Multiculturalism: facilitating unity, not division

Elise Rietveld

Extreme irregularities only divert our attention away from the strengths of multiculturalism, which has helped us a lot  over the decades

Extreme irregularities only divert our attention away from the strengths of multiculturalism, which has helped us a lot over the decades

Leading figures in academia, politics and the media, including British Prime-Minister David Cameron, have accused multiculturalism of being divisive. But closer inspection shows that actually, it offers the most coherent way of reconciling unity, equality and diversity in multicultural societies.

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UN Investment in ASEAN More Important Than Ever?

Isma Aiman

Let shaking hands be the start of further mutual benefits ahead

Let shaking hands be the start of further mutual benefits ahead

Is it the end of potential growth for businesses in Asia? In recent times, we can see the decline of China’s GDP growth from a staggering 14.2% in 2007 to a mere 7.7% at the end of 2013. Not to mention rumours that after the official data for 2014, a further fall is also projected. Looking at the other Asian superpower, India, we might be wary to invest there.

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The Crisis of Ignorance and Apathy


UN Humanitarian Chief Valarie Amos on visit to South Sudan on Feb. 9, 2015 in UNOCHA

Following a morning when the hype over the Ebola epidemic dominated the headlines, and the airwaves had buzzed with renewed scrutiny of the conflict in Syria, UN Under-secretary for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief, Baroness Valerie Amos stopped off in Cardiff to deliver the Welsh Centre for International Affairs 41st anniversary lecture.

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Negotiating Climate Change: global to local

Leonardo DiCaprio, Actor and UN Messenger of Peace, addresses the opening of the Climate Summit 2014.

Leonardo DiCaprio, Actor and UN Messenger of Peace, addresses the opening of the Climate Summit 2014.

Last weekend and early this week, two big events on climate change action took place in New York. Yesterday, September 23rd, the UN Climate Change Summit took place on the invitation of UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon. 122 heads of government attended. However, a few key leaders were missing such as those from China, India and Germany.[1] Two days earlier, the streets of New York and other major cities across the world were flooded with the People’s Climate March which the organisers call “a weekend to bend history.” In Wales, the next meeting of the Climate Change Commission for Wales is aiming to move the climate change policy refresh of the Welsh government further. An ideal occasion to take stock of what is happening.

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Investing in Girls

Currently, one third of girls in the developing world will be married before the age of 18, and one in seven before the age of 15.[1] These forced marriages can even see girls as young as eight married to middle-aged men, leaving them subject to a host of problems that, if avoided, could make drastic improvements to the country. Forced marriage happens as a result of gender inequality, girls being viewed as an economic burden, negative religious practices that cause families to push girls into early marriage to safeguard against ‘immoral’ behaviour, failure to enforce laws and conflicts.[2]

Girls that are married as children have a pregnancy rate double that of women in their twenties,[3] contributing to the rapid increases in population that bring devastating effects to the country such as lack of land and food. However, that’s not all. Girls aged between 10 and 14 are five times more likely to die in childbirth than women aged from 20 to 24.[4] If they manage to live through childbirth, a huge proportion of them will face poverty, mistreatment, disease, and may even have to sell their bodies to support their family, putting them at a higher risk of acquiring HIV.

In marriage, these adolescent girls will face other serious issues in regards to their safety. At this young age, they are more likely to be subject to abuse from their partner, both mentally and physically. Female genital mutilation may also be a horrific consequence they have to face. Around 100-140 million African women have undergone FGM worldwide, and it’s estimated that three million girls are subject to it every year in Africa alone. Older women with no medical training are traditionally the ones to perform the procedure. Pieces of glass and scissors can be some of the most basic, but most common tools used and normally there will be no anesthetics and antiseptic treatment. We need to be aware, however, that these issues are happening in our country too. It’s estimated that around 6,500 girls are at risk of FGM within the UK every year.[5]

Nevertheless, there are still ways we can overcome these problems. One of the most powerful means of doing this is by keeping these girls in education for longer. It’s been proved that a girl in the developing world that receives seven years of education, will most likely marry four years later and have 2.2 fewer children, than without that education.[6] Girls who continue in school are less likely to be subjected to forced sex and more likely to use contraception than girls out of school. This contraception would also reduce their chance of getting HIV and AIDS, lowering the current statistics that see five million people worldwide between the ages of 15 and 24 living with HIV, and more than 60% of these being girls.[7] Yet, currently only one in five girls make it to secondary school in sub-Saharan Africa and secondary school completion is below 5%.[8] It seems that the tradition of keeping girls shut away in their homes, caring for the family and doing the housework, means that most will not have a decent education.

