of the staff and teachers that helped to make committee sessions run smoothly, my supportive co-chair that aided me every step of the way in this process, and most importantly, the amazing delegates that brought this council to life.

Author's Bio: Julie Wang is a sophomore at Centennial High School in Ellicott City, Maryland. She is currently the youngest board member of the Centennial Model United Nations club, and is the founder of her school’s chapter of Girl Up, a campaign of the United Nations Foundation. Julie has a passion for international relations, human rights activism, and supporting feminist movements.

Wednesday, December 9, 2015

Human Rights Awards Reception - Spotlight! on Kathleen Kuehnast!

Our Human Rights Awards Reception takes place this Thursday, December 10, and among our awardees, we are deeply pleased to introduce you to Dr. Kathleen Kuehnast.

Currently serving as the Senior Gender Advisor for the United States Institute of Peace, Dr. Kuehnast will receive our Perdita Huston Human Rights Award. Her human rights efforts have focused a great deal on women, gender, and the conflict/post-conflict arena, and we had a great conversation about her life, passions, and pursuit of human rights. If you have ever wondered what connection gender has to peace and conflict, and what bearing the current and ongoing conversations about gender equality have on our future, you should definitely take the time to hear what she has to say. 

UNA-NCA -   To start out on a lighter note—we know that you completed your field work for your doctorate in Kyrgyzstan. Are there other countries you have lived or worked in, as well? We would love to hear about those experiences and the continuing impact on your life. 

K.K. - I am what some sociologists call a “third culture” kid. I spent six years of my childhood in Germany and then the Philippines as my father was in the Air Force. While abroad, my parents made sure we traveled often and I always have loved seeing how different societies and countries solve human organizational problems. It wasn’t until I entered graduate school to study socio-cultural anthropology that I fully appreciated how my experience as a child outside of my American culture helped me understand the anthropological approach of “participant observer.” As a young adult, I traveled extensively throughout Russia, the former Yugoslavia and East Germany, Tanzania, Kenya, and Europe.

My first solo trip when I was 24 years old was by bicycle from the west coast of Ireland up through Northern Ireland during “the troubles.” It was also my first experience in a conflict-affected country. I worked that summer at the reconciliation community called Corrymeela. I still draw from my time there, especially understanding the day to day trauma and healing of the children who grow up in violent conflict. I learned how early hatred is taught and fear is spread. Nevertheless, healing is possible.
“One critical reason why we need a broader lens to understand gender is to respond to ISIL’s violence against women and girls in conflict and fragile settings. We must address gender in its complete socio-cultural dimensions—that is gender is not simply another name for women; men and boys are also gendered beings.”

UNA-NCA -   Now, when did you first connect human rights, gender, and peace/conflict issues? 

K.K. - While living in Kyrgyzstan as it emerged from its 70 years under Soviet rule, I began to connect human rights, gender and peace and conflict issues. Later at the World Bank, these connections became more apparent in my work as part of a cadre of social scientists examining the economic impact of the USSR’s collapse on women and children and their subsequent impoverishment. In some regions, collective farms and industries were shut down and jobs disappeared nearly overnight. Women attempted to bridge economic upheaval by selling off their belongings, books and prized possessions. In Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan, one of the first laws debated by their new governments was legalizing polygamy. Witnessing how quickly human rights and social protections can disappear during social upheaval, and in the case of Tajikistan, during civil war, it became clear that we cannot take any rights for granted. Human rights must be continually protected.

UNA-NCA -  This is a really definite path you have travelled. What brought you into the field of gender and human rights in the first place—what would you say ignited that passion for you?

K.K. - The first time I realized that there were different social rules for girls and boys was when I was in kindergarten in 1960. When I told the class I wanted to be an astronaut when I grew up, my teacher said “You can’t because you’re a girl.” I was so surprised I told her without thinking, “You’re wrong.” Then, she told me I had to stay after school for talking back. I guess you could say I became a feminist that day.

Much later, in Kyrgyzstan, while doing fieldwork for my PhD on Soviet gender policy and its impact on Central Asian Muslim women, this began my curiosity about gender dynamics.

When I arrived in the USSR in 1990, I immediately recognized what Soviet women called their “double burden” – required to be both the good worker and the good mother. Although women were as educated as men, if not more so, and since the 1930s “freed” by the state to join the work force, they nevertheless received little support to fulfill the dual roles of worker and caregiver. Many of these social norms came to an abrupt end when the Soviet Union fell apart in 1991. Living there for 22 months, I witnessed the malleability of gender norms for both men and women, especially in the context of a society encountering massive change. Thus, began my lifelong examination of the anthropology of transitional societies.

UNA-NCA -   You have worked hard to engage men in the fight for gender equality. Why is gender equality not just a "women's issue?” What have been some of your biggest challenges and greatest successes in that expanding area?

K.K. - One critical reason why we need a broader lens to understand gender is to respond to ISIL’s violence against women and girls in conflict and fragile settings. We must address gender in its complete socio-cultural dimensions—that is gender is not simply another name for women; men and boys are also gendered beings. The tendency among policy makers and practitioners alike is to use gender and women interchangeably.

