Monday, March 9, 2015
Today the other fellows and I attended the NGO Consultation program at the historic Apollo Theater in Harlem. It was a long but eventful day – we all met in the lobby at 7:30 for breakfast, Ubered over to Harlem, and then spent the better part of the day listening to speakers from around the world provide their perspective son what progress has been made since the Beijing Platform was first introduced two decades ago. Afterwards, we went to dinner and finally trekked home around 9:00.
Because I’m exhausted, I’m going to keep this blog post short. Instead of summarizing each speaker and the topics they covered, I’m going to tell you a few of my favorite points that were raised during today's panels.
I loved learning about the life and work of Mary Robinson, the former president of Ireland and winner of the Presidential Medal of Freedom. After graduating from Harvard Law School, Robinson became an Irish senator at the age of 25. Soon thereafter, her bill on family planning caused an uproar; she faced regular death threats and sometimes feared for her safety. Rather than giving up, though, Robinson persevered: “If you want something and it’s tough," she said, "you have to pay the price.” These words resonate with me because the work you do as an activist often isn’t immediately rewarding, and the vitriol of opposing parties often is so extreme – but rather than giving up, you should recognize that your work is inherently bound to stir up controversy and proceed with it anyway. Otherwise, no real change is likely to occur.
Another of my favorite moments occurred in the brief talk by Charlotte Bunch, who served as the discussant for the first panel. Bunch pieced together some of the disparate themes expressed by the panelists, and noted that, although much progress has been made in the last 25 or 50 years, there is a growing gap between the privileged women who benefit from said progress and the women who are left behind. It’s important to remember how our privilege colors our own experiences, and how we can work to elevate the voices of those whose voices often aren’t heard. While women in positions of privilege have indeed benefitted significantly from the women’s rights movement, many others have simply been pushed aside. I’m so excited to continue attending sessions over the next few days so we can learn how to use our own privilege to support marginalized populations.