Sunday, March 30, 2014


It has now been a couple of weeks since I attended the UN CSW with WomenNC and I am working on my reflection paper and presentation. I really enjoy doing this reflection paper, because it helps me to look back on the experience and see what I got out of it. I definitely got a TON out of CSW. Some of what I am reflecting on includes all the knowledge I gained, ways in which CSW could be more inclusive, and how CSW impacted me personally. I hope you are able to come out to the WomenNC symposium on April 15th and learn more about each of our experiences at the UN :)

Saturday, March 15, 2014

Thoughts from C6

Gate C6. LaGuardia International Airport. Fellows and chaperons alike sit slumped in lounge chairs like wilted bouquets of parched roses. However, while our physical comportment may appear to be weary, our hearts and minds have been nourished and rejuvenated by a week of intense stimulation and non-stop action.

Through sessions, receptions and panel events, we have been able to connect our research to broader thematic issues in the area of women’s human rights both domestically and internationally. On my part, my CSW experience became largely focused on men’s involvement in preventing violence, the Post-2015 Agenda and, surprisingly, a very strong Latin America and Canadian focus. Through connections in Brazil, I was able to meet with the Brazilian Undersecretary for Women and discuss continued efforts to eradicate gender-based violence in-country, especially in underserved urban regions. Unexpectedly, CSW also catalyzed an interest in urban spaces—issues I have long regarded as critical, but whose impacts on gender and women’s human rights I have only recently come to understand. Alongside this, upcoming and current “threat multipliers” to global crises such as climate change were a topic I pursued at CSW with much zeal.

Other issues of a more technical nature also came to the fore. For instance, during one of the High Level Panels, many subject-matter experts spoke about the extreme need of gender-dis-aggregated data in the Post-2015 Development Agenda. Highlighting the need for a “data revolution” in development that allows important stakeholders to make decisions about their development without relying on the often manipulated data that emerges from the governments engaged on both sides of the development equation; donor and aid-recipient alike. Of further importance, of course, is actually engaging vulnerable populations like women and children in crafting decision-making processes within development that are empowerment. As Sharon Bhagwn-Rolls from Fiji put it so eloquently, “women have the right to define development, not merely to be the beneficiaries of.”

The subject areas I covered were of an incredibly diverse nature. Ranging from sessions analyzing Uruguay’s progress in reaching MDG 2 and 5 to a multimedia presentation that focused on “goddess iconography” throughout human history—the diversity was immense. This underscores CSW as a whole and probably the way each of us as advocates and activists has grown and changed. 

Thank you for accompanying us on this personal and professional journey. We look forward to connecting with all of you individually over the coming weeks as we share the lessons learned and reflect on our time at CSW and, indeed, throughout the fellowship as a whole. 



A Grand Finale

Today was the final full day in NYC, and it was incredible! I started off the morning by going to a session about incorporating media into the social justice movement. There were women speaking that have been doing a film series in Nicaragua to raise awareness about issues such as child sexual abuse and sexual exploitation of women. Next, I went to a session on Latin America and the post MDGs. While it was supposed to be a panel about Latin America, one of the 2 speakers was from South Africa. Needless to say I didn't learn much about Latin America, but I still learned a ton. Alex, Amy, and I got a wonderful Italian lunch...a few hours later, 6 of us had a delicious Indian dinner (food on food on food). We ended the night by watching Wicked on Broadway (It was AMAZING!) and grabbing some coffee and waffles in times square. Perfect way to end an unforgettable experience :)

Thursday, March 13, 2014

No Backseats!

This morning I had the chance to join Beth, Alex, and Kim for a US Mission discussion with Ellie Smeal, Sharon Kotok, and Girls Learn International.  The session started at 8:30 AM.  It was an early start, and it was certainly worth it.  I was glad to hear from the panel of girls who articulately spoke about the issues girls face in relation to the MDGs.  The girls' stories of involvement with women's human rights was inspiring and being surrounded by so many awesome teens even made me feel a little bit old!  

It was been exciting to see youth involvement at the CSW.  Just as my research pointed out, as young people we are at once left out of politics and still the most vulnerable to social issues.  I know youth have been excluded from the formal discussion of formal politics for quite some time, we made sound like a broken record when we ask for inclusion but it is still necessary that we persist. No matter our age, race, sexuality, sex, gender, disability, level of education, wage, ethnicity, or anything else we must follow the advise given by both the mothers of both Ellie Smeal and young activist, Riley- "Don't take a backseat to anyone."  


Hello all!

It was a frigid day here at NYC, but luckily all of the buildings that held the events were toasty. I was able to attend more panel events and I even had the chance to attend a side event at the UN.

This morning I went to the US Mission to the UN to see a presentation discussing the status of young women in the fight for women's rights. The panel consisted of 4 young women with GLI, Ambassador Sharon Kotok, and FMF founder Eleanor Smeal. They addressed various issues revolving around the MDG's, CEDAW's ratification, and the importance of looking forward. Afterward, I was able to chat with Ambassador Kotok and she was not only incredibly kind, but offered great advice as well. She stressed the importance of "not trying to write the 'end of the book' when advocating for women's rights". In other words, she wanted to make young people aware that they cannot expect an outcome of their actions and assume that everything else will fall into place. That's what makes the fight for women's human rights a true endeavor of our generation.

