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March 10, 2014

Indonesian Comfort Women Seek Justice as Time Runs Out

The term Jugun Ianfu (Comfort Women) refers to those women who were forced into sexual slavery to fulfill the sexual needs of Japanese military personnel and civil officers at ianjo or comfort stations during the Asian Pacific War in 1931-1945.  Most people in the U.S. think about this era as World War II, which included the European Theater as well as Asia, but the U.S. did not enter the war until 1941, with the Japanese bombing of Pearl Harbor.  The sexual slavery system was created by the Japanese military to operate in the areas they occupied and was part of the Japanese logistical war strategy during the Asia Pacific War of 1931-1945.

The total number of wartime Jugun Ianfu will never be known for sure. The estimate is at least 200,000 women from Japan, South Korea, China, Taiwan, The Philippines, The Netherlands, Malaysia, Timor Leste, and Indonesia.  In Indonesia, there are around 22,000 former Jugun Ianfu as reported by Ex-Heiho Forum, and 1,156 as reported by Legal Aid Institute-Jogjakarta (Hartono & Juliantoro 1997). This does not include unreported cases because some former Jugun Ianfu are ashamed or have passed away.

Sixty-nine years have passed since the Japanese surrendered to the Allied Forces in 1945. The official silence about Jugun Ianfu was broken 23 years ago with the testimony of South Korean survivor, Kim Hak Soon in 1991 at the “Women’s International War Crimes Tribunal on Japan’s Military Sexual Slavery,” convened first in Tokyo, Japan, in 2000, and again at The Hague, Netherlands in 2001. These tribunals were significant in their decision to hold Emperor Hirohito, high military officers, and staff responsible for the crimes. However, as a main perpetrator, the Japanese government has yet to take responsibility for these actions during the war.

Hence, many of the survivors have been faced with new forms of violence. The wounds of Japanese colonialism and war still fester in several nations in East and Southeast Asia. In a number of countries, in particular South and North Korea, Indonesia, Malaysia, China, the Philippines, Timor Leste, the Netherlands, and Taiwan, “…the plight of Jugun Ianfu in particular has come to symbolize imperial Japan’s war crimes.” (Soh 2008:1) In general, attitudes regarding the proper place of the Jugun Ianfu in the social landscape both nationally (South Korea, China, Taiwan, the Philippines, and Indonesia) and internationally have not changed significantly. Today, these Jugun Ianfu survivors, who are now in their late eighties and nineties, still live with terrifying memories of their captivity and sexual enslavement. Many suffer from irreparable psychological and physical wounds.

Time is Running Out for Justice

The need to address justice for Indonesian Jugun Ianfu survivors is now at a critical juncture.  While most Jugun Ianfu survivors in South Korea, China, Taiwan, and the Philippines have courageously stepped forward and are telling the truth of what happened to them, only a small number of Jugun Ianfu survivors in Indonesia have emerged from the shadows to tell their stories to the public.  This reluctance to be heard is the result of a great sense of guilt, shame, fear, insecurity, and social depression that is embedded within Indonesian society regarding Jugun Ianfu survivors. Indonesian and Japanese societies have stigmatized and marginalized these tragic victims who allege that they continue to suffer with the ongoing outrage of being denounced as prostitutes or “gross humans” within their own communities.

Justice for the Indonesian Jugun Ianfu can only become a reality if survivors step forward and tell the truth. By telling the truth, the terrible psychological damage of stigmatization can be erased and the deep physical and psychological wounds of the Indonesian Jugun Ianfu can begin to heal. The truth about the systematic use of women as sexual slaves describes a criminal act, one that is further compounded by governments that continue to deny that these women were unwilling victims.  This false version of history requires legal remedies and the recanting of decades of false testimony.

