World Humanitarian Day

Central to the work a humanitarian does, is the care of people and promotion of their welfare.  

A couple of weeks ago World Humanitarian Day recognised the incredible work done by our many humanitarians across the world, particularly aid workers who put their lives at risk for the welfare of others. This day also strives to raise awareness of the countless people adversely impacted by armed conflict. Where finding safe drinking water and nutritious food is a daily struggle. Where children are stripped of their innocence and right to education by being used to fight wars they didn’t start or want. Where women are degraded. Where every citizen, irrespective of gender, ethnicity, sexual orientation and occupation are put in a compromised position of mental and physical safety day in and day out.

The work our countless humanitarians do is particularly important when considering our contemporary societal contexts; where conflicts are rampant.

 

Participants in the UN Office at Geneva (UNOG)’s World Humanitarian Day activities, pose for a photo.

We, as citizens of Aotearoa are placed in a fortunate position in the sense that these aren’t problems for us – but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t care about the welfare of others; that doesn’t mean we can’t be humanitarians in our own respects. I challenge anyone reading this to be a humanitarian – to thank your friends, families, caregivers, bus drivers and teachers for doing all they do to make your life a safe and enjoyable one. I challenge you to take the time to reach out to both those you know, and those you don’t, and offer a hand, a shoulder to cry on.

My high school principal used to tell a lot of super inspiring stories. There are a few that stand out. Among these, lies the message that small acts of kindness can go a long way. Therefore, I challenge you to be there for those around you, to support them; to be a humanitarian. Let’s do our part to help make a world ridden of conflict, one a little brighter and a little safer.

 

By Ayush Sharma

World Friendship Day

When someone mentions political friendships the first thing that pops into my mind is the Obama-Biden bromance. While I wish this blog post was all about the iconic pair, it’s arguably a little old news, and also not surprising given they hold similar values and work closely together in the same political party striving for the same outcomes. As heartwarming as that might be, and certainly a great friendship to celebrate on international friendship day, it doesn’t challenge us or broaden our perspectives.

The world is becoming an increasingly polarized and divided place. From facebook algorithms that ensure we only see news and blogs that reinforce our already narrowing beliefs, to the research that shows spatial geographical patterning of people based on political views. This is a scary trend for communities and individuals, the more we hear about our perspective on any issue without actively challenging it, the more deeply rooted we become in it. Arguably sometimes even blindly rooted. We lose flexibility in our opinions or even the desire to try to understand a different perspective.

 

Vice President Joe Biden and President Barack Obama look at an app on an iPhone in the Outer Oval Office, Saturday, July 16, 2011. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)

 

Edward De Bono calls it the ‘logic bubble’. When you genuinely listen and understand someone’s place in the world, you can see into their ‘logic bubble’. Their view of the world which influences their opinions. The more we only interact with people who possess the same logic bubble as us, the harder it is to break out. Understanding someone else’s ‘logic bubble’ means that we are aware of our own- what created it, what it looks like, why it’s there and how this impacts our view of the world. It creates empathy and helps us recognise our subconscious biases. It also allows us to detach the emotion and deep-rooted “difference” we feel when we are confronted with someone who has different opinions. It allows us to look logically at the experiences and knowledge that has led us to this point. We can critique, embrace or disregard any new experience and knowledge that may change our opinion and how we act as a result.

Somewhat surprisingly, politicians maybe understand this best. They are so deeply rooted in their political beliefs that they make it their life’s work to implements them. They are also continually facing critique of these logic bubbles, justifying them and refining them. So, while some people find cross-party political friendships unusual or surprising, they are a great demonstration of how we can put differences aside and prioritize friendship through communal challenges or triumphs.

The increasingly humourous ‘bromance’ between National spokesperson for youth, Chris Bishop and Act party leader David Seymour, shows while their party lines differ on political ideas such as housing, education and immigration, their desire for wanting the nation to endure through another week of Seymours twerking on dancing with the stars and posting throwback Thursday photos of their younger selves prevails.

Further from our shores, we have seen Bill Clinton call George W. Bush “a brother from another mother,” despite campaigning against many things he stood for. Their shared stories of grandparenting allowed them to work towards common goals rather than divide over differences. Similar to Bob Dole and George McGovern who “knew what we had in common was far more important than our different political philosophies” and allowed them to work on fighting hunger around the world.

These individuals and their unusual friendship demonstrate that the common goals and shared stories friendship can offer go beyond political boundaries. Now more than ever we need people to consciously go against the system that is continually dividing us and seek out people with differing perspectives and understand not only other’s ‘logic bubbles’ but also our own.

While it’s tempting to simply hold on to the idealism of the Obama-Biden friendship and tag your friends in the great memes it has produced all while keeping your conversations safely within your ‘logic bubble’. Communal challenge and triumph as opposed to highlighting differences makes us better people, better friends, better communities and allows us to create a better world.

