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By Rachel Williams

April 7, 2017 (San Diego) -- Last week, the Women’s Museum of California debriefed attendees on preserving the past and inspiring the future for refugees in San Diego. The local chapter of the U.N. delegation concentrates on economic empowerment for women within the changing world of work and political landscape.

U.N. attendee Yvette Blackwell isn’t a student, nor does she have a political background. She’s a realtor mortgage officer, and a part-time Uber driver. Driving for Uber led her to the U.N., she said, and it’s changed her life.

“Let me step back and say my perspective now is it’s not the U.N., it’s our U.N.. We are a people together, and everything the U.N. does for each one of us, it does for all of us. What affects one of us; affects all of us,” Blackwell said.

Recently 38 African American girls went missing, and it took weeks to reach national news. Blackwell reiterates it’s our U.N. that collectively includes natives and indigenous populations. It’s important for constituents to actively contact locally elected officials. Blackwell may not be a refugee that can attest to being forced out of her own country, but Americans need to develop that type of empathy, she said.

“Our issues as women across the world are the same. Maybe with a different outfit on, maybe with a different name, or skin tone, but our issues are the same. Someone said in one of the sessions that violence against women is the number one human rights issue, and that includes genital mutilation, child bride, domestic violence, human trafficking, you name it.”

Bettina Hausmann (right), President and Executive Director of the United Nations Association USA San Diego, spotlights the importance of male participation in the empowerment of women. It can only be done together because behind every strong woman is a strong man, she said. San Diego’s chapter is the largest and oldest in the country. It’s been active for 71 years.

“In order for us to really live up to closing the gender gap, it is starting with us understanding that we have to do it together. To get this change about we cannot ask for a change in curriculum we must reach the groups we bring into schools to really implement the programs from the bottom up,” Hausmann said.

“We can only do it together, and it’s not us vs. [them], but it’s us vs. together.”

Dilkhwaz Ahmed, the Executive Director of License to Freedom, created an event to bridge these gaps at Masjid Alsalam in El Cajon. Imam Taha Hassane of San Diego’s Islamic Center addressed healthy connections between Muslim women and men. The religion should not be used as an excuse to abuse women, he said. It should be blamed on the individual. Ahmed explains it’s the first time she heard a faith leader encourage and support women on the topic of domestic abuse.

“If your husband abused you, you have a right to go seek legal services, and the legal services are here in El Cajon. And if the guy, he blame it [on you], and he try to criticize you as a Muslim woman, don’t listen to him because he’s the one who started it. So go use the resource you have to protect yourself, and your family. This is the first time I hear a faith leader in the Muslim community to address issues of healthy family,” Ahmed said.

Women and men joined each other side by side in the name of Islam. As part of tradition, genders usually stay separate during worship. Hassane’s message is to prove to the world that Islam doesn’t cultivate hate and abuse. In fact, it’s quite the opposite. Ahmed wants men and women to recognize their rights within their religion and community, so the El Cajon police and sheriff department answered any questions addressing domestic abuse in the U.S.

Ahmed leads the only rehabilitation program for domestic abuse perpetrators, who speak Kurdish, Farsi or Arabic, in San Diego. The program addresses cultural norms, such as misconstrued hadiths, or verses, in the Quran that are used to justify husbands beating their wives. A commonly misused verse for violence is 4:34, known as the chastisement verse, which supposedly outlines a three step solution for ill-conduct committed on behalf of the wife, according to MuslimMatters.org.

“Offender group they focus on punishing the perpetrator for being a bad person. To me, nobody a bad person. We all good people, but in our life sometimes it happened that we made a wrong decision in our life. We chose to make a wrong decision. So at this program, this is the idea we built [for] our client that you are not bad people, we love you and we appreciate you being in this group, you made a wrong choice.”

The vastly diverse and vibrant refugee community in San Diego sparks a conversation of intersectionality of affiliation and ethnicity, Hausmann said. While Ahmed reiterates the he for she mentality, women empowerment can’t be done without one another. The United Nations Association USA San Diego is purely volunteer-based, so any inspired persons can join their assembly and discussions.

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