After that I was able to stroll around the UN building, sit in on another high-level discussion, run around the conference rooms (see pictures for evidence), and then grab food at the upper-level cafe with Sarah and Isabella. We even made a new friend, Tamra, who created a Geocoded Spatial Transparent Metric, which is a data processing algorithm for storing information gathered by various civil sciences including women's studies (if I understand correctly...).

After that, Amy and I attended a side event on the socioeconomic effects of violence against women in the home and workforce. Delegates for the Ministries of Labour from the Czech Republic, Slovakia, and Norway shared their thoughts and initiatives on the actions that should be taken to eliminate GBV. It was interesting to see the similarities and differences between the nations on their stances towards the prevention of violence against women, and the measures they have taken (or plan to take) in response to this issue. Afterwards, I saw another informal panel discuss the drafts of the resolution.

Later, in an event unrelated to CSW, a group of us sauntered on down to Laduree to try some of their famous macaroons (which has been on my bucket list so I was happy even though it was cold). In general, grabbing some sweets was a nice way to finish a busy day at CSW.

Until next time!

PS: Sarah and I are still on the case as detectives
PPS: The Fellows finally got brownies. Thanks Max!

A Heated Debate

Prior to arriving at CSW, all of the WomenNC members kept mentioning that many opposing feminist groups would be present. I was a bit surprised to hear that there would be groups with different views (e.g. pro abortion rights v. anti abortion rights), but I soon realized such was the case. One argument that has been incredibly prevalent is the argument of whether prostitution should be decriminalized or whether prostitution should be outlawed.

Prior to CSW, I believed that prostitution should be legalized. This was my opinion, because I thought legalization with regulation would lead to safer situations for prostitutes. However, after attending a few panels on the "Swedish model" (criminalizes all Johns), I am not so sure how I feel about the legalization of prostitution. Today, I heard five women, who were former prostitutes, speak on a panel. After hearing their experiences and views, and I am now a lot less convinced that decriminalizing prostitution is the best solution. This issue is something that I plan to continue to think about and potentially research when I get back to NC. I'm fascinated by this argument, because it is a feminist issue that is so incredibly divided. If you have any thoughts or information, please let me know!     

Moving Boulders, Changing the World

At round tables of 30 and in auditoriums of 600, the world is changing this week. Being at CSW means that I get to see not only what changes we are striving for, but how it is that leaders seek to bring about these changes.

At times it's like watching a crowd try to move a truck sized boulder up the side of a hill--not only impossible for any individual, but also impossible for any group lacking effective teamwork and negotiation. Whether it's conflicting power, vying for positions, or disagreeing on which course to take, there are dozens of ways to prevent a capable crowd from ever moving beyond the power of an individual. Sometimes the biggest issue is not so much how to get the boulder up the mountain, but how to get the crowd to work together to get the boulder up the mountain.

I think many of the issues we face in the world today are not unlike this scenario. For instance, we know that there is more than enough food in the world today so that no one should ever die of starvation. We, as a whole, have the capacity, but that boulder is clearly still sitting near the bottom of the hill.

Because how, really, do you change the world? How do you address issues that are the most important, but also the most subject to personal investment, differing opinions and wide stretching consequences? After hours of watching NGOs interact with governments and individuals lobby for different issues, two ideas in particular have built up about what it looks like to address important issues and work towards social change.

1. Assume that everybody has good in mind
Not everybody has the same idea about how to approach an issue, but one thing most social activists have in common is they want good for the world. One of the biggest mistakes we can make when our opinions differ is to forget this and start making our colleagues enemies. Excepting those few people we will always find who really don't have humanity's best in mind, chances are, if you're looking for a solution to a problem, the people who disagree with you probably want the best with every bit of passion and conviction as you do. Recognizing this is the first step to making alliances, and starting to push that boulder instead of just arguing about it.

2. Don't just criticize, bring your one piece
Many of the primary criticisms I hear one passionate world changer launch against another have more to do with incompleteness than anything else. One world changer announces their plan to address a problem, second world changer degrades said plan with a barrage of all the crucial things they failed to address. But what I've seen is that everybody's solution is going to have holes in it, because you can only ever be one piece of the puzzle. And if you can see the hole, then it's most likely one you should be filling. The most effective teamwork I have witnessed has been when the second person or organization comes alongside and says, "that's great! I love what you're doing here. But there's this really important component you're leaving out, and here's how I propose we can address that too. How can we work together?"

By and large, CSW is a massive feat in cooperation--a global attempt to get a world full of people on different pages to make a book. Some backs may bristle at the thought of politics and bureaucracy, mostly because of its reputation for stagnation. But when a crowd comes together and you see a boulder start to move, it's beautiful, even if it's moving slowly.

