Our Vision and the Road Ahead The role of the UN Association is essential in helping to build grassroots support and in generating awareness of the need for a strong United Nations. London & South East Region are working hard to develop systemic, focused and creative campaigns that will reach out to as many people as possible with our limited resources. In the forthcoming months, we will be developing the campaigns contained in our three main areas of focus: Asylum & Immigration, Freshwater for all and International Security. We will have a functional and dynamic website up and running by the end of June – and in celebration of Membership Week. Please check us out at: www.UNALONDONANDSE.org London & SE Region has tremendous skills and expertise which we look forward to developing further. There is a direct parallel between the development of the region and Sam Daws’ vision for the development of UNA-UK (see p.2 for a summary of Sam’s vision). We hope to continue to build on a co-operative and mutually beneficial relationship with UNA HQ. We welcome new and active members. We welcome your comments and thoughts, whether you are a member of UNA or not. We will have a special letters feature in a future edition of The Dispatch. So your letters are very much appreciated (see p.7 for correspondence address). Thank You
Linda McCulloch, Chair of UNA L&SE Region
Commemorating International Women’s Day March 8th was International Women’s Day which we paid tribute to at our Council meeting at the Maritime Campus, University of Greenwich on March 6th. After essential Regional Business, we held the Forum on Women. Speakers discussed various issues blighting the lives of women in today’s world. Topics covered were female genital mutilation, gender equality, violence against women, human trafficking and insight into the work of WomenAid International (full coverage on back page). Thanks to the women who spoke, and to Blackheath & Greenwich branch, especially Neville Grant and Gill Mackilligin, for organising such a thought provoking day!
UNA-UK Conference – March 2004
Thank You for being so Supportive!
I was very pleased that I was able to attend the 59th Annual Conference of the United Nations Association of Great Britain and Northern Ireland held in Reading on 2-4th April 2004.
The fact that students and young people have a permanent lack of money doesn’t surprise anybody. But when it comes to make participation real this becomes a big issue. Ideals and enthusiasm are not always enough; sometimes you need a little bit of cash to make it happen.
I attended as I was in London following the EXCO meeting in Geneva and I have a personal commitment that during my term as President of WFUNA (World Federation of UNAs) I would visit as many member Associations as possible and an Annual Conference is the best place to meet many members. Also to express to the UNA-UK Association an appreciation of the contribution that Malcolm Harper has given to WFUNA. At the Executive meetings his contribution was always thoughtful, balanced, creative and generally those present followed his proposals. He has given outstanding service to WFUNA.
Last month some UNA youth members had the chance to participate in the Annual General Meeting of UNA at Reading University thanks to London and South East Region.
This region sponsored 3 members of the Youth Council to attend the conference. They had the opportunity to meet
other members, to speak about their concerns and to raise awareness about how important youth involvement is.
My recollections of the conference are; Firstly, the very able chairing of the conference – a task that ensures that a meeting is successful and all can participate. Secondly, the most interesting and wide ranging topics presented for discussion, Thirdly, the information available in the foyer: the video of WAR NO MORE shown by the Movement for the Abolition of War – the Arms Reduction Coalition (ARC), and your information on the United Nations. Fourthly, but most importantly
the friendliness of the participants whom I found so interesting – especially the young people.
I hope that the adopted motions will be available for other UNAs to study for I believe that the membership of WFUNA must work together on the major world issues affecting us all. WFUNA has adopted two principal objectives: 1. To continue to focus on the Millennium Development Goals, with emphasis on specific priorities in the implementation of the goals. 2. The Model UN programme as an essential part in the education of citizens, especially in respect to the role of the citizen in civil society. I wish the UNA-UK Association, the Regional Committees and UNA Youth a very successful year ahead. I very much enjoyed the Conference and meeting old friends and making many new ones. Thank you all.
Lady Rhyl Jansen, WFUNA President
Youth members in the beautiful surroundings of Reading University
The new Youth Council was recently elected at the Youth Annual Conference. A group of 12 talented young members is from now on in charge of UNYSA for the next year. Its main duty will be to increase the number of youth members at UNA and also to make sure that youth views are taken into account. The support of the London and South East Region is crucial for us and we hope that we can keep working closely together. Thank you so much for having a “youth vision”, we won’t disappoint you!
Virginia Saiz, UNA Youth Officer See p.6 for further details of
‘Lunch in the Garden’.
