Saturday, March 14, 2015

A View from Inside: Some thoughts on UNCSW59

A View from Inside . . . What do I mean by that? There was a time some five decades ago when I was a teenage girl in inner city Detroit, Michigan, longing to do something that mattered, longing to be someone who mattered to more than just my immediate family and friends. 
March 13th - the Interngenerational Dialogue from 9:30-6:00 in the 
ECOSOC Chamber. Some 700 people were able to attend the 
Today, I sit in many places of privilege and "importance." The privilege I sit in is exemplified by invitations to give my opinions on camera and in print and to attend receptions where pretty, but not terribly nourishing, food is served and I get to shake hands with other people like me. 

"Importance" is a self-claimed misnomer. After all, according to God whom I worship and serve, we are all equally beloved in God's sight. Important is the meaning we assign to gatherings where we talk about our work and lift it up so others can be influenced to participate. Important is what we must feel if we are eagerly and willingly to continue to do the work that has no end in sight and gets beleaguered in the same way over and over. 

So, why do I do it? Why does anyone do it? 

For me, the answer is that I still believe in the possibility of change and transformation. I still believe that good will prevail over evil. I still believe that there is a core of goodness in humankind - the God Spirit, if you will - that propels us to make life better on earth for all humans. And I still believe that I, in my own small way, can influence that change and transformation to keep on coming towards us. I still believe that my witness to one woman or girl can spark an interest that will grow into a flame of passion that will spark still others. 

Here are some insights from the first week of the United Nations' 59th annual Commission on the Status of Women's gathering in New York City.
This photo exhibition was at the U.N. while
UNCSW59 was taking place. So apropos.

Implementation has been weak.  What an understatement repeated by several of the leaders of UN Women about the status of the 1995 Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action! Most of the signatory nations have enacted legislation to support the Platform for Action. But there is a wide gap between the optics of gender equality legislation and enforcement of those same laws. There is an even wider gap between the legislation and the culture of those nations that remain entrenched in patriarchal systems. Cultural change is the hardest change of all to effect. It tends to happen slowly, in terms of generational time rather than instants in time. We need revolution, not evolution, when it comes to cultural change. 

"When people are busy, that does not mean they are making progress." The truth is that so long as there is an economic and class benefit to men in power to protect the existing patriarchal systems, very little will change. Constant motion around clamoring for change will not necessarily make change happen. Women's hope lies in changing the hearts and minds of boys and girls as they are growing up to see a different choice than patriarchy and to make that choice in how they live as adults. Education beyond the primary level is imperative to lift up the lives of girls worldwide. Educated girls become empowered women. Educated girls develop self-agency that allows them to make choices as adults and to find their own ways towards post-secondary educations, self-supporting jobs, and delayed choices to marry and bear children. 

Stereotypes are our enemy. When anyone has privilege, it is difficult for them to see stereotypes. Instead, they tend to see a status quo which is comforting and satisfying to them. The stereotypes of what a typical girl and a typical women should look and behave like, trap girls and women into roles that have been normalized at a sub-par level. We have normalized the 80%-20% stereotyped levels of girls and women as servers and caregivers versus the 50%-50% level of girls and women being equal, having equal opportunity and equal agency, in society with boys and men. 

Unequal pay, that is, lesser pay for women doing the same jobs as men, means relegating women to remain poor and unable to rise above their poverty. Worst yet is that women do tremendous amounts of work required by many societies -- such as walking miles to carry water home to their families, working hard scrabble dirt farms, and bearing and raising children and caring for the elderly -- without any sort of recompense, much less recognition. The unpaid labor of women contributes to the functioning of all societies, but that same unpaid labor does not contribute to the women's own livelihoods when they are abandoned or widowed. A statistic offered by a UNCSW59 speaker from the World Economic Forum "suggests we’ll have to wait 81 years for gender parity in the workplace." We'll all be dead by then. We can't wait that long.
Soon-Young Yoon, Chair of the International Alliance of Women.
We saw many of the speakers this way, on jumbo screens from a 
distance. It was noted that allowances were missing for women
with disabilities, such as deafness (no sign language interpreters)
and mobility (many stairs with no ramps and spaces for wheelchairs).

Affirmative Action for Women. We have lived in a world that has had Affirmative Action for men for millennia. It's now time for Affirmative Action for women. It is only by paying attention and spending our resources on women that we will level the world playground for women and girls. It is time to favor funding to equalize the gender equality gap. It is time to front-load resources to promote and encourage girls' education and women's economic opportunities in obtaining jobs and becoming entrepreneurs. The fact is, that women, who are used to being at the bottom of the ladder, have a greater tolerance for risk-taking and innovation, because we have historically had so little to lose. Fear of loss is the great inhibitor to innovation and entrepreneurial endeavors. Who better than women to take those risks and achieve the unexpected rewards? Women will bring their sisters along with them.
One of many signs created by young women at UNCSW59.

Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, the United Nations Under-Secretary-General and Executive Director of UN Women, raises three foci that are critical to overcoming the thus-far, collective failure of the nations signatory to the Beijing Platform for Action:

  • Unrelenting Political Commitment. We must keep talking the talk and holding our statesmen and stateswomen accountable for keeping their attention focused.
  • Investment in Gender Equality. We must lobby for and hold accountable our government and business leaders to expend resources specifically for the purposes of achieving gender equality whether it is in providing more subsidized educational slots for girls, more business incubators directed towards women, or more industrial internships to attract girls and women. 
  • Strengthen Civil Society. Civil society refers to the numerous non-governmental organizations in every country that aim to do social good and to develop stronger communities. For many NGOs, small amounts of grant monies make big differences, because these NGOs are creative and nimble. Not only do these NGOs need additional resources, but they also need additional outlets where their voices can be not just heard, but listened to; where their messages are not just shared, but adopted and acted upon.
More in blogs to follow! 


Anonymous said...

Excellent Post - implementation has certainly been weak.


Thank you, padremambo!