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Meet Hafsat Abiola: Woman Rights Activist’s fight for democracy in Nigeria

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Village women in Nigeria. Image Source: Wikipedia

Hafsat Abiola, daughter of Moshood Abiola (president- Nigeria 1993) has been a determined Woman Rights activist of Nigeria. In conversation with Peter Clottey, she shared her aim, her ideas about how she wishes to see her state of Ogun and Nigeria in the coming few years.

Hafsat Abiola. Image source Wikimedia commons
Hafsat Abiola. Image source Wikimedia commons

Expounding her work, she said “Nigerians are very supportive and excited to have a democracy, but in many respects people don’t know how to use the democratic system. So what my NGO does is- a ‘community scorecard’ .”

Community scorecard is a method in which they take up local issues and conduct surveys on the services of the state in terms of education, healthcare, protection of markets, etc. and bring the representative sample together with the state and the local governments so that they share, see how people perceive their performance and their government as a whole.  And then the government has a chance to respond and explain the challenges they face and to know what the people expect from them.

Being the inaugural person in-charge of the Millennium Development Goals Portfolio (the UN Global), she was assigned to achieve goals for a particular state out of which one was the women empowerment and gender equality. Smartly, she worked with the women in the cabinet on how they can increase the number of women in the local government. They decided to go with a ‘sponsorship platform’. Due to certain positions, they could talk to the party leaders and the gatekeepers about how they could proudly have more women on board as there were 300 positions targeted.

We had about 3 women at one time, we worked and were able to get 54 of them in the 2014 elections, and now from the experience we had we want to use my NGO to replicate this nationwide” she says.

There is also a documentary on Hafsat’s Abola’s life titled The Supreme PriceWhen asked about how her NGO plans to deal with the northern part of Nigeria, hardest hit by the Boko haram, she says “we have a large network of 500 men and women to inform us about the latest happenings, and I learnt that women eyewitness these problems but because they had no access in politics to really make sure that they could raise an alarm or could be heard or the path could be changed in the government’s direction”.

According to her, what actually helps the economy of a state is investment. People are seeing that women in the Ogun local government are making a difference. “When later on, my younger sister or any other women from my state goes to the local government and asks for some support, people would willingly help them knowing how I or any other women has worked in the cabinet”. This is far from the traditional governor rule which involves just the monetary factor and does not help the economy.

“Yes we’ve seen that good leaders can make a difference because we have seen our governor. So yes! Go forward, go and try. This is what we want to do across Nigeria” says Hafsat Abiola summing up her dream.

-by Vrushali Mahajan

Vrushali is pursuing her graduation in Journalism and is an intern at NewsGram. You can reach the author at twitter- Vrushali Mahajan 

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Women’s major role in Shahid Kapoor’s life

Know why Shahid Kpoor says that women have been the strongest and important part of his life

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Women have played a major role in Shahid Kapoor's life
Women have played a major role in Shahid Kapoor's life. IANS
  • Shahid Kapoor talks about how women have played a major role in his life
  • Shahid Kapoor says how the condition of women has evolved in the Bollywood industry

New Delhi, Dec 9: Actor Shahid Kapoor says the strongest people in his life have been women, especially his mother Neelima Azeem who has been a single parent. He also calls his wife Mira and daughter Misha his “whole world” and says he couldn’t have been happier in his life than now.

Shahid spoke to IANS on phone from Mumbai on the sidelines of Reebok FitToFight Awards 2.0, where the brand felicitated women nominees from across the country for their spirit and courage.

“I don’t think there is anything which resonated with me so naturally as this campaign did. The strongest people in my life have been women, starting with my mother. She was a single parent and she was the most powerful and the strongest, and a person I would depend on the most,” said Shahid, who endorses Reebok with Kangana Ranaut.

“Today, Mira and Misha are my whole world and I can’t think of any reason why this initiative would not connect with me. It’s the most natural connect,” said the actor, who also believes women are fitter than men.

“Women know how to deal with situations better than most men do. They are very independent and self-assured,” he said.

So is he going to inculcate these traits in Misha too?

“I want her to discover herself, be respectful towards family and appreciate everything that she has. I want her to spread love and happiness,” he said of his little one, who was born in August 2016.

Coming from an industry where heroines often complain about not getting the equal screen space compared to their male counterparts, Shahid feels the journey of female stars has changed over the years.