Bullet Point Brevity

Dear all,

Today was a day filled with much writing and, in the interests of clarity, I've decided to post some of my thoughts in bullet-point form:

  • Through a connection I made with a Brazilian NGO, I linked WomenNC up to the broader political negotiation process that is ongoing at CSW--whereby member states are working on a draft document that will serve as the outcome. To this end, I have been helping to draft proposed amendments to the working document to submit daily in conjunction with over 70 other NGOs. Through joining this coalition (that includes heavy-weights like AWID), WomenNC can greater exercise its voice to lobby on behalf of ensuring things like sexual rights and reproductive health remain on the agenda, much to the chagrin of the opposition. 
  • Today was also a day full of Canada-related activities! A panel we all went to was hosted by the Canadian Minister of Labour and was well attended by Canadian MPs. Following the discussion, I was put in touch directly with the Canadian Ambassador to the United Nations through a contact I had made while working at the Permanent Mission of Canada to the Organization of American States in D.C. and we are looking to see if we can schedule a sit-down to talk about youth involvement and the standalone gender goal. 
  • Sarah and I attended a Cities for CEDAW event that, to me, was one of the best-planned events I have attended thus far. For one, Cities for CEDAW was very resolute in ensuring the event was grounded in practical applications of San Francisco's experience as the first municipal entity to ratify CEDAW. Beth and I have been speaking at length about looking at the implementation of a similar process in Chapel Hill/Carrborro... 
  • Earlier in the day, I attended the High Level Panel and took notes on the expert testimonies. One expert in particular (Virginia Gomes of Portugal) had wonderful suggestions for ensuring the Post-2015 Agenda remains as equitable as possible. Specifically, she emphasized the need for gender-disaggregated data in development work--the idea that monitoring and evaluation should be sensitive to the needs of individual vulnerable groups like women and children. I took notes and sent them to a professor of mine who has been actively working with Ms. Gomes on an upcoming publication. 
  • Alongside two new friends from Brazil and an alumna of UNC-Chapel Hill, I attended the Latin America Caucus, where countries in LatAm and the Caribbean came together to discuss MDG implementation and future opportunities. It was great to hear some Portuguese and I was particularly pleased by the large participation from LGBTQ groups from the Caribbean such as United & Strong from St. Lucia. 
  • In addition to all of these events, I managed to squeeze in meeting with a professor at Grand Central for coffee, grabbing a milkshake with a friend I made in London last year and calling my parents (Hi Mom!) who are currently in Egypt on holiday. 
Excited, exhausted and ready to sleep!

Your support remains greatly appreciated--


Panels on panels on panels on panels

Hello all!

I hope everyone back home is well and having a relaxing week so far. It's still hectic in NYC, but the great-never-gonna-forget-this kind of hectic that sticks with you for the rest of your life. Over the past few days I have met so many incredible people and held such interesting conversations about various topics. Trying to keep track of all of them is like trying to untangle a ball of yarn, but taking it one day at a time has been helpful.

Today I attended 4 panels, and each was unique and offered an interesting perspective on a range of topics. First, Sarah and I went to attend the Girl Guides and Girl Scouts panel on the Post-2015 agenda, but we quickly learned that this event was cancelled. So was our back-up event. And our third back-up event was too far away to make it on time (you should know that I've been perpetually late for events). So, we ended up wandering into a panel about women's transformative policing and security development. Even though I wasn't familiar with the topic, I actually enjoyed the discussion a lot, and felt immersed in the presentations given by the IAWP and UN Women. The best part was the interactive aspect of the presentation, where I got to imagine myself as a Middle Eastern woman applying for a position on the police force (Fun Fact: They have to receive the permission of around 7 elders/family members in order to receive candidacy). Since I volunteered for the demonstration, I helped with the visualization of the frustrating amount of approval required to apply. Quick backstory: My volunteering was a result of my interest in working in law enforcement that one time my freshman year of college. Anyway, it was eye opening to see the radical difference in privilege and job opportunities provided in the US versus other countries. Of course, that's not to say that the issues involved with policing in America were overlooked by the panel (policewomen, like women in STEM, are severely underrepresented). At the end of the presentation, both Sarah and I stuck around to speak with various panelists and audience members about their ideas and positions on women and policing. It was a great chance to speak to women from all over the world (Finland, Boston, Seattle, and the UK!) with various backgrounds in criminal justice systems. I would say that walking into the IAWP's panel was an unexpected stroke of good luck.

Other panels I visited today were equally engaging. Whether it was girls addressing all of the MDG's from many perspectives, or analyzing the primary prevention of violence against women, all of the events were thought provoking, interesting, and, at times, entertaining. With 2 full days of CSW left, I'm excited to take full advantage of the remainder of my time in NYC, and hopefully I can return to North Carolina with an even broader awareness of the world around me.

Until next time!

