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Debrief: United Nations 59th session of the Commission on the Status of Women (ECOSOC commission)

The fifty-ninth session of the Commission on the Status of Women took place at United Nations Headquarters in New York from 9 to 20 March 2015. Representatives of Member States , UN entities, and ECOSOC-accredited non-governmental organizations (NGOs)  from all regions of the world attended the session.

The main focus of the session was on the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action, including current challenges that affect its implementation and the achievement of gender equality and the empowerment of women. The Commission undertook a review of progress made in the implementation of the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action, 20 years after its adoption at the Fourth World Conference on Women in 1995. The review (Beijing+20) also included the outcomes of the 23rd special session of the General Assembly, the first five-year assessment conducted after the adoption of the Platform for Action, which highlighted further actions and initiatives. The session also addressed opportunities for achieving gender equality and the empowerment of women in the post-2015 development agenda. See the Women’s Intercultural Network Beijing Plus 20 page.

During the opening ceremony in General Assembly, UNDP Administrator Helen Clark remarked of the need for civil society to be more included in the activity of the Commission on the Status of Women. It has been observed over the last four years the growing number of NGOs attending the annual Commission meeting. This year was no exception as it boasted an attendance of around 9,000 NGO delegates, the most in history of the Commission session.

This debrief is divided into four parts that will include the Commission reports from the major regions concerning the 20 year review of the Beijing Platform for Action (BPFA), the NGO and civil society progress, Women’s Intercultural Network’s NGO panels and my takeaways from the conference. To read Women’s Intercultural Nertwork’s official NGO statement (prepared by Lenka Belkova and Jessica Buchleitner) click here.


Jessica Buchleitner at United Nations CSW 59, ECOSOC chamber


Jessica Buchleitner and Nwe Oo at opening morning of United Nations CSW 59


Nwe Oo, WIN associate Lenka Belkova and WIN Board Secretary Jessica Buchleitner

I. Reports from major regions and member states on the progress related to the Beijing Platform for Action (BPFA) 20 year review

Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) session on Beijing Plus 20


ECOSOC Chamber during CSW debrief

 Women’s Intercultural Network is a Non-Governmental Organization Consultative to the UN ECOSOC and accredits delegates to the UN CSW.  WIN delegates attend panels and at the NGO CSW Forum, UN Side Events and UN CSW sessions. Here are some major takeaways from their conclusions:

– No country has achieved gender equality to date.
– Progress has been far to slow towards implementation of the Beijing Platform for Action marked by aggression and regression within member states.
– On a positive note, many discrimination laws have been passed in member states that forward the rights of women and girls.
– Since 1990, maternal mortality rates worldwide have decreased by 45 percent.
– Since the 4th world conference in women in Beijing in 1995, a doubling of representation in national parliaments from 11 percent in 1995 to 22 percent today ensues. This is a marked increase in women taking party in the political process.
– A marked increase worldwide of women participating in the labor force since 1995 has also been revealed.

Regional Review of the Beijing Platform for Action (BPFA) by major UN regions


Trusteeship Council Chamber during the 5 regions report on BPFA

The Commission on the Status of Women conducted a regional review of BPFA progress on March 11 in the Trusteeship Council chamber with the 5 regional heads. Here is a summary of key points taken from each region:

1. Executive Secretary of ESCWA (Arab states region) reported:
– Much progress has been made to implement Beijing Plus 20 in the middle eastern nations, though it is difficult to attain an accurate picture of all the Arab states due to the ongoing conflict in the region.
– Gaza is in conflict and continued occupation of Palestine and this has made implementation of BPFA difficult in the region.
– Arab states have since adopted most major UN women’s treaties and 20 of the 22 countries have ratified CEDAW.
– The new Tunisian constitution is unique and new national laws were made in terms of fair wages.
– Since 1995, 87 percent of girls are enrolled in primary school.
– Since 1995, the arab nations have observed a 1/3 decrease in infant mortality rates.

2. Executive Secretary of UNESCAP (Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific) reported:
– 70 percent of women and girls in this region face violence because of a male partner.
– This region has the second lowest proportion of female parliamentary members.
– Human trafficking remains at an all-time high in several of the members states of this region and is a growing problem in others.

