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8.30am. Whilst the snow fell over New York City few delegates gathered at United Nations for the morning briefing but the stalwart Soroptimists were there to see Linda Witong of SI America chair the session. Little information on the CSW62 negotiations were given this morning but the session had ended at 4 am and was to start again at 10 am today.
At 1 pm there was European feedback and questions chaired by Suvi Seppolaine. It was said that Member States were showing flexibility and a great will to reach Agreed Conclusions by Friday.
One notable point made by Suvi was that ”Diversity was not only a matter of opinion but fact. This is how societies are today.”
At 4 pm feedback was given by the UK delegation Diplomat Charles Ramsden who was expecting to be in the negotiations until late as they were only half way through the text. The text has 60 paragraphs under negotiation.
Here is a summary from various discussions on the CSW62 Agreed Conclusions text today.
Update on negotiations Wed 21 March
Main sticky points around:
The Chair of the negotiations encourage NGOs and civil society to support their delegations and have conversations and discussions with countries who are of differing opinions.
Through the Zonta, programme girls and women learn skills to make them independent.
The Ambassador for Nepal stated that Nepal is a microcosm of the world, a melting pot where women are honoured and worshipped. He said that amazing progress had been made since the 1950s and women have played a large part in this. 30- 40% of government ministers are women.
It was agreed that the earthquake made things worse and government support is needed. The consul general told us that women could climb Everest! The aim is to make women powerful through education and employment but that resources are needed for training.
Women are becoming more aware of their rights and robust structures are in place for inclusion of women in government roles. Women are inspired to do things for themselves.
The session ended with the ambassador admitting that there was still a long way to go to achieve their aims and to reach the rural areas where women and girls are more vulnerable to early marriage and poverty.
20 March is the UN International Day of Happiness and celebrations have been underway all day in the UN Centre. There is no choice today, one has to smile, smile, smile and be happy. Which we are!
“The United Nations works for Happiness.”
Leaving the United Nations building it is bitterly cold with snow forecast and contingency arrangements being made for the storms anticipated tonight. Weather reports are raising questions. Will the City be closed as it was last year when the snow came? Will the staff get into work? Will the UN building be closed? Will negotiations be halted? If there are delays will there be enough time for Member States to reach ‘Agreed Conclusions’ by Friday?
At our meeting with the UK delegation late this afternoon we were warned that negotiations were going slowly and they were only about a quarter of the way through the second revision document. Negotiations will go on late into the night as the expectation of inclement weather may mean that there is no progress tomorrow.
There are only two paragraphs in the document that require no further discussion, some paragraphs are contentious, one particular paragraph has a red line for a number of countries meaning they will be difficult to negotiate and there is a possibility that paragraphs may end up being traded. Resolutions on HIV are being led by South Africa, with some discussion from African countries but should be agreed with little change.
There is serious concern with a view in the negotiating room that women do not have a right to a life free from violence. We are all in shock at the suggestion. Research into previous Agreed Conclusions and the UN Declaration of Human Rights is being undertaken to support the retention of the phrase that women do have a right to a life free of violence. The paragraph on sovereignty is also a concern as is child marriage.
A 2020 Celebration is under discussion to mark the 25 years since Bejing Platform for Action. One special day event immediately prior to the General Assembly in September is under discussion. It will also be 5 years since the ‘2030 Agenda’ and the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) were introduced. The UK government anticipate submitting their SDG review next year and information on the focused SDGs will be forwarded as we are informed. So, please link project work to the SDGs and enter on the database to help with the UK’s accountability.
There is great news on the Istanbul Convention. A bill will be presented in UK Parliament in the next month or so and it is expected to lead to the successful UK’s ratification of the Istanbul Convention. We’ll keep the pressure on.
It is a happy day!
Addressing the diverse needs of isolated rural women: Successful interventions.
The empowering of women is the primary goal of Soroptimism and SIGBI members came together to collaboratively express concern about the hapless situation of rural women. The session gave valuable insights into the plight of rural women and how different countries responded to the need of lifting up women from the poorest level to a dignified self-respecting life.
Margaret Clark, APD Advocacy, in her introduction said that the purpose of the event was to share good practices, learn of the diverse interventions used for solutions to the issue of isolated rural women. She introduced Soroptimist International as a global voice for women who educate, empower and enable women and girls, inspire actions and transform lives. Speakers included Soroptimist members from Trinidad and Tobago, India, UK and guest speakers from Nigeria and NAWO Youth.
Barbara Dixon, Program Director who was in the chair highlighted the extent of the diversity of rural women, the additional and diverse challenges faced by them, and the importance of the appropriate use of the terms ‘’rural women’’ and ‘’women who live in rural areas’’ within the text that would be negotiated over the following week and which would ultimately result in the CSW62 conclusions on the Priority Theme,
Pepsie Adiukwu of Nigeria presented the thoughts of three women who work closely with rural women in Nigeria; an entrepreneur, a medical doctor and a journalist. The four vital areas of interventions running through these three women’s opinions were Poverty, Health, Education and Justice. She said that it was a matter of deep concern that a country like Nigeria which is rich in mineral resources and human capital still have a huge percentage of the world’s poorest rural women. She attributed this sorry state of affairs to lack of political will and corruption.
Dame Vera Baird of UK quoted Parliamentary and third sector reports which showed that education funding in rural areas in the UK was half of that in the urban areas. In rural areas women rely on health services during pregnancy, childbirth and as primary carers of children. But there is lack of access to these services due to lack of transportation. The transit systems to the urban areas from the rural areas are expensive, infrequent and slow. Schools cannot be provided with a modern education as they are struggle with weak or no internet connectivity. This lack of broadband services in the rural community worsens rural isolation. Rural women also undergo domestic abuse with no recourse to seek shelter as the escape route is via the local taxi driver, and he could be a relative or a friend of the male perpetrator. Baird in her conclusion said that as western Soroptimists reach out to help women in less developed countries, urban Soroptimists must do the same for local rural women, whose own numbers will never be enough to give them a loud voice and would therefore, continue to remain the neglected sector.