An invitation for Youth members to
Vision for UNA’s Future– A Vision of Change Sam Daws, UNA-UK’s new Executive Director from September, addressed the UNA Annual Conference by emphasising his vision for UNA’s future. He commenced by stating “UNA-UK’s members are our greatest asset”, a statement which particularly reflects his first of nine principles on which his vision rests: “We must value people – recognise and appreciate the remarkable commitment and contribution that you, that our committee officers, and that our staff, make.” His principles further highlight support for branches and members, and valuing the expertise that already exists among members. Photo: Alex Gilbert
Sam plans to develop wider and deeper relationships with other bodies: with various governmental actors to achieve a greater influence in formulating UN policy, with the media to increase awareness of UN issues and to enhance UNA’s image, with academia to develop policy expertise, and with agencies to provide new funding sources. He stressed the need to prioritise and focus on key UN issues by “taking on less” but “doing it better”. Lastly, he highlighted the need to attract new members of all backgrounds, especially young professionals and working with them to help achieve UNA’s objectives. Full text of Sam’s speech available on www.una-uk.org
Marking United Nations Peacekeepers Day To mark the newly designated International Day of UN Peacekeepers, Westminster UNA held a one-day conference along with a Cenotaph ceremony. Bill Rammell, Foreign and Commonwealth Office Minister, paid tribute to the UN peacekeepers currently deployed in 16 UN peacekeeping operations, followed by the Ministry of Defence showcasing the European Union’s new Security and Defence Policy. This seemed to many as slow in evolving and targeting the wrong crises. We heard about the G8 nations’ plan to enhance African Peace Support capacity which seems to be being sidelined at this year’s G8 meeting. UNA and Chatham House are seeking funds to check on this.
Photo: Gill Mackilligin Professor Sune Persson from Gothenburg University and Michael Popovic, Ex-Director of the UN Information Centre
Also, we examined the new 2nd protocol to the 1954 Hague Convention concerning the protection of cultural property in time of war. This came into force in March 2004 and will influence UN intervention doctrine. One session, to feature in future conferences, was the inaugural Bernadotte lecture given by Professor Sune Persson to mark the life of Count Folke Bernadotte, the first UN mediator in Palestine, who was assassinated in 1948. Lessons learned here include the need for the UN to remain neutral always.
Photo: Gill Mackilligin David Wardrop (front) and other participants in the wreath laying ceremony at the Cenotaph
Later, at the Cenotaph, the 150 participants marked the loss of UN Peacekeepers by laying wreaths in memory of Count Bernadotte by his son, accompanied by representatives of 35 Foreign Missions and a member of the UN Youth and Students Association. Each wreath featured two Peacekeeper roses, launched in 1995 to mark the UN’s 50th anniversary.
David Wardrop, UNA Westminster Branch
Westminster branch Law Lecture Peter Hansen, Commissioner-General of UNRWA, in presenting the Second Steinkraus-Cohen International Law Lecture, discussed the application of law to the Palestine refugee problem.
“Ignore the law and a just resolution will continue to elude us”
he said. Palestinians cling to their right to return home but the Security Council fails to support them whilst upholding similar claims by refugees elsewhere. UN Law has been breached also, by Israel hindering the free movement of UN staff.
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The fourth Geneva Convention which protects civilians in time of war has been arbitrarily interpreted by Israel feeling only bound by its so-called “humanitarian provisions” without defining which are “humanitarian”. Further, International Human Rights Law has not been extended to shelter and re-housing projects; Palestinians in Gaza and the West Bank remain deprived of their human rights, including the fundamental right to life and security of the person. Also, uniquely, International Refugee Law does not apply to Palestine’s refugees.
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“As men and women who care deeply about the rule of law, we must all continue to do our part in helping Israelis and Palestinians resolve their differences with due regard to international law”, he concluded before answering questions on aspects of UNRWA’s work. For a full transcript, see www.una-uk.org
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UNA’s National Affiliates National bodies, such as religious groups, trade unions, political parties, and NGOs have traditionally become affiliates of UNA centrally. One of the constitutional changes made by the UNA-L&SER Spring Council was to grant affiliated organisations based in London voting rights at future Council meetings. This emphasises how welcome affiliates are in UNA and how we appreciate their support. When Affiliate Members sign up they declare that they are in sympathy and in broad agreement with the Principles of the United Nations Charter and agree to: • • • •
Put the aims and work of the United Nations before their members and the public. Encourage individual participation in UNA. Pay an annual subscription to UNA. Appoint a representative who will be the principal link between the organisation and UNA.
