UN International Women's Day in Washington DC

Washington, DC, USA - The Washington Times Beech conference room was the venue for over 70 guests from the diplomatic corps and the private sector for the commemoration of International Women’s Day on March 27 invited by UPF-DC International Office and co-sponsors The Leadership Council for Human Rights and The Washington Times Foundation.

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Over tea and scones, guests were greeted by the Director of UPF's Office of Embassy Relations, Mrs. Tomiko Duggan. The UPF video presentation showed some of the work and projects UPF is conducting worldwide. Mrs. Susan Fefferman, emcee for the program, first introduced Ms. Jan DuPlain, president of DuPlain Enterprises, who has spent her life helping people get things done. As a public relations specialist she has worked with many notable people and organizations. She helped launch Washington, DC Tourism’s “Passport DC” where over 40 embassies open their doors on a Saturday to welcome interested guests. She also serves as a spokeswoman with actress Meryl Streep for the National Women’s History Museum, in Alexandria, Virginia.

Mrs. DuPlain, an Ambassador for Peace, began by praising Mrs. Duggan’s efforts to bring people together in numerous programs beyond race, religion, and other barriers. Ms. DuPlain learned networking at the Ziegler-Ross literary agency in Hollywood and found she was a natural at it. She has built on those skills throughout her life. She looks to great people as her inspiration: Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., is one whom she admires. He said, “Everybody can be great because anybody can serve.... You only need a heart full of grace. A soul generated by love." She also likes Mahatma Gandhi's call to, “Be the change that you want to see in this world.” She stated that women are always working on trying to better themselves. Ms. DuPlain herself suffered due to a learning difficulty: an inability to concentrate. She found great support in the Lab School, which taught her how to get around a block to learning, and these are skills she continues to use throughout her life.

She praised UPF for its efforts to bring together all religious groups. “We are all searching for something greater than ourselves,” she said, and then added that success comes through persistence and determination. To get to the top of one’s goals, persistence and determination are essential. She also said that a network of supportive friends – your “sisters” – are a great help. She is very proud of the first national museum dedicated to women’s history in the world. Another similar museum will be built in South Africa in the future.

The second speaker was Ambassador of the United Republic of Tanzania to the United States, H.E. Mwanaidi Sinare Maajar, who prior to being called to her current position served as High Commissioner from her country to the United Kingdom. Her professional career began as a lawyer in Tanzania, where she worked in several companies as a partner specializing in mining, natural resources, and corporate law. But her favorite work was as a member in the Tanzania Women Lawyers Association, which is an NGO formed to harness the efforts of women lawyers to help women and children access justice and to advocate for women’s rights. From this organization she was instrumental in helping her nation to improve the condition of women’s rights, and this will benefit the entire nation.

During the time of former president Benjamin William Mkapa, her organization approached him asking his help to change the law of Tanzania to provide for greater inclusion and protection of women. Within several months new laws were passed to protect women’s rights and encourage their full participation in the government. The Constitution now prohibits discrimination on the basis of gender, and laws supporting women’s economic and social well-being exist. Child marriages are no longer allowed, and any man who marries an underage girl is prosecuted for statutory rape. Sexual harassment at the workplace is also prosecuted fully. There is now a law that guarantees joint ownership of property so that the husband cannot sell their property without his wife’s signature. Also, common-law relationships are now deemed “marriage,” and thus the property cannot be sold without the common law wife’s signature.

The ambassador said that “women need to be at the table not in the backyard or in the kitchen.” Nothing less than the full participation of women in the matters that affect them is their goal: in areas of health, education of the girl child, AIDS, poverty, malaria, ownership, etc. In the last 50 years Tanzania has made great strides so that today more than 35 percent of elected officials are women. The creation of “special seats” that only women can fill has allowed a number of women to become participants, and while some might criticize the quality of these women as being low, in fact a number of women who came from these “special seats” have proved themselves very capable and have moved on to even greater positions of leadership in the nation. A national strategy for gender policy was established in 2000 and a Gender Ministry exists. They hope to move from the current 30 percent requirement to a mandatory 50 percent representation of women in government.

The third speaker for the afternoon was Kathryn Cameron Porter, founder and president of the Leadership Council for Human Rights, established in 2001. Trained as an applied anthropologist with an extensive background in political, cultural, and social activism, Ms. Porter has served time and again as the voice of the voiceless in an effort to bring about positive change in the world. Her efforts focus on women – whom she considers a minority in much of the world – in peacebuilding, sustainable development, and creative strategies to bring about positive change. She has working contacts in the Middle East and North Africa, Central and South America, Eastern Europe, Asia and South Asia. She is an expert on the Kurds in Iraq, Turkey, Iran, and Syria. She was also a catalyst for the formation of the U.S. Congressional Human Rights Caucus with Congressman John Porter in 1981 after a trip to the then Soviet Union.