Daphne Pillai, Founder President SI-Bombay-Chembur presented the challenges faced by rural women and girls in India with case study references to successful Soroptimist projects in her region of Mumbai- India. These initiatives have been meeting the very real needs of the women and were identified through participatory consultations and evidence based need assessments. The top priorities requested by these rural women and girls were support to improve their spoken English skills and development of practical skills which would enable them to generate independent income.These community level grassroots interventions are great examples of Soroptimists’ aims: educating, enabling and empowering “ in action” and were contrasted by Dr Pillai with what can often be rhethoric in the plethora of government regulations which are passed though not often implemented as evidenced by the C&AG’s independent report.
Sr Annie Jesus Mary Louis from India spoke on ‘Prostitution as violence against rural women’. She works to rescue and rehabilitate trafficked girls in the region of Chattisgarh. Young rural girls are lured by traffickers who appear in the guise of benevolent godfathers. If education is provided to the girls, this evil could be choked. She said if there was no supply then the demand would also dry up. Her appeal was to support organizations working against human trafficking in rural areas.
Anuradha Pradeep, President SI-Bangalore spoke on ‘Empowerment of Women living in rural areas and Government support’. Rural women need support in two categories which she identified as 1) Physical which would include nutrition, menstruation, pregnancy, sexual and old age and 2) Psychological issues like providing them with life skills like communication skills, cultivating positive attitude, capacity to face difficult situations, counseling, etc. She emphasized the importance of government support in aiding rural women. The government has the power to make the policies, to control, to provide the infrastructure and the authority to implement. However, she cautioned that in developing and under developed countries due to corruption and indifferent attitudes, it is best to be careful before seeking government support.
Other speakers were Dr Sylvia Walker from Trinidad and Tobago whose topic was “Education Rural Women: Real Life.” and Poppy Ullett who spoke on “Political participation for rural women”
The session successfully brought out the challenges of addressing the needs of rural women in different countries and the various interventions and best practices that have been undertaken to tackle these issues. The session also offered solutions and pathways to address the problems of rural women.
Today the UK Mission and Civil Society held their first joint event at CSW 62. “A flagship” occasion organised by the UK Gender Equality Office and UK CSW Alliance. This was the fruition of months of working in partnership SDG17 and together agreed to organise a presentation on the CSW62 Review Theme: “Participation in and access of women to the media, and information and communications”. Presenters were sort from around the globe to share information on “Sexualisation of the Media”. Moderated by Elysia McCaffrey UK Government Equalities Office.
Ruchira Gupta Founder President of Apne Aap and NYU Professor spoke on her work in India. India are the third largest user of pornography in the world with women suffering. Sex is connected to pain with women saying, ‘Yes’ when meaning, ‘No’. Men caught after rape confessed they had watched porn first. Twenty years on it has been recognised by some producers that, porn is rape with the camera turned on, but the clock can’t be turned back.
The beauty industry is subjugating with a rising industry in Delhi and Calcutta with the reconstruction of women’s vaginas. Why? “Men getting a bigger kick”. Status.
The old stories persist.Thin girls are seen to be more attractive causing girls to fight with their bodies and suffer anorexia. Girls aged as young as 9 and 10 years compete in Talent and Reality Shows which extremely sexualise children. They are cute in a sexy way showing panties and wriggling bodies but sadly this is becoming normalised. In 2016 child labour was legalised for entertainment.
Fashion and the sex industry work together and it is a big market where profit is OK but the result is losing control of sexuality.
Ruchira left journalism after working on stories of a missing girl, trafficking and brothels in Mumbai, Delhi and Calcutta, She now gives her strengths to addressing violence against women and girls.
Ms Genoveva Tisheva Managing Director of the Bulgarian Gender Research talked of issues in Bulgaria with young people and advocated the inclusion of parents in raising awareness of the dangers of abusive media entertainment. Child Protection and other agencies are not enough. Awareness with parents is essential with the age of young suffering abusive social media lowering from age 17years to 14years and below.
Revenge porn is rising ruining lives with some never recovering. With the constant use of harassing social media young people are not in possession of their lives anymore. This often results in suicide. Essential needs include, more stringent legislation, more documentaries to educate people from Institutions and more parental support. You can recover from shame but linked support is essential.
Sexualisation of Sportwomen in Nigeria was highlighted by Oge Pepsie Adiukwu CEO Peps-Pean Productions Director OGE WYCYEI. She is also a member of a Soroptimist Club about to be Chartered in Abuja, Nigeria.
Sexualisation undermines the legitimacy of women’s sport. The talents and skills women have to offer are undermined. Men are portrayed as strength and women as style but women attack the game as men. Unfairness is highlighted with the lack of parity in competitions placing sexuality over athleticism. The women Bobsleigh team made history the first ever to go to the Olympics. They raised funds to compete. One of the examples of the unfairness of gender equality was when the Falcons won the African Women’s Championship eight times and the men won three times but the men’s success had more media coverage.
Women in sport suffer sexual harassment mental health issues, body image and self confidence amongst other issues.
Pepsi says ,”Sexualisation is not bad, sexual harassment is”.
Rosalind Gill Professor of Social and Cultural Analysis at City University London UK is an academic who has worked on gender, sexuality and media for 20 years and feels that less time should be concentrated on sexual identity and more on what people want.
There is a need for sexual education and sexual advice on the media. Out of fifty books read on sexual advice and the media only two mentioned consent. The importance of diversity is not just one thing, bodies are differently marked and sexualised. When men’s bodies are sexualised they are loaded with power. Rape is a crime of power rather than desire overturned.
On a social media dating site vicious forms of misogyny were found. A survey taken with school children aged 14-16 years found high mobile phone users and photo culture, with mental health issues, suicides with revenge porn a huge issue. One student bragged of having 32 pictures.
We are all living in a photo era with possession of pictures giving power.
A successful event thanks to a collaborative team. Here’s to the next one.
As this was a hot topic it was important to be early, I arrived 40 minutes early and there was already a big que, but somehow I managed to get a seat.