Why is this important? In order to understand the nature of this brutal and extreme violence, we must broaden our analytical lens to include how “hyper masculinity” notions of manhood are being propagated by ISIL. We must continue to challenge not only ISIL’s human rights abuses, but also its flawed notions about Islam and gender. We need to ask more gender aware questions such as “What does it mean to be an ISIL man.” Does this sense of failure to become a man in their own society lead to their distorted notions of power and extreme violence? Unless we broaden our discussion and incorporate a broader gender lens, we normalize this hyper manhood, this violent rite of passage for a generation of young men, and I will also add young women who chose to join this perverted form of human war.

Although a critical part of gender equality is focusing on the empowerment of women and girls, I also believe that we cannot reach gender equality without engaging men and boys. I think the UN’s HeForShe campaign is a great way to begin articulating this change.

Gender equality goes beyond just being advocates for women and girls. It also requires self-reflection about the multiple gendered expressions, identities and orientations of each human being. We cannot talk only about a binary approach to men and women, as it does not include our LGBTI dimensions. We need to help remove the gender barriers and the gender blinders that keep so many oppressed. We need to help build bridges to a holistic understanding of our many gendered selves, and that begins with our education curriculum as well as our foreign affairs policies.

UNA-NCA - How do you see the work that you do at USIP  making an impact in these areas?

K.K. - Working for the past eight years at the US Institute of Peace (USIP) has been a great privilege. USIP is made up of a very talented and dedicated group of people in DC and around the world in conflict countries, who are implementing on-the-ground innovative efforts and research, including training and education, to bring an end to violent conflict, and to integrate more effective approaches toward creating sustainable peace. Over 30 years ago, the US Congress envisioned USIP. And when I try to explain what USIP is about, I often refer to Martin Luther King Jr.’s quote, “Those who love peace must learn to organize as effectively as those who love war.” We are organizing for peace, which goes hand in hand with human rights.

Monday, December 7, 2015

Human Rights Awards Reception – Spotlight! on Martha's Table

The Human Rights Award Reception is less than four days away, and we are so excited to honor individuals and organizations from across the world and in our community, for their dedication and commitment to furthering human rights.

This year’s Distinguished Community Human Rights Award will be presented to Martha’s Table and accepted by President and CEO, Patty Stonesifer!

Martha’s Table is a Washington, D.C. based organization dedicated to providing healthy starts, healthy eating, and healthy connections to children and their families. The organization has been a part of the Washington, D.C. community for over 35 years, reaching over 18,000 people through their food, education, and thrift store programs.

With over 14,000 volunteers, the organization has become more than just a vital part of the D.C. community, but a family and community within itself. One cannot walk down 14th Street and not marvel at the humble establishment that exudes so much soul and warmth, you are immediately drawn in. 

Beginning with their Healthy Start program; Martha’s Table provides opportunities for children ages 3 months to 4 years to learn about nature, reading, different cultures, science, art and computers. The goal is to prepare young children for kindergarten with a “Learn through Play,” approach (who does not think learning should be fun?). But, the organization does not stop there: they also provide “After-School and Out-of-School Time,” where they offer accredited after-school programs to provide students with safe, supervised, and supportive academic environments.

One of the most important accomplishments of Martha’s Table is providing healthy eating for those in the Washington D.C. community. The organization runs such programs as the McKenna’s Wagon – a mobile soup kitchen-, Martha’s Table Mini-Market, the Joyful Food Market, and Martha’s Market. These market programs began in 2011, as a result of a partnership with Target Foundation’s Meals for Minds program. The program runs monthly markets in 8 elementary schools, two community centers, and in their own early childhood education center. The market provides families with healthy, free groceries each month! Hopefully these markets will one day take over the world.

Finally, let us not forget Martha’s Table also runs Healthy Connections, a program geared towards parents, providing opportunities for parent engagement: a program run through their Parent Success Center, a center dedicated to providing families with support, training, and opportunities to enhance their success. They also have programs for youth and older children, providing them opportunities to work and learn. Martha’s Table also runs Martha’s Outfitters – a thrift shop- selling clothes for $20.00 or less.

Martha’s Table’s mission is to set up the Washington DC community for success. Aligning with the United Nation’s new Sustainable Development Goals (also, known as the Global Goals), Martha’s Table is helping the community eradicate poverty and hunger, achieve good health and well-being, and provide quality education one community at a time.

Martha’s Table shows us, that helping the world can be as simple as starting with the world around you.

So, please join us on Thursday, December 10, 2015, in honoring Martha’s Table with the Distinguished Community Human Rights Award. 

Human Rights Awards Reception – Spotlight! on Ambassador Mark P. Lagon (ret.)