Affiliates can participate in programmes and decision-making processes of UNA. They can also express their views concerning world peace and justice to individuals, leadership and other organisations within UNA, and to a wider public through UNA. In addition, the Affiliates receive literature and briefings from UNA including New World, and help for meetings and other activities from UNA staff. National Affiliates come in ‘all shapes and sizes’ but can be categorised as follows: Religious based organisations or groups which can have an ongoing input into UNA through its Religious Affairs Committee. Examples of such organisations are Anglo-Jewish Association, Baptist Union of Great Britain, B’Nai B’rith, and Reform Synagogue Guilds.
Photo: Sylvia Olonode Left to Right: Sahar Abdin, Charlotte Obiri and Jeff Tomlinson of Technowledgy, Jan Brownfoot, Cindy Cayo and Amina Rawat
which can participate through membership of UNA’s Women’s Advisory Council. Examples include British League of Unitarian and Liberal Christian Women, and League of Jewish Women.
Trade Union organisations
such as GMB (Britain’s General Union) can participate nationally, regionally, or even departmentally. UNA is grateful to The Transport Salaried Staff Association (TSSA) for facilitating the UNA-UNICEF Flag Day collections at stations. UNA has welcomed the National Union of Teachers’ support to Adopt-A-Minefield (see p.5 for further details). UNA lobbied successfully for the United Nations to be in the school curriculum, and helps teachers through the organisation of Model UNs and with literature on the UN.
NGOs and groups with aims and activities close to UNAs. This category is the most numerous and includes
Action for UN Renewal, whose academic, radical and lobbying input is of immense value to UNA, The Lucis Trust (including World Goodwill) whose cooperation and support is greatly welcomed by UNA, and Working Partners which supports the L&SE Region in organising many joint events, especially on women. It also promotes UNA membership and is involved in linking with the diplomatic corps. Others include: the International Friendship League, The Thomas Paine Society, UNA International Service, UNGA-Link UK, and the World Disarmament Campaign. An introduction to the National Affiliates of UNA has been provided here. However in future additions we hope to focus on some of these affiliates, particularly regarding their partnership and achievements with UNA-UK.
Representatives of Working Partners, Anglo Jewish Assoc., League of Jewish Women, B’Nai B’rith and Reform Synagogue Guilds to UNA-UK
Gill Mackilligin, Vice-chair UNA L&SE
Autumn Regional Council, Twickenham, Saturday 4th September
The Regional Council will take place from 1.30 – 3.00pm with focus on:- Membership including the results of the pilot study begun at the Summer Council. – Preparation for Annual General Meeting, including the election of new officers and members of the Executive Committee or re-election of existing ones. Linoy Kidd, who has held the position for 3 years is ready to hand over; so nominations welcome (see p.5). – Planning for upcoming events. – We the Peoples… Mr Curtis Roosevelt, Former Head of NGO Section at the United Nations, New York. A Celebration of the 50th Birthday of Twickenham UNA will be enjoyed by all from 3.30pm. Dignitaries invited to mark the occasion are: Mr Edward Bostock CBE, widower of the founder of the branch, Alice Bostock, Dr Vincent Cable, MP for Twickenham, former President of the L&SE Region, Dr. Jenny Tonge, MP for Richmond, The Mayor of Richmond upon Thames Clr Pat Parsons and Mr Curtis Roosevelt, grandson of President Franklin D Roosevelt and Eleanor Roosevelt. During refreshments, (3.00 – 3.30pm) participants will have an opportunity to see an exhibition of the highlights of 50 years of the local branch’s activities. The Council will be held at St Mary’s Church Hall, Church Street, Twickenham on Saturday, 4 September 2004, 1.30 – 4.30pm. Registration from 1 pm. Twickenham Rail Station is 5 minutes walk away. More information from the Secretary of Twickenham and Richmond UNA branch, Olivia Richardson. Tel: 020 8744 0842.
300 Mine Action Projects Adopted The dedication of UNA members around the world has helped make Adopt-A-Minefield the largest non-governmental funder of mine action in the world. 300 mine action projects have now been adopted, representing donations of around £6 million. UNA Branches in the UK have now raised more than £100,000. A whopping achievement!
