Archive | January, 2013

Louisiana is sinking: climate change, competition over resources and marginalisation

31 Jan

Dear Friends,

I just published a new article for ORG on the sinking coast of Louisiana. Did you know that an area the size of a football field is lost every 30-60 minutes, mainly due to climate change, in Louisiana alone?!?

This will mean that the marginalised communities of coastal Louisiana, the Mississippi Delta, will soon be the first “climate refugees” in the history of the USA.

webpost 6 louisiana large

Excerpt of my article:

“Hurricane Katrina and the sinking of coastal Louisiana stand as a reminder that we must address climate change, competition over resources and marginalisation as the root causes of conflict before it is too late.

Most will remember the horrific pictures on the news in 2005 when Hurricane Katrina struck New Orleans. Nearly 2,000 people died, thousands more were left homeless and displaced, the material destruction was catastrophic with damages well over $100 billion.

The aftermath of Hurricane Katrina once again proved that marginalised people have the least resources to cope with environmental constraints and natural disasters. Nowhere in New Orleans was the devastation greater than in the Lower Ninth Ward, a predominantly poor African American neighbourhood. Most residents of the Lower Ninth Ward had fewer options of where to go, did not want to leave their homes behind and lost everything due to the damage caused by Katrina and their lack of financial resources to rebuild the community.

Katrina was not the last and probably not the most destructive disaster to hit Louisiana.”…

To continue reading please click on the following link:

In Friendship,

Should women be allowed into front-line combat roles? A discussion between two Peaceworkers

25 Jan

Image from The Guardian

One of the most valuable things I’m finding with being a Peaceworker is the thoughtful dialogue with my colleagues. The United States is in the process of repealing the ban on women serving in Infantry combat roles. Upon reading the headline; ‘Do women have a constitutional right to serve in military combat?’, my first thought – as a woman, feminist, and equal rights activist – was ‘of course’. So, I wrote to Owen, whose placement at War Resisters International puts him firmly on the side of a view that is firmly anti-militarist, in any circumstance. I will share with you the (edited) dialogue we are having;

R: Not sure whether this is a progression or a step backwards in terms of war-making. In terms of women’s rights to have equal access to the roles that men have, it is most certainly a progression.

O: It is a tough one – but the military is so heterosexist that it’s far more important to campaign against militarism as a system rather than struggling for equal access within it (see I wonder if this will make the UK military reconsider it’s stance though.

R: I think that is very likely, the UK will be forced to reconsider if this US decision goes through. 

I would take a different stance – where both approaches are necessary; that as long as militarism exists, men and women should have equal rights within it, and we should firmly continue to dismantle the military institution. If the military start granting combat roles to women, this will indicate a significant upheaval of some of their most dominant sexist beliefs – perhaps this, in its own way, will help to dismantle some of the most powerful ideas that perpetuate militarism?

O: That’s a really good point. My fear is that women and others who work hard to achieve those equal rights will have less energy for the very big challenge to breaking down militarism.

R: But don’t you see that achieving equal rights will go some distance to tackling one of the biggest social norms that upholds the idea of militarism; patriarchy?

It would be interesting to hear from a openly homosexual US soldier if their experience changed when the Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell law was repealed to test this theory.

O: I do see that, and I’m not saying campaigners would be wasting their time, but the conditioning those combatants would go through in training might not change, nor the general recourse to military solutions, so it would need to be accompanied by a massive denunciation of this.

I’d take more encouragement from there being more women in high ranks, which I imagine would challenge militarism more profoundly.

R: Women already go through that training. The very same training as men. They are still conditioned in the same way as men, have the same expertise as men, but are not allowed to fight in frontline combat roles simply because they are women.

In 2010, the MOD conducted research into this question. The UK ban on women entering combat roles was not lifted. This is because women are deemed to pose a threat to team-cohesion between men, thus resulting in grave consequences.

I don’t take much encouragement from women achieving high-ranking roles in the military, nor generally. I am concerned with gender equality regardless of rank.

O: The basic training will be the same but if they’re not in the Infantry etc they won’t be doing the further training that those roles involve and therefore may not be conditioned to the same extent.

Women can uphold patriarchy and (perceived) masculinity, which I think is what I’ve been getting at. You seem to acknowledge this yourself – that they ‘have to adopt masculine values’: will this change if they can do combat roles? I fear it would actually perpetuate it.

I don’t want anyone to be allowed to kill. I’m increasingly feeling that it’s not the right thing to struggle for.

R: You’re right – essentially nothing would change in terms of the military machine being something that perpetuates violence and trains people to kill. The killing would not stop.

Yes, women uphold patriarchy all the time, however much that makes me feel defeated and helpless, it is a truth.

I believe that the army is not going to be disbanded in my lifetime, and this is also a truth.  

And so, I find myself arguing for the right of women to achieve front-line military positions in lethal combat. It seems like a very odd kind of equality.

This discussion has been in very generic terms, and has not taken into account the voices of female veterans who disagree with the inclusion of women into infantry roles. Nor has is highlighted that women are already in these roles in countries like Norway, Canada, Denmark, the Netherlands, Israel, Germany and France. 

