Friday, May 29, 2020

Celebrating the International Day of United Nations Peacekeepers

United Nations Peacekeeping Operation with Nigerian troops

On May 29, the International Day of United Nations Peacekeepers is celebrated.
Usually known as "Blue Berets" or "Blue Helmets", Peacekeepers are civilian, police and military men and women who come from different backgrounds and cultures, but work together in order to protect the ones who are exposed to any kind of threats and provide support to countries in transition from conflict to peace. They can supervise cease-fires to protect civilians and monitor peace processes in post-conflict areas, protect human rights, support free and fair elections, disarm ex-combatants, promote the rule of law, economic and social development, minimize the risk of land-mines, and more.

United Nations peacekeeping was initially developed during the Cold War in 1948, starting with United Nations Truce Supervision Organization (UNTSO) and United Nations Military Observer Group in India and Pakistan (UNMOGIP) operations, with the intent of resolving conflicts between states by deploying unarmed or lightly armed military personnel from some countries to areas where warring parties were in need of a neutral party to observe the peace process. The peacekeeping operations were held by the United Nations Office of Special Political Affairs until the late 1980s, and in 1992 the official Department of Peace Operations was created, which is the department that now coordinates the peacekeeping missions. These kinds of operations are authorized by the Security Council, once the United Nations Charter give them the power and responsibility to take action to maintain international peace and security. The operations are settled and fulfilled by the UN itself, with troops serving under its control. In these cases, peacekeepers remains members of their armed forces, not constituting an independent "United Nations army", because it doesn't have such a force. In cases where direct UN involvement is not considered fitting or beneficial, the Council authorizes regional organizations such as the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), the Economic Community of West African States, or alliances of willing countries to guarantee peacekeeping or peace-enforcement tasks.

How does United Nations Peacekeeping help countries torn by conflict create conditions for peace?

Peacekeeping has proven to be one of the most effective tools available to the UN to assist countries torn by conflict to achieve a peaceful environment. Peacekeepers provide security and political and peacebuilding support in order to make the transition from conflict to peace way easier, by using strenghts as legitimacy and the ability to deploy and sustain troops and police from around the globe, for example, integrating them with civilian peacekeepers, but success is never guaranteed, because UN Peacekeeping almost by definition goes to the most physically and politically difficult environments. UN Peacekeeping is guided by three basic principles:
  • Consent of the parties;
  • Impartiality;
  • Non-use of force except in self-defense and defense of the mandate.

What kind of Blue Helmets are needed?

The most common sort of UN peacekeeper is the infantry soldier, however, UN needs specialized personnel who are called as "enablers" - they are skilled soldiers, including engineers, who for example were able to help with the post-earthquake reconstruction in Haiti or the building of new roads in South Sudan. It is also needed helicopters and their crews, as they enable United Nations to extend their area of influence and be much more visible. Other specialist enablers include transport companies, communicators and medical personnel.

Women and their role in peacekeeping operations

Security Council Resolution 1325 urges equal participation of women at all sectors of peacekeeping operations, including the military. This is also reinforced in the policy on gender equality by the Departments of Peace Operations and Operational Support and the guidelines for integrating gender perspective into the works of the UN Military (2010). Women peacekeepers have proven that they can perform the same roles as men, from command to frontline roles, while bringing an added value to military operations. Female soldiers provide an invaluable perspective in planning operations and in making key decisions, especially those affecting civilians, particularly women and girls.

Women as Peacekeepers on an operation in Congo
The deployment of female peacekeepers to peace operations contributes to achieving sustainable peace and the improved wellbeing of women and girls in conflict-affected regions. A female soldiers' visibility can empower women and girls and increase women's participation in the security sector. Some unique tactical skills female military personnel bring to this field include screening of female civilians and conducting of house searches in areas where it is not culturally appropriate for men to ender private space. Local populations in host countries often feel more comfortable liaising and sharing information with military troops that include women alongside men. By obtaining better information, they can better protect these communities.

