Blog http://www.sustainus.org/agents-of-change-blog Mon, 28 Jul 2014 04:13:12 +0000 Joomla! - Open Source Content Management en-gb Women in power http://www.sustainus.org/agents-of-change-blog/835-women-in-power http://www.sustainus.org/agents-of-change-blog/835-women-in-power

At the beginning of this conference I held the belief that , as a high school student, there wasn't anything I could contribute in terms of tangible experience. Now don't get me wrong here; I consider myself pretty well-informed about many of the issues that are being talked about at the side events. My school and personal interests resulted in some knowledge in topics like reproductive right, trafficking, education, female genital mutilation, the use of alternative fuels for women's benefit, discrimination, and the gross lack of representation of women in important decision making processes. I was happy to chip in helpful arguments and facts in certain discussions. But that was all a matter of research. I could never imagine myself speaking in this conference with the same intensity and passion that civil society members with experience in direct humanitarian projects and governmental officials did when they spoke of issues they witnesses first-hand. Quite frankly, it also felt like people wouldn't take such a young person as seriously either.

Today was the first time where I spoke about something more personal in a panel discussion. The side event was sponsored by several of the government officials of Kenya, and they explained the aspects of their new constitution that helped secure seats for women in the decision-making process. Quotas and guidelines were mentioned; one rule in particular said that no one than 2/3 of the seats in their legislature could be occupied by one gender, basically guaranteeing that at least 1/3 of the seats would go to women. Even more interesting was a point a South African legislator brought up about how some politicians will give seats to women and not allow them to actually do anything, only so they can tell the voters that women are bad leaders. I thought it was interesting how common quotas were among other nations, since I grew up in a country where quotas are illegal. I spoke out about how, despite having affirmative action programs that don't even go as far as allowing quotas, affirmative action still had the potential to cause backlash since the very people who are meant to be beneficiaries of affirmative action often have their achievements and merits undermined; one of the hardest working people I knew at my high school got accepted into University of Pennsylvania and some of my classmates claimed it was because of her race. Similarly, when an alumni from my school who was known for having an amazing work ethic got a prestigious internship at Goldman Sachs, a few boys I know complained about how much easier it is for women to get jobs in finance. I talked about how these experiences lead me to believe that people need to be more informed of why these "reverse-discrimination" programs are needed in the first place.

My high school is a "blue ribbon" institution with a successful civics program. Yet even in advanced level classes, I know students who truly believe racism and sexism are no longer prevalent in the workforce. To my surprise, when the panelists were answering all the questions brought up by the audience, one of the Kenyan government officials went out of her way to get my name so she could personally address me; she told me about how in college, the only positions women held in her clubs were treasurer or social affairs manager and agreed that progress needed to be made about the social attitudes people had towards affirmative action. Another panelist echoed the sentiment, emphasizing the need for quality in the programs they chose to implement. Although I still have much to experience and learn as a high school senior, it was empowering to know that I could still provide personal insight and experiences from a youth perspective that helped move the dialogue along.

]]>
alyssa.tsuchiya@gmail.com (Susan Liu, CSW58 delegate) AoC Blog Fri, 28 Mar 2014 02:45:28 +0000
CSW 58: A lesson and an inspiration http://www.sustainus.org/agents-of-change-blog/834-csw-58-a-lesson-and-an-inspiration http://www.sustainus.org/agents-of-change-blog/834-csw-58-a-lesson-and-an-inspiration

As I leave NY back to college after an unbelievable week at CSW with the SustainUS delegation, I look at the UN humbled by everything it taught me during the week, but also excited about someday going back, and as a UN diplomat, making a significant impact in international development.

If I had to describe this week in a few words they would be learning and inspiration.

Through the different sessions, I was able to gain so many new perspectives on gender equality that I had not even considered before. Although I have always been passionate about development,  there were so many aspect of gender equality that I had never explored in detail before, such as the abuses of reproductive rights, or child marriage. Coming to the conference, I believed I knew most of the important issues around these topics, but as I got to talk to the speakers, and listen to their presentations, my perspective widened and I realized there were so many different challenges, and to such large extents that I had not even considered.