Side Note: Sarah and I have decided to become detectives. (Sorry Sarah, I couldn't resist)

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Words that Leave the Room

I spent most of today in the high-level panel where countries discussed the challenges and achievements in implementing the Millennium Development Goals. It's the room that requires the fancy pass and is lined with rectangular blue-lit screens that give a title to everybody. It's the room where, just for kicks, you can listen in Russian, or Arabic to someone who's actually speaking in French; the room where every speaker must thank every other speaker before they begin talking. It's also the room where the things being said tend to be the least concrete. While the NGOs get down to the tangibles, countries tend to use words that imply a lot but point directly at very little. Everything feels like a header that ought to have several paragraphs implemented beneath to flesh it out. But I like this room because you never know who you're going to sit next to, and I like knowing words are being said that will shape what the world strives for in the years to come.

From security lines to conference rooms to street food to forums, so the days go. But one of the greatest and perhaps unanticipated highlights of my trip has been what happens when the day is over. When the sessions are done and our brains are full, we head back to our temporary home on 43rd and 2nd where conversation keeps us up. We sit around on our hotel beds with New York pizza or cereal snuck out of the breakfast room downstairs and we talk. Amongst the personal stories and lighthearted commentary about our day, we always seem to come to a discussion of some consequence--some issue that the day's sessions impressed on us. Some nights it's varying policies for navigating the connection between prostitution and trafficking and others it's how to avoid activism becoming an extension of elite privilege. But there's always something.

This element has played an important role in our time here because it is the topics that come out over pizza that will eventually make their way back to North Carolina with us. Each of our days are over-filled with information--more than we can possibly remember. But when we bring a topic back to our rooms and share our own thoughts and conflicts with it, it takes on an element of ownership and intellectual engagement we will not likely forget. These topics inform our ideas and will impact our actions. And I love this element of life--that engaging with others is what starts to make an issue tangible.

We can sit in rooms and hear ideas till the world runs out of nations and those nations run out of representatives and those representatives run out of things to say. But until that information leaves the room, all it does is give translators a job. But if you can get your words to walk out the door with people, if you can get those words to be shared with pizza and Cheerios, if you can get those words to be repeated and shared, then those words are on their way to becoming actions, and those actions might just mean that the next time the world comes together in a room lined with blue-lit titles, there might just be a new status to report.


Question culture-- Name. Organization. Brief(ish) organizational history.  Brief personal history.  Brief summary and praise of presentation. Challenge presentation. Present own best practices. Publicize own event. Maybe, just maybe.... actually ask a question.

My relationship with question asking has quickly evolved since being here at the CSW.  Initially, I was a bit taken aback by audience members flooding the auditorium aisles to "ask questions."  But then I said "hey, when in Rome":... Since Sunday, I've been really working on my question game.  It's all starting to make sense.  From the agreeable head nod, snaps, or even an applause, it does feel good to know that others support your ideas and inquiries.  Then, of course, question asking is an excellent stepping stone for networking.  You can make friends with those who ask the very question you were thinking and discussing said question is an awesome ice breaker.  

Perhaps most importantly, and what maybe threw me off at first, is that question asking is important because it is important to be heard.  Women have great expectations to be silent.  We are taught that our work and our opinion do not matter and therefore, question asking is a private thing- ask your friends, talk in tight circles, blog about it.  While these question asking spaces are valuable, there is also importance in standing up at a microphone demanding loud and clear to be heard and demanding a response to the issues crucial to our human rights.  The world would be a completely different place if the CSW was not the only place we asked these questions.  Here's to many more questions from me!

Importance of Transparency

Throughout the week, I have had a certain feeling that I have not been able to articulate; however, I went to a panel today that articulated my sentiments exactly. The panel was at 2:30 and it was about gender, poverty, and the environment. At first I thought the panel would be a little bit dry, but one of the panelists, Marta, was amazing! She came from El Salvador and was extremely animated and passionate about social justice. The feeling I have had during CSW that Marta articulated perfectly was the UN's need for transparency. Marta discussed how it is now almost 2015, and we still have SO much to fix. She said the government needs to put action into its words.

I have attended a few sessions at the UN, and at every single session I have felt that nations, including the US, have not truly addressed issues. There is so much talk, but it seems like so little action. I have been very happy that NGOs recognize this lack of transparency within the UN. I hope that this issue continues to be addressed.  

Thanks Mentors!

