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Silence, Black Magic and FGM
When the 'Three Sorrows' come More ...
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Poverty of the Heart
Ingrid Stellmacher speaking at the UN explores 'poverty of the heart' and launches a campaign to explore what dignity and honour really mean. More ...
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Nelson Mandela in his own words
Mourning the loss of a great man but celebrating his life and legacy. More ...
Peace and stability must be at the heart of the global development agenda
Basic lessons on how to build peace and stability needed More ...
Remembrance and Reconciliation
In our right minds? 57th Commission on the Status of Women
The founder of Pakistan advocated the rights of women
World Heart Day
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Georges Kisimbola, 20/07/2018
Dignity Diaries - Nick Makoha
Nick Makoha, 10/05/2014
Dignity Diaries - Kaneez Anwar
Kaneez Anwar, 08/04/2014
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Andre Mostert, 07/04/2014

Ingrid's Insights

Silence, Black Magic and FGM


Black magic is not something we normally associate with acts of Female Genital Mutilation (FGM), but 34 years after the practice was made illegal in the UK, the Old Bailey has finally seen the country’s first conviction of FGM and with it, evidence of witchcraft rituals to evade being caught.   

Clearly it didn’t work.  But what it does show is the length that those involved in carrying out FGM will go to in order to escape justice; from implausible stories to the occult.
Heartbreakingly, the victim was only 3 years old and the perpetrator, her own mother.  Who not only tried to silence her terrified little girl when the bleeding wouldn’t stop, concocting unconvincing tales for her to explain away her mutilation, to hospital doctors. That she had a fall rather than being held down by both her parents as a woman came in and cut her with a scalpel.  Her mother also conjured black magic against her ‘enemies’.  Namely the police, doctors, lawyers, and anyone else who might speak out against them, fearing it might lead to a different kind of spell, behind bars. 
Police found 40 limes in the woman's freezer. Each one had been sliced open with names of police officers, social workers, the lawyer involved and her own son hidden inside.  Two large tightly bound ox tongues with nails and screws embedded through them were also found.  These were used in rituals to make those she wanted to silence to "Shut up" as the spells would 'freeze their mouths'.   

Three year-old's tend not to make very convincing liars.  Being sworn to secrecy is agony for little ones under any circumstance so I can only imagine what threats would have been used to secure her silence.  Doctors and healthcare professionals are more informed about FGM than they were 34 years ago and past child abuse cases involving witch craft in the capital, mean the police are more aware of such beliefs and rituals going on.  Though uncovering spells aimed specifically against them, might be more unusual.  The day I saw a dead goat floating down the Thames, which are often used in religious rituals, I couldn’t help but wonder how it got there as it rapidly approached Waterloo bridge, before disappearing towards the House of Parliament.  Had it just slipped in, further up river, or been used as an offering in a ritual.    
In Uganda, where the child's mother is from, the use of witch craft and black magic has not disappeared and in a culture where even child sacrifice still goes on, it is easy to see how someone trying to avoid being convicted for what they see as crucial in getting their daughter a husband, and protecting family honour, would use all the tools they had to see that goal achieved.  That event is described as the day the ‘Three Sorrow’s’ of a woman come to her.  The day she is cut, the day she is married and the day she give’s birth’.  Sorrows that create a life sentence simply for being female.
If I had grown up in the same Uganda, in the same culture, I might well think the same.  But the pain and terror of what that little girl has endured is unbearable to me and I would like to think that I would be more enlightened.  Particularly living in the UK. But culture runs deep. As do the scars.  That child's pain reminded me  of the scene Ruth Rendell’s described in her book, Not in the Flesh. A story about FGM.  ‘How normal European children run free, playful and mischievous.  But having been circumcised the child is confined to a chair, with her legs bound together from the ankles to the hips”.  It was Ruth, who after becoming Baroness Rendell of Babergh, was instrumental in introducing the Bill to the House of Lords that would become the Female Genital Mutilation Act of 2003.  She would be relieved that at last there has been a conviction but angry I am sure that it has taken so long.  We need more education to break through the silence and both sexes to speak out in communities.   

