Press for Progress

Today is International Women’s Day and this year’s theme is Press for Progress.  The event is celebrated every year on March 8 to commemorates the movement for women’s rights.

This morning I learned a very interesting fact which was that the earliest Women’s Day observance, called “National Woman’s Day,” was held on February 28, 1909 in New York.  It was organized by the Socialist Party of America at the suggestion of Theresa Malkiel.  An American labor activist, suffragist, and educator, Theresa was a woman of progress, as she made history as the first woman to rise from factory work to leadership in the Socialist party.  She was a Jewish woman and refugee who fled anti-Semitic violence in Russia.  Eighteen years later, she founded Women’s Day, the forerunner of International Women’s Day.  Read more about her story here.

Theresa_Malkiel
The woman behind International Women’s Day

Why is International Women’s Day celebrated on March 8?  After women gained suffrage in Soviet Russia in 1917, March 8 became a national holiday there. After the founding of the People’s Republic of China on October 1, 1949 the State Council proclaimed on December 23 that March 8 would be made an official holiday with women in China given a half-day off.  The United Nations began celebrating International Women’s Day in the International Women’s Year, 1975.  Two years later, in 1977, the United Nations General Assembly invited member states to proclaim March 8 as the UN Day for women’s rights and world peace.

What is the purpose for IWD?  According to an article in the Mirror, the aim was for women to have equal pay.  It’s still an issue so the day is still being held every year.

Women earn 14% less than men in the UK. Last year the #MeToo campaign also grew in momentum, after women started to speak out about sexual harassment.

The women who spoke out are known as The Silence Breakers and they were named Time’s Person of the Year.

International Women’s Day is an official holiday in many countries including Afghanistan, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Burkina Faso, Cambodia, China (for women only), Cuba, Georgia, Guinea-Bissau, Eritrea, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Laos, Madagascar (for women only), Moldova, Mongolia, Montenegro, Nepal (for women only), Russia, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, Uganda, Ukraine, Uzbekistan, Vietnam and Zambia.

Originally the colors used for International Women’s Day were purple for symbolizing women, green for hope and white for purity.  White is no longer used because of purity being a controversial concept.  Yellow was introduced symbolizing a “new dawn”.  So, now green is for traditional feminism and purple with yellow represent contemporary feminism.

Today, women were on center stage and the world watched as they protested and celebrated.  And in Canada, a family, Canadians and people of color celebrated as the ten dollar bill featuring Viola Desmond, the first black woman was unveiled today.

Viola Desmond was a Canadian black woman from the province of Nova Scotia who challenged racial segregation at a movie theatre in New Glasgow, Nova Scotia in 1946 when she refused to leave a whites only area and was convicted of a minor tax violation for the one cent tax difference between the seat she paid for and the seat she used.  Her case is one of the most publicized incidents of racial discrimination in Canadian history and helped start the modern civil rights movement in Canada.  She has been compared to Rosa Parks as both women, uncompromising in their stance against racism gave rise to the Civil Rights Movement.

Progress has been made in the fight for women’s rights but we still have a long way to go.  In the mean time, let’s women around the world continue to raise their voices in order to be heard and to “bring attention to the most critical issues facing our communities, and our world at large” (Rep. Jeannie McDaniel).

Photo:  https://www.carnegiecouncil.org/publications/picks/0041

Sources:  Wikipedia; Broadly; International Women’s Day; Wikipedia

Starvation in Madaya

Many people in the world today are not starving because there is an inherent inability to produce food, they are starving because they are caught in the middle of political fights and blockades that have been used as weapons – Ralph Merkle

I was appalled when I heard about the mother who was giving her 7 month old baby water and salt because there is no food in Madaya, Syria.  Tears came to my eyes when I saw the sunken face of a baby, his large eyes staring at the camera.  This precious, innocent child and many others are starving in Madaya.  Some have died.  This atrocity begs the question:  How could a leader of a country do this to his people?

It’s hard to watch this video but it is something everyone needs to be aware of.

People were forced to live on tree leaves and plants but now that winter has set in there are no more plants and leaves.  Majed Ali, a 28 year old opposition activist, was 114 kilos before the siege and is now 80.  Abu Hassan Mousa, head of Madaya opposition council sees no point in negotiating when children are going without milk.   “What are we going to negotiate over?” he demands.  “Our dead?”  The Syrian people went for months without aid.  In fact, the October was the last time aid was delivered to Madaya.

Seeing the crisis in Syria motivated me to get in touch with Julie Marshall, Canadian Spokesperson of the United Nations World Food Programme.  I wanted to know what people in Canada can do to help and this is what she had to say:

The good news is the first UN convoy will move to Madaya carrying food for 40,000 people for one month will set off as early as Sunday. On Monday, other convoys carrying food should move into the besieged towns of Foah and Kefraya in rural Idlib with WFP food for 20,000 people.  Non-food items, including medicine, specialist nutrition products, kitchen sets, blankets, winter clothing and other supplies will hopefully follow in the next few days.

