Peace and Human Rights; Lessons in Security and Stability

Harvard International Review, Spring 2008 | Go to article overview

Peace and Human Rights; Lessons in Security and Stability


What should be done on an international scale to combat modern slavery in the form of forced labor and human trafficking, which so often targets the most vulnerable among the world's children?

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As you can imagine, a number of these problems are interconnected. First is the fact that the children who become victims of abduction and human trafficking come mostly, if not exclusively, from families that are poor. It is their poverty that makes them vulnerable. Child laborers emerge from the same impoverished section of society. It is my belief that, until we can eradicate the glaring inequities of the world economic system, until we can eradicate poverty--as has been the aim of the Make Poverty History campaign--we will always find that we are caught on the back foot. Vulnerability very often stems from indigence.

We therefore have a long-term strategy and a short-term strategy. The short-term strategy is creating more effective policy to ensure that people do not get away with their poor treatment of children. But underneath it all is recognizing that children are human beings who have undeniable, inalienable rights.

How is gender equality, or lack thereof, in impoverished countries related to efforts at poverty alleviation and economic development?

Women tend to be the most marginalized of the marginalized. In fact, they also turn out to be those who possess the greatest initiative. It has been found that in almost every case, if you invest in women, they do not default. So they are a very safe investment. This conclusion is a keystone of Muhammad Yunus's Grameen Bank, which has repeatedly demonstrated its effectiveness in empowering the most disadvantaged, the most disenfranchised--women.

How can the education of women be integrated into the economic development of a state?

It is clear that educating young girls, who are the potential mothers of the future, enhances the possibilities of development in a community. I do not know why we fail to realize that women have a resilience that men simply do not have. They have an uncanny capacity for sharing and for cooperation. Indeed, in one of our languages, a woman is said to be able to share even the eye of the fly.

There is another crucial capacity that is peculiar to women--namely, that maternal instinct that enables a woman to face up to any danger in order to protect her own. So we are actually very short-sighted in our discrimination against women. Discrimination is a self-defeating strategy in itself; we are hitting ultimately at ourselves by disempowering women.

What is the potential influence of women in positions of political leadership?

I think that, at times, people involved in the pro-women movement have gone over the top in equating women to men, which is often not an appropriate assumption. There are attributes that that distinguish women from men. The attribute of nurturing, the capacity to bring to life, are not masculine attributes. They are peculiarly feminine.

I am saddened by suggestions that the true woman must constantly triumph over men, overtake men at the conventionally masculine pursuits. Yet we forget that this world has seen a great deal of trouble precisely because of the things we think of as the manly qualities: "A big boy does not cry." "You've got to be macho." In this context, we can recall former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher--the "Iron Lady"--who denigrated compassion, equating it to weakness.

The world is waiting for a time when women in leadership positions, particularly political leadership positions, contribute what are specifically feminine attributes. I am sure that, if that happens, we are going to see a great deal less war. 1 cannot myself imagine a woman, who had carried a baby in her womb for nine months, willingly turning that child into cannon fodder.

Could having more women leaders influence the status of human rights in the world? …

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