In 1993, women made up 1% of deployed uniformed personnel. In 2019, out of approximately 95,000 peacekeepers, women constitute 4.7% of military contingents and 10.8% of formed police units in UN Peacekeeping missions. While the UN encourages and advocates for the deployment of women to uniformed functions, the responsibility for deployment of women in the police and military lies with Member States. UN Police Division launched "the Global Effort" to recruit more female police officers into national police services into UN police operations around the world. The 2028 target for women serving in military contingents is 15% and 25% for military observers and staff officers. The 2028 target for women serving in formed police units is 20% and 30% for individual police officers. 

Why is it important to have women peacekeepers?

More women in peacekeeping means more effective peacekeeping. Women peacekeepers improve overall peacekeeping performance, have greater access to communities, help in promoting human rights and the protection of civilians, and encourage women to become a meaningful part of peace and political processes.
Improved operations and performance: Greater diversity and a broadened skillset means improved decision‐making, planning and results, leading to greater operational effectiveness and performance.
Better access: Women peacekeepers can better access the population, including women and children - for example, by interviewing and supporting survivors of gender-based violence and violence against children - thereby generating critical information that would otherwise be difficult to reach.
Reflecting the communities we serve: Diversity in United Nations peacekeepers allows engagement with all members of the communities we are there to protect.
 Building trust and confidence: Women peacekeepers are essential enablers to build trust and confidence with local communities and help improving access and support for local women, for example, by interacting with women in societies where women are prohibited from speaking to men.
  Help prevent and reduce conflict and confrontation: Diversity in peacekeeping helps to address the disproportionately negative effect that conflict has on the livelihood of women and bring new perspectives and solutions to the table by effectively addressing the needs of women in conflict and post-conflict settings, including those of women ex-combatants and child soldiers during the process of demobilizing and reintegration into civilian life.
Inspiring and creating role models: Women peacekeepers serve as powerful mentors and role models for women and girls in post-conflict settings in the host community, setting examples for them to advocate for their own rights and pursue non‐traditional careers.

Major Suman Gawani (left), Commander Carla Araujo (right)
In 2016, it was created the United Nations Military Gender Advocate award and, on May 25, 2020, for the first, it has been awarded to two UN Peacekeepers: Commander Carla Monteiro de Castro Araujo, a brazilian Naval Officer, and Major Suman Gawani, of the Indian Army 
Commander Carla Monteiro de Castro Araujo serves as the military Gender and Protection Advisor in the United Nations Mission in the Central African Republic. Major Gawani - the first Indian peacekeeper to win the award - is a Military Observer, formerly deployed to the United Nations Mission in South Sudan.


Peacekeepers on an operation in Africa
There have been several reports during UN peacekeeping missions of human rights abuse by UN soldiers, notably in Central African Republic in 2015. Also, reporters witnessed a rapid increase in prostitution in Cambodia and Mozambique after UN peacekeeping forces moved in. In the 1996 UN stude "The Impact of Armed Conflict on Children", former first lady of Mozambique Graça Machel documented: "In 6 out of 12 country studies on sexual exploitation of children in situations of armed conflict prepared for the present report, the arrival of peacekeeping troops has been associated with a rapid rise in child prostitution". 
Gita Sahgal spoke out in 2004 with regard to the fact that prostitution and sex abuse crops up wherever humanitarian intervention efforts are set up. She observed: "The issue with the UN is that peacekeeping operations unfortunately seem to be doing the same thing that other militaries do. Even the guardians have to be guarded."

However, there is strong evidence that the presence of peacekeepers significantly reduces the risk of renewed warfare, because the more peacekeepers, the fewer battlefield and civilian deaths. Also, the promise to deploy peacekeeping troops can help international organizations in bringing combatants to the negotiation table and increase the likelihood that they will agree to a cease-fire and, perhaps, that will help to achieve peace. But it's believed that this positive effect is a "short-term success", as it's observed that is lessened over time, so, the longer the peacekeepers remain in a country, the greater the likelihood that peace will maintain.

Click on the link below if you want to see how peacekeepers work:

Article written by:
Adriana Santos


Tuesday, May 26, 2020

How can language improve gender equality?

It is known that women face significant barriers when it comes to their equal participation in society, not only when it comes to work and wage, or in the political spectrum, but also, according to a new line of researches, due to language, as the structure of certain languages may shape gender norms, stimulating inequality, therefore limiting women's opportunities. Gendered languages can influence attitudes toward women, after all languages do reveal a lot about society since they show how communities observe the world, its individuals and the role that each one has in it. Usually, masculine forms are used to represent all human beings - this happens according with the traditional gender hierarchy, which grants men more power and higher status than women. 