Meeting Ruth at the House of Lords for lunch one day, she said hello to a fellow Member of the Lords we passed on the stairs. She told me afterwards what a great supporter her colleague had been in getting a conversation on FGM into the House.
“No one wanted to talk about it in the beginning’ she told me.  “The men found it too embarrassing to even think about it let alone discuss in public.”  She persisted, and thankfully that changed enough to get the bill passed.  If our modern enlightened men had found it difficult to discuss imagine how hard it is to get community conversations out into the open where FGM is still practiced.  I have nothing but admiration for those who are already engaged or trying. 
A little over a week since that first conviction was made, a British barrister specialising in FGM cases has spoken out about the rise in the number of cases of FGM performed on significantly younger children happening in the UK.  Including babies as young as one year-old, in order to evade detection from the authorities. 

And as I write, news is breaking of 71 year-old Conservative MP, Sir Christopher Chope blocking a bill to protect women from FGM.  Clearly more education is needed, even in the House of Commons.  Ruth must be turning in her grave.
Since launching the Dignity Diaries at the UN in 2014, all the work I do is carried out through the lens of dignity and identity. And while I do see performing the act of FGM on young women and children a profound attack on their dignity, all of the women I have ever met, without exception, who have had this state inflicted on them, have proved that the opposite is true as the dignity of who they are, and not what someone has done to them, shines through.

Stop stealing my dignity@DignityDiaries


Ingrid Stellmacher, 06/02/2019

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When The price we pay for dignity & Honour is poverty of the heart

Ingrid UN2014-3
Ingrid Stellmacher speaking at the United Nations
The below includes extracts from her speech

'Excessive patriarchy breeds poverty'…… This was the opening phrase of my speech at the UN last week because sadly, it's true.  And everyone in that audience knows it.
They all know the economic poverty that is created when men exclude women from contributing fully to life; keeping their world small; limiting not only the potential prosperity of their wives and their children but also themselves.  Limiting the prosperity of their families, communities, their country's economy and ultimately even the global economy. When women lose we all lose.
Everyone in that room knows patriarchy breeds poverty - of choice.  When women are excluded from the right to determine who has power over their own body; their own minds and their own lives.  When girls as young as eight years of-age, many already butchered by FGM, are sold to pay debts and have no choice over being married off to ancient men to have children when still only children themselves.
Everyone in that room knows that patriarchy breeds poverty - of knowledge. When babies and infants are dying of malnutrition in Afghanistan not just through lack of food but through lack of basic education given to young mothers about nutrition and what babies need to eat to be healthy.  Not because that information isn't ‘out there’ but because women are not allowed ‘out there’. Out of their homes to access basic education by their husbands, their brothers, uncles and cousins in the name of dignity and honour. Arriving at clinics so late that when they do get there babies are often too sick to save. 
Dying of starvation is tragedy enough, but dying out of ignorance of such basic understanding in 2014 is a crime, because it is avoidable.

Excessively patriarchal cultures breed poverty. But I want to touch on another form of poverty that these cultures create and perpetuate; what I call poverty of the heart.
I want to consider what effects the repeated negative treatment and exclusion of women and girls, so acceptable and widespread, does to our mental development and emotional capacity as human beings.  How destructive and violent treatment towards women and girls; negative language, negative silence even, as silence too can be embracing or excluding, creates men who become ‘wired’ for want of a better word in fundamental ways that affect their emotional capacity and development.
How the lack of development to connections in areas of the brain through destructive behaviour limits the ability to exercise compassion, to recognise emotional responses in others, the ability to communicate effectively emotionally and the most basic requirement of all for humanity, limits the connections in areas of the brain that enable empathy.
The way we treat one another, the way we speak to one another, look at one another, or exclude one another affects our mental and emotional development.

