This Earth Day, Stand up for Youth Engagement

Written by Anam Gill on . Posted in Anam's blog: Global issues, General Information, Green Economy, India, News, Regions, Take Action

first-photograph-of-the-entire-earth-nasa-apollo-8-1968Photo Source: Google

It is true that the most celebrated photograph in the world is of Earth, famously called Earthrise. In 1968, the astronauts of Apollo 8 mission took a photograph of Earth from space. The photograph of a beautiful azure planet floating peacefully changed our perspective of Earth as not just a mere dump. Humanity started viewing it as a delicate living planet where millions of species live together, sharing this vast space and calling it home.

The photograph is also credited for initiating the environmental movement and giving birth to 22 April as Earth Day. For once I am happy to know that Earthrise is the most celebrated photograph in the world and it is not of a woman. Knowing how a woman’s body is objectified these days and is used to sell everything from men razors to boxer shots. This restored my faith in humanity.

We can’t take the earth for granted especially given the fast deteriorating condition of the global environment. Sustainable lifestyle choices are the need of the time. With youth making up half of the population, it is important to raise awareness among young people on how to take care of the earth so that life may persist.

This Earth Day we need to stand up for youth engagement. The Earth Charter Principle 12c stresses the importance of youth engagement.

 “Honor and support the young people of our communities, enabling them to fulfill their essential role in creating sustainable societies.”
Education for Sustainability, a project of Nektarina Non-Profit, believes that to establish a just and sustainable society it is important to engage youth, empower them and work to build their capacity. In the past, Nektarina Non-Profit has worked closely with the Earth Day Network, keeping in mind the Earth Charter principles. Nektarina Non-Profit has been offering platforms to youth to learn the values of a sustainable way of life in India, Ghana, Cameroon , Sierra Leone, Trinidad and Tobago and Venezuela.  It plans to continue supporting youth, encouraging them to embrace the sustainability vision of Earth Charter.

To celebrate World Environment Day 2014 in India, Nektarina Non-Profit organized a rally in Pune. Students from different institutions, universities, schools, and colleges; representatives of civil society organizations, companies, and political parties were gathered at one event to celebrate World Environment Day. It did manage to raise awareness among young people about the environmental issues and how to make sustainable lifestyle choices, care for the Earth and be an active participant in the environment movement. This year again Nektarina Non Profit will be holding an event in India in June.

Youth engagement is not just a buzzword in the development field. The term has more to do with youth involvement in challenging unsustainable norms and taking responsible actions to create positive change. Instead of waiting for a grand cataclysmic change it is time to give our little contribution, whenever and wherever possible. So this Earth Day let’s stand up for youth engagement and put the planet Earth in the hands of informed citizens of tomorrow.

Rendezvous with Gulalai Ismail, Commonwealth Youth Award winner from Pakistan

Written by Anam Gill on . Posted in Anam's blog: Global issues, E-Magazine, General Information, News & Updates, Take Action

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Photo Source: Google

Gulalai Ismail, a 28-year-old Pakistani human rights activist from Peshawar, has been awarded the 2015 Commonwealth Youth Award for Excellence in Development Work recently. Gulalai was chosen as the winner from the Asia region out of a shortlist of sixteen extraordinary young people from across the Commonwealth.The award recognizes outstanding young people under 30 whose development projects and programs have had significant impact on their communities, countries and across the globe.

Speaking to me, Gulalai said that we should speak up no matter what, “Silence perpetuates more silence and speaking up will bring change, a smaller and a humble change ” she said.

Congratulations Gulalai for being awarded the 2015 Commonwealth Youth Award for Excellence in Development Work. How does this award affect your work and commitment towards the cause you stand for?

I think this award has increased awareness about the role of young women and girls in promoting democracy, peace and human rights. This award is not just recognition of my work as a person, but recognition of the voices of the women and young people who are working in extremely challenging and life risking situations for their rights and development of their communities. Today, in Pakistan young people makes the largest population dividend, at least 50% of these young people comprises of young women, but unfortunately if we look at the statistics only 18% of women in Pakistan has received more than 10 years of education, 90% of the women are becoming victims of domestic abuse, and millions of girls around the world are forced into early marriages. I believe a decent, peaceful and developed world isn’t possible without investing in gender equality, without making the world a better place for women. This award is the recognition of similar voices.