Today, we want to introduce you to the 2015 recipient of the UNA-NCA Louis B. Sohn Human Rights Award, Ambassador Mark Lagon. Ambassador Lagon has a distinguished career in government, academia, and the non-profit sector. In 2014, Ambassador Lagon became the president of Freedom House, an independent watchdog organization that conducts research and advocacy on democracy, political freedom, and human rights since 1941. In this role he leads a team of 150 people around the world to promote democracy and freedom for all. UNA-NCA asked Ambassador Lagon about his background and to share his views on important human rights issues.

UNA-NCA: Can you tell us a little about yourself and what led you to get involved in human rights work?
M.L.: I am the son of World War II Polish refugees, informing my passion to call aggressive autocracies to account. Working as teaching assistant and research associate for Ronald Reagan's controversial Ambassador to the UN, Jeane Kirkpatrick, imprinted an interest in promoting human rights in the UN. I took on her political scientist's observation that the UN was like a legislature, requiring playing the game of caucuses of nations—well. My work in think tanks, the House, Senate, and State Department, and now at Freedom House have been shaped by those touchstones.

UNA-NCA: As president of Freedom House, you are exposed to a breadth of critical human rights issues. In your view, what is the most pressing issue, and what is Freedom House doing to address this problem?
M.L.: Putin's Russia threatens the human rights of its own citizens and neighboring nations. Brittle and brutal autocrats on the one hand and the violent extremists they breed on the other roil the Middle East and North Africa—and beyond. But the single biggest governance problem in the world is the current Chinese regime, both to the political and religious voice of its own people, and as a pernicious model suggesting prosperity can come at the cost of a muzzled civil society. The biggest role Freedom House can play is shedding light on that repression and that often misunderstood model.

UNA-NCA: You have held several positions in the Department of State: a member of the Secretary Colin Powell's Policy Planning Staff, where you focused on the UN, democracy and human rights; Deputy Assistant Secretary of the Bureau of International Organization Affairs, where you worked closely with the United Nations; and Ambassador-at-Large, where you directed the Office to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons. How did your experience as a diplomat shape your understanding of human rights?
M.L.: Yes. I draw three lessons. Diplomacy depends on understanding about the form of government of your interlocutor –because convergence of interests does not occur the same way with all other nations. Second, diplomacy depends on leverage and credibility as much as building understanding. A diplomat would be better trained a large labor negotiator than a student of conflict resolution. Third, diplomacy must engage and prioritize civil societies as much as states, and more.

UNA-NCA: One of the Department of State’s priorities is protecting human rights; however, while you served as Deputy Assistant Secretary of the Bureau of International Organization Affairs, the United States refused to join the newly-reformed UN Human Rights Council. How did that policy affect your ability to do your job?
M.L.: There was a vigorous debate in the Bush era if the Human Rights Council, the creation of which I played a small part in negotiating, was better than the Human Rights Commission, and whether to run for it. Secretary Rice decided not to run. The US is about to spend a required 1 year off the Council and like when I was "DAS," will assert some influence as a nonmember. The Obama Administration has shown being a member of the Council can improve its work—as a resolution and rapporteur on Iran and a Commission of Inquiry on North Korean atrocities attest.

UNA-NCA: Is there an issue area that you are particularly passionate about?
M.L.: Above all, women's political and economic empowerment matters most to me. The interest grew in seeing how sex and labor trafficking are often gendered forms of exploitation. But above all, I believe it important not just because of equal access to justice but because women are change-makers. They leaven governance and prosperity.

UNA-NCA: Do you have any human rights heroes or role models you would like to share with us?
 M.L.: I admire a mentor, Paula Dobriansky, who championed as Undersecretary of State continuing US backing the Community of Democracies initiative of the previous administration of another party. I am privileged to head an organization similarly committed to bipartisanship and solidarity of democracies—including in the UN. Fittingly, Paula is an Officer on Freedom House's Board.

UNA-NCA: What are some ways you can suggest in which people who are interested in human rights can make an impact?
M.L.: Remember that neither domestic nor international politics is about states. It is about people. It is about their dignity. It is about their agency to choose their futures and about them all being recognized as having inherent value. Observers should watch for when a government or the UN falls short, or even undercuts, the agency and recognition of all people.  That can come in the form of dramatic violence and atrocities, or corrosive corruption, or persistent prejudice against some groups--as if they were somehow less human.

UNA-NCA: Thank you so much for sharing these illuminating points. We look forward to hearing more of your insights at the UNA-NCA Human rights Awards Reception.


Please join us on December 10th to celebrate Ambassador Lagon’s achievements and our other human rights champions at the UNA-NCA Human Rights Awards Reception. You can register here.

Monday, November 30, 2015

Human Rights Awards Reception – Spotlight! on Dr. Wes Reisser

Dr. Wesley Reisser, Senior Foreign Affairs Officer,
Office of Human Rights and Humanitarian Affairs Bureau.
US Department of State

We are less than 2 weeks away from our Human Rights Awards Reception on December 10, and so excited to honor individuals and organizations dedicated to furthering human rights across the world and in our own community!

