Saturday, March 26, 2016

Interview: Crown Princess Mary for Berlingske.

Photo: Linda Kastrup
Fistula. If there is anyone who knows anything about fistula, it's Crown Princess Mary. And it's thanks to the staff of the East African clinic that the royal guest from Denmark knows so much about a relatively obscure disease that disables millions of women - especially in Africa.
A lucky few of the often young girls are being treated here at the internationally supported health clinic on the outskirts of the Ethiopian capital, Addis Ababa. Here they get a surgical operation in the abdomen, which has been destroyed after circumcision or rape or because the girls have gone through complicated and protracted births from a young age, the staff tells the royal guest from Denmark.
That was in February 2015. Now we are sitting here in the Amalienborg royal surroundings in a large, high-ceilinged meeting room in conjunction with Crown Princess Mary's workroom to talk about the Crown Princess's humanitarian commitment.
But the meeting with the disabled girls is still crystal clear, and it's fates like these that feeds Crown Princess Mary's long-standing struggle for women's rights and her act as patron of the UN Population Fund (UNFPA), Danish Refugee Council and the Maternity Foundation.
"From childhood I always had a strong sense of justice, and there are a lot of injustices in the world," explains the Crown Princess when asked why she has decided to submit to take on the heavy humanitarian and development challenges.
"And it is deeply unfair that one's gender as a woman must mean that you get a worse life than men," continues the Crown Princess, who doesn't hesitate to proclaim the worldwide violence against women and girls as the most widespread human rights crime in 2016.
"Violence against women is today perhaps the greatest crime against human rights. Every two minutes a young woman dies in childbirth or during pregnancy. Why do women today have to risk losing their lives to give life? Why expose one in four pregnant women for violence or sexual assault? Why are 39,000 girls 
forced to marry every single day worldwide, "asks Crown Princess Mary, who obviously is by talking about a subject in which she is particularly sharp - so sharp that the Crown Princess has been appointed as a member of a special UN panel, High Level Task Force to focus the global fight for women's rights.

» Why is violence against women actually one of the greatest crimes against human rights?

"It can be explained in this way: Violence against women happens in all phases of life in all countries, and when you see it in its entirety - it is a sexual assault or rape in a conflict or in a refugee camp or domestic violence or
one girl being circumcised, so it is all violence against women and girls, and that makes it the most widespread violation of human rights in the world, "said the Crown Princess, which has more on the battered women's testimony standing in the bookcase behind us.
There is among others, the book "40 lashes" written by the Sudanese journalist Lubna al-Hussein, who in 2009 was sentenced to 40 lashes for "indecent and immoral behaviour" because she wore pants. And 'A woman's price' of Somaly Mam, who as a child in Cambodia was sold as a sex slave.
But after a short break in the listing of arguments, Crown Princess Mary underlines: it is not only girls and women who pay the price. It makes communities, countries too.
"There is ample evidence that if you invest in women and give them equal access to health services, education, business and political representation, the promises are not only for their families but also the entire community and ultimately the entire country. We know that 90 percent of a woman's income is reinvested in the kids and the family to which the comparison is 30-40 percent for men. And we know that if ten percent more of girls go to school, then it will increase the country's GDP by an average of three percent. So apart from that it's the right thing to do, so there is strong economic evidence as to why it is wise to make sure to strengthen women's rights in society,"answers the Crown Princess, stressing that her commitment to the fight for women's rights has been 'a journey'.

Photo: Linda Kastrup
"It's exciting, instructive and challenging to work with these patronages, and my interest grew as I got more and more insight. The more I learned, the more varied and interesting, the subject was, and in the many years that I have now worked with women's and girls' rights and gender equality, it has become clear to me that gender equality and protection of women and girls rights is the most important thing we can do to improve our world," says the 44-year-old Crown Princess.
In a few months, Denmark is hosting one of the largest international women's conferences 'Women Deliver' with nearly 5,000 participants, and here comes the Crown Princess to play a key role. 

» What do you expect to come out of the conference?

"I have attended the Conference twice before, and I have experienced it as a very important collection of players at all levels - governments, NGOs, UN organizations, young people, community groups and enthusiasts. I have previously called it a game changing forum and the conference comes at a very crucial time, as the UN's new global development goals now agreed, and this will be the largest conference in this field for adoption. How do we implement the new agenda, how are the objectives applicable for the girl who was born in the Afar region of Ethiopia? How do we get an UN agreement to mean something for girls and women in many of the countries where they do not have equal opportunities? So it makes it very exciting and I obviously hope that there will be some concrete actions and initiatives that ensure results at the local, regional and global level," said Princess Mary.

»What could the actions and initiatives be?

"It could, for instance, be how we find innovative solutions using new technology and creating innovative partnerships like the Maternity Foundation's Safe Delivery App, developed with the vision to use mobile technology ensuring births in rural areas. Or a more comprehensive initiative to eradicate FGM. We have gathered several players at all levels in combating the strong social norm associated with circumcision. Legislation alone is not enough to change what is going on in a local village. Another goal of the conference could also be a stronger effort to eradicate child marriage and forced marriage, but there is no doubt that it is important to maintain the momentum with the adoption of the UN development goals on gender equality and empowerment of girls and women. It is crucial for the fulfilment of all the other global development goals. It gives hope for the world's women and girls, and we must ensure that we deliver," says the Crown Princess.

