Under-Appreciated Heroes

David Slutsky posted a link to an excellent story calling attention to the people who should have captured the media attention in 2010, but who didn’t. (I’m pulling it out from comments to make sure it doesn’t get missed.) Two of them are particularly relevant to this blog, but really all of them are:

Under-Appreciated Person Two: Ellen Johnson Sirleaf. The only African leader who appears with any regularity on our TV screens is the snarling psychopath Robert Mugabe, spreading his message of dysfunction and despair. We rarely hear about his polar opposite.

In 2005, the women of Liberia strapped their babies to their backs and moved en masse to elect Africa’s first ever elected female President. Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf was a 62-year-old grandmother who had been thrown in prison by the country’s dictators simply for demanding democracy. She emerged blinking into a country trashed by 14 years of civil war and pillaged by dictators – but she said she would, at last, ensure that the Liberian state obeyed the will of its people.

In the face of a chorus of cynics, she did it. She restored electricity for the first time since 1992. She got the number of children in school up by 40 per cent. She introduced prison terms for rapists for the first time. Now she is running for re-election in a fully open and contested ballot. I look at her and I think of all the women I have seen by the roadsides of Africa, carrying impossibly heavy loads on hunched backs – and I know what they will achieve when they are finally allowed to…

Under-Appreciated People Four: The Saudi Arabian women who are fighting back. Women like Wajehaal-Huwaider are struggling against a tyranny that bans them from driving, showing their face in public, or even getting medical treatment without permission from their male “guardian”. The streets are policed by black-clad men who enforce sharia law and whip women who express any free will.

Saudi women are being treated just as horrifically as Iranian women – but because their oppressors are our governments’ allies, rather than our governments’ enemies, you hear almost nothing about them. Huwaider points out that her sisters are fighting back and being beaten and whipped for it, and asks: “Why isn’t the cry of these millions of women heard, and why isn’t it answered by anyone, anywhere in the world?”

15 thoughts on “Under-Appreciated Heroes

  1. Thanks, David.

    By the way, Saudi women have far few rights than do Iranian women.
    Iran is Sweden compared to Saudi Arabia.

  2. Thanks once again.

    I can see that the cause of Saudi women is one that you genuinely care about.

    By the way, I live in Chile, so I know Ms. Bachelet all too well. In fact, before she became famous, in her role of pediatrician, she once examined my then infant son.

  3. Amos X,

    You are very welcome! Thank you also for the info/tidbit about Ms. Michelle Bachelet – Executive Director of the new UN Women and recent president of Chile. I would love to hear some of your input on her (generally and as regards UN Women).

    One reason for my expression of care about (the lives, treatment, ethics, politics, work by, …) Saudi Women in particular on this blog stems from how UN Women has superseded/consolidated most UN entitles related to women (except for at least one or two that I plan to comment/blog about soon).

    In case you or anyone else is interested, I am covering (the treatment, lives, ethics, human rights violations, … of) women in Iran (and Sakineh) in the following post on Sakineh:


    Many of my other comments lately are to the Gender Inequality Index post:


    Sometimes I have so frequent comments, that I do not wish to start a post for each one of them. In addition, I think that many comments are closely related such that it might be good to group them in one place/post. On the other hand, posting comments in this way instead of starting new posts limits the visibility of the comments. I am still trying to balance the pros and cons of blogging in different ways – such as entering comments grouped with similar ones under an old post vs. starting a new post itself.

    Happy holidays/winter break to all those who celebrate and/or have one!

    Be safe! Be joyful! (and mindful of others too,,,!)

  4. David:

    As for Michelle Bachelet, this may help you to understand her.

    1. She’s a politician, not a philosopher or an activist. Don’t expect her to be entirely consistent in philosophical terms.

    2. Her father was an Air Force General who opposed the 1973 Pinochet coup. He was tortured to death. Bachelet was also tortured. If she has one real commitment, it’s to human rights.

    3. Bachelet is a socialist, from the days when being a socialist in Chile meant something. It no longer means anything in Chilean politics in daily praxis, but it does mean something to Bachelet on a gut level, if not in her day to day praxis.

    4. Bachelet wants to be elected president again in 2013. Immediate reelection is not constitutional in Chile, so after finishing her term in 2010 (the election was in 2009), Bachelet could not run for office again. She is the most popular political figure in Chile according to polls. That is, she will take no controversial stands in the U.N., which could be used against her in an election campaign. Chile is very conservative on some issues, for instance, on abortion, while on others it is less so: we elected a divorced woman president, for example and we are much less puritanical than the U.S. about sex, in my opinion.

    5. Bachelet is an acknowledged agnostic. She does not pretend to be a Catholic or a religious believer, as U.S. presidential figures do.
    Her predecessor, Ricardo Lagos, was also an acknowledged agnostic. (She doesn’t have a dog either.)

    6. In my short interaction with Bachelet, almost 25 years ago, I found her to be an especially no-nonsense person (and doctor).

    Have a good holiday yourself.

  5. Amos X,

    Thanks so much for the great input on Michelle Bachelet. (Feel free to keep more coming if you can/wish to share more…)

    Of course, only your #4 concerns me. I have read about her popularity/wide support, though I was not certain about her (future) presidential campaign plans. All of your other numbered pieces make good sense. Perhaps controversial and/or aggressive/progressive (or aggressively progressive?) activity as Executive Director of UN Women would not best achieve needed goals – perhaps moderate steps are the most practical ones for creating the requisite steps toward actual needed change(s) in this regard. Still, I wonder and often wish whether more people defending radical stands could better achieve certain goals, in the short or the long run.

