Tuesday, March 19, 2019

Women Are Key to Peace Building

Hey Hey!

Friday was a whirlwind. NGO CSW 63 finally came to an end for us, but it went out with a bang! I attempted to go to an event on women and unpaid care hosted by Mexico, but due to overcrowding, I could not stay. However, I was able to attend a side event hosted by Sri Lanka and Kenya titled Women Investing in Peace. Both countries had representatives present that were able to speak about women leaders that have dedicated their lives to building successful foundations for sustainable communities. This event was very informative and inspirational since we never get to hear or see the women leaders of the world fighting (peacefully) for the rights for their people. I think people only think of Winnie Mandela when they think of women global leaders.

 Later Dr. Rieman and I attend a documentary screening title Women, Peace, and Power hosted by Ireland and Peace is Loud. This documentary follows the stories of women activists, politicians, and citizens in Northern Ireland, Afghanistan, and Liberia as they try to influence peace in their respective countries. This film emphasized how men use violence, power, and coercion to fuel war and their personal propaganda. While countries are worn-torn, children dying, and women and being raped, male leaders are inflating their egos and pockets from back-door deals. Women in Northern Ireland, Afghanistan, and Liberia (and all around the world) are taking a stand against their government tearing their families and countries apart. In 2006, Liberia selected their first woman president Ellen Johnson Sirleaf. Talk about moving mountains!!!

To end the night we had a night out of pizza (my favorite) with Bennett alum Abaynesh Asrat of the Class of 1974. She is truly a gem and was very excited to see her fellow Bennett sisters again. During dinner, Africa, Dr. Riemann, students from NYU (I can’t remember their names), Zybrea, and myself had a rich and informative conversation on a plethora of topics. The one that sticks out most to me is the conversation of feminism and why many young women, especially women of color do not label themselves as feminists. Let’s just say that we all came to an understanding (except for Beth) that it is not about the intent of feminism or feminist organizations, it’s about the impact. Overall, I am eternally grateful for this experience with WomenNC and NGO CSW 63. Although challenging at some points, the trip to the UN was totally worth it! Oh, how I am going to miss NYC pizza!!!

                                                         Until next time.


Aravia P

Monday, March 18, 2019

The Purpose of Freedom Is To Give It To Others

Hey Hey!

Thursday, Zybrea and I went to the panel Teaching Consent and Ending Sexual Assault at Schools and Universities, which was hosted by Feminist Majority. I felt this was a very relevant and important topic to discuss at NGO CSW 63, and I went to support Amelia. She was fantastic by the way! Amelia talked about the Netflix documentary The Hunting Ground, which talks about sexual assault on college and university campuses. One in five women in college are sexually assaulted, yet only a fraction of these crimes are reported, and even fewer result in punishment for the perpetrators. This statistic is too high!!! As a student that attends a single-gendered institution, I wonder what the stats are. I’m afraid to even ask anyone. It will be a hard people to swallow that a woman can sexually assault another woman (Hard Eye Roll).

From the panelists that were high school students in California, it is evident that students need adequate and comprehensive sex education in schools. They actually want it!!! I have a theory that if we start teaching consent early (kindergarten), then I am sure we would see a reduction in sexual assault in colleges and universities. Sexual assault is not about what a woman was/is wearing or how promiscuous a woman is, it’s about people having no respect for women’s bodies and wanting to exert power over others. Ugh, we have so much that needs to be done around this issue. More need to get involved and talk to their menfolk about this issue. Women can’t continue to fix everything!!!

I also went to the San Francisco group event on what they are working on. I love San Francisco!!! Another city after my heart (besides NYC) with their progressiveness. I specifically paid attention to the information on women, social protection, and poverty (I was kicked out an event on this due to overcrowding). According to the San Francisco group, three-quarters of the world’s population need social protection. 330 million women and girls live on less than $1.90 a day (a meal at McDonald’s and Chick-Fil-A costs more than that). Around the world, 500 million youth live in poverty (we have to change this). I would love to see Trump admiration’s active strategies for global and national social protection. We cannot continue to allow women and girls to carry the burden of unpaid care, poverty, and bad politics. We DESERVE social protection, freedom, and a living wage.


Aravia P

Friday, March 15, 2019

Day 6: End of 63 CSW

Asa Regner, Deputy Executive Director of UN Women, started our final day stating the "[she] is a fem-acrat, if that's okay." The joke, combining the roles of feminist and bureaucrat, was supposed to be light-hearted. However, the joke pushed a bigger question for me - can someone be both an activist and bureaucrat? I plan to run for local office, but I also plan to continue my work as an activist. I imagine one day that these two roles will conflict, and I am interested in the decisions that I will make when they do. Additionally, Helene Molinier, Senior Policy Advisor for Director for Innovation & Technology Facility at UNWomen, emphasized that the digital divide was caused by the infrastructure in the past, but the digital divide is created by the cost now.
The next presentation by CHOICE for Youth and Sexuality outlined five roots for meaningful youth participation: decision-making power, responsibility, voice, information, and freedom of choice. I feel that youth are often "invited" into conversations, but they are never truly heard. We need to more explicitly ask for the things that we want, because, only through direct confrontation and slight discomfort, will we be truly given a place at the table.