The playground phrase ‘sticks and stones may break my bones but names will never hurt me' is a lie.  While words may not physically break your bones words can wound and neuroscience shows they do hurt us because the brain doesn’t know the difference between real and imaginary.  Whether you are hurt physically or emotionally your response to what people say or how they treat you fires the same synapses in your brain as if you had been hurt physically.  That’s why we wince when we watch youtube and see someone who isn’t looking where they are going run head on into a post and smack themselves in the face!  We wince because we can empathise with them, because we can understand how being hurt feels and how we would feel if it happened to us.  Because it has in a sense.  The same areas of the brain are active in us as the person running into the post. The difference in what we feel is simply one of degree.
But what if you don’t know what compassion looks like because you rarely see it?  What if you don’t know what empathy is because few people in your world ever show it because such feelings are denied?  What if you think violence is normal because in your world it is?  And what if you are stopped from coming into contact with others who know it’s not?
Studies show that repeatedly using destructive behaviour and negative language towards others arrests natural brain development, not only of the individuals being mistreated but the perpetrators themselves. It is a vicious cycle of destruction for everyone involved.  Forever treating a single group or person badly literally leaves those neural pathways to possibilities and capabilities neglected in our brains and our emotions become the 'road less travelled'.

Research also shows that different values activate different structures within the brain and even shows that different areas in the visual cortex of the brain, the area which processes what we see, is activated in different ways according to different cultural values.  Creating a fundamental difference in the way we see the world.  While the window to our own world is indeed our eyes, it is our brain that makes sense of what we see.  And if what we see is imposed on us through cultural norms of violence and inequality we literally become prisoners of that way of thinking, of that way of seeing and that way of behaving.  Some call it dignity, some call it honour some call it tradition.   Others call it by another name - a crime. 
This affect of long-term of negative behaviour of course occurs not only when applied to how we treat women and girls.  It can apply to any individual or any group but when that negative treatment practiced against a person or a group is sanctioned by whole cultures and institutionalised it results in destructive learned behaviour that becomes not only acceptable but the norm.  It becomes acceptable to impoverish and penalise women and girls for being born female.
I believe it is time for an open and honest conversation about what dignity and honour, shame and guilt really does to us.  Which is why today we are lunching a global campaign to explore and redefine what dignty and honour really mean.  
The good news is that 'arrested neural emotional development’ can be reversed.  Unused emotional areas of our brain can be activated and new pathways to the language of empathy and compassion forged.  We can become whole again.
It is time for a sensitive conversation about the impact of sacrificing women and girls on the altar of humanity in the name of dignity and honour.  To men as well as women, boys as well as girls, because the question of dignity and honour crosses borders, ages, genders, issues and cultures impacting us all.

In the interview I showed with Ziauddin Yousafzsi, the father of Malala Yousafzsi, the brave Pakistani schoolgirl short in the head by the Taleban for daring to go to school, Ziauddin, now UN Special Advisor for Global Education, vividly describes how 'he did not clip the wings of his daughter in the name of false dignity and false honour'.  'Freedom is her right' he says, underplaying his own bravery in ensuring it.

There is a moment in the interview when his voice drops and he quietly shares how he feels ashamed to be a man sometimes, when he thinks about how badly and how unfairly men have treated women in his culture.  It was a moment of deep humility he shared with me.  When someone opens their heart you cannot fail to be touched by the pain and honesty you find there.  The truth of that moment made me want to cry - and I shared that with him.  He said that 'Every daughter is like Malala in wanting an education'.  While I am sure that desire is true, sadly every father is not like him.

Ziauddin's family is an extraordinarily strong unit and they are all, from what I can see, a very brave one. He said he had to learn new things in his life and we should all keep our hearts and our minds open.  He confessed that before he came to the UK he had never prepared breakfast for his wife or family because it was not the way in his culture.  This was women's work and undignified for a man. Sitting at the breakfast table in his house in Birmingham life is different now and all the richer for it. Small things, small changes, small moments perhaps, but it is the small things that make a difference. What is life after all but a series of moments? It's what you do with them that counts. Ziauddin and his family have done a lot.
Entwined with digniy and honour are shame and guilt and again from the Dignity Diaries, Andre Mostert from South Africa, talks movingly about ‘white guilt’ and how it affected him growing up under Apartheid.  What touched me most is when he recalls the moment black South Africans finally got the vote and the lines of people waiting were so long, that he and his friend decided not to 'queue'.

