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Saudi Women Elected for First Time Ever; Nations Reach Accord on Climate Change; Imagine a World. Aired 2-2:30p ET

Aired December 14, 2015 - 14:00:00   ET




CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR, CNN HOST (voice-over): Tonight: one giant leap for Saudi women, one more small step for humankind. For the first time,

women have been elected to local councils in Saudi Arabia and we hear from one of them.

And signed, sealed but will it deliver?

The climate deal just reached in Paris.


CHRISTIANA FIGUERES, U.N. CLIMATE CHIEF: When the world is faced with a truly global challenge, the community of nations can and has come

together to address the challenge.



AMANPOUR: Good evening, everyone, and welcome to the program. I'm Christiane Amanpour in London.

What happened in Saudi Arabia this weekend was a giant leap by the standards of a nation that still doesn't even let its women drive, just for



AMANPOUR (voice-over): Indeed, Saudi Arabia is so behind on women's rights that this Saturday will go down in history for being the first time

ever Saudi women voted and Saudi women were elected in municipal elections.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I'm really proud that we are affirming our future, we are doing history now and we are opening the door for much more

females to come and participate.

AMANPOUR (voice-over): Well, up to 20 women were elected to municipal councils. Now for the reality check. The change will be limited when it

actually comes to power and where women still have to ask their fathers, husbands and even sons for permission to do just about anything.


AMANPOUR: We're going to dive deep into what this does mean for the kingdom and its women, with Rothna Begum of Human Rights Watch, who's

joining me on the set. But first I want to go directly to Saudi Arabia and to one of the winners in this weekend's elections. She is Rasha Hefzi and

she joins us now on the phone from Jeddah.

Councilor Hefzi, welcome to the program. And you have made history.

How does it feel?

RASHA HEFZI, LOCAL COUNCIL: Hi, Christiane. It feels great, actually, and I just want to say that we've been working with the council

for the last few years. But, of course, with knowledge that (INAUDIBLE) been working as volunteers and activists in civil society groups.

So just being elected in the council is just the next step forward to carry on working on the development fight so that we've been working on the

last few years.


AMANPOUR: Good, it feels great and should feel great.

What made you decide to do this, to run, and how difficult was it, given the situation there?

HEFZI: Actually it was not my decision; I've worked with the council since 2007 and then in 2011, in the second round of elections, I was a

founding member of Balete (ph) Group, where we tried to get to be voters and then also we had another group, which called Shiba Jidat (INAUDIBLE),

where we had a youth candidate and he didn't win.

And from there, in the last few years, we've been working with the council in different sides. And all my colleagues and my community groups

pushed me to go into election as a representative of all these groups. So it was not my decision. It was not only my personal decision.

And as I said earlier, it was like the second step after all the work we have done. Now when I decided to run for elections, the first step was

very difficult for us, is to try to get the voters. We worked on two levels.

The first level was to work on the strategic level, where we can make a world (ph) campaign and just grab the attention of the public and spread

awareness about elections, because this society doesn't know much about the council or about the voting system or anything.

So we had to make an echo. We had to make a very strong campaign, a public campaign, where people try to understand what it is about the

council, why they need to participate in the council, what is the importance of the council.

And then on the second level, I was trying to get the voters.

AMANPOUR: OK, well, I want to ask you about that, councilor Hefzi, I want to ask you about that because we read that you had, obviously like any

campaigner, you need to get to the voters, as you say.

But what was it like getting to the male voters?

I hear you women had to do it from behind closed doors.

HEFZI: Well, actually it's not closed doors completely. Like, for me, I had a tent and in the --


HEFZI: -- tent I had some activities for both men and women, where, of course, we had separate areas but I used to present my daily program, we

used to have speakers, we used to have activities. I used to answer all the questions of the voters.

But the thing is that, although the system treats men and women the same in the elections and the way you deal with voters, but men, because

they have this accumulated experience and they have this community, the network, especially from the previous elections, so definitely they have

access to all voters.

For us, it was very difficult to access the business community, the voters, especially most of them are men. Like in my district, the number

of voters in this round was very low. It was like 62 men and 59 women. But we had the voters from the previous election, which it was, I think

5,900 voters.

And most of these voters, they worked with previous candidates, men. So imagine how difficult it is to convince them, with our program and our

credentials, even if they believed in us, it was difficult for them because they have this, you know, social connections with the other businessmen,

other candidates.

So it was difficult but we made it.

AMANPOUR: You made it indeed.

What do you think you'll be able to make of it?

What will you be able to do practically?

And do you worry a little bit about backlash down the road?

