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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.

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Jessica Buchleitner at United Nations CSW 59, ECOSOC chamber

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

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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

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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

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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:

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NGO reps from Chechnya discuss the situation on women and girls

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

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

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

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

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Panel with Iraq ambassador on ISIS and the Yazidi Kurds

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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.

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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.

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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

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

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

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

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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.

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

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WIN Board of Directors – Diana Goodrow and Jessica Buchleitner

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

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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!

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

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

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Jessica Buchleitner with 50 Women, Book One

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In General Assembly room with 50 Women, Book One

 

 

 

 

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United Nations CSW 59 and 50 Women, Book One

After four years of attending the annual Commission on the Status of Women meetings at the United Nations, it was finally a long awaited honor to be able to present 50 Women, Book One there. I attended the conference with two contributors- Nwe Oo and Siobhan Neilland (Book Two). I will soon be publishing a debrief with all of the updated activity of member states towards the 20 year review of the Beijing Platform for Action. Until then, some photos from the conference are available below or you can view the complete album here.

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Jessica Buchleitner at United Nations General Assembly building

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Jessica Buchleitner, Nwe Oo at the United Nations CSW59

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WIN Board Officers – Nwe Oo, Lenka Belkova and Jessica Buchleitner

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Speaking on panel about 50 Women, Book One with WNN at United Nations

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United Nations CSW 59 panel

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UN Women Cities for CEDAW Ordnance Campaign conference

In January 2015, Women’s Intercultural Network hosted an international conference call with UN Women about the Cities for CEDAW campaign, an initiative to move US mayors to adopt the CEDAW Ordnance into practice by 2016 in their cities. The United States is the only industrialized nation that has yet to ratify it. I mentioned the ordnance in past debriefs and now it is the subject of a full scale campaign. We hosted a panel discussion about demystifying the United Nations and the common misconceptions surrounding its extensive policies and programs in relation to the CEDAW ordnance.

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Demystifying the United Nations – Jessica Buchleitner and Mary Ann Ellison

 

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Demystifying the United Nations – with Jessica Buchleitner and Mary Ann Ellison

 

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UN Women – Demystifying the United Nations with Ana Maria

 

 

 

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United Nations 58th session of the Commission on the Status of Women Debrief

The fifty-eighth session of the Commission on the Status of Women  (CSW 58) took place at United Nations Headquarters in New York from March 10 to March 21 2014. Representatives of Member States, UN entities, and ECOSOC-accredited non-governmental organizations (NGOs) from all regions of the world attended the session.

This year’s Priority theme was the challenges and achievements in the implementation of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) for women and girls and the Review theme was the access and participation of women and girls to education, training, science and technology, including for the promotion of women’s equal access to full employment and decent work.

The Millennium Development Goals

The Millennium Development Goals’ (MDGs) are eight international developmentgoals that were established following the Millennium Summit of the United Nations in 2000, following the adoption of the United Nations Millennium Declaration. All 189 United Nations member states at the time (there are 193 currently) and at least 23 international organizations committed to help achieve the Millennium Development Goals by 2015, the goals follow:

  1. To eradicate extreme poverty and hunger
  2. To achieve universal primary education
  3. To promote gender equality and empowering women
  4. To reduce child mortality rates
  5. To improve maternal health
  6. To combat HIV/AIDS, malaria, and other diseases
  7. To ensure environmental sustainability
  8. To develop a global partnership for development

Each goal has specific targets and dates for achieving those targets.

As of 2013 progress towards the goals was uneven. Some countries achieved many goals, while others were not on track to realize any. A UN conference in September 2010 reviewed progress and concluded with the adoption of a global plan to achieve the eight goals by their target date. New commitments targeted women’s and children’s health and new initiatives in the worldwide battle against poverty, hunger and disease.

The purpose of CSW 58 was to identify the barriers to implementation of these goals in terms of women and girls and develop strategies to overcome them.

Panels and Presentations from the Commission on the Status of Women and Non Governmental Organizations (NGOs)

Opening morning

Opening morning took place with an address from UN Secretary General, Ban Ki Moon regarding the Millennium Development Goals and current progress.

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UN Secretary – General Ban Ki Moon opens CSW 58


Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka
, Executive Director of UN Women, spoke about the current progress of the Millennium Development Goals and then opened up the floor for delegates to give their statements in a high-level roundtable session to exchange experiences, lessons learned and best practices on the priority theme.


