Nine Weeks in the Life of a UU-UNO Women’s Program Intern

 

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Zandy in front of the UN.
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Zandy and Gerardo Porteny Backal

Hi, my name is Alexandra “Zandy” Stovicek and this is my last week as the intern in charge of the Women’s Initiative for Security and Peacebuilding (WISP) in the Unitarian Universalist United Nations (UUUNO) office. I had an incredible time getting to know my office supervisors, fellow interns of all ages and academic backgrounds, and learning about the structure and agenda of the United Nations. As the only intern focused on the WISP program during my time here, I was able to work on a plethora of projects of my own volition. One of my goals for this internship was to focus on networking and partnership building. Although I consider myself an extrovert, I have not had a lot of opportunity to practice building professional relationships in my young adult life, and I know that these skills are invaluable for the road ahead. Two of my objectives were to create a partnership with the US Mission and UN Women. Although I have not had as much success as I would have hoped partnering with the US Mission on indigenous women’s rights, my goal of partnering with UN Women was achieved. I recently met with Gerardo Porteny Backal, the Global Youth Consultant for the HeForShe Campaign at UN Women. HeforShe encourages men to join the fight for gender equality on behalf of universal human rights. Hopefully our organizations will start collaborating on women’s rights after such a successful meeting!

I’ve also looked into partnering with UU groups. We are in the process of working with both the UUA Reproductive Justice Advisory Group and the All Souls Reproductive Justice Task Force on an informative panel on international reproductive health. My other big task related to Unitarian Universalism in particular has been calling envoys from UU congregations to update our database and gather feedback, in order to improve UU-UNO communications and our Envoy program. Perhaps I spoke to some of the individuals who are reading this right now! I enjoyed getting to know UUs from around the country and Canada, hearing their goals for implementation of UN Sundays and other international human rights advocacy events at their congregations.

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UN Women’s Meeting

My main project has been preparation and planning for the UN Commission on the Status of Women (CSW) in March. This two-week conference consists of meetings at the UN headquarters and our very own church center, headed by UN Women and the NGO Committee on CSW. After researching a dozen potential topics, I narrowed down our proposal to focus on two themes. The first is about global women’s self-esteem. When the issue of “self-esteem” is addressed, it is often in the context of a Western woman’s issues with her body image, exacerbated by the media. Self-esteem, however, should be considered to mean the worth and value of all women around the world. This is not a national issue; it is a global, universal, pervasive issue: the low self-esteem of women. I intend the event to have a discussion-based format; I’d love for audience members to discuss what self-esteem really means and how it is the root of many issues. The topic will be approached through the lens of a discussion on the war against girl children. Think about this: a man who kills or abandons his female children because they are female must not think a female life is worth living. If a woman kills, aborts, or abandons her female children because they are female, she must not think a female life is worth living, and therefore that her own life is worth living. What creates and perpetuates the dehumanization of women and their low self-esteem? And, how can we change it?

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Zandy and UU-UNO Office and Intern Coordinator, Nickie Tiedeman

The second panel stems from a desire to continue the work and writings of former intern Russell Hathaway, who is passionate about the plight of women in Syria. I developed a panel focusing on the Reproductive and Mental Health of Syrian Refugee Women. The Syrian Civil War is a relevant and important topic. Yet much of the focus on the war concerns bombings, military engagements, and use of chemical weapons, rather than civilians, particularly women and their reproductive and mental health. There is a dire need to focus on this specific topic since many women have suffered physical and sexual violence in conflict, and all have experienced trauma. A number attribute their feelings of insecurity, or their experiences of harassment or exploitation, to the fact that they are living without an adult male, who would ordinarily provide social and physical protection. Many of these women now live in poverty in Egypt, Jordan, and Lebanon settlements. They are the survivors of war, the unheard voices, and the lives forgotten. Health facilities have been deliberately targeted and eviscerated during the war and the specific treatment and concern directed towards sexual and gender-based violence (SGBV) survivors in particular is crucial. It has been a privilege to watch my work come to fruition, from brainstorming about potential topics to formatting the specific topics to having co-sponsors and panelists commit to participating just this week!