HEFZI: The first thing we want to work on right now is to improve the communication channels between the council and the citizens. Most of the

people are not aware of the role of the council.

And actually when I started the campaign, most of the youth groups and everybody was saying, I want to vote for you. I want to be a voter. And I

used to tell them, I'm sorry, you're not registered as a voter.

So people now are very motivated to participate with the council because, in the campaign, they started to know about the activities of the

council, the importance of civic engagement and how they can have a say in the decision-making process.

So the first thing we're going to work on right now is try to improve the communication channels between the council members and the citizens and

to give importance to the neighborhood.

AMANPOUR: All right, Councilor Rasha Hefzi, amongst the first group of women ever to vote, ever to be elected in Saudi Arabia, thank you for

joining me.

And now, we're going to turn to broaden the discussion with Rothna Begum of Human Rights Watch here in London.

You could hear the excitement in her voice, it is a giant step. But put it into perspective.

What can they do and what about the bigger picture?

RASHA HEFZI, HUMAN RIGHTS WATCH: Absolutely. So this is a landmark achievement for Saudi women, who have been fighting for this right to vote

and to stand for the last 10 years.

But practically speaking we're talking about only 1 percent or less than 1 percent of all candidates in the kingdom who are women. As a

result, women will only be in mostly -- they'll be mostly in male councils, some of them will -- most of the councils actually will be only men, in

fact, so this will be very, very difficult.

AMANPOUR: But what about, I mean, obviously it's moving the ball in the right direction, no matter how slowly and how locally right now.

What actually can they do?

I mean, I hear that some, for instance, ran on -- you heard what councilor Hefzi said, she was trying to get better relations in the

community. Another woman said that, you know, her candidacy was based on roads and trying to make sure that women had access to roads and therefore

didn't give birth in their cars because they couldn't get to hospitals in time.

What are the areas that they can impact?

BEGUM: Absolutely, so municipal council elections have very limited power and they're very local, so it's about urban planning and road

maintenance and issues that are very, very local. So women who live in these lives do need to be acting as decision-makers and this is by allowing

women the right to vote and to stand acknowledging their right to be decision-makers like men.

However, the fact that they can only talk about road maintenance and not be allowed to drive on roads or are not even allowed to legislate on

driving on roads is still something that remains.

AMANPOUR: So, obviously, we all wonder when will the kingdom lift the ban and allow women to drive.

Is there any hint that perhaps the king might do that in the wake of this election?

BEGUM: Unfortunately, it's one of those issues that they've completely stuck on. It's gone quite far ahead in terms of the women's

movement, pushing for the right to drive. It's one of a number of reforms that they've been calling for.

But it's still one of the issues that the authorities are very much hands-off about. They're not willing to really do anything about it right

now. We don't know how long it's going to take before they actually overturn that.

AMANPOUR: Some have said, you know, there will always be critics. Some have said that this minimal amount of electoral power, municipal local

elections, is a way of sort of concealing the fact that so many others -- you mentioned driving but there's so many other things that Saudi women

cannot do. And as I said, practically everything they --


AMANPOUR: -- do has to be, you know, given permission by the menfolk.

Is this a way of sort of fending off that kind of criticism, the other big issues that have to be dealt with?

BEGUM: Well, this is one of the issues that Saudi women themselves have been calling for and it's taken them 10 years to finally come through

on their promise to give them that right.

AMANPOUR: Because when did King Abdullah first promise?

Was it 10 years ago?

BEGUM: It was in 2011, but it was 10 years ago when the elections had started and they have said to women, you're not allowed to vote this time

but you will the second time.

And the second time, they postponed it, saying we're trying to make it easier for women to vote. But then they said no.

And at that point then King Abdullah came of the and said, they will be allowed to vote but in the third round.

And now we've got to that point and --


BEGUM: -- finally came through on his brother's promise.

AMANPOUR: What can countries, I mean look, in the West there are many, many governments and many civil societies, many human rights groups,

who say that really there has to be a human rights condition for relations with Saudi Arabia and a women's rights condition.

The Swedish foreign minister, for instance, has made that very, very clear.

What can countries like Britain do?

BEGUM: The U.K., well, countries like the U.K. should be calling for reforms in Saudi Arabia, much more than they are doing right now. I've

been working on Saudi Arabia for a long time and they do very little, they say very little.

And given that Saudi Arabia has an extreme form of discrimination against women, as we've been talking about, they have what's known as a

male guardianship system, where women cannot do a number of activities in their daily lives without the permission of their male guardian.

