Friday, March 18, 2016

Pupils debate, UN style

DUBAI // Better education and cultural awareness will be fundamental to empowering women and helping to ease the refugee crisis, delegates at a pupil version of a United Nations conference heard.

About 1,000 pupils from across the globe are taking part in the eighth Dubai International Academy Model United Nations, which started on Wednesday.

The Emirates Hill School’s three-day event provides pupils – or delegates as they will be known for the three days – hands-on experience in undertaking diplomacy and international relations.

The delegates are honing skills such as researching, public speaking and debating, critical thinking and leadership as they investigate the issues of women’s empowerment and the refugee crisis.

Speaking before the conference officially opened on Wednesday, Sara Atassi, 16, from Syria, a Dubai International Academy pupil and executive president of the model UN special committee in Arabic, said: “There are cultural and historical issues, particularly in Mena that in the past have made it difficult for women to reach their full potential but we need to do more. It’s often said that if you educate a woman, you are educating a whole generation and educated women lead to better educated children."

Women around the world faced “glass ceilings", she said, that prevented their progress and were, generally, in less well-paid jobs than men. “We would like to see equality in things like rights, pay and job opportunities ... and that have to start with education," Sara said.
The pupils agreed that women should at least have the option open to them to enter the workforce or not.

“At the moment, many, many women don’t have that option, but the more active a role they can play in public life, that will change," said Neha Rathi, 17, from India, who is the executive president of the model UN human rights committee and also a Dubai International Academy pupil.

Equality – or the perception of refugees as being equals, people who had jobs, lives, homes that were cherished – would go a long way to easing the tensions created by the refugee crisis, delegates found.

“There is a big misconception that refugees are poor," said DIA pupil Suhail Mayor, 17, from India, who is the president of the model UN general assembly.

“They have been dehumanized as a result of this. But in reality, they have lost their homes and are simply looking for safety."

Suhail recommended a campaign of information and education to help decrease the fear that the massive influx of refugees created in many European countries.

“The impression following the Paris terror attacks was that the people coming in were all terrorists, but that is simply not the case," Suhail said.

“The refugees and the people in the European countries should be given awareness of each other’s cultures, similar to what we have in the UAE, where people coming here are given information on the culture and the customs of the country.

“Maybe we can do that for refugees going to places like Germany so they know the rules, and vice versa, so Germans know a bit about the culture of the refugees."

He also suggested a demilitarized zone could be built where refugees could be cared for and helped until their home countries were safe to return to.

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