Bringing the World to Portland’s Doorstep
On June 12th the World Affairs Council of Kentucky and Southern Indiana – new residents in the Dolfinger Building at 2500 Montgomery St. – hosted a group of six representatives from Greece, The Philippines, Saudi a Arabia, Liberia, India, and The Kyrgyz Republic who were here to study and share ideas about how to bring progressive social and economic justice to countries with staggering divisions between the “haves” and “have nots” as well as relatively modern emergence of women into the government and economy of their respective countries. The President of the Board of Directors of the Council, Adel Elmaghraby, began with a description of the work of the Council and its decision to move its office into the Portland community.
Mr. Elmaghraby explained that the Council is a non-profit whose purpose is to “bring Louisville to the world and bring the world to Louisville.” This purpose is accomplished through three major programs which include:
· A speaker’s program that brings speakers from all over the world to discuss issues that are shared concerns across the world.
· The Council also hosts visitors from other countries and plans appropriate events while the visitors are here. The discussion held on June 12th was one of these events.
· The third component is an education program designed to teach youth about diversity to promote understanding and the building of more peaceful communities, including the world community.
The person administering these programs from the office at the Dolfinger Building is Mckenzie Nalley. The Council also has a presence on social media. You may connect with the Council at Facebook.com/WorldKentucky, Twitter.com/WorldAffairsKy, Instagram.com/WorldKentucky, and LinkedIn.com/company/world-affairs-council of kentucky-and-southern-indiana.
The Board of Directors of the Council decided to move their office into the Portland Neighborhood because not only is there concern about building world relationships, the Council realizes that there is much to do to build peace and understanding at home. One obstacle to effective communication in Louisville is the division between the haves and have nots symbolized by what is called the Ninth St. Divide. Fear and stereotyping keep residents from more affluent neighborhoods away from the West End. Having an office of operations in Portland results in people crossing this divide and coming into the neighborhood to meet residents as individuals much like themselves. After the introduction, Mckenzie Nalley invited the six guests to speak about what was happening in their country and what they hoped to learn in Louisville.
The representative from Saudi a Arabia spoke first and said the major problem in her country was religious polarization that isolated people in communities that were either Shiite or Sunni Muslim. The Shia minority felt isolated and segregated from the majority Sunni which controls the government and economy there. She said that part of her work with government agencies was to reach out and visit both communities and try to start a dialogue between the two. She also indicated that although women were gaining more freedoms to travel and drive, there were complex issues within the government and its patriarchal system that needed to be addressed in order to allow females to initiate getting driver’s licenses, etc. on their own with male assistance.
Liberia is not only a democracy, but, according to the spokesperson for this country, “we are fortunate to have a female President who supports proactive laws to bring sex offenders to justice. “ The President, with the help of the United Nations, has created a special law school that deals only with sex offenses and coordinates with the police to investigate offenses before they reach the court. By doing this, the prosecutors can streamline the way cases are handled to provide speedier resolutions and justice.
One of the newer republics established is the country of Kyrgyz in Central Asia. Kyrgyz became a Republic in 1991 after the breakup of the old Soviet Union. It is one of 15 new republics in Central Asia and has a patriarchal foundation. From 1917 until 1991, the country was under the control of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republic and the Communist Party and the only model the people living there now have for government is the socialist, totalitarian government operated by the Communist Party and autocrats such as Stalin. In addition, freedom of religion was not allowed during that time and the only model of religion that exists is that of Islam which has a patriarchal system. Therefore, the liberals wanting to establish a free republic are hampered by the conservatives wanting to reestablish a patriarchal system and Sunni Islam as the nation’s one and only religion. How to integrate the practice of Islam within the context of a secular government has been difficult for Kyrgyz.
One example given was the custom of kidnapping brides. If a man decides he wants to marry a certain woman, he can “kidnap” her and marry her without her or her parent’s consent. How to eradicate this custom is difficult since the new republic is supposed to be neutral in regard to religious practices. In addition, the President is the number one decision maker. The system of checks and balances from an equally powerful Parliament does not exist at this time. How to govern to bring democracy to the elderly, poor, women and children is still a big question. There is still a very powerful, centralized government and little local control. Informal leaders are developing in the community and the United Nations is also providing funds and support for social programs.
Gender discrimination is also a problem in The Philippines. Political activism has resulted in laws to implement change, but those in control have a firm grip on their power and pushy activists can be quickly excluded. Greenpeace had its license revoked in the Philippines and fear of being targeted keeps activists at bay. Both representatives from India and Greece agreed that laws could only be made at the national level. Once a law was passed, however, it made it easier to implement on a local level and change was happening but at a slower rate than desired. All the representatives agreed that they would like to hear more about the process of lawmaking in the United States and how the world’s oldest self-governing democracy worked which was to be the focus of the rest of their time here. A big thank you to the Council of World Affairs for Kentucky and Southern Indiana for bringing this dialogue to the Portland Neighborhood.