This week's editor
Mandela: the global icon
The theme of this year's CSW is Financing for Women's Empowerment and Gender Equality. There are dozens and dozens of NGO's here with ideas about how to demand the resources and there are daily sessions sponsored by the UN missions, but with only two days to go I haven't found anyone who is optimistic that this year's CSW will have the slightest impact on women's empowerment.
I attended the session on The Impact of Guns on Women's Lives, hosted by the UN Office for Disarmament Affairs and IANSA the International Action Network on Small Arms. The panel of women speakers came from Argentina, the DRC, Iraq, Canada and India. Binalakshmi Nepram is a young woman from India and founder of Control Arms Foundation of India. She opened her speech by saying " This is my first address to the United Nations, a place where everyone comes for final justice." She dedicated her speech to the 5000 women who have died by gun violence in her region by state and non-state actors, and went on to say "My very presence here is proof that women are taking action to stop gun violence". She spoke of her pain as a young woman born in the country that gave birth to non violence and is today the largest democracy in the world, knowing that India is "arming itself to the teeth" and has 40 million fire arms, the majority of which are in private hands. She'd recently attended an arms bazaar in New Delhi where one of the 450 arms dealers had told her that in India "gun shops are mushrooming like phone booths".
The permanent Mission of Norway to the United Nations sponsored the session on ‘Dignity and the Politics of Financing of Women’s Rights’, and Karama organised the panel. It took place in the Dag Haamarskjold Library Auditorium of the UN (which they had fought ‘tooth and nail’ to get). Earlier in the week they’d been worried that the room was too big, but after four days of raising Arab women’s voices at every and any opportunity during the CSW, they attracted a large audience. Afaf Jabiri opened the session by saying “we want to talk about violence in relation to the reality we live in, which in our region is one of conflict war and occupation, so one of our priorities is to work with refugee women and statelessness”. The panel was made up of Sabah al_Hallaq from Syria, Afaf Marei from Egypt, Joumana Merhy from Lebanon, Saadia Wadah from Morocco, Rugaia Abdelgader from Sudan, Teraza al-Ryyan and Afaf Jabiri from Jordan.
Just came out of a parallel event called 'Women in cities' that was hosted by the Seoul Metropolitan Government and organized by the Seoul Foundation of Women and Family (SFWF).With contributions from Asia, Latin America, Africa and Europe, it was no surprise that it ran well overtime. The short version? Women are under-represented in decision-making positions in cities and most urban planners and politicians at the local level (and likely at the national, though this wasn't the topic) do not understand gender and have never had basic gender training. The result? Cities designed by men for men.
Between sessions here at the CSW the choice is to sit in the hallways or what's called the Vienna café - the equivalent to sitting in a giant ashtray - while planning the next move. The Karama women barely had time for a cigarette between them today. At 9am they were in the Conference room ready to read the report of the Caucus meetings to the NGO Morning Briefing. They asked whether there would be an Arabic interpreter and were told by the chair "there is always an interpreter for every official language of the UN, unless there isn't." She beamed at them. At that point Nadia, their interpreter, did the planned 'Karama run' and made it to one of the interpreter booths at the back of the hall. They were the first to speak and Taryza Al Ryyen from Jordan gave their report of the work of the Western Asia caucus meetings. Nadia ended up interpreting for the whole session. The General Discussion session followed on immediately at 10am, Karama were told they had been accepted to speak for two minutes and Azza Kamel had the final document in her hands. At this session NGO's have to wait until all the delegates have said their bit, which today left the NGO's only 20 minutes of a 3 hour session. Azza was refused a glass of water. Only delegates are allowed to drink the water. The NGO's spoke one by one and there were just two more to speak when the chiar closed the session Karama was one of the two. So here is the statement on ‘Refugee and stateless women and financing for gender equality and women's rights' that they did not have the chance to make.
I had the chance to sit in the main UN session today for the first time. The topic was 'gender perspectives on climate change', which is the 'emerging issue' for this year's CSW.
The inappropriately named ‘Western Asia and Middle East' caucus met again today and attracted double the number of people from yesterday. Karama ran again, shut the door promptly and chaired the meeting. Each day they encourage someone in their group who is feeling nervous to speak up or chair a meeting - one way of empowering themselves as they navigate what has to be calculated chaos here at the UN CSW. The idea that this Commission is about ‘empowering women' is wearing thin. At the caucus everyone was given a chance to speak and additions were made to the statement including some about the specific situations of Kurdish and Saharan women refugees. The report was then submitted, all twenty two copies, font size 12, double spaced and in English. When Karama speak about the statement on Friday they will do so in Arabic and have been told that in this case they will also have to submit it in Arabic as well. They call it the "humiliation of the regulation."
