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.  

We Need Global Solidarity for Refugees

As a European and a Swede (and an economist), I am struck by how often we discuss refugees in terms of the “cost” of accepting asylum seekers.

These conversations miss out on the many economic benefits of migration. Young refugees are often so inclined to start building their new lives that they integrate quite quickly into a new country with much to offer. We also miss the most important component of the conversation – the refugees themselves.

Wars, violence and persecution lead to people fleeing from their homes. A new report released on June 19, 2019 from UNHCR shows that 70.8 million people are now forcibly displaced worldwide – more than the UN Refugee Agency has ever recorded. Levels have doubled in the past 20 years and increased by 2.3 million people in the past year alone.

This year’s UNHCR Global Trends report states that these figures are conservative since the Venezuelan crisis is only partly reflected. According to data from neighboring nations, about 4 million Venezuelans have fled the country, which makes it one of the world’s largest displacement crises in recent history.

What do these numbers actually mean? 

The majority of individuals who are forcibly displaced are Internally Displaced People (IDPs) – people who are displaced to other areas within their own country. There are 41.3 million IDPs worldwide. Refugees – people forced to flee their country because of conflict, war or persecution – accounted for 25.9 million people worldwide in 2018 (half a million more than in 2017). Asylum seekers are people outside their country of origin who receive international protection but are awaiting the outcome of their claim to refugee status. They account for 3.5 million people globally.

Now, here are some important facts: 

  • About 80% of refugees live in countries neighboring their countries of origin
  • The world’s poorest countries host a third of all refugees worldwide
  • High income countries (like most countries in Europe) host only 2.7 refugees per 1,000 of population on average
  • In 2018, every second refugee was a child

Research shows that women and children are the most vulnerable in times of crisis. Sexual violence and rape is used as a weapon of war to further inhibit civilian populations to fight for peace and their fundamental human rights. One very recent case of this is Sudan today. 

Europe has seen a surge of refugees since 2014. Many have risked their lives in horribly overcrowded rubber dinghies to cross the Mediterranean Sea for safety – sometime without functioning life vests. UNHCR estimates that over 17,800 people have died at sea between 2014 and 2018. In this year alone, the UN Refugee Agency estimates that 559 people have died and are missing.

The largest group of people seeking refuge in Europe after crossing the Mediterranean are from Afghanistan.

The war-torn nation was recently reported as the most dangerous country in the world, and 2018 was the most deadly year ever recorded for civilians in Afghanistan.

So what is Europe doing to support asylum seekers from Afghanistan and those crossing the Mediterranean Sea? From what I understand and see in my daily life in Sweden – not enough.

This week, the Swedish parliament voted to extend a “temporary” stringent law which has been highly criticized by humanitarian aid organizations and UN Agencies. Sweden, Norway, Germany, the Netherlands, Austria and other countries in Europe continue to deport individuals back to Afghanistan – many of whom arrived in Europe as unaccompanied minors several years ago.

Sea rescues have been criminalized as NGO rescue ships are no longer permitted to work out of Italy. Pia Klemp, a German boat captain, faces 20 years in prison and horrendous fines for saving people from drowning in the Mediterranean.

Sweden is using old prisons to forcibly detain high-school attending, Swedish speaking young asylum-seekers from Afghanistan who await deportations. The wait may last several months and the migration and judicial system for asylum seekers is highly criticized. Racism is becoming more visible.

This week, a friend of mine who is an Afghani asylum seeker in Sweden was harassed by police for no reason as he got off a train. We later found out from migration officials that they have been ordered to intimidate asylum seekers so that they will be more inclined to return voluntarily.

Despite being an eternal optimist, I have a hard time seeing anything positive in this stark situation. The message that Europe is sending is that some lives are valued less than others – that some lives are just not important enough to be saved.

“While language around refugees and migrants is often divisive, we are also witnessing an outpouring of generosity and solidarity, especially by communities who are themselves hosting large numbers of refugees. We are also seeing unprecedented engagement by new actors including development actors, private businesses, and individuals, which not only reflects but also delivers the spirit of the Global Compact on Refugees,” said UN High Commissioner for Refugee Filippo Grandi.

“We must build on these positive examples and redouble our solidarity with the many thousands of innocent people who are forced to flee their homes each day.”

We are facing a European crisis that will cost us our solidarity, our humanity and our safeguarding of human rights. The price is too high. If we lose these, we won’t have anything of value left.

I am thankful to be a part of the Swedish Facebook group Vi står inte ut! (We can’t stand it!) which has become a network of 10,000 individuals working to support asylum seekers in various ways. It is through networks like this one that I witness solidarity and fire to fight for our sisters and brothers from other countries.

It is difficult to continue to read and share the stories of refugees, but we must speak the unspeakable, break the silence and fight for a change in our world today.

