UNIC Tokyo Interviews Japan’s Paralympic Gold Medalist, Miki Matheson

17 October 2016

UNIC Tokyo Interviews Japan’s Paralympic Gold Medalist, Miki Matheson

Born in Tokyo in 1973, Miki Matheson has enjoyed considerable success, such as winning three gold medals and one silver medal in ice sledge speed racing at the 1998 Nagano Paralympics. Since then, she has been married to fellow Paralympian Shawn Matheson of Canada, and has become mother to two children. They currently reside in Canada. 

UNIC Tokyo had the pleasure of meeting up with Miki Matheson to discuss her passion for sports, and the power that sports has to be a force for inclusivity when it comes to the rights of disabled peoples.

 

    Sports as a Driving Force 

Miki Matheson cited sports, and the empowerment from sports to be the force that have motivated her most up until this point in life. She recalled the recovery period following her accident, saying that "following the accident, which took place in my first year of university, I harboured great doubts about my future. But once I understood that the sport is an activity possible even for those with disabilities, I felt that I could hold onto 'athlete' as part of my identity". She continued, "when doing sports, I was able to forget about my disabilities, and rather than thinking of what I could not do I came to think of what I could do in order to be faster, stronger, and to win at competition". 

Although she is no longer engaged in competitive sports at the international level, the enjoyment gained through sports continues to be a big part of her life. Being a parent to two active young boys, sports is a healthy part of family life. And, when UNIC Tokyo met up with her, she was engaged in a coaching workshop being held at Nippon Sport Science University. Not surprising, as in her twenties, she attended the University of Illinois in order to learn how to best provide opportunities to “junior” athletes with disabilities, and how to nurture their progress. 

 

    Planning Ahead and Looking Forward to the Tokyo 2020 Olympic and Paralympic Games

With just four years remaining until the Tokyo Olympic and Paralympic Games of 2020 there is a lot to be done to ensure that it is a success on all fronts. Preparation is important, not only in terms of infrastructure but also in less tangible terms, such as ensuring a welcoming atmosphere. 

Miki Matheson is currently working closely with the Nippon Foundation Paralympic Support Centre. She describes it as an organisation committed to achieving the aim of "reinforcing infrastructure and developing support for the Paralympic games of 2020". "The London Paralympic Games were a sellout, and this is largely said to be a success of the "Get Set" education program set up in the run-up to the 2012 Games. Inspired by the educational and youth-centred nature of the "Get Set" campaign, the Japanese Paralympic Committee and the Nippon Foundation Paralympic Support Centre are thus currently working towards fostering interest and increasing awareness for the Paralympic Games amongst youth and children. Miki Matheson expressed her wishes, saying the ultimate goal of education relating to the Paralympic Games, is a society in Japan that is both "inclusive and full of diversity".

 

    A Message for the Youth  

Finally, we asked Miki Matheson what she would like to convey to Japan’s youth. Her message was, "I wish for youth to not only act when they are asked but to take action on their own accord and to the best of their abilities. To be inquisitive and have the courage to question what they do not understand, and to have the courage to pursue what they want to do". If everyone possessed these qualities, our society would be one in which anyone can live and succeed, she believes. 

 

    A Final Word… 

It is not every day that you get to meet a Paralympic gold medalist, and especially not one so inspirational and proactive as Miki Matheson. UNIC Tokyo was lucky to have had the chance to do just that! 

Remember to keep an eye out for developments that highlight the power of sports to empower individuals in the run-up to Tokyo 2020! 

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#WednesdayCelebrateWomen: UNIC Windhoek Celebrates Deputy Dean Lineekela Usebiu

28 September 2016

In order to promote women’s empowerment and to generate awareness of the importance of gender equality, the United Nations Information Centre (UNIC) Windhoek celebrates women and their accomplishments each Wednesday. For this week’s #WCW #WednesdayCelebrateWomen, UNIC Windhoek celebrates Lineekela Usebiu, the Deputy Dean of the Faculty of Law at the University of Namibia (UNAM).

Check out Lineekela’s interview with UNIC Windhoek! Read along as she shares her thoughts on women’s empowerment and gender equality.

1.) Could you tell us a little bit about yourself and your career?

