When Nadia Murad Stood Before Trump

When the best of humanity stands before the worst of humanity, the rest of us have an opportunity to learn. 

Nadia Murad belongs to the Yazidi ethnic and religious minority. When she was 19 years old, the Islamic State attacked her village in Kojo, Iraq and killed 600 Yazidi men, including members of her family. Nadia, along with many other young women and girls, was abducted and trafficked.

After three months enduring beatings and rape, she escaped and made her way to a refugee camp. She told this harrowing story in her book, The Last Girl, and now works to help survivors of human trafficking and the Yazidi genocide.

At the other end of the fight for the rights of women and girls, we have Donald Trump. So far, sixteen women have accused him of sexual assault and two women, including his ex-wife, have accused him of rape. Teenage girls said that he walked into a dressing room while they were changing.

While these are accusations and not convictions, Trump has boasted about sexually assaulting women and has called women pigs and dogs. He has made jovial remarks about Epstein, the billionaire who was arrested on charges of sexually assaulting and trafficking teenagers.

“He likes beautiful women as much as I do,” Trump noted, “and many of them are on the younger side.” With these words I believe he convicts himself of the crimes he otherwise denies.

On Saturday, Nadia Murad stood before this mighty and devious man to speak about the Yazidi genocide. Either because he did not pay attention to her testimony or because he is unable to respect a woman, the president asked Murad where her family members were right after she’d told him they had been killed. Despite this hurtful insult, she pressed on, using words like “dignity” to a man who believes that the best way to treat women is like shit.” 

At first, I could not understand why Nadia was there. Why didn’t she refuse a meeting to protest his words, his deeds, and his policies impacting women and girls? But watching the video of their encounter, I realized that meeting with the president was the most powerful form of protest because she wasn’t there for him.

Nadia stood before Trump in solidarity with the women and girls she represents.

Knowing that he has been accused of some of the same crimes committed against her while she was living in slavery, she still stood before him as a tower of strength. Trump avoided looking in her eyes. He barely listened to her story. But there she was, insisting that he acknowledge her words, her story, her humanity; insisting that he come face to face with a survivor of the crimes he, at the very least, jokes about.   

Toward the end of their encounter, Trump asked her why she was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. Nadia replied, “I made it clear to everyone that ISIS raped thousands of Yazidi women. This was the first time a woman from Iraq got out and spoke about what happened.

Trump’s discomfort and resentment were palpable through my computer monitor. So were Nadia’s courage and defiance.    

If we are to honor our commitment to fighting for the rights, health and dignity of women and girls, we must stand for them in the most difficult places and situations. For me, this has been conflict zones and resource-poor settings. For Nadia, this has been the White House.  

What I learned from Nadia is that our commitment to human rights must not shy away from the powerful, the ambivalent, the offensive. These are the trenches we need to sit in; these are the battles that we must choose.

It is the most hardened hearts and minds – not the hearts and minds of our allies – that we must change if we are to create a more just and inclusive world.

And even if we cannot change their hearts and minds, we can go on record for standing tall in the face of injustice. Where one of us stands, we all stand together.  

Two Women Causing Ripples in American Politics

The American electorate seems to be more divided than ever. It is becoming more and more apparent that if you are a woman, lgbtqi+, Muslim, or not white, your voice is not being valued. Given all of this, I want to highlight two women who are refusing to be silent or intimidated within the American political arena.   

Ilhan Omar

Born in Somali, Ilhan lived in a refugee camp in Kenya for four years during the Somali civil war before her family were given the chance to move to Minnesota, USA, when she was aged 13.

After several years of community organising, in 2016 Ilhan faced a seemingly impossible task – to push through self doubt and take the leap to run for State Representative in Minnesota’s Senate District 60B. Up against incumbent Phyllis Kahn, and a male representative of the Somali community, Mohamud Noor, Ilhan ran on a platform focused on:

“cancelling student debt, banning private prisons, increasing the number of refugees admitted to the U.S., and cutting funding for “perpetual war and military aggression.” She supports passing a national bill of rights for renters, the End Racial and Religious Profiling Act and automatically registering every eighteen-year-old to vote.” 

