Sunday, March 13, 2016

NGO Consultation Day: A whirlwind start to a week of opportunity!

Today, I sat in a cavernous room amongst hundreds of gender activists, and felt more affirmed of my gender identity as a woman than I ever have before. Amongst stories of struggle and discrimination, women sharing stories from a myriad of different backgrounds and experiences, I felt a powerful and moving sense of collective energy. This energy from our NGO Consultation Day event, this commonality of one intersection of our lives, was the perfect perspective to begin our CSW60!

The first section of our day was a wonderful macro-level perspective of how the CSW and UN Women’s efforts have affected global discourse on gender. Even just chatting with our neighbors sitting around us, we spoke with women about gender discrimination they have faced in their own lives. I heard stories about everything from skepticism upon majoring in biology in the 1950’s, gender bias on the soccer field, to the lack of career opportunities available to impoverished women.  Our opening panel consisted of Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuko, the Executive Director of UN Women, and Antonio Patriota, the Chair of the Commission of the Status of Women. Their emphasis on productive leadership and implementation of action plans really subverted my preconceived notion of high-level officials. I had the impression that someone as high up as these leaders might not have a working understanding of the lived experienced of women living in oppressive states, but their passion and dedication was clear.

One of the main takeaways that I gleaned from their panel was the important position and unique power that the civil sector holds in affecting social change. They spoke to the fact that civil society plays many roles, including pushing boundaries of possibility, preserving previous conquests, and articulating plans to continued progress. What I particularly found interesting was the relationship they identified between the private and the civil sector. I have worked with organizations that heavily depend on funding from the private sector, and have always wondered, "To what philanthropic standards should we hold big business and private sector stakeholders accountable?". In a world of such stark wealth inequity, should not private, for-profit institutions be held to a standard of improving the state of the world they operate in? This panel concluded that it was the position of the social sector, NGO’s and similar groups, to negotiate with the private sector to accrue this funding and allegiances. While I understand this is the current role of the social sector, I feel as though each for-profit institution has a social responsibility to uphold, and has an obligation to invest in solutions to improve society, gender advocacy included on the list of priorities. However, Mr. Patriota also mentioned that not all private sector entities have values that align with those in the civil sector. I foresee that what some private industry stakeholder believe should to be invested in could potentially set back our goals for sustainable development, not having the expertise and personal connection to vulnerable populations that many civil sector stakeholders possess. In conclusion, this line of thought needs could use additional grounding in prior examples and data, but this dichotomy of the private/civil sector in regards to sustainable development will be one that I carry with me throughout our week at CSW.

Below is a clip of one of the events today, an INCREDIBLE performance by the spoken words artists Alixa and Naima from Climbing PoeTree. Their words touched everyone in the room. Here is a very, very brief clip of their art that unfortunately does no justice to the full, live event! Here is their website:

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