Thursday, 11 December 2008

an amazing day

what an amazing day we had yesterday. from beginning to end, it was inspirational. we started off at the museum, for the opening of the "walk with me" exhibition. it's a lovely, interactive exhibition. then we had the silent march - well, not so silent with a couple of hundred exuberant primary school children from hamilton east primary school chattering along the way. we walked along hamilton's main street and through garden place to the civic plaza.

the kids performed for us, and they were totally awesome. we had a couple of speeches and some brilliant musical performances from young local artists and a couple of not so young ones as well. chris thompson & dimitri edwards were real stars, but bruce clark, tim steers, jamie wise, and rab heath were great as well. luckily we had a sunny day and a great atmosphere.

the evening programme was even better, with a range of people working in various NGOs in hamilton. each of them were excellent speakers, taking on a particular aspect of human rights. so we had, for example, barbar redfern who spoke of her 30-year experience of welcoming refugees into hamilton and helping them to settle; phil grey, manager of community radio hamilton, who spoke about free speech and the media; zinai siviter, the manager of shama, who spoke about the pressures faced by women from ethnic minorities and the support shama provides them; an iranian baha'i refugee who spoke of the effects of not having access to education; and karen morrison-hume, director of anglican action, who spoke brilliantly about the self-imposed slavery that many nz'ers live under.

i'm hoping that we can get some of these speeches up on the waikato interfaith council website, so they are accessible to everyone. the pity about the day was that most people participating already work in the area of human rights, and who are already aware of a lot of the issues. it's how to get the message out to the wider community that always remains a challenge.

Tuesday, 9 December 2008

reflecting on human rights

tomorrow's a big day, pretty much a full day focused on human rights. i thought i'd spend a little time tonight looking at some of the articles in the orignial declaration. it's a way to remind us of how lucky we are in this country, at least some of us are. some others are not quite so lucky. and it's a time to reflect on the misery some human beings are inflicting on others, in countries all around the world.

Article 1.
All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights.They are endowed with reason and conscience and should act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood.

about the only thing that annoys me about the declaration is the sexist language, the assumption that the masculine includes the feminine. but that's an argument for another day, and it's also a product of the generation that wrote it. so for now, a minor quibble.

the thing that stands out for me in the first article is the dual notion of rights and responsibilities. not only do we all have rights, but we have responsibilities towards each other, and this is established right from the start. i get so sick of hearing right-wingers complain that we only ever hear about rights, but never responsibilities. it's a petty attitude that thinks we should deprive a person of their rights because they have failed to recognise the rights of others. by recognising the rights of those who have transgressed, we not only show them a better way but we retain our own dignity and conscience.

Article 11.
(1) Everyone charged with a penal offence has the right to be presumed innocent until proved guilty according to law in a public trial at which he has had all the guarantees necessary for his defence.

this is one that we really take for granted. apparently many european countries don't follow this article, and it can be extremely difficult to prove innocence, especially when you're already incarcerated and have not much cash available to mount a defence.

there is one exception to this rule that i must say i agree with. in india, if a bride is burnt to death, her spouse and his immediately family are presumed guilty and actually have to prove their innocence. this is a vital protection for women, and appears to have been an extremely effective one.

Article 16.
(2) Marriage shall be entered into only with the free and full consent of the intending spouses.

again, another we take for granted, but for many women (and often men), this is not a freedom they enjoy. i think back to history classes in high school, and studying the period of south african history when it was illegal for a black person to marry a white person. there are still far too many cases where young women are forced into marriage to much older men.

Article 24.
Everyone has the right to rest and leisure, including reasonable limitation of working hours and periodic holidays with pay.

a very special article, which makes me think of all those sweat shop workers doing ridiculous 14-hour days, often for 6 days a week. or domestic workers, all those maids working all day every day, 7 days a week with 1 day off a month, and maybe a month to go back to their countries of origin to be with their families. or even in this country, all those who work 2 or 3 jobs just to earn a living wage, and end up having very little time to spend with their children.

these are just a few to reflect on, although there are many others that resonate with me such as article 23, article 25(1) and article 27(1). but it's worth reading through the whole lot, and taking the time to think about the impact of not having that particular right.

some good news just in: asoka basnayake has just won an award at the Annual Micies awards by Planet FM for an election special programme she produced as part of the women's voices. i can't see the programme up on the archives, but there are various other programmes archived on the page. way to go asoka, i know the hard work you put in to the show, and this is some very well deserved recognition.

