Press Releases

     

    NGO/520
    PI/1502

    10 September 2003

    NGO CONFERENCE FOCUSES ON EDUCATION FOR PEACE,
    ISSUES CONCERNING OPPRESSION, EMPOWERMENT

    NEW YORK, 9 September (UN Headquarters) -- As the fifty-sixth annual DPI/NGO Conference entered its second day, several speakers discussed the topic of “Educating for a Secure Future” during the morning plenary session.

    In the afternoon, participants in the three-day Conference heard a number of panellists address the subject “From Oppression to Empowerment”.

    Leading off the morning session, Anuradha Chenoy of the School of International Studies at India’s Jahawarlal Nehru University, described schools as the sites where nationalism was constructed and which remained capable of conveying images, messages and representations reflecting the dominant “nationalistic” culture.  Concepts of “heritage”, “national history” and “world history” often excluded or minimized the history of marginalized communities and women’s voices, she said, adding that they constructed the past in a manner that suited the present.

    Teaching in conflict areas where there was an identifiable “other” tended to inculcate gender biases and sectarian views, particularly in the developing world, she said.  Similarly, leaderships in liberal democratic States used terms like “us and them”, “good and evil”, “warriors and wimps” or “civilized and barbaric”, neat binaries and categories that were then repeated in thousands of languages by a globalized media.

    Olivia Martin, of the Global Youth Action Network, said peace education was not a new subject to be squeezed into an already overcrowded curriculum, but a learning approach that could be integrated into relevant existing subject matters.  In a mathematics class, for example, children could learn that a single nuclear submarine cost the equivalent of the total education spending in 23 low-income countries.

    It was important to acknowledge the less visible voices in the peace education process, including those of youth and indigenous people, she said.  Also, western civilization should drop its imperialistic pretensions to universality and recognize other cultures and value systems that had lived in harmony with the environment for centuries.

    Other panellists featuring this morning were Margaret Dabor of the National Commission for Democracy and Human Rights, Sierra Leone; Judy Gaspard of the Grand Caillou Middle School, Louisiana, United States; and Elton Skendaj of Peace and Disarmament Education to Disarm Children and Youth, Albania.

    Cream Wright, Chief of the Education Section of the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF), moderated the session.

    This afternoon, participants heard panellists Nasrine Gross, United States representative of Negar-Support of Women of Afghanistan; Dumisani Kumalo, Permanent Representative of South Africa to the United Nations; Ole Henrik Magga of the Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues; and Olga Smyrnova of Focal Point for Youth, United Nations, Ukraine.

    Actor Danny Glover, a Goodwill Ambassador for the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), moderated the session.

    Mr. Kumalo said South Africa had recently emerged from a long battle against apartheid, during which the people were taught that the struggle was not against white South Africans, but against the system of apartheid.  One of the lessons to be learned from the South African experience was that freedom could not be imposed from the outside.  In South Africa, people had learned that they had to talk to each other.  Empowerment was not an event, but a process, he said.

    Ms. Gross described how the Taliban and Al Qaeda had systematically cancelled the rights of women in her native country from 1996 to 2001.  Emphasizing that the abrogation of women’s rights was a purely political issue, she said women could not respond in a humanitarian or economic manner, but only in a political way.  They must ensure that the Constitution soon to be promulgated in Afghanistan guaranteed them equal status with men.  Women must not let the opportunity slip through their fingers, she emphasized.

    Following the plenary session, the panellists responded to questions on globalization, culture and identity; the duality of South Africa’s economy; and the relationship between indigenous peoples and the United Nations.

    Other Conference-related activities today included 11 non-governmental organization workshops that were held from 1:15 p.m. to 2:45 p.m.

    The DPI/NGO Conference will hold its final sessions beginning at 10 a.m. tomorrow, 10 September 2003.

     

    Background

    The fifty-sixth annual DPI/NGO Conference met in two plenary sessions, entitled “Educating for a Secure Future” and “From Oppression to Empowerment”.

