Sunday, March 15, 2015

The last day of CSW - Alison

Again, I must apologize to all for the lateness of my post. The whirlwind of the last day, our flight home and the return to North Carolina got the better of me. I'm sitting now back at the Davis Library on UNC's campus reminiscing about an unbelievable last week.

For my last day of CSW, I attended an event entitled "Transilience", on trans women's rights in South Africa, the ECOSOC Intergenerational Dialogue, and an event on instilling body confidence in young girls. Transilience discussed the similarities of challenges faced by trans folks around the world. Unfortunately, the speaker said that many view South Africa as a "utopia" for LGBT people, but this just is not the case. While South Africa has a very progressive constitution, which explicitly recognizes the rights of all sexual and gender minorities, even enshrining the right for trans folks to access hormones and reassignment surgery, dangerous prejudice and violent discrimination continues on the ground.

Next, I attended the ECOSOC Intergenerational Dialogue with Beth where I was happy to hear from youth, indigenous speakers, men and a variety of other participants about the role of civil society--specifically with regards to intersectionality, inclusion and influence. One of my favorite quotes from the panel was from the young Tunisian blogger Aya Chebbi, who said on behalf of all young women "we are not leaders of tomorrow, we are the leaders of today!" It was a sentiment that resonated with me as I sat in the UN halls for the final time this week--definitely a motivation to continue to advocate and lead however I can!

Inside the ECOSOC Chamber as Lakshmi Puri, Deputy Director of UN Women, speaks.

Following this, I attended a panel on body confidence in young women sponsored by UN Women, the World Association of Girl Guides and Girl Scouts and Dove's Self Esteem Fund. I initially questioned the involvement of a corporation like Dove, but I really appreciated everything I learned at the talk. Lack of self esteem and body confidence, they explained, has been shown to make girls perform worse on intelligence tests. The UK Government even established a task force to tackle this issue. This panel made me consider the role of the media and hope that we can all teach younger generations to value much more than looks and instill confidence in ourselves.

Of course, we ended the night with Les Mis and some authentic NY cheesecake :) I cannot thank Beth, Jane and Isabella enough for guiding us on this trip--I know we all learned SO much about ourselves and our place as advocates for women's rights. Thanks again to all the mentors, especially Maureen, WomenNC Board members, and Lois for working so hard to make this life changing trip possible! We will never forget this incredibly unique opportunity and I can't wait to share with all even more about what I learned in the coming months. Thanks all who read these blogs!

Justine Schnitzler--Last Day in NYC

First, I have to apologize for the lateness of this blog post—between the whirlwind of the final day of sessions at CSW, rushing to a Colombian restaurant uptown with Isabella, and attending Les Mis on Broadway (!), time slipped away, and before I knew it, I was packing up for airport and flying home to Raleigh.

To wrap up CSW, I attended the all-day Inter-Generational Panel in the ECOSOC room, which, during the time I was inside, touched on many issues near and dear to my heart (and presentation topic.) I was particularly moved by one speaker, who discussed the idea that… “Slavery lasted for hundreds of years. Colonialism even longer. Overt male domination for a millennia. Antiquity of a prejudice is no justification for its perpetuation—gender discrimination must end”.
            In between the morning and afternoon youth session, Isabella and I traveled to the Church Center for a session regarding reproductive healthcare sponsored by Planned Parenthood International. One of the best parts of the panel was a speech on inequality given by a public health official from India: ““We use so many passive sentences, like: ‘Women get pregnant. Women get raped. Women are not being paid enough’. Who is the other actor in this? These things do not happen in a past-tense vacuum. There are people deciding women’s work is not worth as much as men’s. This is society’s current value system. Is poverty an adjective? You don’t become poor like you become a guitar player. We must shift the discussion from poverty to inequality. It’s not just you were born without money. There are social systems is place that mean you were never going to have the same amount of money. Having money is more important than doing work. What is the machine that has perpetuated inequalities? That’s what we have to go after. “let’s maintain that way of life”. Can we not consume more equally, and less of it? Where are natural resources being spent? Government budgets need to go to the assets that benefit girls and women.” ß(This is just what I wrote down!)