The Jugun Ianfu in Indonesia need to tell the truth about how they suffered in the past, not only from sexual violence, but also from the loss of family during a brutal conflict that occurred over many years. Truth-telling is the only way in which Jugun Ianfu survivors have any chance at all to even begin the process of lessening the physical and psychological trauma they endured. Truth is oriented toward creating a transparent history, and it is from this orientation that I propose truth-telling as a way to heal the wounds and lessen the effects of the trauma suffered by these victims.  If there is any hope for these women who have suffered so terribly to develop even a small element of trust, it will be through truth-telling.  It remains to be seen if it is even realistic to expect the Jugun Ianfu to be able to find any way to forgive those who perpetrated these horrific crimes against them during their enslavement.

The concept of truth-telling requires that there be full confessions from the perpetrators. However, in the case of the Jugun Ianfu in Indonesia, the truth-telling process will focus only on the voices of the victims. Time is of the essence as survivors are growing older.  Those survivors still alive today may die before they receive the justice they deserve for the great suffering they endured which has effectively taken their entire lives from them.

Lessons from South Africa

There are four important initiatives based on truth-telling that are recommended in order to achieve justice for Indonesia’s Jugun Ianfu survivors. These important are adapted from the work of the South African Truth and Reconciliation Commission, Chaired by Desmond Tutu who was appointed by Nelson Mandela.  I have summarized the adaptation of each of the four truth-telling initiatives below:

1)  Factual or forensic truth which refers to “the familiar legal or scientific notion of bringing to light corroborated evidence in obtaining accurate information through reliable (impartial, objective) procedures” (Fisher 2000:133). This Commission will try to identify the building and locations for the ianjo in the areas of Japanese military deployment and look for the eyewitnesses in order to collect testimony and evidence. This Commission will also search for a village of ianjo and will look for buildings which were used as ianjo.  The testimony of victims and eyewitnesses will help to confirm the location where the ianjo was established.

2)  Personal narrative truth which calls for the stories of victims: These narratives “tell the history of the lives of women” (Personal Narratives Group 1989:4). In a situation wherein the victim may find it difficult to tell her personal narrative, the life story is told to a second person through presentation, discussion and exhibition. The second person then records every necessary document such as pictures, videos, diaries, journals and letters. I recommend four different forms of personal narrative, these are: first, non-verbal literature such as books – biography and autobiographies, journals, letters and diaries; second, art performance such as theater, short/long cinema and documentary; third, art exhibition such as paintings and photographs; and fourth, personal narrative taught by second person such as presentations and discussion at conferences and symposiums. The publication of the life histories of survivors must be coupled with press conferences through credible media to awaken the senses of the public about the said issue.

3)  Social truth targets to establish bridges between individuals in the process of education: Meaning, the truth can be realized during social mutual interaction between the survivors and the second persons. The objective of social truth as a truth-telling method through education is based on the paradigm that “peace can be educated by emphasizing the role of individual’s attitude and change of behavior for the attainment of peace” (Galtung 1975). Truth Commission or other actors can call this program Education for Reconciliation or it can create other related names.

Here are the Education for Reconciliation programs I recommend:

  • Establish and maintain a Survivors House to serve as a place to do historical research and that includes an education center.  It should also be a temporary shelter for the survivors.
  • Organize the “Friendship” program that aims to build a network between survivors, academia, and individuals.
  • Establish an integration program by organizations or other actors for survivors and the families of survivors, aiming to provide important mechanisms to assist the survivors in their quest for reconciliation.
  • Establish an historical museum and memorial monument.
  • To be workable, organizations or other actors must organize Education for Reconciliation with Information, Education, and Media Relations advocacy programs. Besides those programs, the           Education for Reconciliation programs must be aligned with other assistance programs such as the welfare assistance programs, campaign and advocacy work, lawsuit support action, a monthly general meeting for the survivors and families, and finally, the establishment of an international networking program.

4)   Restorative truth refers to “the macro level of analysis in finding facts and meaning in human relationships such as between survivors and the society or between survivors and the state” (Fisher 2000:133). The process of holding public hearings can be one clear example of this procedure.

