Tuesday, March 13, 2012
Saturday, March 3, 2012
While my experience here has been overwhelmingly positive, there are several thoughts I have in terms of restructuring elements of CSW to be even more effective. As the men and women who comprise CSW compile recommendations for the United Nations, I have a few recommendations for CSW.
1. Include more men. I won't discuss this too much, as this has been the subject of my past posts, but CSW needs to embrace more men into the framework of discussion. While men may sometimes be part of the challenges women face, they also have the enormous potential to be integrated into the solution.
2. Better integrate youth into CSW. Only several organizations, WomenNC being one, bring youth to CSW. Within CSW, youth need to play a larger role. Add a youth member to the CSW planning board. Incorporate youth into plenary speeches. Have youth representatives speak on specialized topics, not just in generic "rah-rah we are the future" terms. Do not dismiss the presence of youth. Support us with more than just lip-service. Reach out to us. Offer your advice and mentorship. We want to listen.
3. Focus on presenting implementable solutions, not just general recommendations. If CSW sessions emphasizes solution-based approaches, focusing on best practice models of existing businesses and organizations, CSW attendees will leave with more tangible ways to move forward. We need to move past the regurgitated, albeit important, statistics about the status of women. Best practice models help us to gain a deeper understanding.
CSW has been unbelievably powerful, but I believe that by making such adjustments CSW will better shape the changes it seeks to create.
Thursday, March 1, 2012
Good afternoon! I’m back in the UN again (the wifi is AWESOME here). Today, I went to three panels on “Sextortion”, Migration of Rural Women, and Girls as a Tool for Change. As you might guess, all three had different focuses and approaches lead by women and men from around the world. Through the last four days, I’ve seen panels on disaster relief in the Asia Pacific, micro-financing in Sub-Saharan Africa, technology as a tool for change, and reproductive rights in Russia. I’m enjoying attending such a diverse range of panels because I’m realizing the interconnected nature of all of these issues, especially when seen through the lens of health. Coming to CSW 56 I expected to find panels labeled “health issues of rural women”, but I’ve only seen general panels that address health of distinctly female health issues, i.e. sexual and reproductive health and maternal health. These are GREAT health topics to focus on, don’t get me wrong! But where are the panels on obesity, cancer, and diabetes (more “gender neutral” health issues) influencing rural women?
I was so determined to find this elusive health panel the first few days that I got pretty bummed at its absence. However, I’m now realizing that learning about education and land rights of rural women is JUST as important to learn because they are social determinants of health. The World Health Organization defines social determinants of health as the “conditions in which people grow, live, work and age”, i.e. the environment of their lives. For instance, access to a health clinic relies on transportation (can a woman miss work, and who watches the children?), literacy to fill out forms (can the woman read?), and treatment (does she have funding from family or microfinancing to pay for medical bills for herself and/or her family?). CSW is providing me an opportunity to understand the factors that effect the environment of rural women's lives. Seeing the incredible amount of opinions laid out at panels reminds me collaboration will provide these essential perspectives to understand social determinants of health, and only then can I focus on the public health issues that emerge as a result.
I can’t wait to present with the rest of the WomenNC fellows in just three hours! So excited!
Love, Abby Bouchon
This post was written the first day of CSW, but due to internet troubles is only being posted now. So sit back in your seat and I'll take you back to day one of CSW...
As I begin to process my first day of sessions at CSW, I am struck by not only the diversity of conference attendees, but by the diversity of passions and the diversity of values represented. Sometimes these intense passions manifest themselves in heated debates – many of which I had the chance to stand witness to today.
Today one of the most interesting sessions I attended was one that I had not expected to hear. I wandered into a panel on the plight of widows in Nigeria with not a clue of what to expect nor any previously established interest in the subject. Cultural tradition has not been kind to the widows of Nigeria. Women often cannot inherit their deceased husband’s property, and many times are pressured to remarry within the family of her in-laws. One woman spoke of a PhD in public health who was required to drink the water used to wash her dead husband’s body, despite protesting the mental and physical health consequences which she knew were to come.
The debate that followed the retelling of such personal horrors was nearly as surprising as the stories themselves. One of the panelists was a male pastor (one of the few males represented at CSW). His thesis suggested that women, not men, are responsible for the perpetuation of such treatment of other women. Women, he posited, control the cultural practices of communities, as women are more reticent to abandon long standing cultural norms. The room erupted in sounds of many languages and many tones – some applauding and many outraged. Many felt uncomfortable placing any fault on those who fall victim to such transgressions of human rights, feeling that men deserved the brunt of the blame. This heated debate addresses a critical element of CSW – how should we understand responsibility for inequality and in what ways can both men and women generate the capacity for change?
We must break the notion that men are the root of the problem and that women are the frustrated victims. Women have agency, which may be used for good and bad. In the case of Nigerian widows, women often conduct the practices that others decry, while others simply do not act out against it. Doing nothing in the face of gender inequality is its own form of agency. It is an active choice to ignore a critical challenge. Painting women as entirely innocent is a flawed perspective, as is removing all the blame from men. Men and women are both responsible for creating systems of oppression. Women must take action, but not alone. Coalition building serves to unite both men and women for the same cause. So few men have been in attendance at CSW; and we have all seemed pleasantly shocked that any are here at all. We must stop being surprised when men want to support women. We need to demand and expect it – just as we should expect women to use their advocacy to shape change rather than to reinforce the status quo.
CSW is clearly a powerful forum for the spread of ideas and passions, but imagine how much more effective it would be if men did not feel demonized by its messages. Only when women and men create united coalitions and partnerships can the change that we seek be achieved.