Samantha Power, United States Ambassador to the United Nations, says the only way that more women will be brought into the global peace-making process is by shifting the conversation from ‘nice to do’ to ‘need to do’.
During her first visit to India as UN Ambassador, Power reminisced about an incident during a closed door UN meeting, when a colleague from another nation turned to a fellow office bearer and said: “You guys are with the military. Why do you spend all your time with women?”
That person, she said, was later met with deep stares from the members sitting around the horse-shoe table — and quite some chiding.
Speaking with Zainab Salbi, Founder of Nida’a Alnissa Productions, at the Women in the World summit in New Delhi, Power said that out of the 190 country representatives at the UN, just 37 — or a meager 19 per cent — are women.
The youngest person to be appointed US Ambassador to the UN, Power observed that while India was the first country to have an all woman peacekeeping force, the rest of the world’s peace-keeping forces “are far off the mark in terms of numbers”.
Power, who is also a mother of two, said her main concerns in her work revolve around peacekeeping and an understanding of the differences in which terrorist organisations recruit and operate.
She said the same “grotesque” ideology underpinned both the Mumbai and Paris attacks and that in this moment of global crisis, she is hopeful that more sharing of information on terror related issues and security will be balanced with the need for privacy.
And while Al Qaeda brand of terrorism needed training in specialist camps, she said, ISIS has been reaching out to vulnerable youth using technology and new media: “Technology is enabling. It is a tool of freedom. But we need to better our ability to compete in social media to raise our voices louder,” she says.
Asked why she believes extremism appears to be proliferating, Power referred to an experiment conducted in husband, Cass Sustein’s lab. He is a legal scholar, specifically in the fields of constitutional law and behavioral economics.
“When like minded people are brought together for a debate, the mean rate goes higher at the end of it. It is the same logic here” she said.
The rise in extremism, Power argues, is also the cause behind the burgeoning global refugee crisis. Out of the 60 million displaced people in the world, 10 million refugees are Syrian. Sharing the refugee burden is a global responsibility and this must extend outward, beyond Western countries alone. What is more, only a small number of nations are bearing the brunt of the refugee dilemma and if global resettlement statistics are examined, many more should be helping.
For example, the Burmese elections sparked the Rohingya Muslim refugee crisis and Malaysia and Thailand who have opened their doors to them are carrying a big load: “Sharing the burden is not a tradition in a lot of countries,” she said, “and only a few Rohingyas were able to settle in India.”
Power said India has contributed to the UN peacekeeping force for the longest time. “I am especially overwhelmed by the Right to Information Act. The US has freedom of information but to find jottings in a remote Indian village board about who was paid what amount to construct a road is another level of transparency.”
“The way citizens have always stood up for their rights — be it sexual violence, trafficking — it has made news all around the world.”
Power says she has a big geographical map at home so her children can see the places she travels and works. Once, her son pointed at Zimbabwe and asked, ‘Who lives there?’ Power told him a lot of elephants love there. The son insisted that he wanted to visit so Power told him that Zimbabwe has a 90-year-old leader and “there are issues with him”. Since then the son often asks her, “How is Mugabe?” she said to laughter.
Summing up the exhaustion of being a mother, Power admitted that “balancing kids is harder than negotiating with Russia.”