The last humanitarian supplies reached Madaya on October 17 on an interagency convey – this was enough food to feed more than 19,000 people for one month. The convoy was a result of a locally negotiated agreement reached between the opposition and government to allow access to four besieged communities in Idlib and rural Damascus (Foah, Kefraya, Zabadani and Madaya). Since then, no food assistance or humanitarian supplies have reached these areas.
WFP provides food assistance to over 4 million people displaced inside Syria in both government and opposition-controlled areas every month.  And around 1.3 million refugees in neighbouring countries.

Canada has been one of WFP’s largest donors to our response in the region and we hope the extension of the matching funds, until the end of February will encourage Canadians to donate to organizations like WFP working in Syria.

Canadians can support WFP by donating here: https://give.wfp.org/en/629/?step=country
Also, we launched an app a few months ago called ShareTheMeal which makes it extremely easy to support our school meals for Syrian refugee school children living in Jordan.

It is extremely difficult to see babies starving.  And it upsets me when I see food go to waste when there are people starving everyday.  Let us do what we can to help the people in Syria.  Hunger is a terrible thing and something that we need to fight against.  The starvation in Syria is likened to warfare.  It’s like when Hitler starved the Russian people during the battle of Stalingrad.  Hunger is being used as a weapon to oppress the people and this cannot and should not be allowed to happen.  Let us help WFP and other humanitarian agencies to save the lives of the men, women and children in Syria.

Source:  CBC News; World Food Programme

The Tale of Two Nazanins

Two women, worlds apart and living very different lives.  Their worlds collided when Nazanin Afshin-Jam opened her email one afternoon and saw a message marked “Urgent.”

Nazanin Afshin-Jam is an Iranian-Canadian model, singer, and human rights activist. She is a former Miss World Canada and Miss World first runner-up, and has been an advocate for human rights in her role as president and co-founder of Stop Child Executions.  She and her family immigrated to Canada in 1981.  Nazanin is married to Peter MacKay, Canada’s Minister of National Defence.

An international model and actress, Nazanin became Miss World Canada in 2003 and joined in the Miss World contest in SanyaChina, ranking second.  She entered the Miss World competition whose motto is “beauty with a purpose” to have a stronger platform to speak on human rights issues. Afshin-Jam traveled worldwide representing many causes including helping victims of the tsunami in India and Sri Lanka, raising funds for the earthquake victims of Bam, supporting fistula patients in Ethiopia, fundraising for Variety the Children’s Charity, bridging the digital divide through youth advocacy and raising awareness on the practice of Bear Bile Farming in China.

Afshin-Jam continues to address human rights abuses worldwide particularly in relation to women and children in Iran and the Middle East including speeches at UN, EU, Canadian and UK Parliament. She has had media features on CNN, BBC, CBC, FOX, Al Jazeera and numerous radio shows, talk shows and print including Glamour, Seventeen, Chatelaine, Flare and Vanity Fair magazine.  Just recently she was on Canada AM promoting her book, The Tale of Two Nazanins in which she writes about Nazanin Mahabad Fatehi,  a young Iranian woman who was sentenced to hang for stabbing one of three men who tried to rape her and her niece in Karaj in March 2005.

The former beauty queen started a campaign to help save the life of her namesake including a petition which attracted more than 350,000 signatures worldwide. She has also dedicated her song “Someday the Revolution song” -one of the 12 songs on her album -Someday to Nazanin Fatehi and some other youth in Iran.  Eventually, with pressure from the international community, Nazanin Fatehi was granted a new trial by the head of Judiciary in June 2006. In January 2007, Nazanin Fatehi was exhonerated of murder charges and was released on January 31, 2007 after Afshin-Jam raised $43,000 on-line for bail while her lawyers worked on her case. For her efforts in helping save Nazanin Fatehi, Afshin-Jam was awarded the “hero for human rights award” from Youth For Human Rights International and Artists for Human Rights at the United Nations headquarters in New York.

In 2009, Nazanin starred role of Táhirih in Jack Lenz’s movie , Mona’s Dream, about the life of Mona Mahmudnizhad.  That same year, Nazanin along with 266 other Iranian academics, writers, artists, journalists about  signed an open letter of apology posted to Iranian.com about the Persecution of Bahá’ís.  She won the YMCA Power of Peace Award as “Young Emerging Leader”.

Nazanin has written a book which she hopes will bring her leads as to where Nazanin Fatehi and her family are.  Since 2010, Nazanin has not heard from the young woman.  This experience has opened Nazanin’s eyes to need to mobilize world support to fight injustices against women and she hopes to make a difference on a global scale. Through her speeches and music Afshin-Jam hopes to continue being a “voice for the voiceless” and deliver her messages of freedom, peace and love worldwide.