After saying goodbye to the United Nations building (for now), I headed uptown with Isabella for some fantastic authentic Colombian food, followed by Les Mis. My last day ended on such a positive note, and waking up this morning to realize the week was over was truly bittersweet. I am so excited to take what I have learned back to NCSU, and I am so incredibly grateful to Beth, the entire board, Isabella for working so hard, and WomenNC for affording me a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.

Thank you, thank you!


Saturday, March 14, 2015

Last Day: Dana

Our last day in NYC was great! Another day jam-packed with such riveting sessions. The first session I went to was about sex trafficking, something I hadn't yet heard about while here. The panel was all about how to eliminate sex trafficking and prostitution through criminalization. The panelists, which included Ruchira Gupta, all had unique perspectives on what the criminalization should look like. Everyone agreed on the sex trafficking side (it's illegal; arrest and punish the perpetrators), but there were diverse opinions on the prostitution side. Some advocated for a total and utter ban on prostitution while others had a more nuanced perspective. I personally identified with Ruchira's view - criminalize the brothel keepers, the johns, and the pimps, but not the prostitutes. Essentially, the act of selling one's body would not be illegal, but it WOULD be illegal to purchase another person's body. This criminalizes prostitution without criminalizing the women (and men) who sell sex. Ruchira's view is the Swedish model, and a spokesperson for the Swedish government noted that since this model has been in place, prostitution has decreased dramatically. The reasons I think this model makes so much sense are 1) I think women have a fundamental right to their body. While many, if not most, women in sex work might not have chosen that path for themselves, those who do have enough agency to make the decision to engage in sex work should have the right to do so. 2) While I think that women have fundamental rights to their bodies and can thus engage in sex work if they choose, I don't think anyone has the right to purchase another person's body - hence the criminalization of the johns, pimps, etc. 3) A partial decriminalization of prostitution (not criminalizing the prostitutes) protects sex workers from the criminal justice system. I think it is heinous that prostitutes could end up in prison, especially since their line of work wasn't likely something they chose for themselves. Putting them in prison achieves nothing.

The next event I went to was about reproductive health and rights. One of my favorite quotes from this panel was "Poverty is not gender neutral." Poverty affects women so much more, and thus affects their reproductive freedom. Women in poverty are more likely not to have an education, or be pulled from school, and girls without an education are three times more likely to become child brides.

The last session I went to was put on by the Family Research Center - a very conservative anti-abortion group. I wanted to go to see what kind of conversation the other side was having. While I am glad that I went, it was a very difficult and frustrating experience. A woman started out the panel by saying that women don't need access to contraceptives because they can just 'monitor their fertility cycles' to know when their least chance of pregnancy would be and go by that. This statement just seemed so ridiculous, especially in the wake of everything I've learned here at CSW. This woman is assuming that women have enough agency in their lives to determine when they'll have sex. She's assuming that women's husbands will respect their wives when they say, "Sorry honey, we have to wait two more weeks so I can't get pregnant." The FRC woman is assuming that women have enough education and agency to track their cycles .... really??? A poor, rural, uneducated woman living in a mud hut sleeping on the ground who doesn't have running water will be able to track her cycle? There were other absurd statements too, like that most women who have had abortions were forced into it and no woman really wants an abortion. Again ludicrous - women have literally killed themselves when denied access to abortion. Another statement that particularly bothered me was the claim that the government is just yanking women off the streets and aborting their full-term babies... not even sure how I go about addressing that claim since it is so out of touch with reality. I am glad that I went to this however, because it reminded me of how far we have come and how far we have left to go - and that there are people just waiting to roll back any gains we have achieved.

The day was capped with an amazing Les Miserables performance on Broadway - definitely a fantastic end to a fantastic trip. Thank you again to everyone who made this possible - I so appreciated the fellowship and the opportunity to be in New York at the CSW conference. Thanks to Beth and Isabella for taking care of everything while we have been here - we fellows appreciate you both so much and all the hard work you have put in.

Dina Shehata_Blog 14

Last Day of CSW!

Yesterday was a bittersweet day. It was our last day here at CSW and we ended with a Broadway show.