For instance, in a meeting about child marriage, the representative of Canada stated that only 1% of global development funding targets adolescent girls, and it was later mentioned “66% of girls in Bangladesh are married under 18.” This statistic remains stuck in my head, as the magnitude of this problem is something I had never been aware of. As I heard more about early and child marriage, I came to realize how much more I still had to learn, how many people these problems affect all around the world, and how this affects each individual involved and the people that surround them.  Through the different committees, I got to learn about experts in each field, about people who are passionate about these issues, who have done research, and who are making an impact in helping solve them. I came to understand that gender equality has so many different faces to it, that although a lot of progress has been it clearly is still a pressing problem in the international community, and that I still have so much more to learn.

Also, a unique part of this experience was getting to meet international diplomats in such a welcoming environment, getting to share our points of view and gain advice from them one-on-one. In the smaller committees, as well as after or before the bigger sessions, getting to speak to the diplomats, heads of delegations, and accomplished entrepreneurs in certain fields, enriched my experience in ways I couldn’t have imagined. One of the delegates that had a critical impact in my experience in CSW was the Head of the Argentine Mission to the UN. Every time she spoke at a session, gave a speech, or talked to me as I approached her, her motivation, passion and genuine belief in what she was doing filled every word she said, and every time I finished talking to her, I too was inspired and shared the belief that I could change the world. She was also the one who inspired me to give a speech at the ECOSOC Council, about the role of parliaments and other measures to improve gender equality. As I heard her speak, I realized this was an opportunity to speak in the council I had so many times simulated and researched in school, to get my voice be heard in front of diplomas I admired, and to share my point of view with people who might add it to their perspectives, and take action on them.

The first day when we had our delegation meeting, Emilie told us the importance of being there, and how SustainUS had brought us here because they believed we would benefit from interacting with other delegates; how anyone could watch the videos of the sessions online, but we were given the opportunity to actually have conversations and share ideas with these accomplished speakers. This is something that stuck with me throughout the week, and I think is something that drove me to approach speakers I was really interested after sessions, and ask them about their views on specific subjects, as well as sharing my solutions and thoughts on these gender issues. I couldn’t be more thankful for that advice, as by speaking to these diplomats and organizations leaders, I got to discuss different perspectives on such issues, and unique ways that each one had thought of to tackle them. For instance, the UK starting a STEM ambassador program and hosting different fun scientific activities to encourage girls to get involved in STEM, Peru creating an educational theme park to encourage staying in school, or the Haitian government using technology and the internet to empower women and reduce poverty and violence. Hearing about the speakers’ experiences and projects as they shared their passions and motivations with me was one of the most valuable aspects of the conference.

This week not only taught me so much about gender issues and inspired me to take action and do more, but I also got the opportunity to absorb the environment of the UN, an organization that I have simulated so many times in Model UN and looked up for so many years. On my first day at the UN, as I saw the diplomats interact with each other, passionately discuss their personal interests as well as their goals for the conference, and be genuinely eager to talk to everyone, the word that kept popping in my head was “celebration.” A celebration of cultures, of different points of view, a celebration of solutions, of the potential to improve the international community. And as they spoke excitedly about the coming days, a celebration of hope. 

]]>
alyssa.tsuchiya@gmail.com (Vidya Daryanani, CSW58 delegate) AoC Blog Fri, 28 Mar 2014 02:41:24 +0000
The Missing Millennium Development Goal - The Elimination of Violence against Women http://www.sustainus.org/agents-of-change-blog/833-the-missing-millennium-development-goal-the-elimination-of-violence-against-women http://www.sustainus.org/agents-of-change-blog/833-the-missing-millennium-development-goal-the-elimination-of-violence-against-women

Every day around the world, women are fighting to survive violence, inequality, poverty and disease. All these battles are addressed within a millennium development goal (MDG) - except violence.

