Category Archives: Local Organizations

Recent events: Beijing Plus 20 and Women Make Movies Film Festival at Futures Without Violence

A little over a week ago I sat in on two days’ worth of empowerment activities beginning with Women’s Intercultural Network’s annual meeting on Saturday and a film festival appearance hosted by Futures Without Violence and Women Make Movies.

2015 marks the 20 year anniversary of the Beijing Platform for Action, an agenda created at the United Nations 4th World Conference on Women that took place in Beijing in 1995. As a defining framework for change, the Platform for Action made comprehensive commitments under 12 critical areas of concern. Even 20 years later, it remains a powerful source of guidance and inspiration. Our last session at UN headquarters centered around discussing Beijing Plus 20 to benchmark progress the BPFA has made for women and girls globally under the 12 critical areas of concern and how far we still have left to go to improve existing conditions.

On day one of the meetings I spoke on a panel about the CEDAW ordnance and the Cities for CEDAW campaign to encourage mayors from around the country to adopt the treaty into practice. CEDAW, adopted in 1979 by the UN General Assembly, is often described as an international bill of rights for women. Consisting of a preamble and 30 articles, it defines what constitutes discrimination against women and sets up an agenda for national action to end such discrimination.

The following day I had the honor of being a featured speaker at the Women Make Movies film festival about 50 Women, Book One and the upcoming Book Two (November 2015) and the importance of first – person narrative in the media.

Below are some photos, but you can see the full albums here:
Day One – Beijing Plus 20 and CEDAW
Day Two – Women Make Movies Film Festival

Panel presentation at Futures Without Violence

Speaking on a panel about CEDAW with Executive Director of Futures Without Violence Esta Soler and Tara Yarlagadda from The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights

Speaking on a panel about CEDAW with Executive Director of Futures Without Violence Esta Soler and Tara Yarlagadda from The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights

Speaking on a panel about CEDAW with Executive Director of Futures Without Violence Esta Soler and Tara Yarlagadda from The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights

Speaking on a panel about CEDAW with Executive Director of Futures Without Violence Esta Soler and Tara Yarlagadda from The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights. Elmy Bermejo from U.S. Department of Labor makes introductions

Speaking on a panel about CEDAW with Executive Director of Futures Without Violence Esta Soler and Tara Yarlagadda from The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights. Elmy Bermejo from U.S. Department of Labor makes introductions

Speaking at Women Make Movies film festival

Speaking at Women Make Movies film festival

Women Make Movies film festival

Women Make Movies film festival

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Book Passage – July 18 2015

Below is a video of our recent book reading at Book Passage in Corte Madera, CA. Pauline and Nwe spoke about their individual experiences and answered questions to the audience.

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Books Inc. Book Club

With enthusiasm 50 Women, Book One was adopted into a young readers book club at Books Inc. Contributor Pauline and I were invited to attend one of the meetings where she spoke about her contribution to the book and the hardships she endured growing up in Cameroon.



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What am I doing at the United Nations?


In 2012 (UNCSW56) and 2013 (UNCSW57), I attended the annual United Nations Commission on the Status of Women meeting. Next week, I am heading back for my third trip to UNCSW 58.  Over the years, I’ve been consistently asked to explain what I do there. So here goes…

I jumped on board with the non-governmental organization (NGO) Women’s Intercultural Network 3 years ago after finishing all the interviews for 50 Women. So many world events and major issues facing women emerged in the stories and I was moved. I didn’t want to just publish narratives anymore- I wanted to take a seat at the table and fight to get the women most often overlooked and unheard at that same table with me. Undoubtedly, it’s impactful to produce narratives, but what could I do about the issues arising at their core?

The question then became: How do I merge policy and diplomacy with the grassroots?

Truth be told – I hate politics. Despise them. Frankly, I think political campaigns are a disgusting waste of money and only result in slanderous garbage. The millions that Obama and Romney spent on their political campaigns last election makes me cringe. Yet, like politics or not, they are a fact of life and a central force dictating law, order, customs, ways of life, and most of all- economics.

I’ve always been more of a “grassroots” girl. I like operating at the community level; I like town hall style meetings, forums and working one on one with people.  My analogy of the global community is a round table where everyone speaks to one another openly and freely while eating dinner together.

The United Nations is a bit of that. Since we can’t include the ENTIRE global community at that table (that would be a rather large table, potentially reaching the planet Saturn) each member state sends a representative to take a seat. Some argue that those representatives are unfairly chosen and eat too much of the food. Others argue that the dinner party attendees who contribute more to the UN budget get dessert when others seated around them don’t.