But yet we find the West and many countries who just refuse to say anything about this or refuse to say in the public sphere. They seem to

leave it as a question of society, of culture and of religion, dismissing the fact that the Saudi Arabia is denying half of their citizens the basic


AMANPOUR: Do you think that this election will be the first of several?

Or do you think there's going to be sort of a full stop here?

BEGUM: This should be the first of several. If they deny this the second time, then there should be an uproar about this and no one should be

taking this lying down.

And with this election, it's a first step when it comes to gaining greater political participation for women, greater rights for women. This

is not the end. And if Saudi Arabia is granting this right, well, the world should not be looking away.

We're going to continue to monitor what's happening there and continue to push Saudi Arabia to provide for the rights for women.

AMANPOUR: As we are focusing on it tonight, fantastic.

All right, Rothna Begum, thank you very much indeed from Human Rights Watch.

And from a Saudi success as you've just heard to a French failure, Marine Le Pen's National Front managed to snatch defeat from the jaws of

victory in the country's regional elections on Sunday.

To be fair, the French people dealt that defeat by coming out in droves to deny the extreme right xenophobic party victory in any region

whatsoever after it had taken a commanding lead in the first round last week.

And a dramatic fight back by France's major parties, the Socialists and the Republicans, pushed the National Front back into third place.

Of course, there was another much heralded vote in France over the weekend, as the whole world signed up to combat climate change, success as

seen by U.N. environmental chief Christiana Figueres. That's next.




AMANPOUR: Welcome back to the program.

Facing one of humanity's --


AMANPOUR: -- most complex and overwhelming threats, 195 countries of the world agreed on Saturday to a landmark accord to fight climate change.


LAURENT FABIUS, FRENCH FOREIGN MINISTER (through translator): The Paris climate accord is accepted.


AMANPOUR (voice-over): That was the French foreign minister, Laurent Fabius, one of the main negotiators there. And the accord came on the back

of years of work and weeks of face-to-face negotiations.

By signing on, countries agree to limit their greenhouse gas emissions.


AMANPOUR: And they pledge to keep the rise in global temperatures under two degrees.


BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I imagine taking my grandkids, if I'm lucky enough to have some, to the park someday and

holding their hands and hearing their laughter and watching a quiet sunset, all the while knowing that our work today prevented an alternate future

that could have been grim.


AMANPOUR: What a dream.

The U.N. climate chief Christiana Figueres has been at the center of this effort, prodding, cajoling and rallying the nations of the world to a

deal. And when we spoke as the ink was drying, she told me the stroke of a pen won't solve the crisis but it will prove that the world can come

together to fight for our very existence.


AMANPOUR: Christiana Figueres, welcome to the program.

FIGUERES: Thank you very much, Christiane.

AMANPOUR: So we welcomed you and interviewed you at the very start of the summit and we are now interviewing you at the end.

You must be a happy woman today.

FIGUERES: Well, I don't think I'm the only happy one. I think the entire world is happy.

AMANPOUR: How historic is it?

FIGUERES: This really is definitely making history and for two reasons. First, because we have been working toward this for many years,

hearing arguments that it is too late, that it's too complex, that it's too costly and I don't know how many other negative arguments.

So I think all of those have been defeated.

But perhaps more importantly, it is what is positively said about the agreement. And while the agreement in and of itself is legally binding and

rather technical text, I think we can derive three very clear conclusions from it.

The first: that when the world is faced with a truly global challenge, the community of nations can and has come together to address

the challenge.

The second is that, in so doing, we're all guided by the protection of those who are most vulnerable, those who have least responsibility in the

cause and those who are having the largest impact because of climate change.

And the third very exciting conclusion from this agreement is the fact that we are ready, as a community of nations, the world is ready to embrace

the technologies of this century, the technologies that are going to take us into a much more prosperous, safer world, more stable world with more

jobs, with better health, with much better infrastructure and with much more energy available and easily accessible to the 1.3 billion people who

are currently unelectrified.

So we're standing here on the brink of a whole new world.

AMANPOUR: So let me then ask you, because obviously you know that you've got these cynics out there, even the father of climate change

awareness, James Hansen of NASA, who was there, has called it fraud, has called it B.S.

I mean, those are the terms he's used for people who think that there is an enforceable 2 degree mechanism, et cetera.

What do you say to that?

FIGUERES: Well, the agreement is not perfect but what is in light, but I think what is really, really important is that the direction has been

set loud and clear. We're not going just for 2 degrees. We're actually moving in the direction of 1.5 degrees and that will take several decades

to get us onto that path.