Violence against women (VAW) is one of the most prevalent and pervasive human right violations of this century. However only until recent has it been an issue that's being addressed out of "private" homes and discussed within the community. The MDGs focus on gender equality- it canvases topics such as education, political participation and overall empowerment but does not address specifically the elimination of violence against women. 1 in 3 women will experience physical and/or sexual violence during her life, most likely by the hands of someone she knows.

Experts throughout the CSW58 sessions have concluded that the reason VAW was not included as a goal was due to the lack of studies and reports during the time when the MDGs were initiated. The reports released in 2013 by the World Health Organization, now provides the alarming stats that should steer this violation to its own goal. Violence against women is not a "women’s issue" it's a human rights issue. As a society we need to continue to drift away from the idea that this "fire" should only be contained and extinguished within the home.

Figures by the United Nations and World Bank estimate that the cost of domestic violence in the United States exceeds $5.8 billion per year. $4.1 billion spent on direct medical and healthcare services and nearly $1.8 billion spent on productivity losses. Society has failed to realize in previous years that violence against women is a major public health concern, it not only affects those within the home but ripples throughout the community.

The international development community has been largely successful in shifting violence against women from a private to a societal concern- but more needs to be done. With the increase discussion surrounding VAW throughout CSW58 sessions, I hope that the elimination of violence against women will be addressed and added as a post 2015 millennium development goal. 

]]>
alyssa.tsuchiya@gmail.com (Michelle Rodriguez, CSW58 delegate) AoC Blog Wed, 19 Mar 2014 03:34:09 +0000
Reflections from CSW58 http://www.sustainus.org/agents-of-change-blog/832-reflections-from-csw58 http://www.sustainus.org/agents-of-change-blog/832-reflections-from-csw58

My experience at the UN has been both incredible and humbling. I have met so many amazing world leaders who are doing so much good and are changing their countries. I feel like a shadow on the wall and they are the sun, and they are the driving force of change all around the world.

Many events I went to included reproductive rights,LGBT* issues/ basic human rights, violence against women with HIV, and Human Trafficking.

All of these meetings have deeply impacted me and I have been changed for the better.

Following one full week attending the United Nations' Commission on the Status of Women, I feel so humbled. I have met so many amazing world leaders doing such incredible things. I have learned from leaders from Ecuador, Austria, Madagascar, Mexico, Venezuela, Uganda, Canada, and other countries. They have all been incredible, and I have learned so much. I feel like a shadow on the wall and that they are the sun.

Here is part of what has stayed with me this week. So many of the issues women face in this world include violence against women. For women with HIV, the threat of violence is very real, and in many countries, these women are beaten or killed. For women victimized by human trafficking, the threat of violence is also very real. Most people assume human trafficking involves prostitution and sexual exploitation, but I learned that there is a large amount of trafficking that involves domestic servants. These women are brought to foreign countries to work as domestic servants, sometimes by diplomats, and treated as indentured servants. They give their passports to the employer, who then has control all aspects of the victims life. Frequently beaten, sometimes raped, usually overworked and underpaid, these women are overlooked by society. There are estimates of over 21 million victims who work as domestic servants. Before last week, I was unaware of how big an issue it was.

Another thing that stuck with me is what we need to do for the victims around the world. It was shared that we need to take a human rights approach to the victims of violence, discrimination, oppression, and poverty. We Need to find a way to care for, rehabilitate, and reintegrate the victims back into society.

I have learned so much, and look forward to learning so much more. One woman I met who inspired me was Jessica Whitbread. She is a woman with HIV who is working to make things better for HIV positive women in the world. She faces so much, yet she is an artist and an activist working to make a difference. She told me I can make a difference too, which is what I have been trying to do. I will return home so inspired by her and all the other panelists I have seen this week. I can't wait to learn more this week.