3. Executive Secretary for ECE (European Union) reported:
– Hosted regional review conference in November that revealed strong progress of the BPFA in European Union states.
– Through all EU states, legislation to forward the rights of women and girls has been improved throughout.
– Violence against women is criminalized in all states, with legal penalties.
– Education of women and girls is pervasive and boasts a high rate of equality.
– A further drop in maternal mortality rates was observed.
– A rise in eating disorders has been reported, especially among young women.
– Half of women in the EU states still experience sexual harassment and sexual violence before the age of 15.
– An increase of young women’s’ and women’s e4mployement continues.
– 25 percent of the parliament members are women yet most news stories focus on women.
– There is a large gap in financial pensions for women, especially aging women.
– The EU states would like more data studies to be conducted per the BPFA.

4. Executive Secretary of ECA (Economic Commission of Africa) reported:
– It was reported that Africa region has made significant progress in regard to the BPFA, contrary to popular belief.
– Enrollment of girls in primary school has achieved targets in the entire continent, but falls short in terms of secondary school.
– Africa had a low base in all indices and from that marking point most countries have done well by way of improvement, but still have a long way to go.
– There are currently 3 heads of states in the member states that are women and a number of new female ministers for foreign affairs.
– Africa is the best region in terms of performance in the entire world at the UN.
– There are concerns about the ongoing economic opportunities being made available to women and a strong transformative process.
– African Union proclaimed this will be the year to address outstanding BPFA issues.
– The African nations boast a 92 percent rate of compliance with BPFA.

5. Executive Secretary of ECLAC (Latin America) reported:
– There is a diverse situation for women in the Latin American nations currently of progress and violence.
– Rates of poverty for women have increased steadily since 1995, particularly in Colombia and Brazil.
– Much of the feminization of poverty is attributed to unpaid care work, a subject of the World Bank Economic Development task force.
– Governments are pushing for more reform to allow women more economic autonomy.

Recommendations by all major regional executives to drive further implementation of the BPFA:
– In the ESCWAR and ESCAP regions, women face drastic inability to give citizenship to their children.
– 30 percent of the ESCAR states are in a situation of armed conflict, where Security Council Resolution 1325 needs to be enacted.
– In ECE, all governments must continue to implement strategies to prosecute perpetrators of VAW.
– In ECE, pay equity action is in continued need and governments should create transparency tools. For example, in France, there are sanctions against companies who do not give equal pay.
– Gender sensitive budgeting is recommended in all regions.
– Governments must focus on changing the amount of unpaid care work that women are subjected to in the ECLAC region.
– ECA has a three pronged strategy for implementation of BPFA that involves the private sector, women’s rights and the social sector.
– All areas agree that more data on the progress of women is needed to pinpoint better reforms.

II. NGO progress with Beijing Platform for Action
The variety of NGO sessions we attended yielded information on several fronts, namely the subject of masculinity, land rights, labor force participation, violence and armed conflict and the subject of unpaid care work, a theme that has echoed into this year’s CSW 59 and widely discussed at CSW 58 last year. Several panel discussion stuck out to me, namely one about UN Security Council Resolution 1325 and the situation of women in Ukraine where we heard from the Ukrainian Minister of Foreign Affairs.

Several NGOs were conducting studies on masculinity and its perception in culture and contribution to violence against women. There has been significant progress in dispelling cultural myths surrounding what defines a “man”, by teaching men to respect women.

Perhaps one of the most influential panels of all was one that featured Zakia Hakki- the first female Iraqi Kurd judge who is also a key player in drafting the new constitution for Iran. She clicked through an extensive PowerPoint presentation of the effects of ISIS on the Middle East and the destruction it wields. Through a tearful speech she showed a photo of 10 children locked in a metal cage about to be burned alive and exclaimed that the Kurds and Iraqis just wanted their land back. You can view her presentation here (Zakia_presentation), but be forewarned that the images are very graphic.