Today, we want to introduce you to our F. Allen "Tex" Harris Diplomacy Human Rights Awardee, Dr. Wesley Reisser. He currently serves at the State Department as the Senior Foreign Affairs Officer in the Office of Human Rights and Humanitarian Affairs, International Organization Affairs Bureau, and we took a few minutes to catch up and chat about his background, current pursuits, and human rights.

Between now and December 10, we will be introducing each of our other awardees, but for now, let's get to know Dr. Reisser!

UNA-NCA - So, Dr. Reisser, can you tell us a little about where you come from and what brought you to both DC and Human Rights work?

W.R. - I grew up in Denver, CO and Dallas, TX and came to DC for college at GWU. I started at the State Department through a student program while in undergrad, and stayed with State while I did my MA at GWU and then my PhD at UCLA. My background is in geography, international affairs, and history. I only came to human rights work once inside State.

UNA-NCA - What does your office at the State Department do exactly—if you are allowed to say?

W.R. - My office leads the efforts of the State Department to protect human rights throughout the United Nations system. We also work on humanitarian issues throughout the UN, as well. We engage with other countries to highlight U.S. priorities and to talk about critical human rights issues. We also work to draft UN resolutions, write speeches given at the UN, and work to ensure that the U.S. pursues our top human rights priorities at the UN and that this work complements what we do on the ground around the globe.

UNA-NCA - I love that we have a whole office that is working hard on human rights and humanitarian efforts… Can you walk us through a day in your life? 

W.R. - Hectic would be a good way to describe it. No two days at the State Department look the same as we respond to myriad crises around the world. I would say that my work day consists of a lot of meeting with and conversing with people from within the U.S. government, civil society, foreign governments, and U.S. missions around the world. I am always focused on our objectives and pushing forward what we need to do in order to win key votes at the UN and come up with new things we should be engaging on. Things stay just as busy after I leave State, as I teach a geography course every semester at GWU, have dance rehearsal every week, and am working on my second book.

UNA-NCA - Wait, you work for the State department, teach geography, write books, and do dancing? You are going to have to tell us more about the dancing and other hobbies.

W.R. – I run an Eastern European folk dance group – The Carpathia Folk Dance Ensemble -  so dance is definitely my favorite pastime. I am also an avid biker and love to swim. Travel is of course another major favorite, especially to places with ancient ruins and a long history. I love to read, especially books on history, geography, and art.
“…Since I started working on human rights at the State Department, I have of course found ways to tie this into other parts of my life…” 

UNA-NCA - That is really neat! In all of these things that you are involved with, both work and your extracurricular activities, where does your passion for human rights work enter in and connect?

W.R. - For work, human rights is of course central to what I do. I have been able to “personalize” this partly by working on LGBTI issues, which I first worked on with GW Pride as an undergrad. My activism there had been mostly focused on LGBTI rights in the United States and even within the employees at State, but when Hillary Clinton gave us space to engage on this internationally, I was lucky to be selected as one of the first people to engage. Since I started working on human rights at the State Department, I have of course found ways to tie this into other parts of my life. I love that my dance group works on cultural preservation and this includes teaching audiences about other places and not just the main groups, but minorities too. We perform Roma dances and I am careful to be sure we also educate about the plight of these peoples and others that are facing grave challenges to their cultures and rights, such as what is happening in Ukraine today.

UNA-NCA - Do you have any human rights heros or role models you would want to share with us?

W.R. - I would say my biggest hero in this realm is Woodrow Wilson. I wrote my doctoral dissertation on his peace plans at the end of WWI. I think that his ideals are what underpins the international system we live in today. I am also constantly inspired by those who risk everything to bring rights to those less fortunate and those under threat. Some of those people I think about a lot include Malala, Harvey Milk, Aung San Suu Kyi, among many others. I have to admit, I’m not a huge quote guy, but there is one Winston Churchill quote I like to use with those that say the U.S. should retreat from the global stage – “The price of greatness is responsibility.” For me that includes the responsibility for the world’s most wealthy and powerful country to engage not just at home, but around the world, to make sure that people’s lives get better and freer. We have a long way to go at home, but this does not abrogate our responsibilities globally.


You can have a look at Dr. Reisser's current book here, and check out his dance group here. Be sure to purchase tickets to the Human Rights Awards Reception on December 10 at the Rayburn Gold Room to join us in honoring him and our other Awardees. 

Tuesday, November 3, 2015

The digitalization of payments, advancing inclusive finance, and pioneering the implementation of the Global Goals for Sustainable Development

by Vanessa Zabala

On Friday, September 25, 2015, the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) were officially adopted by all of the United Nations’ (UN) member states. The 193 countries accepted the 17 SDGs as part of their national agendas and pledged to achieve a more sustainable and equitable society by 2030.  This event was followed by conferences addressing each of the goals through exemplifying country initiatives, methods, and entertaining new proposals to accomplish the ambitious goals.

