Tag Archive for #SharedSocieties

Tracking the Post-2015 debate

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The process of creating the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), which will replace the Millennium Development Goals, is coming to fruition with the Summit during the UN General Assembly in September 2015.

It has been difficult to keep track of all the meetings, reports and conferences on the topic that have taken place I the last few. They have been important not only as contributions to the drafting and adopting of the goals but in the years to come they will continue to be important in reminding us of key issues and approaches that can inform the implementation of the new set of Goals.

The Post-2015 Development Process has become a defining focus for the global debate on social development, bringing together economic, social and environmental concerns.

The Club de Madrid, mainly through its Shared Societies Project, has made its own contribution to the debate, particularly addressing the issue of the continuing marginalization of many groups on grounds of identity. The Members have contributed to High Level Panels, and listed below are their various statements, making the argument that an inclusive Shared Society is more likely to be able to meet environmental, economic and social goals, and therefore it is a foundation for achieving the SDGs.

Back at the beginning of the Process, Members of the Club de Madrid presented the Global Shared Societies Agenda to Promote Long term Inclusive and Sustainable Growth. The event “Sustainable Development in an Unequal World” took place on June 2012 in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. Michelle Bachelet, former President of Chile, Gro Harlem Brundtland, former Prime Minister of Norway and Mary Robinson, former President of Ireland, addressed different facets of the event’s overarching message on the state of national and global inequalities and their relationship to sustainable development and growth.

Hörst Kohler, former Chancellor of Germany and Member of the Club de Madrid was a member of the UN Secretary General’s High Level Panel of Eminent Persons, which produced the report “A New Global Partnership: Eradicate Poverty And Transform Economies Through Sustainable Development”.

The SSP Project was involved during the work sessions of the Open Working Group (OWG) of the UN General Assembly on Post 2015 Development Agenda and Sustainable Development Goals to retain a Shared Societies perspective in the outcome document and published “A Shared Societies Perspective on the Post-2105 Development Agenda”. Cassam Uteem, former President of Mauritius, and Mary Robinson, former President of Ireland, spoke at an OWG session in February 2014 and the Project circulated a statement from the Second Global Shared Societies Forum in Baku. After the OWG published its report, a further paper was circulated: “Response to Open Working Group on Sustainable Development Goals Outcome Document”.

During the final phase of negotiations from the beginning of 2015, the Project has kept in touch with the process and in the lead-up to the Financing for Development Summit in July 2015, the SSP Project team Co Chairs issues a paper.

In addition, Club de Madrid members Roza Otunbayeva, former President of Kyrgyzstan, Zlatko Lagumdzija, former Prime Minister of Bosnia & Herzegovina and Abdurrahim El-Keib, former Prime Minister of Libya, were keynote speakers at the United Nations Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) Annual Ministerial Review of the Millennium Development Goals. The participation of the CdM members took place from 8 to 10 July, 2015 in New York just days before the Financing for Development Summit.

For further information the website Post2015.org “What comes after the Millennium Goals” and its twitter account, @post2015, has been collecting relevant material on the Post-2015 agenda coordinated by the British think thank Overseas Development Institute.

The website is focused on the debate on what should follow the Millennium Development Goals when they expire this year 2015 emphasizing that “there is a new meeting, report or conference on the subject somewhere in the world almost every day, although trying to keep track of what the key players are thinking, writing and saying is becoming increasingly difficult.” The post2015.org website brings together the key documents, reports and ongoing research on the post-2015 agenda, with regular updates on events and briefings about the emerging agenda.

Refugees attitudes in Europe

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On August 6th, The Guardian published an article: “German TV presenter sparks debate and hatred with her support for refugees”. The article’s author wrote how the German TV presenter Anja Reschke denounced that, racist comments have recently become socially acceptable and it’s common to make them under real names. Her declarations generated debates about emerging racism in Germany.

Until recently, such commentators were hidden behind pseudonyms, but now these things are being aired under real names, (…) in reaction to phrases like “filthy vermin should drown in the sea”, you get excited consensus and a lot of “likes” on social media.

However, the article’s author mentioned that the aggressive response towards foreigners is seen as a minority reacting to the changing face of Germany where one fifth of the population is now of a migrant background, according to statistics out this week.

Since then the Germany Government has accepted many more refugees and advocated within the European Union for a better system for receiving refugees. The situation is changing day by day.

The mainstream debate and attitudes have been overwhelmingly positive, with many communities and individual families welcoming refugees, most of whom have fled conflict in the Middle East, Africa and Asia. In most towns, inhabitants received new arrivals, offering help, collecting food and clothing, offering language lessons for free, and even inviting them to live with them. Some neighbors help them with the shopping and with the bureaucratic issues, others give them presents and even install a satellite dish for them so they could watch Syrian TV.

Yahian, a Syrian refugee with his family in a village in Germany told their experience arriving in Germany to The Guardian:

There were flowers, candles, milk and coffee waiting for us. They tried to make it as comfortable as possible. It was cold, wet and dark. My wife was crying, she was so nervous, but we’ll never forget the warmth of their welcome.