    Statements

    CREAM WRIGHT, Chief, Education Service, United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF), introducing this morning’s session, said the global community had focused too much upon economic growth when talking about development.  Although that was critical, development was also about people, their life choices, their quality of life, and how they survived and prospered within communities.  The focus, he said, should be on the barriers holding back individuals from development.

    Increasingly, education was treated as a means of helping to address a wide range of social, political, cultural and economic problems in society, he said.  Those included tensions generated by various forms of intolerance and discrimination, as well as the complex demands of globalization and the new threats posed by pandemics such as HIV/AIDS.  That approach could help to ensure that education led to a sustainable development process through which a secure environment could be built for the world’s children.  Education, he stressed, must empower individuals and communities if it was to contribute to development.  It must help to socialize learners in a manner that enhanced their dignity and sense of self worth.

    Non-governmental organizations (NGOs), he continued, could contribute to education for a people-centred approach to development by strengthening partnerships in which they were already involved, advocating for increased resources, mobilizing local demand for access to quality basic education, and influencing the policies and investment priorities of Governments and development partners in favour of strategic choices such as girls’ education, and education for rural populations and disadvantaged minorities.

    ANURADHA CHENOY, Professor, Centre for Russian, Central Asian and European Studies, School of International Studies at Jahawarlal Nehru University, India, said that nationalism was constructed in schools, which remained capable of conveying images, messages and representations reflecting the dominant “nationalistic” culture.  In most cultures, history was often equated with power, conquest and expansionism, while history’s heroes were often linked with military victories.  Attempts to correct such images involved adding accounts of those heroic women who broke the “normal” nurture and mothering roles with military victories that brought national glory.

    Noting that concepts of “heritage”, “national history” and “world history” often excluded or minimized the history of marginalized communities and women’s voices, she said they constructed the past in a manner that suited the present.  Teaching in conflict areas where there was an identifiable “other” tended to inculcate gender biases and sectarian views, particularly in the developing world.  However, when leaderships in liberal democratic States used terms like “us and them”, “good and evil”, “warriors and wimps” or “civilized and barbaric”, such neat binaries and categories were then repeated in thousands of languages by globalized media.

    Educators and activists must recognize the special needs of women, she said.  Even if gender was not history, it was insecurity because violence against women continued to be tolerated.  They continued to be seen as requiring protection, which made them unequal citizens and deprived them of rights.  In many current conflicts, women remained excluded from the entire political discourse.  Discussions were required to promote gender equity in school curricula.  Surveys, probes and public hearings were needed to deepen public education and make it a popular movement, she concluded.

    OLIVIA MARTIN, Network Integrator of the Brazil Office, Global Youth Action Network, said that peace education was more that just teaching conflict resolution.  It involved addressing the root causes of violence.  Furthermore, peace education was not a new subject to be squeezed into an already overcrowded curriculum.  It was a learning approach that could be integrated into relevant existing subject matter.  In a mathematics class, for example, children could learn that a single nuclear submarine cost the equivalent of the total education spending in 23 low-income countries.

    It was also important to acknowledge the less visible voices in the peace education process.  She believed that young people could be key agents in the promotion of peace education because they had the courage to dream and to visualize the kind of world they would like to inhabit.  They also had the enthusiasm and determination to work to create that reality.

    Other key agents to consider in the promotion of peace education were indigenous peoples, she continued.  There was a need for western civilization to drop its imperialistic pretension on universality and recognize other cultures and value systems that had lived in harmony with the environment for centuries.  Humanity and flexibility were necessary to establish a relationship of true cooperation and exchange, and peace education should reflect indigenous knowledge and value systems.

    The international community should recognize that any serious effort at educating for a secure future needed to incorporate women, not only as teachers, but also as benefactors, she said.  Women had a vital role in conflict resolution process, which was often different and complementary to that of men.  There should be increased representation of women at all of the decision-making levels for the prevention and resolution of conflict.  Unless the contributions of young people, indigenous people, and women were included in the process of education for a secure future, the mistakes of previous generations would be repeated.