Can you please tell us a bit about your organization and its work?

Aware Girls is young women led organization, an organization which has been established by girls and young women in 2002 with the purpose of providing a leadership platform to young women where they can get information about their rights, institutes and policies which protect their rights, can strengthen their leadership skills and can act as advocates of change, equality and peace.

Our objectives are to empower young women and girls by strengthening their leadership skills and by creating a conducive environment where young women and girls can exercise their human rights which includes sensitizing communities about different issues and rights of girls and advocating for systems and policies which ensures that young women and girls’ can live a decent life and can exercise their human rights.

We are working on human rights education, girls’ leadership, civic and political empowerment of young women, economic empowerment of young women, sexual and reproductive health rights of young women and on countering and preventing violent extremism in our communities i.e. in the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Province of Pakistan.

Through our work we are changing the lives of girls for example few years back, Shazia, who was then 14 years old participated in our HIV/AIDS education campaign which inspired her, she took became member of our AIDS Discussion club which was like a leadership incubator for her, she started raising awareness among her peer through peer to peer education about HIV/AIDS prevention. It increased her self-esteem and confidence. When few years later her family told her that she can’t take admission in college because it is against their culture and family values she didn’t accept the decision, she stood for herself and convinced her family that she has to go to college. Today, she is studying in a medical school getting her degree of Lady Health Worker. There are thousands of other stories like this which are encouraging us to keep on going against the odds.

You were just 16 years old when you set up Aware Girls, was it challenging?

Even after working for more than 12 years, it’s challenging. We are still reclaiming our leadership spaces. Our society is yet not comfortable with the idea of a women leader though Pakistan has some amazing women leaders but even then we have to go a long way to create acceptability of women in leadership roles.

There was so much inspiration and sense of responsibility around me, I was determined. I knew one thing only and that was: I have to play my part in making this world a better place, it doesn’t matter how small or big role I play. It would have been really unfair if I would have just let things happen around me and not do anything about it.

How has your father being a human rights activist contributed in your view point considering that it is challenging to voice concerns on extremism and violence in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa?

My father is amazing, he always taught me “Speak up, no matter how shrill your voice is, no matter how huge the opposition is. If you feel like speaking up- just speak up and don’t worry about the consequences”. He himself is a very brave man and has always challenged the structural inequalities in the society, my parents are my inspiration. When we were young, long before 9/11 my father was put in Jail in a Blasphemy Case because he was speaking up for peace and because he was advocating the idea that we shouldn’t support any militant group in Afghanistan. He fought the Blasphemy case for 7 years, only because he spoke for peace and non-violence. But even then he remained brave enough to speak for peace. I come from the family of fighters- so it was kind of okay to start up a venture for empowering women and girls.

We witnessed what happened to Malala Yousafzai when she tried talking about women issues, wasn’t there a threat for you coming from the same place?

Well as I said, we still have a long way to go! It’s not easy to speak up on women rights, to speak against Talibanisation and to speak for Peace while living in the heart of the Province where the militants have a stronghold. But that makes me stronger, becoming weak and fearful is not an option. The only option we have is to be strong enough to reclaim our society; we can’t leave it to the extremists, militants, and to the patriarchal culture.

There is quite a lot of negative propaganda on social media against me, we received threats, we have been attacked as well but all of this just makes me stronger, happier! Because then I know that yes, my work is bringing change in my community- be it a smaller change.

What do you think is different between you and her that protect you from the extremist elements?

I think Malala can’t be compared to the work of anyone. She is extra ordinarily brave, she was in Swat and she was raising her voice at a really young age when everyone was afraid of speaking up. She was already an icon in Pakistan, a young leader who put her life at risk. For me, she is a hero not because she was attacked but because of what she did before she was attacked. She is a role model for the world!

What message do you have for women on International women’s day?

Speak up- No matter how shrill your voice is, silence perpetuates more silence and speaking up will bring change, a smaller and a humble change.