Here are some photos from a few of the panels:


NGO reps from Chechnya discuss the situation on women and girls


Siobhan Neilland of Onemama.org discuss land rights in Uganda at the Africa Caucus


A young woman from Mozambique speaks about teen girls at the US Mission to the UN


A discussion on Masculinity – a study conducted by the Dutch government in Syria


With Zakia Hakki, first female judge from Iraqi Kurdistan and a key player in drafting the new constitution


Panel with Iraq ambassador on ISIS and the Yazidi Kurds


Two time Nobel Prize nominee Chai Ling of China discusses her work regarding the One Child policy

III. Women’s Intercultural Network NGO panels on Beijing plus 20 and Cities for CEDAW.
This was a big year for Women’s Intercultural Network at the UN. We are the lead civil society NGO spearheading the Cities for CEDAW campaign where we are out to get 100 mayors in cities around the United States to sign the CEDAW ordnance into practice. We hosted two panels, the first Women’s Intercultural Network (WIN) panel convened an interactive and solutions oriented forum with shared innovative strategies for implementing the Beijing Platform for action in the Post 2015 Development Agenda.  A stellar group of panelists spoke  that included Siobhan Nieland and Marie Murphy with those on the flyer below discussed how we can capitalize, organize and politicize our critical concens for gender equality for all women and girls. Joining WiN at the forum were women from NGO, governmental and the private sector.



The second panel was co-hosted with the San Francisco Department on the Status of Women where we featured Reverend Mary Sue Barnett from Louisville, Beth Denghan from North Carolina and Yolanda Mendoza from Salt Lake City – three women who are pushing the CEDAW ordnance in their municipalities. Mary Sue Barnett was able to get the mayor of Louisville to sign CEDAW into action!  I also presented the civil society portion of the campaign, emphasizing the important of government (SF Department on the Status of Women) and civil society to work together. Since the panels we have had an amass of interest in the campaign and thousands of sign ups. It was very successful. For more information about starting a campaign in your city please contact: citiesforcedaw@winaction.org and visit the website for more information.


Emily Murase, DOSW, Nancy Kirshner Rodriquez, Executive Director of CA Commisson on the Status of Women and Girls, Beth Denghan, Reverend Mary Sue Barnett, Yolanda Rodriguez and Jessica Buchleitner at United Nations CSW 59 on Cities for CEDAW panel


Cities for CEDAW panel at United Nations with Nancy Kirshner Rodriguez, Beth Denghan, Mary Sue Barnett, Yolanda Mendoza and Jessica Buchleitner


from right – Beth Denghan, Mary Sue Barnett, Yolanda Mendoza and Jessica Buchleitner on panel at United Nations


Jessica Buchleitner discuss 50 Women, Book One and the CEDAW ordnance at United Nations


Reception at the Roosevelt House
WIN also co-hosted a reception at the Roosevelt House in honor of the late Congresswoman Bella Abzug with her daughter Liz. A group of noted feminists and diplomats attended and gave testimonials about Bella and cheered at a film of Bella’s life and work who gave so much to the world. It was an honor to welcome diplomats to the event in honor of a woman who gave so much to the world. Liz Abzug currently heads the Bella Abzug Leadership Institute that works with young women and girls by  inspiring, mentoring and training them to become leaders in creating positive social and economic change. To see all the photos from the event here.


Marilyn Fowler, WIN with Jean Shinoda Bolen and Liz Abzug at the Roosevelt House, Bella Abzug Reception


WIN Board of Directors – Diana Goodrow and Jessica Buchleitner


WIN Board member Mary Ann Ellison, Uganda advisor to WIN and founder of Onemama.org Siobhan Neilland and Board member Diana Goodrow

Mari,Peggy,Claire copy

Marilyn Fowler, Peggy Kerry


IV. My takeaways
My personal takeaways this year are of course the big, glowing accomplishment of the fact that I had 50 Women, Book One with me in tow and was able to present it on Women News Network’s panel and the Cities for CEDAW panel with Women’s Intercultural Network, where I am a director on the Board of Directors. Not only did the copies I brought sell out, but they book also received extensive praise and interest for its inclusiveness of all the major world regions. After the glorious mix of the WTF roller coaster ride it was publishing the first book in the series, the UN was practically a paid vacation as getting to present it there in front of heads of states and seasoned diplomats was rather fabulous. I also feel it is giving many of the causes these women represent the much needed attention. I attended the conference alongside contributors Nwe Oo, Jane Anyango and Book Two contributor Siobhan Neilland. It was an honor to share the stage with them.

