Saturday, March 3, 2012

Two Words: Instance I

I can sum up the most important lesson I learned at CSW in two words: step up.

Instance 1:
On Wednesday, I was missing my mom, so I decided to attend a session about mothers empowering daughters. This session was to be held by an Italian NGO. I was there early and the NGO people seemed to be running late, so I took a seat near a woman named Julia, and we started sharing our stories. Julia was at CSW representing a new NGO that sought to end female genital cutting. I was telling her about WomenNC when she glanced at the time. "You know, this session should have started 10 minutes ago," she said. "I wonder if I should just start a casual discussion for the audience here, while we wait?"

I didn't answer, thinking this was just a rhetorical question. She thought about it for a minute.

"I think I will."

She walked to the podium and almost instantly, the room fell quiet. Softly but confidently, she introduced herself.

"I'm Julia, and it seems that the people who are to run this session are running a bit late. So I was hoping, in the meantime, we might discuss an issue that is close to my heart: FGC. I know there are several of you here with that focus to your NGO's, so I thought we might have a little discussion."

The audience members nodded, and several raised their hands to volunteer to speak after her.

Julia continued, "I certainly don't want to drive this vehicle, but perhaps I could start us off and the rest of you could join in where you'd like." Positive murmurs sounded.

I found it surprising that the whole room was enthusiastic - here was a woman in the audience, just like anyone else, who was calmly and democratically taking charge of the group.

Julia then gave a brief overview of herself, her NGO, and what FGC was. Moreover, she clarified a question I had about FGC . I learned how calling it female genital mutilation has judgmental connotations and disregards a culture's traditional practices, while calling it female genital cutting allows activists to speak with people of cultures who perform cuttings frankly and matter-of-factly. Calling it cutting opens up a dialogue.

I had to leave early so I do not know if the original NGO session on mothers and daughters was ever held - but I did learn that Julia had the right idea. When no one was commanding the attention of the audience she did - and I walked away having learned something about FGC.

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