Keith Kelly, Director of UNA-UK collected a cheque for over £20,000 from Stockport UNA in April which had been raised through local bucket shaking, Night of 1000 Dinners events and marathon sponsorships. Oxford UNA has raised around £25,000 and has paid to clear 2 minefields in Mozambique. These are the largest UNA donor Branches, but activity is happening around the country and funds are being raised everywhere. Keith Kelly
NUT and Adopt-A-Minefield partnership was a great success with over 60 schools participating in fundraising. Sacred Heart High School in Merseyside alone raised £1326.85 from collecting small change from students and staff. • Third, run a Night of 1000 Dinners event in your home or at a local public venue on or around November the 4th. Night of 1000 Dinners is to remember those who’ve suffered from landmines and to celebrate the dedication of those who clear mines and help survivors. This year Night of 1000 Dinners will be run with recipes donated by famous chefs, and will also be supported by Aga and Hildon Water. For further information contact ffinlo Costain on 020 7925 1500 or email: email@example.com or checkout the website: www.landmines.org.uk
was also part of the No More Landmines London marathon team, which raised about £20,000 to clear a minefield in Cambodia. There were 14 brave runners in the team, and Keith managed to run the course in 3 hours and 27 minutes, despite the heavy rain. If you’re not yet part of fundraising action to clear landmines and help survivors then there are 3 major ways you can help: • First, set up a local campaign with your Branch. • Second, make sure your local schools take part in No More Landmines Day on November 4th. This is the big Adopt-A-Minefield schools event and is supported by the National Union of Teachers (NUT). The first
Photo: Adopt-A-Minefield Students from Sacred Heart High School campaigning to raise funds to clear landmines and help mine survivors.
UNA-UK World Water Day Conference
ELECTIONS 2004 EXECUTIVE COMMITTEE
To mark World Water Day, UNA chose the IMO conference hall to host the global launch of Listening, published by the Water Supply & Sanitation Consultative Council. Peter Adamson, editor of Listening outlined its principal findings. These showed that, despite agreeing the Millennium Development Goals, we are failing to learn from past failures such as the UN’s Water Supply & Sanitation Decade of the ’80s. A new approach to ‘community participation’ is needed in favour of further proposals. Examples of well-run rural schemes support this view. “Let’s measure ends, not means” he stated, encouraging more involvement by local government and by women. “We must listen more to the voices of those on the ground” he argued.
Our Regional Constitution provides for the annual election to our Regional Executive Committee of four officers and up to 10 committee members.
Later, the audience broke into groups to discuss the report and agree observations and proposals. These were summarised in the evening’s plenary session which was addressed by Baroness Amos for the government and opposition spokesmen who answered questions from the floor. The programme included contributions from Val Curtis, London School of Hygiene, Lyla Mehta, IDS and Ravi Narayanan, Water Aid. This highly important and interesting conference reinforced UNA’s claim to be the leading UK organisation able to conceive and host UN-related presentations. The Dispatch
Nominations, which must be received at UNA HQ, Whitehall Court no later than 4 September 2004, must be on the official nomination form which will include provision for a brief profile and passport photo of the candidate, and may be made by: • UNA Branch Committees • Any two members of the retiring Executive Committee • Or any six individual members Each of the above categories may make up to three nominations. Our rules provide that if more than one nomination is received for an officer post, election to that post will be by vote of Branches by way of postal ballot. Similarly, if there are more nominations for Committee members than available places, then election will be by the same means. Nomination forms will be available from 1st July 2004 and can be requested from Bruce Robertson, Regional Development Officer at UNA-UK, 3 Whitehall Court, London SW1A 2EL.
Regional Round-Up – Past and Future Events Training Iraqi Police Recruits
George Palmer, Chairman Bexley UNA branch was flown out by Metropolitan Police to Amman, Jordan in May for 6-12 months where he will join an international team training Iraqi Police Recruits. Photo: Gill Mackilligin
A hasty meeting was arranged to hand over matters to Dr. David Hall who will be Acting Chair in the meanwhile. George says:
“I’d like to thank everyone for all their support in Bexley, Dartford and Gravesham’s activities since I became involved in 2000. … I look forward to returning to the fold in either six or twelve months time, but before that lie new challenges, challenges I can’t resist.”