Mentorship.  In every session that I've been to since attending the CSW, I have not gone without hearing about mentorship. Having completed our presentation here in front of the UN, in a room packed full of audience members (with lots of youth)... I know that I would have never had this opportunity if it had not been for my incredible mentors, Beth and Anjabeen. I am so grateful to have been empowered by these women on my journey to the podium of CSW yesterday.  Thank you to my mentors for always believing in me.  Thank you for your faith in women's rights, WomenNC, and young adults' involvement in social advocacy.  Thank you for your feedback.  Thank you for pushing and never letting me take the easy route.  Thank you for listening to me, learning about my interests, my history, and my hopes for the future.  Thank you for sharing yourselves with me.  Thank you for sharing your culture, your history, your dreams and your accomplishments.  I was truly blessed to have received such committed mentors who were dynamic, intelligent, fun-loving women.  From what I have been hearing in the panels and what I have experienced myself, mentors are important because as we work towards human rights... we are set up to fail.  Whether you are an Afghan woman who wants to join the police force where women are less the 1%, a young girl interested in STEM being told by Barbie that girls are bad at math, or a young man who has grown up witnessing gender based violence-- there are systems and cultures that insist on keeping people "in our places."  Sometimes it is not enough to just really want to change things or make a difference without that constant voice in your ear saying KEEP GOING, YOU CAN DO THIS, IT IS POSSIBLE.  These are the voices of Beth and Anjabeen.  These are the voices that have allowed me to stand proudly in front of the CSW and continue to pursue women's human rights.

Presentation Day!

Hello all!

So we finally finished our presentation and I feel like I can finally enjoy the week without feeling a wave of nervousness every second. Overall, the entire event was fantastic, and all of the Fellows and speakers did an amazing job in presenting their information to the audience (which had quite a number of young people, I might add). It was refreshing to see everyone present with charisma, poise, and expertise on their various topics, and I felt that the audience was engaged and interested in all of the new information that was brought to the floor. It was also exciting to hear the questions and comments audience members had for us at the end of the session. One young woman came up to me at the end of the panel, asking for advice on reaching out to superintendents and representatives about increasing funds for women in STEM education. Interactions such as this gave me the impression that what we said really reached our target audience and brought them in. In general, I loved being able to sit on the panel and share my research that I have been conducting over the past few months, and I'm sure all of the other fellows would agree. I'm also relieved to finally have the nerves behind me (and I'm sure you can see that in the picture I've attached!)

Until next time!

PS: Those random people you may not recognize are my family members. They came to New York to support WomenNC!

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Mission Accomplished

We did it!

We finally presented that research that we have worked so hard on. I have to say, this experience has been incredible. Presenting today was so exciting. Although I was nervous, I was so pumped to present my research. It was also awesome to hear from some people that attended our session that the WomenNC session was very well organized. It was an amazing experience to present in front of so many people and inform them on current issues regarding maternal health and infant mortality. I want to take this opportunity to thank all of the WomenNC volunteers that have helped us to reach this point so far. I especially want to thank Beth for creating this amazing opportunity and Lois for being such a great mentor. Lois has been so incredibly supportive and informative, and I am so lucky I had her as a mentor.

It has been such an amazing day and I'm so happy to be here!

Presentations and Receptions and Sessions, Oh My!

Today was an absolutely wonderful (and tiring!) day.

For one, we opened the morning with our presentations. I can honestly say that today was our best rendition yet. Every Fellow was poised, presented with grace and truly connected with the audience. The comfort with which each of us dove into our topic was evidence of the amount of preparation that has gone into preparing for today and I am proud of the efforts of all of us--Fellows, Mentors, and board members alike.

Amy opened and engaged the audience with her eloquence and oratory prowess, bringing the audience in.

Isabella was more comfortable than she has ever been thus far and sounded like a Master's Public Health student as she spoke about Durham Connect.

Alex was poised and professional, making use of excellent anecdotes and a personal connection to STEM to make several hard-hitting points.

Sarah deftly introduced the WomenNC Fellowship Model and was able to link it back to her father--a pioneer in the civil rights movement in the United States. It was powerful and moving.

Our event was very well attended with standing room only for many of the guests who arrived late. Beth said the presentations brought a tear to her eye and the motivation for her to continue her important work in engaging North Carolina's youth for yet another year.

In addition to hosting our own event, we also attended a meeting at the U.S. Mission to the UN and I met up with a friend from UNC to go to a lecture on goddess iconography throughout history and one of the High Level Panels on GBV. Additionally, we headed out to the CSW NGO Reception, where we were able to network with some interesting folks like the woman who spearheaded the movement to ratify CEDAW in San Franciso and some feminist pioneers.

We are exhausted, but happy. And it's shortly time for bed.

Thank you for your continued support--


Violence Against what's next?

Today was incredibly fascinating. I went to two talks about violence, one about education, and one about poverty. I was especially interested in the two talks about violence against women (VAW). The first one discussed policies and policing related to VAW and the second discussed Sweden's legislation on prostitution.  Sweden now outlaws the buying of sex, and they have seen a great decline in prostitution and human trafficking rates. It was really nice to hear that their legislation is leading to true results, as I often feel that legislation gets us nowhere.

In the discussion about policies and policing related to VAW, there was a panel of speakers that touched on human trafficking in Ghana, all around violence against women, and community policing. Unlike the Swedish legislation discussion, this discussion left me more curious. One professor mentioned that when we look at violence against women it is important to remember the "3 Ps" Prevention, Protection, and Prosecution. While I feel that NGOs have been working well on preventing VAW and protecting survivors of VAW, there is still such a lack in the justice system. It is so crucial that we continue to work on prosecuting perpetrators. It bothers me to no end that so many perpetrators go without prosecution. I hope this issue is addressed more this week, and I hope I am able to learn about more policies that address the perptrators, such as Sweden's legislation.

