WOMEN”S FREEDOM FORUM REPORT ON THE
58th COMMISSION ON THE STATUS OF WOMEN FORUM
UNITED NATIONS, New York, New York – March 8-21, 2014
By Lynn Dykstra, WFF Representative of the UN-DPI
Women’s participation in the Annual UN-CSW Forum lifts the energy level of New York City to great heights. International women leaders of grassroots organizations; NGOs, governments, and youth participant future leaders meet across political and cultural divides to bring unity to the women’s movement, worldwide; emphasizing “Equality, Development and Peace.”
The Women’s Freedom Forum (WFF) representatives participate in the UN-CSW events each year. We continue to be encouraged by the steps that we and others take to help women move forward toward equal human rights.
WFF works tirelessly by the day, by the hour, by the minute to demand and assure that women in the Middle East and other countries have educational, economic and human rights afforded them, as is the right of every human being on this earth.
My participation in this year’s event began with the Sunday “Consultation Day”, with the welcome by Soon-Young Yoon, Chair, NGO Committee on the Status of Women and continuing throughout the day with international speakers who emphasized the progress – or lack thereof – of women’s rights. This progress was evaluated in light of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). These goals emerged from the “Millennium Declaration” in 2000 where Member States of the UN consulted on “the most urgent priorities for building a peaceful and equitable future for all people of the world.”
Women leaders from Asia, Middle East, Eastern and Western Europe, Africa, North and South America and all around the world attended and emphasized the progress being made and the need to continue to move forward on those areas where progress has not reached the level of acceptance.
The international speakers placed great emphasis that this is not only a “women’s movement”; it is a humanity movement. And that requires continued cultural change in many parts of the world. The work of the 1990’s has moved women to the forefront. But “ingrained culture still trumps strategy all the time.” ”Women’s rights, gender equality are drivers for empowerment to mobilize, synergize and make the women’s movement embraced by all. Women’s global issues are not mono-central.” “Empower women and we empower humanity.” We applaud men who have broken down these cultural barriers and accept women on an equal basis. They have discovered greater freedom for themselves in the course of accepting the freedoms for women. However, we have a long way to go on this issue.
We were privileged to hear the profound and deep poetry of Ramya Ramana, Youth Poet Laureate, New York City. Her passion filled the room. She received a standing ovation on both occasions of her readings.
In addition to the day-long “Consultation Day”, the Forum has additional sessions over a 2 week period on the grounds of the UN and close-by outside venues. I attended several, including:
“Girls, Technology and Peace in Nigeria”
“Monitoring the Implementation of Domestic Violence Laws Around the World”
“From Higher Education to Women’s Leadership”
“Engaging Men as Partners for Gender Equality”
“Empowering Women to Break Away from the Vicious Circle of Poverty”
“Economic Rights, Gender-Based Violence and Sustainable Development”
“NGO Caucuses in the Arab States”
Those who presented spoke of their local program successes and challenges with passion, commitment and cooperation. I see where the Women’s Freedom Forum’s 2014 theme: “Dream, Commit & Succeed” stands for a universal mantra for NGOs and dedicated individuals around the world.
Another forum, “Combating Violence Against Adolescent Girls in Humanitarian Disasters through Livelihood Programs” (sponsored by UNICEF and others) emphasized a highly important need to implement programs and solutions for adolescent girls so they are not a footnote in economic planning and development. It was stated that adolescent girls, with their own special needs, are one of the highest risk groups. Programs for adult women don’t work for this particular group.
To create gender and economic equality, one of the most important starting points is education. Two organizations who work on this issue presented their success stories at UN-CSW. One, “AGFAS”, and the other “Open A Door” sponsor young women from Middle East countries where higher education is either forbidden or highly discouraged. These groups provide them an opportunity for higher education, a place to live and mentors to help them while they study in the United States. The programs are grass roots – with a global reach; helping young girls, one at a time, who in turn, will help another and another.
NGO Women NC and other associated NGOs, sponsored a forum that, coincidentally, spoke in part to the issue above. A United States group of University Students from North Carolina participated in “Local to Global and Global to Local” They researched and presented topics regarding challenges and achievements of gender equality and human rights. Months before the CSW event in March, students are selected to participate in this program. They choose a relevant topic, do research, arrange interviews with experts, meet with mentors and finally present their findings at the UN CSW Forum in New York. This program gives University women and men (yes, the Women NC program includes men) opportunities to speak to a world audience of women (and a handful of men) – young and old – who will share the students’ perspective when they return to their own countries.
The audience benefits from the ideas and passion of university students who set out to make a difference – and do. As an example, one young woman from Afghanistan asked one of the presenters about the important issue of violence against women. She said that the main cause of violence against women in her country is poverty; by working to eliminate poverty, the violence will begin to be eliminated too. She will share the information from this forum; as she, too, is working to make a difference – and she will help herself and others move women’s issues forward one inch, one foot or one yard at a time. “Local to Global – Global to Local.”
These programs are just a few of the exemplary examples of how individuals work together in community with the goal to increase awareness and change the landscape of the human mind so that women (and men) are empowered with all human rights and opportunities. We are all part of the same humanity, deserving “Equality, Development and Peace” for all. With DREAMS of continued unity, COMMITMENT to move forward with determination, we will SUCCEED in reaching this goal, because, simply, we BELIEVE we will.