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International Women's Day 2014 Observed in Washington DC

Washington DC, USA - The UN International Women’s Day was commemorated at the distinguished and historic location, the Rayburn House Office Building in Washington, DC on March 27, 2014. The program was co-sponsored by the Universal Peace Federation and the Women’s Global Initiative. Over 70 respected women leaders from the diplomatic and NGO communities attended the program.

The esteemed speakers included Madam Penehupifo Pohamba, the first lady of the Republic of Namibia, and Congresswoman Karen Bass from California, who serves on the House Committee on Foreign Affairs.

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The program began with remarks by Mrs. Tomiko Duggan, Director of Public Affairs of UPF International – DC Office, who stated that the Universal Peace Federation believes women make unique and necessary contributions to society and women must be equal to men in order to build healthy and happier lives and a stable society, nation and world. Ms. Jan Du Plain, an Ambassador for Peace, was the emcee for the program.

Congresswoman Karen Bass
The 37th Congressional District of California and a member of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs

She said she was happy to see women who were committed to work for change and for the status of women. She was delighted to see the first lady of Namibia as the one of the keynote speakers. Congresswoman Bass said that the prime minister of Namibia was visiting Capitol Hill a couple weeks ago and she was privileged to host him on Capitol Hill. Congresswoman Bass, who serves on the House Committee on Foreign Affairs’ Subcommittee of Africa, believes the future development of Africa rests on the contribution that women can make to the system.

She congratulated UPF for focusing in the areas of interreligious dialogue, marriage and family, and peace and security. Child brides and forced early marriage are important issues that need to be addressed more vigorously. The gender breakdown for members of the U.S. Congress is 50/50, but only 17% of Representatives in the House are women. The Congresswoman says the U.S. has a long way to go.

Madam Penehupifo Pohamba
First Lady of Namibia

Madam Pohamba spoke about the two major women’s conferences, Beijing and the Millennium Summit, as “milestones we can look back with pride, at the achievements and progress that have been made in the area of women’s rights, women’s empowerment and gender equality.” However, she said, “I am equally disappointed and gravely concerned that progress has been slow, uneven and in some cases women and girls are facing new emerging challenges.”

“Governments,” she said, “should review their laws or do away with stringent conditions in order to grant women opportunities to acquire and own land and to gain access to financial resources.” She expressed her appreciation to President Hifikepunye Pohamba and the Government of the Republic of Namibia for instituting and observing a National Day of Prayer on March 6 2014, “to ask for God’s merciful intervention to build a good nation.” She said, “We urgently need wisdom from the Almighty and we must continue asking for that.”

She concluded that we should also acknowledge that, “winning the gender equality battle requires active involvement of men and boys. Men and boys should be educated and encouraged to reconsider traditional images of manhood and reshape their relationship with women and girls as equal to them.”

The first lady said, “The world leaders should renew their commitments and work harder for gender equality to happen. Women and girls in the world are helplessly looking up to us.”

Mrs. Sultana Hakimi
President, Muslim Women’s Association and Spouse of the Ambassador of Afghanistan

Mrs. Hakimi has long been an activist for female empowerment through education and economic equality in Afghanistan. Born and raised in Kabul, Afghanistan, she obtained her master’s degree in electronic engineering at the Kabul Polytechnic Institute. When the political situation in Kabul deteriorated in 1993, Mrs. Hakimi and her husband moved to Orange County, California.

Mrs. Hakimi said, “It is difficult to comprehend the current status of Afghan women without fully understanding the political roller coaster that Afghanistan has experienced in the past several decades and hopes and challenges that remain in her country to move forward.”

The rights of women were eroded when the Taliban came into power in 1996. With such extremist religious forces taking the dominant position in society, women suffered a major setback. But it hasn’t always been this way, and Mrs. Hakimi gave a briefing on recent history.

From 1919 to 1929, King Amanullah stressed the importance for women’s education. His wife, Queen Soraya, worked tirelessly to promote women’s rights and to modernize Afghan society.

In 1964, the constitution gave women the right to vote and enabled women to participate in politics. During the time of the Soviet invasion the nation was unstable; however, women remained involved in society.

From 1996 to 2001, during the Taliban’s rule, women were forbidden to work and were not allowed to go out without a male escort or to seek medical help from a male doctor. Women who were doctors and teachers were forced to leave their work and sit at home. Girls were not allowed to receive an education. Women were essentially invisible in public life, and imprisoned in their homes. If she disobeyed these discriminatory laws, punishments were harsh.

Since 2001, post Taliban, Afghanistan and Afghan women have made remarkable progress. Women now occupy 28% of seats in the National Assembly and 25% of the seats in the Provincial Council. Afghanistan has one of the highest rates of female participation in Parliament in the region.