Truth-telling is just one tool in reconciliation’s toolkit, but it is the tool that serves as the foundation for eventual reconciliation. The other tools that complete the picture and make reconciliation possible include healing, retributive justice, and reparation.  In Indonesia, where the issue of Jugun Ianfu is not acknowledged by the public and the Indonesian government refuses to address the issue, truth-telling by the victims is critical in order to get all of the information into the hands of the public.  It is at this point that other contributors to achieving full justice for the Jugun Ianfu of Indonesia enter the effort.  These important players would include local, national, and international news outlets covering the Jugun Ianfu story from beginning to end.


Although truth-telling can be a strong, effective way for the voices of Jugun Ianfu survivors to be heard, it is almost invariably extremely difficult in many cultural contexts.  Few cultures in the world encourage exposing stories of severe mistreatment by governments.  It is rare to find cultures where people approve of their fellow citizens talking openly about very private matters. In the case of Indonesian Jugun Ianfu survivors, they stand alone against a government that denies the historical facts.

Imagine these now elderly women being questioned as if they were veteran prostitutes, with decades of their lives lived in the dangerous world of crime on the edges of cities and towns.  Try to feel as they would sitting across from interrogators in a badly lit, mostly barren room.  Hear these frail survivors as they bear the entire burden of telling the truth about the life of “comfort women” who serviced the sexual needs of military men of all ranks, as well as civil servants and others who were deemed deserving of having their physiological sexual needs satisfied by young women who were captured from mostly Asian countries and held against their wills with no chance of escape.

The Jugun Ianfu women, now in their eighties and nineties, are telling the truth about how they were rounded up and transported to areas called ianjo, or comfort stations, where they began decades of sexual slavery and the unimaginable trauma that resulted from their imprisonment.  Japan established the Jugun Ianfu as part of their strategic planning for conflict starting in 1931.  The services of these enslaved women were treated as a vital element contributing to the welfare of military personnel on a par with as food, clothing, and medical care.

The truth-telling by these brave Indonesian Jugun Ianfu will inspire the others who have hidden in the shadows for many reasons, not the least of which is the psychological trauma and damage they suffered at the hands of their captors. This foundation of truth-telling can be joined by the justice of reparation in order to achieve complete reconciliation. When the Indonesian Jugun Ianfu receive reparation and the offenders are made to pay, through legal channels, for the physical and psychological trauma they caused these women, reconciliation will be within reach as will the final chapter in this shameful, horrific, inhumane treatment endured by the Indonesian Jugun Ianfu.

Some of the text in this post appears on the author’s blog entries at: http://www.internationalpeaceandconflict.org/

Some of the text in this post appears in the author’s master’s thesis:
“Truth-telling as a Foundation for Reconciliation for the Jugun Ianfu in Indonesia” http://rotaryicu.wordpress.com/rotary-fellows/

March 6, 2014

Meet the Rotary Peace Fellows – Sharon Edington

Sharon Edington is a Rotary Peace Fellow at the University of Bradford in the UK studying for her MA in Conflict, Security and Development.  Prior to commencing her Rotary Fellowship, Sharon worked for eight years in various contexts including the West Bank, the Republic of Georgia, Papua New Guinea, Sierra Leone, and Chile’s Atacama Desert. This work primarily focused on women’s empowerment and human rights across a variety of areas including agriculture and livelihoods.

Sharon is interested in enhancing her skills regarding emergency response work, which led her to recently undertake a five week volunteer role supporting the Syria crisis response in Beirut. In future, Sharon will seek out roles that combine policy change and advocacy with practical programmatic support to affected communities, in order to seek the higher level changes that will enable sustainable development for vulnerable communities.