On Saturday, September 26, 2015, I attended one of the conferences held at the UN headquarters entitled, “Governments Leading The Way: Digitizing Payments and Advancing Inclusive Finance to Achieve the Sustainable Development Goals.”  This conference continued the conversation of the Third International Conference on Financing Development in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia about financing the SDGs. Private actors were the main focus of the Addis conference due to the current global economic slowdown and inability to rely on governments for funding. On the contrary, the New York conference shifted the focus to what current governments are already doing, plan to do, and to include policy and compliment private sector initiatives. 

Financial inclusion has the potential to achieve 7 of the 17 SDGs.
        – Ms. Helen Clark, UNDP

The Governments Leading The Way conference began with a panel entitled, “Leadership to Achieve the SDGs,” which focused on Peru and Tanzania. Tanzanian President, Mr. Jakaya Mrisho Kikwete, boasted about his country’s advancement by describing how government intervention will provide leadership and facilitate private sector involvement by de-risking the country’s investment rating. The Ambassador Luis Miguel Castilla of the Republic of Peru, praised his country’s detailed strategy of access, usage, and quality through the platform of public-private partnerships. Tanzania and Peru have already begun digitalizing payments and want to further encourage other nations to follow suit.

Currently, 42 UN members have followed Tanzania and Peru in pledging to make efforts to transition from cash to digital payments. The UN has partnered with The Better Than Cash Alliance to provide services to UN members and accelerate the shift to digital finance. The digitization of payments has the potential of profitability and social inclusion. Some benefits include:

  • Cost savings: increased efficiency and speed.
  • Transparency and Security: by increasing accountability and tracking.
  • Financial Inclusion: by advancing access to all financial services.
  • Women’s Economic Empowerment: by giving women control over finances.
  • Inclusive Growth: through integrating digital payments into developing economies.

The second panel of the conference featured eight ministers from a variety of countries addressing how their actions towards mobile payments would not only help financial inclusion, but also assist in  realizing the other SDGs. Even though government initiatives were praised, there were also major concerns.

The SDGs suggest rates of progress outside of any historical norm, from infrastructure rollout through economic growth to poverty reduction and the fight against infectious disease. World leaders are also right to suggest that meeting such goals, if it is possible at all, will take urgent and dramatic changes in the way the planet operates.
                                          – Charles Kenny, Center for Global Development

New initiatives include Colombia’s use of digitalized payments to distribute government subsidies and address Goals 1 and 2 – Eradication of Poverty and Hunger. The Minister of the Republic of Rwanda expressed how his country is approaching Goal 8- Inclusive Growth, through mobile payments and reinforcing banking systems to increase savings, and therefore leading to increased lending. Bangladesh has begun to address Goal 16 – Peace, Justice and Strong Institutions – by making mobile payments available with a combination of financial assistance with more than 5,000 information centers that offer 70 different kinds of services.

Still, there is trepidation over country dynamics and their abilities to provide institutional and financial support to its citizens. Fragile nations, such as Sierra Leone, face bigger challenges in digitalizing payments and fulfilling the SDGs. Finance Minister Dr. Kaifala Marah , explained that since the outbreak of Ebola, high interest rates have been hindering financial inclusion and have increased administrative costs due to high risk ratings. Understanding the social, economic and political hardships of nations is essential to accomplishing the SDGs in both developed and developing countries.

Risks are not unique to fragile states and each country faces different jeopardies. The Minister of the Republic of South Africa expressed concerns about leaving the vulnerable unprotected through either under and over-regulation. He was also disturbed by the fact that only 1 percent of low-income families have access to mobile payments, how there is a lack of understanding of financial education when switching from cash to credit payments, and that less than 45 percent of women have access to the internet, contributing to gender inequality.

The Minister of the Republic of Belgium mostly expressed concern over the inherent nature of banking and financial systems. The Minister emphasized on the private sector’s role in the provision and expansion of services. He stated that “it is not a bad thing for companies to profit” and it is the best way to have a sustainable product, service, or institution. Concerns should not be placed on the nature of business, but on the nature of the financial system. Exposing the poor to a system that was designed for middle and high-income individuals requires a change in regulation and implementation to avoid the exploitation of the most vulnerable. The opportunities presented by the digitalization of finance are not without risks.

The conference concluded with the hopes of solving economic and social problems through digital payments. Furthermore, the inertia of mobile banking seems inevitable, but the conversation must continue to incorporate the way safeguards and regulations will avoid unwanted secondary effects. It is clear that the digitalization of finance and payments offers positive tools for society, but it can also leave negative consequences that usually affect the most vulnerable, the poor. As the UN continues to promote the digitalization of payments, it is up to the member countries to implement these tools to advance financial inclusion and inclusive growth.

Author’s Bio: Vanessa Zabala is a member of the UNA-NCA’s Sustainable Development committee and reports and writes on current events. She holds a Master's in International Development from the London School of Economics and Political Science and obtained her Bachelor’s degree in Economics and International Relations from the University of Central Florida.