Justice Deferred is Justice Denied

Written by Anam Gill on . Posted in Anam's blog: Global issues, E-Magazine, General Information, News, News & Updates, Take Action

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Photo Source: Google

On Wednesday the Federal Government of Pakistan temporarily deferred execution of a 14-year old Shafqat Hussain just few hours before he was set to be hanged. In Pakistan the use of torture evidence and execution of juveniles is illegal. Surely the legal system has specific procedures for dealing with juvenile delinquents yet Shafqat Hussain was arrested and tortured to confess to killing of a child.

The only evidence the courts had was his confession he made after nine days of being tortured in a police cell. He was not tried as a juvenile nor was he given access to a lawyer.

Moments like these make me recall the famous quotation; peace is not the absence of war but the presence of justice. Justice is a fascinating word. We hope to get justice in an unjust world, made unjust by our power hunger, selfishness and greed. Where is the compassion we are seeking? Why are we seeking it in the first place?

What a shame that it took the weight of civil society and an uproar to push the Minister into deferring the execution just hours before he was due to be taken to the gallows. We seek the judicial system for justice and what if the same system is flawed as an entity? We don’t know how many other juveniles are facing the same fate.

Being a signatory of child rights conventions, Pakistan should take measures to meet standards of juvenile justice. Sarah Coleman, Child Protection Chief, UNICEF

The existing Juvenile Justice Ordinance 2000, consisting of only 15 sections, does not cover many important aspects pertaining to child delinquencies, the ordinance needs to be improved. Barrister Salman Safdar

Shafqat Hussain was kept in solitary confinement, blindfolded and beaten brutally by the police. He was being electrocuted and stubbed lit cigarettes on his arms while being asked to confess to the crime.

 I was tortured so severely and continuously that my mind ‘just stopped’. I have no recollection of the trial. Shafqat Hussain

It is important to note that after a seven-year moratorium, Pakistan has reintroduced the death penalty and has also introduced military courts. It will begin executions where clemency and appeals are no longer an option. Following the 2014 Peshawar school attacks that killed over 100 children, the death penalty was reintroduced last December.  According to Amnesty International since 2012, 24 people have been executed including three whose convictions were unrelated to terrorism.

Is this shameful retreat to the gallows a way to resolve Pakistan’s persistent security and law -and -order problems? Those who argue the shallow logic of an eye for an eye, it is worthy to note that the charges of blasphemy, adultery and apostasy are also punishable by death. It is indeed a moral catastrophe for Pakistan. The death penalty and military courts are not known to be the deterrents of crime, especially the military courts where the judges and prosecutors come from army ranks. This indeed is a controversial addition to the flawed judicial system along with Anti-terrorism Courts.

Two months after Pakistan’s Interior Ministry stayed the execution of Shafqat Hussain and ordered an inquiry into why a juvenile was given a death sentence, Pakistan’s Anti-terrorism Court issues a fresh execution order.

Draconian courts like these operate on the premise that the accused is guilty unless proven innocent. Shafqat Hussain who has spent 11 years on death row was not a militant and had nothing to do with terrorism. He worked as a caretaker of an apartment building during his brief freedom in Karachi.

In an era of injustice, shameful violence and intolerance it is our duty to raise our voices for sanity and compassion.  We can’t call Pakistan just and democratic when it provides assistance to banned armed outfits, violent sectarian groups and puts innocent juveniles on death row.

Deliberating on Sustainability

Written by Anam Gill on . Posted in Anam's blog: Global issues, Books & Magazine, E-Magazine, General Information, Green Economy, India, News, News & Updates, Publications, Take Action

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A poster at the Delhi Sustainable Development Summit

The Delhi Sustainable Development Summit is held every year around a theme that is identified as the most pressing issue of the current times. The themes at DSDS have ranged from protecting the global commons to global challenge of resource efficient growth and development.

Currently energy crisis, water and food crisis are emerging problems. To create a robust green economy these three interlinked and interdependent resources should be secured.  “Sustainable Development Goals and dealing with climate change” was identified as the theme for the 15th edition of the Delhi Sustainable Development Summit, held from 5-7 February, 2015 in New Delhi, India.