Monday, 8 December 2008


i haven't felt much like blogging over the past week, and things have been quite hectic as well. i guess it's just that time of year, with lots of "end-of-year" functions and lots of things to get done and wind up before the holidays.

not much in the mood for serious blogging today either, as i've had something that came out of left field, which took up my more serious writing skills. but more on that later in the week. needless to say, my mind has been occupied to the extent that i even forgot to tune into the opening of parliament today, and the swearing in of MPs. which is a pity, as there are several friends from the labour team that i would have liked to watch. and i've also missed raewyn's funeral as it was just not possible for me to get to wellington today. and somehow, i don't think i would have been able to cope with it if i had gone.

i received news today via peace movement aotearoa of the death of bob anderson. bob was a peace activist who i've only met once (that i recall), and he was kind enough to send me a free copy of his book "the ultimate war crime", about the effects of depleted uranium bombs used in the iraq war. definitely well worth a read, if you can get hold of a copy (but very depressing).

yesterday i dropped my older child off at a science camp. i really hate doing this, and it's one of those activities that i routinely get their father to do (the other notable one being childhood vaccinations!). i've not got any better at it since the first camp, which was only an overnighter when she was 7. i said goodbye to her at home, and made sure i didn't cry until she was out of the house.

at 16, it should be much easier to let her go, even if it is for a 5-nighter. but somehow it isn't. the house feels empty, and i started missing her the moment i walked away. even though i know she's safe, and i know she's having a fantastic time & not missing me at all, and even though i know she'll be back in a few days. i can cope quite happily these days with them being away one night, i can manage ok with 2 nights, but anything more is a real struggle. when it comes to being a mum, i guess i'm a real wimp!

which got me thinking about how often we have to say goodbye in modern life. my siblings live in different countries (even from each other), and i've lost count of the number of close friends who have moved away. of course they're still emotionally close, but knowing that i won't be able to see them regularly is just sad.

i'm not one to look back at the past with rose-coloured glasses, but one aspect of life in days gone by was the notion of a village, and of staying put. of having your immediate family and friends around you all your life. that security of relationships seems to me to be a good thing; this constant movement seems so much more isolating. but of course, the reality is that you would have been more likely to have women die in childbirth, men die in wars, children die of now-preventable diseases. so those villagers had their share of goodbyes as well.

it won't be long before my own children will be moving away from home, especially the older one. i'm wondering how i prepare myself mentally to let them go. i know i'll have to do it, i know i have to let them follow their own dreams and fulfil their own destinies. i just don't know how.

well, never mind, i don't have to deal with that today. i can pretend that it's in some long-distant future. and my baby will be back with me briefly tomorrow night, as she has special leave from the camp for the eid-ul adha celebrations. i'd better have an early night, cos we have prayers at 7.30am. to those of my muslim friends reading this, eid mubarak. and to the rest you, well i hope to be a better blogger this week!

p.s. if you're in or near hamilton, don't forget to take part in the commemoration of the 60th anniversary of the signing of the universal declaration of human rights. we've got heaps happening from 11.15am to 2.30pm, then again from 7pm to 9.30pm.

Tuesday, 2 December 2008

a good woman

i've had some very sad news today. a friend of mine, raewyn good, has passed away. the news is a shock to everyone, as we weren't aware that she was ill at all.

i knew raewyn from the labour party. i can't even remember when i first met her or how we got to know each other. i haven't even known her for that long - maybe about 4 years. and i didn't see her very often either, only 3 or 4 times a year at the most. but she has been a dear, dear friend to me. a strong supporter, a woman with a heart of gold who gave me much aroha. it's funny how you can just connect with some people, and it doesn't matter how long you've been apart, that connection starts up immediately where it left off.

i stayed with raewyn for a couple of nights this year in april, when the labour party annual congress was on. she insisted i take her car to the meeting, while she took the bus herself later in the day. even though she had difficulty walking and the bus stop wasn't so close to her home. that was the kind of person she was.

her work for the labour party and for various other organisations was tireless. she gave her time, her considerable skills and her emotional strength. she was a mentor to many. she was so busy that she would rarely be at home, not even in the weekends. raewyn had a connection with many ethnic communities. she was strongly connected with the samoan community, as well as others and was always attuned to cultural differences and sensibilities.

and she knew how to fight for a cause. she was one of those people who had no fear, nor was she ever worried about sucking up. she would tell it like it is, without worrying about personal consequences. and yet, she would also manage conflict and was often playing a peace-keeping and mediation role. she never sought personal glory but worked tirelessly in the background, helping to keep the machinery running smoothly and always working for the greater good.

i remember the last time i talked to raewyn, in august. i was extremely upset, devastated to be exact and quite a mess. i woke her up at 7.30am on a sunday morning (she never was an early riser), and after her initial grumpiness, she talked me through my troubles and guided me with her wisdom. she gave me the strength at a crucial moment to do the right thing, when it would have been so much easier to walk away.

i've found it extremely difficult to deal with this news and with her absence. part of it is the suddenness of it all, which means that i never had the chance to say goodbye, never had the opportunity to tell her just how much she meant to me. part of it is the grief of losing someone precious. part of it is because she was gone before i even had a chance to repay her many kindnesses. so it has been a pretty tearful day, as i expect it will be tomorrow and for a few more days yet.

rest in peace raewyn. you'll be be sorely missed.