The events that I attended yesterday were very insightful and allowed me to learn more about several different issues ranging in maternity health to Islam and its relation to women’s rights.

The event I’m going to focus on for this blog is the “Strategic Leadership for Women and Girls’ Health: The Beyond Zero Campaign in Kenya.  The first lady of Kenya was the keynote speaker and she outlined the campaign she created called Beyond Zero. There are three goals of the campaign and they are the following:

1. Improve Maternal Health 
2.  Reduce Child Mortality
3. Combat HIV/AIDS, Malaria, and other Diseases

The goals of this campaign are such significant issues and for the first lady to be proactive and become successful in accomplishing these goals is a great feat especially when countries all over the world have similar issues but fail to even plan campaigns.

Another issue that motivated the creation of Beyond Zero is the problem of women in rural areas giving birth in their homes which increases complications and risks.  There are mobile units going around these areas that perform deliveries. One of the panelists said something very important. She said “No woman should die while giving birth.”

The other panelists had several statistics that showed the true positive effects of Kenya’s efforts:

26% of Kenya’s Parliament is comprised of women.

30% of Kenya’s cabinet is comprised of women.

One moment during the session was very great to witness. A young Kenyan girl, who is only 15 years old, raised her hand to make a comment at the end. She was confident and poised. She stated that first and foremost, education is a priority for girls and women. She then proceeded to bring a bracelet symbolizing the fight for education and equality to the first lady of Kenya and put it on her arm. This moment illustrated the capability and significance of the youth. We need to listen to the younger generations because they have a lot to offer!

CSW has been an eye-opening experience and I am so thankful that I was able to be a part of it. I learned that there are so many amazing advocates out there and we need to find a way to take all of the issues we talked about and really IMPLEMENT them. Every session I attended had problems with implementation.

See you all back in NC!

Dina Shehata

Blog #14- First Lady of Kenya, Intergenerational Discussions and Broadway-Liv

Blog #14-First Lady of Kenya, Inter-generational discussions and Broadway-Liv

Today began with an inspiring discussion hosted by the leaders of Kenya, to include the First Lady of Kenya.  The session focused on her initiative Beyond Zero, a mobile health clinic with over twenty clinics that can travel far into lands that are normally unreachable by ordinary means of transportation.  Her clinics focus on child, infant, mother health and HIV/AIDS awareness and treatment.  As a result of her efforts, the areas treated by these mobile clinics have seen a reduction in infant mortality and rates of HIV cases have decreased. 
The mobile clinics also assist with childbirth and can perform minor surgeries.  The First Lady’s programs have help thousands in rural and poverty ridden areas of Kenya and give hope to the rest of the world that with effort, programs that make a difference can be created and funded.

The last event that I attended today was an all-day Intergenerational discussion on issues facing youth and women.  The session that I attended was primarily dominated by older women and the youth presence in any panel or discussion was limited at best.  Of the audience members who were called on, fewer than half were younger than 30 and all made comments on the lack of youth in the event and that it was not in fact a discussion, but an older generation dominated discussion.  Among some of the best points made, the question “how can we have a intergenerational discussion, if we do not have a strong youth presence and our presence is not valued?”  This is a valuable point in that many youth have strong and excellent points of view and know exactly how to address their issues, yet they are not given the proper respect or attention as they are viewed as less worldly or experienced.  If we want young girls to grow up to be strong leaders, we need to build them up while they are young to set them up for success.

The evening concluded with a viewing of Les Misérables on Broadway.  My last time seeing a play on Broadway was when I was 18 years old.  It felt good to see a quality production in an iconic setting.  What a wonderful conclusion to a crazy and exciting week.  Thank you so much to all who helped to get us to CSW.  I appreciate everything that you have done for us.