After she won the campaign, allegations surfaced around her marriage history (based on nothing more than a right-wing blog). The claims were found to be just as baseless as those made against Barack Obama and his birth certificate.

Are these sorts of media tactics new? No. Did they stop Ilhan from taking office? No.

In many ways, Ilhan is the embodiment of the groups President Trump wants to silence. In November, Ilhan will become the first refugee from Africa, the first Somali-American, one of the first two Muslim-American women and the first woman in a hijab to be elected to the United States Congress – this is progress.

Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez

Finally, the mainstream media has begrudgingly accepted that Alexandria deserves column space. Why? Because she won the Democratic primary in New York’s 14th congressional district! And because she is a woman, Democratic Socialist, first generation American, Spanish speaking girl from the Bronx who beat the man tipped to be the new head of the Democratic party.

Alexandria has had a life many, many others in America have had – born to Puerto Rican mother and a father from the Bronx, she has worked the 18-hour double jobs. So if she is the poster child for what can be achieved with the ‘American Dream’, why do so many from both political sides fear her rise through the ranks?

The key points from her platform are: Medicare for all, fully funded public schools and universities, universal jobs guarantee, housing as a human right, justice-system reform, immigration reform, “new green deal” to combat climate change, and campaign-finance reform. 

Am I worried Alexandria will bow to the pressures of 21st century politics or give in to pressure from this administration? No.

“Well you know, the president is from Queens, and with all due respect, half of my constituents are from Queens. I don’t think he knows how to deal with a girl from the Bronx.” – Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez

In a climate where lunatics are running around New York threatening to call immigration on people because they are speaking Spanish, I think its vital to have a representative like Alexandria. In a climate where executive order number 13769 (the travel ban) is still being enforced, I think it is essential to have a representative like Ilhan.

Of course, I don’t want to get lost in identity politics, these women represent more than these two issues. And clearly, these issues are not going to be solely fought and won by individuals – they need help.

So get involved! If you feel an issue is worth fighting for please get involved in local politics and register to vote in the mid-term elections.

I’m sure no one needs reminding, but here are some examples of recent action by the current administration:

The current administration continues to try to silence and diminish groups they believe to hold little power – but women like Ilhan and Alexandria show that the tides can turn, and that there may be a storm brewing.

Time to Disarm the Patriarchy

We live in a time where the threat of nuclear war is a normal household conversation. Many live in a nation led by a man who cannot control his urge to press ‘tweet’ on every unhinged thought he dreams up each morning. And yet, he alone has the authority – the sole authority – to push the launch button on a preemptive nuclear attack, should the mood strike him.

The risks that nuclear weapons currently pose to global peace are monumental.

We also live in a time where the seemingly unmovable and intractable weight of our patriarchal society is suddenly being forced to reckon with women’s voices and stories and experiences – both the ugliness that we’ve endured and the talent and wisdom we’ve been barred from contributing.

We know for a fact that if peace is the goal, women absolutely must be part of the process to achieve sustainable and lasting results. Women are key to national and global security. When women are meaningfully involved in peace processes, it is more likely that peace lasts.

Empowered women create communities that are more just, prosperous, and safe. We know that having women involved at every level of decision-making is strategic—and yet, when it comes to nuclear weapons, women are rarely included at the table where political and security decisions are made. In a cruel twist, we regularly disincentivize women from actively participating in the careers, conversations, and halls of power where this work happens.

Credit: Women’s Action for New Directions

That’s where our project comes in. Women’s Action for New Directions (WAND) recently launched a campaign specifically designed to educate young women about how they can advocate for international diplomacy over militarism.

It’s more important than ever to make sure the public – and women specifically – know how they can get involved to keep our democracy and safety intact. The Disarm the Patriarchy campaign is designed to engage young women in efforts to reduce the role of nuclear weapons in U.S. foreign policy as activists, policy-makers, diplomats, legislators, and scientists.

