UNIDO’s Akemi Ishikawa speaks to Vatican Radio in the wake of the “Empowerment of Women in Conflict Areas” Conference marking the 80th anniversary of diplomatic ties between Japan and the Holy See.
As an Industrial Development Expert involved in agribusiness projects that aim to empower women and displaced persons in developing communities and conflict areas, Akemi Ishikawa says there are too many women across the globe who continue to suffer discrimination and lack of opportunity simply because they are women.
Speaking to Vatican Radio at the conclusion of a Conference organized to mark the 80th anniversary of diplomatic ties between Japan and the Holy See, Ishikawa speaks of the struggle, in some countries, to reach the women that these development projects aim to empower. She also highlights the fundamental role and value of religious communities that are rooted in local life, not only to implement the projects but to keep them going.
The Conference at the Pontifical Salesian University in Rome on Friday, 4 March, was promoted by the Japanese Embassy to the Holy See and the United Nations Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO). It highlighted the fruitful collaboration between these entities thanks also to the collaboration of the Salesian Sisters of Don Bosco Gumbo, near Juba in South Sudan.
Akemi Ishikawa, explains that her specialization in the livelihood of people in conflict-affected areas has led her recently to focus on three nations ravaged by conflict and displacement: South Sudan, Yemen and the Democratic Republic of Congo.
She talks about how UNIDO provides technical training and explains that according to each country’s security and political issues, and to the needs of the communities who are receiving the training, each project is specifically tailored.
“In Yemen, for example,” she says, “in the south, we are providing maintenance training of outboard engines for the fishermen, while in the north where the people are facing serious energy shortages, we will provide technique and training related to solar energy.”
The difficulties of involving women
“If we target conflict areas we try to support the livelihoods or income-generating opportunities,” she says, noting however that in many cases it is very difficult, to involve women directly because of cultural or religious barriers.
In those cases, Ishikawa continues, as UNIDO we make sure we involve at least 40% of women as beneficiaries, but “some situations refrain us from reaching them.”
And expressing her personal opinion she says: “I really don’t get and do not want to understand why women are so discriminated or excluded from society.” Some people, she continues, “treat women so badly, even violating or assaulting them… Why? Women are strong but very, very vulnerable!”
Religious communities ensuring implementation and continuation
Illustrating the focus of her intervention at the Conference on “Empowerment of Women in Conflict Areas” Ishikawa said she highlighted the good results obtained from the collaboration between the government of Japan and Catholic organizations, namely the Salesian Sisters of Don Bosco in Gumbo, near Juba (South Sudan.)
The title of that project, she explains, was “Enhancing social stabilization and cohesion through agro value chain development.” This project was implemented from April 2019 to August 2020 aiming to support agro value chain development to create employment and income opportunities for IDPs and their host communities.
Ishikawa explains that she has been in contact with the Japanese Ambassador to the Holy See, Seiji Okada, ever since she met him in Kabul, at a time when he was Deputy Head of Mission of the Embassy of Japan to Afghanistan, and she was involved in a development project in the country.
She says that he was subsequently appointed to Juba in South Sudan and he approached UNIDO to conceptualize a project for that country.
“We were very very lucky to find the Salesian Sisters of Don Bosco, Gumbo, as our implementing partners of the project,” she says.
In fact, she notes, the project has ended, but the sisters are still there and they continue to support the beneficiaries of the project.
“Without their commitment and dedication to supporting the most vulnerable in South Sudan, UNIDO would not have been able to implement the project and see it be successfully completed,” she says, especially regarding the continuity of the activity.
The fact, she explains, that the sisters are rooted in the communities, ensures the sustainability of development projects.
“It is valuable and critical to have partnerships with locally rooted organizations,” she says.
“I appreciate the dedication of the sisters based on their religious faith.”
From woman to women
Concluding, Ishikawa’s thoughts and solidarity go to those millions of women in South Sudan and in other countries who continue to be violated, excluded from their communities and treated very unfairly.
“I hope I can contribute to solving such kind of situations, and also improve the social and economic status of women, in particular in conflict-affected countries.”
With thanks to Linda Bordoni and Vatican News, where this article originally appeared.