Ever since it was given over three thousand years ago on Shavuot, the Torah has offered Jews a vision of how the world should work. I was thinking about this vision this past December when I was asked to represent HIAS (the 120-year-old Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society) at a United Nations conference in Geneva dealing with the status of refugees. The UN invited faith-based organizations to reflect on, among other things, how lessons learned from their religious traditions could offer guidance to the treatment of refugees today. In preparing my opening statement for the conference, I reflected on a subject I had never previously thought about in any systematic manner but that is clearly a pressing issue in the world, as the UNHCR estimates that there are currently 15.1 million refugees worldwide.
What does the Torah tell us about refugees and how they should be treated?
A great deal, I soon learned. Let me cite four examples. Read More
On November 19, 2012 at 7:00 AM, two villagers from Khlong Sai Phatthana in Surat Thani province in southern Thailand were shot and killed less than 800 meters from their homes. They were on a motorcycle en route to their local open-air market to sell the vegetables they had farmed on their land that week. After shots were fired, the daughter of one of the women and a neighbor ran out to find two women shot dead. Later the villagers and police found shell cases from M16 and HK rifles. The women were small-scale farmers and had moved from other provinces in the South to farm a small plot of land in Khlong Sai Phatthana. They had no known enemies. So why were these women senselessly killed?
Because of land. Read More
Photo Credit: Feministing.com
Today is Global Day of Action for Access to Safe and Legal Abortion, so we’re taking stock of sexual and reproductive rights around the globe. For many Americans, it’s easy to get wrapped up in the struggle to safeguard women’s health in the United States. We often forget about what’s happening in the developing world. So, a reminder:
- In Bolivia, Guatemala and Mexico, health coverage for indigenous families lags substantially behind the rest of the population. In Guatemala, maternal mortality among indigenous women is almost double that of non-indigenous women. Organizations like Asociacion de Mujeres Campesinas Q’eqchies “Nuevo Horizonte” are dedicated to promoting the rights and health of Q’eqchi women in Guatemala by organizing communities to work on projects to reduce sexual and gender-based violence; increase public education on sexual health and rights; and build women’s leadership and presence in community and municipal decision-making. Read More
Around the world, selling sex is as inflammatory an issue as abortion. It’s just as divisive, too—particularly among feminists and in the global human rights community.
At the 2012 AWID Forum—the largest women’s rights gathering in the world—sex workers’ rights took center stage. Panel discussions and plenary sessions featured sex workers from Burma, Thailand and Cambodia, along with myriad organizations—including several AJWS grantees—that protect sex workers from human rights violations. One grantee offered a clever metaphor to capture how sex work is relatively alien to women’s rights conversations. “Imagine you go to a restaurant with a friend,” she said. “You order beef. But your friend explains she is vegetarian, so she orders a plate of rice and vegetables. You look at her plate and think to yourself, ‘This is a bit strange; a little different.’ But it’s a choice on the menu. And it’s a choice she made herself, just like any other choice. That’s sex work—a choice.”
Burma’s pro-democracy leader, Daw Aung San Suu Kyi has arrived at Mae La refugee camp, home to 50,000 refugees from Burma.
On June 2nd, I went to the Mae La refugee camp, the largest refugee camp in Thailand that houses 50,000 refugees, to greet Aung San Suu Kyi (“Mother Suu” or “The Lady”), the democracy icon of Burma. People of multiple Burmese nationalities, wearing hijab, beautiful long Karen traditional dress, Kachin costumes, and other ethnic dresses, waited in a long line—many of them since 6am—to pay Aung San Suu Kyi a visit. Others went about their daily routines, heading to their plantations, carrying bamboo baskets, arranging firewood under their houses, lying in their hammocks. Read More
On the heels of the 39th anniversary of Roe v. Wade, we wanted to take stock of the status of reproductive rights in the developing world. It’s easy to get so wrapped up in the United States’ struggle to safeguard women’s health that we often forget about what’s happening in the Global South. So, a reminder:
- In Bolivia, Guatemala and Mexico, health coverage for indigenous families lags substantially behind the rest of the population. In Guatemala, maternal mortality among indigenous women is almost double that of non-indigenous women. Organizations like Asociacion de Mujeres Campesinas Q’eqchies “Nuevo Horizonte” are dedicated to promoting the rights and health of Q’eqchi women in Guatemala by organizing communities to work on projects to decrease sexual and gender-based violence; increase public education on sexual health and rights; and build women’s leadership and presence in community and municipal decision-making. Read More
Flooding in Thailand
1. The recent floods in Thailand have been the worst the country has experienced in seven decades. The floods have claimed over 600 lives since July when the water began traveling from the north of the country, submerging agricultural and industrial areas before drowning Bangkok in October. Damages have been estimated to reach 300 billion baht (about $9.7 billion).
2. Most Thais do not have the resources to relocate from their flooded homes, which means that many communities are forced to live in areas surrounded by toxic water with little access to food. When I was in Bangkok this month, I went with a close friend to volunteer with the Thai Red Cross. We drove out on huge trucks to Sai Noi, the northwestern-most district in Nonthaburi province, outside of Bangkok. It took us almost three and a half hours to get there, driving through rancid water, mile after mile. Once we got to Sai Noi, we had to unload onto smaller boats to deliver food, water, and other vital supplies to people stranded on the second and third floor of their homes. When our boats couldn’t fit down some of the most mangled waterways, people had to wade through water chest deep (about five feet) to collect the only food they had access to in days. Their homes have been flooded for over a month, and there is no definitive answer as to when the water will recede. Every day people in Thailand continue to live surrounded by flood water that is toxic and fetid. (If you don’t know how toxic flood water is, consider what happened in New Orleans and other areas ravaged by Hurricanes Katrina and Rita: black mold that developed from the flood waters poisoned flood victims, leading to serious respiratory and skin problems.) To get an incredible visual of the flooding in Bangkok and around the country, check out this amazing photo spread put together by The Atlanitc. Read More
Today is International Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia (IDAHO).
In general, I’m pretty skeptical of the “International Day of [fill in the blank]” model. It will take a lot more than a single day of rallies and media coverage to bring about lasting change. Ultimately, though, IDAHO offers the chance to inspire and applaud collective action. And in the region of Southeast Asia there is a lot worth highlighting. Read More