So what is my group’s piece of the pie and where is our seat at this dinner party?

Read on…

What is the Commission on the Status of Women (CSW) and NGO CSW?
Every year the United Nations Commission on the Status of Women meets for 10 working days in order to review the global progress of women’s rights. During that time, NGOs consultative to the United Nations Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) meet in parallel to the commission to present research, field work, documentation, and panels of experts to brief other NGO attendees on what is happening on the ground in UN member states. The Commission on the Status of Women is a functional commission of ECOSOC.

The NGO I am representing as a member of the Board of Directors is Women’s Intercultural Network. Our seat at the dinner party table is in the ECOSOC section, presenting at NGOCSW.  Though we are one of hundreds of NGOs, our mission is strong and our voices loud.

The priority theme of this year’s conference will explore the barriers to implementation of the United Nations millennium development goals for women and girls.

A brief overview of the UN
The objectives of the United Nations include maintaining international peace and security, promoting human rights, fostering social and economic development, protecting the environment, and providing humanitarian aid in cases of famine, natural disaster, and armed conflict.

Its role since its creation in 1945 has expanded in tandem with global climate and political changes. It adopted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in 1948 and CEDAW in 1979.  After the Cold War between the United States and USSR ended, the UN took on major military and peacekeeping missions in Kuwait, Namibia, Cambodia, Bosnia, Rwanda, Somalia, Sudan, and the Democratic Republic of Congo with varying and arguable degrees of success.

There are 5 principal organs represented in the chart below. Our NGO, Women’s Intercultural Network is consultative to the Economic and Social Council, which also houses the Commission on the Status of Women. This is visible in the diagram below. Click on it for the PDF version. These diagrams reveal which of the five principal bodies each UN entity is classified under.


Criticism and Funding
There exists much criticism about the United Nations’ outreach, operations and involvement on the world stage.

Scholar Jacques Fomerand believes the most enduring divide in views of the UN is “the North-South split” between richer Northern nations and developing Southern nations. Southern nations tend to favor a more empowered UN with a stronger General Assembly, allowing them a greater voice in world affairs, while Northern nations prefer an economically laissez-faire UN that focuses on transnational threats such as terrorism.

The World Bank and International Monetary Fund are also a critic’s dream come true as they are often regarded as debt enslavement agencies, allegedly causing high debt in developing countries to leading nations. Both are multinational lenders in the global financial system. Although the loans are supposedly intended to help the countries, they cause them to take on debt and pay interest remaining under the condition of the UN institutions, run by the bigger UN budget contributing players. Journalist Sebastian Mallaby discusses these criticisms in depth in his interview here.

The United Nations is financed by assessed by voluntary contributions from its member states. Currently the United States is the highest contributor – funding 22 percent of the overall budget. This can be a double-edged sword. As it is often touted, the highest budget contributor is generally the one with the most power and this can cast a shadow of radical self-interest over the mission-at- large of the organization.


Two faces of the UN: the symbiosis of Policy and Grassroots

The UN consists of Policymakers and NGOs. One part can’t function without the other. The NGOs are on the ground, on the front lines of the action to report back to the policymakers the critical needs in each member state.

Watch a video interview I did last year to see why the two are synonymous.

The CEDAW Ordnance and the United States
This is perhaps the single most important subject addressed every year at the United Nations CSW meetings. Pay close attention to this topic, as it if first and foremost on the agenda:

Adopted by the United Nations General Assembly on December 18, 1979, the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) is an international human rights treaty that focuses on women’s rights and women’s issues worldwide. Developed by the UN Commission on the Status of Women, the Convention addresses the advancement of women, describes the meaning of equality and sets forth guidelines on how to achieve it.

The Convention focuses on three key areas:

  • civil rights and the legal status of women
  • reproductive rights
  • cultural factors influencing gender relations

It is not only an international bill of rights for women but also an agenda of action. Countries (UN member states) that ratify CEDAW agree to take concrete steps to improve the status of women and end discrimination and violence against women. As evidence of these ongoing efforts, every four years each nation must submit a report to the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women. Composed of 23 experts nominated and elected by the ratifying nations, the Committee’s members are regarded as individuals of high moral standing and knowledge in the field of women’s rights. CEDAW annually reviews these reports and recommends areas requiring further action and ways to further eliminate discrimination against women. It is an important international measure of accountability.

For example, the Convention requires ratifying nations to modify social and cultural patterns to eliminate gender prejudices and bias; revise textbooks, school programs and teaching methods to remove gender stereotypes within the educational system; and address modes of behavior and thought which define the public realm as a man’s world and the home as a woman’s, thereby affirming that both genders have equal responsibilities in family life and equal rights regarding education and employment.

