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Archive for the ‘Rebecca Barlow’ Category

by Rebecca Barlow, NWI rapporteur, PhD Candidate at the Centre for Muslim Minorities and Islam Policy Studies in Melbourne

It will be difficult to convey in words the depth and breadth of what has happened over the past three days here in Galway. Each day we have been witness to countless women activists’ stories of repression, despair, resistance, hope, forgiveness, and compassion. These accounts have been shared with extreme tenacity of spirit and tremendous wit. Furthermore, they were consistently presented within a framework of practical commitment to transforming ideas for change and reform into living realities.

There are two aspects of the conference that stand out in my mind at this point. One is the incredible Iranian delegation led by Shirin Ebadi. These women – journalists, lawyers, activists – demonstrate such assertiveness, dynamism, intelligence and good humour so as to categorically negate stereotypes that may exist around them, particularly in popular Western press. The Iranian women came to the conference from a country in which serious political and social repression defines their everyday realities, and yet not only did they consistently participate, but rather led the way in many of the discussions of equality, human rights, justice, and peace. I would implore anyone reading this blog to look at the Iranian women’s movement’s website on their latest campaign for equality, ‘One Million Signatures Demanding Changes to Discriminatory Laws.’

The second aspect of the conference I would highlight is the democratic nature of the entire event. This conference was a micro-model of the democratic process in its highest form. Rarely did an event take place, or particular topic be broached, without the consent of all participants at the conference. And rarely was a voice not heard – even if this meant that we had to go over time or shorten the time we had for recess. The debates and discussions that ensued as a result were rich, lively, balanced, and never left without a logical conclusion. For me, this simply reinforced the fact that women must be further integrated into local, national, regional, and international decision-making structures and levels of governance. I do not approach my work from a feminist framework per se, but rather from a human rights and social justice basis. Having said this, I feel that there is no way the conference would have been as qualitatively good had it not been facilitated and moderated by women only.

The Nobel Women’s Initiative is not yet one year old, and yet it has already begun to provide a strong revenue for change and resistance to the dominant, patriarchal structures in which every one of us lives. I look forward to keeping in touch with the conference participants, and in continuing our commitment to advancing women’s human rights together.

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by Rebecca Barlow, NWI rapporteur, PhD Candidate at the Centre for Muslim Minorities and Islam Policy Studies in Melbourne

Yesterday I wrote about those moments during the NWI conference when the entire room has been left in momentary silence, but it is the afternoon session of day two of the conference that has left me most affected.

This afternoon’s panel focused on Israel and the Occupied Territories. The anguish expressed in the words of the two women who spoke to us (one Israeli and one Palestinian) was tangible, and weighted by the knowledge that these women represented the tragic realities of thousands upon thousands of other men, women, and children on the ground. But these women were not here to simply tell us about their pasts. They were here to talk about the future, and strategies for change. One theme resounded in this respect: there is no military-oriented solution to the problem of Israel-Palestine.

As part of my position as PhD candidate at Monash University in Australia, I tutor second and third year students in Middle Eastern politics. Of course, the Israel-Palestine conflict features predominantly in the course. If I can impart just some of the reality of experiences expressed to me by the women that I have listened to and engaged with today back to my students in Melbourne, it has the potential to make a profound difference to the way we study and engage with the subject matter. What I have realised here today is that while we study conflict and the history of conflict, we must maintain a commitment to study and focus predominantly on peace and strategies for peace. Otherwise, what really is the point?

To speak frankly, it is somewhat difficult to write about such complex, politically sensitive, and sometimes deeply personal issues in a blog. To be even more frank, at this point in the evening of day two I share the sentiments of my Croatian friend who I sat next to during this afternoon’s session and who turned to me at the end of the women’s stories and said: “Okay, now I need alcohol.”

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by Rebecca Barlow, NWI rapporteur, PhD Candidate at the Centre for Muslim Minorities and Islam Policy Studies in Melbourne

The Nobel Women’s Initiative’s First International Conference opened on day one with over eighty scholars and activists introducing themselves. The diversity of voices in the room was nothing short of astounding, reflected only very partially in the channels on our foreign-language headsets: channel one for English, channel two for Arabic, channel three for Spanish and channel four for Farsi. The diversity of voices present generated an array of viewpoints and experiences. Sometimes these converged, and sometimes they diverged. Always, the many viewpoints in the room made for challenging and enriching debate and discussion.

Day one focused on contextualising the conference: why are we here and why are we talking about women in the Middle East specifically? These questions were addressed at the outset by Shirin Ebadi. Violence and human rights abuses affect women in all countries, in all regions of the globe. However, as Shirin pointed out, the modern Middle East is facing another problem: war. Women and children are the first losers of war. From this basis, the discussion at day one of the conference proceeded by addressing a range of interconnected issues: religious fundamentalisms, the occupation of Palestine, the agenda of Washington and the Bush administration, weapons proliferation – only to name a few.

At some points throughout the day, the systematic and endemic nature of these issues left the entire room in silence. But this silence was always momentary. The focus of the discussions consistently moved towards strategising for policy-oriented action, women’s agency, and appropriation of power in various institutions. Personally, it is this aspect of the conference that I find to be most inspiring, and highly motivating. Many women involved in the NWI conference are academics and intellectuals, but the conference at large represents a move beyond analysis alone towards dealing practically with human rights abuses and violence against women on the ground.

The women at the NWI conference are addressing some of the most difficult contemporary issues facing not only women, but the international community at large. These issues are being addressed in seriousness, but not solemnity. The overriding sense here is one of motivation, commitment, and an unwavering belief in possibilities for positive change. It is with this attitude that we end day one exhausted, yet looking forward to day two with an equal amount of anticipation.

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