This desperately needed education could yield serious benefits for the economy of the country. It’s thought that an increase in 1.2% of the GDP, just in a single year, could be achieved by giving girls their education and closing the joblessness gap between men and women. Not only that, but an additional year of primary school education would raise the girl’s eventual wages by 10-20% and an extra year of secondary school adds 15-25%. Yields on women’s land can be increased by up to 30%, simply by letting them have access to the non-land resources and facilities that men get. This could even lower the number of starving people in the world by 100-150 million as a result of their agricultural output being raised by up to 4%.[9] Keeping girls in education has the potential to make a huge difference, not only by allowing the females themselves to earn a living, marry when they’re ready and lead a healthy life, but for the rest of the country too.

As a result of the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations’ work, in the Kanem region of Chad, land-loan agreements lasting five years were signed, enabling women’s groups to work on the fertile and irrigable land that they previously didn’t have access to, and farm it in their own names. This access to land has allowed the families of the women to have a more balanced, nutritious and varied meals, and a greater and steadier source of income. In addition, child malnutrition has dropped to 12.6% in these households, compared to 31.1% seen in non-involved households.[10]

Awra Amba, a small community in Ethiopia, is another example of change being made. Set up around 40 years ago by a man named Zumra Nuru, Awra Amba is a small village where gender equality is present, casting aside the beliefs of the rest of the country. In Awra Amba, a woman may ask a man to marry her and having too many children is seen as harmful. Work is not differentiated between men and women: Women plough the fields and handle money, while men are not ashamed to sew clothes, cook food and carry water.[11]

Therefore, even though the current situation for many girls is shocking, there are ways to change it.

Alicia Cook is a volunteer at the Welsh Centre for International Affairs.


1, 3, 4, 6, 7, 8, 9 – Girl Effect (accessed July 8, 2014)
2. Plan UK (accessed July 8, 2014)
5. Forward UK (accessed July 8, 2014)
10. Food and Agriculture Organisation of the UN (accessed July 8, 2014)
11. Visit Awra Amba (accessed July 8, 2014)

Women Encouraged to Embrace Dying Platforms Under The Pretence of Feminism


World Radio Day 2014. Credit: UNESCO

In the last year there have been many who have finally chosen to engage with feminism as a recognisable cause. Articles by Owen Jones have prompted the hashtag #MenStandingWithFeminism and in the UK the Say No To Page 3 campaign to eliminate unnecessary displays of youthful breasts has gone national. The world is starting to understand that being a woman is still a cause of casual discrimination and intimidation.

Many people in high places have deemed to commit themselves to equality by creating platforms for female exposure. This is undeniably progress and an aspect I hope will continue to develop.

However, I feel that although exposure is being boosted, women are only being notably encouraged and pushed into expiring public platforms and not the current and more important ones.

February 13th was UN World Radio Day. The main rhetoric coming from the UN was promotion of radio and that we need more women on radio. Sure, great! But is this the significant triumph that will expose more women to the global public?

Quite simply, no. It’s a nice idea but radio is a notably dying platform. The first point of World Radio Day is that very few people listen to radio anymore and it’s trying to boost it’s use. Why then does the UN deem radio a significant platform for women? I predict the medium of radio will soon be subjected to the obscure fringes of society and won’t expose female voices to any new global audience.

Secondly, the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) has declared recently that the comedy platform of panel shows will no longer showcase male only panels, with a woman on every panel being compulsory. BBC boss, Danny Cohen, said of male dominated shows, ‘You just can’t do that. It’s not acceptable.’ and he’s right; it isn’t acceptable. But why come out and just declare male panel shows unacceptable. Why not other platforms such as sports shows or other comedy shows that don’t consist of an ‘improvised script’ for a panel of guests.

I think it’s because panel shows have dominated British television for the past 5-10 years and it’s flagging. It’s become boisterous, cliched and predictable. Many male and female comics even refuse to do them because they dislike the concept.

I could be highly cynical and claim that in a few years the panel show concept will predicably decline and women will be blamed for these shows becoming obsolete because of the age-old stigma that women ‘just aren’t as funny as men’.

Some may argue that these efforts are better than nothing. They are better than nothing. But why do women constantly have to accept ‘it’s better than nothing’. The age of accepting mediocrity continues.

That is not to discredit all the wonderful efforts that display feminist values such as TED lectures and positive discrimination in some institutions such as the Welsh Assembly. However, there is too much media exposure to those publicly claiming more opportunities for women, such as these two examples, when in fact they are a very disheartening effort toward gender equality.

Find out more about UNA Wales’ core aim ‘to promote a greater equality of opportunity for all men and women across Wales and the World’ and discover ways that you can get involved. UNA Wales has created a petition calling for the appointment of a minister for Gender Equality and provides a list of useful resources to aid the proliferation of this important message.