Interestingly enough, the United States is the only industrialized nation that refuses to ratify CEDAW. Of the 194 U.N. member nations, 187 countries have ratified it. The United States is among seven countries that have not — along with the Pacific island nations of Tonga and Palua; Iran, Somalia, South Sudan and Sudan.

But why, if CEDAW has been backed by three presidents?

President Jimmy Carter signed the treaty guaranteeing gender equity within its first year. In addition to Carter, two other presidents have attempted to push forward CEDAW. Urged by the Clinton administration in 1994, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee held hearings on CEDAW and recommended it be ratified. Yet Senator Jesse Helms, a leading conservative and longtime CEDAW opponent, prevented a vote in the Senate.

In the early years of his administration, President George W. Bush looked favorably on ratification of CEDAW but later changed his position. In 2002, although the Senate Foreign Relations Committee voted 12-7 to approve the treaty, it was never sent to the full Senate for advice and consent to ratification. But the Senate has never ratified CEDAW, and without ratification, the U.S. is not bound by its provisions.


Conservatives and CEDAW
The main opposition of ratification of CEDAW comes from conservative groups and the religious right who are concerned that CEDAW will challenge the laws and culture of the U.S.

In arguments against CEDAW, many say it will negate family law and undermine traditional family values by redefining the family, force the U.S. to pay men and women the same for “work of equal value” thus going against our free-market system, ensure access to abortion services and contraception, legalize prostitution and undermine the sovereignty of the U.S.

Therefore, the U.S. is the only democracy that has not ratified CEDAW. It remains in the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations. The Senate has held hearings on CEDAW five times in the past 25 years but failed each time to bring the treaty to a vote on the floor.

CEDAW has empowered civil society organizations to demand that governments respect women’s human rights and to adopt policies to limit sex trafficking, domestic violence, child marriage and discrimination in the workplace.

Just last year I conducted an interview with an NGO president from Georgia who informed me that bride kidnapping was drastically reduced in Georgia due to an adoption of a new law and accountability by law enforcement to prosecute perpetrators and imprison them for up to eight years. I was able to truly see how far and wide the UN’s reach can go to protect women who otherwise would not be protected or historically have not been protected.

CEDAW is an issue each and every year, with no sign of changing. This year, we are bringing together the mayors of several U.S. cities in our Cities for CEDAW initiative. Since San Francisco was the first municipality in the United States to ratify CEDAW, we are hoping convincing a few more will help twist the arm of our senate counterparts. If cities are adopting CEDAW, why not the nation?

In conclusion, I hope this explains my role at the UN along with Women’s Intercultural Network. As a I prepare in the next two months to welcome the first 50 Women book into the world (so much hard work for the last year!), I want to continue to share my attempts at wielding positive change. A large part of my responsibility for being able to attend the UN meetings, I believe, is to bridge the outside world with its efforts. Only thoroughly informed and collectively can we succeed with its initiatives. Divided or ignorant, we fail.


Related links:

–        Lenka Belkova and I authored this newly released UNCSW 58 conference document regarding the implementation of Millennium Development Goals 3 and 5 on behalf of Women’s Intercultural Network.

–        Read my debriefings from UNCSW56 (2012) and UNCSW57 (2013)

–        Read the agreed upon conclusions from UNCSW57

–        Watch my interview with A Band of Wives about UNCSW 57



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boona Che Presents…

No, the title of this post is not a capitalization error. It is how boona prefers to spell her name.

Although it’s been two years since I interviewed her, I was able to catch up and get some updates on boona’s latest projects now that 50 Women is in editorial production.

boona is a well-respected leader in the social justice movement in Berkeley, California for her work as a homeless advocate for over 40 years. After serving as the Executive Director of BOSS (Building Opportunities for Self- Sufficiency) since 1978, boona retired in 2013 and started boonaChe Presents, a video series where she interviews key figures in the social justice movement.

Read about boona’s retirement in the San Francisco Chronicle and Inside Bay Area.

Check out one of the episodes on boonaChePresents

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WIN Policy Paper UNCSW 57: Violence against Women

My return to the United Nations for the 57th annual session of the United Nations Comission on the Status of Women meeting is fastly approaching in March 2013. I recently joined the Board of Directors of San Francisco based UN NGO Women’s Intercultural Network and contributed to the draft of my first UN Policy Paper. The theme of UNCSW 57  is the elimination and prevention of all forms of violence against women. After the recent Taliban shooting of 14-year-old  Malala Yousafzai, gender based violence is a strongly debated topic and, quite frankly, should be!