We asked each Peace Fellow two interview questions.  Here are Sharon’s answers:

1.  What is your opinion about the prospects of an end to armed conflict in the next 50 years?

Due primarily to the implications of climate change, I’m not optimistic unless change starts now. The decisions we are making today are going to lead to increased stress on already vulnerable populations, which may well lead to tension with those countries who are prepared to protect their ‘way of life’ at the cost of others. We can’t afford to be complacent, as we live in a global community.  That is why citizens of Western countries can’t afford to stop trying to improve our own societies through promoting fair policies based on human compassion as well as pragmatism.

2.  What do you believe are the three most important contributing factors to fostering peace within and among nations?

▪ To slightly amend the famous quote: The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is that good people do nothing.  Our leaders act in our name. We are responsible for holding them to account, keeping them honest, and promoting fair and just policies (domestically and internationally).  Too often citizens of lucky countries (like Australia) don’t reflect enough on what we can do to make the world a better place.

Balanced and equitable international trade practices and regulations: Currently the scales are heavily stacked against developing countries by the global economic system. It is important to emphasize the role of national good governance in developing countries, but there are changes necessary at the international level also.

The end to impunity: Leaders who make decisions to send their citizens to war should be held to the highest levels of accountability in regard to how that war is practiced. I welcome the prosecutions of Charles Taylor and others, and I hope that in future we see the same standards applied to Western leaders where appropriate.

It is a privilege to introduce Sharon Edington, a Young Peacemaker who has already accrued considerable field experience in areas of the world where the full spectrum of challenges to building peaceful, sustainable communities exists.  Her focus on the empowerment of women to become leaders in their communities by virtue of understanding what is necessary to build and sustain livelihoods is a theme that is gaining momentum thanks to people from all walks of life everywhere in the world who see that the inequality of access to resources simply has no rational explanation. It is a product of greed and the determination to live by standards based on the idea that some people are born more worthy than others to share in the resources of the Earth.

While much remains to be done to build a world in which full equality in every  life is the norm, activists like Sharon, who are working in their preferred way  toward that goal, provide irrefutable proof that it will one day be reality.  Sharon Edington and the Rotary Peace Fellows you have met so far lift all of us up with motivation and inspiration.  We will continue to feature people and groups working in any and all aspects of peacebuilding.

Your comments are welcome.  Send them directly to our Managing Editor at:  rebecca.popham@tutufoundationusa.org, or use the “Post a Comment” box below if you prefer.

November 7, 2013

Saudi Women Take Their Place in the Driver’s Seat

Saudi-woman-drivingIn Saudi Arabia, a woman’s freedom of movement is very limited. Women are not supposed to leave their houses or their local neighborhood without the permission of their male guardian, and the company of a mahram (close male relative). However, out of necessity most women leave the house alone and often have contact with unrelated men to shop or conduct business.

Women are not allowed to drive in Saudi Arabia, although it is often tolerated in rural areas. Saudi Arabia has no written ban on women driving, but Saudi law requires citizens to use a locally issued license while in the country. Such licenses are not issued to women, thus making it effectively illegal for women to drive. Women have been detained or fired from their jobs for driving in the past. Furthermore, most Saudi scholars and religious authorities have strongly opposed letting women drive. Commonly given reasons for the prohibition include:

  1. Driving a car involves uncovering the face.
  2. Driving a car may encourage women to go out of the house more often.
  3. Driving a car may lead to women having interaction with non-mahram males, for example in a traffic accident.
  4. Women driving cars may lead to overcrowding the streets and many young men may be deprived of the opportunity to drive.
  5. Driving would be the first step in an erosion of traditional values, such as gender segregation.

But recently, a few dozen women defied this restrictive social code by getting into their cars and driving. Many posted videos of themselves doing so to spread the word.  In an effort to at least respect traffic laws, the driving campaign restricted itself to women with licenses obtained abroad.

Their movement’s goal is modest and they have gone out of their way to avoid anything that looks like a protest.  The women remain deeply loyal to the 89-year-old King Abdullah, and studiously avoid confrontations with the authorities.

