International Day of Families Observed in Washington, D.C.
Washington, D.C.—The UPF-DC office and The Washington Times Foundation welcomed over 70 members of the diplomatic community, NGO leaders, Ambassadors for Peace, and friends of UPF at the Washington Times on June 4 to celebrate the UN International Day of Families 2015.
The theme for this year’s International Day was “Men in Charge? Gender Equality and Children’s Rights in Contemporary Families.”
After enjoying a delicious lunch, the guests were greeted by Mrs. Tomiko Duggan, director of public affairs of UPF International’s office in Washington, D.C. She spoke about the UN International Day of Families and the UPF view that the family is the most important unit in society, and showed a video of UPF’s global activities. She then introduced Mr. Larry Moffitt, vice president of The Washington Times Foundation, co-sponsor of the event, who was the emcee for the program.
The first speaker was H.E. Dr. Neil Parsan, Ambassador of Trinidad and Tobago to the U.S., Mexico and the Organization of American States (OAS). A medical doctor with an MBA, Dr. Parsan is also active in education; the fight against HIV/AIDS; and women’s issues. He commended UPF for its efforts to bring about peace in the world. “Meetings like this allow us to come together to further these issues,” he said.
Dr. Parsan also said that the family structure is changing and adapting in an ongoing shift to satisfy the needs of a broader definition of family. Governments must also shift to protect and support the family as this happens. “Individuals find a place of solace and comfort in the family where respect for each other is nurtured to a level of compassion and respect for other’s perspectives. And it is hard work to keep family bonds strong,” he said. The UN’s focus on family is stimulating new approaches and policies that are “friendly” toward all families, and will help relieve poverty; “promote gender equality; ensure work-family balance; and promote intergenerational solidarity.”
He noted that no longer is the man the sole bread winner or the woman the sole nurturer of children. He is starting to see a shift take place in the family pattern that is long overdue. He praised a program in New York that offers training to new fathers in care-giving and child-rearing, and encourages them to actively participate in and be able to respond to the specific needs of their children. This all-male “baby boot-camp” has expanded to other states and also other nations. He also said that 85% of nations provide at least 12 weeks of maternity leave for new mothers (2/3 of the pay is provided by public funds), but few offer paternal leave to fathers for early bonding and to support both the new baby and family. [At the UPF-DC and The Washington Times Foundation’s 2014 International Day of Families event, the Ambassador of Norway to the U.S. said that Norway gives both fathers and mothers three months leave after having a baby. Government ministers even took this leave when they had newborns. He said that more women were able to return to the work force afterward and contribute greatly to the country’s growing economy.]
He said that real gender equality is needed, which does not mean switching the traditional male and female roles, but offering each family support based on the unique needs of each family. He added that the government of Trinidad and Tobago has a Minister of Gender, Youth and Child Development, who recently launched a program defining ‘masculine excellence’ that assists men in becoming better husbands, fathers, brothers, and family members. It is supported by many men. He received applause when he said, “It takes 100% masculinity and 100% femininity to bring about one new human being.”
As a permanent representative to the OAS, he reported that the organization has made strong efforts to combat violence against women by passing resolutions that “protect women’s physical, sexual and psychological integrity whether in public or private. Interestingly, it includes emotional violence, which is now provable.”
He concluded his speech by saying that “Human imagination and the infinite resource of our people must be allowed to flourish by nurturing and strengthening the family unit and not place restrictions on what people can potentially do.”
He was then appointed as an Ambassador for Peace.
The next speaker was H.E. Farhod Salim, Ambassador of the Embassy of the Republic of Tajikistan to the U.S. He served as a public official for many years and began his diplomatic career as a UN attaché in the late 1990s. He later served in Belgium and as a member of the ministry of Foreign Affairs in Tajikistan before becoming an ambassador to the U.S. He is also trained as a computer programmer and approaches the fine art of diplomacy with a scientific mind.
He thanked the sponsors for the opportunity to share about his home country and its efforts to support the family. “Tajikistan is a young, independent state that has an ancient history, culture, and tradition…[where] the family has always played a significant role…and is the basic unit of society playing a crucial role in the development of all nations,” he said.
He added that “Happiness is always connected with the family. The family is a creator of civilization because it produces ‘a person’—the main social wealth.” He continued by saying that according to the culture of the ancient Tajik people, the family is recognized as a “sacred unit of the society,” where essential values such as “love, faith, sincerity, mutual understanding, and tolerance are formed.”
In 1997, the government of Tajikstan issued a decree to improve access of higher education institutions to girls. From 1997 to 2014, the president of the country allocated quotas for girls from remote regions to attend school, and to date, more than 6,000 girls have graduated thanks to the program. Since 2011, the quota for girls from remote regions has increased annually.
He also said that he is “Seeing the number of divorces increasing in [Tajikstan]. The government proposed to organize classes on family education in the upper grades of high schools to help young people get ready to start families.”
He added that since the end of the civil war in Tajikstan and the country’s independence in 1997, the government has taken a number of effective measures to support mothers and women, and improve their status in society. Out of 63 seats in the Assembly of Representatives, 12 seats were won by women in the last election, or 20% of all seats.