I am 26 years old, and I was born in Angola. I grew up in the northern part of Namibia, and completed my schooling in Tsumeb (Tsumeb Secondary School). I hold a Bachelor of Jurisprudence (BJuris) and a Bachelor of Laws (LLB) from the University of Namibia and a Master of Laws (LLM) in International Trade (Mercantile) Law from the University of Stellenbosch. I am currently pursuing a PhD in Intellectual Property at the University of Cape Town. I started lecturing part-time at the University of Namibia in July 2013. In August the same year, I was appointed as a full-time lecturer. I am currently serving as the Deputy Dean of the Faculty of Law, effective from January 2016. I am also a Commissioner at the Law Reform and Development Commission (LRDC), a position I have held since 2015.

2.) What challenges have you come across, if any, because of your gender throughout your career?

As an academic, there are a whole lot of other things that are expected of one besides teaching classes and assessing students. One has to do research and publish as well as engage the community. This poses quite a challenge as all these activities are time-consuming and balancing them poses quite a challenge. This is especially more so if you have studies on the side as well.

As a Deputy Dean, the expectations are the same as above, but with added responsibilities, so proper time-management becomes even more imperative. Another challenge that I am always faced with relates to students and issues that come to my office. I always have to be very careful about the decisions I make as these affect people’s lives, so I have to ensure that they are not rash. I pray for wisdom everyday so I can make the right decisions at the right time. And I can truly say that this wisdom has been supplied every time I have asked.

3.) What are your thoughts on women’s empowerment, and why it is important?

We speak of empowerment because somehow there is an imbalance in society. There is a need to grant "power" to those who have been disempowered. There are many synonyms of power: ability, capacity, potential, competence. The past experiences have left a legacy of an imbalanced playing field for men and women in all spheres of life, primarily because their capacities are not realized and potentials are not recognized. In order to address this, special attention and efforts have to be directed towards granting women that assistance they need to "play on a levelled ground".

This assistance is necessary because it not only addresses past injustices that women faced, but it is also beneficial to the economy of any one state as there will be contributions made by all in society. Kofi Annan once said that, “There is no tool for development more effective than the empowerment of women”, and I am in total agreement. To not empower women is to not want development. I believe empowerment should start with the girl child by availing opportunities that were previously denied to her [which are] translated right through to adulthood. Women have to be given the opportunity to capacitate themselves so as to be able to do things that have so easily been availed to men.

4.) How can the legal profession promote gender equality?

One thing that always springs to mind when I hear of equality is "substantive equality". Formal equality is absolutely futile in addressing gender disparities. There has to be special measures in place that allow women (to have) some form of advantage over men, a sort of gender discrimination tilted in favour of women. The Legal Action Group (LAG) profession has been dominated by men in the past. It is now time for competent and equally able women to be given the necessary platforms and opportunities to positively contribute to legal discourse. There has, of course, been improvement with more and more women opening their own law firms, sitting on benches and taking up leadership positions in justice departments.

5.) Do you think the law in Namibia promotes gender-justice?

I do believe Namibia has been on a gender-justice movement. There are policies and laws in place that are specifically aimed at addressing gender injustice. I can therefore say that the law does promote it. Whether or not it is effective is another issue altogether. Effective implementation of any law or policy is cardinal to its success.

6.) What is your advice to girls following their dreams?

I say “go for it and don’t quit”. The dreams you have are relevant and they matter. Do not let anyone look down on you because you are a woman. Rather, work hard and let your conduct and work speak for itself. People cannot deny output- it has a voice of its own and it speaks loud and shuts up all opposition. It does not have a gender or an age. I encourage you to work hard and remain focused. Whether you succeed or fail can only be determined by you. Don’t lose your uniqueness by following the crowd and doing what everyone is doing, but fuel that which sets you apart from everyone else because in the end, that is what distinguishes you from the rest of the society.

7.) What is your motto in life?

If it has been done before, it can be done. If it has never been done before, let me be the first. Either way, just do it.

Zambia Remembers Dag Hammarskjöld with a Call for Peace

26 September 2016

The United Nations System in Zambia joined partners that include the Government, the Sweden-based Dag Hammarskjöld Foundation, the Swedish Embassy in Zambia and the Copperbelt University Dag Hammarskjöld Institute for Peace, African Union and Non-Governmental Organizations from Zambia and Democratic Republic of Congo in commemorating 55 years of the death of Dag Hammarskjöld.Hammarskjöld, then serving as second Secretary-General of the UN, died in a plane crash in Zambia, during a peace mission for the Democratic Republic of Congo.