 

By Maisy Bentley

 

 

World Freedom of Press Day

 

I didn’t even know World Freedom of Press Day was a thing. Maybe that’s just me. Maybe everyone else knew it about it. Either way, now that I do know about it, here’s why it’s important.

The 3rd of May, according to UNESCO, is a date which “celebrates the fundamental principles of press freedom, to evaluate press freedom around the world, to defend the media from attacks on their independence and to pay tribute to journalists who have lost their lives in the exercise of their profession.”

 

Wide view of participants in a panel discussion on the occasion of “World Press Freedom Day 2007”, at UN Headquarters in New York. UN Photo/Evan Schneider

 

In other words, today is a day in which we remember how valuable it is to have a press that is free from outside intervention and are capable of reporting on the stories that matter to New Zealanders.

As a working journalist, albeit one that is often found writing about cats up trees or reporting on something a Kardashian said, I still understand the vital importance of a free press.

If a story needs telling – even if it damages those in positions of power – I can tell it.

In some countries around the world, journalists aren’t so lucky.

According to Reporters Without Borders, an international non-profit organisation dedicated to freedom of information and of the press, more than a third of the world’s people live in countries where there is no press freedom.

Unsurprisingly, a number of the countries at the bottom of the press freedom scale are those with the most repressive, dictatorial governments – North Korea and Turkmenistan, for example.

Conversely, and thankfully, New Zealand was ranked in the top 5 in 2016, alongside Finland, the Netherlands, Norway and Denmark.

What this means is that in countries without a free press, citizens are shut out from the conversations that really matter. In my opinion, while much of the media serves to entertain or to inform, the real importance of journalism is holding power to account.

Genuine political discourse is important to allow people to make informed decisions and understand their place in society.

 

A radio journalist at work in Juba, South Sudan, on World Press Freedom Day UN Photo/Isaac Billy

 

So, sure, I didn’t know that May 3rd was World Freedom of Press Day before sitting down to write this piece. But now I do – and I know that it’s something that deserves acknowledgement.

Because in New Zealand, we’re fortunate enough to have a free and functioning press– but so many millions of people aren’t.

Millions of people are left without a voice and the chance for abuses of power to be checked and corrected.

Without a free press, what hope do we have for fair governance and a working democracy?

I think, none.

 

By Stewart Sowman-Lund

Human Spaceflight Day

“Looking at the earth from afar you realise it is too small for conflict and just big enough for cooperation.” – Yuri Gagarin.

 

As the early rays of sunlight slowly bled across the horizon, Yuri Gagarin clambered into the spherical capsule spanning 2.3m in diameter1 – the Vostok 1. He would call this home for the next 108 minutes1. At 6:07 UTC, April 12, 1961, the cosmonaut launched into orbit from the Baikonur Cosmodrome launchpad.  He made one orbit around the Earth at an altitude of 327km above sea level. After 89 minutes in orbit at speeds of 27,400km/hr2, the spacecraft corrected its orientation for re-entry. As the one-man vehicle hurtled toward the ground, Yuri experienced forces 8 times that of gravity, but remained conscious enough to eject 7km3 above ground. As Vostok 1 made fiery contact with the ground, Yuri gently cascaded and landed in a dazed, safe and in a state near the town of Engels; thus, marking the first human space flight.

 

Wreath laying ceremony for the 50th anniversary of the first flight by cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin held at the Monument to the Explorers of Space (gift of the former USSR) in the Ariana Park, UN office at Geneva, 12th April 2011.
UN Photo/Jess Hoffman

 

International Day of Human Space Flight was declared 12 April by the General Assembly passed in the resolution A/RES/65/271 on April 7 20114. The resolution reads as follows: “[IDHSF aims] to celebrate each year at the international level the beginning of space era for mankind, reaffirming the important contribution of space science and technology in achieving sustainable development goals and increasing the well-being of States and peoples, as well as ensuring the realization of their aspiration to maintain outer space for peaceful purposes.”

 

Every year we commemorate the accomplishment born from the Cold War rivalry, and every year we remember how the Space Race brought unto civilisation the fastest growing technology witnessed in its time. We recognise these feats not for the conflict for which allowed this progression, but for the limitless possibilities mankind can achieve by transcending unnecessary dissension. Further, we seek to establish fundamental principles in the conquest to better understand our universe. Cornerstones which ensure that in our time, and those to come, space exploration is synonymous with cooperation, accord, and unison.

 

For if Neil Armstrong took one giant leap for mankind, then Yuri taught mankind how to leap.