He concluded by saying that “Today, around 8,000 women are working in central and regional branches of the government, and about 500 of them hold leadership positions. There are 126,000 women entrepreneurs in the country.”
The next speaker was Mrs. Phindile Ntshangase, wife of the Ambassador of the Kingdom of Swaziland to the U.S. Introducing Mrs. Ntshangase, Mr. Moffitt said: “the Ambassador often says that he is ‘a reverend first,’ before he is an Ambassador. Today, he said that he just came ‘to support his wife’. This is a wise man and a fortunate woman!”
Mrs. Ntshangase spoke about balancing work and family life as a mother (of two boys and one girl) and wife of an ambassador who has a degree in nursing and business administration.
She began her speech by saying that “The family is the bedrock of all nations. The creator of the universe knew what He was doing when He created Eve for Adam and blessed them with children”. She said that when we “are protected with fundamental human rights and freedoms, we become God’s treasure in earthen vessels.”
She expressed her sadness by the reports of the African countries that are still sending girls to sex camps to prepare them for marriage, to become good at sex, starting at the age of eight! If they perform incorrectly, they are tortured sexually. She said this information was revealed at The Global Partnership to End Child Marriage’s conference in Casablanca, Morocco. She condemned the idea that women are considered sex objects, not valuable individuals who can contribute to society. She shared the comments of Dr. Nkosazana Dlamini Zum, chairperson of the African Union Commission: “Today the issue of recognizing women’s rights…is pivotal because it has been proven that sustainable development, political stability and economic growth cannot be achieved when a portion of the population is marginalized and excluded in the access and distribution of national resources.”
She also quoted from UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon’s message for this year’s International Day of Families, in which he affirmed the UN’s support for the rights of women and children: “Equitable social and economic development depends on fair legal frameworks and social norms that support the rights of women and children. Discriminatory laws and practices that do not give equal rights to all, and that suppress women and children’s rights, have no place in contemporary families, communities, societies and nations.”
She then posed the following questions: “Why should a woman be refused her right of inheritance simply because she is a woman?”; “Why should institutions pay her unjustly for her labor relative to her male counterpart?”; ”Why should a girl dropout of school to provide sibling care at home?”; and “Why should any woman die from poor reproductive health practices?” She recommended that social norms be carefully examined to see if they enable societies to make good changes that support the evolving family structures and needs.
She also said that she stands in “firm support for the tenants of families,” and praised UPF for its efforts to foster peace across cultures and in its promotion of understanding and social exchange between peoples. She added, “In my role as an Ambassador for Peace, and in recognition of my recent appointment, I position myself as an advocate of peace, for gender rights of women, for protection of children from abuse and neglect. I also support every ambition to develop a culture of peace in homes and families, and the strengthening of non-governmental organizations, including UPF.”
In conclusion, she stated, “To mothers, I speak from the heart to you. You are the fortress of the family. Your labor may not be remunerated in salaries but you are a treasure in God’s kingdom…You are the bedrock of wisdom as you nurture and train children to be the best they can be…You are God’s instrument of peace.”
Mr. Ricardo de Sena, secretary general of UPF-USA, spoke next. He highlighted the UPF view of the family and the necessity of a God-centered marriage in life to promote true lasting peace. The family is not just a human institution; it is created by God as a sacred institution, he said. He shared words from different religions in support of families. The family is sacred in all religions, a holy relationship. He stated that the ultimate wish of God is that all human beings live in joy and happiness. This occurs when a family is centered on God with husbands and wives loving one another completely, and where each person can experience all the forms of love: as a child, sibling, marital and parental love that enables the individual to experience God and become a mature member of society. UPF teaches that the purpose of life is to “live for the sake of others,” and by living in this way, we—all people—can improve society and bring peace to the world.
He gave more than seven reasons, based on research, why marriage benefits governments:
1. Marriage reduces the risk of child poverty; 2. As the number of fathers in the home decreases, violence increases; 3. Marriage protects physical and mental health; 4. Married couples live longer, and are happier and healthier; 5. Children born outside marriage have poorer economic achievements; 6. Marriage is the glue that holds society together; and 7. Marriage is an important social good.
He concluded by inviting everyone to participate in UPF’s celebration of the Marriage Blessing to affirm God-centered families where peaceful individuals can develop into great members of society. Quoting UPF founder Rev. Sun Myung Moon, he said, “Family education determines the future destiny of the entire nation. When there are many families living by the principle of public service, the nation will flourish.”
New Ambassadors for Peace were appointed by Dr. Chang Shik Yang, president of The Washington Times Foundation. They were: H.E. Dr. Neil Parsan, Ambassador of Trinidad and Tobago to the U.S.; H.E. Abednigo Ntshangase, Ambassador of Swaziland to the U.S.; Mrs. Hind Al Qatari, wife of the defense attaché of the Embassy of Qatar to the U.S., Gen. Abdulrahman Al-Hemaidi; and Mrs. Mie-Mie Joe Strickler, president of the Amer-Indo organization.
A toast to peace concluded the program.