As I head back to Wesleyan University for my sophomore year this month, I am excited to continue promoting gender equality and all human rights on my campus. I belong to many social justice groups that focus on an eclectic mix of topics, from girls’ education to HIV/AIDs to discrimination against LGBT persons to advocating against sexual violence towards women. I hope to use the skills and knowledge base that I have acquired at the UU-UNO in order to become a more conscientious, action-focused member of these groups. In order to remain in contact with this lovely office and the UN in general, I applied to become a UN Women Civil Society Advisory Group Youth Representative. The position would entail meetings with the Executive Director and other representatives in order to include the input of youth on gender equality initiatives. Fingers crossed! You might also find me running around the office come March, as the UN prepares for CSW. I hope to volunteer for this office or NGO CSW during my spring break to see my passionate work come to completion. Best wishes for a peaceful, justice-filled year ahead!

With love,

Zandy Stovicek

UU-UNO LogoIf you are interested in learning more about the UU-UNO internship program, please email Nickie Tiedeman at ntiedeman@uua.org. 

UN Conference ‘Women in Power: Making a Global Difference’

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When fellow intern Zandy and I heard that there would be a UN conference entitled “Women in Power Making a Global Difference,” I cleared my schedule to be sure I could be there. What could be more exciting than powerful women using their influence for the global good?

The conference room was emptier than I wished it would have been. In my mind, the masses should come together on this issue. The issue of gender inequality affects men and women alike. Fortunately, the panelists were both men and women of many different racial backgrounds. The moderator of the event, Terra Renee, managed to weave the speeches of each leader into a cohesive call to act on behalf of these issues, leaving attendees with a feeling of empowerment.

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The Ambassador of Grenada to the United States, Denis Antoine, spoke about how closing the gender gap could “unleash greater global power.” He stressed that women have no representation in public decision making roles despite their strong roles in the home; mothers can teach their sons and daughters to be agents of change. Mothers are inherently strong leaders and should be given the opportunity to lead outside of the home.

Sire Dione Conde, the President of African Women for Good Governance, had a lot to say about the ability of women, whether they are mothers at home or powerful leaders, to make a difference. Like Ambassador Antoine, she also emphasized the role of mothers: confident mothers raise confident daughters. Furthermore, if women are empowered in their communities, they will raise empowered girls.

Mamadou Tangara, Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Gambia, mentioned the tremendous image(3)difference that free education has made for girls and will continue to make in the future in his own country.

Dr. Ekua of Nigeria opened with the endearing statement, “I am one of the most gender sensitive men you can find on the earth.” He highlighted the need to not only talk about women’s issues, but to brainstorm concrete strategies to move forward, and create bench marks for  progress. In particular he noted that media is often used as a tool to objectify women instead of as a resource to promote gender equality.

Lynne Walsh, Director of the Universal Peace Federation, declared that society is off-balance; a great way to think about the untapped potential of women.She argued for male-female teamwork as the key to success. She spoke in terms of both global and national issues. However, both Zandy and I found her ideas to be quite heteronormative. She focused on family ideals and the importance of children growing up in a two-parent (male-female) household. I think this idea disregards women’s ability to affect change, globally or otherwise, all by herself or in a group of women without men. Single mothers, female leaders, and same sex couples who are successful at raising children were discredited by her words. We both agree that men need to be part of the discussion on gender equality, but that her idealization of the male presence undersold the potential of women. I hope that we can all see that women have the power to catalyze change, indiscriminate of gender identity and whether or not they are part of a gender binary.

Stephanie Aisha Steplight Johnson, Dean of the Liberal Arts School of Essex County College, shared her understanding of good governance. Good governance consists of a government providing protection, natural resources, education, and health for its citizens in order to ensure a high quality of life. Unfortunately, often it is the citizens who must take the infrastructure of their communities into their own hands. She closed with Nelson Mandela’s statement that the “ordinary men and women guarantee true democracy and freedom,” hoping to foster the spirit of good governance among not only politicians and leaders but each and every civilian.