"The world had moved on, but us spoilt white boys, to us it was just voting right?  So we go to a bar and watch it on TV.  And I'll never forget, we were sitting there watching journalists talking to people standing in these lines for hours that went on forever and this one journalist goes up to an old black woman waiting in line and says to her,
'How long have you been waiting in this queue?
She looks at him and says,
'My whole life'

The men and women in the Dag Auditorium at the UN, working to help others affected by the kinds of poverty I touched on, they have been waiting in that queue their whole lives.  Waiting and working to get to the front.  We all have.  The people in that room are all working to change what has always been just because of prejudice and precedent to help make the world a better place.  We are slowing moving forward and the good news is there are millions of people in our queue with more joining everyday. The front of the queue is getting nearer simply through sheer numbers alone.

Changing hearts as well as minds has never been so important.  Sign up to the campaign and let's talk about the elephant in the room, before man makes discussion about dignity extinct too. 

Interviews with Ziauddin Yosafzsi and Andre Mostert can be found under Dignity Diaries by clicking on the link 'New global conversation' under the Dignity and Honour Campaign heading on our home page.


Ingrid Stellmacher, 11/03/2014

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Nelson Mandela in his own words

Rather than write the about the loss of this very special man, I felt it better to leave you with his own words on how he led what was a very
special life.
Nelson Mandella 0
Nelson Mandela's ability to use words to breathe life into his cause was one of his most powerful weapons in the struggle for black equality in South Africa.
Here is a selection of some of his most compelling quotes.
Conclusion of his three-hour defence speech at his 1964 trial for sabotage and treason:
"I have fought against white domination, and I have fought against black domination. I have cherished the ideal of a democratic and free society in which all persons live together in harmony and with equal opportunities. It is an ideal which I hope to live for and to achieve.
"But if needs be, it is an ideal for which I am prepared to die."
Letter from Robben Island, April 1971:
"There are times when my heart almost stops beating, slowed down by heavy loads of longing. I would love to bathe once more in the waters of Umbashe, as I did at the beginning of 1935."
On his time imprisoned on Robben Island (from Nelson Mandela's autobiography, The Long Walk to Freedom, 1994):
elson Mandela in 1962
He was 46 when he was sent to prison
"I found solitary confinement the most forbidding aspect of prison life. There is no end and no beginning; there is only one's own mind, which can begin to play tricks. Was that a dream or did it really happen? One begins to question everything. Did I make the right decision, was my sacrifice worth it? In solitary, there is no distraction from these haunting questions.
"But the human body has an enormous capacity for adjusting to trying circumstances. I have found that one can bear the unbearable if one can keep one's spirits strong even when one's body is being tested. Strong convictions are the secret of surviving deprivation; your spirit can be full even when your stomach is empty."
Message read by his daughter Zinzi to a rally in Soweto in 1985:
"In the name of the law, I found myself treated as a criminal... not because of what I had done, but because of what I stood for, because of my conscience. No-one in his right senses would choose such a life, but there comes a time when a man is denied the right to live a normal life, when he can only live the life of an outlaw because the government has so decreed to use the law.
"The question being asked up and down the country is this: Is it politically correct to continue preaching peace and non-violence when dealing with a government whose barbaric practices have brought so much suffering and misery to Africans? I cannot and will not give any undertaking at a time when I, and you, the people, are not free. Your freedom and mine cannot be separated. I will return."
Describing the day of his release from prison in 1990 (The Long Walk to Freedom, 1994):
"The cameras started clicking like a great herd of metallic beasts. I raised my right fist and there was a roar. I had not been able to do that for 27 years and it gave me a surge of strength and joy."