Since the 1980s, the European Parliament has been working to ensure that it uses a gender-neutral and non-discriminatory language, along side with many other countries that joined the "movement", trying to find a more gender neutral terminology, so it'd be easier to achieve gender equality among societies. This led some countries into reforming its language in order to be more gender inclusive - some languages have masculine and feminine genders for every noun, others have no grammatical genders whatsoever, and some have masculine and feminine pronouns because the nouns are considered "neutral", as explained next:

  • Grammatical Gender Languages:
Grammatical Gender Languages, such as German, Italian, French and Slavic languages, attribute a grammatical gender to every noun, and usually the gender of the personal pronouns match the reference noun. With these languages, in order to not disrupt completely their grammatical structure, the solution is to use feminisation to make them more gender inclusive. Feminisation is the use of feminine versions of masculine terms, for instance the use of professional terms such as "doctor" and "surgeon" are masculine, but "midwife" and "nurse" are both feminine, which instigates discrimination, therefore, feminine correspondents have now been created for these masculine terms which can be used interchangeably. Following, an example in french:

Le grand garçon est allé.
La grande fille est allée.

  • Genderless Languages:
These languages have no grammatical gender and no pronominal gender, which means they don't need to change their structures. Genderless languages include Hungarian, Estonian and Finnish.

  • Natural Gender Languages:
This kind of language implies that there are personal pronouns for each gender (he/she), and the goal of natural gender languages is to reduce the use of gender-specific terms. For example, English terms such as "chairman", "policeman/women", "stewardess" and "headmaster/mistress" have been officially changed to "chairperson", "police officer", "flight attendant" and "headteacher", in order to empower gender equality. Natural gender languages include English, Danish and Swedish. Following, an example in English:

Male nouns:
Waiter, Actor, Steward, Emperor, Landlord

Female nouns:
Waitress, Actress, Stewardess, Empress,Landlady

Over the years, studies have been done in English language to understand if gendered noun or gender-centric suffix such as -ess and -man had any impact on the way children (the target of those studies) think and see society, at they have shown that children were more apt to associate men to a profession with the suffix -man, such as "mailman", and women to professions with the suffix -ess, as in "stewardness". Based on these studies, we could argue that children may choose their future profession because of gender-centric professional titles, showing that, at least in this case, language may limit children's professional choices psychologically speaking. Although we have become more aware of how language can and does impact our lives, changing gendered words isn't an easy task because, as said before, in some cases it'd mean the whole structure of the language would have to change, as some not only associate all nouns with a gender, but also accompany indefinite and definite articles, associate adjectives, and past-tense verbs to gender. 

Do gendered languages contribute to gender inequality?

Despite the various achievements made over centuries against gender inequality, this is still a problem that is very much present in our society, since factors such as culture, history, religion, traditional patriarchal societies, and many more, are its bases of support and what keep gender equality issues fueled; then language can't be removed from this list. It is believed it shapes how young girls and women perceive their educational, professional opportunities, and even how they position themselves about economic and politics. In countries which the dominant language is gendered, statistics show that fewer women work outside the house, a key of measure of women's financial independence and bargaining position withing the household, which reflects support of gender inequality in employment. Gender plays an important role in outcomes regarding education, pay and corporate leadership. 

So, considering this, language does play a role when it comes to gender inequality, but as this issue becomes more clear and is credible as yet another factor in inequality and discrimination in regards of gender, the more countries are trying to find a way to change their languages' structure within what is possible, and so, as the time goes by, we adapt and make our languages more gender neutral, and this, consequently, will improve and help us, as a global society, to achieve gender equality, step by step. 

Friday, May 22, 2020

Are China's Uighurs being deprived of Human Rights?

