- RB -
“I stand on the sacrifices of a million women before me thinking what can I do to make this mountain taller so the women after me can see farther” - Rupi Kaur
“I stand on the sacrifices of a million women before me thinking what can I do to make this mountain taller so the women after me can see farther” - Rupi Kaur
Over the past week, I’ve been invited to several conferences and discussions on sustainable development and the measures that need to be taken to overcome the many barriers that exist worldwide.
Throughout the conversations I’ve had with representatives from various countries, I couldn’t help but ask myself where Iraq—particularly Kurdistan, stands on the sustainable development scale. Have the Kurds implemented efforts to reaching the United Nations sustainable development goals? Are the 17 global goals set out by the United Nations a priority to the Kurdish government? And has there even been dialogue in regards to these goals?
Before I get into those questions, I first want to lay out the 17 global goals. In 2015, the United Nations General Assembly set out a game plan as part of the 70/1 Resolution, with the aim of reaching all 17 goals by the end of 2030. These 17 global goals consist of the following:
While sustainable development is relative to each country, these 17 goals should be a universal priority to all nation states, not excluding Kurdistan.
So, where does Kurdistan stand in regards to the SDGs?
There are a plethora of challenges Kurds face in the region — these include discrimination, gender-based violence, political and economic marginalization and exclusion, lack of quality education, as well as overall unsatisfactory livelihoods. Till today, the region does not have affordable and clean energy (electricity), gender equality, or even a reliable source of water. With my recent visit to Kurdistan, one thing became more and more clear to me — the financial hierarchy is ever so evident, and those coming from low-socioeconomic backgrounds are forced to become the underdog. Families with a high income (often those who hold a high political standing in the region) have easy access to healthcare by traveling to nearby countries (often Turkey or Lebanon, or in the case of very well-connected families, even Europe). While those who cannot afford to travel outside of the region experience dire health conditions; forced to visit filthy, neglected public hospitals with doctor’s who have a bare minimum medical education.
Women are still not free to pursue their career paths - or life paths in general. The collectivistic mentality often hinders young girls and women from getting quality education or chasing the job they want. Often times, when girls and women do pursue the careers that they want (after approval from their family), their reputation and honor is often put on the line. Kurdish society consistently tells young girls to strive for marriage, to live their lives in such a way that will get them the most suitors. The end goal for young girls and women in Kurdish society is marriage.
Sustainable development to the Kurdistan regional government consists of building malls, mosques, and hotels. None of which, ironically, are sustainable. Most malls and hotels declare bankruptcy after a short period of time due to the fact that the average resident doesn’t have the financial security or stable income needed to contribute to the consumerism in the region.
In regards to climate action, while there have been efforts made to clean up plastic waste, the people are still not educated enough on the risks of climate change. Specifically during national holidays (such as Newroz), where masses celebrate by picnicking in nature, the aftermath results in piles and piles of plastic and waste that not only taint the visual appearance of the beautiful nature, but also causes the suffering of animals who cohabitate there. In 2018, Rudaw reported that the KRG is selling thousands of tonnes of plastic and cardboard waste to Turkish companies who recycle it and sell the products back to Kurdistan. The Kurdistan region would be far well off to build a sustainable recycling system locally instead of investing in yet another mall that nobody needs or can afford.
With all of these apparent issues in the region, we have to ask ourselves, what is the government doing to advance sustainable development in the region? And why is it that, with a region filled with so many resources, they are nowhere near reaching the 17 global goals?
The excuse often times is that the region is facing political hardships with the ongoing threats of terrorist organizations like ISIS. Yet, the KRG continuously prides itself on the security situation in the region. But if the security in the region is so stable, should we not be focusing on the 17 SDGs to improve the livelihoods of the people?
The KRG has made substantial efforts for declaring an independent Kurdistan—particularly with the recent 2017 referendum. But how can you sustain political independence without something as simple as infrastructure that is currently visibly lacking in the region?
This article in no way serves to discredit the efforts the Kurds have made in creating a stable environment. But, if the goal for Kurdistan is to stand out in the region and amongst its neighbors, they simply cannot sit on the gains of their achievements to date. It is their role, and their duty to think of the future of their nation and to prioritize sustainability in all sectors of Kurdish society.
The bottom line is, Kurdistan has a long way to go in developing sustainable solutions to the many challenges faced in the region, and unification through a common goal as well as strong partnerships should be the first steps taken to get there.