]]>
alyssa.tsuchiya@gmail.com (Cierra Fields, CSW58 delegate) AoC Blog Tue, 18 Mar 2014 07:34:24 +0000
Neglecting the rights of elderly women http://www.sustainus.org/agents-of-change-blog/831-neglecting-the-rights-of-elderly-women http://www.sustainus.org/agents-of-change-blog/831-neglecting-the-rights-of-elderly-women

The first time I saw the list of side events featured at the Commission on the Status of Women, I found myself overwhelmed by the broad range of topics, from education to reproductive rights to human trafficking and many more.

Yet one topic that I found to be neglected was the ageing population and the violence and violation of rights that older women face. Today I attended the only side-event that addressed this issue, with a panel that involved officials from Argentina and Slovenia. Representing civil society was Susan Somers and Patricia Brownell, who are associated with the International Network for the Prevention of Elder Abuse. Among other things, they spoke about some of the negative perceptions society had on older women, and how common it was to view the elderly as a drain on resources and society.

I was surprised that this issue received little attention at the commission; with a global population that is increasing at an exponential rate and population ageing reaching a new precedent, how can we neglect to include the protections of older women in the agreed conclusions and future Sustainable Development Goals? Upon being asked why the rights of elderly women were so neglected at the Commission on the Status of Women, Dr. Brownell modestly replied that they were trying their best efforts to spread the word, and emphasized how important it is for civil society to continue being active and advocating for elderly women's rights to be placed on the international community's development agenda. Other panelists were more blunt in their replies, stressing how neglected this issue was, and how they needed us all to help spread the word throughout the conference.

Hearing Maria Perceval, the ambassador from Argentina, speak gave me goosebumps. Although we could tell that English was not her first language, her message was still clear: the rights of elderly women have been pushed aside in the international community's agenda for far too long, especially considering how much more susceptible they have been to poverty in her country. Her words drew a deafening applause from the crowd, as we could feel the raw emotion in her voice. Throughout my time in this conference, we have emphasized how much the commission neglects the voice of young people.

It's only been three days, and I've already been exposed to an overwhelming plethora of issues surrounding the status of women around the world. Aside from having to prioritize and represent the views set forth by their governments, national representatives are asked to consider many different goals set forth by civil society. Throughout my high school career, I have studied these issues from a more theoretical lens; I have role played as a governmental delegate in several Model UN committees, but my experience here so far has made it clearer than ever how much these simulations have shown me an incredibly oversimplified version of the work that these delegates do. I can only imagine how difficult it is to balance or consider all these other important agendas with the tasks their governments have already set out for them.

]]>
alyssa.tsuchiya@gmail.com (Susan Liu, CSW58 delegate) AoC Blog Tue, 18 Mar 2014 01:26:03 +0000
Celebrating Differences http://www.sustainus.org/agents-of-change-blog/830-celebrating-differences http://www.sustainus.org/agents-of-change-blog/830-celebrating-differences

The most inspiring thing about my week at the 58th Session of the Commission on the Status of Women hasn’t necessarily been the events, or the fact that it’s being held in a dazzling city. The most inspiring thing has been seeing women from all over the world come together for a common purpose: to advance the empowerment of women. If you were already under the impression that women’s empowerment was a broad issue, you’d be surprised at just how much more broad the issue becomes when you’re taking into account the personal and varying experiences of billions of women worldwide.

Often, when I talk to people about women’s empowerment, the immediate response is something along the lines of “Yeah, yeah, sure. Women should be treated like men. You’re right. I get it.” But it is infinitely more complicated than that. Women don’t want to be treated like men – we want to be treated like autonomous human beings, whose thoughts and feelings are respected, and whose individual needs are met. I’ve been to events that have covered a range of topics - from mental health to violence, from why race matters to making sure that girls have equal access to education - and in each one of these sessions, the same message comes through: Women cannot be empowered by using men as models for what we deserve in life. Rather, women must be empowered by creating our own models for what empowerment means to each of us. What empowers a white woman in America most likely won’t be what empowers a Black woman in America, let alone a young girl from Uganda or a mother in Portugal, and that’s okay. It is our responsibility to name what we are lacking and what we need so that we can create a world in which those needs are met.