The event began with a welcome by the moderator and introduction of the subject where she said the magnitude of sexual harassment cases that have surfaced in the wake of the Harvey Weinstein case, demonstrates the culture of discrimination against women and girls that permeates every aspect of society. While women represent half of the world’s population, less than one third of all speaking characters in film are female. Only one fourth of the persons heard, read about or seen in newspaper, television and radio news are female so it’s the right opportunity, to move from the global outcry against gender discrimination, and showcase solutions to move from discussions to action and end this scourge once and for all.
The key note address consisted of the manner in which the issue came to light. All the panelists spoke about the requirement of responsible reporting by media houses, in fact Fatemah Farag raised the concern of how it is difficult for women to make it in media, the hurdles faced are quite common all over the world and not confined to one particular region or media house, this requires attention she said.
Matt recognized the situation and in fact he supported the need to have equal rights, equal pay and equal benefit as the scope of work is same when it comes men and women. Phumzile among other aspects said that the media houses should not shift the focus from this issue until the agenda set out in the mission are completely achieved as it is a movement to enable men to do what is right and not do what is wrong.
Since some interesting issues came out in the question and answer session I thought the same needs to be covered more than the view of other panelist which was more or less similar to one another. A man from the audience raised a concern that innocent men are being targeted and their history scanned, for this it was replied that men who have hidden skeletons should not come in the forefront and take the opportunity. This brought out the discussion about involving men in the process of change the lack of which I had just blogged about yesterday.
It was discussed that more men should be encouraged to speak against this, the media who is giving more importance to men’s views should bring out the views of those men who are against sexual harassment. The media was encouraged to project positive masculinity as this will have a far reaching effect. Men also should be heard on this issue and analyze their view point on how to further the campaign Me Too.
In her closing remarks, the Minister commended the brave sisters who came forward to speak about this, she said media is a powerful weapon as it is they who portray what happens in society and they are script writes, story tellers, movie makers so they have to be responsible. She proudly said that children in her country ask when a man will become a defense ministry as majority of their defense ministers are women.
Violence against children is a major global issue and affects children in all societies and countries. In this panel discussion Arelys Bellorini of ‘World Vision’ was in the chair. She said that violence against children came in many forms like child marriage, female genital mutilation, sex trafficking and others.
Seated on the dais with the adult panelists was this little girl named Xhorda from Albania. She also was one of the panelists in the forum. She was around 12 years old, a young leader advocating for children’s participation on forums which speak about children’s rights. She has been campaigning on children’s issues and was disappointed that their voice is not taken seriously by the policy makers. Xhorda strongly felt that if you are talking about children, the children should have every right to relate their stories from their point of view.
Justice Joana from the Supreme Court of Mozambique stated that child marriage in Mozambique happened largely due to poverty and traditional culture. Children who resist this practise have no one to turn to. In rural cultures it is difficult to reach the judiciary. The government of Mozambique has tried to find a pathway to address this issue by introducing mobile tribunals to go to remote areas. These mobile tribunals create awareness and spread information about the illegality of forcing children into early marriages and other scourges that afflict children.
Manus de Barra represented the United Nations Office of the Special Representative of the Secretary General (OSRSG) which works towards ending violence against children.
The organisation advocates that children should have the right to participate in decisions that affect them. Child helpline mechanisms hardly exist and even if they do children are petrified to tell their stories for fear of repercussions. Staff employed in children helplines should be very sensitive when they receive an SOS from a child and the privacy and the confidentiality of the caller should be respected. There should also be prompt follow-up action and legal aid should be provided to the children who have appealed for help. Children will only voice their stories if they know that there are strong child protection policies to safeguard them from further violence.
Debra Jones from ‘Save the Children’ Foundation spoke on violence against children affected by armed conflict. She was counselling a child refugee from Syria. On Valentine’s Day when Debra asked the kid what she would like on Valentine’s Day, she said that the Valentine heart should be painted red as a symbol to end bloodshed. It is a protracted crisis for children in armed conflict. There are lack of pathways open to rehabilitate children during conflict and post conflict for recovery and rebuilding their lives. Her organisation practised ‘mental health healing arts’ for children who undergo trauma.
Diana Quick from the ‘Child Fund Alliance’ said that their organisation’s central goal is to work with children, their rights and to provide a child protection system to ensure their safety.
Little Xhorda made a great impact. In the Question/ Answer session, most of the questions were directed at her and she was confidently able to reply to them all. The message powerfully went through. If a law is being framed for children, then children’s voices should be the dominant voice in the discussions and in the policy making.
‘NOTHING ABOUT US WITHOUT US’
All subjects that SIGBI are working on so it was interesting to go to events which covered these subjects to see how other countries are handling the issues.
The first session on prostitution and trafficking ( 8.15 am ) was very emotional as we heard testimonies from 4 victims.
Their stories had the whole audience in tears and the Moderator Einar Gunnarsson stated he felt ashamed to be a man when he heard what the women had suffered.
Civil society was urged to lobby for the implementation of the Nordic model and for funding and education so that vulnerable women are not compelled to sell their bodies to feed themselves or their families.
Zambia and Malawi co-hosted a session on ending child marriage and outlined the strategies they had used to reduce the statistics in their own countries. Both countries were fortunate to have supportive male Presidents who collaborated on legislation to reduce child marriage.
The biggest cause was poverty and lack of education.
Many child marriages are now being annulled and social cash funding is being provided so that the girls can support themselves and can re- enter the education system.
Cash advances were also being made available for special needs children and for those having suffered fistulae as a result of obstructed pregnancy.
The session on widows highlighted how girls can become serial widows.
Married at a young age to men much older they can be widowed whilst still in their teens. They are then remarried and the system starts again.
In parts of Africa where there is conflict a girl may be a child bride, her husband is murdered by insurgents- she is then taken as a bride for the soldiers. Her soldier husband ay be killed in the next conflict and the cycle starts again.
These girls are often passed around as soldier brides and have children. If and when they return home they are ostracised as they have “bad blood”.
The evening briefing at the UK mission informed us about progress on the documentation which was moving slowly. The first 3 paragraphs had been agreed and it was estimated that it would take another 30 hours work before the first amendments were made.
