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:
1. Whenever the Middle East is mentioned women from Turkey, Iran or Israel seem to be here to speak. They resolved in future to bring women from their region to every such session, speak about their policies and change the way they are perceived as women. As a priority they will link Karama to other regional groups and make sure that whenever there is joint panel there is a clear Arab presence. They will try to expand their base by finding and linking with similar groups. If they can't speak at sessions, they will make sure they submit written statements.
2. That sessions sponsored by NGO's with Middle East in their title have panels with a majority of non Middle East speakers - or none at all. One such NGO session was about media and peace and there was no discussion about peace or the Middle East. They will anticipate that this will happen again and be prepared. They resolved to be more proactive and develop a vision for building their media strategy and select the wording and terms of their own message simply and clearly. .
3. The discussions and brainstorming sessions in the main conference hall here are the key opportunities to speak and they'll find out who sets up these sessions and who decides who gets to speak.
4. Almost every discussion about violence this year is about domestic violence. Talk of State violence and violence as a result of conflict is absent. This means refugees are always excluded. They resolved to work out a strategy that will make refugee women part of the subject wherever and whenever violence is discussed in the UN.
5. Ban Ki-moon's campaign to end violence against women has useful mechanisms for tracking violence against women. Linking the issue of violence to equality in developing societies will give them a tool with which to lobby their governments and make them accountable.
There are very few Arab women here at all. They are going to stick together from now on and meet every morning at 7am to plan their strategy.
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