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Anne Sexton Renaissance woman

Abigail George

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When you are a manic-depressive, you are married to the unction of your fears.

Up and down your moods will go. Of course, in the end you will become addicted to something. Alcohol, over the counter medication, barbiturates, and food anything just to bring closure. Even my throat has a pattern. A pattern of the blue cut glass of the sky. It is not just emptiness filled with vowels and consonants. It smells of perfume. I want comfort but I also want anger. I want the progeny. I want to be the scholar of trivia. I want the white picket fence. I want that station wagon. I want those daughters who will be my heirs. I want that husband but I realise this. I am aware of that I cannot have those visions and be the drowning visitor in winter every year.

Love me or hate me. Like me or dislike me. I do not really care. For me to exist, I sometimes must sigh very loudly or exhale very deeply drawing attention to myself. I know other women will think that I must have everything that my heart desires but then again who is the real phony there. I am beautiful. There I said it. No turning back now. I married. I had those kids. I had that sunny road and then the heavens opened up and it began to rain. I take this pen. I write and write and write. This pen then becomes a sword and I strike at the page repeatedly. It has a look about it. The written work. It is dark and pleasing at the same time. It gives me pleasant thoughts at the same time I think about genocide and suicide in the same breath.

There is nothing dumb about pain. For me to exist pain has to exist. For the girl inside of me to be a late bloomer as flowers bloom in a garden, pain must also find a way out of this equation and bloom, a latecomer. We are visitors, angels with the eyes of shrouds, pain has the perspective of the next big thing, and that the show must go on. I am never leaving. Pain and I bloom side by side elegantly do you not know it. I tell pain. You are only a piece of furniture. I tell pain. You are only a flame. Pain and romanticism is inseparable. Pain and I are husband and wife. There are great poets. There are great paintings. I think to myself if there more great men than there are great women then I must throw myself back into the great lake.

‘Russia was the land that borders on God,’ Rilke said.

Sardines on toast please. No sons have I although I am still a lover of other mothers’ progeny. I delight in them. I have discovered I can do clever things with my hands. Artistic things. Instead of braiding hair, I can intuitively thread words. They are my fish. It is no longer winter here. I am no longer a guest in my own country. I praise your silence and the personal space. You left behind and I feel the tightness in my heart. I praise you I praise all of you but most of all I have been left behind in a tunnel into the black. There is insomnia even in a sermon and electric wavelengths in a lecture room. A female writer journaling away in her diary but where are the children and the husband. She has none. For now, she has none.

She is afraid of those words. That those words will make cell walls around her. That those words will become her prison. Winter with its shark teeth that threatens to overwhelm her every waking thought and moment. She thinks of grief and remembers her childhood and the fact that her mother never held her hand when she crossed the road or believed in her. When looking left then right what is she grieving for? What is she living for? What is she praying for? Midnight’s children. Children who live under the bridge. They smoke cigarettes as if their lives depended on it. In another poem. In another lifetime, another life there was a mistake. There was a little obsession. A predestined promise of procrastination that smelled like perfume.

Then too soon, you will realise that you should not have walked away in that moment even though you were forgiven child of God. Child of an extraordinary God stripped of all illusion and fear of expectation. And as Marie Antoinette was led to a guillotine are we not we all at some stage in our lives? Do we not have to live with our misgivings? And with being misrepresented, dancing around golden laughter in our mouths that we do not want to escape from. We want to search forever more for that most singular delusion swinging swiftly. I like my innocence and I like my imperfections. I like the fact that I am flawed and that I am confessing to it. Let silence speak for itself like a birthday.

Grief is only a warning. Denial too. I need to find out why the brightness dies and the flowers heads. Every one. Every man is a machine. Every woman is a cog and a wheel in that machine. I am toxic. I am too self-conscious. I come laden with self-portraits and customs. Gaze at me and you will only see an empty look in my eyes. Vacant. Vacant. The serious depths of which have a vacant beauty. Blame me for everything. It is okay. I can take it. All toxic people are damaged or writers. They have all suffered loss. Their family life is dysfunctional. If only I could get a handle on relationships. If only they did not have a handle on me. I am in a hurry today. A release of joy in my heart. The Pulitzer. The Pulitzer.