    It must be remembered, she said, that peace was political.  War was often instigated by economic interests, and the arms trade was one of the most profitable businesses in the world with many governments having a large stake in it remaining that way.  On the other hand, peace education was empowering, encouraging critical and independent thinking and media awareness.  And so it was that peace education was perceived as a threat by many governments.  That was one of the challenges to be confronted and why the international community needed to work together in a concerted effort.

    MARGARET DABOR, Commissioner, National Commission for Democracy and Human Rights, Sierra Leone, said her country’s Government had started positive discrimination in favour of girls as an attempt to address the regional and gender disparities in the provision of education services.  In addition, UNICEF and international NGOs had been carrying out non-formal primary education programmes since 1992 with the aim of delivering primary education to those children who could not attend school.

    Regarding health education, she said a number of programmes targeted both formal and non-formal systems, including the Sierra Leone HIV/AIDS Rapid Response Project (SHARP).  The SHARP provided funding for school-based HIV/AIDS prevention programmes and supported school initiatives on a demand-driven basis.

    Challenges to ensuring a secure future included the lack of political will and the mobilization of resources, she noted.  Making education free was a laudable goal, but what about the availability of quality teachers?  While efforts were being made to reduce the number of untrained and unqualified teachers with the introduction of distance education courses, curriculum innovations lived or died depending on the type and quality of support given to teachers.  Teachers must be empowered to implement whatever curriculum was provided to them. 

    JUDY GASPARD, Principal, Grand Caillou Middle School, Louisiana, said that everybody should be given a chance with regard to education, and that students should be given choices when decisions were to be made.  At her school, she had introduced the Reading Styles Program, developed by Dr. Marie Carbo, where students were taught to discover and to use their reading strength, and in doing so achieve a large measure of personal dignity, security and academic proficiency.  Her teachers began to look at their students in terms of their learning strengths, and the students, in turn, looked at themselves and each other in the same way.  They became more accommodating of each other and more respectful of one another’s’ differences.

    Her students had grown up, she said, thinking strength was only a means of achieving physical dominance over those weaker than themselves.  Now they were seeing that their own strengths were something they could use to change their lives.  As part of the United Nations Millennium Development Goals in education, it was stated that the people of the world should be able to choose and exercise their beliefs, to be able to build upon their strengths, so that they could live in dignity and participate in the decisions that shaped the world.  For that to occur, the world’s children must come to know that they have strengths, and that they are people who matter.

    ELTON SKENDAJ, Peace and Disarmament Education to Disarm Children and Youth, Albania, said that his country, one of the poorest in Europe, had been awash in illegal weapons following civil unrest in 1997.  Following a successful physical disarmament project conducted by the United Nations and the Government, a project formed by the United Nations Department of Disarmament Affairs and The Hague Appeal for Peace was carrying out a mental disarmament project.

    He said the project used a participatory approach, which differed from top-down development projects that treated local communities as passive beneficiaries.  Instead, it promoted the view that people became active agents of change in their communities.  The community helped in the design and implementation of the project, and the international team provided guidance for the working groups as well as expertise and financial resources.

    Regarding the challenges, he said that the current education system was based on the domination and strict hierarchies that were legacies of Albania’s communist past.  In addition, widespread economic poverty meant that many teachers were more focused on how to sustain their lives and families than on improving their poorly-paid teaching.

    Questions and Answers

    Several members of the audience asked the panel why peace education was often seen as a subversive activity, and why governments saw peace education as such a threat.

    OLIVIA MARTIN said that if the international community worked in a concerted effort to educate for peace and justice, it would be creating future leaders who had an awareness and priority for peacekeeping.  Furthermore, a generation of conscious and aware voters would have been created. 

    Responding to the same question, ANURADHA CHENOY said that governments saw any changes in the status quo as subversive activity.  NGOs were the engines that questioned these paradigms, and the legitimacy of governments could be challenged through grass-roots activity.