But along that time, we are going to be measuring ourselves. And we are going to be having verification moments in time, where we will be able

to transparently know for ourselves and for the world whether we're actually moving in the right direction.

The very, very powerful signal, however, to capital markets and to research and technology, to all the technology company, the technology

world, is this is a new era of renewable energy and that is what it's going to get us to the safer temperatures.

AMANPOUR: Christiana, obviously the diplomats, people such as yourself, the French foreign minister, the French environment minister, all

of those diplomats, the secretary-general of the U.N., who've made this happen, they say have done a fantastic job.

But it is up to now the governments, the politicians --


AMANPOUR: -- the business people, the scientists.

And even today in the front pages we're hearing that fossil fuel companies say, hey, this isn't something that we're going to worry about

right now. We've got a lot more to worry about.

One scientist who I heard this morning said that the whole deal puts way too much faith in tech innovation that hasn't even been developed yet.

Another says the pledges for 2 degrees don't even add up because, right now, they amount to 2.7 degrees.

How do you answer all of that?

FIGUERES: Well, it's understandable that people are nervous because you're always nervous when you are called upon to move into perhaps a

somewhat unknown world. But this is not completely unknown.

We do have major technologies that are only beginning to step into their potential. And what this calls forward is to actually exploit the

full potential of solar, the full potential of wind, the full potential of hydro.

And, of course, there are other technologies that are coming on board and that, I think, are going to be accelerated by this huge push.

Yes, it is absolutely true -- and I've been saying that for quite a while -- that the current efforts of globality, of the current efforts that

are on the table, the emission reductions, do not get us to 2.2 degrees, let alone to 1.5 degrees.

But they certainly get us off the 3-, 4-, 5-degree increase, for which we were headed just a few years ago.

So we're definitely heading in the right direction. This is not something that is going to be solved at the stroke of a pen or even at the

gaveling of a legal document. That's not the way the world changes.

The world changes through very, very complex evolutions of capital, of technology and of policy. And it is those three that are clearly moving in

the right direction.

What has to happen now is that all of those three can and will be accelerated through this global agreement.

AMANPOUR: Everybody says what a different atmosphere it was this time than in Copenhagen.

And in Copenhagen, everybody spent so much time arguing; here, people spent a lot of time negotiating and trying to come to an agreement.

A lot of emphasis was put on the atmospherics. We read that the French minister, you know, even went so far as designing lights and making

sure there was good food, places for people to sleep or nap during these arduous days.

Tell me about all of that.

FIGUERES: Well, it's definitely true that the venue itself was very, very conducive. But I think the mood was set not just by the physical

venue. It was set by the world.

You had millions of people who have been praying, who have been walking, who have been singing, who have been moving their capital, who

have been taking corporate leadership, who have been doing everything within their own sphere of influence to ensure that the space for

governments to be able to come together in unison to answer this was actually created.

So it's not just the physical venue. It is the much larger context of what the world wanted. We did get into a good global mood on climate and

this is the result.

AMANPOUR: Christiana Figueres, U.N. climate supremo, thank you for joining us from Paris.

FIGUERES: Thank you.


AMANPOUR: The summit also heard that climate change can spark huge global instability and population movements. Case in point: Syria.

Next, the exodus has been massive but imagine seeing it close up. The refugee camp on exhibit in New York, that's after this.





AMANPOUR: And finally tonight, we imagine migration in miniature.

As the Christmas season and the holiday season descends on New York, a new artwork is a sobering reminder of those who are much less fortunate.

"Another Day Lost" is a recreation of Syrian refugee camps. It's the brainchild of Syrian-born U.K.-based artist Issam Kourbaj.

Discarded packaging and old books make up the compact cab, burnt matches form the perimeter fence and what they lack in size they make up

for in scope and emotional punch because the matches count the more than 1,700 days since the start of the Syrian conflict.

And in a fitting tribute to its subjects, the installation itself is also a refugee of sorts, migrating from exhibits in five locations across

London to Manhattan's Trinity Church this month.

All funds raised during the exhibit will go to UNHCR and Medecins sans Frontieres, who are all doing so much work in those camps in Turkey, Jordan

and Lebanon.

While the church rector at Trinity hopes that the story of Jesus, Christianity's greatest refugee, will inspire visitors to embrace those in

need of sanctuary, he said, over Christmas and these holidays and way beyond. And it's a timely message, no doubt, in today's political climate

in America.

And that is it for our program tonight. Remember, you can now always listen to our podcast, you can see us online at and you can

follow me on Facebook and Twitter. Thank you for watching and goodbye from London.