Uighurs celebrating their culture
According to a recent report published by the Australian Strategic Policy Institute (ASPI), between 2017 and 2019, the Chinese Government facilitated the transfer of Uighur Muslims and other ethnic minorities from Xinjiang to factories and camps in various parts of China. 
The Chinese government denied for a long time that the camps existed, but after images of camp construction with watch towers and barbed wired fences emerged and the situation in Xinjiang hit the headlines with reports of mass incarceration of Uighur Muslims, the government aknowledged these locations as "re-education camps". The Chinese government operating procedures guarantees that the main feature of the camps is to ensure adherence to Chinese Communist Party ideology. According to reasearches, there are an estimated on million (if not more) Uighur Muslims detained in so-called re-education camps, which are designed to strip them of their religious and ethnic identity and replace it with absolute loyalty to the state.  
Who are the Uighurs?
Uighurs protest about their Human Rights being taken away
There are around 11 million Uighurs in Xinjiang. Uighurs speak several dialects of two languages divided by territory: standard Xinjiang and standard Soviet. Standard Xinjiang is influenced by Mandarian Chinese, while the latter is spoken mostly in Kazakhstan, once part of the Soviet Union. Xinjiang has been under China's control since it was annexed in 1949, but many Uighurs still identify the region by its previous name: East Turkestan, and so, they're influenced by muslim culture and religion. For the past few decades though, there's been a mass migration of Han Chinese (China's ethnic majority) to Xinjiang, and Uighur's culture and livelihoods are under threat.
Since 2014, following attacks placed in 2013 and 2014 which extremist Uighurs militants claimed responsability for, Uighurs in Xinjiang have been affected by extensive controls and restrictions upon their religious, cultural and social life - the Chinese government has expanded police surveillance to watch for signs of "religious extremism" that include owning books about Uighurs, growing a beard, having a prayer rug or quitting smoking or drinking. It's illegal to call a newborn a name that sounds islamic, it's forbidden to visit mosques and fasting in Ramadan. The government also installed cameras in the homes of private citizens - Uighur citizens are identified and "marked", so the government keeps them under supervision. Uighurs are made to give DNA and biometric samples so Uighurs can be tracked through facial recognition cameras, and they also implemented QR codes on people's doors, so officials can check the codes to see who's inside at any point. 
At any moment, an official can arrest an Uighur and take them to the camps. The arrest can be done because of the way they walk around the streets, because of Facebook posts, conversations, or even material they find on their phone - anything they believe it's not according to the regime. These arrests are immediate - there's no trial, no sense of justice, to decide the future of Uighurs.
What happens inside the "re-education camps"?
The Chinese government claims the camps in the far western Xinjiang region offer voluntary education and training, but official documents, seen by BBC Panorama, show how inmates are locked up, indoctrinated and punished. China's UK ambassador dismissed the documents as fake news. 
Outside a "re-education" camp
The leaked Chinese government documents give instructions to how the camps should be run - as high security prisons, with strict discipline, punishments and no escapes. It also orders to promote repentance and confession, make remedial Mandarin studies the top priority, encourage students to "truly transform", to ensure full video surveillance coverage of dormitories and classrooms, free of blind spots. Also, the detainees should have a fixed bed position, fixed queue position, fixed classroom seat, fixed station during skills work, and it is strickly forbidden to change those. Also, they implemented behavioural norms such as getting up, washing, going to the toilet, organising and housekeeping, eating, studying, sleeping.

Sophie Richardson, the China director at Human Rights Watch, said the leaked memo should be used by prosecutors. "This is an actionable piece of evidence, documenting a gross human rights violation", she said. "I think it's fair to describe everyone being detained as being subject at least to psychological torture, because they literally don't know how long they're going to be there. The memo details how detainees will only be released when they can demonstrate they have transformed their behaviour, beliefs and language."

Ben Emmerson QC, a leading Human Rights lawyer and an adviser to the World Uighur Congress, said the camps were trying to change people's identity. "It is very difficult to view that as anything other than a mass brainwashing scheme designed and directed at an entire ethnic community. It's a total transformation that is designed specifically to wipe the Muslim Uighurs of Xinjiang as a separate cultural group off the face of the Earth."