Accelerating Progress on the MDGs for Women and Girls: High level statement from Heads of UN Agencies

Several heads of major UN agencies delivered statements on Tuesday, March 11 regarding measures they are taking to accelerate progress on the Millennium Development Goals.  UN Women, United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), Joint United Nations Programme on HIV and AIDS (UNAIDS), United Nations Human Settlements Programme (UN-Habitat), United Nations Statistics Division (UNSD), Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) all reported on their specific areas and actions in several member states, with a particular focus on Africa.

UNESCO making a statement on the MDGs


NGO panel presentations

Domestic Violence

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A group of NGOs gave a presentation on engaging law enforcement to handle domestic violence. Here is part of the speech delivered by a DV prosecutor based in Texas.


World Bank breakfast: At a special reception hosted by the World Bank Group, the subject of women working in unpaid care positions was thoroughly discussed by several representatives, including Jeni Klugman, Director of Gender and Development. The group produced a printed report on global research of this topic. Below is a video of  the UN Special Rapporteur on Human Rights speaking about unpaid care work and lack of attention to it as a human right and a photo of Jeni Klugman.

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Engaging men and boys to achieve the MDGs (Brazil, Switzerland, MenEngage
): We heard briefings from several representatives from Brazil, Switzerland, South Africa and Nicaragua discussing their goals of breaking social stigma and societal traditions that discourage men from being part of their families. They work with young boys into their adulthood to ensure an understanding of the concept of gender equality.

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North Caucasus panel

A panel of representatives from the North Caucasus region of Russia discussed the prevalence of domestic violence and bride kidnappings in the republics of Dagestan, Ingushetia and Chechnya. It was reported that groups of NGOs working with Chechen women leveraged the CEDAW ordinance to put pressure on Chechen officials to curb the practice, citing that the it is illegal in the Russian Federation, in addition to being considered a sin in Islamic law. Recently, a fine of one million rubles was introduced as punishment for anyone kidnapping a woman as a bride in Chechnya. These anti-kidnapping laws were first introduced in 2010. The video below by one panelist accurately describes the situation of Chechen women:


Women’s Intercultural Network (WIN): Winning Strategies on the Beijing Platform for Action, CEDAW and the Millennium development Goals for Gender Equality

Our WIN panel consisted of our global partner delegates brought from Afghanistan, Uganda and San Francisco. We heard from Raihana Polpalzai, Vice Chancellor of Academic Affairs at Kabul University and the Honorable Annette Mukabera, former MP, Republic of Uganda. Here are a few video excerpts:

Annette Mukabera and statistics on Ugandan women

Raihana Polpalzai on Afghan women


US Women Connect: Technology and Women’s Advancement

Longtime Women’s Intercultural Network national level partner, US Women Connect presented a panel on the role of technology in advancing women and girls. We heard from Mary Ann Ellison (WIN Board Member) of Flowering Hope, Michelle Ozumba of Women’s Funding Network and I read for Elahe Amani of University of California Fullerton. Here are videos of our presentations:

Mary Ann Ellison, Executive Director, Flowering Hope

Michelle Ozumba, Executive Director, Women’s Funding Network

Jessica Buchleitner, WIN Board Member, reading for Elahe Amani


Our important panels regarding CEDAW

CEDAW is perhaps the single most important subject addressed every year at the United Nations CSW meeting.

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 193 U.N. member nations, 187 countries have ratified it. The United States is among the countries that have not — along with the Pacific island nations of Tonga and Palau, Iran, Somalia, South Sudan and Sudan.

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. The Senate has never ratified CEDAW, and without ratification, the U.S. is not bound by its provisions.

At this year’s CSW, we started the Cities for CEDAW campaign and kicked it off with two presentations in partnership with the San Francisco Department on the Status of Women.

Here are videos of Marilyn Fowler of Women’s Intercultural Network (our NGO) speaking about CEDAW and WIN’s initiatives to mobilize women at the state, national and global level to push for it.

Cities for CEDAW, Marilyn Fowler, Part 1

Cities for CEDAW, Marilyn Fowler, Part 2


The UN and Social Media

The UN has upped the ante in terms of social media presence. This year, we were given access to more meetings that traditionally were closed. In each meeting we were encouraged to take photos, videos and to tweet. It appears that the UN is making more effort to share the content of the meetings on the internet. I have not observed this extent of social media participation in previous years. To view a complete social media overview of CSW58, see the UN Women Storify page.