Week 2 is when the hard work on the4 documents occurs and that is safely in the hands of Pat Black, Bev Bucur and Linda Witong on behalf of SI. Daily, meetings with our negotiators ensure our views and inputs are taken on board.
This event was a very well presented event, the main speakers were quite experienced in their field of work, the hall was over crowded well before the event could start, I thought the presence of the Archbishop Bernardito Auza made the difference, the event was in partnership with Catholic Women’s Forum and so there were many institutions and their students present for the event.
The Archbishop opened the session and gave a brief introduction of the subject of discussion and introduced the speakers, since he had another event to attend far away he excused himself and his deputy took over the moderator’s role.
The first speaker was Mary Hasson from Fuller Sense of Empowerment of Women through Education and an Author, other than this she had many accomplishments to her credit and she herself was mother of 7 children. She made an important point that if world as a whole is taken then percentage wise it can be definitely said that there is parity in education in all levels, but the important thing is that it is unevenly distributed like in many regions of the world there is a huge disparity and so focus is to be given to these countries etc. While this is debatable, we need not pay much attention to this in my opinion. From her talk what I could gather is that she was proposing a “Person Centric Education’ in other words to recognize the dignity of the women through education, this I liked very much and is the need of the hour. Not all the women in the world need to complete their schooling while going a school is important they need to empower themselves in such a way that they are respected in what they choose to do.
The Next speaker was Sakeena Yacoobi, an Afghan ordinary women who has made herself extraordinary with her fight for education in Afghanistan, she narrated the manner in which she was able to breakthrough in setting up schools in Afghanistan. She apprised that even in the existing schools then there were no female teachers at all. After her 25 years of struggle she was proud to announce that in one year they were able to bring 15,000 children to schools, though there were no statistics put out, I could sense that there was a lot of work that has happened and education in Afghanistan has become a reality.
The next presenter was Amritpal Sandhu from a Fund for education in Emergencies which under the campaign “Education cannot wait” spoke about how the fund works in providing education in emergencies. Afghanistan was the example for them as well. A film made in association with UNICEF was shown where women expressed their wish to learn and how role of father’s is important in educating a girl child.
This brings me to the next speaker Timorthy Raricle- who a father himself spoke from the point of view of a father and the need for educating a girl child. Here I wish to make an observation, that there is a need for Men and Fathers to play a great role in empowerment of Women and girls whether rural or otherwise. The CSW should make more efforts to rope in more and more Men to be a part of the discussions, this will see more men coming for the events and will give a new dimension to the mission of women which is going on.
The presentation were quite lengthy leaving no room for much discussion with the audience.
(Pictured with Mariet Verhoef, SI President)
This is by far till today the only event which spoke mainly about water, its accessibility and role of women, it was also an Soroptimist International partnered event.
The Panelist were (a) Fátima Pelaes – Head of Brazilian Delegation and National Secretary of Women’s Policies, (b) Mariet Verhoef-Cohen – President of Women for Water Partnership and Soroptimist International, Willemien Koning, (c) Women representative of the Netherlands to the UNGA, President of the Dutch Women Farmers (LTO-NL), (d) Board member of the Committee of European Women Farmers (Copa): (e) Representative of the Community of Portuguese Speaking Countries (CPLP) and (f) Representative of Brazilian Federal Parliament.
The event began with a welcome by Fatima Pelaes who also gave the key note address where in she brought out how water and sanitation are key elements in sustainable development and empowerment of Rural Women, she open the discussion to explore ideas and examples of how access to water can promote the lives of rural women. The speakers essentially highlighted the need to improve access to water for all uses and increase awareness of vital role of women as equal partners, at all levels of the water sector. They highlighted the inclusiveness of women and sustainability are essential components of the SGDs, they discussed on the importance of women to be more prominent in water management. The representatives spoke about the difficulties faced by their women farmers in getting water.
Mariet Verhoef also apprised that Women, Water and Leadership (WWL) is to increase awareness of the vital role of women as equal partners, at all levels of the water sector. Embracing the SDG’s and targets set out in Goal -6 – clean water and sanitation, Goal 5- Gender Equality, and Goal 4- Quality Education, WWL will promote the inclusion of women in all phases of projects, from design through to delivery and monitoring. WWL has commenced a project with the Mwihoko Women Group, Kenya, supporting women small holder farmers to move into commercial farming. It will invest in water tanks, new technologies and improving facilities at a local training center, the project would provide education, partnering with a local university , in addition to on-site skills training, leading to increased food security, business opportunities and improved standard living for the women. She apprised the gathering that there has been an agreement signed with about 3000 municipalities in Africa for providing internet, so use of technology will be key in promoting the above objective. She requested the panel members and all stakeholders not to miss out on this opportunity as was done during the IT boom. There was not much time left for question and suggestion but a very few were taken.
As a teacher of communication it’s a topic close to my heart.
And so I took a New York Cab and rushed to 4W 43rd Street. In the crazy New York traffic, I made it just on time to my destination and to the venue the ‘Aqua Room’. My heart sank when I saw there was not a single seat available and people had crowded at the back. I pushed myself forward (not my usual style), but this was one event I could not miss. I squatted on the floor with others young and old.
And imagine my excitement when I saw all the big names in the media world as panelists: Leslie Grossman, Roberta Baskin, Liz Kaplow, Cary Broussard and Sarah Glover. This was going to be one great experience. Here were role models in the media going to talk on the subject through their personal experiences on how they tackled failure and started afresh.
Creativity was at its peak with a audience mesmerised as the speakers individually gave accounts of the times when they were out of a job and how they were able to ‘transform disruptive creations into creative disruptions’.
To be successful Sarah Glover said was to first be ‘comfortable with yourself.’ Being different should not bother you, whether it be due to race or culture. This is a dilemma that society has to face and not the individual who is made to feel different. Failures should be considered as blessings. When you hit the ground, what more can happen? You cannot go further down. You have to raise yourself up and move on. Diamonds are beautiful because they are formed under pressure. This message from Glover to us today is the same as the one she gave herself years ago. Glover was a ‘still life photographer.’ After she lost her job, she put her resume together again and realised that she could fit into other job areas as well.