» One thing: circumcision may seem quite medieval in the world we live in ...


» ... And I can see that the United Nations last month came with a report that talks about the scale of circumcision is greater than was thought and that number will increase because the progress can not keep up with population growth . Why is it so hard to get circumcision to life?

"That's a good question, and if I had the whole answer, then I would sit in a senior UN position or ... but I can come up with part of the answer. First I want to say that circumcision is a harmful practice and I take a strong position against it. It is so deeply rooted in some cultures, and it is a binding social norm in countries where it is practised. So although there is a legislation in place - and it is in many countries today - but the weight of the social norms is heavier, so that people would rather break the law than to go against the social norm, and we need to really understand that in order to find a solution."

"We have seen examples where we have gone too fast with the legislation and so on, and so goes circumcision as it were underground. We have just seen in a country where the age of circumcision dropped from 15-16 years-old to 4-years old because a four-year old will not open her mouth and won't be missed in school. Legislation is important. But legislation alone is not enough. One has to break with the social norms and relate to all the taboos and myths associated with circumcision," said the Crown Princess.

Photo: Linda Kastrup
» How do you think that your position as Crown Princess can make a difference? Does it matter that it is a Crown Princess, who is an advocate for these cases?
"I have a hard time saying anything about it. There must be others who can put into words too. But I am aware that my position provides special opportunities. I also believe, however, that my really good and really big opportunities are due to my long-term commitment. Eg. the invitations, today I get to keep talking, which is a chance I would not have gotten a few years ago."
» So it's about professionalism - it is not enough to be royal?
"Yes, I think. Clearly. Professionalism must be in order to be invited to special events, speak at conferences, be part of a task force and meet special people, for example. Otherwise, you get a different type of invitations, and I will not feel good to be in charge of anything unless I have a deep and broad knowledge of the issue," answers the Crown Princess and continues after verge teen.
"Because of my position, but also my commitment - that people know is true when they meet me," said the Crown Princess and laughs a little. "Then I can also open doors both for myself and for others. For I am very conscious that I sometimes can not speak on the matter. So it's important that I may have others, so that together we can come all the way around," she points out.

Facts: Crown Princess Mary as patron

Berlingske has asked the three humanitarian organizations that the Crown Princess is patron of what it means to them.

» The Crown Princess' effort is very important. She is an excellent advocate, and what she does is that she spreads the message out to a larger audience and explains that this is an important agenda if we want to make the world a peaceful place. People listen not just because she is the Crown Princess, but also because she is very committed. Head of the UN Population Fund since 2010, Babatunde Osotimehin.
» The Crown Princess is very important for the Danish Refugee Council, because she dishes a great light on our work with refugees and displaced persons. This is both because she speaks from the platform she speaks from and because she is engaged and interested in the issues we are dealing with. Secretary General of the Danish Refugee Council, Andreas Kamm.
» As patron of the Maternity Foundation, the Crown Princess is a great catalyst and sparring partner. As a small Danish NGO has had huge significance to have her support, when we had to present our work in international forums such as during the UN General Assembly in New York last year. Director of the Maternity Foundation, Anna Cecilia Frellsen.
» And what does not being able to talk about all aspects of the case, when you know that you are so academically engaged and knowledgeable mean for the Crown Princess? What does it mean to be limited?
"Of course I have opinions and views, and some are stronger than others, but I am very aware of where and how far I can go in expressing them," is the answer from the Crown Princess.

"But it is not always easy, because it is a gray area. I fully understand the limitations of a Crown Princess, but I choose not to see them as limitations, for I have a wide margin, and I can speak about very much, and sometimes it can mean that you have to think a little creatively and talk about a topic from a different angle," says Princess Mary, stressing that it is also an advantage for her that she must be impartial.
"When we talk about opening doors, I'm a big believer in working together and lift together. Then I might pave the way and give the word to others who can take the more sensitive issues. And actually, I would say that I get special access and special opportunities just because I am impartial. So sometimes it's an advantage and take a subject like respect for women's and girls' rights, there is broad agreement, and it gives me more leeway. "