It has never been more important to educate ourselves and demand change. We are building a new generation of peace and disarmament activists and amplifying diverse women’s voices in the disarmament sphere.

Our Disarm the Patriarchy Handbook gives women the tools they need to be advocates for policy change and hold their elected officials accountable for creating a safer world for all of us.

Nancy Parrish is the Executive Director of Women’s Action for New Directions (WAND), which educates and empowers women to advocate for security and peace with justice. We believe that women are central to shifting the militarized, patriarchal culture that pervades our society and leads to endless war and violence. We know that when women are engaged in the political process and given the right tools, they can be true agents of change.

‘She’ by Kiirstin Marilyn: an Anthem for all Women

Since the release of her EP Ghosts with Spectra Music Group, Kiirstin Marilyn has embarked on a new independent musical journey with her latest single, She.

She, co-written and co-produced by Justin Ardolino, with additional instrumentation by Benny Reiner, expresses Kiirsten’s vulnerability as an artist as well as a citizen of the world.

While Ghosts began to expose Kiirstin’s true social and political beliefs, She considers not only the tenor of our current times, but also the history of nations as well as the personal history of generations of women.

She began as an homage to Kiirstin’s grandmother, Linda Liholm, who fled Soviet oppression and the occupation of Estonia in 1944, after Germany lost World War II. Boarding trains and boats that were beyond capacity, Linda, with her 4-month-old child, Ulo Kuhi, narrowly escaped a future in a Siberian concentration camp or death.

Through the process of writing this song, Kiirstin discovered a profound empathy for her grandmother and a deep connection to her that she had never felt before:

“I always knew my grandmother came here as a refugee of World War II, but her story was always more of an abstract idea without any real understanding of the history behind it.”

“My grandmother and I did not speak the same language. I was a very American kid, and growing up I just couldn’t connect with my immigrant grandmother. I wished she was ‘normal.’ I wished she spoke English. I wished she was everything other than who she was, and only as I’ve gotten older and educated myself beyond the American education system, have I realized how short-sighted that mentality was.”

“My grandmother endured so much hardship and heartache to allow for me to have what has been a fairly easy life here in the United States. I’ve never known war. I’ve never known hunger. I’ve never known true fear.”

As the song began to really take form, Kiirstin realized that She had morphed from a song just about Linda to a song for all women empowered by the generations before them who fought for equal rights. In our current political climate, just after electing a misogynistic ‘leader’ to the highest office in the land, Kiirstin felt she needed to raise her voice for women and use her music to encourage others to demand their voices also be heard.

The official video for She, shot and edited by V4V Productions, features images from the 2017 Women’s March in Washington D.C., which Kiirstin attended with her mother, Valerie Kuhi, along with a million other like-minded women. While being a song specifically inspired by and about Kiirstin’s grandmother, She aspires to be an anthem for all women who continue to fight for liberation and equality.

U.S. Opposes Global Breastfeeding Resolution

If it seems like the world is crying over spilled milk right now, I promise it’s much more than that. In May this year, a global breastfeeding resolution was passed at the World Health Assembly in Geneva, but not without a fight.

What Happened?

As recently reported by the New York Times, the proposed World Health Organization (WHO) resolution aimed to limit the marketing of breastmilk alternatives, and to “protect, promote and support breastfeeding”. An American delegation attempted to block the resolution, and made threats of trade measures and cuts to military aid to countries planning to introduce the measure. This, naturally, made other nations hesitant to support the resolution.

Ultimately, Russia proposed the final resolution, though U.S. delegates successfully had language removed stating the WHO would support nations discouraging misleading promotion by formula companies.

Why It Matters

The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends breastfeeding as the optimal source of nutrition through a baby’s first year of life. Breastfeeding provides benefits for both baby and mother. In fact, breastmilk could lead to lowered risk of asthma, type 2 diabetes, and obesity in babies and lowered risk of breast and ovarian cancers in moms.

A joint investigation by the Guardian and Save the Children in poorer regions of the Philippines found four large formula companies (Nestlé, Abbott, Mead Johnson and Wyeth) to be enticing health workers to promote formula in addition to distributing pamphlets disguised as medical advice to mothers. Although this is an explicit violation of the WHO’s international code, formula promotion persists in poorer countries where mothers are less informed about breastfeeding benefits.