Liz Kaplow said that Public Relations is all about people and their stories. Her strategy was studying not the brand, but the people behind the brand. And most often it was a woman behind the brand. When you speak with a passion, it should also be spoken with authenticity. If one has stumbling blocks in their career, do not shy away from asking for HELP. She received help when she needed it and those who receive help would definitely like to give it back.
Cary Broussard, author of ‘From Cinderella to CEO’ rewrote her own Cinderella story. No Prince Charming will come to rescue her, she has to make her own way forward by ‘stepping out and stepping up.’
Roberta Baskin sent a strong message to be ‘inspired by hurdles.’ To have a vision and to see it happen, you have to ensure that your voice is heard.
A strong sense of elation swept over me as I left the Aqua Room on my way to the Artisan Fair at the CCUN. Here were powerful and successful women who had come forward at CSW62 to convey powerful messages to women to take that leap and move forward.
UN Women partnered with an extensive group of civil society organisations today Thursday to hold and innovative flagship event enabling and empowering women from across all rural areas and all parts of the globe to have a voice. More importantly it was entitled Leaving No One Behind, the slogan for the implementation of the SDGs.
Over 400 participants sat at round tables to listen and contribute their experiences from across the diversity of women in rural locations who were feeling at this point well and truly left behind. The list regrettably is long: widows, LGBTI, Indigenous, disability, migrant/refugees and of course these are not in themselves homogenous groups.
A great deal was said about intersectionality – recognising that individuals cannot be categorised with simple language. Everyone faces a complexity of challenges, but most especially those who are the weakest, the most vulnerable across all societies.
Although we listened to the voices and personal stories of many speakers, we were asked around our tables to look for positive recommendations for action. We all know what the challenges are but what can actually be done to move people out of poverty, to provide access to education, to offer facilities to ensure a healthy community? What do we need to do to bridge the gap between rhetoric and reality?
Answers came from 30 tables, some overlapping, many offering different solutions. It was clear there is a lot of frustration and feelings of powerlessness, as well as anger.
Never was it more clear that #TheTimeIsNow.
The women in the room (and a few men) were determined that change must come – they are fed up of waiting. Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka Executive Director of UN Women has been clear all week repeatedly saying ‘The world has reached a tipping point’.
The final challenge of the day was more personal. What are we as activists and individuals going to do to make sure no one is left behind? We must continue to raise our voices, to make sure our organisations are strong and working toward achieving the 2030 Agenda but most of all as individuals we must ensure we change the world for at least one woman, one girl.
One of the most amazing experiences in returning to CSW is that of meeting inspirational women.
Some of them are those whom we meet every year. Long term campaigners and activists who never give up on the cause they are fighting for. One of those women, 86 year old Margaret Owen, a human rights barrister based in the UK but fighting for the rights of widows globally. Over the years she has raised awareness of the plight of widows in many countries, banging on the doors of the United Nations, often literally, to ensure their stories are told and to require their inclusion and recognition by the United Nations and its member states.
It has taken many years of persistence but at CSW62 there are events raising the issue of widows in rural areas, and the draft text of the Agreed Conclusions even includes the word ‘widows’. Soroptimists in several countries are fighting for the rights of widows; in Nigeria they have even had some success. Learning a lesson from Margaret Owen, we will continue to raise our voices and knock on doors so that no one is left behind.
There are other inspirational women who we listen to at one of the hundreds of events telling their personal stories. I heard such a story today from a young woman, the survivor of rape.
“I never thought that I’d be made to suffer a greater injustice than what I went through on the day that I was raped. Growing up, I’d believed in those familiar American promises: that our rights were sacred, that everyone was equal in the eyes of the law, and that the legal system existed to right wrongs and restore justice. It was only after my ordeal that I discovered first hand the ways in which rape survivors are continually re-victimized and betrayed by our country’s failure to make good on these promises.”
Amanda Wynn went on to fight successfully for changes to the law in the US Congress and to found ‘Rise’ an organisation which works for justice for rape survivors. Read a letter from the founder HERE.
This young lady today moved many to tears with her personal story, but stressed that there were many others like her.
CSW events are scattered with such inspirational women and I for one feel privileged to hear and share their stories.
Challenges and opportunities in achieving gender equality and the empowerment of rural women and girls.
This was the only event to my knowledge was hosted solely by India and being an Indian myself, I did not want to miss this one. The event was more to showcase the programs that the Government of India had taken up and put in place. The panel comprised of Secretaries from the ministry of Child and Women development and heads of independent social bodies. The moderator welcomed the gathering and introduced the panelist, she apprised on the several strategies adopted and invited the panelist give their view point. The NGO heads spoke more or less as about the work done by government and local bodies. The presentation by the Joint Secretary about the programs put in place by the ministry give the much needed confidence about the Government’s commitment to tackle the issue of gender equality. One of the participants questioned about the sustainability of the projects evolved by the ministry, the Joint Secretary said that many of these projects are technology driven, which required maintaining data he gave the example of the project called the National Nutrition Mission to eradicate malnutrition which was launched on women’s day, had CAS software which allows to monitor the growth of child on a weekly basis. Hence he said continuance monitoring would not be an issue. I suggested that in that case, the progress of the projects should be updated on the web site for all to see with provision for the stakeholders to give comments and feedback which was taken note of.
Highlights of the projects: setting up of One Stop Center for helping women in distress to address all the different kind of issues and difficulties faced by women, these centers are equipped in such a way that all kinds of problems suffered by rural women would be addressed. These centers were to be set up in close proximity to police stations, hospitals to facilitate easy access to these requirements. The centers would also provide counselling and legal aid services. New custom made buildings were being built to cater to this unique need of the project under one roof. Another project provided for financial assistance to pregnant and lactating women which though was an on going project, there were no statistic projected about its reach.
One project was providing loan to women entrepreneurs, another which required a mention was providing training to elected women representatives about their roles and encourage them to actually sit in their positions and participate in the development process. This to me was good because due to reservation of posts for women the male candidates would get their wives elected and the women were sidelined. So training of these elected representative would bring about a change in this hopefully.