What are your thoughts?
Alex Niousha Jafari
There was always something about her that I adored when we were attending high school together in Prague. She was dedicated to her work, involved in a ton of after school activities, and more importantly, she simply always did her thing and owned it on top of it all.
Flash forward to six years later, and Alex Niousha Jafari has become an incredibly successful young woman in the tech industry. As a graduate from Northeastern University, she has worked with some of the largest companies in the industry, including Google, TripAdvisor, and ASICS digital. She has also most recently accepted a position as a Computer Science teacher for a local private high school in Boston.
At only 22 years old, Niousha has reached milestones in her life that many of us could only aspire to reach. But as we all know, nothing in this world comes easy. Niousha's journey in the industry has taken her for quite the ride, with her describing it as “frustrating and soul crushing at times.”
“In school, you spend most of your time being inspired and building things that have the potential to be something great. But then when you hit the industry the truth starts to unravel and you end up working in advertising in one way or another.”
As with all industries, it can be difficult to see the light at the end of the tunnel. Niousha has had internal struggles that have forced her to see the reality of what it’s like in the world of technology.
“Every company will start to feel like a clickbait competition that’s supposed to revolutionize the way we do x (which is usually how to get people to buy more things and become bigger consumers).”
While there are days where Niousha feels discouraged to continue her path in the field, the Iranian/American has also experienced firsthand the upsides of being in the tech industry. Witnessing how new technologies have revolutionized the health industry for the better is one of the reasons that push Niousha to keep going.
Yet, her internal struggle still remains: “Do l get out of something that l think can do so much evil, or do l try to bring some positivity into it since l know it’s going to be a very significant field in our world?”
Everybody is struggling to survive in their field in one way or another, but what inspires me so much about Niousha, is her perseverance in everything she sets out for herself. Being a young woman in a male-dominated industry can be troubling in itself, but coming from a Middle Eastern background makes it that much harder. More often than not, Middle Eastern women constantly have to prove themselves in their field of work. Convincing others that you are worthy of the job is a continuous reality that Middle Eastern women—and women of color in general, have to consistently fight against.
“It can sometimes be awful. Throughout my college career, l felt as if l was representing a whole army of women and had to prove that we deserved to be in Computer Science and STEM fields in general. The pressure can make it rather difficult. I felt as if l was not allowed to ever say something is difficult or boring or even not the greatest thing ever. During the first few semesters l was putting on this show that CS is the best degree on the face of the planet and every single assignment is both enjoyable and a piece of cake. I also dressed down both at internships and in class because it felt as if l can either be pretty or smart. And nobody wants to be not smart.”
To no surprise however, Niousha has overcome all these fears through the support of her friends and mentors. Suffice to say, she now wears high heels and makeup without caring that someone might think that may lower her abilities to do her job well. “It turns out the two are not related in any way, so to make that assumption will prove their idiocy more than anything.”
And of the many accomplishments she’s achieved, Niousha is particularly proud of the fact that she’s become immersed and feels welcomed in the American culture “without forgetting where I was born”.
Women like Niousha need to be celebrated. Not only because they are pursuing a path in male-dominated industries, but also because women like her are the epitome of empowerment and diligence.
As the Islamic State has lost its territorial control in Syria and Iraq, I can’t help but wonder what has happened to the hundreds of thousands of foreign nationals who decided to join the “caliphate” at its peak in power.
Many ISIS recruits joined from various countries located in the Middle East and North Africa, but let us not forget the overwhelming number of individuals from Western nations who joined the terrorist organization. Amongst others, the recruits came from the United States, Canada, Australia, Germany, France, the United Kingdom and New Zealand.
In 2015 alone, it was noted that approximately 30,000 fighters from at least 85 countries had joined the Islamic State in Syria and Iraq. The number has now increased to 40,000 foreign nationals from 110 countries.
Just last month, American substitute teacher Warren Christopher Clark was captured by the Syrian Democratic Forces, a Kurdish-led and American-supported group. Clark had allegedly sent the Islamic State a resume and cover letter in 2015, expressing his interest in teaching English to young children that were being held captive by ISIS terrorists.
Clark was amongst the 40,000 individuals living in more or less economically, socially, and politically stable countries who decided to join a fundamentalist movement in Iraq and Syria using religion as the justification to torturing, killing, and destroying the lives of millions of families. These foreign nationals were aiding and abetting in the forceful conversions, abductions, and enslavement of religious minority groups such as the Yezidis and Christians.