Friday, March 13, 2015

New York Day 6: Justine Schnitzler

Justine New York Blog Post Day #6

Today, we began the morning early with a session led at the United States mission to the United Nations, hosted by Ms. Magazine. I thoroughly enjoyed the part of the session I was able to attend, but unfortunately was struck with the marks of an imminent migraine halfway through the session, necessitating my leaving. I ended up having to rest at the hotel through lunch and the afternoon, but was able to feel better and rejoin the group for an event at the Ford Foundation building. We attended a film screening for a movie about child marriage, produced by Angelina Jolie. The event was incredible, as I got to rub elbows with John Kerry’s sister, the filmmaker, and many other notable dignitaries. I was also excited for the panel presentation afterward, as one of the women on it was a photojournalist who did a photo set of child brides across the world, published in the New York Times that I researched extensively in February. I wish I felt I had more to write for today’s post, but my nasty headache really knocked me out for the better part of the day, and inhibited my attendance at many of my planned events.

Until tomorrow!


New York Day 6: Dana

Today was yet another amazing day. We started off by going to a session that talked about connecting youth and current leaders, and the panelists included a great age range. The next event was all about gender violence and the mental health after-effects. My next event was about using international law to combat gender violence, which I found really fascinating. One thing that has been bothering me while at CSW is the amount of talk over a particular issue, and yet the lack of any actual progress. That's why I think it's so important to talk about international law - it really does have the potential to change policy.

My last event was equally wonderful - it was about using a legal framework to combat hate speech. Again, this did a great job of highlighting the ways to move forward and not just highlight the problem. I had a long conversation with one of the panelists after the event and talked longer about how we reconcile the importance of free speech and the prevention of hate speech, and why we give those who issue threats more freedom of speech than those who are affected and silenced.

Tonight we had the privilege of attending a film screening about forced marriages in Ethiopia. I don't even know how to describe this event; I am still processing a lot of the content of the documentary and can talk about it more tomorrow when I've had the time to really think about it - I have never seen anything so intense.

One more day of sessions! I need to make the most out of my last day!

CSW Day 6 - Josh

Today was probably my favorite day at CSW so far. After attending the US Mission to the UN meeting this morning, Mina and I accompanied Beth to a roundtable discussion at the Ms. Foundation. The meeting comprised several leaders from NGOs around the country who were collaborating on a response to a statement recently released by the CSW regarding the Beijing Platform and progress made over the last twenty years. Mina and I both made suggestions about making the language more inclusive, including protections for gender protection, sexual orientation, and gender identity, and also mentioning the importance of enlisting men and boys as allies in securing women’s human rights. Later, I attended the actual writing session, where, over a two hour period, we sat down and crafted the document itself. It was awesome to be involved in something that had the potential to impact international law. I can’t believe how quickly the week has flown by – tomorrow is our last full day!

Until then,

Dina Shehata_Blog 13

Day 4 of CSW!

Today we went to several events together. In the morning we attended the US Mission to the UN and later in the evening we attended the film screening of Difret.

I’m going to focus tonight’s blog about the film screening. The film told the story of Aberash Diriba (Hirut in the film) who is an Ethiopian woman who was abducted at the age of 14 when she was on her way home from school. I won’t say the details of the film because it is coming out in theaters this summer. I will say that Aberash was the first abduction case where the judge acquitted her because she was acting in self-defense. Aberash was at the film screening and spoke on the panel after the screening was over. The film was incredibly well done and was very emotional for everyone at the screening. To see what many girls all over the world go through in terms of early marriage and even abductions showcased in a film was very eye-opening. Hearing about issues and talking about concerns is not the same as watching the experience of a woman who survived to tell her story and hearing her testimony in person. During the movie, there was a scene where the girl who was abducted (named Hirut in the film) was worried that her younger sister would be abducted as well. Later during the panel, Aberash was asked what happened to her sister later in life. She responded by telling us that after she won her court case, there weren’t any more abductions in her village for the next ten years. It became illegal to abduct women. Her sister ended up finishing high school, going on to college, and becoming a nurse. It was so amazing to hear a success story after such a difficult film to sit through.

Here are some statistics that I learned before the film and after the film during the panel:

1 in 9 girls get married before the age of 15.

I in 3 girls get married by the age of 18.

Even though there is a law against the abduction of girls for marriage in Ethiopia there is a loophole in the law. If the abductor marries the girl then he is not sentenced.

Ethiopia is aiming to end child marriage by the year 2025.