This issue is not my battle (so to speak), but ultimately I will support women in any profession to achieve the same roles of men, when the reasoning behind them not having this choice is based on a sexist interpretation of gender. If this is a debate about rights, I agree that women who choose this job absolutely have the right to achieve the same levels as their male colleagues. If this is a debate about dismantling militarism, then opening up the potential front-line recruitment to 50% of the US population is certainly a bad thing. Clearly, these debates are very much intertwined, and my position rests on the politics that I think through, work with and challenge daily.

Much remains to be discussed, and I am glad for such an honest and open debate with my Peaceworker colleague, which is forcing me to think through some uncomfortable decisions and points of view.

In Friendship,


New Year, New Happenings…

23 Jan

Dear readers,

Happy New Year! I have returned from a wet and windy Christmas spent in the UK to a sleepy and snow-covered Geneva. A wonderful holiday, a quiet January in the office, and a walk to work this morning through winter wonderland has given me some time to reflect on the last few months at QUNO…

In October and November we prepared for the next round of climate negotiations under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) at COP18 in Doha, Qatar, which was exciting for a number of reasons, not least because it was the first Conference of the Parties (COP) on climate change attended by QUNO. It was also an amazing and unexpected opportunity for me to write a short paper on trust-building between States within the UNFCCC, an area where I feel sure that QUNO’s experience in bringing countries together to speak in a safe space could be hugely valuable.

While following the negotiations from afar, I did at times find it difficult to remain positive about the international response to climate change, which can often seem removed from the reality already upon us. But there was also lots of inspiring things (and if we don’t focus on the positive, we really will go mad!), including the presence of the Arab Youth Climate Movement (AYCM) at Doha, who marched for climate action in what is thought to be Qatar’s first ever demonstration, and the personal call from Naderev Saño, lead negotiator for the Philippines, for countries to take immediate action on climate change (

I echo what Alissa has said about our tendency to focus on the effects of climate change in developing countries, often ignoring the fact that the problem lies much closer to home. This is something that has been very much on my mind over the last few months, particularly as I become more involved in QUNO’s work on natural resources, conflict, and cooperation. Over the last few years in the UK, we have consistently had the hottest Aprils, the wettest Augusts and now the wettest November on record, yet we continue to act as if are somehow separate or safe from the crisis. When activities driven by consumption have created a world marked by inequality and unsustainable choices, how can we have a greater impact as responsible global consumers and make sure that we seize this opportunity for positive change?

Outside of work, the skiing season has begun! I spent an amazing first Saturday back in the mountains around Mont Blanc, although the 6am wake up call to catch the bus was less appreciated. Lying under the sun in a deckchair by the slopes, with a hot chocolate in my hands … could things be better?! The post-holiday transition was also made much easier by our finance officer, who made a warming tomato fondue for us all on my first day back. He is my hero!

Happy 2013 to all!


Why military intervention is not the long-term solution for Mali

22 Jan

Dear Friends,

My colleague Ben Zala and I at Oxford Research Group (ORG) wrote an op-ed piece on the military intervention in Mali. The op-ed will be published by Channel 4 News in 2 parts. Part 1 is already up on the website and part 2 will be published tomorrow. Find out more below…

In Friendship,

“Now well over a decade after the beginning of the so-called war on terror, yet again, another western nation is leading a military intervention against Islamist paramilitaries based in a largely ungoverned region of a state in the Global South, write Anna Alissa Hitzemann and Ben Zala for the Oxford Research Group.

The hostage situation in Algeria that developed late last week is just the latest in a series of western hostage takings in recent years, demonstrating the increasing radicalisation of elements in the region.

The French-led intervention in Mali is only one of many in a growing list of attempts to control outbreaks of political violence and terrorism with military means.” (…)

Read more here:
Part 1:
Part 2:

Christmas Greetings from Tropical Germany…

4 Jan


… and Happy New Year 2013!

I decided to go home to Germany to spend Christmas and the New Year celebrations with my family. I was also hoping that I would be able to go skiing and enjoy the typical cold snowy winter of the Alps in southern Bavaria. But this year there was no snow. And the temperatures were anything but cold and wintry!

I’m guessing that after this winter no one in Bavaria can claim to still be skeptic of global warming. It was the warmest Christmas Eve ever recorded in history!! In Munich temperatures even rose to 20 degrees Celsius!!!

I caught myself thinking how often we focus on the effects climate change is having in low income developing countries, and how many people in the “West” simply do not see that the destruction of our environment will have huge consequences (direct and indirect) for all of us. In my Bavarian village south of Munich countless families depend on the winter tourists who only a few years back used to crowd around our ski lifts. The slopes were left empty this year, ski instructors without a job, ski equipment rentals without clients, mountain cottages without guests and the numerous cafe and restaurants were empty. Everyone hoping that perhaps the snow might just be a bit late this year…

My family is half Muslim, half Christian. We do not eat pork or drink Alcohol, but we did decide to attend Christmas church service this year and watch the Nativity Play. After dinner on Christmas Eve my mother suggested that I explain what Quaker meeting for worship is like and my entire family decided that we should give it a try.

We spent a beautiful 30 minutes of silent worship together.. perhaps a new family tradition was born…

Dear Readers: I wish you all a prosperous New Year. Above all I wish you happiness, health and PEACE.

In Friendship,



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