While the programs appeared impressive, all depends on its effective implementation and for the women themselves to come forward to avail them and make use of it. The presentation was followed by question and answer session.
When the moderator of this event gave me the invite for this event, two things attracted my attention, one calling this issue an human right issue (rightly so) and second Mrs Maneka Sanjay Gandhi, Minister for Women and Child Development, India was one of the speakers, so I decided to attend. The event was sponsored by France, Senegal and India.
Members of WHO, UNESCO spoke and the event was support by the French Embassy in Burkina-Faso.
The conference hall was almost full, the moderator Dr. Chrysoula Zacharopoulou, President of Info-Endométriose, France, (pictured second from left) welcomed the audience and gave the background by saying “Menstrual hygiene management (MHM) is a major issue for girls and women of reproductive age concerning sexual and reproductive rights. Nevertheless, menstruation is often a silenced topic leaving many women and girls without the information and support they need, in order to participate fully and equally in society without discrimination.”
Mrs. Saniye Gülser (pictured first from right), Director of the Gender Equality Division, UNESCO expressed her pleasure to be there on behalf of UNESCO, she focused on role of education in sexual and reproductive health, and updated everyone on the guidelines set out by UNESCO. She felt that the issue of educating young girls on the issue should be on simple terms like taking survey on the manner in which girls learn about mensuration, and then take them to the next step of being more open with them. She said a scientific approach is required for this. Since young people spend more time at school, schools only have to be provided with information and knowledge. UNESCO has been doing programs on this and they will continue to do so emphasizing education to be the key in addressing this issue.
Next Dr. Claudia Garcia (pictured third from right) Department of Reproductive Health and Research, WHO, emphasized the need to empower women to over come the taboo and stigma associated with mensuration. However barrier in her opinion was reluctance to get educated on the issue by women themselves. She felt the need for including even men in this process so that they understand it and will be in a position to look at the issue with more empathy.
Mrs. Aminata Diallo, (second from right) President of MAIA BOBO, an independent organization spoke of the pathetic conditions young girls are in Africa during their mensuration period, some cultures do not permit drying of the mensuration cloth out doors leading to health issues. While huge change is seen yet lot of work is required to be done on this. She also spoke of education and bringing awareness.
Mrs Salimata, Minister for Women, Family and Gender, Senegal (not pictured) joined in late and spoke about the bad situation of young girls in her country and assured to take steps to work on the various aspects to educate and bring about awareness to the girls .
The minister from India could not make it and so the representative of the ministry said that a detailed report will be submitted.
This session was not in my opinion as informative as I anticipated, there was no statistics, no goals were set, no health issues were discussed, all the speakers concentrated on one remedy. The sessions ended with some young audience sharing their experience on the issue which was heartening.
Mrs.Anuradha Pradeep (pictured middle)
It was by sheer chance that I attended this event and am very glad that I did, it was a full house with not one single chair vacant and I realized that it was one of the sought after events.
The Under-Secretary General and Executive Director of UN Women Dr. Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuk, who in my opinion is a very down to earth lady walked in casually and sat at her seat, she was then ushered out as the organizers felt that they should make a grand entrance, a few minutes later she walked in with the Secretary General (SG) Antonio Guterres and their entourage in the midst of claps from the audience.
The huge conference hall was vibrant and everyone was eager to hear the Secretary General. I can see why, as per Article 97 of the UN Charter, the SG is the “Chief Administrative Officer” of UN in all meetings of the General Assembly, the Security Council, Economic and Social Council and Trusteeship Council, he performs such functions as these organs entrust upon him, so he is really the head of the UN in all sense.
The event began with an introduction by the Under Secretary about the events happenings, she said that there are almost 4000 women in all attending the conference from all over the world, she mentioned that there are 275 official events and about 400 side events, and welcomed the audience.
SG began on a confident note by saying that “it is a male dominated world and the question is that of power, Power usually is not given but taken, so conditions have to be made to give the power and over years and by such events such conditions are made for easy transfer of power”. These words made everyone at ease and eager to hear him, he talked about the gender balance in the UN workforce, he said that a few years earlier in the Executive office the ratio was 60% men and 40% women. Now it is 56% of women and 44% of men, exhibiting his seriousness in this business.
He proceeded to address three important issues, first about his mandate to bring in full parity by 2028 for which he said nearly 88% of the departments had set their road maps for the same.
Second, is to put in place zero tolerance on sexual exploitation within the organisation, he expressed concerns in areas of resettlement of people, refugee camps and sexual violence by soldiers.
Third he spoke about elimination of sexual harassment in the work place i.e the UN itself, 50 complaints of sexual harassment during last year was quite alarming and so he said that strict measures are being taken to provide help lines for staff to express their difficulties confidentially, he spoke about setting up of specialized security unit which will investigate these issues only.
He then took questions and answered each one with patience. At the end everyone seemed very happy and hopeful. The goal of the program to connect with members of Civil Society in my opinion seemed achieved.
Woke up this morning to what I thought was a normal day and so I dressed normally and went to the restaurant for breakfast. A minute later I got a message from one of my friends living in New York. Daphne, it is snowing outside and there is a forecast of a snowstorm. So be prepared, wear your snow boots and warm wear before you step out. I looked at the high heel shoes that I was wearing and the light jacket and said ‘Oh No.’ This snowstorm is going to ruin my CSW experience. I had registered to go to the session conducted by the Holy See on the ‘Prevention of trafficking of rural girls and women’ at the United Nations Headquarters. I’m also expected to be at the Kimmel House, New York University for a reception at 6 pm decked in our national dress; the saree. Would I be able to make it to the Kimmel House in a saree in a snowstorm and survive? These were my thoughts at the beginning of the day.
I went back to my hotel room changed into my heaviest coat, put on the only boots that I had carried and walked to the elevator. A friendly gentleman greeted me. I asked him about the impending storm which was going to hit New York. And he shrugged his shoulders, threw his hands in the air and said ‘New Yorkers exaggerate.’
I made it to the conference. However, my humour changed to horror after I heard the shocking realities of human trafficking at the UN conference. One survivor of human trafficking and five valiant religious sisters from Philippines, India, Africa, England and Canada gave gripping accounts of this crime against humanity.