We need to support organizations who help end child marriages. There are many organizations which work very hard and funding is always necessary!

Until tomorrow,

Dina Shehata

Thursday, March 12, 2015

CSW Day 6 - Alison

Hard to believe there is only one day left at the CSW. Today, I attended a wide variety of events, which demonstrated to me the amazing diversity of what CSW can offer all advocates. First, we all attended an NGO event at the US Mission to the UN. I had the happy surprise of seeing Michele J. Sison, who was the US Ambassador to Sri Lanka and the Maldives when I served as an intern at the embassy. At that time, I even wrote a speech for her and we had a private meeting. Turns out, she is now State Department’s #2 person at the US Mission to the UN, so that was a very nice reunion.

The panel on Difret at the Ford Foundation.

 Throughout the day I attended a panel on engaging men and boys in reducing violence against women (I heard from NGOs in South Africa, Indonesia, Brazil and Rwanda), a panel on “corrective rape” and gendercide, and finally a panel on environmentalism and extractive industries. This evening, we went to an amazing screening of the film Difret, which depicts a child marriage in Ethiopia. Following the movie, we got to listen to the producer, writer and director, woman whose story the movie is based on, and some panelists.

CSW Day 5 Blog

Today was our second to last day at CSW! We all started the day by attending at event hosted by the Feminist Majority and the Girls Learn International where many women and girl advocates spoke about the progress of women in the last 20 years since the Beijing Platform. Afterward, Josh and I went with Beth to the Ms. Foundation Fellowship where organizers, most of whom were from an feminist organization based in California, met to write a response to the response statement 700 NGOs made to the UN’s statement from CSW. We were able to add our own input into the response they were writing. Josh, especially, was able to add a more gender inclusive lens into the response.

Later, we all went to a film screening called “Difret,” about a court case in Ethiopia against a young girl who killed her abductor and rapist who was trying to force her into an early marriage sparked a change in legislation concerning abductions and child marriages in Ethiopia. It was a very triggering film, but it had a hopeful message that grassroots and local marriages could challenge and effectively change traditional practices.

By the end of the day, we had a group reflection on the fellowship itself, CSW, and what we would each take from it.

- Mina

Blog # 13- Migration and Difret- Liv

Blog #13- Migration and Difret- Liv

I always feel as though I should approach my blog in a chronological description of my day.  However, today the end of my day that is resonating most powerfully rather than the start.  This could be as a result of early morning “sleepies” clouding my memory, or that so many amazing things have happened since 8am that the most recent is ringing the loudest in my mind.  At any rate, I will begin my day at the end with what I feel was a remarkable viewing of the film Difret.

Our evening began with a reception and networking opportunity in the Ford Foundation Lobby with Cajun shrimp hors-d’oeurves and mini crème bruleé tarts.  Mixed with fermented grapes, a wonderful atmosphere was created, perfect for networking.  There were many in attendance and all were equipped with the mindset of connecting for the fortitude of the development of women’s rights across the globe.  During this time I was able to make the acquaintance of one of the women from the UN whose job is to organize the UN sessions and events.  We discussed how we are born with natural qualities that make us best suited for our jobs.  This is precisely why women make excellent leaders.  We are born strong, born with the desire to nurture and born with the overwhelming ability to be leaders. 
This leads into the film Difret which wraps the audience into the life of a young girl who was abducted with the purposes of forced marriage and was forced to make life altering decisions in her self-defense.  The film takes the audience on her legal journey as she and her lawyer fight the male dominated legal system in order to win her freedom.  This powerful representation of the struggle that women face in male dominant societies provides an excellent portrayal of what modern legal systems face when combating culture and traditions.  While traditions and culture are important, human rights trump all.  Even more powerful than the film was the presence of the woman who the film was based on.  She sat upright while the audience clapped and answered the questions during the panel with dignity.  It was powerful to be in the presence of such a strong survivor.

The second impressionable event of today was the session on migration.  I am more than familiar with the struggles that migrant workers and family face in the United States due to the nature of my work as a language teacher.  