Here is the policy paper available for reading prepared for the UNCSW 57 session:

               Women’s Intercultural Network (WIN)


        UNCSW 57: Violence against Women

 Elimination and Prevention of All Forms of Violence Against Women and Girls: 

 The Women’s Intercultural Network (WIN), along with our partners in Uganda, Afghanistan, the Philippines, US Women Connect and the million women network in California applaud the 57th Session of the Commission on the Status of Women (CSW) and States for giving us an opportunity to address this on-going critical concern. This joint statement is just the tip of an iceberg in terms of combating international violence against women.

Legislators, policymakers and the general public are experiencing an increased awareness and understanding of the horrors faced by women throughout the world due to physical and sexual violence. Through media and activism, people in all walks of life have come to understand the connection between rape, sexual slavery, forced prostitution, domestic abuse and the effects of militarism on women. This understanding is being used to create new and more effective policies and legislation. Below is an example of the tremendous strides recently taken by the United Nations and governments around the world. However, we need further action as violence against women is still readily apparent and a cultural norm in every country around the world. Studies show that one in three women will be beaten, coerced into sex, or abused in their lifetime. Urgent and continued action is needed to break the barriers of violence.


In 1993, the U.N. General Assembly adopted the non-binding Declaration on the Elimination of Violence Against Women (DEVAW). The Declaration, which was supported by the U.S. government, describes VAW as “any act of gender-based violence that results in, or is likely to result in, physical, sexual, or psychological harm or suffering to women, including threats of such acts, coercion or arbitrary deprivation

of liberty, whether occurring in public or private life.” The DEVAW definition of VAW is broad, encompassing both physical and psychological harm. It is used in this report because it is one of the most inclusive and widely agreed to international definitions. In some contexts, VAW may be used synonymously with “gender-based violence” (GBV), which describes violence perpetrated against an individual, regardless of sex, because of his or her gender.

VAW occurs in all geographic regions, countries, cultures, and economic classes. Many experts view VAW as a symptom of the historically unequal power relationship between men and women, and argue that over time this imbalance has led to pervasive cultural stereotypes and attitudes that perpetuate a cycle of violence. Though the specific causes of VAW vary on a case-by-case basis, some researchers have identified community and individual risk factors that may increase rates of violence against women. Community factors can include cultural norms that support male superiority, high crime levels, poor economic conditions, and a lack of political and legal protection from governments. Individual factors that may lead to a high risk of becoming a victim of VAW include living in poverty and a previous history of abuse. There are many different types of violence against women. Honor killings, for example, occur when women are stoned, burned, or beaten to death, often by their own family members, in order to preserve the family honor. The practice is most common in Middle Eastern and South Asian countries, though it has been reported in other parts of the world, such as Latin America and Africa. Dowry-related violence, where victims might be attacked or killed by in-laws for not bringing a large enough dowry to the marriage, is also prevalent in South Asian countries such as Pakistan, India, and Bangladesh. Female genital cutting (FGC), which has also been referred to as female genital mutilation (FGM) or female circumcision, is common in some African and Middle Eastern countries. The World Health Organization estimates that between 100 and 140 million women and girls have undergone a form of the procedure, and that about 3 million girls are at risk each year. Some consider child and adolescent marriage, which is particularly prevalent in parts of the Middle East and Africa, to be a form of violence against women. In such cases, girls as young as 10 and 12 years old may be married to older men, often with the approval of their parents. Some research indicates that these child brides may face a greater risk of violence.


 The following are key changes that must occur in order to eliminate all forms of violence against women and to cultivate a legal environment that will allow for more extensive prosecution of offenders.The ratification of CEDAW is effective on the global, national and local scales. It must be adopted into law on the national, state and county level in any jurisdiction. In total more than 180 nations have ratified CEDAW since it began in 1979; however, the United States is not one of them. The U.S. joins Iran, Somalia, Sudan, Palau and Tonga in denying responsibility for violations of women’s human rights. It’s troubling that the U.S. is unwilling to be held accountable to basic standards that all but six of the world’s countries have agreed to. The CEDAW Committee guarantees an international dialogue amongst State parties on how to protect women’s rights. As grim as it sounds, statistical evidence such as fewer femicides, fewer cases of FGM and more convictions for rape cases are tangible goals for governments to strive for. Monitoring these aspects of women’s lives in that country guarantees a level of protection for them. With this comes an understanding that women are entitled to lives free of discrimination, an achievable goal that governments are responsible for providing. The international nature of the United Nations provides an objective commentator to mandate this. Arguments against CEDAW, therefore, are really arguments against women’s rights.