On fatherhood (The Long Walk to Freedom, 1994):
"Perhaps I was blinded to certain things because of the pain I felt for not being able to fulfil my role as husband to my wife and father to my children.
"It seems the destiny of freedom fighters to have unstable personal lives... to be the father of a nation is a great honour, but to be the father of a family is a greater joy. But it was a job I had far too little of."
On prison (The Long Walk to Freedom, 1994):
"A man who takes away another man's freedom is a prisoner of hatred, he is locked behind bars of prejudice and narrow-mindedness... The oppressed and the oppressor alike are robbed of their humanity."
On reconciliation (on acceptance of the 1993 Nobel Peace Prize, shared with then President FW de Klerk):
"The value of our shared reward will and must be measured by the joyful peace which will triumph, because the common humanity that bonds both black and white into one human race will have said to each one of us that we shall all live like the children of paradise...
"But there are still some within our country who wrongly believe they can make a contribution to the cause of justice and peace by clinging to the shibboleths [dogmas] that have been proved to spell nothing but disaster.
"It remains our hope that these, too, will be blessed with sufficient reason to realise that history will not be denied and that the new society cannot be created by reproducing the repugnant past, however refined or enticingly repackaged."
Presidential inauguration speech, 10 May 1994:
"We enter into a covenant that we shall build a society in which all South Africans, both black and white, will be able to walk tall without any fear in their hearts, assured of the inalienable right to human dignity, a rainbow nation at peace with itself and the world."
"Never, never, and never again shall it be that this beautiful land will again experience the oppression of one by another... The sun shall never set on so glorious a human achievement. Let freedom reign. God bless Africa!"
Address to international Aids conference, Durban, July 2000:
"In the face of the grave threat posed by HIV/Aids, we have to rise above our differences and combine our efforts to save our people. History will judge us harshly if we fail to do so now, and right now.
"Let us not equivocate: A tragedy of unprecedented proportions is unfolding in Africa. Aids today in Africa is claiming more lives than the sum total of all wars, famines and floods, and the ravages of such deadly diseases as malaria. It is devastating families and communities; overwhelming and depleting health care services; and robbing schools of both students and teachers...
"Aids is clearly a disaster, effectively wiping out the development gains of the past decades and sabotaging the future... Something must be done as a matter of the greatest urgency."
Message to the Live 8 concert in Edinburgh, July 2005:
"Massive poverty and obscene inequality are such terrible scourges of our times... So much of our common future will depend on the actions and plans of these leaders. They have a historical opportunity to open the door to hope and the possibility of a better future for all...
"Sometimes it falls upon a generation to be great. You be that great generation. Let your greatness blossom. Of course the task will not be easy. But not to do this would be a crime against humanity, against which I ask all humanity now to rise up."
A rare public rebuke for Zimbabwe's President Robert Mugabe, speaking at a dinner in London to mark his 90th birthday:
"We watch with sadness the continuing tragedy in Darfur. Nearer to home we have seen the outbreak of violence against fellow Africans in our own country and the tragic failure of leadership in our neighbouring Zimbabwe."
At the opening of the 2010 World Cup:
"The people of Africa learnt the lessons of patience and endurance in their long struggle for freedom. May the rewards brought by the Fifa World Cup prove that the long wait for its arrival on African soil has been worth it. Ke nako [It is time]."
On his public image (from Mandela's second autobiography, Conversations With Myself, 2010):
"One issue that deeply worried me in prison was the false image I unwittingly projected to the outside world; of being regarded as a saint. I never was one, even on the basis of an earthly definition of a saint as a sinner who keeps trying."

