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.
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 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.
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!
-Lauren Potenza & Zandy Stovicek