Below are some photos of its debut!


With contributor New Oo at the United Nations opening day of CSW 59


Speaking on WNN panel at UN about the experience of compiling it


Jessica Buchleitner with 50 Women, Book One


In General Assembly room with 50 Women, Book One





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From the embassy window

Dana Davies Coffin with father Rodger Davies, US Ambassador to Cyprus during the 1974 Coup d'etat

I have never met Rodger Paul Davies.

He left this world years before I was even a wrinkle of imagination. The shades over his window at the US Embassy in Cyprus were drawn that day, and the sunlight sparsely peeked through the cracks in them.

 In the refrigerator were small cocktail meatballs and other hors d’oeuvres left over from nearly a week earlier when he was sworn in as the US Ambassador to Cyprus. The embassy was two converted apartment buildings and across the street was a building called “the Skeleton” hollow and drafty; a looming shadow in the distance.

 Inside sat an EOKA B sniper, rifle in hand, aiming for a window in the corner of the building believed to be the ambassador’s office. Yes, the window with the shades drawn.

 Inside the embassy, Rodger Paul Davies was frustrated because bullets kept ricocheting off the walls. He was in the hallway, not in the bathroom or his bedroom which were safe areas. Even though he knew he should not go into his office, he went anyway to call the President of Cyprus for more protection.  He noticed the drawn window shades, as he picked up the phone. Moments later he exited this world as the sniper’s bullet entered his heart.

 His daughter Dana Davies enrolled at the American University in Beirut in order to prolong her stay in the Middle East. Afterall, her duties as a hostess to her father were interrupted by the Coup d’etat in Cyprus. She did not want to return to the United States without him. She never got the chance to tell him. He called her that morning to talk but she was not there. She went out in the Beirut market to buy her brother a birthday present. She liked the market and at last had the chance to explore it as a young woman in her 20s. It was liberating. God, was it liberating. Dana didn’t know that when her father called that morning while she was out, it would be her last chance to talk to him…

Today, Dana Davies Coffin is 57 years old and courageously battling stage 4 breast cancer. She is also writing a memoir of short stories from her fascinating childhood travels through the Middle East with her family and US Foreign Service officer father, Rodger Davies. Entitled “View from an Embassy Window”, the book chronicles her experiences living in Iraq, Lebanon and her stay in Cyprus which was ultimately interrupted by the 1974 Coup d’etat.

“I have always felt at home in Cyprus” she told me when we met for our interview. “Even though my father was killed there, it still feels like my land”.

Launched on July 20, 1974 the Turkish invasion of Cyprus occurred in response to a Greek military backed coup. The coup was organized by the military junta then ruling Greece, with the aim of overthrowing Makarios, then President of Cyprus, and setting up a government that would unite the island with Greece.

The coup was staged by the Cypriot National Guard and the EOKA B, a Greek Cypriot paramilitary organization that consisted of a right-wing nationalist ideology and the ultimate goal of a union between Cyprus and Greece. The coup removed the Cypriot president Archbishop Makarios III and installed Nikos Sampson in his place.

While Dana and her brother sat cooped up in the US Embassy that week, more than one quarter of the population of Cyprus was expelled from the occupied northern part of the island where Greek Cypriots made up about 80% of the population. The Turkish invasion ended with the partition of Cyprus along the UN-monitored Green Line which still divides Cyprus today. Dana was present for the entire conflict until her and her younger brother were evacuated and sent to Beirut, Lebanon. They left her father behind to attend to duty where he was ultimately assassinated on post.

I asked Dana to bring a picture of her father to our interview. It had vintage colors, like a worn photograph from decades ago. In it they stood next to each other smiling and glancing away from the camera as though an invisible intruder had slipped into their home and captured the moment unknown to them. The delicate girl in the image was fifteen year old Dana positioned in such a similar stance with such similar facial expressions it was unmistakable that the man next to her was her father.