Meeting with other NGO’s from around the world was interesting.  The United States still has the “golden child” ideal in the eyes of other countries.  This was made evident through the questions that the NGO’s posed during our group session.  They mentioned how they lose their citizens to the US and they never come back because the United States are so wonderful and accepting of migrants.  Immediately the two Canadian women at my side and I spoke up to inform the group that the US is not a good country for migrants or migrant workers.  I felt like the expert of the group amongst international professionals.  I was able to share with women from around the world my successful experiences working in a country that neglects and mistreats its migrant workers and help them to develop strategies for their countries.

New York Day 5: Dana

Today was the big day! Our presentations. We spent the morning taking pictures in front of the United Nations and doing last minute practice run-throughs of our presentations. And then 2:30 arrived. People slowly began trickling into our room and I was happily surprised by the number of people that were there - not a single seat was left. Jane introduced the fellowship and then suddenly it was my turn to get up and present everything I had been working on for the last five months. I was definitely nervous, and I felt myself shake at times, but I felt so confident about my message. I knew what I wanted to get across and I delivered it.

I think all of us fellows did a great job. Everyone delivered the best presentations they ever had. Allison literally brought a woman to tears. It was incredible. After we all presented a bunch of people then came up to talk to all of us about our presentations. I ended up talking to 3 high school girls, one of whom was from my home town which was quite the coincidence. The other two were from Georgia and had had abstinence-based sex ed in their Catholic school, and wanted to tell me that their experience with it had actually been positive. It was wonderful to hear that their experience was positive, but I did talk to them about how abstinence ed on the whole just really doesn't work, and we can't just leave it to chance and hope that someone teaches the sex ed in a correct way - we need policies in place that standardize it for all students.

In addition to our presentations today, we also went to an event on women in the Arab world that had to be one of the most moving moments of my life. One of the panelists talked about her time in Iran. She had been arrested at age 18 and held for 5 years as a political prisoner during which she was beaten and tortured, all because she was a vocal human rights activist. Her story moved everyone in the room, but what happened next was even more incredible. A Nigerian (I think that's what she said but I'm not sure) woman in the back who had been selling necklaces she makes throughout the CSW conference went up to the front of the room and embraced the Iranian woman for several minutes. As they stood together, it just struck me how universal the struggle for freedom and gender equality really is; here are these two women who likely don't even speak the same language, yet they understand each other at such a core, basic level. It was such a moving moment for me - it reaffirmed everything that I believe about the universality of the struggle for equality.

Today was an absolutely amazing day, as has been my whole week thus far at CSW. I am so excited to see what the next few days have in store, but am sad that I only get a few left. I'll really need to take advantage of the remainder of my time in this wonderful place.

Presentation Day - CSW Day 5 - Alison

Today was phenomenal! To start out, I had lunch with my family at the United Nations “Delegate Dining Room”—a very swanky buffet where I almost felt out of place. 

Dessert at the Delegate Dining Room.
Then, I prepared for our panel talk. It was a wonderful experience. Going last is of course nerve-wracking and the room was sweltering, so by the time I was up to present I think I was both overheated and extremely nervous. For about the first two minutes of my presentation my entire body was shaking but I mentally continued to steel myself to stay calm, make eye contact and connect with the audience. There were also limited technical issues, which I think I also handled well. In the end, I was so happy to hear gasps, appreciative clapping and other feedback from the audience. I didn’t use my script at all—I really just tried to speak from the heart.

Getting ready for the panel with my wonderful fellows and Jane!
With my family who came to see the presentation. My mom, Dolores, my dad, Tom, myself, my older sister, Camila, and her boyfriend, William.

 Following our session I also attended an AFL-CIO sponsored event on Bangladeshi garment workers and the International Domestic Workers Federation. Hearing from a worker herself who had been in the Rana Plaza collapse was a stark reminder of the invisible labor that makes our lives possible. This woman began working in garment factories at 16 to support her mother and younger brothers and now travels around the world giving testimony of her experience. I hope we will all think more about women who labor to create our clothing, especially from stores like JC Penney, A Children’s Place and Walmart—none of which have agreed to any binding resolution to protect workers rights. I believe we must make decisions with our dollars and continually work to create a more just system of labor around the world.