    Asked whether she had noticed a change in the way children of different ethnic backgrounds related to each other since the institution of the Reading Styles Programme, JUDY GASPARD replied that the number of fights and the level of aggression at her school had greatly diminished.

    Responding to questions about the role of information technology in peace education, OLIVIA MARTIN said that technology was empowering and transformational and had revolutionized the youth activist field.  Young people today were able to get the latest information and connect with other young leaders across the world in a matter of seconds.  However, people needed to be aware of the digital divide, as it was very real.

    CREAM WRIGHT, responding to a question about the implementation of the Millennium Development Goals, said there was no point making lofty pronouncements without those pronouncements having concrete follow-up.  The international community needed to support major initiatives.

    MARGARET DABOR, responding to a question about education in crisis situation, said that during and post-crisis, schools played a very important role in returning to normalcy.  The greatest barrier to providing education during a crisis was security, she continued.  In the crisis situations in Sierra Leone, for example, many of the trained personnel had left.  Furthermore, many children had been exposed to trauma, and trained personnel were needed to handle the emotional trauma before moving onto a normal educational situation.

    Afternoon Session

    DANNY GLOVER, Actor and Goodwill Ambassador to the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), introducing this afternoon’s session, said that it was an important and critical time to be having this dialogue.  The year 2003 was the fortieth anniversary of the March on Washington, and the words of Martin Luther King still rang true today.

    He said rich nations should pay their fair share and aid the alleviation of poverty, and countries should concentrate on reducing, not increasing, their arsenals of weapons of mass destruction.  Many questions needed to be discussed today, in order to strive for a new reality.  What did empowerment mean, and how could the international community more effectively empower civil society in the midst of this new global economic reality?

    NASRINE GROSS, United States representative, Negar-Support of Women of Afghanistan, said the question of rights and reconciliation was closely connected to that of human security and dignity.  From 1996 to 2001, the Taliban militia and Al Qaeda had systematically cancelled the rights of Afghan women by religious decree.  In those five years, the country had become a totally failed State.

     

    She said that Negar had convened in neighbouring Tajikistan, where members had drawn up a Declaration of the Essential Rights of the Women of Afghanistan and had asked the Afghan Government to reinstitute women’s rights into the Constitution.  They had then sought signatures from women around the world.  More than 300,000 signatures had been collected to date, she added.

    Underscoring the political nature of the abrogation of women’s rights, she said it was neither a humanitarian nor an economic question.  Women could not respond in a humanitarian or economic manner, but only in a political way.  They must ensure that the Constitution soon to be promulgated in Afghanistan guaranteed them equal status with men.  Women must not let the opportunity slip through their fingers, she emphasized.

    DUMISANI KUMALO, Permanent Representative of South Africa to the United Nations, said that South Africa had recently emerged from a long battle against apartheid, which could not have been won without the help of the international community, and indeed the support of the United Nations.  Throughout the struggle against apartheid, people were taught that the struggle was not against white South Africans, but against the system of apartheid.  That was important as it had facilitated such activities as the Truth and Reconciliation Committee.

    One of the lessons to be learned from the South African experience was that freedom could not be imposed from the outside.  In South Africa, people learned that they had to talk to each other.  Empowerment was not an event; it was a process, he said, and that could easily be illustrated by the fact that 200 years after the abolition of slavery, African Americans in the United States were still fighting for empowerment.

    OLE HENRIK MAGGA, Chairman, Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues, challenged the traditional concept of security as a relationship between States, saying that the State had often been the most serious threat to indigenous women, children and men. 

    During the colonial era, indigenous peoples were victims of genocide, forced removals and other atrocities.  Today, some indigenous peoples were struggling with the negative effects of globalization, a new form of colonization perpetrated by multinational corporations.  Indigenous peoples in the Arctic were suffering from the effects of heavy metal pollution and global warming, while some in Africa and the small island developing States were threatened by the dumping of nuclear and other hazardous waste, he said.