From Lima to Paris while stopping by in India these gatherings that bring together important personalities and decision makers provide a platform for people to come together and talk about issues that have become a huge concern of this century. It is just a matter of time whether these talks will be materialized into actions, productive actions that will put a full stop on the abuse of earth’s resources.

This year’s Summit at Delhi discussed these specific issues, striving to find ways forward towards a sustainable future.  Mr. Kofi Annan (Nobel Laureate and Former Secretary-General, United Nations) gave an inaugural keynote address in 2014 stating that just like the developed world the developing countries cannot continue to exploit the resources of the world as lack of access to energy, water and food withholds the growth of the developing world.

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Mr. Arnold Schwarzenegger with other prominent speakers at DSDS

Several eminent world leaders participated in the event including speakers from diverse sectors like the famous action hero and former Governor of California Mr. Arnold Schwarzenegger. In terms of Gujarat’s clean energy actions he termed Gujarat as “the California of India”. He said:

“Climate change is not science fiction and it is impacting us right now. This is bigger than a movie and this is the biggest challenge of our times.”

“Mr. Modi has shown that small actions and sub-national governments have tremendous power. They don’t have to wait for national governments to create action,” he said adding that Mr. Modi would prove the naysayers in the world wrong. Mr. Schwarzenegger said, “We must think differently if we are going to win the battle [against climate change] and change the world.” He added.

Despite managing to gather eminent personalities in the global south, the DSDS did not get enough media attention like the other big conferences on similar issues. This does raise a question here. Is the developing world considered less important when it comes to tackling grave problems knowing it is being affected the most?

Recently the environment minister of India said that clean energy will form a main part of India’s national climate strategy yet Prakash Javedekar added that India would resist any outside scrutiny with reference to the European calls for transparency.

“There is no question of an ex-ante review in an independent country and democratic country like India,” Javedekar said.

On speaking about the road to a UN summit in Paris this December, where world leaders hope to come up with a global climate deal, Mr.Prakash Javedekar said that since the last half century the carbon emissions have increased with each passing day and now the developing world is asking the developed world will it vacate the carbon space?

By the end of March the developed countries are expected to reveal their draft contributions towards the international effort to limit carbon emissions. India is among a number of developing countries that promises to publish its climate plan.Susheel Kumar, a top official and climate negotiator, said that the government is striving for a transparent and comprehensive national climate strategy that will be based on consultation with civil society in India . He added “There is no room for international intervention.”

The grave problem of climate justice that affects the entire world population should be about coming up with a strategy that is inclusive and is not discriminatory. Here we have to put aside the hierarchy of the developed and developing world as we all are together in this.  Green growth talks about the earthlings. It has been recognized to have the potential to develop a resilient, sustainable and inclusive pattern of growth across countries.

This is the message we need to take back with us from these high profile conferences and not a rift that highlights the polar extremes as a hindrance to achieve the stated goal.

Muslims vs Free Speech

Written by Anam Gill on . Posted in Anam's blog: Global issues, E-Magazine, General Information, News, Publications, Regions, Take Action

The recent attack on the French satirical paper Charlie Hebdo by gunmen who are understood to be Muslim extremists did remind me of the publication of cartoons in a Danish newspaper years ago. Violent protests erupted over a series of cartoons which satirized Prophet Mohammad in Denmark. Moreover I was reminded of the murder of Theo Van Gogh who directed a provocative film that talked about women in Islam.

Not to forget in Pakistan we are having a YouTube ban after the release of a film, Innocence of Muslims. The ban is in place since September 2012 and apparently the chances of it being lifted are slim.

I hold the right to freedom of expression very dear and this debate that has been going on for years regarding Muslims versus free speech has always fascinated me. I am somehow shocked to know that people are being killed in the struggle to protect freedom of speech. People are murdered for what? Cartoons!

No wonder I still prefer Captain Planet, a cartoon series in my childhood that talked about saving the planet. A message that did create awareness and let’s not forget didn’t harm anyone.