So, where are they now?
According to a U.S.-based think tank, 33 countries had reported arrivals of over 5,600 foreign fighters returning to their home countries. In the European Union, 1,200 foreign fighters have returned out of the 5,000 reported recruits.
While the respective countries must develop strategies in tackling the issue of these returning recruits, the question still remains: What happened to the remaining approximately 35,000 terrorists from these various foreign countries?
Although nobody seems to have an exact answer regarding their whereabouts, some of the foreign terrorists are being held in Baghdad and are currently under the control of Iraq’s Counter Terrorism Service.
Many of the Western countries have shown no interest in wanting their nationals back, and holding trials in Syria is currently not a possible alternative, making Iraq the only possible country able to serve justice to the many victims affected by the self-reclaimed caliphate.
In Syria, Kurdish-led forces backed by the US military have captured over 900 foreign fighters, handing them over to Iraqi authorities.
More than 300 people have already been sentenced to death in Iraq for their involvement with ISIS, with many others being sentenced to life in prison. While an Iraqi court does exist and proceedings are still ongoing, there has been major criticism regarding trials held in Baghdad. Human Rights Watch expressed its concerns stating that the foreign nationals are “at risk of torture and unfair trials in Iraq.”
The situation for the foreign terrorists remains extremely unpredictable, and with the U.S. deciding to withdraw troops in Syria, finding a quick solution seems too far-fetched.
Last week, the United States has called on other nations to repatriate and prosecute their citizens who traveled to Syria and Iraq, yet very few nations are ready to take them back. France’s Interior Minister stated that some French jihadis have returned home with more to follow soon, while Britain has stripped many of their British citizenships and refuses to take any of them back.
Whether facing trials in Baghdad, or returning home to their country of citizenship, these foreign terrorists must be held accountable for the ruthless actions and crimes they committed in Syria and Iraq. Let us also not forget, as stated by the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, that these foreign detainees must be given the right to a fair trial.
Everyone by now is familiar with the Clinton-Lewinsky scandal that began in 1995. After I watched a recent documentary however, we see Monica Lewinsky— for the first time since the scandal— finally share her side of the story.
The affair started when Monica Lewinsky interned at the White House during Bill Clinton’s presidency. Lewinsky was only 22 years old when the scandal began, and was naturally starstruck to be in the presence of someone in such a high position. It literally doesn’t get any higher than the president of the United States of America.
Before the intimate relationship began, Lewinsky told Clinton in private that she had a crush on him. Choosing not to recognize the 27 year age gap between the two, and aware of her immaturity (at such an age, isn’t everyone a little bit immature?), Bill Clinton decided right then and there that he would engage in a sexual relationship with a young woman who really didn’t know any better at the time.
BUT, I can't help but wonder...
When someone in such a high position has all the power in the world, shouldn’t it be their responsibility to maintain an ethical and respectful work environment, regardless of what his employees may do or say?
It is extremely crucial for women and men to understand that Bill Clinton took advantage of a young woman who was in awe about working for such a big figure. The affair was a clear abuse of power on Clinton’s end. Regardless of whether she shared her feelings towards him, it is his sole responsibility, as the President of the United States of America, to step back and reiterate that he was a married man, had a young daughter, and needed to maintain his reputation as the president of the United States.
Had Clinton really cared about Lewinsky as his employee, he would have protected her future by not engaging in sexual relations. Rather, he ignored all facts only so he could experience some short-lived pleasure.
We are used to seeing men use their position in power to take advantage of women, particularly young women. The consequences that two individuals have to deal with after a sex scandal are far bigger for women than they are for men. We have internalized the idea of male sexual drives to such an extent, that we no longer care when men engage in sexual relations with multiple women. Yet, when women engage in the exact same activity, their reputation and character will forever be questioned.
And because of society's internalized bias, when the political sex scandal finally came to light in 1998, America turned their back on Monica Lewinsky.
It is also important to mention that Lewinsky never had the intention of admitting the sexual affair, perhaps because of her personal feelings for Clinton. She even signed a false affidavit to protect Bill Clinton. He however, denied any allegations of the affair, and even stated that he had never spoken to her, even though evidence clearly proved otherwise.
Many were quick to instantly judge Lewinsky for her actions. But why are we blaming an intern (who happens to be very young and single) when we could just as well be blaming the man (who happens to be much older AND married)?