We chatted for hours that afternoon about Middle Eastern culture. Her childhood experiences in the Middle East were captivating to me. At one point, I listened to her describe the natives living along the Tigris river she watched from the embassy window while living in Baghdad, Iraq. Dana has a similar connection to Middle Eastern culture that I possess. We both understand Islam on a personal level and through personal experiences. We both understand certain cultural customs because we have actually participated in them. Nothing in this world can facilitate understanding better than personal experience.

I listened deliberately to her narration of the week she spent in the US Embassy in Cyprus during the Coup d’etat as she described the events day by day up to their evacuation. She compared it to living in a war zone and described the solidarity and compassion she now possesses for those living in adverse conditions. The bombing and gunfire were heavy sounds and continued until the day she left.

“As our evacuation caravan carried us south to the British air force base of Dhekalia, you would see the streaks running up the grassy hills and around houses or through houses from shelling. The telephone poles were still on fire and were being eaten up from the bottom and were suspended by the wires on poles that had not been hit by the shrapnel. It was a real war. I experienced what it was like to live in a war-torn country. The coup divided that wonderful country and it’s still divided to this day”.

I wonder what Dana would have said to her father if she knew leaving Cyprus was the last time she would see him. If only there were prior indications that could inform us when people we are close to will exit our lives. Perhaps we would rather not know a certain visit or conversation would be our last; perhaps that would only make it more difficult.

“When we were evacuated from Cyprus I begged my dad not to make me leave because it was one-year to the day that I had last seen my mom before her death. After that I never saw my dad again. I saw both of my parents for the last time a year to the day apart. Some people have told me that I never got over my dad’s death. Honestly, you never really get over something like that”.

Since losing her father in Cyprus, Dana has developed a strong connection to the land and the culture.

She returned in 1995 and met with Rauf Denktash, President of the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus, and Glafcos Clerides, fourth President of Cyprus. A plaque was placed in honor or Rodger Paul Davies at the old embassy building, which has since been moved and adapted to the Eisner protection plan. Dana was told that the snipers who killed her father are now working locally in Nicosia. After returning to the United States from her last trip, she contemplated one day meeting with them.

I am very excited to see Dana’s memoir emerge. Her memories, I believe, are vital links to aiding other Americans in understanding Middle Eastern culture and teaching them about the unique customs and religion. Her experiences chronicle important historical events and allow readers to experience them from a very personal perspective. It is also an excellent form of therapy for her to chronicle her experiences. I have never written a memoir and do not ever intend to, but I can imagine that writing about one’s experiences would encourage the mind to hold onto only the most important and fascinating memories.

Dana was one of the last women I have interviewed for “50 Women”. Although my interviews are now finished, they never get old, never become boring and they never cease do anything less than captivate and change me. Through the course of compiling this book, I finally am starting to feel like the pieces missing from myself are now complete. As if all of these women were necessary parts of me, part of who I am.

I always believed that we see ourselves in the stories of others; that the human experience is a shared one regardless of what background from which one emerges. If I did not possess such strong faith in that belief, I would never have put my entire life on hold in the past months to complete “50 Women”.

Read Dana’s account of the Coup d’etat in the Rough Guides

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Girl in combat boots…

“They tell you constantly you are a soldier before anything else and above all else. I don’t agree with that. You are a woman before you are a soldier. You are a women above anything else- always”.

Alecia in AZ before her deployment to Iraq

Alecia in AZ before her deployment to Iraq

It was scorching. I was much appreciative of the air conditioning in the bookstore. The bearded man at the front counter frowned at my coffee as I passed him. I walked around for 30 minutes looking for a place for Alecia and I to talk. Don’t they have coffee stores in these places? Some cozy corner where people aren’t lingering and listening in.

Finally, I sat at an oak table- still in the middle of minglers and sifted through People Magazine for an article about a “Saved by the Bell” reunion. I smirked. Ahhh nostalgia…I remember this show from the 4th grade. Interesting to be here of all places remembering it.

Alecia arrived shortly after and we blindly wandered around the bookstore on our cell phones trying to identify each other.

“I can’t believe you’re a war veteran. You’re so cute” I told her upon seeing her for the first time. She was a lovely young woman with a very kind, calm nature and soft spoken voice. Indeed- it was hard to believe she was in the Army and served in Iraq.