Two seminars about building sustainable peace, inclusivity and national ownership were held in Kitwe and Lusaka while a commemoration and wreath laying ceremony took place at the crash site in Ndola. All three events involved a wide range of participants composed of representatives from the UN in Zambia, members of the diplomatic corps, the African Union, academia; children, youth and NGOs.

“The most important way to honour Dag Hammarskjöld is to act in his spirit of making peace and work in that legacy,” said Henrik Hammargren, Executive Director of the Dag Hammarskjöld Foundation.“The UN and the international community need to understand the nature of conflict when intervening. Peace and security is not one island and development another island. Development should leverage peace and we have a good chance with the SDGs which are building blocks for peace, “said Hamid El-Bashir Ibrahim, UN Zambia Resident Coordinator, a.i and UNICEF Representative.

The roles that different stakeholders including governments can play in peace efforts were discussed, with prevention of conflict emphasized. “Countries such as Zambia which have been at peace are not seen as interesting when it comes to providing funding for peacebuilding. There is a need to invest in the prevention of conflict in such countries,” said Boniface Chembe, Executive Director of the Southern African Centre for the Constructive Resolution of Disputes in Zambia.

Every year, the Zambian Government leads in commemorating the legacy of Dag Hammarskjöld with support and participation of the UN and other partners.

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UNPAF Poverty Pillar Discusses Poverty with DHPS Secondary Level Learners

22 September 2016

On Thursday, 22 September 2016, the United Nations Information Centre (UNIC) Windhoek on behalf of the United Nations Partnership Assistance Framework (UNPAF) Poverty Pillar visited the Deutsche Höhere Privatschule (DHPS) for its Project Day, at which students had the opportunity to talk with ‘experts’ from diverse sectors in Namibia in regards to poverty eradication and urbanisation.

Starting off the morning, the experts introduced themselves to the students in the school’s auditorium. Then, the students had the opportunity to visit different classrooms to have one-on-one conversations with experts, to hear more information about each expert’s work as well as to ask questions.

Four groups of bright, enthusiastic learners visited UNIC Windhoek’s room to learn more about poverty in Namibia as well as the work of the United Nations. Starting off the presentation, Ms. Anthea Basson, the National Information Officer asked the students what poverty means to them. The students, who had an in-depth understanding of poverty, mentioned that there are two different types of poverty including absolute poverty and relative poverty.

According to the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), absolute poverty ‘measures poverty in relation to the amount of money necessary to meet basic needs such as food, clothing, and shelter. The concept of absolute poverty is not concerned with broader quality of life issues or with the overall level of inequality in society.’ UNESCO defines relative poverty as ‘poverty in relation to the economic status of other members of the society: people are poor if they fall below prevailing standards of living in a given societal context.’ However, both these definitions ‘are largely concerned with income and consumption.’

UNESCO explains that the concept of social exclusion has provided a more dynamic definition to poverty which looks at poverty in the income perspective, the basic needs perspective and the capability perspective.

Ms. Basson then went on to describe poverty in Namibia. The students were shocked to learn that 34% of children in Namibia live in poverty. UNICEF found through its Multiple Overlapping Deprivation Analysis (MODA), various dimensions contribute to child poverty including energy (the child’s family’s main source of cooking energy is not electricity, gas or paraffin), sanitation (child does not use improved toilet facilities), housing (wall material of the child’s home is not permanent, not made of bricks) and social (head of the child’s household is female and not/never married). UNICEF found that the majority of children aged 0-5 (158,199 children) were deprived in 3 of the dimensions in 2011.

The United Nations works closely with the Government of Namibia in four key areas, one of which is poverty eradication. Ms. Basson explained that the Ministry of Poverty Eradication and Social Welfare works specifically to eradicate poverty in Namibia and recently launched its Food Bank Initiative. Although leaders are taking steps towards ending poverty, Ms. Basson emphasised the importance of all people working together to bring about positive change, even the younger generation.

When asked about what can be done to eradicate poverty the students proposed that those in poverty should have better access to quality education in order for them to gain the tools and knowledge they need to uplift themselves out of destitution.

One of the students mentioned the immense income disparity in Namibia, citing how in the capital city you can see large estates and drive ten minutes and walk through areas full of run-down shacks. She said that more needs to be done to promote equality and to eradicate poverty so that people can have access to their basic needs and to lessen the wealth gap.

After the fruitful discussion, the experts and students convened in the auditorium for the closing of the event. UNIC Windhoek was inspired by DHPS’ students and their desire to learn and bring about change in Namibia.

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