Universal Peace Federation (UPF) and Women’s Federation for World Peace (WFWP) hosted the European Leadership Conference (ELC) at the House of Lords (15th – 16th June), which specifically focused on the unempowered and dispossessed. June 15th saw a marathon of inspirational speakers and delegates from different walks of life voicing their thoughts, ideas and perceptions on the role of politics, religion and security and its relation with society both regionally and globally.
Despite the diversity the world radiates with its people, the concept of human rights is all-encompassing and applicable to everyone regardless of sex, race, ethnicity and nationality, thus human rights are universal and egalitarian. I start by mentioning this first to emphasis the fact that at times many can sometimes forget and view the term ‘human rights’ as a power that is ‘given’ to a citizen, rather it is not something which is handed to someone but a power which we all possess automatically. However given that everyday someone whether it be a child, mother, husband or brother is denied the most basic human right, it comes to surface that there are crucial issues that have to be resolved. Therefore I felt at home at the ELC to know that I was surrounded by a group of people who were proactive in planting the seed of change giving me empowerment and encouragement to do good and well, that in the long run global peace will start unveiling itself. Human rights violations are vitally hinged on paving the way for many to be unempowered and dispossessed. This was the tone and theme set throughout the days, each panelist touching on each aspect of human rights, human security and its relation with the unempowered and dispossessed.
Professor Akiko Yamanaka (Deputy Foreign Minister of Japan, 2005-2006) commenced the day by stating that our society was going through a transition, that we were in the process of moving away from a traditional period to a new one. She continued by rightly saying that peace should be imposed where necessary; that human security should include responsibility to protest; where countries should focus internally where the majority of the threats such as domestic violence, hunger and poverty are a result of internal factors rather than external. In closing she ended by quoting some food for thought by Aristotle, “it is more difficult to organise peace than to win a war, but the fruit of victory will be lost if the peace is not well organised.”
Following on from this Mr. Willy Fautre (Director, Human Rights Without Frontiers International) strongly reaffirmed and reiterated human rights violations when it came to religious freedom, which lead to many being deprived. He conveys an affecting case that occurred recently describing a woman who was abducted by her parents and confined for 125 days for converting to the Unification Church. Her father attempted to marry and convince her to leave the church, however she escaped such force to prevent the idea of no freedom of movement. Rather she wanted to simply be happy, have a good relation with her parents and wanted them to accept the religious differences. Despite religious differences each religion shares the same core values, morals and ethics and it is this that should be remembered, not the idea that they are different and therefore not the right one. Mr. Fautre’s speech echoed the amount of work that still needs to be done to create religious equality.
After some much needed cucumber sandwiches for lunch and some casual mingling, the next panel was focused on the youth of today. Youth are as much affected by the consequences of the political, economic and social changes, especially today where there is a grave scene of the unemployed. We were lucky enough to have a truly inspirational woman, Carly Ward, who lifted all our spirits. At only 22 years Carly has already launched a successful social enterprise called the Young Entrepreneur Society (YES), a mentoring scheme to help young unemployed reach their full potential. Before, having been in the exact same position as the many thousands of unemployed youth today, she explains she had noticed a let down by the system where youth are not given enough information about the many opportunities that are available to them. Thus leading many to lose their dignity, self-confidence and self-belief, many of the factors that lead them astray. Rather she encourages youth to be proactive and creative in their search for a path and most importantly she says her success and purpose is down to enjoying what she does.
The last session for me was extremely moving, focusing on women’s empowerment. Lady Fiona Hodgson (Honorary Vice President Conservative Women’s Organisation) gave a strong speech on the burden women still face in the 21st century, commenting on women living in societies where as many as 5000 deaths are a result of honor killings; the negative stigma surrounding widows witnessing as many as 50,000 in Kabul who have no support, no rights, no education or work and where there is a lack of incentive or the idea of care for one another where men often pay police off and are not troubled to log women’s death. Lady Fiona states that women are the most vulnerable in those areas where culture, religion and politics become severely intertwined and thus put them at large risk. She finished off by encouraging international instruments to put more emphasis on the priority to address the problems and keep highlighting the government to take a greater role when it comes to women’s empowerment and gender equality.
By Meera Tailor