Thursday, March 12, 2015

UNCSW59 -- Step it Up for Women's Equality

Hello, Everyone! I've fallen behind in blogging all the wonderful things and people I've seen and heard while here at the United Nations 59th Annual Conference on the Status of Women. Being here is a lot like being at the Episcopal Church's triennial General Convention: many long days filled with uplifting worship, great speakers and panelists, meaningful Q&As and conversation, and meeting interesting people from around the world who have something to say for themselves and their communities and who want to influence the conversations here at the U.N. and back home. And like General Convention, there are caucuses for the various groups who have traveled together and evening debriefs to check in on everyone's day and plans for the next days.

For someone who has been a feminist since my teen years in the mid-60's, this conference feels like a great, big women's rally where sisterhood is palpable. In fact, check out some news coverage on the march and rally that were held in conjunction with UNCSW on Sunday, March 8, International Women's Day here and images from the events here. And we get to experience it in the glorious halls of the United Nations. As a teen, I visited the U.N. each time I came to New York and New Jersey to visit relatives. I would take the visitors' tour in English or in French and imagine myself walking these halls as someone who belonged here. Now, five decades later, here I am! I belong here, and so do all the other women and men who have come to UNCSW59.

The conference is both a review and an update of the CSW held in Beijing in 1995 when the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action was adopted. That Platform for Action is one of the major influencers for the Millennium Development Goals which expire this September. It is anticipated that a new set of Millennium Sustainable Goals will be promulgated in September.
This is the handbook for the over 
450 parallel events put on by 
"Civil Society," which refers to 
all the Non-Governmental 
Organizations supporting the
work of UN Women.

In terms of themes, the overarching themes are gender equality for women and women's empowerment. In specific, I have noticed a large emphasis on human trafficking and especially sex trafficking of women and girls and lifting up the voices, perspectives, and contributions of young women, including LGBTQI women. (Did you know that something upwards of 20 to 30 Million - yes, that's right, 20-30 Million - women, girls, and boys are sex trafficked? Sex trafficking operates in the Deep Web or Grey Web, the hidden part of the Internet that accounts for 90% of Web traffic where illegal, unsavory transactions are made and sex slaves are bought and sold. See here and here for more information about sex trafficking.)

The speakers from various countries have been both self-congratulatory as to the advancements in gender equality that they claim and also confessional in lamenting the lack of progress in their countries. Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, the U.N. Under-Secretary-General and Executive Director of U.N. Women, in a couple of opening remarks in different settings, noted that not a single U.N. member nation has achieved all of the items on Platform for Action to date. That does not mean that progress has not been made, but it is incremental and deadly slow.
Phumzile Mlamba-Ngcuka

I chose the word "deadly" purposefully, because lack of gender equality can, in fact, be deadly for women in developing countries. It is a fact that women are the farmers, child bearers and raisers, caretakers of the farm animals (if any), and food and water gatherers. Doing all of this work without benefit of vehicles, whether self-propelled or gas-propelled, amidst harsh drought conditions and armed conflict is deadly for the women. Their bodies soon wear out even if their spirits remain rooted in the hope of a better future for their children.

Lack of gender equality for these women means that they don't qualify for the small grants that might be available to help a local farmer and don't get consideration for the few slots in the educational system to gain something beyond a primary education. Lack of gender equality also means that girls are often married off in their early teens, because their families make the choice to feed and raise the boys while gaining a dowry for marrying off their young daughters. One of the cultural paradigm shifts that must happen, especially in countries with rigid and enforced patriarchal systems, is to move to a culture that values girl children as gifts from the Creator who have the potential, with education and nurture, to make a valuable contribution to their societies.

Thus, U.N. Women has created a new nations' initiative. "Planet 50-50 by 2030: Step It Up for Gender Equality" is a call for nations to commit to doing the things necessary to move towards gender equality by 2030. Presumably, signatory nations will be signing on not only for the prestige and optics of being a signatory, but also as being sincerely committed to changes in legislation, elections, governmental appointments, and tax and subsidy programs to give women the equality that we deserve by virtue of our humanity. As many of the speakers from the podiums have pointed out over the past few days, women's rights are human rights. Women just want to have the same human rights as men do.

I will be posting about what some of the speakers have addressed in a future blog in order to share with you memorable thoughts too good not to share. Stay tuned!

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