One reason for an increased participation is the use of gadgets that are more prevalently on the market then they were in previous years. When I attended the conference in 2012, I saw far less participants using tablets to take photos or tweet. This appears to be a rising standard.

Recent actions of member states to increase progress of the Millennium Development Goals

The following are recent actions of member states towards furthering the progress of the MDGs.

– Bangladesh has implemented policies for the eradication of poverty among women by strengthening social services. Programmes and policies such as the allowance to widows and destitute women and a maternity allowance have been reported to have helped provide food security to a large number of poor women.

– In 2009, Guyana launched a single parent training programme which provides training to single parents to enable them to undertake paid employment.

– Sierra Leone abolished primary education school fees for all children as of 2007.

– Burkina Faso has implemented the BRIGHT programme that provides daily meals for all children and take-home rations for girls, to reduce the time they spend on household chores and increase time for them to allocate their studies.

– Nepal has adopted several gender equality and social inclusion measures, such as ensuring that at least one woman serves on school management committees.

– Egypt endorsed the “Healthy Mother, Healthy Child” initiative to reduce the risks of maternal and neonatal mortality through increased access to maternal and reproductive health services, reduced fertility rates, the utilization of antenatal care and skilled attendance at delivery, as maternal health has a direct impact on neonatal and child morbidity and mortality.

– Guinea Bissau and Kenya have enacted new laws to prevent female genital mutilation while national policies, frameworks, and laws in support of reproductive health and rights have been developed in Armenia and Cambodia, with the support of UNFPA.

– Paraguay has implemented a national plan for the control and prevention of mother-to-child transmission of HIV and syphilis.

– Nepal has introduced school and community-led total sanitation programs across the country in order to establish child-friendly, gender sensitive and disability- friendly water, hygiene and sanitation facilities.

Agreed Conclusions of UNCSW58
Agreed Conclusions are now available and can be accessed here.

My Personal Reflections

Honestly, there were tears in my eyes leaving the UN this year.

The collective soul of the conference was utterly powerful. To be part of a group of people from all corners of the world who live and breathe the desire to change corrupt systems, end suffocating traditions against women and stir dialogue concerning issues others normally turn a blind eye to is a transcending, powerful experience.

As I watched the UN disappear from the back window of the airport taxi, the words of the song of the Statue of Liberty echoed in my mind: “Give me your tired, your poor, your hungry, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free…”

Some of these women spent their life savings just to come to this conference and present important issues in their countries. Others brave death threats every day to do the work they do. For the past three years, groups of Iranian women were unable to attend because of the regime. Last year, Nobel Prize winner Tawakkol Karman was unable to get out of Yemen to speak at consultation day. For some of these NGO groups, planning the travel and scraping together the funds takes years in the making. It is inspiring to witness the extent people will go to for the purpose of sharing important information and to exercise their voice.

I remembered a Chechen woman taking the microphone from her translator only to passionately explode in a verbal fervor about the condition of Chechen women, to show her 1 billion rising video and explain the practice of bride kidnapping.

I remembered the group of high school girls from Mexico who boldly approached Jayne Anyango and I to introduce themselves and chat with us about their desire to end the violence and murders in Ciudad Juárez.

Then there was the Russian guard manning the front gate who remembered me from prior years and the Ugandan guard in the main building who I joked with in the morning. There were also the African women in their bright patterned dresses and the diplomats with frowning brows in their black suits. My favorite lunch spot is the Moroccan street vendor who sells kebab sandwiches outside the UN Church Center building. When he saw me approaching him on the first day, he called out to me excitedly.

Every part of the experience is transcending; a patchwork of new and familiar faces. Some frowning, some smiling, others crying.

I know the UN is not perfect, as many of its notable missions have failed in the past. There are slews of criticism about its operating procedures, officials and budget. I am aware of these arguments and judgments and do not see the UN with rose-colored glasses.

Yet, to observe the collective hope for peace in all those who journeyed to New York for CSW 58 is to witness a phenomenon of unyielding faith.

The tired, the poor, the hungry and the believers will all return again next year, in huddled masses, to reconvene towards building a world free of violence. A world where women do, indeed, breathe free…

And here we go…moving forward….

Read my debriefs from the previous two years of CSW57 and CSW56.

Read our official statement for Women’s Intercultural Network that Lenka Belkova and I authored. 

 

 

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What am I doing at the United Nations?

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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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The Courage of Nwe

See Nwe’s June 2012  Family Violence feature in The Washington Post

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Nwe.

Her name is a lyrical cadence, one bringing visions to my mind of cherry blossoms and rolling hills.