Monday, October 26, 2015

"Why Model UN Matters" response by Nicole Bohannon

This is part of a series by Global Classrooms DC, an education program under the United Nations Association of the National Capital Area that uses Model United Nations as an activity and tool to teach international issues and geopolitics to students grades 5 – 12. Many of the current and former interns and staff have participated in Model U.N., and for many it has been a reason for the field we study and ultimately has a soft place in our hearts. Over the next few weeks, we will share with you our memories of Model U.N., and the reasons we believe it matters. This series was sparked by the recent publication of “What Model U.N. Is, and Why It Matters,” by Spencer Mariotti in The Huffington Post – Teen Edition

I wouldn’t be the person I am today without Model U.N.

I came into high school shy and awkward, with some writing potential but no speaking skills. I had some idea that I wanted to be a journalist, but otherwise no ambition. In fact, I only started doing Model U.N. in sophomore year of high school because my friends had joined the club as freshmen to boost their college applications (their words, not mine).

I wouldn’t be the person I am today without Model U.N.
But then I was assigned to represent Afghanistan in the Disarmament and International Security Committee in my first conference, and I loved every part of the process. I loved researching about nuclear non-proliferation, especially as a controversial country at the time. I loved working with the students representing North Korea, Iran and Iraq, three states I had been taught to automatically be wary of, but in Model U.N. had become my allies. I loved artfully dodging questions from the United States, working hard to stay in line with my country’s beliefs, and writing working papers to perfectly outline policies.

I ended up winning the Best Delegate award and the gavel at my first conference ever, but I couldn’t care less. I only cared about learning how speak up more, even when the introverted side of me had no desire to do so. I was invested in writing faster and clearer position papers, not only to set an example for my club members but also prepare more for the conferences in the future. Above all, I loved being able to solve any problem that came my way, whether I was Egypt solving the water crisis in the Middle East or Colin Powell trying to prevent nuclear war in Iran in 2003.

I loved artfully dodging questions from the United States, working hard to stay in line with my country’s beliefs, and writing working papers to perfectly outline policies.
That passion has taken me through college as I continued doing Model U.N. and as I’ve worked in DC at a variety of internships and jobs. I can definitively say that my life would have been very different if I hadn’t discovered Model U.N.

Author's Bio: Nicole Bohannon is a senior at the Elliott School of International Affairs at the George Washington University, studying European and Latin American affairs, and Program Coordinator for Global Classrooms DC at UNA - NCA. Born and raised in Washington, DC, she has always had a strong interest in international politics. She has worked and interned in non-profits, think tanks, and consulting groups in high school and college. Before working at Global Classrooms DC, she interned for the Atlantic Council in their Transatlantic Relations Program.

Monday, October 19, 2015

"Why Model UN Matters" response by David Berris

This is part of a series by Global Classrooms DC, an education program under the United Nations Association of the National Capital Area that uses Model United Nations as an activity and tool to teach international issues and geopolitics to students grades 5 – 12. Many of the current and former interns and staff have participated in Model U.N., and for many it has been a reason for the field we study and ultimately has a soft place in our hearts. Over the next few weeks, we will share with you our memories of Model U.N., and the reasons we believe it matters. This series was sparked by the recent publication of “What Model U.N. Is, and Why It Matters,” by Spencer Mariotti in The Huffington Post – Teen Edition

Last week, I read an article after a group of my fellow Model U.N. nerds shared it on Facebook to show their true love for what we spend many of our weekends doing. The article is entitled “What Model U.N. Is, and Why It Matters,” and was written by a high school student from Branford, Connecticut who is the President and Founder of his school’s Model U.N. club. Published in The Huffington Post – Teen Edition, the article embodies the impact that Model U.N. has had on the lives of so many students of all ages that continue their pursuit of being global students while debating key issues that so many countries face today.

While reading this article, I began to think back to how I got started with Model U.N. As a high school freshman, I still did not understand the value of extra-curricular activities. I wanted to go home everyday and continue the video game that I had stopped playing the night before. My Mom came home from work one day, and gave me the choice of joining Student Council or Model U.N. There was no way I was joining Student Council, so I unwillingly stayed after school the next Tuesday for the first Model U.N. meeting of the year. I signed up for our first conference at another local high school where I represented Israel in the Social, Humanitarian and Cultural Committee of the General Assembly. I sat there in silence the first day of the conference, not wanting to be there and stubborn to not succumb to the wishes of my mother. The next day, I mustered up enough courage to get up and speak. I fell in love, and have done Model U.N. ever since.

"I sat there in silence the first day of the conference, not wanting to be there and stubborn to not succumb to the wishes of my mother."

People ask me all the time why I love Model U.N., and I can no longer give them a concrete answer that summarizes every detailed aspect as to why I love it. There are too many reasons. It has become such a huge part of my life to the point where it is second nature to me. When a massive news story breaks or a debate in class sparks controversy, I immediately think about how this can tie into a Model U.N. committee. Yes, the obsession is that real. Now I would never say that all those participate in Model U.N. are as in love with it as I am, but I can say with 100% certainty that all MUN delegates will agree with me that Model U.N. matters.

