Category Archives: International Issues

A Girl with a Book: a Powerful Weapon

My two favorite quotes from the article that follows:

Sultana reminds us that the greatest untapped resource around the globe isn’t gold or oil, but the female half of the population.  

and

I wish we understood that sometimes the most effective weapon against terrorists isn’t a drone but a girl with a book.

Sultana picture 2

Meet Sultana, the Taliban’s Worst Fear

Nicholas Kristof, New York Times, JUNE 4, 2016

Sultana pursued an education from inside her home in Afghanistan after the Taliban threatened to douse her with acid if she went back to school. Because of the danger to her and a photographer if she was visited there, her picture was taken via Skype. CreditAndrew Quilty for The New York Times

OF all the students preparing to go to college this fall, perhaps none have faced a more hazardous journey than a young woman named Sultana. One measure of the hazard is that I’m not disclosing her last name or hometown for fear that she might be shot.

Sultana lives in the Taliban heartland of southern Afghanistan, and when she was in the fifth grade a delegation visited her home to warn her father to pull her out of school, or else she would have acid flung in her face. Ever since, she has been largely confined to her high-walled family compound — in which she has secretly, and perilously, educated herself.

“I’m unstoppable,” Sultana laughs, and it’s true: She taught herself English from occasional newspapers or magazines that her brothers brought home, in conjunction with a Pashto-English dictionary that she pretty much inhaled. When her businessman father connected the house to the internet, she was able to vault over her compound walls.

“I surrounded myself with English, all day,” she told me by Skype. Today her English is fluent, as good as that of some Afghan interpreters I’ve used.

Once she had mastered English, Sultana says, she tackled algebra, then geometry and trigonometry, and finally calculus BC. She rises about 5 a.m. and proceeds to devour calculus videos from Khan Academy, work out equations, and even read about string theory.

Sultana, now 20, says she leaves her home only about five times a year — each time, she must wear a burqa and be escorted by a close male relative — but online she has been reading books on physics and taking courses on edX and Coursera. I can’t independently verify everything Sultana says, but her story generally checks out. After reading a book on astrophysics by Lawrence M. Krauss, a theoretical physicist at Arizona State University, she reached him by Skype, and he says he was blown away when this Afghan elementary school dropout began asking him penetrating questions about astrophysics.

“It was a surreal conversation,” Krauss said. “She asked very intelligent questions about dark matter.”

Krauss has become one of Sultana’s advocates, along with Emily Roberts, an undergraduate at the University of Iowa who signed up for a language program called Conversation Exchange and connected with Sultana.

By Skype, Emily and Sultana became fast friends, and soon they were chatting daily. Moved by Sultana’s seemingly unattainable dream of becoming a physics professor, Emily began exploring what it would take for Sultana to study in the United States.

With Emily’s help, Sultana has been accepted by a community college in Iowa, with a commitment by Arizona State University to take her as a transfer student a year later. Emily started a website to raise money for Sultana’s university education.

Sultana reminds us that the greatest untapped resource around the globe isn’t gold or oil, but the female half of the population. Virginia Woolf wrote that if Shakespeare had had an equally talented sister, she never would have been able to flower — and Sultana is Shakespeare’s sister. Yet it’s also clear that internet connections can sometimes be a game changer.

Sultana’s family is wary of her passion for education but surrenders to her determination. “My mom said a lot of mouths will be open, a single girl going to the Christian world,” she said. “But I will die if they stop me.”

Unfortunately, the United States isn’t helping. Last month, the U.S. Embassy in Kabul rejected her application for a student visa. That happens all the time: Brilliant young men and women are accepted by American universities and then denied visas because, under U.S. law, they are seen as immigration risks.

(As a Muslim, Sultana would also be barred by Donald Trump’s proposed ban on Muslims. I asked her what she thought of Trump, and all she would say, with quiet dignity, was: “He thinks all Muslims are bad. It’s painful.”)

Michelle Obama has pushed an impressive campaign called Let Girls Learn, yet her husband’s administration has never seemed as enthusiastic, and America routinely denies visas that would actually let girls learn. The United States spends billions of dollars fighting terrorism by blowing things up; I wish we understood that sometimes the most effective weapon against terrorists isn’t a drone but a girl with a book.

The Taliban understand this: That’s why their fighters shot Malala Yousafzai in the head. If only we were as cleareyed as the Taliban about the power of girls’ education to transform societies.

