UN CSW59 Report

Mar 30, 2015 at 06:06 PM

United Nations Commission on the Status of Women 59th Session

BEIJING +20 – March, 2015 – United Nations, New York City, NY

img_0400sReport by Lynn Dykstra

Over 10,000 women representing non-governmental organizations from around the world attended the 59th Session of the United Nation’s Commission on the Status of Women.  We came to evaluate the progress of women’s rights since the Beijing Platform for Action of 1995 (BPfA).  As noted in the Introduction to the Session, “In 1995 this BPfA was the ‘can-do’ result of advocates for women’s rights from around the world. . .”

The 2015 consensus: Progress in one area has been undermined in other areas. Education is the key and while advancements have been made, much remains to be done.

img_1375-csw-equality-rally-nycsOn March 8, 2015, hundreds of women from all over the world marched in front of the United Nations in New York in solidarity for one common goal: Women’s rights and Equal opportunities for Women, around the globe. Although the ultimate goal was empowering women, all over the world, the result was a gathering of men and women working together from all walks of life; all ages; and all ethnicities and backgrounds under one common objective of equality. While we marched, we noticed that everyone had a story which brought them to that specific place on that specific day: Christians, Muslims, Jews, Buddhists, Hindus, and Atheists; all coming together, holding signs, and cheerfully holding hands and chanting “This is what a Feminist looks like!” and “I’m 20!”  

On March 9, 2015, the 59th Session opened with a Consultation Day to set the stage for the next two weeks of meetings, enlightenment and critique.  Speakers from around the world, including educators, politicians, diplomats and activists spoke out on the challenges yet ahead.  Asma Khader, lawyer and human rights activist from Jordan summed it up quite clearly.  “We do not want to lose what we have achieved over the years and must stand by every woman everywhere.”

guptaKeynote speaker Ruchira Gupta, India women’s rights activist and Clinton Global Citizen Awardee, spoke on “The Selling of Innocents” and summed up her speech by saying “we can only walk the last mile when we walk with the last girl.”

By participation throughout the 59th Session, Women’s Freedom Forum (WFF) helped to define the progress of women’s rights and the need to be active in raising public awareness of the issues of gender apartheid, misogyny and human trafficking of women in the Middle East.

WFF participated in several parallel events held throughout the session.

img_0403Our own parallel event held on March 11th, entitled: “Women in Leadership: A Litmus Test for Gender Equality in the Middle East” moderated by Lynn Dykstra, International Human Rights Advocate and WFF Representative for UN issues included the following speakers:

  • Professor Donna Hughes, Eleanor M. & Oscar M. Carlson Endowed Chair, Gender and Women’s Studies Program, University of Rhode Island, a leading international researcher on human trafficking.
  • Dr. Carole Fontaine, Taylor Professor of Biblical Theology & History, Andover Newton Theological School, Connecticut

  • Mitra Samani, a leader in the struggle for women’s rights

  • Tamila Kianfard, who discussed the role of youth in women’s rights activism

    Professor Donna Hughes discussed the various human rights violations, especially in regards to women’s and children’s rights and violations which take place all over the world, even more specifically pertaining to human trafficking. Dr. Carole Fontaine, a world-renowned biblical scholar and feminist, utilized her religious expertise to discuss and distinguish between human rights injustices and justifications based on theocratic ideologies. Dr. Fontaine used the basic rights described in most of the Abrahamic religions to defend women’s rights and inspire positions of leadership, in the overall achievement of gender equality. Mrs. Samani spoke of her experience and gave examples of women leaders in the Middle East, who inspire other women to take action for gender equality.

The path to equality is education.  Women become leaders.  Leaders educate.  And leaders emerge from all walks of life.  Around the world, most women’s leadership is practiced at the grass roots level.  Then come the economic levels, the political and judicial levels. The higher one gets in these levels, under current culture, the fewer women are allowed to lead.  Groups are working to change this.

“Women 50-50” is an activist organization whose goal is to have 50% women and 50% men in government leadership and Parliaments to assure gender equality in political arenas.  Scotland, for example, has the first law requiring a goal of 50-50.  Fifty percent women and fifty percent men in the Scottish Parliament. This is a major accomplishment on the progressive end.

However, there are many world areas where this is impossible to achieve at this point in time.  In one area of Afghanistan, for example, women’s human rights groups are working through Imams to reach the men of the villages and expose them to the human rights of women.  In one “successful” result, one participant stated that he had “stopped beating his wife” after attending the program.  Here, one man’s education represents great relief for one woman.

We move forward one step at a time in one region at a time.  Women’s organizations seek to change the mindsets through education and move forward toward gender equality.  This is why without hesitation; we must continue to “stand by every woman everywhere.”

In a session inside the UN, presented by the Permanent Mission of France, the issue of CEDAW was discussed.  The Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women took on the emerging issue of the role of women to prevent and combat violent extremism as a new form of violence against women and girls.

According to the panelists, weak government, unemployment and intolerable narratives clinging to extremist religion cause extremist groups to thrive.  In fighting this, the subjugation of women is an afterthought in response of the international community.  Military reaction may slow down, but won’t stop the extremists’ conquering of minds and bodies.  This requires a major challenge on the grass roots level by those being oppressed and those who support the oppressed.

The application of CEDAW puts women in the center of sustainable development and allows power to be expanded to all through women’s leadership.  In this new era of extremism the challenge for women is greater than ever before.    More reasons than ever why we must continue to “stand by every woman everywhere.”

In a parallel event entitled “Expanding the Influence of Arab Women as Leaders in the Women Peace and Security Agenda”,   it was noted that 52% of the voters in Egypt were women.  Women want change; advocacy is not enough.  When fighting for equality, women must lead in the fight for the rights of the culture of the whole country, not just the rights of women.  Currently 80% of the peacekeeping forces are men while 70% of those in refugee camps are women and children.

At the same event, a woman from Syria emphasized that war creates a gender change.  With many husbands and brothers in prison or dead, women are responsible to lead.  War forces and allows women to become these leaders.  To build peace, women must be in politics and lead.

Women’s Freedom Forum representatives Lynn Dykstra and Tamila Kianfard were honored to speak at the parallel event sponsored by the Centre for Social Research, an Institution for Women and Girls in India.  The event was led by Dr. Ranjana Kumari, the Centre’s Director.

Both Lynn and Tamila explained the role of WFF to raise public awareness and inspire understanding of the issues facing Middle East women in areas of legal and human rights, political participation, education and empowerment; including gender apartheid, misogyny, human trafficking and in these current days, simply basic survival.   WFF shared real life stories of women in the Middle East who do not have a public voice.

The 59th Session of the United Nations Commission on the Status of Women shared the long- term vision of the Women’s Freedom Forum:  quite simply “for women to live in a world where there is equality, social justice and respect for women’s rights.”

To accomplish this goal, women and men together must stand by every woman everywhere.”

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