» Yes, there is broad agreement, but are there also forces that oppose?
"Yes, there are powerful forces in the world that will roll what we achieved back. And it is enormously sad, especially because we know that all evidence points to that it will be important for all of us if women and girls have the same opportunities as men and boys. "
» Does it matter in this context that the Crown Princess will represent Denmark? Is Denmark a good brand to have in the back when you are a patron of the women and refugees?
"In my experience, it has given me a good background that I come from Denmark. For Denmark is seen as a pioneer in terms of equality and as a strong and unwavering advocate of women's and girls' rights, particularly on SRHR," answers the Crown Princess, referring to Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights (SRHR). The UN jargon for the goal that every sexual act must be free of coercion and disease that every pregnancy should be wanted and every birth must be sound and all - women and men - have access to birth control and has the right to decide over their own bodies.
"So it makes me tailwind, and because of Denmark's position and the general consensus on the subject at home, so I might have gotten more opportunities to comment on these matters."
» What do you do in a typical day out.
How much work is there with the three patronages?
"There are many internal and external meetings with partners, patronages etc. There is much work at the desk with preparations - including travel inventory - and writing speeches. And so it is important to keep abreast of current issues. By nature, I am extremely thoroughly. I have been brought up to always give my best and do my best, and I always try to do. And then I think my curiosity is a major driving force. I am for instance preoccupied with negative social norms and how we can change them. There will be more and more evidence about - yes social norms and the theory of change - how to get detached social norms of a culture, and it concerns me very much, because it can have a major influence on many of the issues I am dealing with. But then a typical working day, it is a little hard to describe. It depends on a calendar," said the Crown Princess.
» What are you thinking as patron of the Danish Refugee Council with the current refugee crisis seen worse since the Second World War?
"Yes, it is a major global challenge, and it is immensely sad. The refugees I have spoken to say that their greatest wish is to return home and build their lives and their country. There are many countries that are struggling to find a solution, but the world must unite and act like a total flock to find a viable solution. It is the biggest challenge overall, but from my perspective it is also about how vulnerable women and girls are in such a humanitarian crisis.
For example, 60 percent of the total maternal mortality worldwide occurs in crisis areas, and women and girls on the run are extra vulnerable because they often travel alone. Many may have lost their husbands, others fleeing alone while the man stays behind to fight. The women are all very alone in a culture that demands that a woman has a male protector, and therefore they are more vulnerable to abuse and rape. So we need to have more focus on their specific needs and how we protect this very large and vulnerable group of women and girls in the humanitarian crisis as refugees stream is.

Photo: Linda Kastrup
But when you meet some of these women - who I have had the opportunity - we can not help but be humbled and impressed by their will and strength and their innovative thinking in survival for themselves and for the children. The most important thing for these women is how they can provide their children a better life and it is a powerful resource.
It may sound cynical to talk about resource in this regard, but we need to look at women that way. For it shows what they manage to lift if they are given opportunities. We must not look at them as weak - they are not. They are exposed, but not weak, and it is striking.
We strengthen the women, it all comes down to others - even when we are talking about refugee camps," said the Crown Princess, which welcomes the UN Population Fund has put extra focus on improving the situation of maternal health in the world's refugee camps.
"I met nearly three years ago, two heavily pregnant Syrian women in Zaatari camp in Jordan. They both had two children already, so it was not the first time they gave birth. But before they had given birth on a fine hospital by a qualified midwife and a gynaecologist who followed them throughout their pregnancy progress and so on. Now they stood there in a refugee camp, and they were so thankful that we were there, for they were afraid. They knew just exactly how bad it can get. For a woman, obstetric help can be just as important and life-saving as water, food and shelter," says the Crown Princess, who as patron of the Danish Refugee Council has now visited some refugee camps around the world.
"And many of the fates, you talk to, come close. Many of the families had a fine house, two cars, took their children to school and went to restaurants on weekends, and from one day to the next, they flee for their lives and are in a refugee camp. It was very tough, and you are deeply affected, but at the same time I believe that it is hugely important to try to see past the distress to see the man. That way I can be more ready to hear their stories, and these stories have really big impact when they retold in other contexts - for example, from a rostrum of the United Nations or a secondary school in Denmark. And it's something I can do. I can be a voice for some of the people I meet on my travels. Their stories hitting us and makes us think about the inequality of opportunity."

Photo: Linda Kastrup
» Are there other resources that Crown Princess takes the need to get our message across?
"Yes, I strongly believe in working together and therefore I use my role, the profile I have, to gather strength and relevant actors to work towards a common goal. This could be violence against women. When I was in South Africa, I met an organization called Brothers for Life, and when you talk about violence against women, one needs to see men as part of the solution and not just as a problem. If we really want to break the cycle of violence, we must have a holistic approach to it. Brothers for Life works with men as role models for other men to break with the norm that says that it is okay to beat your nearest. They do a fantastic job and has some success in South Africa, and we have Dialogue against Violence, and the organization has many years of experience in how to help violent men to break their behaviour. So through the Mary Foundation, I have brought organizations together to create cooperation and knowledge sharing in which both parties can learn something. On the way, I have benefited greatly from the network that I have been built up over the years."
» They even mention the Mary Foundation, which works to combat social isolation and trying to get items that are hard to talk about into the public debate. Is there anything that the Mary Foundation can do to remedy what many viewed as a major problem at home - namely the lack of integration of parts of Muslim women?
"Women's and girls' rights should apply to everyone in Denmark. We should all have equal opportunities. But having said that, it is unfortunately still a very political area, and therefore I must find the right angle. It is an area where I, through the Mary Foundation have already committed through our shelters. The shelters in Denmark host a large majority of women of different ethnic backgrounds, so we actually have no knowledge of them. And we have also had good cooperation with shelters in Morocco and therefore can better understand the cultural sensitivities that might be," answers the Crown Princess.
"It's some other social norms that are in play, and it is there that my knowledge of and interest in social norms could come into play. So yes, it is an area I would like to have a deeper understanding of. "


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