Lindsay Ashby focused on the justice system, mentioning the positive changes in gender equality in the United States through the reversal of five sexist rulings. Next she discussed the bridge between women’s equality and energy justice. She recounted her trips to help developing areas during which women would ask for wells that would enable water to be more accessible to the community, while men asked for soccer fields.

image(2)                The event culminated with a discussion of the 276 Nigerian girls who were kidnapped by the Boko Haram terrorist organization in April. It has now been just over 100 days that the girls have been in captivity and unfortunately it has been confirmed that 11 of the girls’ parents have died during their absence. Marsha Lee-Wash of the Law Enforcement Guardians spoke with passion on this issue. She stressed the magnitude of uncontrollable violence in our society today, but declared that we must continue to advocate on behalf of human rights. She stated that the girls deserve the “freedom to live and dream without harm,” and that “we cannot afford to go to sleep on the dreams of girls.” Her most notable conclusion exposed the cracks within the UN system; she asked the audience to “move beyond the titles [they] have acquired,” stop having “conferences for the sake of conferences,” and use this opportunity to create a call to action. This amalgamation of speakers from eclectic backgrounds helped to inform the audience about the plethora of national and international impediments to gender equality and why each of those battles is equally important to fight.

There are so many ways to get involved in the fight for women’s rights. Some are right here at the UU-UNO, located in the Church Center of UN Plaza. The UU-UNO aims to promote awareness and action through education and advocacy such as pushing for ratification of the Convention on the Elimination of all forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) U.S. and international implementation, preventing sexual violence and child marriage, participation and hosting events each year at CSW (the Commission on the Status of Women), film screenings, and writing reports. For more information, to host a film screening, or attend an event please visit our Women’s Peace building website or e-mail us. We’d love to hear from you!

 

Untitled    -Lauren Potenza & Zandy Stovicek

 

 

 

CSW’s 58th Session and the UU-UNO’s Parallel Events

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Background of CSW

The Commission on the Status of Women (CSW) is a functional commission of UN Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC). It was established on 21 June 1946. It is the principal global intergovernmental policy-making body that dedicated to the promotion of gender equality and the empowerment of women. Every year, representatives of member states gather at United Nations Headquarters in New York to evaluate progress, identify challenges, set global standards and formulate policies to promote gender equality and women’s empowerment worldwide.

Over the two-week events, participants work to produce final agreed conclusions approved by all CSW Member States. For the first half of the CSW, participants make statements and deliberate on the priority and related themes, with regards to draft agreed conclusions that serve as a starting point. Formal negotiations on the draft begin in the second half of the CSW, resulting in several draft versions of agreed conclusions before a final one is voted upon by CSW Member States. Learn more about CSW(more…)

Half the Sky Film Screening

uu-uno The Unitarian Universalist United Nations Office has partnered with the Half the Sky movement which raises awareness about critical women’s rights issues, opening a space for a deeper discussion and action steps. The UU-UNO has developed a resource packet so that congregations can host screenings and guided discussions. Suggestions for immediate action steps that can be taken by individuals and congregations are also outlined in this packet.

On April 12, Arun Lobo, a UU-UNO intern through Fordham University, half-the-sky1flew to Durango, Colorado to facilitate the discussion at the Half the Sky Screening at the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship at Durango.This film was inspired by Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn’s bestselling book “Half the Sky: Turning Oppression into Opportunity for Women Worldwide.” Hidden in the overlapping problems of sex trafficking and forced prostitution, gender-based violence, and maternal mortality is the single most vital opportunity of our time – and women are seizing it. From Somaliland to Cambodia to Afghanistan, women’s oppression is being confronted head on real, meaningful solutions are being fashioned.

Arun Lobo
Arun Lobo

UUFD is a small congregation, but it is not a barrier for them – they took the initiative to host this screening and discussion in their Sanctuary. Maureen Maliszewski, the Chair of the Social Justice at UUFD, organized this event with 48 participants who participated actively in an enlightening discussion. The event began with lighting of chalice by Arun and an introduction of UU-UNO. Arun is a Franciscan Priest from India who has worked on many of the issues described in the film. He was able to provide the audience with firsthand accounts to reinforce the Half the Sky film. One of the participants said, “Maureen, we are so fortunate that Arun was able to come to Durango to share firsthand experience with us related to issues covered in Half the Sky. Arun brought home hard realities that often seem far from our daily lives in Durango.” Nine people who attended the event were so inspired that they are in the process of forming a local ‘Half the Sky’ action group and as a whole, the attendees raised over $500 to support the work of the UU-UNO on critical women’s rights issues.You can read more about this screening in the Durango Herald here.

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Audience in Durango, Co.

