Wednesday, March 7, 2012

United Nations CSW Thoughts

Last week, I spent three days in New York City with three other students, our program assistant, and the Director of Women's Studies attending the United Nation's 56th Commission on the Status of Women (CSW).  The six of us were able to attend sessions, both at the U.N. and parallel sessions occurring at the Church Center, across from the U.N.  I spent my days at the Church Center attending sessions run by Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs) from 8:30 in the morning until 7:30 at night, with a lunchtime and teatime debrief to keep all of our heads clear and straight.  The specific themes of the conference change each year and this particular CSW had a focus on “Rural Women, Empowerment, Poverty Reduction, and Rural Development”.  I attended sessions on topics ranging from domestic violence, rural women’s access to basic health, using rural women in post-conflict reconstruction, as well as ecology.  Each session taught me something new and I very much enjoyed watching the NGOs getting to mingle and share best practices.  Many connections, whether formal or informal, were formed between NGOs here and I feel this conference helped each NGO that attended in some way.

My favorite session was titled “Ethics, Rural Ecology, and Poverty” and consisted of a panel of three women: two from India, and one from Ghana.  Each speaker talked about how important it is for women and men around the world to realize that we are all a piece of the puzzle and that we need to include everyone at the table’s discussion.  Maame, the woman from Ghana, who now works in California, was an incredibly inspirational speaker, who started off the session by singing a song about coming together and welcoming all.  She then went on to discuss how women on the ground are actually the experts and that NGOs should focus on working with them and learning from them instead of trying to teach them foreign concepts that might not necessarily help.  Maame spoke most about “soul consciousness” and how we all must come together to sing the same song.  She also reminded us to remember that though some of the stories of rural women are grim and sad, we should all use the power of voice and laughter to bring everyone together.  We must think globally, but act locally, always with laughter on our side.

Though that was my favorite session, I learned from each session and I took away many lessons.  First off, this conference proved to me that there are NGOs and women all over the world working on different issues so it is important to work on what we are most compassionate about and trust that others will fill in the blanks.  I also learned that we must include men in all conversations; we cannot educate women separately and hope that everyone will all of a sudden understand.  Gender includes men and women, as well as everyone in between, and to be successful, everyone must be included in the conversation.

Overall, I had such a great time learning and getting to know the women I traveled with; I hope to be able to attend this conference again and again in the coming years.  

Our Program Assistant, Kimmie, with students: Gwynne, Molly, and Caroline at the United Nations

Molly, Gwynne, me, Caroline, and our Program Director, Meika outside the U.N.

-Breanna Pendleton '12

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