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The mother of all widows

So yesterday CSW formally opened and we NGOs, thousands of us,queue, crowd, jostle to get a seat either in the gallery of Conference Room A where the delegates are or to watch on the big screen the proceedings from Conference Room B. Although we are there by 9 am nothing gets going until after 10. Delegates are warned that colour blindness will not be accepted as an excuse if they ignore the orange light which tells them they have 30 seconds to stop speaking. Speakers for a group of countries have 10 minutes; mere single nations only 5...

Women UN limited logo and linkWe watch and listen as the top people in the UN such as the head of ECOSOC, UNIFEM, the Egyptian Chair of CEDAW; the dignified lovely UN Deputy Secretary-General Asha-Rose Megiro followed by Rachel Mayanja, Office of the Special Adviser on Gender Issues to the SG do their stuff. All speaking passionately about gender equality and the empowerment of women; the gains and progress made in the 15 years since Beijing. The DSG spoke optimistically of the hopes she had that the new Gender Entity, the UN Department for Women, will get its legs by September and there will be far more effective work in the field driven by top level policy making at headquarters. The presentations were elegant and predictable and each speaker was applauded but many of us were anxious to get going on our own business, rushing back across the road to the Church Centre or wherever else the NGOs had found near the UN building to hold their own meetings.

I only managed to fit in two parallel events on Monday but they were good. The first on Goal 5 (Maternal Mortality) of the MDGs, chaired by the great “father of UN SCR 1325”, Ambassador Anurwal Chowdhury who in 2006 signed the petition on a gender and peace making issue for our WPD Nepal partner, the WHR-SWG (Women for Human Rights Single Women’s Group). The panel included UNICEF and UNFPA (men) presenters. They showed how maternal mortality could be reduced dramatically given certain specific strategies and resources and how even very poor countries had managed to do this by training traditional birth attendants, by ensuring that women and girls could access family planning services, by the provision of basic drugs and by training and empowering paramedics to perform some simple surgery. We were given a very clinical description of different types of Obstetric Fistula and what could be done both to prevent and to repair. I managed to get a quick question in – about why on earth neither UNICEF nor UNFPA had ever brought into their policy work the issues of widowhood, widowhood mourning rites, the increases of child marriage and therefore child widowhood because single mothers cannot afford to keep their girl children in school.  The UNICEF man said I was quite right, they need to look at this and Ambassador Chowdhury called me the “mother of all widows” so I left feeling I had made one good remark. And then, the nicest feature of all our parallel events.. suddenly people I had met all over the world at different meetings come up, from Nepal, from Mozambique from Kenya and we are all hugging and embracing and exchanging our papers and brochures and details of our meetings.

On then to the last meeting of the day on GEAR the gender architecture reform to set up the new $1 billion dollar Department for Women. Will it happen? By September? Can the appointment of its USG be transparent ? It  will be a woman ? A 27 page detailed analysis on the new entity is around and none of us have read it but today we will wear GEAR stickers on our shirts and all stand in the Gallery so the SG can see us and that means we want all in place by September

Lastly on to the party given us by the UK Mission to the UN and our Ambassador, Mark Lyall-Gran who is really approachable, friendly and helpful. His wife is also a diplomat, with unpaid leave whilst she is in New York as the UK Mission too small for her to have a job here. So two diplomats, married to each other! Will we see soon that its the wife who takes the Ambassador job and the husband the unpaid leave? That would be true equality.

I must close it is after 7 am and its the 2nd day and the NGO briefings. Harriet Harman has flown home quite suddenly for “domestic and personal reasons”. Our Ambassador says she gave a stirring speech but I’ve not yet read it. Could it be something is brewing re: Gordon and No.10? I haven’t a clue being over here and with the UN building under reconstruction I can't even pick up a Guardian to find out what is happening on the home base.

About the author

Margaret Owen is the Director of Widows for Peace through Democracy. She is the Patron of Peace in Kurdistan, a UK barrister and an international women’s human rights activist. Follow her on twitter @electionmargie


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