Sweden Deports Victims of Child Marriage and Torture to Afghanistan

[Sweden] please just kill me. I would rather die than be sent back to Afghanistan.

Those are the roughly translated words of an 18-year-old refugee in Sweden who fled child marriage, violence and abuse. After 2 years of uncertainty in Sweden, she has just received a deportation order. She is to be sent back to the hell she fled from in Afghanistan. This young woman has learnt Swedish and wants no more than to give back to her new society. She wants peace, freedom and safety.

Sweden has a long reputation for taking strides in humanity, gender equality and human rights. In 2014, Swedish Prime Minister Fredrik Reinfeldt called upon Swedes to open their hearts to the surge of refugees arriving in Europe. Yet, in the past years Sweden has reversed its stance, closing its borders and limiting the options for asylum seekers to stay in the country. Nils Muiznieks, Commissioner for Human Rights of the Council of Europe, is concerned about these developments. Read his 2018 report on Sweden.

Sweden is sending civilian asylum seekers back to war torn Afghanistan, even as insecurity has increased in recent years.

A new UN report documents 2018 as the year with the highest recorded number of civilians killed in the Afghan conflict. The report also shows the increased toll of the conflict on children.

To make matters worse, Sweden is also sending back refugees who face grave risks should they return to Afghanistan. This includes girls who have fled child marriage, young LGBTQ individuals, and those who have converted from Islam.

Sweden can no longer take a prize as a leader for human rights, if this torture continues within our borders. Many refugees who receive deportation decisions arrived in Sweden as minors and have lived in the country for years. Many have learned to speak the language, and built networks through schools, churches, sports clubs and human rights organizations. However, these asylum seekers are not believed or deemed trustworthy as they tell their stories to Swedish authorities.

Many suffer from ill mental health due to the uncertainty of their lives and the many risks they face.

Karolinska Institutet released a report in February 2018 showing the alarming number of suicides among refugees in Sweden. The suicide rate among unaccompanied refugees up to the age of 21 was 51.2 per 100,000 in 2017, compared to 5.2 per 100,000 among the same age group of the general population in 2016. If these frightening statistics are not evidence of stories of war, torture and abuse, I don’t know what is.

Desperate to avoid deportation, some turn to the media to tell their stories. This increases the risk of being found by their perpetrators and family members. The ones who believe they deserve to be killed in the name of honor for leaving their marriages or religion.

Sweden cannot take a prize as one of the best countries for women, either. That statement only refers to women of privilege and women who already live in safety. If Sweden deports girls (and boys) who have been victims of child marriage in Afghanistan, we are not acknowledging the human rights violation that affects 35% of girls. We are ignoring the fact that these refugees lack the support networks they need to avoid abuse and violence upon returning.

In the Joint Way Forward agreement between the EU and the Islamic State of Afghanistan it is agreed that: “Unaccompanied minors are not to be returned without successful tracing of family members or without adequate reception and care-taking arrangements having been put in place in Afghanistan.”

As child marriage is an institution built by families, the family is not a safe space to be returned to.

This also applies to those who have come out as LGBTQ or who now identify as Christian. Death threats among these groups of refugees are commonplace and returning is not an option. What we need to do is believe them when they share their stories and use our privilege to advocate for them.

Sweden needs to act now to avoid sending people to face violence or even death in the name of honor.

Learn even more:

The Venezuelan Babies Being Born Stateless in Colombia

In 2016 alone, Venezuela’s infant mortality rose by 30% and maternal mortality by 65%. Back then, the situation in Venezuela wasn’t as dire as it is now. Because of the current economic crisis, women in Venezuela don’t have access to the healthcare or supplies they need to give birth safely and raise their babies.

Hospitals are running low on doctors and medicine. For example, the Jose Manuel de los Rios Children’s Hospital in Caracas lost 20% of its medical staff in just two years as 68 of its doctors fled the country between 2016 and 2018. Many women don’t have access to diapers, milk and formula. In some cases women are also too malnourished to breastfeed their babies.

Knowing this, it’s not surprising that many pregnant women are leaving the country to give birth. So far, the UN Refugee Agency estimates that 2.4 million Venezuelans have left their country for other Latin American nations. Their most common destinations are Colombia, Peru, Ecuador, Argentina, Chile and Brazil, in that order. While the latter countries grant citizenship to everyone born in their territories; the situation in Colombia is different.

In Cúcuta, Colombia, a city located near the border between Colombia and Venezuela, medical authorities indicate that there are now more Venezuelan women giving birth than Colombian women. Out of the 554 babies born in medical institutions in Cúcuta in September 2018, 353 (64%) have Venezuelan mothers.

Colombian legislation states that children, even when born in Colombia, cannot have Colombian nationality if their parents aren’t Colombian or don’t have a legal migrant status in the country. This applies to the babies being born of Venezuelan women who don’t have official refugee status yet.

