Saturday, April 01, 2006

Immigration Debate

So much has been said and done over the immigration debate, that I feel it might be useless giving my two cents. Instead, I opt to quote below the words of someone whose viewpoints really resonated with me.
Donna Lieberman is the Executive Director of the New York Civil Liberties Union (NYCLU), which is an organization instrumental in doing some wonderful work when it comes to civil liberties here in New York City. Others include the Center for Constituional Rights (CCR), which is a personal favorite of mine because of the short, but sweet time I spent there.
Lieberman's words are from an interview she gave to Metro New York, a free daily newspaper with a fairly wide circulation. I found the views to be logical, compelling and succinct. For anyone who wants a brief overview of how I feel about the immigration debate, read below!

What’s your take on the immigration debate?
◗ ◗ Current immigration laws have done such terrible harm to children and families. There’s something fundamentally wrong when kids who have grown up in this country since age 2 but never got their citizenship can be deported to places whose language they don’t even speak. There’s something wrong when a society depends on the laborers who are here illegally, yet refuse to grant them any protections they are entitled to. And there’s something wrong with the government whose language sets people up for private discrimination, harassment and bias attacks. We have to recognize that we’re a country of immigrants, and immigrants should have rights. A major overhaul is long overdue.

Friday, March 31, 2006

South Asian women in the political arena

I find it interesting how so many stories remain untold in the media. It's not as if they are not newsworthy. Perhaps, actually, they'd be in the better interest of society. Then why do they never end up getting told?

It is this very thought that still baffles me, despite the fact that one of my Letters to the Editor to a local New York newspaper was published on the topic of South Asian women in the political arena.

Ms. Felice Cohen is a freelance columnist for the free daily paper, Metro, and wrote a column on March 30th about how women hit a glass ceiling no matter where they go or what they do, but that inroads are being made. She mentioned female leaders from Chile, Germany, and Liberia, but neglected to mention any female - or country - from South Asia!

Copied below is her column, which was great, but the discrepancy was conspicuous - not even a single mention of the pioneers, the trailblazers who paved the path for the women of today.

MY view
Felice Cohen

While some women may be breaking through the glass ceiling, there are others getting cut by the falling shards at the bottom. As women continue to make history, many are still left to pick up the pieces.

Upon being sworn is as Chile’s first female president, single mother Michelle Bachelet fulfilled her first campaign promise: swearing in her cabinet of 10 men and 10 women. But that’s not all. With 300 decision-making posts to fill, Bachelet plans to split them equally between the sexes, with promises to bring more women into Chilean politics. Not to be outdone, San Salvador has
elected their first female mayor, Violeta Menjivar; Germany recently elected Angela Merkel as the first German female chancellor; while in Liberia, Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf was the first woman elected as the head of state, the first for any African country.

In the United States, speculation surrounds a possible Hillary Clinton run for the Oval Office. Despite her modest chances, the fact that we’re even talking about a woman candidate for president (not to mention the possibility of her running against Condoleezza Rice, an African-American woman) is a huge step — a leap even — for womankind. So why, then, does it feel like a step backward?

As women continue to make history by becoming their country’s, state’s or even city’s first female to hold a high office — like our own Christine Quinn, the first female speaker of the New York City Council — we cannot forget the legions of women who remain stuck at the bottom.

While there are plenty who think that women are capable of holding high office, there are still handfuls of others who believe a woman’s place is in the — well, if not the kitchen, then definitely the bedroom. No matter how high on the ladder we climb, women around the globe continue to be treated as second-class citizens.

The city of Grozny, Russia, suffering from a male population shortage due to 10 years of war, is hampered with 10 million single women. Their brilliant solution? They legalized polygamy and allow men up to four wives. Sure, this might fix their population shortage, but it will no doubt turn many a single woman into a single mother.

In London, politicians are making real headway by looking after the well-being of prostitutes. Prostitution is already legal if the prostitute is self-employed and works alone, and a new decision to legalize brothels was recently passed. Of course, it comes with one stipulation: no more than three prostitutes per shop. Apparently more than that and it becomes a whore house. And which politician do those Brits who work on their backs have to thank? Female Fiona Mactaggart, minister in the Home Office in London, who assures her constituents she is not encouraging the sale of women’s bodies, but truly believes that allowing small brothels would cu down on “streetwalking,” which is where the extreme danger for these women exists. Because, of course, a woman working as a prostitute faces no other dangers if she’s working inside a tastefully sized brothel “cervixing” others. Oh yeah, baby, we’ve come a long way.

➔ FELICE COHEN is a freelance writer living in New York.

Anyway, knowing how I can't let a thought sit in my head for too long, I wrote up a brief letter, and off it went to the Editor. And lo and behold - it got published in today's (March 31st) Metro. If you get a chance, pick it up - it's free, and since it's the weekend edition, it should be available all weekend.

Copied below is the Letter:

South Asia ahead of the political pack
• New York

Regarding “Breaking the glass ceiling leaves shards” (March 30): While I am grateful Ms. Felice Cohen has shown good journalistic skills by not only telling a story but also educating her readers, she has simultaneously done a disservice by not mentioning the true trailblazers when it comes to women in politics. South Asia has a unique history with women being at the forefront of many movements, sometimes pioneering endeavors that many men never undertook. Women like Benazir Bhutto of Pakistan, Indira Gandhi of India, Khaleda Zia and Hasina Wajed of Bangladesh, and Sirimavo Bindaranaike and Chandrika Kumaratunga of Sri Lanka were all democratically elected long before Chile, Germany, England and Liberia elected female leaders.
Why this conspicuous disparity when it comes to their mention in the media? Ms. Cohen has reminded me of an important journalistic lesson I learned long ago: It’s not so much how a story is told in the media, but what is left out that should be of concern to us.

NY Event: International Trade: What Does Justice Demand? - Wednesday, April 5th

The Carnegie Council presents:

Lori Wallach (Director, Public Citizen's Global Trade Watch), Kamal Malhotra (Senior Adviser on Inclusive Globalization, UNDP), Christian Barry (Editor, Ethics & International Affairs), Robert Hockett (Cornell Law School), and Sanjay Reddy (Barnard College, Columbia University)

International Trade: What Does Justice Demand?

Wednesday April 5, 2006
5:30 PM - 7:30 PM

Is the WTO system fair or just? In the aftermath of the WTO ministerial meeting in Hong Kong, this question remains salient. Oxfam’s spokesman commented: “Rich country interests have prevailed yet again and poor countries have had to fight a rearguard action simply to keep some of their issues on the table.” In contrast, WTO’s director-general, Pascal Lamy, described the WTO as a “healthy and democratic common institution” in which decision-making is “burdensome and cumbersome” yet “remains the best way to take decisions that impact directly the lives of billions of people.”

While disagreements about the justice of the WTO system sometimes concern only the best means to achieve shared aims—such as the extent to which removing agricultural subsidies and protection in developed countries is necessary to foster development, the debate is often underlined by divergent views on more fundamental questions of principle.

This public panel on April 5 will further a debate about the relevant principles for evaluating the justice of the international trade system, and identify the reforms that might be necessary.

This event will also launch the new book Global Institutions and Responsibilities: Achieving Global Justice, edited by Christian Barry and Thomas Pogge.

Open to the public free of charge. Reception will follow.

Due to limited seating, registrations are required. Please RSVP by replying to or by calling 212-838-4120.

Location: Carnegie Council, 170 East 64th Street, New York.