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.

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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.