    The marginalization of indigenous peoples extended to the international arena, he said.  In the 1970s, the anti-discrimination agenda had led to the civil rights movement, which had, in turn, sparked the indigenous movement.  An International Year of the World’s Indigenous People was proclaimed in 1993 and an International Decade a year later.  In 2000, the United Nations had established the Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues.

    OLGA SMYRNOVA, representative of the Focal Point for Youth, United Nations, Ukraine, said it was a sad fact that young people were often afraid to be different, and had not been brought up to be proactive or to initiate change.  Young people were gradually starting to take initiative, however.  The United Nations in Ukraine had always involved young people into its programmes, and a summit had been held in October 2002, with the theme of Millennium Development Goals, where young people were asked to present their recommendations to the Government of Ukraine.

    That summit had been a major success, she continued, and it had given young people a feeling of being part of Ukrainian society, a feeling of being listened to and being heard.  It also had given them the feeling of being part of the international community.  The United Nations in Ukraine and the youth of Ukraine made up the driving force in the journey from oppression to empowerment, she said.  Young people were the future and the present, and she asked that the international community take the time to listen to them.

    Questions and Answers

    Responding to questions on globalization, culture and identity, Ms. GROSS said that every country she had visited, as well as the United States, where she had lived for 30 years, had a unique identity that was worth preserving.

    Mr. MAGGA said the question of identity had always been familiar to indigenous peoples.  However, most majority peoples had always wanted to recreate indigenous peoples in their own image because they were not satisfied with the way God had created them.  Having gone through school systems aimed at that, he had seen people who ended up hating themselves, their parents and their heritage, he said, adding that unless one was at peace with oneself, one could not build peace.

    Regarding globalization, he said that, previously, governments had come into their territories and said the indigenous peoples did not own the land because they lacked the necessary papers.  Today, despite international conventions, corporations came and talked about developing the land while in reality they extracted everything of value and left behind worthless sand and harmful pollution.

    Mr. KUMALO addressed the issue of his country’s dual economy, saying that one of the first lessons South Africa had learned was the necessity of having a country where everyone belonged.  Until 1994, only 5 million out of 25 million people were considered citizens for whom education, health, water and all the other amenities were available.  The new Government had to think of a way to redistribute everything so that everybody could have access whatever their colour or race.  The result was that South Africa looked like two countries in one, he said.

    Regarding indigenous peoples and the United Nations, Mr. MAGGA said there was a long way to go before the various United Nations bodies and forums could finish reviewing the situations of various groups.  More attention was being paid, but it was still far from enough, he added.

    Ms. GROSS, asked about the role of Afghan women before the Taliban, said that Afghan women had been graduating from college and getting involved in all walks of society.  In 1964, Afghanistan had introduced a new constitution where men and women had equal rights, and four women had become members of Parliament.  Additionally, 50 per cent of the university student population were women.  Women could wear short sleeves, and short skirts, and Afghanistan was an up-and-coming developing country, with a very modern way of life for city-dwelling women.  What the Taliban did was a political act of power -- to control Afghanistan through the cancellation of the rights of women.

    Ms. SMYRNOVA, responding to a question about the environment in Ukraine, said that Chernobyl tragedy was one of the key words with which her country was identified.  No one was informed about the tragedy, and people kept going to school and to work.  That was an example of authorities determining the lives of their people for years to come, and there was still a very high level of radiation all over Ukraine.

    Speaking about the environment in South Africa, Mr. KUMALO said that the greatest challenge was that environmental problems were linked to the problems of poverty.  Until the issue of the environment was addressed, it did not matter how much money was donated to health care for the poor, for example, as people would continue to be sick because of the environment in which they lived.

    Asked how the dialogue between governments, the United Nations and civil society could be improved, he suggested that every NGO be proactive.  They should not wait to be invited to become involved.  Member States and NGOs needed each other, he said.

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