My first view of Nwe was of her slender back as she sat in front of me, intently listening to UN Ambassador Anwarul Chowdhury of Bangladesh speak at an NGO forum during the 57th annual session of the United Nations Commission on the Status of Women meeting. Draped across her narrow shoulder was a hand woven sash of purple and gold threads patterned in familiar Burmese fashion. I sat silently marveling at its stitching, as it resembled one I received from Weave-Women after coordinating the placement of Naw Wa May Paw’s story in 50 Women.

She fascinated me as I observed within her the hunger pangs of a relentless pursuit for justice. She was a tiny sun, packed with dense power and insistent force. I yearned to know her story as I could see every scar of her life. People are never born fighters, rather their experiences breed them to stand up to this menacing world.

I approached Nwe and following a conversation with Ambassador Chowdhury, we discussed my interviewing her during our joint UN visit.

Nwe at the United Nations 2013

Nwe at the United Nations 2013

Yet two days later, I learned that Nwe left the UN hastily after learning her husband had taken her 3 children back in California.

I have interviewed many women surviving domestic violence situations. All of them reflected on the utter terror and instability accompanying a life dictated by violence. Most of these women escaped their forceful partner by the time I spoke with them, with the exception of Nwe. As she works to mobilize the Burmese refugee community in Oakland, CA acting as a grassroots organizer and advocate, she also lives in constant struggle to keep her ex-husband at bay and to protect her 3 children.

He is always a threat – a stalking foe, and a ceaseless enemy feigning for the next opportunity to strike her. Whether it is to come to her apartment with a knife or trash talk her in the very community she strives to rehabilitate, he is never short on ways to attempt to destroy her. His abuse, at one point, was so threatening Nwe and her three children ended up in a shelter for weeks.

She is neither an easy target nor a foolish or helpless victim. No matter her situation, she maintains a professional and presentable demeanor, continues to advocate for refugees in her community and is intent on raising her three children within the framework of a different value system that does not condone abuse.

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Nwe has a long history of struggles beginning at the time of her birth near the Bangladeshi-Burmese border.  When she was still a child, her parents escaped political oppression by the Burmese Government in the now infamous ethnic cleansing period of the 70’s and 80’s. She then lived in Bangladesh, India and Thailand until finally settling in the United States.

She is currently a social worker turned political activist and advocate for refugee, immigrant and Indigenous rights. She co-founded the Rakhaing Women’s Union, United Ethnic Nationalities Association and Burma Refugee Family Network.  She also has worked for many years with indigenous peoples, immigrant/refugee youth and the advancement of group participation in the democratic process pertaining to the women’s movement. Nwe has also served as a board member of the Refugee Women’s Network and Burmese Youth Association and advises national and international organizations and campaigns. She has a degree in Social Science from Potuakhali Women’s College in Bangladesh and a degree in Human Rights and Peoples Diplomacy from Thammasat University in Thailand.

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Nwe has held a variety of jobs over the years, including an appointment with the United Nations High Commission of Refugees. She has worked with the Rakhaing Development Foundation, the Women’s League of Burma, the National Health and Education Committee, the Students and Youth Congress of Burma, the Community Health for Asian Americans organization, the Refugee Youth Ambassadors, as well as API advocacy with various White House Initiates on AAPI.

She is the owner of Weaving through Change, which aims to produce a high quality, natural, ethnic, hand-woven product by offering Refugee women from Burma the chance to preserve their tradition and create a better life.

In 2011 she received the most Innovative Entrepreneur of the Year Award, the 2011 V-day Award, and the 2012 Best Refugee Advocate of the Year Award. Nwe has spoken at numerous conferences and written extensively on social and political action, women human rights, minority rights and ethnic diversity-  particularly violence against women.

Tell me – does Nwe sound like a victim of violence, or rather, a victim of any kind?

Through my work with various NGOs, my outreach with 50 Women and my advocacy work, I have found that even the strongest women often find themselves in tumultuous situations. Violence is not confined to those who are “weak”.  Yet, it is the strong that ultimately survive. They, like Nwe, survive because they choose to. They survive because no matter the amount of violence they may endure, they never allow it to derail their right to live a peaceful, successful life.

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Wife Talk United Nations Series Feature

I am very proud to be featured on the series “Wife Talk” about my recent trip to the 57th annual session of the United Nations Commission on the Status of Women. This 12 min video addresses some of the common challenges faced during this meeting at the UN. For the full report, read my debriefing.

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