Notes to Women applaud this beauty who is a woman of action and a champion of human rights.  We hope that she will one day be in touch with the young woman whose life she saved.

I didn’t know anything about her

No one else was trying to do anything to help her, so I thought why not me?

Nazanin Afshin-Jam

 

Source:  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nazanin_Afshin-Jam

Eleanor Roosevelt

Earlier this month when I was reading about African American women who made a difference so that I could feature them in the special issue of Notes to Women newsletter, one name kept popping up–Eleanor Roosevelt.  I promised myself that I would do a little writeup on her.  And here we are.

“Where, after all, do universal human rights begin? In small places, close to home – so close and so small that they cannot be seen on any maps of the world. Yet they are the world of the individual person; the neighborhood he lives in; the school or college he attends; the factory, farm, or office where he works. Such are the places where every man, woman, and child seeks equal justice, equal opportunity, equal dignity without discrimination. Unless these rights have meaning there, they have little meaning anywhere. Without concerted citizen action to uphold them close to home, we shall look in vain for progress in the larger world” (http://www.udhr.org/history/biographies/bioer.htm).

She basically believed that charity begins at home.  And she reminds me of something a friend once said to me.  “The difficulty in following Jesus’ command is that we often pick and choose who we decide is our neighbour. We see our neighbour as the starving, AIDS infected person in the Third World or the orphan in a war torn country, needing our love and care but often perceive the homeless in our community as undeserving of our love.”

Eleanor’s childhood was a dreadfully unhappy one.  Her father was an alcoholic who was disowned by his family. Her mother, renowned for her beauty, was distant from her daughter whom she nicknamed “Granny” because she seemed to her old-fashioned. After Anna Roosevelt died of diphtheria in 1892, Eleanor, age eight, was raised by her maternal grandmother. She rarely saw her father thereafter, and he died of drink in 1894 when she was ten. These traumatic experiences affected Eleanor for life and she would harbor a constant yearning for unconditional love (http://www.lkwdpl.org/wihohio/roos-elex.htm). 

Life didn’t improve much when when Eleanor married Franklin, a distant cousin and they had six children.  Eleanor had to deal with her overbearing mother-in-law who apparently told her grandchildren that their mother only bore them.  She tried to control Eleanor, making her daughter-in-law feel utterly dependent.  

Then Eleanor found out that Franklin was having an affair with Lucy Mercer, her secretary.  She offered him a divorce, but he declined for the sake of his political career and because his mother threatened to disinherit him if he did.  He and Eleanor never shared a bedroom after that, but their working relationship was respectful, for the time (http://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Main/FranklinDRoosevelt).

Eleanor Roosevelt was the first First Lady to be more politically active, involving herself in causes like Civil Rights.  Perhaps it was because there was lack of charity in her own home that made Eleanor want to reach out to her community.   From early adulthood Eleanor Roosevelt dedicated herself to liberty, justice, and compassion for all.

Racial injustice came to her attention only after she reached the White House.   By that time, she was already active in promoting other groups’ causes. Before she married Franklin Delano Roosevelt in 1905, she worked with the immigrants at the Rivington Street Settlement House. During World War I she helped improve conditions for US servicemen.When Franklin fell ill, leaving him crippled, she once again found herself standing up for someone whose value to society was doubted, this time her own husband. The 1921 experience deepened her concern for society’s unaccepted. Later the same decade she began her work promoting women’s causes. Women had just gained the right to vote, and Eleanor encouraged them to make the most of that right and run for office. 

After leaving the White House, Mrs. Roosevelt found herself more free than ever to promote equal rights for African Americans. During her final years she continued fighting as hard and fearlessly as ever. On at least one occassion, the Secret Service warned her not to keep a speaking engagement on civil disobedience. The Ku Klux Klan had put a price on her head and the Secret Service said they could not guarantee her safety. Undeterred, she traveled with another lady and her revolver. Such was her determination, independence, and courage right up to the year she died.

Mrs. Roosevelt was not always successful, even despairing at times of making any progress at all. And not every one of the causes she championed, such as the United Nations, turned out to be all that she hoped. But she used every ounce of her influence, charisma, and political capital for the causes in which she believed. Right or wrong, she fought zealously and courageously, and in most cases the world is a better place because of those fights. This zealous First Lady’s support moved African Americans’ cause ahead by decades
 (http://www.blackhistoryreview.com/biography/ERoosevelt.php).

Eleanor Roosevelt came a long way from being an unhappy child and dependent woman to becoming a champion for women’s and civil rights.  She was committed to what she believed in.  

Be inspired by this remarkable woman who endured so much but in the end gave so much because she cared about the rights of others. 

You gain strength, courage, and confidence by every experience in which you really stop to look fear in the face. You must do the thing which you think you cannot do.

No one can make you feel inferior without your consent.

Remember always that you not only have the right to be an individual, you have an obligation to be one

Eleanor Roosevelt