Sultana now spends her days working on calculus equations, listening to Bon Jovi and doing household chores while listening to the BBC or self-help audiobooks. It also turns out that she is a longtime Times reader and gets my email newsletter. She’s now working her way through more serious reading: Kant’s “Critique of Pure Reason.”

Sultana has set up another appointment for a visa, for June 13. It won’t be Sultana who is tested but American policy itself. I’ll let you know what happens.

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Commodification of Women and Children by ISIL

A report from the U.S. State Department today speaks to the commodification of women and children by ISIL, particularly the captured Yezidi population. The State Department strongly condemned ISIL’s actions and called for international support in bringing the offenders to justice. They estimate the number of victims to be in the thousands–women and children being enslaved, brutalized, and trafficked. I agree with the State Department: These acts are barbaric and call for universal condemnation.

State Department Meetings With Yezidi Leaders (Taken Question).

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Courageous Girls Escape Boko Haram

As Halloween approaches I am reminded of the real-life monsters that exist all around the world in different shapes and sizes. The Boko Haram are craven creatures who attack helpless school girls for no better reason than the girls wanted an education.

BBC News – Escaping Boko Haram: How three Nigeria girls found safety http://www.bbc.com/news/world-africa-29762252

I am amazed and humbled by the courage of these three young Nigerian girls in the face of the Boko Haram monsters. And hope that we do not forget the others who are still held captive. These “men” (I started to call them animals, but no animal is this cruel and base) need to be stopped.

This second article talks about some of the things to which these kidnapped girls are subjected. Not an easy read.

http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2809503/Survivors-reveal-horrific-fate-teenage-girls-kidnapped-Islamic-extremists-Boko-Haram.html

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The Complexities of Reabolishing Slavery Worldwide

http://edition.cnn.com/interactive/2012/03/world/mauritania.slaverys.last.stronghold/

The above article from CNN focuses on slavery in Mauritania but addresses issues that are worldwide. It is masterful at personalizing the plague of modern day slavery and pointing out the complex issues found in trying to address the practices, beliefs, and customs that are sometimes centuries old.

I’m an American–a privileged, white American–who has a difficult time wrapping my head around the idea that someone would not jump at the chance to be free. But this article helped me realize that it is not so very different from when I was a child, trapped by abuse, not knowing there was anything better out there, afraid to trust, believing that anyone who offered help might only make things worse. I listened to the people in this article, and I heard bits of myself. Now that I’m free, I can see it so clearly, just as the former slaves in this article do.

Modern slavery and human trafficking are complex, multi-dimensional problems, but we have to keep fighting for the sake of those not yet free and those who don’t even realize there is something better out there.

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Human trafficking: the numbers

I’m a visual learning. I find charts and graphs an easier way to grasp unimaginable numbers. I think these charts do a good job, though focused mostly on EU and UK.

News on Modern Day Slavery

Human_trafficking_infographic

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Human Trafficking Awareness for Students in Qatar

Wonderful to see children so young being taught what to watch for. This is how we change the future.

News on Modern Day Slavery

Qatar Foundation for Combating Human Trafficking (QFCHT) has conducted a special programme for school students in Qatar to introduce them to the concepts of human trafficking.
The programme, “We are all humans”, targets school students of different ages to raise their awareness about the types and causes of human trafficking, related legislations and agreements, and the current stand of Qatar on the issue. It also aims at introducing them to the role and tasks of QFCHT in addressing such phenomena.
The programme was initially launched in three local independent schools of kindergarten, primary and preparatory stages, where a team of QFCHT spent a complete school day with students.
The team distributed pamphlets among the students that contain simplified information on human trafficking related issues and engaging exercises as well.
The team conducted various competitions and quizzes to encourage children to acquire the information in an interesting way. Children expressed their…

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Once again, sexual violence is used as a weapon

Sexual terrorism in Egypt

This came from a friend of mine in Cairo, Egypt where rape and sexual assault are being used as weapons to terrorize and silence protestors. Almost daily, he is sending reports of women being assaulted in the crowds and on the streets. Why do men do this? I just don’t understand. Those commiting assault say it is improper for a woman to have her head uncovered or her face or her feet or even her eyes or her voice should not be heard on the streets, but it is not improper for a man to tear her clothes off, grope her or shove his hands inside her or worse?? Like in the New Delhi rape or Sohaila Abdulali’s case, the men point at the perceived improper behavior of the women and justify their own rampant sexual violence. Again, I just don’t understand. Sigh.

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