As the article says, “Model U.N. is so much more than simply playing ‘make-believe.’”

It’s more than just learning about how the world works. You acquire critical skills that help students become an independent and critical individual. From public speaking, negotiating, writing, and networking, a Model U.N delegate no longer is just a student, but a global student that cares about the world, its issues, and the ways in which they can be solved. As the article says, “Model U.N. is so much more than simply playing ‘make-believe.’”

As the Head Delegate of The George Washington University Model U.N. team and a Global Classrooms DC Curriculum Development Specialist for the United Nations Association of the National Capital Area, I can truly say that my passion for Model U.N. has given me great opportunities that I would not normally have as just a typical college student.

Author's Bio: David Berris, is a senior at The George Washington University majoring in International Affairs and a Global Classrooms DC Curriculum Development Specialist at the United Nations Association of the National Capital Area, and has been heavily involved in the Model United Nations team since his freshmen year. Since his sophomore year, he been the Head Delegate of GW's nationally recognized Model U.N. team. He is in charge of teaching freshmen delegates how Model U.N. works on the collegiate level, and has also worked with middle school and high school students from around the United States and the world to teach them Model U.N. He is very dedicated to youth empowerment and helping students understand their place in the world as global citizens that have a say in their future.

Thursday, August 27, 2015

My Experience at the National Student Leadership Conference: Elena

By: Elena Kervitsky, Program Assistant - Youth Team

The National Student Leadership program is a multi-day leadership conference that develops student’s leadership skills both on a general level and in the context of a certain career or academic field. 

When I received the invitation pamphlet in the mail I was immediately drawn to the conference that focused on International Diplomacy, since I knew that it is something I am passionate about and want to study in college. I saw this as an opportunity to learn first hand what is involved in diplomacy, to speak to experts in this field, visit various non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and intergovernmental organizations (IGOs), and to research and write resolutions on one particular international issue in a mock Security Council Session.

When registering I was asked to rank five topics based on my interest - students are not guaranteed their first committee of choice but I was fortunate enough to be one of the few who were. For the duration of the eleven-day conference twelve other high school students and I researched, debated, and formulated resolutions to hopefully address Human Trafficking within the Security Council.

Model UN Security Council: Mission Impossible

Prior to this program I had only participated in Model United Nations (UN) once before at a Global Classrooms DC conference five years earlier. The mock Security Council sessions were very different from that experience. The Security Council requires signature from all of the permanent Security Council members to pass a resolution, and creating a resolution that China, Russia, and the United States could all agree on felt like mission impossible.

Having struggled to create a resolution that pleased all of these opposing parties, I now have a more thorough understanding of how the security council works and its organizational shortcomings. However, having learned more about the structure of the UN and the philosophy of the laws that govern each branch, I cannot think of a better way to organize it. Even if I could, there is no guarantee that in actuality it would work the way it was designed to.

World Simulation: Teenagers as World Leaders

Aside from the Security Council sessions, we also participated in World Simulation sessions where the group of sixty-five students was divided up into ten groups to govern ten different nations.  Each country came with a distinct history, social issues, funding, physical qualities and limitations; the rest was up to us to create.

It was my immediate inclination to create an independent, peaceful country that was on good terms with all other nations and had a strong focus on social issues and maintaining a stable economy.

Unfortunately, that was far more difficult than I had anticipated. Only one or two other individuals in my country agreed with those values, and many other nations decided to take advantage of our country’s internal indecision to raid, pillage, and destroy it. Every attempt at making alliances was sabotaged; trade agreements all had a silver lining of corruption; and it was impossible to trust anyone, even the people in your own government.

In the sea or lies and deceit it was impossible to really know a nation’s agenda or where their allegiances lay, but with world affairs changing rapidly it was detrimental for your country to wait until that was made clear before making decisions.

Note: Part of the chaos should be attributed to the fact that this was a world ruled by teenagers who thought of it more as a game than a simulation.

This exercise was eye opening for me because before the world simulation I didn’t understand to the true extent of integration in our world and how something that may seem distant can have a profound effect on local affairs. While this was only a simulation, the connection between this world simulation and our real world affairs was obvious. It was frightening and motivating for me at the same time.

Now, having participated in this program and spent eleven days learning about global affairs I feel more compelled than ever to follow my passion for international affairs and diplomacy and to pursue a career in global politics.  As long as global education is available and students are encouraged to learn about these issues, I believe that progress and positive change is possible.

“We may be the students of today, but we’re also the adults and leaders of tomorrow. These issues are going to ours and we need to know how to address them.” – A segment of my interview as a seventh grade delegate at GCDC’s 2011 spring conference. 

Author's Bio: Elena is a home-schooled high school senior who has been working in the Global Classrooms program for four years writing curriculum and the monthly newsletter for students and teachers. This fall she is applying to colleges to study international relations and foreign policy in hopes of working for the United Nations in the future to solve global issues like Human Trafficking and Food Insecurity.