 

By Louis Lin

International Women’s Day Speech

National President Bokyong Mun was invited to give a speech at the International Women’s Day lunch, hosted in Wellington on the 8 March 2018. Read below for the speech that she presented, and the challenge that she leaves us all!:

“International Women’s Day is an opportunity for us all to celebrate the improvements and great lengths that we have achieved all over the world in stride for gender equality and the empowerment of women. However it also serves as a reminder – a reminder of the challenges and issues that women still face everywhere they go.

But I want to ask, what are the different challenges that women face today? What does it really mean for women to be empowered, and what does this mean in the 2018 context of Aotearoa New Zealand? To me my biggest frustration is that the perspective and experiences of being a woman are often overlooked when considering women’s issues in New Zealand.

My parents immigrated from South Korea and I was lucky enough to be born on the North Shore in Auckland here in New Zealand. I however grew up in a small town called Balclutha, about an hour away from Dunedin surrounded by a farming community and a beautiful river for jumping into on summer days.

The reality is that our identity is not only made up of our gender, but also our ethnicity, cultural background, upbringing and experiences that we have had. Being a woman means something different to every single one of us.

Bokyong Mun (UN Youth National President) with President of the United Nations Association of NZ, Joy Dunseath

 

To me, women empowerment means much more than the need to bridge the gender pay gap, or the right for me to breastfeed in public, although these are all very important things. To me it means not facing discrimination from law firms because I don’t have blonde hair, as well as not having my worth judged on my looks to begin with. It means that I am able to talk to my mother freely in public in Korean without people telling us to go home, and not have people tell me that I am not beautiful because of the size of my eyes. It means people no longer expecting me to behave a certain way, just because that is how Asian women are portrayed to be in popular culture.

New Zealand is my home, however too often people forget how rich and diverse our multicultural country is. People assume that I didn’t feel pride when we won the Rugby World Cup in 2011, or that I didn’t cry because it was my neighbour’s homes that had been devastated by the Canterbury Earthquakes. To me, International Women’s Day is important because it gives me the chance to reflect on what it means to be me – a woman that makes up a part of the multicultural society that is Aotearoa New Zealand today.  

Through my role in United Nations Youth, I have met hundreds of young New Zealanders, who all have a different, but equally valuable definition of what it means to be a woman. For many youth today, conflicts and confusion around our identity plays a big part in our daily lives. But it is through hearing these stories of my peers that I have also learnt not to be ashamed of my identity, to strive for my aspirations, and realise that it is the differences among us that make us stronger as a collective.”

International Women’s Day

In a world first, New Zealand women won the right to vote in parliamentary elections in 1893. Since then, the role women play in society across the world has evolved dramatically, with women entering academia, the workforce and taking control of their own destinies in a way which was previously impossible.

In 2017, New Zealand voted in its third female Prime Minister, Jacinda Ardern, who will inspire a generation of young women. However, the simple fact of having a high-achieving, confident and respected woman in a top leadership position can too easily overshadow the multitude of issues which women face across the globe. The gender pay gap, gender-based violence, discrimination, workplace harassment and child marriage are among a plethora of challenges which women face every day. While these issues remain present in developed countries such as New Zealand, they are often felt more sharply by women with access to fewer resources, limited education, or who live without basic rights and protections. Therefore, on International Women’s Day, it is important to highlight the monumental achievements of some lesser-known women’s rights activists and leaders, who campaign for rights and freedoms for women, just as Kate Sheppard fought for New Zealand women’s right to vote in the 1890s.

 

Prime Minister Jacinda Adern and suffragette Kate Sheppard- Image from stuff.co.nz

 

Across Iran, women risk prosecution, fines and imprisonment by violating the state’s gender-based dress codes in protest. In the United States of America and across the world, the #metoo movement has brought to light the extent of sexual violence and harassment which continues to permeate developed societies in the 21st Century, affecting even the most powerful and privileged of women. In 2011, a woman was arrested for doing something which millions of women across the globe do every day without incident. Manal al-Sharif was arrested for driving a car, which violated Saudi Arabia’s strict gender norms. She too began a social media movement, which brought the laws restricting women’s freedoms in Saudi Arabia to the forefront of the world’s minds. It is a reminder that there is still a huge amount of work to be done before gender parity can be achieved.

When women in the 1800s campaigned for the right to vote, it must have seemed like an impossible task. For al-Sharif and many other human rights activists like her, trying to improve women’s rights in Saudi Arabia may have felt futile. However, in 2017, the Saudi King announced that, from mid-2018, Saudi women would be granted driver licences and be able to legally drive, a victory for al-Sharif and others like her, who fought for what they believed in. International Women’s Day provides the opportunity for young people to examine their place in society and the remarkable achievements of their predecessors, who played such a vital role in shaping the societies we live in. 

 

 

By Grace Thurlow