The Karama women are still jet lagged, so many of them were awake at 4.30am they met at 5am to start work on the alterations they want to submit to the Agreed Conclusions after taking them to the second meeting of the ‘Western Asia and Middle East Caucus' for discussion and agreement. When they spoke at this morning's NGO caucus at which everybody briefs everybody about what they are doing, they spoke in Arabic. An interpreter was produced by the CSW but he interpreted the word ‘refugee' to mean ‘people'. Their entire statement is about the special conditions of women refugees in their region. The women in the audience simply gave up and took off their ear pieces. The brilliant interpreter Karama have brought with them, Nadia Al Sharif, will now run if she has to, in order to get to the interpretation booths first when it comes to the Conference hall proper. Karama are getting very good at this running (and it does make a change from the queuing). Their passes into the building expired today. They queued twice for two hours earlier in the week only to be given temporary ones and were told to start again today to get formal ones. They queued for hours. They missed one key session and were refused entry to another for being late. They finally got the formal passes. They leave on Friday. The title for this year's CSW they say should be "Queuing for women".
The UN press office told me today that "no specific budget has been approved yet" for the new campaign to end violence against women launched on Monday with such fanfare by Secretary General Ban Ki-moon. I was told that "the idea is that there will be additional money, but that it's not known how much this will be or when it will be determined." In the meantime "the agencies already working to end violence are to continue their work". The whole focus of this year's CSW is ‘Financing for gender equality and women's empowerment.'
At a session on gender equality and aid effectiveness today I listened to five women presenters speak about the Paris Declaration in full technical detail. They reviewed the purpose of the agreement, the history of its development, its relevance to the women's rights agenda, and the best ways to influence it.
The Karama delegates met last night to prepare two statements they want to add to the CSW 'Agreed Conclusions' which they'll take to the second meeting of the Middle East caucus for discussion. Each evening they gather in the hotel lobby, share chairs and sit on the floor, but found this evening that another delegation had caught on and got there first. They squashed in anyway amidst the potted plants, laptops balanced on their knees and got down to business. First thing in the morning the delegates will divide up. Some will go to a breakfast with a key Karama funder and some will head straight for the NGO morning briefing where they'll inform other NGO's that "there is an Arab NGO taking part in the CSW this year" and announce the round table they are hosting called ‘Dignity and the Politics of Financing for Women's Rights' on Thursday.
"I call on men around the world to lead by example: to make clear that violence against women is an act perpetrated by a coward, and that speaking up against it is a badge of honour. I call on Member States around the world: the responsibility, above all, lies with you. I call on all of you to pledge with me: United We Shall Succeed"
They made it. A Karama delegate, Amal Mahmoud Fayed from Egypt, chaired the caucus. One of them shut the door to the room on the dot of 10am and sat by the door throughout the meeting quickly and firmly dispatching anyone who wandered in to pick up literature, disturbing the discussion. (An American representative from the Good Shepherd International left half way through). The conversation stayed on the core issue, order was kept, time was kept and business was done. Delegates from Turkey and Pakistan came on board and the first Asian president of the National Council of Women of Australia, Hean Bee Wee, asked for an alliance with the caucus and was welcomed gladly. The Pakistan delegate said that she had been unable to find anyone to join with until then. A draft of the changes they'll suggest was circulated at the end of the meeting and everyone will consider them overnight. Things are going well -
Turns out I wasn't the only one noticing the English-centricity at the CSW yesterday. At the NGO orientation I went to yesterday afternoon, one woman who I think came from Cote d'Ivoire spoke passionately for five minutes in French about her frustration with the NGO Committee on the Status of Women for delivering the presentations and discussion exlusively in English. As the briefing was designed to build NGO capacity on how to influence the CSW, she was understandably desole (her word) about the lack of translation services.