Look at me as if I am the woman that you are coming home to in the evenings. Look at me as if I am the mother of your children pouring out your single malt whisky in your glass before you will eat the supper that I have prepared for you. This is probably what they mean by migration. What happens after the happy conclusion, after the honeymoon is it the long migration. The migration is having the progeny, the children with the angel shine on their faces, watching genocide on the news or reading about it in the paper from the perspective of a political correspondent. The migration is raising a family, growing old together but nothing was meant to be conventional in my life.

My mother never taught me what to do about the unconventional ingredients of life. I can tell you this. It will be a flawless day on which I die. Men will go into war. There will be girls and women losing their looks working in factories. Mothers and daughters side by side but I will not be one of them. On the day that I die, I will be wearing a fur coat.

Abigail George is a feminist, poet and short story writer. She is the recipient of two South African National Arts Council Writing Grants, one from the Centre for the Book and the Eastern Cape Provincial Arts and Culture Council. She was born and raised in the coastal city of Port Elizabeth, the Eastern Cape of South Africa, educated there and in Swaziland and Johannesburg. She has written a novella, books of poetry, and collections of short stories. She is busy with her brother putting the final additions to a biography on her father’s life. Her work has recently been anthologised in the Sol Plaatje EU Poetry Anthology IV. Her work was nominated for the Pushcart Prize. She briefly studied film.

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New Social Compact

Gender and Climate Change: Where are we and what next?

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credit: UN photo

Climate change affects women more profoundly than men. Often, women bear the brunt of extreme weather events because they lack economic, political and legal power, especially in developing countries.

Because of cultural barriers and their lower economic status, women often have fewer assets to fall back on than men. They are largely absent from decision-making because of unequal participation in leadership roles – further compounding their vulnerability. So when it comes to coping with climate change, women usually have fewer adaptive strategies than men.

The women who live in poor rural communities use natural resources in a different way than men because they possess fewer assets.  It is women, for example, who are responsible for collecting firewood, fetching water, growing food – or foraging for it – making them more vulnerable to the climatic changes that affect these resources.  So the international community must pay attention to gender dynamics when it develops climate change policies and puts them into action.

International recognition – where are we now?

International frameworks are beginning to incorporate a gender dimension into action on climate change. The UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) emphasises gender balance and increased participation of women in its processes and in national delegations. It also calls for the development of gender responsive climate policies at all levels.

Gender is also getting more attention at climate change conferences.  In 2014, at COP20 in Lima, a Programme of Action on Gender was established ‘to advance implementation of gender-responsive climate policies’. The Paris Agreement of 2015 acknowledged the importance gender equality and empowerment of women in climate action. In 2017, COP23 established a Gender Action Plan.  So there is forward momentum.

And with developing countries calling for more money to address climate change, there is also an increasing emphasis on gender-responsive budgeting. The Green Climate Fund – the largest international fund for countering climate change – is shifting towards a more gender-sensitive approach and recently developed a Gender Policy and Action Plan.

The Commonwealth, gender and climate change

The Commonwealth has a long history of championing small states, women and young people.  In 2015, the Commonwealth Summit introduced a Women’s Forum to amplify the voice of women and raise key gender issues to leaders. Gender and climate change issues gained further momentum at the 2018 Summit in London, when heads of government committed to accelerating action to achieve targets under the Paris Agreement and the Women’s Forum called for the Commonwealth to take gender into account in addressing climate change.

Gender and climate change is one of four gender priorities of the Commonwealth.  That means the Commonwealth is shaping its work to reflect gender considerations.  However, more can be done to build on synergies and collaborate with partners to increase support to small and vulnerable states.

What next?

The urgency of climate change requires more progress at a greater pace. Increasing the participation and engagement of women in addressing it is a first and critical step.  I look forward to seeing progress and will follow discussions on the Gender Action Plan at COP24 in Poland later this week.  Even more important will be the first report on its implementation in 2019 because – as they say – the proof of the pudding is in the eating.

Sharing experiences and learning from what is already happening is important in understanding gaps and challenges and in developing better responses and strategies, so I would love to hear your thoughts and experiences on this topic. Are there challenges and lessons learned that you feel are important and that can shape the agenda moving forward, especially in the Commonwealth?