“We don’t want to break any laws,” said Madiha al-Ajroush, 60, a psychologist who has been campaigning for the right to drive since 1990. “This is not a revolution, and it will not be turned into a revolution. We are looking for a normal way of life.  For me to get into my car and do something as small as get myself a cappuccino or something as grand as taking my child to the emergency room.”

Despite strong opposition to letting women drive, time may be on the side of the activists. They believe that the large number of Saudis who study and travel abroad and return with new perspectives on their culture, combined with the kingdom’s youthful population and the tremendous rise of social media will over time make the country more open to change.

October 5, 2013

Gun Violence by the Numbers

navy-yard-shooterRecently, Americans witnessed another mass shooting, this time at the Washington Navy Yard in the nation’s capital.  Thirteen people were killed and another 14 were injured.  The shooter was well-armed, with among other guns, an AR-15 semi-automatic assault rifle.  He also had a history of violent behavior and mental illness.  Such incidents bring the debate over gun control back into the spotlight, and raises the questions of why does this happen, and what can we do about it.

One of the reasons there is so much gun violence might simply be the large number of weapons owned by Americans.  The Harvard Injury Control Research Center assessed the literature on guns and homicide and found that there is substantial evidence that more guns means more murders. A more recent study of gun violence in the United States corroborated this finding.  The study was conducted by Professor Michael Siegel at Boston University and two coauthors, and published in the American Journal of Public Health.

Siegel and his colleagues compiled data on firearm homicides from all 50 states from 1981-2010 to see whether they could find any relationship between changes in gun ownership and murders using guns over time.  The authors employed the largest-ever number of statistical controls for variables in this kind of gun study: age, gender, race/ethnicity, urbanization, poverty, unemployment, income, education, income inequality, divorce rate, alcohol use, violent crime rate, nonviolent crime rate, hate crime rate, number of hunting licenses, age-adjusted non-firearm homicide rate, incarceration rate, and suicide rate were all taken into account.  The conclusion:  widespread American gun ownership is helping fuel America’s gun violence epidemic.

americans at gun showThe U.S. stands out in the sheer number of guns owned by its citizens. According to the Small Arms Survey, the estimated total number of guns held by U.S. civilians is 270 million, or 88.9 firearms per 100 people. The country with the second-most guns is India, with an estimated 46 million guns in private hands, or about four firearms for every 100 people.  The U.S., with 4.5 percent of the world population, accounts for about 40 percent of the planet’s civilian firearms.

Political gridlock and a deepening political divide in the U.S. almost assures that there will be no legislative solution anytime soon.  While mass shootings usually evoke a large public outcry at the time of their occurrence, public pressure for comprehensive gun control legislation wanes over time and political will seems to melt under the relentless lobbying of the National Rifle Association.  Although there is often sustained support for specific types of legislation, e.g., preventing those with a history of mental illness from owning guns, to date such efforts have generally not resulted in new gun laws.

gun-ownership-declining-in-usaThe good news in this otherwise gloomy prospect is that statistics show that gun ownership and violence overall are declining in the United States, though both are significantly higher on a per capita basis than in other developed countries. Perhaps the ultimate resolution lies in the story those numbers tell.  The problem of gun violence will dminish as the culture of guns continues to wane and guns become meaningless relics of the American imagination.

July 17, 2013

Coup in Egypt or Not? The Implications Under International Law

Mohammed MorsiThe Egyptian election commission announced on 24 June 2012 that Mohammed Morsi won the presidential election with 51.7 percent of the vote, exceeding the 48.3 percent of his contender Ahmed Shafik and effectively becoming Egypt’s first democratically-elected president. Yet since he assumed office in 2012, many questions have arisen as to the legitimacy of Morsi’s acts. He has been accused of governing in a totalitarian manner reminiscent of the Mubarak era. Hundreds of thousands took to the streets after Morsi temporarily granted himself unlimited powers to “protect the nation” and legislate without judicial review. Various opposition groups questioned the legitimacy of the assembly tasked with drafting the new Islamist-backed constitution. Many protested the purging of hundreds of Mubarak-era officials from government institutions. Some accuse Morsi’s policies of crushing Egypt’s tourism industry and the wider Egyptian economy.