Soon after transitioning in 2017, the new American administration re-enacted the global gag rule, prohibiting international non-profits receiving U.S. government funding from sharing abortion service information. Now the U.S. is supporting pro-formula companies over policies promoting global childhood nutrition.

This is not just another example of prioritizing private profit over public health, but rather, yet another infringement upon women’s rights.

While there are, of course, circumstances where choosing formula over breastmilk may be the best option for mother and child, every mother deserves to make her own informed decision, and country delegations should support that globally.

Where are the Adolescent Girls?

Amid the recent outcry over the separation of children and their families at the US border, the Trump administration has released photo after photo of detained adolescent boys. At first, however, there were no images released of adolescent girls.

After reporters, elected officials and the public began asking #wherearethegirls, the administration released a few carefully cropped images of detained girls. Wishing to avoid further outcry, they selected photos of girls who appear healthy and well. First Lady Melania Trump might even describe them as “very happy”, as she described the detained children she visited last week.    

Despite the pretty pictures and First Lady’s eyewitness account, I do not believe that all, or even most, of the detained adolescent girls are healthy and well. I’ve worked in enough humanitarian emergencies to know that adolescent girls – especially those who are separated from their families – are at risk of sexual abuse, trafficking and other forms of gender-based violence. Although we would like to pretend otherwise, the humanitarian crisis on the US-Mexico border is no different. All of the same risks are thrown into the cauldron, and adolescent girls feel the heat more acutely than anyone else.   

As in every humanitarian emergency, in this border crisis girls between the ages of 10 and 17 seemed to have vanished under our nation’s radar. The US Government lost track of nearly 1,500 immigrant children last year, so it is not a huge jump to worry that the few pictures and scant information on the girls that have been released might be all of the information that exists.

The Department of Health and Human Services revealed that some girls have been sent to shelters with boys in Homestead, Florida and Bristow, Virginia. Other reports indicate that some are being sent to foster care in New York City. Those places seem random to me, but perhaps they are selected precisely because they are random. They are a long, long way from the border and a long, long way from where their parents are detained – if these girls even are in Florida, Virginia and New York.  

At the risk of being accused of focusing on the extreme, I worry about trafficking. Each year, over 300,000 children are trafficked in the US. Although these children come from different backgrounds and include boys, I’ve never seen a refugee crisis in which girl children weren’t trafficked.

In the US, the networks and demand to enable trafficking already exist, and here we have a population of girls taken from their parents and placed in a system that criminalizes their existence. The Trump administration has also created a narrative that these asylum seekers are subhuman, which heightens their risk of abuse and exploitation.  

We call out the unjust and inhumane treatment of babies and toddlers, using what we know about early childhood development to understand the trauma being inflicted upon these young children. But we stop short of using what we know about gender-based violence to understand what’s going on with the absent girls. We ask the questions, but stop short of stating the obvious: many of these girls are being assaulted, abused and exploited. We recently learned that a facility in Houston is accused of medicating children, and yet there is no outcry about what that means for girls. Men, drugs and power have never resulted in anything positive for women and girls.

This administration has consistently undermined and dehumanized women and girls, and women and girls of color and migrant women and girls have taken the worst of it. Although I often feel helpless amidst the tides of violations carried out by this administration, I know helplessness gives space for continued human rights abuses.

Ultimately, it is our right to be seen and heard regardless of our race, nationality, ethnicity, gender, socio-economic status or ability, and this applies to girls as well as to those who care about what’s happening to them. ‘We the people’ includes all of us, and I believe that ‘we the people’ includes those girls who are out there, somewhere, depending on other people’s voices until they are in a space to raise their own.

As much as we are able, we should support organizations working specifically with women and girls, like the Women’s Refugee Committee and the Tahirih Justice Center.

Continue to follow Girls’ Globe for more coverage on this and other issues pertaining to the rights of women and girls globally.