Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Second Day at UNCSW59 - March 8, 2015

This is a post devoted primarily to photos with commentary from our second day at the United Nations 59th annual Conference on the Status of Women. Day 2 is actually a pre-conference day, featuring a celebration known as "Consultation Day," hosted by the Ecumenical Women NGO at the historic Apollo Theater in Harlem. The theater is on West 125th Street, and we traveled from our hotel, the Fitzpatrick Grand Central, located on East 44th Street a block from Grand Central Station, one of the two train stations in New York City. Some of us traveled by subway in a group, and a couple of us arrived by taxi, thus avoiding the stairs down and up from the subway stations.

Apollo Theater in Harlem at 8:00 AM! 

The celebratory spirit of Consultation Day began as we entered the lobby of the Apollo Theater. An all women mariachi band, Mariachi Flor de Toloache, greeted us with joyful music. 
Those who arrived early by taxi got into the theater as it opened close to 9:00 AM. The theater personnel stamped our hands, just like they do for concerts. The audience was overwhelmingly women with a handful of men scattered around the theater. There were a lot of enthusiastic greetings, hugs, and photo-taking.
First up on the program was the Women of the World ensemble, four women from different parts of the world - Italy, India, Japan, and USA/Haiti - who sing songs from various countries in the countries' native languages. Their short medley of songs roused us to our feet to clap and sway with their music.
The program began with a historical perspective. There have been four World Conferences on Women organized by the U.N.: 1975 in Mexico City; 1980 in Copenhagen; 1985 in Nairobi; and 1995 in Beijing. Since Beijing there have been five-year reviews, and 2015 brings us to Beijing+20. To commemorate the four conferences, four women came on stage individually to give a brief reading from the documents of those conferences.
I admire the confidence, poise, and grace of the young women who have found their core values, developed their voices, and claimed their places among the leaders and decision-makers of the world to speak out on issues that matter to them and their sisters and brothers. It gives us who have become elders in our communities great pride and hope that the work of advocating for human rights for all people has been shared forward with our younger generations. It is only through the vision and persistence of all of us hand-in-hand through the generations that equality, justice, and peace will prevail over discrimination, oppression, and violence among humankind and Creation.

The above photo shows the various chapters of the NGO Committee on the Status of Women that have been instrumental in producing Consultation Day this year. There are chapters in a number of geographical areas throughout the world such as the Arab States, Geneva, and New York. 

Keynote speaker Ruchira Gupta is an Emmy Award-winning filmmaker, journalist, and activist from India, who founded the NGO Apne Aap. The Hindi phrase "Apne aap" is translated as "Self-empowerment." Gupta was named the Woman of Distinction by the NGO Committee on the Status of Women.

Gupta spoke on how she came to make the film "The Selling of Innocents" about the sex trafficking of low-caste Indian women to brothels in Bihar and India. I've been involved in heightening awareness of human trafficking for a while and began the Facebook Page "Episcopalians Against Human Trafficking" with several other activists, and Gupta's telling of the stories brought me to tears.

Gupta shared an insightful concept: avoid "skimming the top of the bottom." In other words, we must go deeper than just superficial attention to changing the wrongs of society and intentionally focus attention to change the root causes of evils such as sexual human trafficking. We must practice consistent and persistent activism against violence directed at women and girls. Gupta pointed out that one kind of crime is connected to other kinds of crime, and that violence against a woman of low-caste normalizes violence against all. Gupta said, "We can only walk the last mile if we walk with the last girl."

The Beijing+20 panel "Voices from the Regions" brought together women from eight regions of the world and a discussant (respondent) on a panel to bear witness to the progress or lack of progress and current issues and hopes regarding the 12 action foci of the Beijing Platform for Action. These women raised issues such as how class plays a major role in the gaps in benefits (such as access to housing, education, and jobs and freedom from violence) of women living in poverty compared to women with more affluence. They pointed out it is important to ally with women in other movements besides the particular segment of the human rights movement in which you participate. 

Several of the women spoke against religious extremism that is "distilled and exaggerated," which has become a fault line in all people's lives, having the potential to cause serious harmful consequences in many communities. The panelists cited violence against "women human rights defenders (WHRD)" as something that women must rally together to name and combat. They challenged the audience: "Can we defend women human rights defenders in our neighborhoods?" The panelists spoke forcefully against the political use of religion to achieve political purposes, which leads to dividing the people in communities from each other. They cited the need for accountability in connecting local movements with global movements. 

The women closed with some important reminders for all people who care about human rights:
  • Keep the fire burning.
  • With equality, there is no deadline.
  • Who do you want to be equal to?
    Pictured here is Dr. Gertrude Mongella, Former Under-Secretary-General of the Fourth U.N. World Conference on Women. Mongella spoke after another wonderful panel featuring Young Activists joined by Mary Robinson, President of Ireland (1990-1997) and the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights (1997-2002). The young activists shared their dreams and hopes for what the world could be like and how the NGOs which they have joined and started are helping to create a more equitable future for all.

    Mongella helped summarize a packed day at the Apollo Theater, rocking with world music and universal messages of hope and renewal for humanity:
    • Have confidence. Instill confidence.
    • Build teams. You can't go it alone.
    • Remember your constituents. Walk alongside them. Invite them to walk with you.
    • Gather evidence. Do the research.
    • Develop trust as you work with institutions and governments in order to build capacity.
    • Maintain multi-level, multi-faceted relationships.

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