Friday, January 30, 2015

Are You For the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women?

by Heather Hill

Someone told me recently that "Most people believe in human rights. The problem is a lack of awareness for how to translate that belief into action that makes a difference."

This year the United Nations turns 70. In the Charter of the United Nations, signing governments committed to "reaffirm faith in fundamental human rights, in the dignity and worth of the human person, in the equal rights of men and women and of nations large and small," and subsequently,  to secure "fundamental freedoms for all without distinction as to race, sex, language, or religion."

What a commitment, right? Such idealism.

These last two sentences do not have to be read ironically. This commitment was not made with the expectation that the path to securing freedoms for all without distinction would be easy. Affirmation of faith is not a necessary action unless there is demand for it, unless effort will be required. And we, the people who beget governments and form nations, are the ones from whom this effort and this affirmation are finally required.

As a woman, I spend a great deal of time thinking about the rights of women. I think about how nice it would be to walk down the street unmolested by strangers eyes, words, or hands. I wonder what it would be like to receive the same immediate respect, or even the same salary, as a man. I wonder how it would feel to receive those privileges without having to work extra hard to verify my worth. What it would be like to operate in a system that automatically rewards rather than punishes me for being woman. I dream of a world where education for girls is considered a value rather than a wasted expense; where sexuality is not mistrusted, destroyed, or exploited; where women can own property, run businesses, and lead in government without reprisal or threat.

These are not merely one womans wishes and, more importantly, they are not simply "women's issues." They are issues that belong to all of us whether we be men, women, or non-binary.

In 1979, the Conventionof the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) was introduced and adopted by the General Assembly. It was called for by the UN Commission on the Status of Women after injustices and discrimination continued to shape the experiences of women worldwide.

Governments that ratify CEDAW are committing to not only enable but also ensure the full development and advancement of women so that they can enjoy and make use of the human rights and fundamental freedoms promised in the Charter.

CEDAW is not a document of wishful thinking but rather a powerful tool in the hands of signers. Ratifying countries submit periodic reports of their status—both good and bad—in fulfilling CEDAW, and non-binding recommendations are returned to them. The resultant recommendations serve as guidelines for continued progress as well as the conversation sprung during the review itself—both of great importance to the effort of eliminating all forms of discrimination against women. (International Center for Research on Women, "Recognizing Rights, Promoting Progress: CEDAW" Report, 2010.)

For a country that prides itself on strides in human rights and on being a voice for the voiceless, it surprised me to learn that the United States has not ratified this convention. The United States aligns with only six other countries in not ratifying CEDAW:Iran, Somalia, Sudan, South Sudan, Palau, and Tonga.

When we as a country speak up about human rights across race, sex, language, and religion, we stand on tremulous ground. How can we look at other countries and say, "human rights are important and you should listen to what we have to share," when we haven’t ratified this Convention. They have only to look at the blank space on the paper where our signature should be.

If we ratified the Convention as a country, we could lead the conversation not only in words but also by example. We could show without a doubt that, as we take on issues such as sex trafficking or racial, ethnic, and religious inequality across the world, we are equally serious about them at home and committed without restraint to the principle of equality and dignity for all.

Cities for CEDAW is a movement that helps to translate global policy into local action. In 1998, San Francisco adopted an ordinance that reflects the principles of CEDAW, leading the way for other cities to follow suit. You can see some of what they have accomplished at their website. While we might not convince our Senate to ratify CEDAW tomorrow, we can mobilize our cities and our local government to adopt CEDAW into local legislation.

Just this past week in Washington, D.C., we learnt that D.C. for CEDAW legislation is soon to be introduced into the D.C. Council. "What we do here locally connects with what we do globally," D.C. Council Member David Grosso commented as he laid out the intentions of the legislation.

When we act on our beliefs, we give our words a foundation to stand on; when we step up as leaders at the local level, we connect with the global issues pressing around us. If, one by one, our cities across the United States incorporate CEDAW into their legislation, then one day the government of "we the people" will see that we are the body, that we ratified for them, and that they must listen and act accordingly.

The air in the room on Tuesday night at "Cities for CEDAW: From Global Policy to Local Action," hosted at the UN Foundation was electrifying. The room was packed, and not only with women. It was an electricity generated from looking around and recognizing others who share a belief in human rights for everyone alike; knowing that we do ourselves, together, ratify this convention and that we intend to collaborate to make it part of our legislation and daily lives. We have the chance to translate our beliefs from words tossed around social media to real-world action with a meaningful impact.

Cities for CEDAW: Bring it to your hometown today by pledging your support at the Cities for CEDAW site, calling your local council and elected officials, or hosting a meeting, yourself. Together let's make sure that, from the grassroots up, the United States ratifies the Convention of the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women. As people, individuals and communities alike, we have only ourselves to stand between us and a ratification of CEDAW.

For more information on how to implement CEDAW in your city, visit:

Heather Hill is an active volunteer for the UNA-NCA Human Rights Committee. She is a writer, photographer, and fundraiser living in DC, her 6th capital city in the world to call home.