The Commonwealth

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New Social Compact

Young Voices Program: Global Space for Youth Empowerment

Rattana Lao

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Young people matter. Not just because they can be powerful constituencies to recruit or consumers to develop. They matter in their own right and their growth is fundamental for the future stability and civilized success of societies, countries, and the world.

Unfortunately, a space for them to be themselves – to express and explore their own thoughts and to learn to articulate their own voices – is limited, especially on a global scale. Within the limited spaces available, most are politicized if not outright commercialized. Too often, youth have been used as vehicles for narcissistic adults, power-hungry politicians, and greedy conglomerates. In other words, around the globe grownups have maximized, exploited, and manipulated the power and potential of the young, all supposedly in the name of ‘youth.’

With seventeen years of experience in educational and youth empowerment projects in Thailand and Asia, I have witnessed how these exploitations take place. Politicians talk about the importance of education, but only in terms of gaining votes for themselves. Political transactions are not bad in and of themselves, if the votes can bring about better schooling, equal opportunities, and gender equity, just to name some rightful benefits. More often than not, however, these talks on education are shallow rhetoric that cease to impact reality after the votes have been dropped into the ballot boxes.

The commitment to education is there, don’t get me wrong. Countries spend billions of dollars on it. But the commitment for youth excellence, for the articulation of original youth analysis, is lacking. More space is needed for youth to express themselves, their concerns for their society, and debate the ideas openly and civilly. Elite schools have done this for centuries – bringing the best and brightest minds together in a room to debate and articulate their thoughts. But with the internet, online spaces have become critical in creating opportunity for youth dialogues and learning spaces. But now the online arena also carries with it dangers: we need to create spaces that provide enlarged, engaged, and equitable venues for youth to participate in the important issues of the day, without fear of retaliation, retribution, or politicization. More youth need to get involved in expressing their ideas on issues that matter to them, to truly become globally-engaged citizens now. This is not so much about a virtual ‘safe space’ as it is a declaration of creating virtual engaged spaces. These are too few and far between in today’s world.

Thus, increasing quality online courses make quality learning fairer and more accessible to youth worldwide. This is why we propose the creation of an online platform on Modern Diplomacy, one of the most vibrant e-magazines in Europe, with massive followers far beyond it. This MD platform believes in the freedom of expression and sharing of ideas. It will allow youth – students across the world in all types of institutions – to not just share their ideas but have opportunities to engage with their own readers, creating a vibrant dialogue and budding global youth network.

Professor Anis Bajrektarevic, professor of Law from the University of Vienna and Chairman of Modern Diplomacy, put it bluntly by saying we are in a crisis of the “cognitive:” namely, there is a dearth of “cognition.” In some circles, the talk already flows about the existence of a “cognitive war:”

“To address this issue, we need to rethink our global intellectual flow, create information pathways for youth to create their own narratives beyond traditional convention so they can articulate themselves, learn to become self-assured, and explore their boundaries and limitations”.

With this new MD platform project, youth can write about current affairs, contest theories, or share their own original creative trajectories. They can learn from each other by being engaged and reading new ideas not as a form of competition but as a spur for new intellectual growth. In addition, they can get feedback to improve their writing from a team of international, experienced, and well-articulated youth editors. Aditi Aryal, one of the editors for the MD Young Voices program, is an experienced and highly-regarded international writer. Growing up in Nepal and India, she has extensive experience in writing, addressing social taboos, and gender restriction in the South Asian context:

“Modern Diplomacy is a huge platform that permits the expression of unfettered ideas and opinions. It has always been a vibrant platform that allows writers to express freely without having to face backlash, judgment, or censorship. As I began my writing journey with Modern Diplomacy, I grew not only as a writer but also as a thinker. It has always supported my quest for expression of ideas without obstructions. I have found in Modern Diplomacy a secure space that has nurtured me, my writing, expression, and thoughts. There could not have been a more conducive platform for this growth that I have seen in myself”.