Spiritual Empowerment for Women and Girls

Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins.
                                                                                                          -1 Peter 4:8

Of the many things that are important to me, my faith is certainly at the top.  Some people question the role of religious, spiritual, or faithful people when it comes to women's rights advocacy.  Today I was grateful for the panel on Spiritual Empowerment for Women and Girls.  The most compelling woman on the panel was a woman from Rawanda named Rosi.  She told stories of surviving the Rawandian Genocide-- losing her kind-hearted brothers and fathers, hiding in bushes from killers with her mother, and surviving sexual and physical violence.  The story was completely devastating and as Rosi told her story through tears, she never failed to mention that is was her faith and prayer that carried her through this tragic journey.  Rosi said that in moments when she even wanted to give up on her on life, it was her faith in God that let her know there would be a bright future ahead of her and that she was actually very blessed.  At the end of the panel, we were each given a flag from the nations of the world.  Together, we prayed for them and were instructed to continue our prayers for these countries.  Mine was Burkina Faso.  I thanked God for this event.  

1st Day of CSW, 3rd Day of FUN!

Hello All,

It's been another successful day at CSW, and I got to go to 4 fantastic events. First, Amy, Sarah, and I attended a panel discussion that focused on the role of higher education and its influence on women's leadership. The panelists came from various organizations that funded, supported, and mentored young women all around the world to attend quality universities and gain the leadership skills necessary to make a change in their home countries. I was intrigued by all of the models employed by the organizations, whether it was Open A Door or AGFAF, and generally the efforts of these programs were very effective in empowering women.

I also got to attend UNICEF's panel on girl's education, and while I didn't get to stay for the entirety of the discussion, I did get to see Dr. Pauline Rose address the matter of girl's education. I enjoyed that she paid attention to the role of teachers in advancing education, which, while it may seem like an obvious factor in educational empowerment, I feel that this factor is overlooked. She stated that teachers need to be put "at the heart of the reform" and doing so will allow for further development in creating a better, more educated worlds. 

I also got to attend the Department of San Francisco's Status of Women as well as a High-Level Round Table Discussion at the UN Conference Building. Strangely, for such a packed schedule I felt that the day flew by so fast, I can only wonder how quickly the rest of the week will go by. I guess we'll find out!

Until next time,
I spent my first day at CSW focusing in on sessions that addressed two issues. The first was the importance of including girls and adolescents in our efforts towards women's equality--not just as after thoughts but as key components, recognizing that they have their own needs and issues in this discussion. In many instances, the only voice they have been given are in the grammatical inclusion of "for women, and girls." But in reality, girls are the women of tomorrow and they face issues today that many in places of power and influence never encountered. In order to truly achieve gender equality, girls must be a crucial part of the equation.

The second focus of the sessions I attended was addressing prostitution and trafficking. By far my favorite session of the day was one on The Swedish Model with additional representatives from France and Norway. I was impressed by the clarity with which they addressed such a complex issue--one that ranks among today's greatest violations of human rights. There were several comments that stood out to me in particular. One was in regards to the misunderstanding and dangers that can come about when people confuse the concepts of consent and freedom. The other was a statement that human rights are not only individual rights but also sacrifices made for the greater good.

Tomorrow we get to engage with CSW from a whole new level--as presenters at our own panel!

Monday, March 10, 2014

UN Decade

The trip has been absolutely incredible so far!  I really could not capture all that has moved and inspired me.  After a restful night's sleep, I am now rejuvenated and have confirmed that the glory and beauty of this week are not a dream. Today was CSW Consultation Day and during one of the panel discussions we reflected on what the panel called the "UN decade," the legacy of the 1990s UN Conferences.  We discussed how, for some women, Domestic Violence discussions were taboo until the Beijing Conference of 1995 and how the 90s finally made the world take seriously women's global issues.  

Most importantly, and what I had not really considered because of my generational perspective was that the "UN decade" occurred during a time with little internet use or even faxes.   "Beijing," Women's Activist Bandana Rana told us, "was where we found each other."  Passion, ideas, and camaraderie had not yet been shared via Facebook, Twitter, or email.  Instead, the World's Women's Conference was a new and valuable public space to build the women's movement.  The Beijing Conference and the CSW conferences since, have been times for women's advocates to work together and transcend differences that might seek to divide us. 

The spirit of unity, love, and solidarity has manifested itself in so many ways this trip.  Spending time with the fellows, Beth, Anjabeen, Kim and Younghee makes me think feel as if we've "found each other."  The legacy of the UN decade is one that teaches us that we should never take for granted being surrounded by people who share our vision to transform the status of women.  I am grateful to live in this legacy!

