Sehrish Naseem gives a speech at NDI's annual Madeleine K. Albright Luncheon in 2016.
How did I come to understand what has become my mission in life? Well, I come from a social context in Pakistan where, like in all developing countries, women’s vision and committed approach to a practical life goes through tough challenges. It can even start within a woman’s own family. Fortunately, my family stood by my ambition of joining social work as a profession.
I come from a long line of tough, trailblazing, phenomenal women. My grandmother would go into villages in India with a bullhorn, telling poor women how to access birth control. My mother came to the U.S. at the age of nineteen to study endocrinology at University of California-Berkeley and eventually became a leading breast cancer researcher. There’s no way I could have begun my political journey without strong role models like them to inspire me.
Participants in NDI Kosovo's 2017 Week of Women discuss citizen concerns with political leaders.
Take a moment to reflect on what you wanted to become when you were eight years old—which, if you are a woman, was when you were at your most confident. How did that change by the time you turned eighteen? For those who were (or are) aspiring politicians, you might be interested to know that research in the U.S. says girls are equally politically confident—for example, in running for class president and student councils—as boys until high school, when it drops by half. NDI’s Gender, Women and Democracy team has taken on the task of finding out what this political confidence gap looks like on a global scale and, more importantly, how to address it.
Surging youth activism and leadership has the potential to change the world. Accordingly, young people are increasingly being recognized as indispensable agents for sustainable development and the source of a demographic dividend. But more work is necessary to support their active engagement and satisfy young people’s desire to have more than just a seat at the table. To help meet this need, NDI recently developed a unified theory of change, illustrated in the graphic above, which depicts the process of institutionalizing meaningful youth political participation.
Muslim in faith, Czech at heart: Muneeb leads fellow participants from the Czech Republic and Slovakia at a recent NDI gathering on joint responses to growing religious and ethnic intolerance
Muneeb has a quiet reserve that gives way to a beaming smile when you ask him about his work and life. A long-time resident of Brno, the capital of the Moravian region of the Czech Republic, Muneeb’s English is halting, so he is quick to turn to Czech, his everyday language for three decades. Muneeb is married, a father, and runs the Czech Center for Muslim Communities. He reserves his native Arabic for family and spiritual matters.
For Muneeb and other longtime residents of Muslim faith—many if not most Czech citizens—the refugee crisis has lifted the curtain on some unpleasant realities. The unprecedented wave of humanity from the greater Middle East has elicited sympathy and aid from many quarters of Czech society. But many express fear about what the presence of foreigners means for their safety and identity—although few if any refugees have actually set foot on Czech soil, much less settled there.
NDI Chairman Madeleine Albright discusses democracy assistance with Representative Brad Schneider (IL-10) and freshman Representative Pramila Jayapal (WA-07)
I’ve seen my share of campaign slogans, and—to my knowledge—democracy assistance has yet to make it to the political mailers. In fact, foreign policy is rarely a key campaign issue for Congressional candidates, who tend to talk about fixing problems at home rather than facing challenges abroad. Yet, when they come to Washington, Members of Congress become essential decision-makers in the foreign policy process that determines America’s place in the world.
Hodan speaking on the role of women in peace and development processes in Somalia at the Peace, Security and Development in the Horn of Africa Conference on December 8, 2016 in Nairobi, Kenya
Somalia has been at war with itself since 1991, and my family fled the country at the peak of the civil war that year. Over the course of the following decade, I lived and studied in India. The civil war has left the country with many scars: political instability, insecurity, a dysfunctional government, no functioning public and private institutions, economic destitution, clan disputes and violence, the formation of terrorist groups, and piracy. So after my studies, I decided to return to Somalia to contribute to the rebuilding of the nation. But arriving in Mogadishu in 2003, nothing prepared me for the shock at the level of destruction and the suffering of my people, especially women and children.
Young women are the future of politics, but we have to protect them from violence, including online.
Communication technologies are having a significant impact on the way we practice democracy around the world. Online platforms are an exciting and expanding space for citizens to gather information and voice their opinions. They offer new opportunities for politicians and their constituents to connect, and for young women and men and other new entrants to politics to cost-effectively find a voice and build their political networks. However, these platforms can also be a forum for misinformation, hate speech, abuse and harassment.
NDI staff Lauren Kitz and Jesper Frant lead YIAGA through a visioning and reflection workshop on its #NotTooYoungToRun campaign.
Margaret Mead is quoted as saying, “never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it's the only thing that ever has.” In late February, I traveled to Abuja, Nigeria to meet with one such group of thoughtful, committed citizens.
The Youth Initiative for Advocacy Growth and Advancement (YIAGA) is one of Nigeria's preeminent youth organizations. YIAGA, along with the Youngstars Development Initiative (YDI), has conducted a very successful advocacy effort to lower the eligibility age to run for elected office in Nigeria. From humble beginnings, the #NotTooYoungToRun campaign has grown into a national movement.
Election workers count votes during Chile’s 1988 plebiscite, which ended Pinochet’s dictatorship. Source: Flickr
When I started out as a junior State Department diplomat at the close of the Carter Administration in the dark days of the Cold War, the state of democracy in Latin America was abysmal. Military dictatorship was the norm throughout the region. During my early State Department years I worked to support, sustain, and contribute to the so-called third wave of democracy in the Americas that helped make the Latin America region, as the Economist recently said, “the most democratic region of the developing world,” behind only North America and Western Europe.