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News, 7/19/2012

Yemeni Nobel Peace Laureate: “The Syrian issue is our issue”

The suffering of civilians in Syria was one of the main concerns raised in the SuomiAreena panel discussion hosted by the Ministry for Foreign Affairs in Pori on Wednesday.

Rauhannobelisti Tawakkul Karman SuomiAreenalla. Kuva: SuomiAreena/Ville Malja Women can be leaders and part of the solution, not the problem, said Nobel Peace Laureate Tawakkul Karman. From Pori she flew straight back to Yemen to help work out new political solutions for her country’s future. Photo: SuomiAreena/Ville Malja 

On the stage discussing women’s role in peacebuilding were five feminists: Heidi Hautala, Minister for International Development, described Foreign Minister Erkki Tuomioja, moderator of the panel discussion, as one of Finland’s leading feminists.

The other participants in the panel discussion were Yemeni Nobel Peace Laureate Tawakkul Karman, Libyan democracy and human rights activist Farida Allaghi and President Tarja Halonen.

Foreign Minister Erkki Tuomioja said there was an impression that men were taking control and that women and young people, who had played such a prominent role in the Arab Spring uprisings, were being pushed out from positions of social influence. “Is this impression accurate?” he asked.

Time for women to step forward

“Of course we will not go back into the background. We have convinced society and the world that women can be leaders and part of the solution, not the problem,” said Tawakkul Karman, known as Yemen’s “Mother of the Revolution”.

She was quick to highlight the outcome of the recent elections in Libya, where no less than 33 women were returned to the 200-strong National Congress. By comparison, the first parliamentary elections in Finland in 1907 saw 19 women elected.

Karman herself is an example of how women can assume a position of political leadership in what is considered a deeply conservative Arab country. The Nobel Peace Laureate’s visit to Finland was cut short because she had been appointed to a committee charged with drafting the constitution and other political solutions for a new future in Yemen.

Farida Allaghi, kuva: SuomiAreena/Ville Malja

The power of example and moral support are more important that financial aid, said Farida Allaghi from Libya. Photo: SuomiAreena/Ville Malja

“Men have already been given too many opportunities and too much power, and all they have managed to create is a mess,” said Libyan activist Farida Allaghi, drawing laughter from the hundreds of people in the audience.

She pointed out that four Muslim countries – Indonesia, Pakistan, Turkey and Bangladesh – have had women PMs long before most Western countries.

Both panellists agreed that Finland played a strong role in supporting the women of Arab countries. Finland is well-respected in the Middle East and North Africa, and it has not given the same kind of backing to the dictators who were brought down with the Arab Spring as some major Western countries.

So what could Finland do? Dr. Allaghi was keen to stress that setting an example and lending moral support is even more important that giving money. Indeed she thanked Foreign Minister Tuomioja for an expert article he wrote in a widely circulated Arab newspaper in late 2011.

“The people of Syria will win – alone”

Dr. Allaghi no longer tried to amuse the audience when the discussion turned to Syria, but she shed a few tears when she asked how long foreign countries were going to continue with their cold geopolitical calculation. Nobel Peace Laureate Tawakkul Karman also wanted to see the international community take stronger action against Syria, such as the creation of safety corridors and zones for civilian.

 “I am sure that the Syrian people will win in the end, but they will win alone. They have decided to get their freedom and dignity.”

“The Syrian issue is our issue,” the Nobel Peace Laureate said.

Women Building Peace -paneelikeskustelu. Kuva: SuomiAreena/Ville MaljaAll five panellists have worked to improve the position and rights of women. Photo: SuomiAreena/Ville Malja

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Updated 7/19/2012

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