BBC, 06/12/2013

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Peace and stability must be at the heart of the global development agenda


Every minute, someone dies from armed violence somewhere in the world (pdf), according to human rights groups and peace campaigners. Though the number of international conflicts has decreased in recent decades, achieving lasting global peace remains an elusive goal.
Next week, world leaders will gather at the UN headquarters in New York to discuss, among other topics, a new global development agenda. The body's eight millennium development goals, which include the eradication of extreme poverty and hunger, expire in 2015, giving UN member states the opportunity to shape the future of development. They also have the chance to position peace and stability at the centre of the debate.
In countries marred by conflict and disaster, development tends to focus on promoting economic growth and progress in specific social sectors such as health and education. Fundamental issues for lasting peace and stability – rule of law and justice, good governance, social cohesion, economic and environmental sustainability – are often left at the margins.  
If we continue with the current model, the already costly global and local implications will increase. We are seeing increases in the recurrence, longevity and diffusion of conflict, the incidence and severity of disasters, degradation of the environment, depletion of natural resources, transnational crime, volatility in societies previously characterised as stable, financial crises and various forms of inequality. These trends are interconnected.
At the UN development programme (UNDP), where our mandate directs us to respond to crises and support long-term progress, it is our experience that sustainable development is tied to the advancement of lasting peace and stability. 
To my surprise, I often hear arguments against including peace and stability in a new global development agenda. One of the most common of these arguments is that building long-term peace and stability is separate from the work of long-term human development. In fact, peace and stability do not fall outside of the boundaries of development. The two must go hand in hand.
Violence not only claims lives, but also unravels the very fabric of society, leaving schools and hospitals destroyed and a devastated population suffering the physical and psychological toll. If we look at the facts, nine out of ten countries with the lowest Human Development Index have experienced conflict within the past 20 years and about 40% of fragile and post conflict countries relapse within a decade
Investing in peace, stability and transparent and accountable governance is fundamental to long-term development and prosperity. In Ghana, once known for political instability, military coups and violence, nationally led efforts with international support to address inter-ethnic tensions and promote dialogue across all sectors of society has paid off.
Ghana boasts 25 years of stability, four peaceful elections and has achieved significantly larger and more rapid increases in its human development index (HDI) than predicted for countries at a similar level of HDI value in 1990.
Another argument I often hear is that mixing peace and security efforts with development work can compromise national sovereignty. The reality is that early action to address the root causes of crisis, such as social inequality or low access to justice and security, is key to preventing brewing tensions from escalating into full-blown conflict. Waiting for the security council to intervene under "exceptional circumstances" may prove too late for many thousands of people.
In today's world of social media and instant connectivity, ideas and even violence can spread like wildfire. One dramatic and tragic act of protest by a fruit seller in Tunisia ignited simmering tensions across borders in the region.
The uprisings that followed were a reflection of tensions and social and economic inequalities that had been beneath the surface for years. Had an alternative development pathway based on inclusive growth and the rule of law been followed, the outcome could have been different.
Some also argue that we cannot work effectively towards these goals because peace and stability cannot be measured. Though our experience with measuring progress against these outcomes is more limited than our experience with measuring progress towards socioeconomic outcomes, the fact that they are measurable is beyond dispute.  A plethora of initiatives, tools and mechanisms exist for the purpose of identifying and measuring conflict- and violence-prevention outcomes, including within the UN organisations. 
In Timor-Leste, for example, when returning refugees and internally displaced people destabilised the country's fragile peace between 2007-09, the UNDP and its partners trained community mediators to decrease tensions around land ownership and helped the government to establish a department for peace-building. Up to 13,000 families were able to return peacefully to their homes by 2010.
To evaluate these and other results, UNDP tracks success in terms of milestones a country achieves – from accepting the need for development and conflict prevention to including such prevention (pdf) within national policies.
While armed violence and conflict continue to take lives, destroy infrastructure and deplete employment opportunities, their most destructive force lies in derailing states and societies from their long-term development goals and prospects for a better future. During the forthcoming discussions surrounding the next global development framework to succeed the millennium development goals, world leaders must work together to include peace, good governance and stability at the centre of the debate.

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Ingrid Stellmacher, 28/09/2012