Lewinsky was harassed, bullied, ridiculed and even threatened. But what’s even worse? She was (and till this day continues to be) slut shamed for something she did when she was only 22 years old. Something that most people do when they’re 22 years old, maybe just not with a president of a powerful nation.
This sexual affair could have been avoided had Clinton put his selfishness aside. Instead, he ruined the life of a young woman who was just starting out in her career, and who remained loyal to him even throughout the ordeal. After the scandal was put to rest, Lewinsky could not find any employer who would hire her. Her reputation was and is tainted forever. Monica Lewinsky has been a household name since the scandal, and she will most probably never step out of the shadows of what was the most traumatic experience of her life. Lewinsky’s life is forever changed, while Bill Clinton was able to finish his presidential tenure and return back to his normal lifestyle with his wife and daughter.
Lewinsky recently made a statement that perfectly describes the faults of our society when it comes to scandals like this:
“Now I admit I made mistakes…but the attention and judgment that I received — not the story, but that I personally received — was unprecedented ... I was branded as a tramp, tart, slut, whore, bimbo and, of course, ‘that woman’. I was known by many, but actually known by few. I get it. It was easy to forget ‘that woman’ was dimensional and had a soul.”
I must admit, growing up and hearing about the scandal at such a young age, I regretfully found myself judging Lewinsky. My perception of this scandal was a visible outcome of the society I was living in. Society labeled her as a ‘slut’, therefore, I should label her as a ‘slut’ as well. But that is not and should not be the case.
We cannot continue to foster a culture that is based on inequality and feeds off the degradation of women based on their sexual relationships. America owes Monica Lewinsky an apology because Bill Clinton had a clear responsibility to avoid the scandal from happening in the first place. In my eyes, he fell through and not only failed America as a nation, but he more specifically failed all the women of America.
Transforming the Fashion Industry one Garment at a Time
Every now and then I encounter women who inspire me through their work. A couple months ago, I had the privilege of getting to know Natalia, an individual who stands for what she believes in – even in an industry that doesn’t always agree with her.
At age 10, Natalia Montero had already found her true passion in this world: creating beautiful garments. What she was perhaps unaware of was how her love for fashion would not only shape her future career, but it would also ultimately determine her role in the industry as a designer.
Currently receiving a formal education in the fundamentals of fashion and business, Natalia strives to emphasize the importance of implementing eco-friendly fabrics into the fashion industry. She is currently developing a streetwear collection for men and women using eco-friendly fabrics and hopes to educate her customers on fashion sustainability through her work.
“Ethical fashion and sustainability are important subjects, and people could make better shopping decisions by becoming educated on these subjects.” - Natalia
At a young age Natalia recognized that fashion is “wearable art that conveys messages about ourselves.” Soon after Natalia’s parents saw her potential, they found a local fashion school for her to attend alongside her normal secondary-school. “I loved fashion so much that I was driven to learn despite the rough schedule” Natalia says.
Born and raised in Mexico, at age 13, Natalia moved to the States to attend a boarding school. While she discovered her passion for fashion in Mexico, she found her entrepreneurial spirit in the US.
While pursuing her education in fashion, it did not take long for Natalia to realize how polluted the industry really is. “The industry totally clashes with my values on being eco-friendly and my love for nature.” Natalia particularly criticizes the unethical working conditions in sweatshops and the distorted beauty standards that are set forth in the industry, stating, “In order to see positive change, it is up to every designer, brand and individual customer to work together to restructure the business operations of the fashion industry.”
Rather than focusing on how her personal morals clash with the industry that she so desperately wants to [and deserves to] play a part in, Natalia saw an opportunity to improve the fashion industry by bringing ethics into the game. Natalia seeks to focus on fair workers compensation, replacing the highly-polluting textiles with eco-friendly fabrics, and changing the industry’s beauty standards.
But that’s not to say she hasn’t encountered obstacles along the way. “Some people (actually, the majority) will try to squash you down with their negative comments. They will try to put off the light within you, especially if you shine bright!” But her response to those wearing her down is: “Take their efforts to put you down as a compliment, smile, and keep on shining.”
Natalia is the exemplification of how young people in this generation can contribute to the improvement of society all whilst pursuing something they love doing. We as individuals hold a responsibility to put ethics in the forefront of what we do, whether its politics or fashion – everyone can make a positive contribution to their communities and to leave this world a little better than we found it.