Monday, March 14, 2016
Monday, Challenges and New Perspectives
First official day at the CSW! Even though it was a rainy, grey day outside, the bustle and energy within the UN buildings today was enough to keep me bright-hearted!
It is a goal of mine for this conference to attend sessions that discuss topics that I am not as familiar with. While I have studied and organized with a variety of different issues regarding gender inequality, there are so many opportunities for me to listen and speak with experts on issues I have never gained perspective on.
To start the day, I attended a session on human trafficking, something I have studied very little. This session was emotionally challenging, but I gained insight into the appalling volume of people who are cruelly trafficked every year. This session was unique, because amongst a panel of activists fighting to eliminate and educate about human trafficking, there was also an individual who was a reformed trafficker. This was a very difficult experience, since the individual had trafficked women for almost 35 years. He has since served prison time. It was clear that he was full of regret for what he had done, but I also as an audience member felt deeply uncomfortable. His perspective however, was very interesting to hear. He himself was only 14 when he was forced into being a trafficker, and he mentioned that it is extremely difficult and often deadly to attempt to leave. I have to admit that while I could not emote sympathy for him, since his freedom was tenfold that of the women he trafficked even if it was challenging to escape, I admired his courage and his present dedication to advocating for policy reform to eliminate human trafficking.
Another session I experienced today was one that had me on the edge of my seat for the entire duration of the event. I attended an event lead by the International Women’s Health Coalition on the linkages between controlling sexuality and child marriages. This session was incredibly thorough and enlightening, first outlining a true definition of sexuality, then discussing why it is a topic often neglected (particularly for women), and then finally interventions to increase positive discourses on sexuality amongst youth. They defined sexuality as “a central aspect of being a human, throughout all stages of life, that encompasses sex, gender roles, gender identity, sexual orientation, pleasure, intimacy, and reproduction.” I found this definition to be incredibly affirming, particularly the emphasis they placed on the fact that sexuality is a life-long experience, not just one of youth, and that gender identity and sexual orientation are crucial components as well. The moderator, Meg Greene from Greeneworks, moderated the session. The panelists were all on-the-ground activists who work with youth populations throughout the world, and discussed the intervention strategies and curriculum that they use to help teens become more comfortable with their bodies and sexualities. The emphasized how important it was to start from the perspective of “qualifying every individual as a person and a holder of rights.” The link to child marriage was discussed as a politically constructed concept based on the fact that value of many women is often placed on their virginity, barring them from experiencing any form of their own sexuality, and marrying children off guarantees their virginity. The work that the panelists were doing, from the southern US, to India, and Lebanon, was incredibly well-grounded in community perspective, even with a topic that is found to be taboo in most cultures. The representative from Lebanon even established partnerships with local religious leaders, and created allies within the elder population as a result.
So far, I am astounded by the possibilities there are for intervention and implementation for the various forms of oppression that women face around the world. I am learning volumes from dedicated leaders, and am perhaps gaining even more from the level of diversity amongst the voices present in these sessions. Can’t wait to see what is ahead!