The Karama group met at 7am this morning in the hotel lobby, shortage of chairs meant some of us sat crossed legged on the floor. In one hour flat this extraordinarily well organised group had decided their strategy for the Western Asia (Middle East) NGO Caucus today for two possible scenarios: if they were the only people there, and if other people showed up. In case of the second scenario, they decided to get there first to avoid a repetition of last year when they had to ‘fight' to chair the Caucus. This year three of them will "run together like football team" to make sure their chair person gets there first. They will lead the dialogue to produce strategies and recommendations and avoid talk of problems and the causes. If they want the chance to make an oral statement in general discussion, they only have until tomorrow at 10am to come up with the changes the caucus wants to this year's Agreed Conclusions (which the whole conference is now discussing) and the caucus is only for one hour.
The need to "redefine and reproduce a strong Arabic presence and not let others do it on our behalf" was the key feeling last night when I sat in with the twelve women from Karama as they met to debrief each other on day one at the CSW. They are here from Lebanon, Egypt, Syria, Jordan, Sudan, Somalia and Morocco and had split into twos and threes to attend different sessions. Key points that came up were:
UNSecretary-General Ban Ki-moon launched the UN's multi-year campaign ‘UNite to End Violenceagainst Women' today. I'd planned to attend but missed it, so spoke afterwardsto Rugia Abdelqader from Sudan who welcomed the establishment of a mechanism to tackle violenceagainst women, and to Joumana Merhi from Lebanon who said that the campaign wasimportant because it was a qualitative change and meant that the women'smovement had "managed to break through the wall of silence about violenceagainst women". It's taken determination and a great deal of patience by the women working in Unifem ( amongst others) to get this far; when they first talked of violence against women as a public issue in 1995 they met with a wall of resistance. Today the campaign was greeted with real enthusiasm, but no one could tell me how much money was being allocated, so I rang the press office to find out. I was told that they hadn't"referenced that" in the launch and that they'd get back to me when they had foundout how much money was behind the campaign. I'm still waiting to hear back from the press office.The theme of this year's CSW is, after all, finance for women's empowerment and gender equality......
I've just come out of a session called 'The Politics of Funding and Funding Politics' hosted by the Women's Intercultural Network and the Coalition of Women from Asia and the Middle East. It started with two American speakers talking about selling ‘your product', ‘seducing the funder', grant writing tips and advice to us on telephone manners when speaking to funders. The talk was of funding being both an art and a science. The meeting ended with a woman from Somalia saying that it wasn't about either: it was about politics and that it was disheartening that American foreign policy had "come down to the woman having the right to an abortion or not, that it's far more complex, has nothing to do with proposal writing and is all about race and politics".
The last time I was at a UN conference was in 2001 when I attended the World Conference Against Racism in Durban, South Africa as an NGO delegate. I found it overly bureaucratic and seemingly designed to confuse. I learned that force of will was the best way to navigate the system and keep frustration to a minimum.
I'm sitting in the airport lounge getting ready to fly to New York so that I can attend my first CSW as a blogger for openDemocracy. For the last three days I've been visiting with family and friends and whenever anybody has asked what I'll be doing in New York for the week, I've been excitedly saying, "I'm going to the biggest UN conference on women's rights." This seemed to be the easiest way to explain what the CSW is to those who are not already au fait with UN mechanisms and bureaucracies.
Half way to 2015, the shortfall in funding necessary to achieve Millennium Development Goal Three "to promote gender equality and the empowerment of women" is already $8.6 billion and is expected to grow to $23.8 billion. The picture of financing for women's empowerment is a bleak one. The second Fundher report by AWID into funding for women's rights work makes depressing reading (it's a brilliant piece of work and worth reading if you can face the bad news). More than a thousand women's rights organisations were surveyed around the world and more than half reported a drop in income since 2000. Two thirds had incomes of less than $50k a year and one third has less than $10k.
On Monday the 52nd session of the CSW opens in New York. Last year the theme was the ‘Elimination of all forms of discrimination and violence against the girl child' and the UN launched a 10 agency programme to Stop Rape Now. I can still hear the impassioned pleas from women in Nepal and Liberia and the silence in the packed conference hall as Eve Ensler read from the Vagina Monologues.
From 25 February - 7 March 2008, the UN Commission on the Status of Women (CSW) meets in New York. Bringing together representatives from 45 countries, hundreds of NGOs and several thousand women working for women's human rights, the Commission evaluates progress on gender equality and sets new standards for global policy. It takes place in the lead-up to International Women's Day on 8 March. This year, the meeting will focus on financing for gender equality and women's empowerment, and exploring gender perspectives on climate change.