Detainees are awarded points for their ideological transformation, study and training, and compliance with discipline, according to the memo. This punishment and reward system helps determine whether inmates are allowed to contact with their family and when they're being released - but they are only released once four Communist Party committees have seen evidence that they have been transformed.
Uighurs protest against government persecution
Public testimonies are made by people who left camps and had to leave the country as well, sometimes leaving all their family behind. They report beating, torture, starvation as punishment, and even brainwashing exercises. These testimonies of torture have no way of being confirmed - several authorities have already directly questioned the Chinese government, but have yet to receive an answer. 
Although one thing is certain: in the last couple of years, there are few records of people being released. Many families are destroyed, as they never had contact with or informations about their detained relatives and don't know if they are still in prison, if they have been released and relocated, or if they are dead. 

Article written by:
Adriana Santos

Thursday, May 14, 2020

A win for Human Rights and for the Sudanese women

After the fall of Omar al-Bashir's dictatorial regime in April, 2020, Sudan will pass a law that criminalizes FGM, as a new step in the transition from the old regime to democracy. The legislative proposal was approved by the sudanese government on April 22, 2020, and implements prison penalties up to 3 years, in addition to the withdrawal of medical licence where the operation is performed, and even though this is one of the many achievements that must be celebrated regarding such an issue, the struggle for the Human Rights of all these women and the end of this practice does not have immediate results, as it's deep rooted on the culture and the regime itself must continue to create measures to stop it altogether, and even if it is a step forward that FGM is seen, now, as a crime, it raises other problems.  

Clandestinity is one of the reasons that lead some organizations to view this measure with concern. Faiza Mohamed, regional director of Equality Now in Africa, explained that as this is a very common practice in Sudan, "it can face challenges in law enforcement". "People who still believe in the practice may not report cases or act to prevent it when they now it is happening", she added. However, this measure is "a victory for Sudanese women", as Nahed Gabralá, head of a non-governmental organization that protects women and children in Sudan, puts it. It's a step forward on behalf of the sudanese government to achieve democracy and equality, in order to preserve the Human Rights of their population. But, there is still a long way to go, because, among others, marital rape and marriage of children - directly related to FGM - are not yet considered crimes in the country.

But, what is FGM? 

The female genital mutilation, also known as female circumcision, it's the ritualistic removal of part or all of the female external sexual organs. Generally perfomed by a cutting blade, with or without anesthesia, FGM is concentrated in 27 African countries, Indonesia, Yemen and Iraqi Kurdistan, and is also practiced in several other localtions in Asia, in the Middle East and expatriate communities around the world. The age at which it is perfomed varies between a few days after birth and puberty. In half of the countries with available data, most young women are mutilated before the age of five years old. This happens because, in some cultures, FGM is seen as a necessary part of raising a girl, being an important part to guarantee marriage; it is believed that by doing so, girls will remain virgins and have marital fidelity, because this act reduces a woman's libido which will "help her" resist extramarital sexual acts. Being associated with cultural ideals of femininity and modesty, making the girls who have been through the female genital mutilation intervention seen as clean and beautiful, it's also a matter of honor, and women who haven't done it are seen as impure and face social exclusion. More than 130 million women and children have gone under this procedure.

It is known that female genital mutilation has no health benefits, since it involves removing and damaging healthy and normal female genital tissue - this will interfere with the natural functions of girls' and women's bodies. Not only causes severe pain, infections, urinary problems, just to list a few, and, in a lot of cases, may result in death, it also has long-term complications such as menstrual problems, sexual problems, psychological problems and even increase risk of childbrith complications, sometimes resulting on the newborn's' death.

In December 1993, the United Nations General Assembly included FGM in resolution 48/104, the Declaration of the Elimination of Violence Against Women and since 1997, through research, changes in public policy and work within communities, progress has been made at international, national and sub-national levels by spreading awareness about the issue, making the international involvement to stop FGM wider, by revising legal frameworks and growing political support to end it - this includes a law against female genital mutilation in 26 countries in Africa and Middle East, as well as in 33 other countries with migrant populations from FGM practicing countries. In 2008, the World Health Assembly passed resolution WHA61.16 on the elimination of FGM.

The International Day of Zero Tolerance for Female Genital Mutilation is held every 6 of February. There's also a german biographical film "Desert Flower" (2009) that follows the journey of Waris Dirie from a nomadic pastoralist background in Somalia to a new life and career in the West as a fashion model and activist against female genital mutilation.