Mely Lenario from the Phillipines recounted her horrific ordeal in her narration entitled ‘Life as a Trafficked Woman: A Story Unfold.’ She saw her sister being repeatedly raped by her stepfather when she was only 8 years. She protested and because she did, she was sent to a shelter. She and a few other girls were lured by some ‘elegant’ lady who offered them education and a better life, but forced them into the sex trade. To get food the girls had to get a minimum of 10 customers a day, else they were made to starve. It left her hating anyone who was ‘kind’ as she felt that it was ‘kindness’ which made her fall into a trap. Mely has now changed the course of her life and has become a survivor advocate, helping those women who experienced her hell to rebuild their lives.
Sr Annie Jesus Mary Louis from India spoke on the ‘Rural Origins of the Sex Trade’. Like any other business in the world which has a supply chain system, so also does the sex trade. You have a product and someone buys and someone sells. In this case the product is sexual access to another human being. Sexual exploitation is big business. It is governed by exactly the same principles as any commercial activity. Supply and demand. Traffickers cloak their evil intentions with benevolence to lure women away from their homes. Sr Annie’s appeal to the audience was to join together to campaign for sexual exploitation to be treated with the same seriousness as other supply chain issues. And to support local organisations working against human trafficking in rural areas.
Sr Lynda DearLove from England spoke on ‘Hearing Rural Voices in the Fight against Trafficking’. The rural NGOs are neglected as funding goes only to the big NGOs in the cities. Her organisation ‘Women at the Well’ work towards giving ‘alternate narratives’ to rural women as against the false promises of the traffickers. If rural girls were provided with an education and sustainable financial support then the demand would be cut and the supply would also dry up. Sr Lynda lamented that the Global Community does not do much to address this scourge of human trafficking in the rural areas.
Sr Sheila Smith from Canada said that every human being has an inherent dignity, but for women it is an ‘aspirational and not an experiential reality. Sr Angela Reed said it was time to listen to the voices of victims exposed to trafficking, publish their stories and give them opportunities to speak at public forums like the CSW.
The UN conference room was overcrowded with people. Those who did not get seats were left standing, but were engrossed for the whole session.
I travelled back to the hotel in the same vehicle with Sr Annie. She works alone in the Chattisgarh region. She feels threatened by the trafficking mafia, their business is slowly getting choked by her interventions. God Bless You Sr. Annie and may you live long to continue the good work that you have been doing at such grave risk to your life.
And to end on a good note, I did make it to the Kimmel Centre of New York University for the reception. The skies cleared and the sun came out specially for me. I went to the occasion draped in my national dress- the SAREE
During the first week of CSW we have a series of Ministerial Round Tables which are designed to encourage the senior members of Governments to attend and take part. As with the Opening Session NGO participants are allowed to attend in very small numbers – 1 per registered organisation so tickets are again much coveted.
However, many a fresh delegate has been disappointed having received a rare ticket. There is an expectation that the ministers taking part will be significant figures and politicians in their countries, but so often it turns out to be a junior minister or an assistant. There was a small frisson of excitement when a rumour ran around that Donald Trump would be in New York but of course this turned out to be false news!
The other disappointment for first time attendees is that although described on the order of work as an interactive session this turns out to be a series of pre-prepared statements from a selection of Member States describing how wonderful the work their Government has been and what great progress they have made in enriching the lives of women and girls.
One minister broke this pattern with a very emotional statement made from the heart. During the session ‘Good practices in the empowerment of rural women and girls through access to education, infrastructure and technology, food security and nutrition,” the Minister for Promotion of Women, Children and the Family, Mrs Troare Oumou Toure outlined the tragic decline in her country, Mali.
She described how the country was living through a security crisis with violent forms of terrorism destroying everything. Mrs Oumou Toure related how in the past Mali had all the positive progress in education, health and other areas which her African sisters had outlined for their countries but now progress is very slow. The country is weakened by drugs and subject to the impact of climate change she said. She called on the international community to do everything they could to support the Government in their attempts to turn this situation around.
This was a brave statement amongst the many country statements proclaiming how good they had been at achieving so much for women and girls and such a stark contrast to their upbeat optimism. Was anyone else listening to her appeal?
Another day of excitement. After an early breakfast at the hotel, I rushed to the CCUN for the CSW62 orientation where we were briefed on the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and the Millenium Development Goals (MDGs) of the United Nations. Like me, most of the audience were first time participants at CSW.
I then took a cab and braving the New York traffic just made it on time to the next event at 4 W 43rd St where a very different experience awaited me. When I arrived, the Blue Room was getting filled with eager participants. The topic was a very challenging one – ‘Internet Generation as Pioneer: Rural Women’s Opportunities and Challenges.’ The speakers were from Taiwan, Canada, Nigeria and France. What we heard were huge eye openers. While Taiwan was using the Internet as a tool in rural areas to bridge the gap between rural and urban, the speaker from Canada regretfully said that even though Canada is a developed country, internet services had either not reached the rural areas or they were unaffordable. She was shocked when she saw advertisements in New York where cell phones and data plans were available for just $29 a month. She emphasised that in a digital economy, cell phones are important specially for those living at risk, but issues that rural women face are hidden and invisible making it difficult to advocate for them.
We had a lot of lessons to learn through the story of a rural Taiwanese girl named Shen-Xing-Ling. Before the internet age, she and her family had to be at the morning market at 4 am, then it was the evening market which continued till night. Most of her sleep was in the truck that carried the agriculture products. But when she had access to the internet, she started selling crops through email and was thrilled that buyers for her ‘pomelos’ were just a click away.
The Kenya speaker described our current age as Generation Z. The generation of Facebook, Twitter, Google and other social media fixations for the youth. It is an age when a mother has to convince her child that ‘I didn’t download you. I gave birth to you.’ The representative from Nigeria spoke on the ‘Kids of the Past versus the Internet Generation.’ Today digital technology dominates their lives. The final speaker was from France who felt that the internet was a curse as it has become a medium for human trafficking. She had some spine chilling facts to share about internet advertisements that sell a girl child.