She said that she wished to speak “as if from her kitchen table.” She said she honors all the men who mentor women and helped them grow, but those who stand in the way of women growing need to be educated. “Women need not only a place at the table but a place where our voice can be heard,” she said. She believes that through raising their children women created language. “Women are key to progress, peace, and security,” she added. Men care about continuity, women care about the needs of their children and will do what is needed for them. She believes in the image of “feet in the mud, head in the sky,” doing the work not just talking about it. She likes what former US Ambassador to the UN Madeleine Albright said, “Men who aren’t helping women have a special place in Hell!” She wishes to tell the stories of the women who are slugging it out daily for their children. She also loves Margaret Mead, who said, “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.” She continues to work to give a voice to ethnic and religious minorities in the world.

The final speaker was Ambassador Wendy Chamberlin, who has been the president of the Middle East Institute since 2007. Previously, she served as Deputy High Commissioner for Refugees and is a 29-year veteran of the U.S. Foreign Service. She was ambassador to Pakistan from 2001-02 and secured that country’s cooperation in the U.S.-led campaign against al-Qaeda in Afghanistan in the wake of the terrorist attacks against the U.S. on September 11. She has served as director of global affairs and counter-terrorism at the National Security Council, at USAID, and many other important positions. Her opinion pieces are published in most major print media, and she is often asked to comment on Pakistan and the Middle East in many broadcast new interviews, including Al-Jazeera.

She began by saying she was moved by the three previous speakers. She said her greatest accomplishment is her two daughters, one who is carrying on her work in the Middle East by working with an NGO in Syria. Mentioning that sometimes Hollywood has some good in-depth analyses of the world situation, she talked about a recent Lebanese movie she watched called, “Where Do We Go from Here?”  It is the story of a group of village women in Lebanon, both Christian and Muslim, who came together to keep their men folk in the dark about the resumption of fighting outside their village. They first destroyed the radios, but that didn’t last long. Next they hired a foreign dancing girl, and then baked hashish-filled pastries so they could steal and bury all the weapons while their men dozed. When the men woke up, all the women had converted to each other’s religion.  Ambassador Chamberlain said that they used the tools that they had. Then she asked, “What if more women were in leadership roles?” She quoted U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who said that, “there is enough anecdotal evidence showing that women involved in peacekeeping is the right thing to do.” Women deserve to participate in the decisions that shape their own lives. It will be a durable peace with women involved.

The Arab Spring saw many women actively participating in the change for a better future. Three women were awarded the Nobel Peace Prize this year from their efforts in Liberia and Yemen. They will be the first to say they did not work alone. “But where do we go from here?” She asked how to ensure that women play a real leadership role. How can we prevent reversals? Women will open doors and encourage others to follow them. She pointed out the power of conservative traditions. They do not change quickly. Quoting Secretary of State Clinton again, she said “It takes years, even generations of persistent efforts to change people’s minds…about women’s worth and women’s rights.”

When she worked in the Kakuma refugee camp [in Kenya] with the Southern Sudanese, she encouraged the educated ones to go back home to prepare for statehood. A 16-year-old girl asked, “But what about me? I can finish high school here, but not in Southern Sudan. Who will protect me there? They’ll just marry me off to some old man for a couple of cows.” It was an eye-opener for her.

Ambassador Chamberlain said that “Enlightened men and women more and more are turning to the law to protect and help women ... just as they did in Tanzania.” The law is a powerful tool in women’s rights. It is not always a popular idea. The young Moroccan king, Mohammed VI, supported the new idea of family laws to protect women. Demonstrations broke out, but now it is popular. Egypt had many more women participating before. Previously Suzanne Mubarak supported the personal status code, but only 2 percent of those involved in the creation of the new constitution are women. The conservative majority is not making room for women to participate. “The efforts to protect women’s rights is never ending,” she added.

“Another powerful tool to develop women’s rights is sports,” she added. Sports for girls and women develop much needed self-esteem. Nike created modest sports clothes for Muslim girls in the Iraqi refugee camp to wear while playing sports. Girls who sat in their dark tents feeling depressed about their situation became inspired and happy by participating in sports. Title IX of the U.S. Educational Amendments in 1972 ("No person in the U.S. shall, on the basis of sex be excluded from participation in, or denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any educational program or activity receiving federal aid") was established so that girls could play sports in the U.S., and it has contributed to girls’ development. Ambassador Chamberlain concluded by voicing her opinion that in the U.S. reproductive rights are part of the human rights of women.

Following the speakers, a musical offering of “My Dream,” a translated Japanese song, was presented by Mrs. Nanae Goto and Mr. Otmar Weinmann.

A slide show of inspirational words read by guests at the event included quotes from Mrs. Michelle Obama, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodman Clinton, Helen Keller, Mother Teresa, and others, ending with words by UPF co-founder Dr. Hak Ja Han Moon about the need for the “feminine power of the logic of love” to solve the world’s problems.

Ambassador of Peace appointments were made to the speakers: H.E. Ambassador Maajar, Ambassador Wendy Chamberlin, and Kathryn Cameron Porter; Jan DuPlain has been an Ambassador for Peace for a number of years.

Reported by Sudan Fefferman, Ambassador for Peace

For a collection of words of wisdom and empowerment by women, click here.

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