In an open democratic society freedom of speech is the bedrock but in my opinion it should not include the right to offend. Today we live in a pluralistic society where we face many grave problems already, be it politicization of religion, terrorism and marginalization to name a few. Yes we do live in a multi-cultural society and have diversity hence we need greater limits on free speech. Freedom of speech does not mean the right to offend the sensibilities of others for the sake of enjoying greater power.

When free speech is used merely as a provocation that does not support dialogue or debate as it should then it definitely raises few questions. Is it about opening up a debate or attacking a minority community?

Today the clash between freedom of speech and Muslim sensibilities is becoming a major fault line. In this polemic it is important to note that there is a thin line between freedom to do anything and being offensive and if the equilibrium is maintained we need not to worry. I support freedom of speech but I do not support hate of any kind. In a democracy we already have censorship laws like the libel law and the blasphemy laws (exploited a great deal in many countries like Pakistan). We can’t just say whatever we want to. There are restrictions imposed by the law. Similarly with the freedom of speech which is our fundamental right there comes a responsibility. As civilized, sensible, sensitive and polite human beings, which we rarely are these days, we need to know what to say on a given day in a given format. Freedom of speech is not a western concept; it is a craving of the human soul.

As Shami Chakrabarti, director of Liberty, the British civil liberties advocacy organization rightly said on the issue of Muslims vs Free Speech :

“It is important to make a distinction between your legal right in a free society of free speech not unfettered because we don’t want child pornography and incitement to murder so there is always necessary and proportionate limitations on free speech but let’s separate your legal right that I would defend to the death actually from whether as a moral and ethical human being you on a given day in a given format to say this or that. That is really really important. You have a right of free speech but it not your duty to say the most offensive things possible and I must say that free speech is under attack but not for Muslims or Christians or just people of faith but from big brother politicians. It is a bit of a shame that we are talking that it is just about Muslims because it is not. I defend free speech and other liberal value, freedom of expression is incredibly important so why don’t we lead by example if we want to say to the Muslims, as I do in solidarity and friendship, don’t be overly offended by profane cartoons. While stick and stones may break your bones but not cartoons. If we want to say that then why should we be offended by women who choose to wear a headscarf or a hoody or anything else. Everybody is entitled to their human rights but sometimes in a democracy it is minorities who need human rights protection the most.”

This is not a battle between Muslims and the West. This is a battle of messages and counter messages. If some groups promote hate, death, intolerance and destruction- we call for life, pluralism, alliance of civilizations, compassion and peace.

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“You Have Not come here to just enjoy Lima”

Written by Anam Gill on . Posted in Anam's blog: Global issues, Cameroon, General Information, Ghana, Green Economy, India, News, News & Updates, Publications, Regions, Sierra Leone, Take Action, Trinidad and Tobago

1017932Manuel Pulgar Vidal , President of COP20 addressing the audience in Lima

Photo Source: Google

“This is the time to take decisions…we want to give a clear and strong message that we want to take this process forward…you have not come here to just enjoy Lima…we must not accept to leave Lima with empty hands ” Manuel Pulgar Vidal said in a passionate appeal to the negotiators on the second last day of COP 20.

Vidal who was acting as the President of the conference or COP 20 (Conference of Parties) shared the disappointed of many that no progress was made on the negotiating text. With just one more day to go till the end of the conference and negotiations it was indeed saddening to see another deadlock looming on the horizon.

When we talk about global climate agreement one question that pops out is; with the global political crisis, where most countries are at war with each other both physically and otherwise, will they ever be able to negotiate in terms of climate justice?  I have been asking this question a lot and have never come across a sane explanation. In an extremely unjust world ruled by people who value profit is it even possible to talk about climate justice? Are we just fooling ourselves trying to make a difference by attending these important meetings visited by the many heads of states who are good at posing for photographs with the delegates but not drafting sound agreements?

Climate talks have remained deadlocked be it Brazil or Lima. Defeated in Brazil we thought we have a battle to fight in Lima where we may win and now we are looking forward to Paris in 2015. Is it just about wasting another year? When it comes to climate can we really afford to waste these many years? What are we waiting for?