“It’s important to recognise roles for their power, for their impact. It doesn’t matter whether it is male or female. I think stories that deserve being told, the characters that deserve being showcased, must be showcased. There is nothing like male or female in art. It’s just about discussing life, connecting with people and saying something substantial.

“I think it’s amazing to see that so much has been created in films which are female-centric and they are loved by audiences. It also goes to show that we have a lot of women in the audience, in case anybody had forgotten,” he said.

And what does he think about pay equality?

“I think it is changing for the positive. I think people are recognising (the issue) and it is all co-related. Today, women-oriented films have started doing extremely well and they have developed a market for themselves. Therefore, the change is naturally happening.

“Like I said before, it’s not about male or female. If you deserve to be paid a certain amount because that is how viable you are, you must be paid that,” Shahid told IANS.

His next film “Padmavati”, directed by Sanjay Leela Bhansali, is under the scanner for alleged distortion of historical facts about the fabled Rajput queen. The film was scheduled to release on December 1, but was deferred and uncertainty over its release still looms large.

Tired of commenting on the row, he said: “I have spoken enough and I don’t feel the need to say anything more.”

He also said trolls and backlash are problems emerging from social media.

“It’s very easy to pass a comment when you don’t have to be accountable for it because nobody even knows who you are.” (IANS)

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US Restricts Visas for Cambodians ‘Undermining Democracy’

As a response to anti-democratic actions, Trump administration restrict VISA for Cambodians

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Cambodia's Prime Minister Hun Sen attends a ceremony at the Angkor Wat temple to pray for peace and stability in Cambodia, Dec. 3, 2017.

The Trump administration announced Wednesday it will restrict visas for Cambodians “undermining democracy” in the Southeast Asian nation following the dissolution of the main opposition party and a crackdown on independent media.

The State Department said it was a direct response to “anti-democratic actions” by the Cambodian government but did not disclose which individuals would be affected. It said visa records are confidential under U.S. law.

Spokeswoman Heather Nauert called on the Cambodian government to reinstate the opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party, which was dissolved by Supreme Court order last month, and free its leader Kem Sokha, imprisoned since September. She also urged Cambodia to allow civil society and media to operate freely.

Prime Minister Hun Sen, who has held power for more than three decades, has sought to neutralize political opponents and silence critics ahead of national elections next year. Kem Sokha has been charged with trying to topple the government with U.S. support, which Washington has said is a baseless accusation.

Supporters of Kem Sokha, leader of the Cambodia National Rescue Party, stand outside the Appeal Court during a bail hearing for the jailed opposition leader in Phnom Penh, Cambodia Sept. 26, 2017.

Nauert said Cambodia’s actions run counter to the Paris Peace Agreements of 1991. The United States and 18 other governments signed the accords, which ushered in democracy after the genocidal rule of the Khmer Rouge regime in the late 1970s, then occupation by Vietnam and civil war.

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson will restrict entry into the United States of “those individuals involved in undermining democracy in Cambodia,” Nauert said in a statement, adding that in certain circumstances, family members of those individuals will also be subject to visa restrictions. The department cited a provision of U.S. immigration law under which individuals can be denied entry if the secretary determines it would have “adverse foreign policy consequences.”

The White House has already terminated U.S. support of Cambodia’s national election committee, saying last month that the July 2018 vote “will not be legitimate, free or fair.”

“We will continue to monitor the situation and take additional steps as necessary, while maintaining our close and enduring ties with the people of Cambodia,” Nauert said.

U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson delivers remarks during a press availability at NATO in Brussels, Belgium, Dec. 6, 2017.

​Monovithya Kem, an opposition spokeswoman currently in the U.S., welcomed the visa restrictions and called for targeted financial sanctions on senior officials in Hun Sen’s government. Kem, who is the daughter of Kem Sokha, urged the U.S., Japan, Australia and the European Union to coordinate responses to the “crisis” in Cambodia and help win her father’s freedom.

Like many prominent opposition figures, Kem has fled Cambodia as she fears arrest.

Hun Sen has been in office since 1985 and has held a tight grip on power since ousting a co-prime minister in a bloody 1997 coup.

In recent months, the government has intensified restrictions on civil society groups and independent media outlets. In September, it shut down the English-language Cambodia Daily. Authorities have shuttered radio stations that aired programming from U.S.-funded Radio Free Asia and Voice of America, whose reports they allege are biased.