Women served in the United States Army since 1775 during the Revolutionary War. They cared for wounded troops, laundered their clothing, and prepared meals in camp. However, they did not exist among the uniformed personnel within the Army until the Twentieth Century.

Currently, women serve in 91 percent of all Army occupations and make up about 14 percent of the deployed Army. This is not limited exclusively to the United States.

Many are unaware of often mandatory military service for women in other countries. Israel is one of the only countries in the world practicing conscription for women. At 18 years old girls are required, unless they convince authorities otherwise, to serve in the military.  Chile and China are just two additional examples where women are required to serve in any form of militia. This theme of women in a traditionally “masculine” role is prevalent across cultures.

Alecia discussed her deployment at Camp Victory in Iraq, military basic training and her views on the experience of being a soldier.

Alecia was raised in a single parent home. Since she was a child, she dreamed about becoming a professional singer. Recently, her song played on a local radio program.

“What made you want to join the military?” I asked her. She was only 18 when she signed up.

“Apart from my aspirations to be a singer, I always wanted to travel. I thought the military could offer me that experience”.

Alecia’s story is not one of despair as many veterans can tell. Her story displays the amount of positivity she retained before and in the course of her deployment.

“I was very careful not to read the news or any information about the negative things happening before my deployment. All it does is scare you”.  Of course she harbored anxiety of what could potentially happen as the result of life in a war zone, but as she explained- she tried to suppress these thoughts and involve herself in the experiences.

“A deployment, at the time lasted 12 months and you will get homesick. They have activities for you on base and you just have to participate in everything they offer. Just don’t dwell on those feelings”.

We, as women will be confronted by such emotions in critical situations. Mostly when moving to unfamiliar places or traveling abroad for extended time. Alecia’s experience in Iraq is a much paralleled experience of being far from her family in a dangerous and unfamiliar place.

Narrating her homecoming from Iraq, she became tearful… and subsequently so did I. She told me the soldiers were brought by bus to a gymnasium where all family and friends waited. As they entered the building- unprecedented cheering greeted them.  Soldiers with newborn children saw their babies for the first time since deployment. Everyone waving American flags in excitement, kissing, hugging…so thankful to be home again.

“I am such a different person since I served in the military. I am more respectful. It was a good experience that matured me just before my daughter was born”. I was shocked to learn, towards the end of the interview that Alecia became a mother after her return from Iraq.

Alecia continues to pursue her childhood dreams after her hiatus to serve in Iraq. As we walked into the brutally hot sun together I looked at her face. I could see many young women in her eyes: Soldier, Mother and Singer. She is proof that dreams can be pursued, regardless of the course one’s life may lead.

As women, we live multiple roles in our lives: mother, sister, daughter, aunt, grandmother and sometimes GI. It was nice to meet a young woman who appears to balance these successfully and positively.

Alecia hightower

I’ll admit it: I was not interested in the military in the past.

Actually, I was often disgusted upon hearing of civilian deaths in Iraq and Afghanistan. I blamed the soldiers, as many have a tendency to do. Not really knowing or allowing myself to understand specific details of their jobs.

In January 2009- I learned my 20 year old cousin Thomas was being deployed to Iraq.

Suddenly- the war became exceedingly personal.

Once, and rather unexpectedly, I ended up watching a firefight between the Taliban and “Viper Company” in the Korengal Valley, Afghanistan. It instantly gave me an eerie, lingering feeling. I watched them crawling belly to the ground on loose shale as ammunition “pinged” off the rocks above. Decisions are made in milliseconds here. I covered my eyes pressing my moist hands hard against my face, wondering if this is what my young cousin experiences over there. The thought is sickening. Isn’t he too young for all this? Shouldn’t that be…I don’t know…someone else out there instead? How can a woman assume her role as a mother, sister or daughter after returning from war in these situations?

All of the cards are on the table in Afghanistan now.

American troops in Afghanistan now hang in a delicate balance by trying to lessen the number of civilian deaths. How do you accomplish this feat when every insurgent blends with the general population?

The war rages on for our American service men and women, steadily becoming more violent for our troops and unfortunate civilians.

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