One of my last session was hosted by Smooth Technology in thinking through how we can use both digital and non-digital games to address community-based problems. I am invested in utilizing innovative solutions, like creating games, to address thorny problems. The session, hosted by Dave and Sadie, was inspiring, because I have spent the week hearing about traditional methods to addressing difficult issues so it was quite refreshing to hear their perspectives.

The end of CSW 63 for me has been painful - I am pained at all the difficult gender-related problems and also pained at leaving the fresh cookies at my hotel. However, the pain of difficult problems is inspiring for me. I am inspired by the activists working alongside me, the governments equally committed to change, and my WomenNC community who has been instrumental in providing me opportunities to make change on the local level.

CSW 63: Day Six - Goodbye, New York!

As I write, we are all sitting in LaGuardia Airport, waiting for our (slightly delayed) flight. It is hard to believe that our trip to New York has officially come to the end; the days felt quite long, but the week flew by. I am incredibly grateful for the wonderful experience that I have had with WomenNC over the last several months. I have learned so much - about activism, my research topic, myself, and effective advocacy in international settings. Beth and Dr. Riemann have been consistently committed to our work, and I am so thankful for the hours and hours they invested in bettering us, the research we conducted, and our presentations.

On our last day, the majority of us attended “Youth Mobilization Spaces.” This event combined international representatives, UN Women leaders, NGO members, and youth from a variety of backgrounds and areas of expertise. The highlight of my day was our small-group breakout session about the role of youth in the Global Forum that will be launched in recognition of Beijing +25, as well as a myriad of other anniversaries occurring next year. UN Women are in the beginning stages of planning for the event, and we got to play a role in deciding the most effective way to include a representative group of youth activists from around the world. The primary conclusion that we reached was that these activists need to be selected on a regional basis, and each region’s representatives should be broken down to the issues that are most relevant in that area of the world.

Caroline, a deaf woman from South Sudan who was a part of our focus group, continually pushed us to be more inclusive in our advocacy. Throughout the entire day, she jumped into conversations to point out how certain solutions did not accommodate for various disabilities, and proposed alternative methods of reaching girls around the world. Caroline’s advocacy was an important reminder that it is critical to include people who have experienced forms of oppression that are not often included in social justice dialogue.

I also really enjoyed meeting Hadeer, a young Muslim woman from New Zealand who works for Global Citizen. We discussed the recent tragedy in her country and the Islamophobia that seems to be expanding across the world. I also asked her about the international perspective of the United States and learned more about her life in Auckland.

I feel so much gratitude to this program for the training, mentorship, and friendships. I hope that we will all be able to stay in touch for many years to come; for now, I plan on following up with activists I met throughout the last several days and working toward making the governmental representatives of North Carolina and the United States more active proponents of gender equity.

The United Nations with WomenNC: Day 6

The first session I attended on Thursday was a convening of member nations for a general discussion on the agreed conclusions of CSW. The agreed conclusions is a document that is produced at the end of the two-week period of CSW that address members states’ commitment to the annual theme of CSW and what steps they will take to address it. Though this meeting was much less interactive than the others, it was really cool to see how work at the UN actually gets done, and the different perspectives that representatives had regarding the status of women in their countries and globally. I was pleased to see that almost all of the representatives present were women, an occurrence that is often rare in global politics.   

One of the most unique events I attended this week was “Journalism and the Empowerment of Women: New Challenges in the Digital World,” which was a panel of female journalists speaking about their experience. As a former student journalist, I am really interested in the intersection of gender, policy, and free press. Hearing from career journalists regarding their experiences opened my eyes to the extent of sexism and discrimination in the industry.

I also attended a session hosted by Egypt, my country of origin, titled “Responding to Women Refugees from Syria.” The session went over social programs designed to empower women in Egypt, particularly refugees. Syrian refugees make up the largest number of migrants to Egypt, with over half of registered refugees coming from Syria. Despite my criticisms of the Egyptian government and their approach to supporting Syrian refugees, it was amazing to be able to see what programs have been recently established. I was also able to meet the Permanent Representative of Egypt to the UN and speak to him about my work as a student of political science and Arabic.

                                                  With Ambassador Mohamed Edrees

Though it was bittersweet to have our last day at the United Nations, I cannot wait to participate in UN Women’s “Youth Mobilization Spaces” event tomorrow!

Bennett Belle Takes NYC: Day 5

Good evening everyone!
First off I want to say that I am a little saddened that my time here in the "Big Apple" is coming to an end. However, I am blessed and will forever be thankful for the wonderful opportunity that WomenNC has provided with here at CSW 63. I am still amazed at the education and networking opportunities that I was exposed to this week. For that I say thank you Beth and Dr. Riemann!