The Pastor of his village, also help him to negotiate with the butcher to provide halal meat.

The Guardian, also published an article on the same topic that emphasizes the desire of Germans citizens to improve the situation of refugees, and described a project created by a couple that felt uncomfortable with the way Germany were treating them, “Refugee Welcome” (http://www.refugees-welcome.net/). This initiative consists in sharing home with refugees; “Accommodating a refugee does not have to mean losing out on the rent of a room, Refugees Welcome representative said. In a third of the cases, costs are covered either by the job centre or social welfare payments, and a quarter of the rents are paid for via micro-donations to the site”. 26 people have been placed in private’s houses so far, and more than 780 Germans have signed up to the website.

Acts like the ones described above demonstrates that most of the Germans do their best to make the refugees feel like home. It shouldn’t be forgotten that Germany is a country used to integrate both immigrants and refugees, having “one of Europe’s most hospitable asylum systems”.

 

“No to Xenophobia”: the Twitter Community Speaks Up

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On May 10th, the Spanish newspaper El País published an online article titled Twitter, al Rescate del Sueño de Mandela (Twitter to the Rescue of the Mandela Dream) depicting the efforts of the Twitter communityto raise its voice against hate crimes in South Africa.

Solidarity and social cohesion became loud and clear after South Africa and the international community turned to Twitter to take a stand regarding the latest outbreaks of violence, which specifically targeted immigrants in South Africa mostly from Mozambique, Zimbabue, Malawi and Ethiopia. The most recent outbreaks, fueled by xenophobic sentiments, began in March in the city of Durban, but have spread throughout South Africa including Johannesburg. Twitter served as a platform for all those who felt the moral and social duty to speak up against the unfortunate series of violent occurrences. On April 14th, Twitter users started raising their voices and identified their call to social justice and human rights with different hashtags, which quickly caught on among the Twitter users and reached outstanding numbers of supporters. Among the most notable hashtags are #XenophobiaSA which almost reached 100,000  #NoToXenophobia, which surpassed 90,000 #SayNoToXenophobia is around 68,000, while #StopXenophobia has surpassed 38,000. Winnie Mandela, one of the most recognized and important figures of this Twitter movement, expressed her heartfelt sentiments on April 14th, “This is not the freedom that we fought for. I am hearth broken #StopXenophobia. (WM).”

Other media are launching campaigns to do their part to raise consciousness that aims to create social cohesion given that the great majority of the victims are from other parts of Africa. LeadSA is an organization that promotes social progress and justice. Foundation Africa 2.0 launched a campaign at the end of January through social media to reject the wave of violence that Boko Haram has created.

It became apparent that South Africans and the international community, individuals and organizations alike, felt the urge to react against the hate crimes with the aim of creating public awareness and cease the violence. As Nelson Mandela said, “We can build a society grounded on friendship & our common humanity–a society founded on tolerance.”

“My Synagogue is your Synagogue”: Muslim caretakers in India

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Photo: The Jews in Kolkata came from Baghdad about 220 years ago [Priyanka Borpujari/Al Jazeera]

Could you imagine a deeply religious person in the service of an alien-faith institution, say a Buddhist taking care of an abandoned Christian Church? Well, you can now not only imagine it but also believe it. Al Jazeera’s article about the Kolkata Synagogue keepers (“Muslim families look after Kolkata Synagogues”) presents us with a heartening reality for future developments on a Shared Societies path. Just like medieval Spain, in which Muslims, Jews and Christians lived together respecting and learning from one another’s cultures and beliefs, Kolkata in Eastern India- introduces us to a surprising panorama in which several Muslim families and one Hindu, take care of the three synagogues which are the almost abandoned Jewish heritage in their hometown.

The account of faith-based belligerency has spattered many of the pages of history books, with blood spilled in different wars in different times and between different identity groups. Such has been the impact of religions and the competition between them, that many of the conflicts alive or latent nowadays, can mostly be traced back to this kind of controversy: from the Charlie Hebdo attacks to the everlasting Arab-Israeli conflict. Sadly, the testimony of a religious person selflessly minding an institution of a different faith is an odd bird; however it suggests that there may be light at the end of the tunnel.

The caretakers’ accounts are truly hopeful for a comeback to communal coexistence: “My father raised me by working here, and today I have the same job. It is God’s home, and it is my livelihood. I would give my life for this place”. Moreover, they shed an encouraging light on our awareness of the nature of religious wars: “The Quran, the Torah and the Bible have similar origins. How then could we be fighting?”

Living in the Synagogue’s compound and taking care of both the wellbeing and respect for the prayers, as well as acting in the capacity of “on-site” rent collectors for many of the Jewish property owners who have fled, has also provided these people a unique point of view that, if shared and agreed upon by their neighbours and countrymen, could prompt new developments, leading to a Shared Societies reality of peace and communal understanding: “The wars are taking place in other countries. If the Jews had any issues with our religion, they wouldn’t have hired us. Religion has its own place, while we have ours. This is something that we never think of. The Jews respect us and we respect them”

There are still many problems, in which a Shared Societies approach would struggle, as one of the caretakers stated: “Communal coexistence has been common across India and hence we don’t think of it as important. Yet, there is also a problem in becoming conscious about it”; however, their insider view could be vital for a better understanding of events.

