Sunday, March 19, 2017
The day began in the main assembly room on the UN building, where the UN Secretary-General and his senior staff meet with the NGO Committee on the Status of Women. He began with a few opening remarks then took questions from the audience full of feminist advocates, myself and the other fellows among them. The first statement came from a woman who expressed her support for the current Secretary-General, despite the fact that before the NGO CSW had lobbied for a woman candidate. Overall, Antonio Guterres answered the questions in a thoughtful, supportive, if not always substantial manner. From what I understand from my conversation with Dr. Soon-Young Yoon, this is the first event of its kind and it sets a very important precedent for the future of the relationship between the UN and the NGO CSW.
The last panel I attended at the NGO CSW was a panel hosted by the International Domestic Workers Federation (IDWF) that featured the Chilean Minister of Women and Gender Equality as well as domestic workers from around the world. A 9 year member of the IDWF shared her experience as a migrant domestic worker in Hong Kong, working long hours for low pay. Today, the demand for paid care work is growing because of an aging population, reductions in government services, geographically dispersed families, and the growth in the proportion of women working outside the home. Of course, the economic liberation of women who enter the labor market is only possible because of the work of domestic and child care workers, who are often exploited by informal work arrangements and a lack of governmental protections. Care workers and other working women are often pitted against each other by those who claim that low-paying domestic jobs are the price of women's equality, but the IDWF holds that you cannot claim to achieve equality while care workers are exploited. A possible solution is government provision or subsidy of these crucial services.
It was good to end the conference with the most impactful panel I had attended all week. The whole experience was inspiring and encouraging. While I have not learned much about the challenges women face that I hadn't known before, I did learn a lot about the amazing efforts of people around the globe fighting for equality and human rights.
Saturday, March 18, 2017
We had the honor of meeting Soon- Young Yoon. She’s a leading figure of the Cities for CEDAW. She is the absolute sweetest person. She made time to have lunch with us. We went to a wonderful Italian restaurant called Osteria Laguana. The restaurant served authentic Italian food. We shared an interesting conversation about the CSW. She talked to us about how she had been planning the meeing with the UN Secretary General. This was the first time ever that the UN Secretary held a meeting with the women of CSW. I thought it was interesting that she told us the questions were pre-planned. I thought it was strategic to have a wide range of questions to the Secretary General. He responded to questions about youth, healthcare, LGBTI individuals, and other people. Soon Young had worked so hard that she told us that she almost missed getting into the conference room 4. The meeting itself was amazing. Hearing the concerns of many women from all over the world was intuitive. My favorite question was from a young girl. She asked about how young women could be included in the conversations at the UN. Everyone clapped. I asked Soon Young a similar question and she recommended to attend the Youth forum. She asked me if I wanted to volunteer for the next CSW. I would love to that if possible. Even if I’m unable to volunteer for an entire week, I would LOVE to come back at some point. Keeping up with the progress of women is important. Overall, I enjoyed meeting people from all over the world. It was incredible. I could not have asked for a better week. I really appreciated meeting female leaders around the world that encouraged us to continue fighting for women's rights.
Friday, March 17, 2017
I stopped by the General Assembly hall first thing in the morning to observe one of the official meetings of the Commission on the Status of Women. This morning’s focus was the “empowerment of indigenous women.” A representative from Guatemala advocated for the full equality of indigenous women noting that indigenous women deserve more than simply one paragraph in the agreed conclusions of this year’s session. The chair of the CSW is Ambassador Patriota from Brazil who is a man, and I could not help but reflect on the irony of having an international conference on women’s human rights led by a man. Thankfully, he seems quite feminist thus far, though I would prefer to see women in these leadership positions. After sitting in on this official meeting, I walked to the United States Mission to the United Nations building to attend a special NGO briefing with Ambassador Nikki Haley. My co-fellow Cristy and I were actually the first two to enter the room, so we got great seats near the podium. It was a small room with capacity for about 50 people and we were not allowed to record the event. Ambassador Haley did not arrive and as I watched the news later, I realized this was because she was busy praising Trump’s Muslim ban. The chair of NGO CSW NY asked a question to the Deputy U.S. Representative of the Economic and Social Council Stefanie Amadeo who came in her place about the fact that people signed up for CSW could not enter the United States this year for this meeting for women’s human rights. She mentioned that we might move to Geneva if people are unable to attend because of travel bans. Amadeo responded to every question with a vague and brief response that provided basically no information, and so this meeting was incredibly frustrating. However, it was fascinating to observe.
Right before I asked my question, a woman asked Amadeo why the United States included organizations such as C-FAM that are openly anti-LBGTQ into the United States representation to the United Nations. She brought up the fact that transwomen are being killed and asked what the U.S. will do about it. An argument broke out because a representative from C-FAM was in the room and directly contradicted what the first speaker had said. I was the next person to ask a question and I said: “I’d like to reiterate that I hope the United States does something to address the murder of transwomen in this country. I am Lauren Frey and I am a university student at North Carolina State University and given that 1 in 4 college students is a victim or survivor of sexual assault and 1 in 3 adolescents in the United States is a victim or survivor of dating violence, and Ambassador Haley was appointed by a president who has encouraged sexual assault, how will the United States work with the United Nations to tackle violence against women and intimate partner violence in our own country? While I did not receive any satisfying answer, most people in the room clapped for my question, which felt extremely validating.