Venezuelan citizens are currently struggling to acquire passports, which leads to impediments and difficulties to process a visa or asylum request. The lack of documentation also presents an obstacle for these mothers to register their babies as Venezuelan citizens in the Venezuelan consulates in Colombia because they can’t prove their own nationality.

These babies are stuck being stateless until their parents can register them in a Venezuelan consulate.

Not having a national identity and legal attachment to a country means having no government protection, and no access to certain benefits and rights.

The Colombian government is looking for solutions to this problem, but in the meantime there is a risk of having an ‘invisible generation’ of Venezuelans who do not legally exist in any country.

This is one of the many consequences of the Venezuelan refugee crisis that countries in Latin America need to address to reduce the vulnerability of Venezuelans.

Mothers are leaving their country to ensure their babies are born somewhere they can live safely, but without a nationality they are stuck in migration limbo.

#13 – Midwives Providing Safe Birth in Humanitarian Settings

 

“(Midwives) give support to women whether they are in labour or not, they are social solidarity players in the local communities, not only the providers of health services for women & newborns.” – Mohamed Afifi, UNFPA

Welcome back to The Mom Pod! In this episode Julia Wiklander connects us with midwives and advocates about maternal and newborn health in humanitarian settings, at the 31st ICM Triennial Congress in Toronto, Canada. The midwives that we meet work in Mexico, Somalia and Afghanistan and share experiences from their work and talk about the challenges they face to deliver care.

With a world in constant political change and with the largest number of displaced people in history, ensuring that every mother and every child has access to a midwife during pregnancy and birth, is a difficult promise to keep. The world needs more midwives.

“They’re not refugees, they are not citizens – they are migrants. We need to start to name this as a public health issue.” – Cristina Alonso, Midwife working in Mexico

Our conversation is also broadened by UNFPA Reproductive Health Specialist for the Arab States, Mohammed Afifi, who tells us that in the region, midwives is the cadre of health professionals that are committing to delivering care, despite conflicts that push away many of their colleagues.

Safe Birth Even Here is a Campaign run by UNFPA to raise awareness of the high rate of maternal deaths in emergency situations and increase support for services to protect the rights of the women and girls living in humanitarian and fragile settings. Johnson & Johnson is one of the partners supporting the campaign, and has committed to supporting health professionals at the frontlines of care. We speak to Joy Marini at Johnson & Johnson about why the company is investing in the health of women & children in humanitarian settings and what they are doing to ensure that midwives receive support in their important work. 

In this episode, Young Midwife Leader, Massoma Jafari from Afghanistan, interviews Jane Philpott, the Canadian Minister of Health and asks her what action Canada is taking to support midwives in Afghanistan. Philpott gives the young midwife advice and promises new connections. A meeting that hopefully sparks further engagement by the Canadian government to invest in midwives. 

Listen to the full episode here.

During the ICM Congress, Johnson & Johnson launched their new initative – the GenH Challenge. This exciting opportunity hopes to encourage midwives to see themselves as innovators with the power to help to create the healthiest generation in human history – “GenH”. The GenH Challenge is looking to discover brand new ideas from the front lines of care that can change the trajectory of health. If this sounds daunting, don’t worry! The competition welcomes ideas in their earliest stages, and it welcomes small ideas that have the potential to create great impact. You can apply any time until 4 October 2017. Full guidelines are available at www.genhchallenge.com.

See all of the Girls’ Globe LIVE coverage from the 31st ICM Triennial Congress in Toronto, Canada here

Talking Midwives & Human Rights with Kate Gilmore

“We are all born equal in dignity and in rights and in this there is no north or south, no right or left.”

This was the message Kate Gilmore, Deputy High Commissioner for Human Rights for the United Nations, shared with the midwives, parents, supporters & advocates gathered at the ICM Congress in Toronto.

Addressing the need to support women’s and girls’ rights to make a positive difference in our world, she spoke passionately about the need for more humanity, especially in the face of great division and distrust. Today, there are more people on the move within and across national boundaries than ever before, and we see more inequity and injustice than ever before too.

We must, Gilmore insisted, accompany those who bear inequality’s harshest burdens. We must accompany all those the world seeks to deny, exclude or deprive of their fundamental human rights. Midwives are essential creators of the solidarity and unity the world needs so desperately to see. I had a chance to talk with Kate Gilmore to hear more about the role of midwifery in fostering greater humanity and compassion.

We are all born with the same set of human rights, and every single one of us bears a responsibility to defend the rights of others along with our own. This might sound like a colossal task, but there are simple actions all of us can take in our everyday lives.

Girls’ Globe is at the 31st ICM Triennial Congress in Toronto, Canada. See all of the Girls’ Globe LIVE coverage here