The Real Weapons of Mass Destruction
At the last meeting of the Putney & Roehampton UNA Branch, Karl Miller, secretary of the Arms Reduction Coalition gave an informative talk on arms reduction. He began with the statement “Responsibility for wars must
George Palmer (standing) briefs Dr. David Hall (centre) and Peter Scopes, members of Bexley UNA Branch
The UN and Conflict in the Middle East
On May 10th Tunbridge Wells Branch held a public meeting, jointly with Amnesty International, on The UN and Conflict in the Middle East. Local UNA branch member Dr Brian Beeley discussed the UN’s varied roles in peace-keeping, humanitarian aid, and conflict resolution in Cyprus, Lebanon, Israel-Palestine and Iraq. He argued that the UN's effectiveness ranges from 'excellent' where there is Security Council agreement to 'nil' where the organisation is excluded by (US) veto or pressure. In the case of Iraq this year, the UN's role seems set to change from 'excluded' to 'pivotal' after June 30th!
An Invitation for Youth members to ‘Lunch in the Garden’
Purley and Sutton
Branch would like to invite Youth members from around the Region to ‘lunch in the garden’ in Sutton on Saturday July 10th between mid-day and 2.30pm. This is a wonderful opportunity for youth members in the Region to get together with each other to share experiences, talk about overseas trips, hopes and aspirations – and especially – discuss what they would like to get out of being a part of a large group of young UNA members. What would they like to do in helping to create a strong, growing group with a desire to make the world a better, greener, safer place for us all to live in? Virginia Saiz, UNA Youth officer will be there, as will individual members of the Youth Council. MP for Beddington and Wallington, Tom Brake, will also be coming – all welcomed by the wonderful host, John Chitty. Bring a dish with an international flavour to share and a bottle of wine to: 22 The Downsway, Sutton, SM2 5RN. Trains go direct from Central London. Call John on 020 8668 3337 for further details. 6
be born by the arms makers”. “The 4 million killed in Africa in the last five years have been killed by small arms, not Weapons of Mass Destruction.” He said that the ready availability of small
arms assists terrorists and quoted Kofi Annan as saying
“the real WMDs are small arms”.
The UN is seeking to introduce measures to trace the sale of small arms, but the USA is opposing such restrictions. He stated that the main countries producing arms are the five ‘veto members’ of the Security Council: the USA, UK, Russia, China and France. The Arms Reduction Coalition wants all United Nations states to reduce arms and hopes to see a 1% – 5% reduction over the next 25 years. Karl Miller ended his talk with the horrifying statistic: “3%
of the world’s GDP is spent on arms and one fifth of world military spending would enable everyone in the world to be adequately fed and clothed.”
On February 28th Kate Ramworth, Oxfam Policy Advisor, spoke at Twickenham & Richmond’s Spring Pub Lunch on Ethical Trade. She highlighted that despite rules and corporations insisting on ethical trade, breaches of ethical trading are still widely occurring. For example, in many countries, including UK and USA, women rather than men were employed as they could be more easily exploited and underpaid. She questioned whether the recent tragedy of cockle pickers at Morecambe Bay would lead to better safeguards for workers. In UK all traders and Trade Unions have joined The Ethical Trading Initiative, but campaigners still need to look how they buy and its impact on the workers. Boycotts would be counter-productive as workers need jobs, but retailers need to be pressurises to be answerable. Whilst on March 6th, a Fairtrade lunch was organised by Canterbury branch where Moyra Feathers of Traidcraft explained that only a small change in consumer purchasing in this country could make a big difference to the lives of small producers. Hampstead branch reports that earlier this year a Fairtrade Network was set up in Camden. The Dispatch
HONORARY LIFE MEMBERSHIP It is a pleasure to announce that the Region’s 2004 Life Membership Award went to John and Diana Chitty. Supported by his wife Diana, John has been treasurer and membership secretary of Purley Branch, which merged with the Sutton Branch a few years ago, for the past 15 years. John is famous in the Region for his drive in raising huge sums of money on flag day, collecting an amazing £2,500 approximately during each of the past 5 years. Due to his work with schools in the Purley, Sutton and Croydon area, in co-ordinating debating competitions for many years, his branch now has the largest youth membership in the country: an amazing 115 members out of a total of 240. John’s commitment and energy to the nurturing of young people towards international issues is absolutely tremendous. If you know John, you will know his energy is tireless. As well as organising and taking part in a branch annual swimathon since 1993 (raising huge sums for UNHCR and A-A-M), John is a member of UNA-UK membership committee and often gives talks to schools about UNA and UNPF. London and South East Region salute you both, and thank you very much for the work you are doing.