Another leading editor is Selene Sandoval, graduate student at Teachers College- Columbia University. Being a first-generation student of color to attend college in her family, Selene brings a passion for education, equity, and social empowerment. An experienced writer and tutor, she can help train and inspire other young writers to express and articulate themselves:

“My current belief for youth is that we have a voice stronger than we might realize. That is why it is essential for students around the world to research and be involved in issues that are affecting our generation, whether it be education, politics, or social issues. Students have historically been at the forefront of radical shifts in society by expressing their opinions on such issues like civil rights. Not only is it a way to express your opinion on current events and news around the world, but it is a way to grow as a writer. Writing as a basic skill is fundamental because it is part of every field. The more we are able to effectively communicate our ideas through writing, the more we are able to develop our professional careers. Modern Diplomacy can be the platform where you express your interests in a way that may be palatable for other youth to read and understand.”

‘Young Voices’ as a platform requires space where the communication and interaction of minds and ideas flow freely without judgment. By learning and engaging dissimilar perspectives and engaging in healthy debates and discussions, across all analytical disciplines and geographical locations, we welcome any age group to be participants! We at Modern Diplomacy seek to provide young people a constructive and cohesive community to build around them, based on the freedom of expression, intense analysis, and rigorous, rational thought.

Articles selected will be published on Modern Diplomacy online and the best articles will be published in our geopolitical Ebook series.

Articles can be submitted for reviews at mdyv[at]moderndiplomacy.eu

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New Social Compact

The need for speed on modern slavery

Dr. James Cockayne

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Three years ago, world leaders committed to take effective measures to end modern slavery by 2030. By the best estimates, there are around 40.3 million people in modern slavery. Reaching that goal would mean 9,127 people being removed from or prevented from falling into modern slavery each and every day between now and 31 December 2030.

How close are we to meeting that proposed rate of change? Until now, the short answer has been: we don’t really know. There has been no centralized place to access information on the rate of change towards this goal.

That changed on Sunday, the International Day for the Abolition of Slavery. Delta 8.7 – a project of the Centre for Policy Research at United Nations University – began publishing country data dashboards measuring the change towards this goal.

These dashboards bring together the best available data on modern slavery, forced labour, human trafficking and child labour for each country. They also provide contextual information, including details of what each country is doing to bring these numbers down, and links to relevant legislation, national action plans and social protection arrangements. Over the coming months, more of these dashboards will be steadily rolled out.

So what do these dashboards tell us?

First, the dashboards suggest we are nowhere near the rate of change needed to meet the goal of ending modern slavery by 2030.

Even the countries that are performing best, with double-digit reductions in child labour, are not achieving the sustained reductions needed to meet the 2030 targets. Until we have more complete country coverage it will be too early to draw conclusions on a ‘global’ reduction rate, but the signs from the first set of dashboards are that a steep increase in reduction rates is needed.

Second, they show that we need to rapidly improve our ability to measure these reduction rates.

Most of the countries covered have reliable data only for child labour. Our ability to measure reduction of modern slavery, forced labour and human trafficking is much weaker. That stands to reason: countries have invested more, over a longer period, in measuring child labour. Only recently have they begun to invest in efforts to measure modern slavery and forced labour with the same scientific rigor.

There are promising signs on this front, though. In October national statisticians from around the world agreed a new method for measuring forced labour, which should make better data available in the next few years. The UN’s Office on Drugs and Crime has also been working with countries to strengthen measurement of human trafficking.

Third, the country dashboards suggest that there may be lessons from the effort against child labour for the fight against adult forms of modern slavery, forced labour and human trafficking. Some of the reductions in child labour identified in the dashboards are impressive – for example, child labour decreased 59% between 2002 and 2015 in Brazil, while in Argentina it decreased 31% in just one year between 2011 and 2012. Figuring out ‘what worked’ in the fight against child labour may be instructive as we seek to identify ‘what works’ in the fight against modern slavery – and scale it up.

Generating this type of knowledge can take time. Starting in February 2019, the project will work with partners to accelerate the knowledge-generation process on ‘Code 8.7’, by bringing artificial intelligence and machine learning into the equation. Computational science offers a way to accelerate the process of understanding what works to end modern slavery.

Ultimately, however, it will be up to world leaders to learn these lessons – whether generated by artificial intelligence or the old-fashioned human kind. Unless world leaders accelerate their own learning and efforts, chances are, we will not come close to meeting their lofty goal.

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