Now back to business! Today, I attended a side event for Zimbabwe. This was entitled, "Community Based Initiatives for Building Resilience". The president of the Zimbabwe Senate was one of the panelists and she was extremely pleasant. I went up to thank her for sharing so much information with us and as soon as I introduced myself she embraced with a warm hug.

At a later rate, I attended the parallel event: The Thriving Family: Providing the Best Social Protection and Empowerment for Women and Girls. I can honestly say that this event was by far the best session that I attended all week! The presenters were well educated and I found the content to be very engaging. According to Lynn Walsh, MSW (one of the panelists) marriage decreases the chances of poverty and risk on instability in a girl's life. She also went on to explain that marital stability improves children's mental health, single moms are more at risk for domestic violence, and boys exposed to violence in the household are 3 to 4 times more likely to be violent towards their wife and children. Lynn Walsh also went on to say that relationship education makes a huge difference not only in the households, but in the lives of women and girls.

"Thriving relationships are what people care about the most" -Lynn Walsh

The second panelist was Dr. Tim Rarick. His presentation was entitled, "Involved Fathers Strong Daughters". Dr, Rarick defined empower as:
1. Giving the girl authority or power to do something (externally).
2.Making the girl stronger and more confident, especially in controlling her life (internally).

Dr. Rarick also explained that girls with fathers do not have:

  • Issues with being emotionally dependent on men
  • Eating disorders
  • Behavioral Problems

His advice was that men need to show their daughters that they love their mothers in front of them because it sets the tone for the girls. When asked what can we do to increase the number of  involved fathers his answer to a participant in the audience was that "there needs to be a cultural shift to encourage accountability for fathers."

The nigh ended with dinner at Romas Pizza with the WomenNC team and a Bennett alumna :)

CSW 63: Day Five - FMF Panel Presentation

A few weeks ago, through the help of Beth Dehghan, I was fortunate enough to be connected to a woman who worked at Feminist Majority Foundation and was planning an event for the NGO Forum at CSW. The event, "Teaching Consent and Ending Sexual Assault at Schools and Universities," seemed very well suited to my interests and experience, and she offered me a spot on their panel of high school and college students. That panel occurred today and I was blown away by the turnout and dialogue that ensued.

The room was quite literally filled to the brim, with a couple dozen people standing because there were no seats left. There were nine of us on the panel, and I was one of only two college students. The other panelists were largely from the United States - primarily California - with two also hailing from Nepal. It gave me an immense amount of pride and hope for the future to hear so many high schoolers speaking passionately and intellectually about the important of discussing these issues throughout an individual's time prior to college. I feel so much gratitude knowing that the communities of which they are a part have advocates working to increase information and transparency for their peers. They were very informed about sex education policies and Title IX, and spoke about programs they were bringing to their schools to emphasize consent and healthy relationships.

For my portion of the panel, I spoke primarily about work that I did as a senior in high school through an independent study titled "Implications of Gender Inequality." As I shared with the panel, the year I conducted the independent study was also the year of allegations against Roger Ailes, the access Hollywood tape, Trump's election, and the Women's March. Spending a quarter dedicated to rape culture was virtually inevitable, and I focused on campus rape culture. Shortly before The Hunting Ground, had been released and I had the privilege of interviewing Andrea Pino for my class. Pino was one of the two students from UNC who filed the first-ever Title IX complaint against a university for its handling of sexual assault cases. For my quarter project, I created a curriculum for the freshmen health classes at my high school that highlighted statistics, vocabulary, resources, legislation, and court cases relating to consent and rape culture. Additionally, it discussed case examples such as student-athletes and politicians. I shared with the panel that, while interviewing Andrea Pino, she told me that, by the time she graduated from UNC, every single school she had applied to as valedictorian of her high school was under federal investigation by the Department of Education for Title IX violations.

I also discussed Duke specifically, citing a recent survey where 48% of female-identifying undergraduate respondents reported being sexually assaulted during their time at Duke. As our Vice President of Student Affairs said, that number is likely far, far higher when you include incident such as groping, which nearly every college-age woman has experienced.

A major highlight of the event was getting to meet Eleanor Smeal, Founder and President of Feminist Majority Foundation and huge feminist icon, as is probably evident from the looks on my face in the pictures below. Eleanor is also a graduate of Duke, and it was wonderful to bond with her for a few minutes! She seemed exciting about starting a Feminist Campus group at Duke, and I look forward to hopefully working with her in the future to make that happen!

During the rest of the day, I also attended the Official Meeting at 10am and the WIN panel that discussed San Francisco's gender commission and ongoing work in Iran and West Africa. We ended the day with a pizza dinner hosted by Abaynesh Asrat, a friend of Beth's from Ethiopia. It's hard to believe that tomorrow is our last full day at CSW. It has been an immensely rewarding and informative experience, and I will be sad to see it end, but grateful for the lessons and connections that I will take with me for the rest of my life.