The next screening of this film will be held in New York City at the Community Church of New York, on May 12th. If you would like more information about the upcoming screening or you are interested in hosting a screening of the 40 minute, condensed version of Half the Sky, please contact us at unitednations@uua.org.

 

 

 

Rebuilding the UU voice on Women’s Rights Issues

International Human Rights has only been a documented declaration for half of a century however; nation states and governing bodies around the globe have been concerned with human rights issues for centuries. Under this Human Rights umbrella, Women’s Rights are drawing increasing attention.

Half the Sky is an amazingly well written book by two journalist, Nicholas Kristof and  Sheryl WuDunn, who have traveled the world recounting first-hand stories of Women’s Rights violations at the individual and community level. Some of the issues covered include gender based violence, female genital mutilation, sex trafficking, maternal health, gender inequality in education, and economic empowerment. On October 2nd and 3rd the Half the Sky movement premiered a two part documentary film on PBS, in an effort to raise awareness surrounding these critical Human Rights issues. As the authors have proclaimed, “these are not women’s issues, they are human rights issues.”

Poverty, conflict, and lack of education are critical factors in the prevalence of these issues at an international level, but what is the United States excuse? These are U.S. issues too, domestic violence and trafficking are prevalent within the U.S. borders. As a country, the United States speaks and advocates on behalf of women’s rights. President Obama just gave a speech at the Clinton Foundation in support of efforts to end human trafficking. Yet, as a country, we are not living what we advocate. The United States is one of 6 countries (out of 193 nation states) that has yet to ratify the Convention on the Elimination of all forms of Discrimination Against Women. These are not issues of others; these are domestic and international issues and violations that transcend gender and geographical borders.

Violent and discriminatory acts directly impact all aspects of women and girls lives, their destructive nature also permeates the larger community, impacting economic growth and social stability. These are issues that directly challenge the value of women within a culture and within societies. The lack of value that cultures place on their women is seen repeatedly through actions within communities. The use of rape as a weapon of war, the lack of access to basic maternal health care, the act of “controlling a woman” through mutilating her genitals, the ability to sell a woman into sexual slavery, failing to provide education for girls, choosing to abort fetuses or kill infants based on gender; the list of brutal acts of discrimination and displays of devaluation are numerous.

It is gut-wrenching to see, in the film, that women are also sometimes the perpetrators of violence; seen through the brothel owners and women performing female circumcisions. This speaks yet again to the lack of value afforded women, sometimes even from themselves. This devaluation based on gender dually works towards dis-empowering these women. Dis-empowerment is a dangerous poison. In the face of violence and discrimination women are left feeling powerless, ashamed, and fearful. How can they not be when they are shunned by their own communities and unsupported by their law enforcement and legal system?

Do not make the mistake however of thinking of these women as victims, calling them victims only continues to dis-empower them. They are survivors, and they are the key to making fundamental cultural shifts within their communities. Watching the film, I was struck by the amazing resilience and drive of many of these women. In spite of all the brutality they have and continue to face, they are taking a stand. In order for movement and cultural shifts to continue, these women need leadership skills and a voice in decision making and peacekeeping bodies.

It is critically important that change is enacted at the grassroots level. This movement is a call to action to both men and women. To support and promote human rights for women, men must also serve as allies in effecting change. We are all human, and as human beings, we have a social responsibility to aid these women in accessing resources and empower them with education and economic capacity building. Nicholas and Sheryl offer a solution for beginning to create this shift, education. So many people take education for granted, yet in many countries around the world it provides a safe haven for girls, an opportunity for a new life. The “ripple effect” of educating girls is addressed in the book and the film, discussing how educating a girl can change the family as well as positively impact the community and economic structure of a country.

Despite having read the book prior to watching the documentary, I had a physical reaction to seeing such raw, real emotions and stories of women around the world brought to life. Awareness is the first step to change, and so many of us around the world remain unaware. Half the Sky is an enlightening book and film, which draws attention to the prevalence and severity of Women’s Rights issues with such shocking clarity that it is impossible not to be moved to action.

Please visit www.halftheskymovement.org or call the Unitarian Universalist-United Nations Office at 212-986-5165 to learn more about these issues and how you can get involved. If you are interested in hosting a 40-minute screening and discussion of the film, Half the Sky, please email unintern@uua.org.

* In the end it is not only women that suffer from these violations, our world suffers*