Knowledge is Wealth
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100 Women 2018- The Interviews:
Amina J Mohammed- Deputy Secretary General, United Nations
Zeinab Badawi talks to the Deputy Secretary General of the United Nations and we gain insight about what her gender, identity and past experiences bring to the job. Amina Mohammed is a former politician with conservative roots in north east Nigeria. In a jovial yet serious mood the two women roll-called the names of the all men former UN Secretary Generals, displayed at the foyer of the UN HQ in New York.
They stopped to look at one of particular interest to Amina. Often refrered to as one of the world’s most powerful women, she said her mentor was the late Kofi Annan, she refers to this man as her “touchstone” who encouraged her when she made her move from Millenial Development Goals (MDG) to Sustainable Development Goals (SDG). SDG deals with poverty eradication and targets. Kofi Annan in his quiet way advises a person to be focused, and as he did in Zimbabwe, the last work trip, he wanted the young people to realise, this is their future and to take it up. He reminded them that, the journey has pitfalls but to still go for it. The iplayer interview takes us to the the room of Security Council sessions. Public debates take place but it is sometimes closed for private debates as are other rooms.
She said the UN must stand with people who have been victimised, this was in answer to a question on how to handle the atrocities like the killing of Jamal Khashoggi, the journalist and that of Asia Bibi, a Pakistani Christian woman freed after eight years on death row for blasphemy. We learn that, UN has started an independent review on the case of the journalist, it’s being done for the family, profession and humanity. The UN Charter is to uphold justice, that’s why shining a light on the problem is good.
When will a woman be the next Secretary General is a question lots of people ask. Amina Mohammed thinks it will be soon because an incredible number of women came forward, many feel its the right time. It was pointed out to her that, she got her post through positive discrimination in the selection process by Antonio G who selected her as his deputy. Zeinab Badawi wanted to know if her gender and coming from the global south helped in her selection. “Yes,” said Amina, “and because he also chose a woman as Chef de Cabinet, so he has two women working on either side off him.” He had a vision for preventing poverty and implementing SDA therefore they work to prevent crisis and sustain peace. The profile of the deputy Segretary-General show her as one who is very qualified because she was instrumental in getting the sustainable development agenda in place. Her work on poverty eradication targets is known to the system, and was applauded by Ban Ki-Moon.
Amina wears the Muslim code of dress, she loves the challenge of her job and she agrees a different way of looking at how the SDA is achieved is necessary, it’s not just about at goals and targets. She has named SDG 5 “the docking station”, it is the Gender Equality and Women Empowerment goal. It is an integral part of all the 16, they also feed into each other. Equality, is necessary, we make it more than words, for example women need access to energy. “I am there for all, she says but I believe women are suffering more than men.” Girls don’t have the advantage of going to school, our sit in society must be accessible. We have to try much harder for the girl. There are 30% of women at the table now, why not create the capacity for 70% who have their rights and can reach their aspirations. “I don’t want to apologise for being a girl and be grateful for a seat at the table,” says Amina. We can deduce she wants girls and women to be equipped with all that is necessary to achieve, be effective and contribute to society, to be present and sit at the table.
Zeinab continues the interview, “You are eldest of 5 girls, of a Nigerian father and a British mother”. The Deputy Secretary-General’s father was a Vet and a herdsman, she grew up in a mainly female household. Her father was close to his mother, in his time not all children were educated and girls were especially not. He was the only one to be educated, however he made sure his children knew his sisters were special above his uncles. Amina observes the Muslim code of dress. Another question was, how did growing up in this community influence your upbringing? In answering she revealed that, in African everyone matters. Her father became a civil servant but he made sure the children knew your roots. From Environment Minister to UN Deputy Secretary-General takes a” determined woman” and so she was described by colleagues. Before that she was in an architecture job for 11 years, which she described the co-workers as sexist because they thought a biracial person who didn’t know the culture or spoke the language would be no good, locally referred to as “your blood is two.” But Amina and her sisters spoke the language, were brought up as Nigerians and Muslim, her mother helped them identify with one and learn about the other.
Her work must bring her to points of distress like violence, child brides, poverty and her coping mechanism is to make your voice heard, because everyone if they look hard and far enough into their family, they can find evidence of it. People with in positions of influence must speak out and share. Violence in Nigeria is on the increase and child brides with the patriarchal system make for a difficult situation, to deal with this all must take responsibility. Closer to home is sharing about her personal experience as a survivor of domestic violence. It is difficult to share because the victim doesn’t want the children to know(but they already do), or the workplace either in case it becomes a big issue there, parents reaction is a worry as is the media if one is in the public eye. One survives by acknowledging and sharing it. Asked how long the domestic abuse went on for and how she extricate herself? Her answer was, “A couple of years.” Zeinab replied, “That’s long enough.” To this Amina added, “One day is enough.” “We have to bring up a society that, really believes and actualises Zero Tolerance to violence against women”. As Deputy Secretary-General she doesn’t feel hopeless as in casess like Yemen, where 14 million are close to starvation, that is mostly women and children and 70000 have died. We use our voice and speak loudly against those doing horrifying acts against people.
On the US cutting its funding to the UN and lots of African leader not doing right by their citizens, she believes in engaging difficult people in talks and negotiations, use of one’s voice is very important to her. Her example is when oil pipes were blown up in the Niger Delta, they continued to engage until the problem was solved. She said, “In Africa we are used to dealing with difficult people.” The subject of UN bureaucracy came up, its too big, the US have complained and are pushing for reforms. Amina agreed, and reforms are in motion because the UN set-up of 1945 is now not fit for purpose. Changes in framework help climate change management and implementation of other ways of working. She feels having less money will make countries which rely on budget of millions of dollars/Peacekeepers / finance as crutch will have to do better in managing. Coming to the end of the interview, she confirmed that after this post, “Yes, I am going back to Nigeria,… I want to be a touchstone for the next generation.” She is not interested to be President, “but someone to bring us together.” Its about how many (women) to bring into the senate and lower chamber as the numbers are very low. I am African, a woman with two sides of the coin, women deliver results, they have ability to think widely, they are focused, they deliver babies, deliver food on the table, get children educated. In the she has the ability for getting UN members to come together, she portrays credibility and purpose.
“A speaker of truth has no friends.” – An African quote
#SIWO GNEWS #219
Content- BBC iPlayer
SIWO REPORTER: Susanna Dziworshie
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