The session gave me heaps of insights into the different challenges faced by different countries in using the Internet.
We barely finished the session and then rushed to get a seat at our very own Soroptimist International event in the Aqua Room at 4 W 43rd St. It was such a delight to see fellow Soroptimists from all over the world with their colourful sashes and shining badges. The theme was ‘Solutions to address the multi-layered issues faced by rural women.’ SIWP, SIGBI, SIE, SIA gave the audience valuable insights into the challenges faced by rural women and their interventions to solve them.
A day well spent in the life of a blogger. There is much to learn, much to do and interactions such as these help pave the way.
Well we finally got in – Theresa Lyford, President SISWP, Margaret Clark SIGBI APD Advocacy and myself. Getting tickets to be admitted was like mining for gold! Then security was fiercesome to get through!
The Chair for CSW62 was announced formally Ambassador to Republic of Ireland Her Excellency Geraldine Byrne Nasson followed by the other Commission positions.
Although so many people fight to get into the Opening Session as it is seen as significant, most of the business is not contentious since it is mainly covering the formalities of the governance of the work for the next two weeks. One of the most important appointments after the Chair is that of facilitator for the negotiations on the Agreed Conclusions. As with most of this work for this session, agreements have been reached in advance and the confirmations are formalities, including the agenda and rules for the way in which the Commission will conduct its business.
Many important people including the new Chair, the UN Secretary General and the Executive Director of UN Women, Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, made opening statements in support of the work of the Commission. The session delivered many memorable quotes from all the speakers, including: “We need agreed conclusions and agreements – had enough rhetoric”, “The time is opportune, we will no longer take second place”, “The central question is power – it needs to be given not taken” and “We know the meaning of women’s rights – we just need them”. There were dozens of contributions from around the globe, all asserting their commitment to the progress of women and to the achievement of SDG #5. Let’s just see if quote #1 above can be achieved!
At 6.00 PM after a quick refresh many of the delegates from the four Soroptimist Federations met up for an informal Soroptimist International (SI) reception at the Ali Baba restaurant on 2nd Avenue.
Over a drink, or two, delegates networked, refreshed acquaintances and made new friends.
President Marriet thanked everyone for attending CSW and praised the work of the SI team and UN reps.
She told those present that after highlighting the water situation in Cape Town, SI had been asked to prepare a full statement to the UN lead by Linda Witong.
A short presentation was given explaining the Soroptimist lab which should go live in October 2018. It will be experts ” talking ” to one another, but will not be a database. More about this later in the week when we have had chance to talk with the promoters.
After a little more networking and a few delicious turkish nibbles the party started to break at 7.30.
Many still coming to terms with time zone differences.
A camaraderie of souls, the great sisterhood of UN Women got together on Consultation Day to launch the Commission on the Status of Women (CSW 62). What a wonderful privilege it was to be a part of this great experience. I was representing Soroptimist International of Great Britain and Ireland. Around 4000 UN Women from Nations across continents congregated at the TriBeCa Institute of Performing Arts. With one common goal in mind ‘Achieving Gender Equality and empowering rural girls and women’. The whole atmosphere was fraught with emotion.
‘Leave no one behind’ was the resounding theme as speakers talked about encouraging, supporting and lifting women up as they climb the ladder. The morning had a conversation session between Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuko, Under-Secretary-General of the United Nations and H.E. Ms Geraldine Byrne Nason, Bureau Chair of the Commission on the Status of Women. Ngcuko emphasised that ‘encouragement was the greatest gift one could give to women’ and it was up to us to correct the trends that were going the wrong way. She said that farm workers who feed us go hungry and are invisible. There should be labour laws for domestic workers and those who work in agriculture. We should find answers for the policy failures in government. Byrne Nason stressed on the co-operation and power of NGO’s to bring about awareness among rural women about the legal system and their land rights.
The post lunch session was on using media and information and communication technologies to advance and empower women and girls. The young speakers spoke eloquently on using dialogues and conversations for bringing out change. Through the medium of documentary films they showed the audience how storytelling influences change and how media can be an effective tool to amplify their stories.
This wave of action has given me an enormous lift. Yes, there are barriers and there will be hurdles; but there is also a silver lining for the young girls and women of the world, because the UN Women will continue to work for a better tomorrow for them.
It was an early start to head across town to the Manhattan Performing Arts Centre for the first big event of CSW. The Consultation Day has taken many forms over the years, 2018 was mainly panel discussions and presentations.
After a welcome and introduction by Rosalee Keech & Jackie Witherspoon the session started with a colouful display of dancing from Mager Indigenous Youth dancers from Nepal.
The first panel session was moderated by Lara Setrakian of News Deeply and Under Secretary General Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka and H.E. Ambassador Geraldine Byrne Nason outlined their hopes for the forthcoming sessions and expectations on the outcome documents.
The 2018 woman of distinction was announced as Sizani Ngubane who founded the Rural Women’s Movement South Africa. She gave an exceptional account of the abuse, inequality and struggles of the rural women as well as the successes they had achieved.
This was followed by a panel of women from various countries and all working in slightly different themes but all with rural women. Issues covered included violence against women, climate, land and property rights and migrant farm workers.
After lunch four women in four countries through four different media told their stories.
This was followed by Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women CEDAW awards to two American Mayors, one posthumously to Mayor Lee who was the inspiration of the first US CEDAW ordinance.
The session closed with the Lavender Light Gospel Chorus.
A lot to take in and a lot to think about…..and that was day 1.
Excitement is rising as we near the start of the Commission on the Status of Women (CSW) 62. Our hopes and dreams of a better future ‘Leaving no one behind’ fire our ambitions to change the world.
CSW62 runs from 12 March to 23 March 2018 in New York where the opportunity to make a difference thrives.
Soroptimist International will present at CSW on the multilayered problems faced by rural women and will collate information from all the Federations on how we are tackling the problem and successful outcomes. Diversity Unites! Together we make a difference.
As the late Jo Cox MP said,”There is more unites us than divides us”.
Let’s do it and change the world.
Find out more on the CSW62 website.