Dee Aker, interim executive director and longtime women’s and human rights activist in the Joan B. Kroc Institute for Peace and Justice (IPJ), said it best during Thursday’s opening remarks at the International Women’s Day breakfast.
“Here, at the IPJ, every day is International Women’s Day.”
The 11th annual breakfast, held at the University of San Diego 12 days later than the United Nations’ designated March 8 celebration, was worth the wait as the program weaved together the past, present and future.
Aker opened with a history lesson about the important role women have had in conflict resolution – fitting since March is National Women’s History Month — and touched on the highly successful Women PeaceMakers Program at USD that bringsinternational female role models from war-torn countries to campus to share their inspiring stories.
Jennifer Freeman, IPJ senior program officer for Women, Peace and Security, followed with a report from the 58th session of the UN Commission on the Status of Women. She spoke of the Millenium Development Goals (MDG) issued and approved by the world’s governments in 2000:
- Eradicate extreme poverty and hunger;
- Achieve universal primary education;
- Promote gender equality and empower women;
- Reduce child mortality;
- Improve maternal health;
- Combat HIV/AIDS, malaria and other diseases;
- Ensure environmental sustainability;
- Global partnership for development.
While acknowledging significant progresses in some ways, Freeman said, “when looking at segregated data, women and girls are not benefitting as much as men and boys in nearly every MDG.”
But, she continued, “what’s most powerful is the growing body of research that demonstrates that promoting gender equality and empowering women is arguably the most crucial goal because the ripple effects of empowering women and girls positively impacts the entire development agenda.”
The IPJ sponsored a panel discussion at the Commission on the Status of Women that included 2013 Woman PeaceMaker Rehana Hashmi. According to Freeman, the panel “highlighted another crucial factor in the MDG equation — peace.”
The World Development Report of 2011 reported that, on average, countries who experienced major violence from 1981 to 2005 had poverty rates 21 percentage points higher than countries that did not experience similar levels of violence.
“To meaningfully address the gaps to development in the future, we’ll need to pay as much attention to conflict, its prevention and sustainable resolution, which, necessarily, requires women’s active involvement in peace agreements and post-conflict resolution,” Freeman said. “We see this because, contrary to UN security resolutions, it’s still not happening in the conflict and peace agreements going on today in Syria, Afghanistan, Libya and others where women’s voices should be included in their post-conflict resolutions.”
The program then turned to a pair of youthful inspirations, Sedrick Muhhula Ntwali (pictured, above right) and Nina Church (pictured, above left), both of whom have had life experiences in their teen years that led them to take action.
Ntwali, born in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, fled with family in 2007 to Kampala, Uganda. While a refugee, he founded Young African Refugees for Integral Development (YARID), a non-profit organization that serves urban refugees in Kampala, at age 17. His organization offers English classes, microenterprise opportunities, women’s empowerment programs, vocational training and the youth are united by playing soccer.
His deep appreciation for women shone through in his speech. The Congo “was a very dangerous place for women and girls to live,” he said. “The abuse of women was used as a weapon for war and their own interests.” His transition to Kampala, he said, gave him a sense of purpose. The YARID organization helps young people thrive and become more self-sufficient.
Church is an undergraduate student at Stanford. At age 17, she co-founded Nika Water, a company that donates 100 percent of its profits to provide clean water and sanitation projects in Kenya, Nicaragua and Sri Lanka. A former intern and guest speaker for IPJ’s WorldLink program at USD, Church expressed excitement and a strong belief in her generation’s ability to tackle world problems with the help of smart and developing technology.
“Technology and innovation are freeing up more and more people all around the world to have a basic standard of living that allows them to pursue their passions, to support their callings, and the culture is shifting to support more and more women to do so, thanks to the amazing work by so many, including those who are in this room,” she said. “We’re a generation of guinea pigs. We’re addicted to connectivity. Almost every minute, most of our lives are spent connected. While that seems incredibly intimidating and has dangerous potential, I see it as incredibly exciting. It provides the most fertile ground possible for us to rise as a generation that’s deeply rooted in empathy.”
– Ryan T. Blystone