In 2001, only 800,000 children were going to school, and none were girls. Today, closer to 10 million children are in school and 40% are girls. Additionally, only 3,400 schools existed in Afghanistan, and now there are over 16,000 schools. The number of teachers has increased from 20,000, with no female teachers, to 200,000 —60,000 are females. Women made up 40% of the participation in the last presidential election. However, women continue to face challenges in other areas affecting their status, such as poverty, lack of strong judicial system for women’s rights, economic opportunities, child marriages, health care and most importantly, personal safety.

Mrs. Hakimi concluded, “I remain hopeful for the future because I see the growing and unwavering influence of women in the country, despite the obstacles they are still facing. The women of Afghanistan, with continued support from the international community, will rise against extremism and build upon these gains.”

Judge Lisa Buschmann
Administrative Law Judge at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency

I would like to share my viewpoint as a mother and as a judge. I believe that the talents needed to be a good mother help to resolve many of the problems encountered in courtrooms, corporate boardrooms and other professional working environments.

I want to share with you some of the methods that I have been practicing. As a woman judge, I am not a stranger to the issues of gender and inequality in the work place. When I started as an assistant attorney in a male-dominated environment, my hair was pulled by a colleague and a coworker was called “little girl,” in an effort to intimidate us. Inappropriate body language and attitude by some of the men made our work place very uncomfortable.

At that time only 20% of the U.S. high court seats were occupied by women. Today, we can say with pride that three out of nine currently serving on the U.S. Supreme Court are women.

In 1934, Florence Allen became the first female judge of the Federal Court of Appeals. In those days, women were severely criticized. We were stereotyped as too emotional, and therefore not capable of disputation in a courtroom. Judge Allen, however, served with outstanding intelligence and fairness and is regarded as one of the most distinguished jurists in the nation’s history. She also advocated for women’s rights and for international peace during World War II.

Women were largely considered outside the social and political networks which were then dominated by men. Women working in the legal fields suffered from lack of respect and dealt with gender bias and inequality. Many women faced the difficulty of balancing career ambitions with raising a family. Judge Allen was no exception. She chose to help the world over creating her own family.

Since the 1980s and 1990s, the number of women judges has increased substantially. In 1989, when I entered the legal workforce, all of the administrative judges except one were men. The appeal judges were all men. Today, three out of four appeal judges are women and all of the administrative judges are women.

This phenomenal result is due largely to the recognition of the inherent talents and qualities of women judges. Women judges tend to encourage mediation to resolve cases rather than creating adversarial conflicts in the courtroom. Many cases can be worked out through mediation rather than through the confrontational and stressful experience of going to court.

This less confrontational approach to resolving disputes, which has been successfully used in the legal system to sort out issues, really has its foundation in the family and with women’s innate skills. Women are the nurturers and caretakers for our families, our children and our loved ones.

Many women possess the following three qualities:

Compassion: In order to understand individual needs, we must have compassion. Through facial and body expressions, we understand what others need. We listen with calm feelings and with a compassionate heart; we can show kindness without bias.

Harmony: A family must live harmoniously despite individual differences among its members. Women have the ability to bring about agreement, or at least, peaceful co-existence. We look for common ground so everyone can maintain different views yet still find some point of agreement.

Flexibility: To juggle all a family’s differences, a mother must be flexible and find the perfect balance. Mothers have to be selfless, which is the opposite of selfish. We must make changes that will benefit everyone, maintain the rules, yet be open to new solutions and new perspectives.

These three qualities are nurtured in the traditional role of women. I believe these attributes allow woman to be more successful not only in the family but in the work place as well.

Rev. Marcia Dyson
President of Women’s Global Initiative

Rev. Dyson said, “We are one in heart and spirit with one goal of all: security, peace, education, economic development and justice. I long for the day, when a woman will not fear being raped. I long for the day that women are compensated equally for their labor as men, and are educated properly. We are here because the age of modernity has yet to settle the female question of worth and added value to the evolution of humanity.”

She continued, “Government cannot bring about empowering women alone. It takes commitment and desire of ordinary citizens to bring about a shift in attitudes to the education of girls and the role of women in family, business and political life. There are many ways of doing thing right or wrong, but only one way of doing things justly.

She said the Old Testament in the book of Micah teaches us, what the pure mission of mankind is and what God loves the most. “What does the LORD require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.” Let us open our hearts, feel the goodness, and then we will witness the fullness of our fellowship and help us avert from prejudice because of gender, religion, ethnicity and race.

She concluded with the wisdom of Ellen Frances Walker Harper, an African-American writer and activist who wrote in 1893:

Let the heart of the women of the world respond to the song of the herald angels of peace on earth and good will to all. Let us women throb as one heart unified by the grand and holy purpose of uplifting the human race. With this unison heart throbbing, humanity will breathe freer, and the world will brow brighter.

The program concluded with enthusiasm and well wishes. Guests networked, expressing their ideas and sharing about their activities after the program. Women assured each other of their commitment to the cause and to one another.

 

International Women's Day 2014 from Universal Peace Federation International

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