Sunday, March 9, 2014

A Place that Moves

New York. It's a city of movement, of voices, of change. It is streets of tall shadows, unassuming awnings, and corridors of crowds and wind.  Beautiful and constructive chaos. That is how I would describe New York--a city in constant and somewhat disorderly motion. It is plastic bags and crammed spaces and ever-moving traffic. It's not always polite. But it moves forward. This is a place where the world changes and things get done. It is one of the transforming capitals of the world. And it does all this in a far from perfect environment. This action creates chaos. But people continue to move in the midst.

I always tend to think of places of importance as places that are elite, fine and well-ordered. But they're not always. Change isn't looking for perfection. Change just keeps moving. And this living, city sized example of progress gives a certain relief. It shows us that we're not going to move forwards without some mess, but we should not be afraid of it because in the midst of it, great things can be accomplished.

People come to the table at CSW through much of the same process. We come to take action, to bring about change. We're celebrating progress, but we're also frustrated by what we have yet to see. And this frustration, it continues to move us forward. All this movement can be a little messy. But I'm encouraged to know that in the midst of all this, change is happening. The people here are passionate--passionate about the causes they are fighting for. And they're not going to stop this living, breathing, movement. Why? Because things happen in a place that keeps moving forward.

"It's not enough for women to participate. We must lead."

Hello everyone!

We're here in NYC for the week, and I already feel like I've been here for months. So much has happened in the last two days and it's been a whirlwind of excitement. Today was the NGO Consultation Day, and there were so many panels, speakers, performers, and people, that at first I was afraid I wouldn't be able to keep up with everything around me. Of course, that all calmed down once I started listening to the panels. One in particular stood out to me, and speaker Analisa Balares, the founder and CEO of Womensphere was *my* highlight of the day.

I'm a tad embarrassed to say I wasn't familiar with Analisa's work prior to today's panel. But when she started speaking I was instantly hooked. For one thing, I was excited because she was Filipino, and being part Filipino myself, I clearly felt that what she was going to say would be important.

I was right. Analisa's story was incredible, but the main reason I was intrigued was because I felt similar to her (outside of ethnicity of course). For one, she wanted to be a theoretical physicist due to her fondness for Stephen Hawking. Likewise, I wanted to major in astrophysics because of Stephen Hawking, and with that I developed my interest in STEM. On top of that, I could relate to her INSANE  number of interests (seriously, she's done almost everything on the planet). She spoke about her interests in women's studies, economic development, sustainable development, and STEM education, and about her work experience with the UN as a youth, Microsoft, Goldman Sachs, and her time at Harvard Business school. Of course, with my various majors, I understood her wide range of interests and the connections she draws to integrate them. 

Finally, I adored the overall mission of Womensphere which is to "empower women and girls to lead, create our future, and transform our world". One way they aim to empower women and girls is through their idea of using role models in STEM and collaborating with partners to create programs to encourage the advance in STEM fields. Since this is a main component of my research, I knew that I could learn a lot from Analisa's work and decided to research more into the efforts of Womensphere. 

Most importantly, I got the chance to ask Analisa a question directly during the Q&A session. I was curious to hear her thoughts about the lack of female faculty members in STEM fields at universities, and what advice she had to advocate for increasing their representation on campus. She replied that it is a prominent issue and that using role models within the faculty level is one way to support the efforts of female faculty members. Womensphere attempts to expose these models and mentors by using cross-campus interactions to empower women educators in STEM. This reminds me of the PURPOSE Institute, since they focus on promoting underrepresented faculty members on NC State's campus in science and engineering. Though that may be on a smaller scale compared to Womensphere international programs, it was great to see similar initiatives occurring throughout the world.

To see Analisa's full story and the purpose of Womensphere, I embedded a link of the video shown at todays panel. Take a look!

Until next time!

*In other news, the Fellows found a great place for brunch called Virage. So if you're ever in NYC, it's a must EAT. Check it out!

Day 2

Hey There,

Today has been an amazing day. This morning we woke up nice and early to get to the NGO CSW Forum. When we arrived at the forum I was taken aback by all that was going on. Within the first ten minutes of being there, Beth called me over to meet a woman from Geneva, Switzerland. The woman was very involved in maternal health, and it was so exciting to hear that she was interested in my research topic. The forum started soon after and I heard so many amazing people speak. The people that intrigued me most included: Sharon Bhagwan Rolls, Analisa Balares, and Asi Burak. Sharon started an amazing NGO in Fiji, Analisa started an NGO that provides scholarships to young women, and Asi works for a video game NGO that creates games for change. All of these speakers were so passionate when they presented and so inspirational. I saw that there are so many ways we can work to address women's issues. There truly is no right way to make a difference. It is just so important to follow your passion when working on an issue that you care about. I cannot wait for tomorrow.   

The NGO CSW58 Forum: Conclusions & Reflections

We are here. After several months of preparation, meetings and intense anticipation, we've landed in New York City and are ready to leave our mark on CSW58. And today was our first taste of what's to come--

Rising early, we gathered our thoughts and identity badges and took a taxi to the NGO CSW Forum 2014--an annual meeting of NGOs and other CSW stakeholders that aims to prepare delegates for CSW sessions with rousing calls-to-action meant to catapult attendees to the greatest heights of their potential as activists. With distinguished panelists and speakers from every far-flung corner of the globe, the event also serves as an opportunity to publicize NGO side events. Us fellows, for instance, helped distribute hundreds of fliers advertising our event this Tuesday.