Women’s Intercultural Network strongly recommends not only the adaptation of CEDAW, but also strong legal and adequate security protection for women who are victims and/or survivors of violence. It is essential and must be supported fully and initiated through the actions of lawmakers as well as legal policy and programs, including police protective programs in locations that are local and regional. Giving women and girls an open forum in which to speak and be heard in the public is essential to the process of creating sustainable solutions to stop violence against women both locally and globally. Women who report and/or speak about personal violence as victims and/or survivors shall not be discriminated against based on their age, lack of affluence, disability or limited education. They shall also not be discriminated against based on being indigenous, immigrant, tribal, defined by caste or sexual identity as a LGBTI. WIN encourages full partnerships between NGOs, citizens and governing bodies to prevent violence against women.

Marilyn Fowler, Executive Director of Women’s Intercultural Network, Elahe Amani, Chair Global Circles, Women’s Intercultural Network and Director California State University Fullerton, Jessica Buchleitner, Sec. WIN Board of Directors/ 50 Women Project, Lys Anzia, Executive Editor Women News Network.

WIN Policy Paper UNCSW 57: Violence against Women PDF

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Nothing but the Truth- the ROARtastic masterpiece!

Tomorrow is the launch for Nothing but the Truth So Help Me God: 51 Women Reveal the Power of Positive Female Connection, a book anthology of 51 Women produced by the social network, A Band of Wives.

ABOW was established as a private place for all women (married, single and everything in-between) to connect and flex their voices. It has turned into a multicultural and multigenerational woman-promoting organization with over 4,000 members since its initial launch in 2009. Founder Christine Bronstein, created the network based upon her belief that if every woman felt that their voice mattered, and that they were connected and supported, the world would change dramatically.

My essay entitled “Help a Sister Out!” is included in this edition, covering the topic of global women’s rights and economic development.

Without any political or religious agenda, the book promotes the power of positive connections between women and illustrates how those bonds can transform our world. With research confirming the human need to have meaningful relationships in our lives, it is time to look beyond the abundance of negative stereotypes in the media and shine a light on the powerful, positive aspects of female connection.

Nothing but the Truth So Help Me God: 51 Women Reveal the Power of Positive Female Connection is the first book in a compelling forthcoming series bringing together essays, poetry, and artwork focused on themes within the self-help and personal improvement genre. This anthology provides insight through essays, poetry, and artwork into the life-changing effects of meaningful connections between women and touches on important topics such as parenting, body image, rape, racism and self-love. It also empowers women by providing a platform for them to share their stories of the complex and vital aspects of female relationships

The authors and artists are women from around the globe, varied racial and ethnic groups, socioeconomic backgrounds, and ages.

I have practically been jumping through hoops of fire in the last several months in attempt to launch “50 Women” for publication, so the bestseller success of this title is certainly a great energetic boost to my efforts! In this book I discuss the conception of “50 Women” and important situations concerning certain women I have met in the process of developing the book project over the past few years. The publishing process has had its challenges, but I have always been one to turn storms into sunshine. I am ready for the future of this project I have dedicated the past 3.5 years of my life to and nothing could usher in the “second era” of its existence better than the launch of this powerful masterpiece.

The anthology is endorsed by Eve Ensler, Peter Coyote, Rita Henley Jensen, Michael Krasny and Tiffany Shalin.

A shout out to all my fellow contributors who are women working towards a better world in all their unique ways everyday! A big, loud, unapologetic  ROAR!

Amie Penwell
Ana Hays
Andrea Drugay
Aspen Baker
Caitlin McCaffrey
Carol Pott
Chieko Murasugi
Christine Arylo
Christine Bronstein
Colleen Joyce
Cristina Robinson
Dana King
Deborah Santana
Diane Tober, Ph.D.
Dominique Browning
Eileen Chao
Hyla Molander
Janine Kovac
Jen Siraganian
Jessica Buchleitner
Joanie Wynn
Joy Nordenstrom
Joyce Maynard
Judy Zimola
Kim Shannon
Kimberly Pinkson
Kristin Gerbert
Laura Fenamore
Leila Radan
Liesl Gerntholtz
Lenore Perry
Lissa Rankin
Lone Morch
Margaret Kathrein
Marie Drake
Medea Bern
Mickey Nelson
Mimi Towle
Monica Michelle
Nancy Calef
Rebecca Lubin
Sarah Manyika
Shasta Nelson
Susan Noyes
Susan Schneider
Tamara Holland
Tracy McGhee
Vicki Nelson
Victoria Loren Miller
Violet Blue
Yvonne Latty

Want to continue to celebrate in the ROAR! ?  Join A Band of Wives today!  (Only if you are a woman)

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