On September 24, 2013, Fairleigh Dickinson University hosted a UN/NGO Pathways event entitled, "Women and Children: Victims of War--Agents of Peace” to commemorate Fairleigh Dickinson University's International Peace Week. The underlying theme on all four FDU campuses for the week was "May Peace Prevail on Earth".
This panel featured Dr. David Rosen, as moderator with two guest panelists: Ms. Grace Akallo, Founder and Executive Director of the United Africans for Women and Children Rights and Dr. Pablo Castillo-Diaz, Policy Specialist for Protection and Security for United Nations Women. This panel took place in the Multipurpose Room with over 100 attendees as a part of our FDU International Peace Week on all four campuses.
Dr. Rosen, FDU Professor of Anthropology, has made many extraordinary accomplishments specifically linked to his research in Africa regarding child soldiers. He's very committed to making known the issues surrounding the problems. He has a forthcoming publication called "From Patriots to Pigpens: Child Soldiers in the Western and Mountain Region" which will be published by Rutgers University. Dr. Rosen began the panel discussion by introducing Dr. Pablo Castillo-Diaz, highlighting his focus on women's rights, frequent occurrences of sexual violence is throughout the world, and the need for major reforms to end sexual violence against women and children. Dr. Rosen then introduced Grace Akallo, elaborating on her concern with the impact of conflict and violence that creates severe disruption in the lives of women and children in Africa, in particular. He also highlighted her mission to identify and create solutions to address these issues through social policy and social justice based on her personal experience as a child soldier in Joseph Kony's Lord's Resistance Army from the age of 14 to 15.
Dr. Pablo Castillo-Diaz spoke about issues related to sexual violence, including police tolerance of sexual abuse of women in some areas, although it is now an internationally recognized war crime. He spoke about a process that was happening in Sierra Leone where there were many individuals responsible for such crimes following its civil war between 1991 and 2001. At least 10 of the defendants were charged and indicted with various crimes against humanity, involving sexual slavery and rape. Outside Sierra Leone courts, the International Criminal Court has indicted 30 persons.
As a native of Northern Uganda, Grace Akallo expressed major concerns about social policy and social injustice as a former child soldier from the age of 14 until the age of 15 where she was sent to fight on the frontlines. She referred to the horrors that she saw and experienced, indicating that no individual should ever have to witness that. She stated that most people are under the impression that child soldiers are only boys with AK -47s, but roughly 60% of these child soldiers are girls. As a child soldier, many of the girls became child wives to the commanders. When these girls would return home, they were rejected from their respective communities. The children that these young girls gave birth to after being raped by their commanders were also rejected because of their rebel blood. These girls became mothers with nowhere to access resources for their survival. They could no longer get married in their home communities to which a few fortunate former child soldiers returned with only their battered lives, but no skills and no education.
Ms. Akallo spoke about the laws and policies adopted to protect women and children, but never enforced or implemented. Overall, she shared her belief that more educational opportunities need to be provided to help young victims of such abductions and abuse and to create a future for them. She concluded that political leaders must implement the laws that are in place to protect women and children.
Many of the questions posed by the members of the audience mainly focused on the types of policies needed to be implemented or created to ensure that women are truly empowered and that the protection of women and children is ensured.
Tuesday, September 24, 2013
Rachel Powell and the UN Pathways team