It's a hasty barrage of paper--pink, purple, rainbow--with topics running the gambit from feminism in Japanese society to analyzing harmful traditional practices such as child marriage. While the practice isn't exactly environmentally friendly, it is carried out with the best of intentions:

We want you at our event. Come see what we do. Acknowledge us. Support us.

Intellectually, today was an exercise in perseverance. There is certainly a lot of knowledge and we should take solace in the fact that communities from around the world are mobilizing for change. But, as one panelist put it so eloquently, "If we are not bold enough, we will be stagnated." This is as true for the gender equality movement as it is for us Fellows during our time at CSW. Echoing the "conference mantra" of one of our mentors, it is essential we find the energy to stay curious despite an overwhelming amount of information.

In attempting to aggregate some of the data we consumed today, I wanted to touch upon several conclusions I've come to from today's panel discussions and speeches. These are reflective of my own personal interpretation of much of what was said today and I am keenly interested in reading upcoming reflections from other Fellows to understand their take.

I. Men are sorely underrepresented, despite many calls for further engagement from panelists and audience members. 

Perhaps unsurprisingly, I was one of a handful of men in the audience. I would be comfortable in estimating that there were perhaps a grand total of 20 men (not counting sound technicians and security) out of a total audience of several hundred. Quite frankly, this is disappointing. Gender equality and women's rights are good for society and beneficial to men. Further, many (but not all*) of the speakers spoke passionately about the need to engage men on a deeper level in many discussions, recruiting them as allies and friends of the movement. In fact, during the Forum, I was actively tweeting many of my thoughts (@maxseunik) and receiving warm and welcoming responses from other audience members and panelists. One audience member asked me plainly over Twitter: So what can we do to involve more men and invite them to the discussion? My response was simple and highlighted what I see to be the basic need: Let us know there is a space for us and that our voice is needed. We also require male-led talk about healthy masculinity. In my opinion, it is essential that gender equality movements begin to use as much inclusive language as possible. Don't simply call on the women and girls in the room, call on us, too--we may just surprise you.

II. Next year is going to be a big deal. 

In some ways, today left me equally eager to experience CSW59 as I am for this year's CSW. Why? Quite simply, much of the focus of today's event was on the Beijing+20 Platform For Action. Analyzing the successes and failures of what panelist Charlotte Bunch termed "the real building of a global women's movement." Next year marks 20 years later we need to ask ourselves the tough questions: what has changed? How have we done? Where do we go from here?

III. Youth involvement is a critical and recognized need in CSW and all international women's and human rights events.  

While many of the speakers and panelists called for broader youth involvement in CSW and other opportunities, Beth stepped forward and asked one of the panels how they planned to address what she sees as the gap between youth involvement in highschool and later on. The answers were non-committal at best and youth participation in the Forum was relegated around a spoken word poet, young panelist and a call at the end for "everyone under 35" to converge on the stage to sing and dance. Once again, while the intention behind these actions is great (and necessary!), it's easy to feel 'tokenized' and cursorily overlooked. I applaud the efforts of NGO CSW Forum to involve youth, but feel that much, much more can be done for future events.

In short, today was equal parts enlightening and tiring. The mood amongst the Fellows is good and we have bonded strongly in only a short while. Tomorrow marks the real start of our journey here and I am excited to keep sharing my thoughts and reflections in the most honest manner possible as we make our way--together--down the road to a brighter future for the world's women and girls.

Sincerely yours,


Saturday, March 8, 2014

Day 1 in the City

After a bit of drama at 6 am this morning (parts coming off planes, people missing flights, etc.) we are safe and sound in the city. It has been a super long day, and all of us are more than exhausted, but it is great to be here. Tomorrow we have a full schedule ahead of us, and I am definitely more than ready for some sleep. More detailed blogs to come.

Good night.

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

When It's Almost Time

It's hard to believe that this time next week we will all be in the midst of one of the most incredible opportunities of our college careers. Our time in New York, I am sure, will pass even quicker than our time of preparation has.

The closeness of everything we have been working towards makes me want to stop and think about my topic and my research in new ways. Up until this point, most of my time has been spent engaging with questions like, "what else exists here?" "what more can I find?" "how can we see this on an international level?" But now that we are just days away, my thoughts turn towards new questions: "what does this mean?" "how can I continue to engage with my topic from here onwards?" "what is the essence of my message?" "what do I want most for people to know?" I guess you could say that this is the time to look up--up from the ins and outs of data and statistics to the broader themes and ideas. After all, these ideas are what make those numbers matter.

In no time at all I will be reflection on this whole experience, and then too I will be asking yet another set of questions. Because the process of continuing to assess and ask questions never stops. We always seek to understand more.