After this briefing, I walked to the Armenian Convention Center to attend a session on the impact of corporate power on economic empowerment for women. I loved the start of this panel when the moderator mentioned that this event was designed to debunk the myth that economic empowerment for women can happen through small policy changes rather than radical change of economic systems. The numbers of worldwide economic inequality and corporate power are astounding. The revenues of Royal Dutch Shell, Exxon Mobil, and Wal-Mart are higher than the gross domestic product of 110 countries, as an example. The statistics vary by year but in the last few years, the number of people at the top with the same amount of wealth as half of the world has reduced from around 60 to fewer than 10. Global capitalism, the privatization of everything, and corporate control of governments cannot persist if we are to achieve economic equality for women. Labor rights movements must be protected, unions must be protected, and corporate power must be challenged. Ideas to address some of this issues that are in the works include a global strike and strengthening labor rights movements through collaborative partnerships. After this session, I attended an event on Cities for CEDAW. It was wonderful to hear about the experiences of Los Angeles, Pittsburgh, San Francisco, and New York City in passing CEDAW at the local government. My work with WomenNC writing my research report as served as an example of a gender analysis that is an essential part of the CEDAW process. Local governments should pass an ordinance establishing the principles of CEDAW, create an oversight body, conduct gender analysis research on the status of women and oppressed identities in their area, and allocate funding to support any resulting initiatives. We will be presenting at local Durham governments when we return and I hope to see Durham city and county adopt CEDAW. We ended the day at the NGO CSW 45th birthday celebration, a fun but crowded event with a giant cake. I have been particularly interested to see how the international community views the United States especially since POTUS 45 took office. People at CSW are resisting U.S. policies. There is a movement to set out an empty chair at panels to represent women who were blocked by anti-migrant, anti-Muslim, and anti-refugee policies. And there is a call to end policies of xenophobia and authoritarianism. I proudly support the resistance against misogyny, patriarchy, transphobia, racism, xenophobia, Islamophobia, homophobia, corporate power, environmental destruction, ableism, and any other forms of oppression and harm against people and this earth.
Thursday, March 16, 2017
Today we attended a “Cities for CEDAW” event. I wish this event had been held earlier this week (partly because Jackie missed out on a great experience). Seeing all these women from ALL around the nation come together for the same cause was breath-taking. I was inspired by the hard work that women had done to enact CEDAW in their cities. These women have built coalitions with other countless organizations and various educational institutions. I can’t begin to fathom all the time that these women must have gone through to progress this movement. To think that there are MANY other Beths out there is overwhelming. I could not be happier for all of these women in their movement. They have come a long way from having a vision for CEDAW. Women of all ages, levels of education, and experience all want the same basic right to equality. Repeating that out loud sounds crazy especially because it’s 2017. It should be common sense instead of a matter for common law.
Women from out west to the north have fought very hard to enforce basic equality against discrimination. These women are going through extreme measures to convince city and county leaders that this legal framework is necessary. The fact that a commonly accepted framework written by a legitimate body of authority is QUESTIONED seems very concerning to me. What does this tell you about our society? Have women and men really been this socialized to believe that they were given an equal opportunity from the beginning? Are public officials not interested in enforcing laws consistent with its ally countries? Are Americans that surprised when they hear the way people from overseas see us as inherently discriminative? Have they not realized that the rest of the world sees us as discriminative in our current social context? Do they just not wanna do anything about it?
People say they want equality. They rally. They vote and yet there is much left to be done to fight discrimination against women. I truly believe that activism is the key to the solution and that CEDAW is the blueprint to this solution.
One thing that I found interesting was that some of the panelists emphasized the importance of the first lady of the mayor. I thought it was interesting to know that, if the first lady of the city takes interest in CEDAW, then it is likely to get passed as a law. The power of the first lady seems CRITICAL. This is a common theme that is demonstrated in political shows like Scandal. I had no clue that the influence of the first lady made a huge difference at the local level also. Knowing that the first lady has so much political leverage over the extent of the gender equality in one location is both encouraging but also discouraging. Her support is encouraging. But knowing that it takes someone’s wife to fully commit a city or council to providing equality against discrimination is discouraging.
It’s discouraging to realize that voices of all women should are not as influential in our democracy as the voice of ONE privileged woman. A big part of me thinks that this ONE woman should be in office instead of her husband. I appreciate the support but at the same time, it’s discouraging to know that male public officials don’t feel immediately urged to eliminate discrimination. Of course it’s even more discouraging to know that female public officials don’t feel immediately urged to eliminate discrimination against women. My biggest hope is that all local public officials WAKE UP and realize that the common interests of women are in their hands. Protecting the rights of women can happen overnight. I feel as though women have yet to have a champion because there is still a fight. Stagnation is not fair representation. By not protecting women from all forms of discrimination, public officials are allowing our system to remain unequal. I hope they get on board with women because as heavily influential voters, we deserve better. Plus, also, as Eleanor said a few days ago, if they don't pass CEDAW, Zoe could run for their seat.