The best thing about working for a Fair Trade organization (besides the bountiful supply of FT chocolate) is seeing the faces behind the products—the artisans, the farmers, the activists. Today at our GGP offices in New York we had the profound privilege of welcoming Sameena Nazir to spend the day with us, and I have to say–it was better than a life-time supply of chocolate.
Sameena is a committed human rights activist and founder of the Potahar Organization for Development Advocacy (PODA), an organization that works to empower Pakistani women and communities through education, rights training, advocacy, skills training, income-generation and other worthy projects. Right now she is focusing her efforts on the population of Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) from the Swat Valley region, a group that has been growing ever since violence broke out between government and Taliban forces in late April.
It was fascinating to hear her insight on this phenomenon, which now affects over 3 million people—including 66,000 pregnant women. What most people forget, she noted, is that a human rights framework must be incorporated into development work, especially when dealing with internally displaced populations. Feeding people is great, but we also need to make sure that these people are given their rights as human beings—the right to move freely throughout the country (right now IDPs are not allowed to travel to Islamabad), the right to a voice in the peace process, the right to an education, and the right to a life without violence. Although schools sit empty for summer break, the government is still not allowing IDP children to fill those chairs and receive the education they need, the education they deserve.
In addition to sharing her insights, Sameena reminded us that we are not powerless to alleviate the poverty and human rights abuses occurring in Pakistan. We talked about some simple ways for Americans to make a difference, and I assured her they would be posted on our blog. So here it is, Sameena Nazir and GGP’s list of action items:
- Support marginalized and internally displaced women by purchasing PODA handicrafts: this is not a shameless self-promotion, this is life or death, prosperity or misery for the women who rely on these handicrafts for their livelihoods. Sales provide wages and opportunities for women in Pakistan, and for many who have been uprooted from their homes, serve as a source of hope, stability and self-confidence. Instead of sitting all day in refugee camps, women artisans can make something beautiful and productive for themselves and their communities.
- E-mail your Senators and Representative telling them to take action to stop violence against women worldwide. The International Violence Against Women Act (I-VAWA) is an important piece of legislation that needs your support. If passed, the U.S. government will create a comprehensive 5-year plan to reduce violence against women in 10-20 diverse countries identified as having severe levels of violence against women. As Sameena said, “Women have a right to a life free from violence.”
- Donate to PODA: PODA is a leader in human rights activism and community empowerment, and their mission could use all the support it can get. Like many communities and organizations in the developing world, PODA has suffered from the global recession, and could use a boost in these troubling economic and political times.
To soak up all the wisdom that Sameena shared with us today, stay tuned for the video version of our conversation, which will be posted shortly to Fair Trade Local and our website, www.globalgoodspartners.org.