Morsi-ArrestOn 30 June 2013, marking Morsi’s one-year anniversary in office, mass protests erupted across Egypt calling for the Morsi’s resignation. On 1 July, the Egyptian Army warned that it would intervene if the protesters’ demands were not met within 48 hours. On 3 July, defence minister Abdul Fatah al-Sisi, with the support of opposition leader Mohamed ElBaradei, the Grand Imam of Al Azhar Ahmed el-Tayeb and Coptic Pope Tawadros II, declared that Morsi was dismissed from office. Morsi was arrested and taken to an undisclosed location.

On the same day, the Office of the Assistant to the President on Foreign Relations & International Cooperation issued a press release stating: “For the sake of Egypt and for historical accuracy, let’s call what is happening by its real name: Military coup.”

Is this press release correct in characterizing the 3 July events as a military coup? If so, what implications would a coup have on the legitimacy of the new Egyptian government? This essay examines these questions in light of international law and state practice.

Legal Overview

In recent years, democratic governance has taken growing importance in legal theories providing for the recognition of new governments. Because democratic governance is incompatible with military coups, determining whether the military’s 3 July 2013 acts constitute a “coup” will have implications as to whether the interim government is legitimate under international law.

Three legal doctrines are used to inform whether a new government will be recognized as legitimate: the traditional doctrine, which is the most widely-accepted approach, and the Tobar and Estrada doctrines.

Traditional Approach (Effective Control Doctrine)

Under the traditional approach, States consider four factors in deciding whether to recognize a government: (i) effectiveness of control; (ii) stability and permanence; (iii) ability and willingness to fulfill obligations; and (iv) popular support (i.e., the acquiescence of the people to the government). The rationale behind these elements is to ensure that a new government is internally stable before being recognized by and entering into relations with other States that imply responsibilities and obligations.

Under the traditional approach, whether the new government formed in Egypt will be deemed legitimate will be based on a variety of factors that revolve around the effective control of the government over the State and its land and people. If the interim government organizes elections that exclude the Muslim Brotherhood or other organizations that effectively represent the people, thus disenfranchising part of Egypt’s population, the new government will not be deemed legitimate under the traditional approach.

Estrada Doctrine

Under the Estrada doctrine, in contrast, a State automatically recognizes all governments in all circumstances and at all times. A State applying the Estrada doctrine thus refrains from making any determination as to the legitimacy of new governments (including those that came into power by force). Under the Estrada doctrine, when a new government comes to power (through constitutional or extra-constitutional means), the relations between the State and third party States remain unchanged.

For the minority of States following the Estrada doctrine, whether the interim government has popular approval is irrelevant to its recognition and legitimacy. Governments that follow the Estrada doctrine automatically recognize new governments in order to refrain from passing judgment on the internal affairs of other States or giving implicit approval through recognition of the acts of the new governments.

Tobar Doctrine (Doctrine of Legitimacy)

Characterizing the 3 July events in Egypt as a “coup” is most problematic under the Tobar doctrine, also known as the doctrine of legitimacy. Under the Tobar doctrine, States do not generally recognize governments that come into power as a consequence of military coups or revolutions. The Tobar doctrine does however recognize as an exception new governments that come to power through a coup if the people, without coercion, affirm and accept the new government. States that follow this approach thus accept a new government when a coup is accompanied by an immediate vote confirming the new government or a national referendum approving a new constitution.

Over the past decade, the US and other countries have spent a great deal of resources discussing the importance of democratic governance. International organizations such as the OAS have adopted significant resolutions in this spirit, recognizing the incompatibility between a legitimate, democratic government and one that comes to power through violence and keeps power through a constant threat of the use of force.