One of my favorite quotes of all time is by Audre Lorde. She writes “Divide and conquer must become define and empower.” To me, this quote means that our differences shouldn’t be something that causes us fear; rather, our differences are cause for celebration! Instead of being overwhelmed by the complexities that each of us embody, and instead of trying to create a universal form of empowerment, we should recognize that just as people are different from each other, what empowers us and leads us to be self-actualized can and should be different too. If there is one thing to be learned from the United Nations, it is that our diversity is integral to building a world worth living in. 

]]>
alyssa.tsuchiya@gmail.com (Taylor Chapman, CSW58 delegate) AoC Blog Fri, 14 Mar 2014 02:55:25 +0000
Review of CSW58 session: Implementing Women and Girl's Circles: A tool to vitalize progress with the Millennium Development Goals http://www.sustainus.org/agents-of-change-blog/829-review-of-csw58-session-session-implementing-women-and-girl-s-circles-a-tool-to-vitalize-progress-with-the-millennium-development-goals http://www.sustainus.org/agents-of-change-blog/829-review-of-csw58-session-session-implementing-women-and-girl-s-circles-a-tool-to-vitalize-progress-with-the-millennium-development-goals

Today I listened to a girl speak. She was a high school student, like me, but just a bit older. She said she was a girl advocate, by which she meant she takes stories of girls she loves and gives them a voice. The story she gave voice to today was that of a young girl in Bangladesh. She met this girl while part of a program that let her spend a month in Bangladesh. This young girl, who was in the eighth grade, was so beaten down by the oppressive culture towards women in her country, including her home, that she took on manly attributes because she wanted to be strong. In her eyes, she could only be strong if she were manly, women were weak, or fragile as her parents told her.

How sad that women are seen as weak in so many cultures, and by so many. Women are strong. We bear children, we raise them, and too often, we bury them. We are the glue that holds families together. But we are so much more than just our maternal roles. We invent and discover like Grace Hopper or Madame Curry. We lead, like Wilma Mankiller, or even women who make their mark in culture like Lupita Nyong'o or Meryl Streep. We can do so much as women, without having to be. You don't have to be manly to be strong, but to be a woman it helps to be strong.

]]>
alyssa.tsuchiya@gmail.com (Cierra Fields, CSW58 delegate) AoC Blog Fri, 14 Mar 2014 02:50:05 +0000
Policies and gender exclusion http://www.sustainus.org/agents-of-change-blog/828-policies-and-gender-exclusion http://www.sustainus.org/agents-of-change-blog/828-policies-and-gender-exclusion

While attending the side event The role of Men and Boys in Contributing to the Achievement of Gender Equality and Women's Empowerment, one of the panelists, Hakima Abbas, had a thinly veiled criticism of "people centered" policies.

"People centered policies often means male centered, while women are almost always added by extension.

The evidence supporting her statement is painfully obvious. Every American is familiar with the following phrase. "We hold these truths to be self evident that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their creator with certain unalienable rights, that among them are Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness."

While I understand that we colloquially use terms such as "Men" and "Mankind" to refer to humanity as a whole (including women), the founding fathers of the United States were not referring to all of humanity when writing the Declaration of Independence. They were referring to white, land-owning, males.

In fact, more than ten years later when writing the Constitution, they not only failed to secure the protection and respect of the rights of all human beings living in their newly formed country, they also concluded that certain humans were only 3/5 human. Much has changed since the document was signed and ratified over 200 years ago, but Ms. Abbas is right in the sense that women (as well as other disenfranchised groups) were an afterthought.

Ms. Abbas's statement proves true on the international level as well. While the Universal Declaration of Human Rights was ratified in 1948, women are only briefly mentioned. It wasn't until 1979 (35 years ago) that a more comprehensive treaty promoting women's rights, The Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW), was ratified.

While the old phrase "better late than never" does hold true here, women will not have full equality until their concerns are brought to the forefront rather than being added on as an afterthought.

]]>
alyssa.tsuchiya@gmail.com (Patrick Kelly, CSW58 delegate) AoC Blog Fri, 14 Mar 2014 02:47:08 +0000