Diversity Schools in Georgia

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The Diversity School is an educational program implemented by the NGO Iris Group in Georgia in the South Caucasus.  It offers young activists a platform of capacity building and ideas execution. The program strives for a pluralistic society “focusing on educating young people to give them the knowledge, skills, attitudes and values necessary to strengthen a tolerant Georgian society.”

More specifically, the Diversity School Programme aims to increase the inclusion of minorities while promoting equal opportunities in school and youth employment. On the program’s website the organization stated the main objectives and values, among them:

  • to promote a pluralism of identities enabling members of different social groups in Georgia to better understand each other” and;
  •  “to empower young people to use the potential offered by diversity to shape Georgia’s future as a country with space for a variety of ethnic groups, each possessing a broad range of aspirations and beliefs.

To participate in the Diversity School activities candidates must be aged between 18 and 24, have an affinity with ethnic minority issues, be active in the local community and have an interest in diversity education and youth activism.

The NGO Iris Group was founded in Tbilisi in 2010 as a non-profit and non-governmental organization with a main purpose “to support young people to figure out their potential, use the strength of diversity and contribute to the development of their society by active participation.” Prior to 2012, the activities of Iris Group were mainly focused on the South Caucasus region (Georgia, Armenia, and Azerbaijan). Since then Iris group has started to implement activities in Russia and Turkey working with ethnic minorities and strengthening them to become full members of the society.

Through workshops and specific material the organization provides resources for project management, mentoring, non-formal education and development of Educational Programs in the field of active citizenship. One of these training activities was published in an article in the local newspaper Georgia Today, where one of the participants mentioned that “Diversity School taught me to write, gave me experience as a project manager and taught me to overcome hardships (…).”

As stated in a European Parliament report[1], Georgia is the most ethnically diverse state in the South Caucasus. Its minorities constitute 16% of the population including large Armenian and Azeri minorities, each speaking their own language. Georgians themselves are divided into four separate groups: Georgians proper, Megrelians, Svans and Laz. The report highlighted that minorities are poorly represented in the political system and state structures. In the 150-member Georgian Parliament there are three Armenians and three Azeris. Insufficient knowledge of Georgian, the national working language, among minorities hampers more active participation by them in the decision-making process of the country.

The Diversity School program alludes to one of the fundamental components of Shared Societies Project, the creation of a shared vision of society at local and national level through projects in schools and other institutions in order for young people to think about their society and their place in it and the place for other identity groups. Initiatives such as the project implemented in Georgia encourage young people to envisage a shared society for the future.

The Club de Madrid has had a long interest in Georgia as one of the countries coming out of the Soviet Bloc, and at present is considering a more active involvement to help the government and people to work on diversity issues.



[1] Directorate General for External Policies, European Parliament: “Minorities in the South Caucasus: New visibility amid old frustrations”, June 2014.

 

Foreign Migrants in Johannesburg

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On May 7, the book titled “Healing communities, transforming society: Exploring the interconnectedness between psycho-social needs, practice and peace-building” was launched in Johannesburg, South Africa.

This publication was written by Professor Pumla Gobodo-Madikizela from the University of the Free State in South Africa, Dr. Ingrid Palmary from the African Center for Migration and Society and Professor Brandon Hamber at the International Conflict Research Institute in Northern Ireland. It offers personal reflections about precarious life in the city of Johannesburg for foreign migrants.

According to the book, migrants in Johannesburg are facing “opportunities, challenges, moral orders and relationships in this iconic and complex city”. The book analyzes those challenges through their interaction with organisations, such as churches, brothels, shelters, political movements, counseling services or art projects. From a mental health perspective, the publication describes in-depth case studies on how migrants seek support beyond traditional mechanisms for those in distress. Those case studies cover a diversity of groups of people in Johannesburg including refugees, homeless people, sex workers and former soldiers from across the African continent

In addition, a recent report on the effects of migration on urbanization in South Africa, posted by the research body, African Centre for Migration and Society, on May 2015, roughly 4.4% of the South African population was born outside of the country and 3% of the population within South Africa has moved across internal borders. These population movements have resulted in rapid growth of urban areas and a challenge for social cohesion at the local level.

In the framework of the Shared Societies Project, this book alludes to one fundamental goal of SSP: working with leaders and organizations to help them confront challenges to coexistence. As reinforced by the authors, by ensuring that individuals have equal access to economic and material resources in order to satisfy their social, physical and economic needs, as a result they are able to play an active part in the development of the host country.

Cities like Johannesburg, which is one of the biggest in the African continent, are true laboratories of political and social innovation. Here, political leaders have a great responsibility to use this social transformation capacity to build Shared Societies and provide models of good practice.

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