Obituary: Howard Kensett Members of the Eastbourne Branch will miss Howard who died this year at the age of 83. As an Officer in the British D-day Army, he was called upon to bury a German soldier who was carrying photographs of his wife and children. He was appalled at the tragedy of war and resolved, there and then, in the words of the UN Charter, “to save successive generations from the
scourge of war.”
At home again, he was one of the first to join the UNA in Eastbourne and he served it significantly for the rest of his life. As Press Officer, amongst many things, he promoted the celebration of UN Day by ensuring it became a civic event. He was also largely instrumental in the setting up by Eastbourne Borough Council of the Peace Path on Beachy Head, and supported the performances of Peace Child, which enabled children from many countries to give public performances of peaceful international cooperation. He was an active Peace Campaigner with a visionary’s optimism in the face of the world’s scepticism and political apathy. He travelled widely and trekked in the foothills of Everest in further support of peace.
Diary of Future Events 2004/5
20th-26th June:The Region will celebrate Membership Week on Saturday 26th June, the Anniversary of the signing of the Charter of the United Nations with three events to which all members and prospective members are warmly invited:
South London 12.30 – 3 pm, Shared Lunch and Garden Party at 13 Glenluce Road, Blackheath,
London, SE3. Bring a dish and a friend, especially one who wants to join UNA. RSVP to Neville and Jane Grant, Blackheath & Greenwich UNA at above address or Tel: 020 8858 8489. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
North London 3 – 5 pm, Garden Party at 37 Wood Lane, Highgate, London, N6. Application for tickets costing £6 to Joseph Ball, 9 Broadlands Close, London N6 4AF. Tel: 020 8348 0061. Cheques payable to Highgate and Muswell Hill UNA.
Central London 6.30 – 9.30 pm, Thai and Indonesian Dinner, Thai Pavilion East, 82 Kennington Road,
London, SE11. £10.00. Nearest tube: Lambeth North, Buses: 3,5,68,159, 176, C10. Booking preferable: Gill Mackilligin Tel: 07760 154 841 or at Restaurant: 020 7582 6333. E-mail: email@example.com
Wed 20th Oct: Asylum & Immigration Conference
Titled Hidden Communities: New Opportunities?, this conference will take place in Croydon. For further details contact Linda McCulloch (see below).
Sat 6th Nov: Regional AGM The AGM will be held in London. We expect our Honorary President Dr Helen Bamber, Founder and
former Director for the Care of Victims of Torture to address us. Further details will be in next Dispatch.
Sat 5th March 2005: Spring Council Also to be held in London. A Forum on Women is
being planned which will be a direct follow-up on action since our one at the University of Greenwich.
We are hoping to build on the success of previous Flag Days by recruiting additional enthusiastic collectors to help out in October 2004 to participate in our annual tin shake. If you have a few hours to spare, live in the London area and are keen to connect with the general public we would be delighted to hear from you. Please contact me at my email address firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at UNA HQ.