A Hopeful Sign: IAEA Endorses Iran’s Nuclear Action Plan

A general view of the E3/EU+3 Iran Talks, 20 November 2013. UN Photo / Jean-Marc Ferré

A general view of the E3/EU+3 Iran Talks, 20 November 2013. UN Photo / Jean-Marc Ferré

The United Nations (UN) atomic watchdog has endorsed the plan to ensure the peaceful nature of Iran’s nuclear programme. This is a major step forward in the ongoing mission to bring Iran in line with the UN aim of a non-nuclear age. Iran has always argued that its nuclear programme is for peaceful purposes only, which it is free to pursue. However, some other countries (especially Israel) have contended that it is driven by military ambitions. This has been a matter of international concern since the discovery in 2003 that Iran had concealed its nuclear activities for 18 years. This is in breach of its obligations under the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT).

Hassan Rouhani, Iran’s president, has urged the rest of the world to stop treating his country as a pariah state. He continued to assert that ‘Nuclear weapons have no place in our security strategy and Iran has no motivation to move in that direction’, he assured the world he (and Iran) is committed to a ‘constructive engagement’ with the international community. However, the Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu later dismissed these claims asserting they prove to show nothing more than a ‘change in words and unchanging deeds.’ Yet, when Israel itself has a nuclear programme that is described as an ‘open secret’, it is no wonder that Israel has always felt a clandestine programme was under-way in Iran. Indeed Israel’s nuclear programme is one that the Western Powers have systematically avoided to mention. This could have much to do with the fact that many nations secretly sold Israel the material and expertise to make nuclear warheads, or turned a blind eye to its theft. These include today’s staunchest campaigners against proliferation, the US, France, Germany, Britain. Of course Israel, unlike Iran, never signed up to the 1968 NPT so could not violate it. However, this should not cloud our view of the seriousness that Iran itself may assign to the fact that Israel is a nuclear armed nation.

Regardless, the plan envisages the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) undertaking monitoring and verification of a series of ‘voluntary measures’ to be taken by Iran over a period of six months. it is hoped by the IAEA that the work undertaken by the Agency will provide an important contribution to resolving this important issue and will lead to further positive developments. UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon ‘warmly welcomes the interim agreement that has been reached in Geneva regarding the nuclear programme of Iran’. He again confirmed the UN’s ‘unswerving commitment’ to the aim of total nuclear disarmament. Having said all that, Iran has postponed talks due to be held in January until 8th February, but regardless of this brief setback the USA has hailed Iran’s suspension of high-level uranium enrichment as an ‘unprecedented opportunity’ after a long stand-off that threatened to ignite yet another conflict in the Middle East. This must be seen as marking a substantial breakthrough in the ongoing struggle against nuclear proliferation and the threat to global peace and security it represents.

Finally, it is worth noting the impact that sanctions has had on the situation, they are a very complex and often divisive issue. There are reasonable arguments that they only impact on the innocent citizens and not those in power. However, Ali Akbar Salehi, the head of Iran’s atomic energy organisation (AEOI), said in a televised report ‘the iceberg of sanctions against Iran is melting’. This partial lifting of sanctions will ease restrictions on trade in petrochemicals and precious metals as well as other areas of trade. This, in many ways shows the importance that a successful and committed policy of sanctions can have on states’ actions and policies. They are not always the most effective form of international relations.  However, the statement from Ali Akbar Salechi shows that these sanctions and their lifting is a substantial issue for Iran, its leaders and population and as such must be seen as playing their part.

Finally, it is with some hope that this blog post is written, in a time when there is much to be concerned about in the region, with the situation in Syria being nothing less than horrific. With the situations in Ukraine and Egypt, South Sudan and Lebanon all suffering from a threat to their peace and hard-fought for democracy it is worth noting when there is a glimmer of positivity in the realm of international peace.

Further Reading

  • 2014. UN atomic watchdog endorses plan to ensure peaceful nature of Iran’s nuclear programme. United Nations News, [online] 24 January. Available at: <> [Accessed 26 January 2014].
  • TREATY ON THE NON-PROLIFERATION OF NUCLEAR WEAPONS (NPT). United Nations Office for Disarmament Affairs, [online] Available at: <> [Accessed 28 January 2014].
  • 2013. WELCOMING HISTORIC AGREEMENT ON IRAN NUCLEAR PROGRAMME, SECRETARY-GENERAL. United Nations Department of Public Information, [online] 23 November. Available at: <> [Accessed 28 January 2014].
  • 2014. The truth about Israel’s secret nuclear arsenal. The Guardian Online, [online] 15 January. Available at: <> [Accessed 28 January 2014].
  • 2014. Iran and IAEA postpone nuclear talks until February. The Guardian Online, [online] 14 January. Available at: <> [Accessed 28 January 2014].
  • 2014. US hails ‘unprecedented opportunity’ as Iran halts enriching high-level uranium. The Guardian Online, [online] 20 January. Available at: <> [Accessed 28 January 2014].