The Tobar doctrine signifies a new trend in the past decade whereby States withhold their recognition of new governments where such governments take power in a manner contrary to basic principles of democracy. Accordingly, the UN in some cases will not allow a government to take a seat at the UN when the government was not democratically installed.

The Importance of Popular Support in Egypt

military in CairoGiven the importance of democratic governance under international law, one can see why so many States have been reluctant to characterize the 3 July 2013 events in Egypt as a “coup.” Such a characterization will have important consequences on the recognition of and establishment of diplomatic relations with the new Egyptian government. For this reason, many States are urging the interim council in Egypt to quickly proceed to parliamentary elections and a national referendum on the constitution. Only if the events of 3 July 2013 are accepted with popular support at the polls will they hold any legitimacy under international law. Egypt will however only reach that point if the interim government fulfills its promises to proceed quickly to a national referendum on the constitution and to hold fair and transparent parliamentary elections shortly thereafter. Only then can observers determine whether the 3 July events hold popular support in keeping with the spirit of representative democracy.

July 15, 2013

Malala Day 2013 Celebrates Her Courageous Fight for Access to Education

Malala YousafzaiAs a Teen Advisor for Girl Up, I was honored to attend Malala Day 2013 at the United Nations to hear Malala Yousafzai give her first public speech since being shot by the Taliban in October 2012 for daring to attend school.  Joining Malala to help celebrate her 16th birthday were hundreds of youth from around the world.   Dozens of organizations sent representatives to the daylong conference and celebration, including Girl Up, a United Nations Foundation campaign for girls’ and women’s rights. While I was blown away by Malala’s speech, there were plenty of other aspects of the day that were inspiring in their own right. In the middle of the opening ceremony, the youth delegates took a break to sing “Happy Birthday” to Malala!

Malala speaking at the United Nations – NBC News

Ashwini-AngadiThe UN Special Envoy for Youth, Ahmad Alhendawi, presented the Youth Courage Awards for Education to seven courageous young people who stood up for their right to an education. Only one of the seven, 21 year old Ashwini Angadi from India, was able to attend to accept the award, and it was really inspiring to hear her acceptance speech.  Ashwini overcame a visual impairment to take a job at an IT firm which she later left to become a full time advocate for young people.

Eleven of over 500 delegates gave two minute speeches sharing their stories and what inspired them to work for universal education. One delegate (Munira Khalif, another Girl Up Teen Advisor) read a spoken word piece; another shared an essay about the role dance played in her life journey. The diversity of the speeches matched the diversity of the delegates from dozens of countries.

After the opening ceremony, the delegates attended breakout sessions about topics as varied as global citizenship and access to education. At a Fair where a variety of education and empowerment organizations talked about their work, one of the most interesting booths was hosted by Sesame Workshop, the nonprofit organization behind Sesame Street, the wildly popular, long-running PBS children’s TV show. They explained how the versions of the show that air abroad differ from the one shown in the U.S. by reflecting certain realities of life in different regions of the world.  Two great examples are that in malaria-prone areas of the world, Sesame Street puppets, like the kids watching the show, sleep under bed nets; in areas where HIV is prevalent, an HIV-positive character joins the puppet cast.

At the closing ceremony, Gordon Brown, former UK prime minister, gave an incredible speech about the significance of efforts by young people in gaining access to education for all. He reminded us of how vitally important our work is, and how we in the international community cannot fail children by denying them a chance to learn. It was a great reminder of our mission, and that we still have much work to do before achieving our goals.

The courageous Malala, in whose honor we gathered, is the epitome of grace and strength. We all will benefit from the lessons she teaches us in years to come on this symbolic day. I will forever cherish my memories of Malala Day 2013 and hope that others, especially young people, get the chance to hear her speak in the future.