    I also think #2 and #3 can hold great importance, in indirect if not direct ways.

    In spirit of (additional) under-appreciated heroes, more comments coming on the “Saudi Arabia On UN Women Board” post, the “Urgent Petition To Save Sakineh” post, and the “Gender Inequality Index” post – though I still wonder about A) starting new posts for greater visibility on the blog, or B) adding comments to older posts so as to keep unified comments grouped together (see the end of my comment #5 above for a bit on this disjunction)…

    Happy holidays/winter season to all,

  6. David:

    Bachelet is probably the only candidate that the center-left has who is likely to win the presidency in 2013, the current president (who cannot run for immediate re-election) being Piñera, a moderate rightwing billionaire. So I doubt that she will do or say anything at the UN which will endanger her presidential possibilities.

    Bachelet is popular because she inspires trust, that is, in a country where no one trusts or believes in politicians. I don’t think that the mass perceptive of her trustworthiness is entirely spin. At times, she may try to please all and everyone, which may make her appear contradictory from a philosophical point of view: however, her motive for pleasing all and everyone is not so much opportunism, but empathy
    and it is her capacity for empathy which makes people trust her.

  7. Just a couple more (of so, so, many, but sadly not enough!) under-appreciated heroes (culled – and expanded – from my “Gender Inequality Index” post/comments):

    “When Odette Kayirere lost her husband in the 1994 Rwandan genocide, she felt angry and hopeless. But she stepped beyond her grief to work with her fellow widows, first to make a better life for herself and her children and then to help form an organisation for 4,000 women [now more like 12,000 to 25,000]”

    Avega Agahozo Rwanda Genocide Widows Association
    Avega Agahozo: What We Do [please check this out!]


    “… at the United Nations, and we passed Resolution 1327 recognizing the importance of women in peacekeeping. But it takes a person like Sarah [Cleto Rial] to make it happen – someone who flies back to Sudan, kisses the tarmac from which she fled, and starts building peace from the ground up. Tonight, Sarah and her colleagues are headed off to the Nuba Mountains to continue grassroots efforts to build peace and stability.”…

    “Our Projects are birthed from conversations with the women we serve. We listen so that we may learn what their aspirations and priorities are for their communities. In this section of the website, you will find descriptions of various projects we have completed and are working on for the betterment of women in Sudan.”


    My Sister’s Keeper: Women Led Humanitarian Action

    “My Sister’s Keeper is a women-led, women-focused, humanitarian action group. We are a faith-inspired, multi-racial, collective of women who work together to lend sisterly assistance to communities of women in various locations throughout the World. At present, we are focused on supporting the aspirations of women in the African country of Sudan. It is our hope that our way of working together will inspire other small groups of women to form sisterhoods that support the hopes of women who dare dream in the face of dire socioeconomic conditions. Such is the essence of My Sister’s Keeper.”





  8. Wangari Maathai: Africa’s green star

    “Wangari Maathai has chalked up many firsts in her 70 years. There was the time she became the first Kenyan woman to earn a doctorate; the time she planted her first tree nursery, and the time she became the first African woman to win the Nobel peace prize. There was also the first time she was beaten up; the first time she was jailed; the first time she was disqualified from running for political office, and the first time her environmental work was dismissed as that of a “mad divorcee”.

    “These tribulations might be behind her now, and organisations around the world might be lauding her work promoting the greening of Africa, but Maathai is not one to rest on her laurels. She is still busy lobbying politicians across the continent to pay more than lip service to environmental causes, and is establishing an institute at the University of Nairobi to propagate the community development ideas that have earned her international acclaim.” …

    “…This sparked an idea: if the women planted trees on their plots, she realised, it would not only provide firewood but protect the soil. Before long, she had persuaded women to plant indigenous trees such as acacias and crotons around their plots – the original “green belts”. But she also declared war on the government-run coffee industry that saw farmers left with only the dregs of the profits, and on the timber industry that favoured fast-growing conifer and eucalyptus trees, imported by the British during colonial times, over native ones.

    “As I worked with the women, I started seeing that not only were the rivers being polluted, but they were also losing volume, because these commercial timber plantations in the forests were depositing a lot of soil in the water. So we were losing soil and we were losing water,” she says. “This was a violation of our rights.” …


    Has Environmentalism Lost Its Spiritual Core? (this news story is really great!)


    Taking Root: The Vision of Wangari Maathai


    Replenishing the Earth: Spiritual Values for Healing Ourselves and the World, 2010


    Can one woman save Africa? (this news story is really great!)


    The Green Belt Movement


    The Green Belt Movement, founded by Wangari Maathai



  9. Nomination of Bahareh Hedayat for the 2010 Student Peace Prize



    Hedayat, a well known student and women’s rights activist, has been sentenced to serve 9 years and 6 months in prison in relation to her student rights and women’s rights activities. She was arrested a year ago and has been in prison since. She is currently facing new charges in relation to a letter that she allegedly wrote from inside prison on the occasion of Student Day (December 7). It should be noted that Hedayat was sentenced to 7and half years in relation to her student rights activities and is serving an additional 2 year sentence in relation to her women’s rights activities. Bahareh Hedayat is also an activists in the One Million Signatures Campaign and has played a critical role in connecting the women’s and student movements.

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