Monday, 1 December 2008

i don't excuse anything

it's really very difficult to have a discussion about terrorism without being accused of siding with the terrorists, or better yet, excusing their behaviour. it's an accusation that you will see thrown at any left-winger who wants to discuss the causes of terrorism. it's thrown at anyone who wants to add more to the discourse than "this group of people are all evil and we must hate them". it's a favourite tool of the neo-cons, and they used it successfully for quite a while, as a way to suppress dissent against the wars in afghanistan and iraq.

it's a problem faced when discussing terrorism, but not so much when discussing other forms of violence. let me give an example, say that of domestic violence.

if i were to talk about causes of domestic violence, then i would talk about unemployment. because we know from the research that the level of domestic violence tends to rise when men are unemployed. feelings of inadequacy and loss of self-esteem, and the loss of the role of breadwinner within the family have tended to result in higher levels of violence.

another factor is cultural attitudes. where there is strong culture of seeing women as subservient and of accepting violence as a response to disobedience, then there is likely to be more violence. yet another factor is a failure of not having a strong police and judicial response to violence when it presents itself. in such an environment, there is likely to be more violence.

no-one would accuse me of sympathising with the offenders if i were to say that if we want to reduce domestic violence, then we should understand the context in which it occurs and implement strategies to reduce the causes. if i were to say that we should have strong policies to reduce unemployment and increase the availability of free training and upskilling; if i were to say that the police should no longer have a policy of treating domestic violence as a family matter and ignoring it (as they did in the 1970's); if i were to say that the courts should hand down reasonable sentences that would act as a deterrent and provide rehabilitation while offenders were incarcerated; if i were to say we should conduct a nationwide campaign to effect culture change; if i were to say any of these things, no-one would accuse me of condoning violence. no-one would say that i was providing an opportunity for offenders to escape personal responsibility. no-one would say i was trivialising the suffering caused by the victims.

by looking at institutional, cultural and socio-economic factors, and developing policies that took those factors into account, almost everyone would agree that i was taking a positive approach to reducing violence within the home. everyone would acknowledge that i abhor violence and took it seriously.

yet when i apply the same approach towards terrorism, when i ask that terrorist acts be understood in their context, then some people seem to interpret that as condoning violence. if i point out that muslims make up 13% of the population of india but only 3% are employed in the government sector and less than that in private hindu businesses; if i say that the result has been a mass migration of muslim men to other countries to find work; and if i went on further to make the point that there is generation of young men who have grown up without strong male role-models around them which has impacted in various ways, but most strongly in a significant drop in educational achievement; then it seems i would be wrong. to point these things out would apparently be making excuses or diminishing the suffering caused by terrorist acts.

if i were to raise the issue of violence against muslims in india, of the brutal slaughter, of the burning of homes and businesses in a country where few people have insurance and there is no social welfare system; if i were to say that these are also acts of terrorism and should be called such; then why should that be interpreted as saying that terrorism is justified? of course it's not justified, but if you don't deal with terrorism in all its aspects, if you don't recognise that violence breeds violence and revenge, if you don't seek to protect minorities and provide proper and transparent justice, then consequences will flow from that. just as, if you fail to police domestic violence and you fail to charge the perpetrators, then consequences will flow from that. one of which is that children brought up in such relationships are likely to carry on the pattern. and so with terrorism: if you fail to look at what's happening and why it's happening, if you fail to deal with why it's happening, then the violence will continue.

but it seems these are things i shouldn't say. because to do so somehow implies that i don't care about the people who died and were injured. or that i'm trivialising their suffering. i don't understand how that can be so. i find such accusations to be deeply offensive and hurtful, and very far from the truth. i hate the violence, i want it to stop as much as anyone else does.

which leads to the question: how can we deal with those underlying issues? how can we combat the hate-filled political rhetoric, how can we combat the systematic discrimination, how can we start to solve some of these pressing social inequalities if we are not even allowed to raise them as issues without being accused of condoning violence? how can we make terrorist organisations less appealing to the downtrodden and the disaffected if we refuse to talk about these issues but the terrorist organisations do talk about them? if we refuse to take them seriously and refuse to act, but the terrorist organisations do take them seriously and do act, in the most violent and vicious way possible?

failing to talk about the context around terrorism and failing to act where injustice occurs just plays into the hands of those who follow extreme ideologies. by trying to silence valid concerns, we don't make those concerns disappear.