The government also expelled the U.S. National Democratic Institute, which helped train political parties and election monitors, accusing it of colluding with its opponents.

Hun Sen has moved Cambodia closer to China in recent years and become increasingly critical of Washington. However, he’s been complimentary of President Donald Trump.

Speaking at Asian leaders’ summit attended by Trump last month, Hun Sen praised the U.S. leader for non-interference in affairs of other nations, but complained the U.S. Embassy in Cambodia was not adhering to the policy. (VOA)

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Top US Women Diplomats Speak Out on Sexual Harassment

Women from all sectors are coming out to speak against sexual harassment cases, this time U.S women diplomats lashed out against such incidents

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FILE - Gina Abercrombie-Winstanley, who served as the US Ambassador in Malta, addresses participants during a gay pride parade organized by the Malta Gay Rights Movement in Sliema, outside Valletta, June 30, 2012.

As U.S. lawmakers grapple with allegations of sexual harassment in their ranks, some senior American diplomats are speaking out about their struggles over the years.

Gina Abercrombie-Winstanley, who was U.S. ambassador to Malta from 2012-2016, told her story about serving at the State Department and the White House.

“There was one occasion in the department when a boss touched me and I told him if he did it again, I’d knock the s— out of him. He did not repeat it, but he did try to get me to curtail from the position,” Abercrombie-Winstanley told the Foreign Service Journal, a publication by the American Foreign Service Association.

The former U.S. envoy recalled another incident in which she said she was harassed by a senior lawmaker while serving on the White House National Security Council.

“Initially, I parried the advance from a senior member of Congress, but when he continued to call me, I reported to the NSC’s executive secretary that it was happening, and told him that if I had to do violence to repel it, I would,” Abercombie-Winstanley said.

“I was letting him know beforehand, I said, because I did not expect to lose my job as a result,” she added. “After a moment of shocked silence, he said ‘Thanks for letting me know.’ And the member stopped calling me.”

She later told VOA these occasions are an “extremely small part of my professional journey” and declined to either comment further on details or identify the congressman.

‘Zero-tolerance’ policy

In a letter electronically distributed to all American diplomats around the world earlier this year, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said the department upholds a “zero-tolerance” policy regarding discriminatory and sexual harassment.

“Effective harassment prevention efforts must start with and involve the highest level possible,” Tillerson said in his policy statement.

For years, secretaries of state release their statements on diversity and harassment in the workplace at the beginning of their tenure and review annually thereafter. They usually highlight two anti-harassment policies: one prohibiting sexual harassment, the other banning discrimination.

U.S. Ambassador Laura Dogu. (U.S. Embassy in Nicaragua website)

Male-dominated circles

Still, female ambassadors said they must learn to adjust and handle the challenges involved in working in mainly male-dominated diplomatic circles.

“I am frequently the only woman in meetings outside the office with the host country, and when I have control over the guest list, I insist that we include at least 30 percent women, if not more,” U.S. Ambassador to Nicaragua Laura Dogu said in the Foreign Service Journal article.

Like Ambassador Dogu, former Ambassador to Mongolia Jennifer Zimdahl Galt said she has been the only woman or one of the only women in the room at virtually every meeting throughout her career. The key to working in such an environment, she said, is to be well-prepared and a good listener.

FILE – U.S. Ambassador to Mongolia Jennifer Zimdahl Galt and U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry past a traditional honor guard upon arrival at Chinggis Khaan International Airport in Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia, June 5, 2016.

“So you can speak authoritatively and there is no question that you are on top of your brief. It’s also important to dress professionally, which in my book means wearing a suit at all times,” said Galt, who was appointed as principle deputy assistant secretary for educational and cultural affairs earlier this month.

She also said, “Being sure to listen carefully to what others have to say so that you’re not repeating, but rather amplifying and adding value with your remarks.”

Building minority leadership

In a speech to student programs and fellowship participants in August, Tillerson said he had directed relevant committees to develop “minority leadership” at the State Department.

“Every time we have an opening for an ambassador position, at least one of the candidates must be a minority candidate. Now they may not be ready, but we will know where the talent pool is,” Tillerson said.

Seen as part of these efforts, Irwin Steven Goldstein will begin his new position next week (December 4) as the first openly gay undersecretary of state for public diplomacy and public affairs.

In Senate testimony, Goldstein thanked his spouse for supporting his career of developing and executing communications strategies that connect diverse audiences. (VOA)