My Rights are Your Rights: How one transgender woman in Guatemala is making change

Debby Linares, during her presentation at NDI, with fellow human rights activist, Fernando Us Alvarez.

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In the first week of December 2017, I had the chance to meet Debby Linares, a transgender woman and human rights activist from Guatemala, who soon became an inspiration to me on a personal level. Debby, who has been a human rights activist for the past 16 years, advocates for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Intersex (LGBTI) rights at the municipal and state level in Guatemala.

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NDI Goes to Brussels

NDI President Ken Wollack addressing leaders of the EPP, ALDE and PES parties at EPP headquarters in Brussels, October 2017

 

NDI President Ken Wollack visited Brussels this fall to discuss how democracy is faring in Central and Eastern Europe as the region confronts heightened Kremlin involvement, democratic backsliding and rising skepticism over European integration. Among other interlocutors, Wollack met with leaders of the European People’s Party (EPP), the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats in Europe (ALDE), and the Party of European Socialists (PES), plus affiliated think tanks. NDI has affiliation with all three party groups and works with them to support political party development and reform.

The European leaders spoke of combining forces in the former Yugoslavia, Central Europe and Eastern Partnership countries to resolve ongoing partisan conflicts that harm good governance and political consensus. It’s the kind of demonstrable engagement that Europe can make at a time when many countries, both in and outside of the European Union (EU), need democracy booster shots. NDI’s in-country programs and longstanding relations with European political parties across the mainstream spectrum make the Institute a bridge between Brussels and Europe’s eastern reaches.

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Roma integrate in one Slovak town—and everyone benefits

Two Roma employed by the municipal enterprise in Spissky Hrhov, Slovakia, show that the “whole community” approach to democracy and human rights begins at the local level

Like other small towns in this mountainous region of Slovakia, Spissky Hrhov faced tremendous uncertainty in the aftermath of the democratic revolution of 1989 and Slovak independence in 1993. People rejoiced in the overthrow of communism. But with a moribund economic base, no evident means to attract investment, and ethnic divisions, Spissky Hrhov seemed consigned to economic subsistence and social conflict.

For Spissky Hrhov’s sizable number of Roma residents, the situation was particularly dire.

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My Dreams for the Sudan Future Makers

Sudan Future Makers Organization Monthly Forum, Khartoum, Sudan. July 2017

When I first came to NDI as a Mandela Fellow and was introduced to its goals and activities, I realized that I had come to the right place to help me achieve my dream of changing Sudan.

The Sudan that I grew up in suffers from bad governance, poor social services and inadequate infrastructure. International intervention did not help. Instead, the world was so angry with the Sudan that the Security Council imposed political and economic sanctions that harmed the peaceful majority more than the trouble makers and the few in power. It was in this context that we decided to take the positive step of establishing the Sudan Future Makers Organization.

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Happy International Youth Day!

Happy International Youth Day! I remember watching President John F. Kennedy’s 1960 inaugural address. “Ask not what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country,” he said. As a teenager, those words had a profound impact on me, and they still resonate today. Most people who dedicate their lives to public service can tell a similar story of inspiration -- an epiphany that drove them to change their communities for the better. But going from inspiration to action can be daunting. Many young people who are inspired to make a mark on their communities don’t feel like they have the support or know-how to get started.

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Inclusion Matters: From the Paralympics to NDI

Aoki at the 2016 Team USA Media Summit. Photo: Simon Bruty, Sports Illustrated

Growing up, I dreamed of playing professional sports. When I first met a person who used a wheelchair like me and was a competitive athlete, I felt like I could do anything. Even if I had not made it to the Paralympic level, knowing that there existed a place where my disability and I were explicitly welcomed was heartening. The same is true at NDI. Inclusion is at the crux of what we do, whether it be with youth, persons with disabilities, LGBTI persons, or ethnic and religious minorities. When NDI and its partners explicitly talk about the importance of inclusion, it resonates with those who often feel excluded. NDI, and organizations like NDI, that take inclusion seriously and embrace it in their work are a source of hope for those of us in the disability space who can, at times, feel invisible. I can say from first hand experience, that true inclusion really does change lives.

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Progress toward youth-inclusive politics

Today’s youth are at a critical juncture. The current young generation - the largest in global history - is disproportionately affected by unemployment, insufficient access to education, violent conflict and a number of other challenges. Eager to play a role in changing their communities and nations for the better, many young people have become frustrated with political processes that seem out of reach, out of touch and ineffective, and have since turned to other ways to give back to their communities. To encourage youth to “opt-in” to the state, governments need to give them more than a seat at the table to address matters affecting their lives. Failure to do so may further widen the growing rift between youth and political institutions, and make youth more vulnerable to recruitment by extremist groups.

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Lebanese Youth Leaders Unite to Advocate for Reform

A young Lebanese activist participates in a discussion during the Youth Activism Academy

 

Youth in Lebanon have not had much opportunity to learn about democracy or how they can be involved in democratic governance. NDI conducted a survey in April 2017 suggesting nearly one-third of the electorate has never voted in parliamentary elections—not because they do not want to, but because parliamentary elections have not been held in the eight years since they became eligible to vote. Yet, despite the challenges they face, many young Lebanese men and women are highly motivated to act to improve their living conditions and basic rights.

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Internally Displaced People and Refugees Must Take Part in Political Life

Participants in Colombia’s Victims Participation Roundtables

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One person is forced to flee their home every second according to the International Displacement Monitoring Center. The current estimated number of refugees and internally displaced people (IDPs) around the world is 65.3 million, a number equivalent to the total population of the United Kingdom. These numbers show that new and protracted crises are driving people from their homes at an alarming rate. Humanitarian systems devote huge efforts to ease refugees’ suffering, specially focused on providing basic needs like food and shelter. Though these interventions are crucial, political participation for refugees and IDPs is also important and can be the first step to finding viable long-term solutions for their plight.

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A New Side of Skills Development

Participants in Moldova’s Challenger program canvass and get out the vote for parliamentary elections.

What helps citizens succeed as political leaders and activists? Beyond providing technical skills and tools, NDI has noted that developing certain attitudes and behaviors can help citizens participate more meaningfully in public life. Young political activists have consistently mentioned the need for improved “soft skills” to work effectively and succeed as leaders. USAID and other donor agencies are also recognizing the importance of putting these skills at the center of human development.

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