‘United’ exploring future trends

Rubina Abu Zeinab-Chahine| The Daily Star

I was one of 1,000 women participating in the Global Summit of Women Speakers of Parliament in its 11th edition organized by the Federal National Council of the UAE and the Inter-Parliamentary Union. The summit, entitled “United for Shaping the Future” as an approach for changing challenges into opportunities, was held in Abu Dhabi on Dec. 12-13, 2016; the UAE is the first Arab country where an Arab female leader, Dr. Amal Qubaisi, became speaker of Parliament in 2015. The summit is the largest assembly of women speakers in the world, this year involving more than 50 women speakers of Parliament and 400 women parliamentarians among leaders from governments, businesses, industries and civil society organizations across different sectors and disciplines.

Women with highest parliamentary decision-making positions were gathered to outline the central role of women in reaching peace, security and countering terrorism in rapidly changing political, economic, environmental and social arenas. The summit conveyed that global security, prosperity and sustainability need a “united global governance response.” The summit focused on the role women speakers can play in uniting parliamentarians around national and political interests to deliver a better future for generations to come.

The opening session presented the UAE as a model of unity answering the question on how working together makes us stronger. The summit addressed key questions on how parliaments can work best with the government, private sector and the wider community. It focused on enhancing the capacities of parliaments to pass legislation helping society better cope with today’s and tomorrow’s trends and challenges that can affect the quality of life for future generations. It is only a holistic view that can help parliaments produce legislation that is much more meaningful and effective, ensuring security and sustainability.

“United” was the passcode of the summit. All through its sessions the summit presented that only by being “united” can we find innovative solutions to remove obstacles that are hindering development – innovative solutions that bring greater respect and further compassion.

This year and under the same “United” theme, U.N. Women and its global partners launched a campaign on Nov. 25, the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women, demonstrating that together we can achieve change. All through 16 days of activism, the campaign called for action to end violence against women and girls, a specific target promised by the U.N.’s Sustainable Development Goals. The campaign ended on Dec. 10, the International Human Rights Day, which this year embraced a message to “fight hatred with humanity and intolerance with peace.”

Recently, there has been a positive trend in improving collaboration at the level of community groups, civil society organizations, NGOs, parliaments and governments when it comes to improving living conditions and advocating initiatives protecting human rights. This promoted a social model aiming at overcoming barriers and exclusion by being “united.”

It is only when people work together to move compassion into action that change can happen. On Dec. 7, Lebanese legislators agreed to overturn Article 522 of the criminal penal code, which allows rapists to avoid punishment if they marry their victims. This came after a long process of advocacy and a day of protest accompanied by a community online media campaign denouncing the law organized by Beirut-based rights group ABAAD. Parliament’s Administration and Justice Committee has agreed to repeal Article 522 and work to abolish the law.

What ABAAD did was a sample how NGOs and civil society groups cross the line to advocacy. Working together and involving people, the main stakeholders in humanitarian causes, makes communities stronger and success more achievable.

As the development agenda unfolds, the focus is on unity and collaboration as a way of “doing more with less.” Even though the idea of local participation has been explored for more than 30 years, efforts to build local ownership have been constantly hindered. Working from one development project to another, ensuring consistency with donor resources and interests often weakened local constituencies. Local organizations like ABAAD and its partners will definitely decrease frustration, anxiety, alienation and disenchantment among local communities. Building local support for local constituencies of civil society action, getting people to think, engage with and care about a cause is the best strategy for growing local ownership and participation and achieving development.

People from organizations and social groups who defeated Article 522 are often not “specialists” working on a particular issue but rather local people responding to challenges their community is encountering. Those community organizations are building trust within, between and among the communities they serve.

The need is in changing the mindsets and getting people together around shared issues, building trust and restoring hope.

Standing up for human rights every day and sharing responsibility will promote human dignity. Working united is where every one of us can make a difference.

Rubina Abu Zeinab-Chahine is executive director of the Hariri Foundation for Sustainable Human Development.