These glorious opportunities that bring so many countries together should be made use of properly without wasting too much time, money and energy. There was an Ad-hoc Working Group on Durban Platform (ADP) at the COP 20 that was supposed to decide how various countries will contribute in the fight against climate change. The contributions that will be determined nationally are called Intended Nationally-Determined Contributions (INDCs). The INDCs will form the backbone of the global climate agreement that is expected to be finalized at the next climate conference in Paris in 2015.

Unfortunately there are disagreements existing on several issues related to INDCs. Regarding the actions that have to be taken by developed countries in reducing greenhouse gas emissions before 2020 there isn’t a clear understanding. By using the jargons many countries try to get away without presenting a clear action plan. The mitigation/adaptation debate over the INDCs and whether these contributions should be put to an international review had been slow.

The frustrating slow pace of the Lima negotiations does disappoint many around the globe including the developing world that is mostly on the receiving end. Developing world is most affected by the decisions made by the developed world that even ship its waste to the global South. Also some countries in the developing world  clearly have other priorities.

According to Al Jazeera “China has said emissions will peak by 2030, while India chose to put economic growth ahead of emissions caps.”

How many more conferences and drafts do we need to understand and acknowledge the unforeseen adversity in the years to come?

AlJazeera reported :

 “ In Peru, the venue for this year’s crucial climate change conference, illegal logging continues at unprecedented rates.”

 “The capital of Indonesia, Jakarta, is a city under threat as it is sinking at a rate of seven centimetres every year. By 2030, according to experts, half of the city will be below sea level. Step Vassen reports from the Indonesian capital.”

 “In South Sudan, many people are chopping down trees just to exist. The country’s oilfields generate billions of dollars a year, but all the oil is exported, leaving millions of people to rely on wood and charcoal for fuel. The current rate of deforestation will mean no forest will be left in South Sudan within three or four decades.”

And the list goes on. The empty slogans made by the politicians demanding actions against climate change in not enough. Someone rightly said that with great power comes great responsibility. Here I would like to make an urgent appeal to the world leaders/politicians to take up this responsibility without wasting more time.

The Man Who Grew A Forest

Written by Anam Gill on . Posted in Anam's blog: Global issues, E-Magazine, General Information, Green Economy, India, News, News & Updates, Take Action

Back in the 50s a tale was written about Elzeard Bouffier . The Man Who Planted Trees was a tale written by Jean Giono and the character of Elzeard Buoffier was created to make readers fall in love with trees. After reading the story based on a fictitious character made me recall a living person who single handedly grew an extensive forest on 550 hectare sandbar.

 Jadav Payang has dedicated many years of his life to planting trees on the island leaving his home and education behind. Majuli Island is a sandbar that happens to be the largest river island on earth located in Northeast India. The forest planted by Jadav is known as Molai forest after his nickname Molai.

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Jadav Payeng, Photo Source: Google

Back in 1979 when Payeng was 16 years old floods washed a large number of snakes on the shore of the sandbar. A number of snakes died due to the hot weather as they didn’t have any shelter. Payeng was taken aback by this carnage and tried to reach out to the forest department to grow trees there. They told him to grow bamboo himself and nobody was ready to be of any help. That was a turning point in Payeng’s life that motivated a single man to grow a forest that surpassed the scale of New York’s Central Park. Seeing Jadav Payeng makes one believe in humanity and selflessness. It is interesting to note that the sprawling forest now is home to many endangered animals. The story of Jadav is an inspiration for the world filling the wide chasms of hopelessness surrounding us.

In a world where ambition drives people crazy Jadav Payeng does give people a message of love for nature. By pruning and watering the plants morning and evening he does tell us that there are other living things sharing the planet with us whom we should look after. Payeng delightfully tells that it was an experience where the fauna and flora flourished including endangered animals like the Royal Bengal tiger and one- horned rhino.

 We all like to talk about saving the planet and hardly act on what we preach. All the conferences and seminars happening behind closed doors on environment and conservation might not have Jadav Payeng in their midst because he is busy doing something important. He is putting our words into action. We don’t need big words anymore we need action driven by a genuine passion and commitment to preserve what we already have. If the world has agreed upon any definition of a hero, Jadav Payeng is surely my hero whom I greatly admire for his dedication and commitment. What he has done and is still doing is truly extra ordinary.