Issue 115 of The Dispatch, due out October 2004. All submissions to be sent to the Editor by 10th September 2004. Pictures reflecting branch activities are particularly welcomed. Editor: Amina Rawat, 146 Kyverdale Road, London N16 6PU Tel: 07980 255 459 Email: email@example.com UNA L&SE Region Chairperson: Linda McCulloch, Flat 6 The Heights, 7 Beauchamp Road, London SE19 3BZ. Tel: 07776 356 493 Email: Linda.firstname.lastname@example.org Regional Development Officer: Bruce Robertson, 3 Whitehall Court, London SW1A 2EL Tel: 020 8983 4215 Email: email@example.com
UNA-UK HQs: 3 Whitehall Court, London SW1A Tel: 020 7930 2931 Email: firstname.lastname@example.org The Dispatch
Chairperson: Linda McCulloch
Photo: Sylvia Olonode
Inter national Forum on Women Commemorating International Women’s Day, six women highlighted some impending issues affecting women today at an important, and at times, emotionally challenging Regional Council, at a special session entitled ‘International Forum on Women’. Chaired by Linda Leung, the Forum began with Dr. Nandini Dasgupta from the University of Greenwich, who highlighted the reality facing many women and girls in the developing world in the context of extreme poverty. Photo: Neville Grant
Margaret Sesay (centre right) with other guests and members
Despite the targets in the Millennium Development Goals, in the 1990s, inequality has worsened in 33 developing countries. In a poor household, women are usually more malnourished and girls are more likely not to be enrolled in school. Dr. Dasgupta exemplified the difference in pay between men and women stating that in Bangladesh, a woman often receives 1 Taka for processing 40 kg of rice whilst a man may receive 1820 Taka. There are no targets for gender equality in the labour market, and greater differences are emerging in the position of women amongst developing countries. Syeda Zakia Ashan, currently a teacher, worked for 7 years for the ILO on projects which empower women through training for skilled employment. She is currently on the Executive Committee of the Commonwealth Countries League raising funds and managing scholarships for girls in Commonwealth countries. Zakia highlighted some localised training programmes in rural areas, and employment training in Bangladesh geared towards illiterate women. Zakia is Editor of CCL’s News Update, a magazine that provides updates on sponsored girls, as well as details of fundraising initiatives and other events. Deborah Jamieson, an advisor in the Home Office Domestic Violence Unit pointed out some shocking statistics. About one in four women in this country will be in a violent relationship in their lifetime with one woman being killed every 2-3 days, and 70-90% of children will witness violence when it occurs at home. For 30% of victims, domestic violence either starts or escalates during pregnancy. In the largest overhaul of domestic violence legislation for 30 years, the Government has published a consultation paper Safety and Justice. Measures to tackle domestic violence will be to make the breaching of non-molestation orders a criminal offence and common assault will be arrestable. The focus will be on prevention, protection and justice, also addressing specific needs from black and ethnic communities. Deborah also stated that the Government has supported a private Members Bill against Female Genital Mutilation which will supersede the 1985 Bill. This will enable prosecution if a girl is taken overseas for the purpose, and the maximum jail penalty will be 14 years instead of the previous 5 years. 8
In a moving and compassionate account, Margaret Sesay from Sierra Leone spoke about the practice of Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) in Africa. The subject of Margaret’s recent Master Degree thesis was The current practice and effects of FGM or female circumcision among refugees, migrants and other immigrants in the UK. Margaret pointed out that in the Western world, where women are usually more educated in health issues and have a better understanding of their bodies, the perception of FGM is of child abuse and violence. In traditional African societies, however, where there is little health information and understanding about the body, the perception is that FGM is the ‘best choice made with love’ leading to a better future and social status. Approximately 70-90% of women in Sierra Leone have been genitally mutilated (World Health Organisation statistics). In the West, the topic is not usually highlighted for fear of cultural bias, but empowered and educated African women do question traditional practice and ask why parts of their body, which perform a particular function, have been removed. It is usually a painful and traumatic discovery to realise that FGM is not a must in their lives. There is an ongoing campaign on this sensitive issue, and although attitudes are changing, more needs to be done. Ogechi Omekara from Nigeria, spoke about human trafficking. It is a global problem that affects every continent and happens to be one of the most lucrative forms of international crime due to growing marginalisation of the poor and restrictive migration laws. UNICEF estimates that 60% of trafficked children in Africa are from Nigeria and ECOSOC (Economic and Social Council of the UN) has granted special status to Nigeria. Women may be trafficked into the international sex trade, and children may be exploited in sweat shops, constructions sites, agricultural plantations, as well as street begging. There are many campaigns in the fight against trafficking, and Ogechi pointed out that we need further knowledge through training workshops and government action. Photo: Neville Grant
Linoy Kidd addressing the forum with Linda Leung (left)
Linoy Kidd, Secretary of UNA L&SE Region, spoke on behalf of Pida Ripley’s work with WomenAid International. A UK based humanitarian aid and development agency, it provides assistance to women and children suffering distress caused by war, disaster or poverty. Linoy paid a huge tribute to Pida for her hands on commitment and drive, and for being a woman of ‘great vision and dedication’. Pida has, for example, personally accompanied food convoys to areas in need. WomenAid’s Tell the World campaign draws attention to appaling atrocities, as well as human rights issues internationally. WomenAid also raises funds and has provided 9,500 tonnes of food and medical aid to refugees in the former Yugoslavia and one-third of all food drops in Sarajevo. For full details of this forum and campaign details, please visit www.unalondonandse.org Linda McCulloch The Dispatch