Monday, March 19, 2018

I'm Definitely Going Back

Town Hall with Secretary General

In this photo from left to right is Cara Pugh (me), Caitlyn Grimes, Joel Tinkler, and Beth Dehghan. As you can see from our smiles we are thrilled because we are in the front row of the ECOSOC chamber to see the Secretary General of the entire United Nations. As some of the fellows put it, he is like the president of the UN. It was great to hear his report regarding gender equality in the UN. As a U.S. citizen this was also a great time to listen to questions from others representing many nations, many agendas, and many struggles. Simply to sit in that room and see first hand how issues are brought to the UN leaders was extremely powerful.

Panel Discussion about Education of Women and Girls

Meeting the Minister of Education from Saudi Arabia was one of the highlights of my trip this past week. She was truly a force to be reckoned with and with every eloquent answer she gave, she put the academic and social wellbeing of women and girls at the forefront. It was an honor to ask her about the cultural sharing of nations during the panel discussion. In her answer she mentioned that gaining new perspectives and sharing cultural practices is one of the main purposes of education and travel. She also helped implement policies that allow women to travel with their families when studying abroad so that "women never have to choose between education and their families." That policy shows with actions the importance of educating women, the opportunity is equitable and well thought out to ensure that the "opportunity" to learn is not simply a dream but instead, a reality for women and girls who chose to start families and educate themselves as well.

Finally, to everyone who made this trip possible, I would like to thank you for the opportunity to take advantage of an international event such as CSW. This time at the UN was beautiful because it was truly a time to have pride in being a woman, a Black woman, and a U.S. citizen. I feel proud that so many powerful men and women came together to continue our work toward gender equity in my lifetime. I feel energized and prepared to continue this work. Thank you! And I challenge everyone reading to continue the journey toward your own understanding of gender equity and racial equity. We're all needed to make positive change. I'll be holding us all accountable!

-Cara Pugh, 2018

An Opportunity of a Lifetime


I have felt empowered to speak up in front of ministers, ambassadors, NGO leaders, and many other leaders at the side events this week. My question today was regarding the cultural implications for Saudi Arabian women when attending universities in Western countries.

At this side event I learned about the current updates on comprehensive sexuality education (CSE) that is impacting the health and wellbeing of students all around the world. One myth regarding this education is that it exposes students to information too soon or does not positively impact their health outcomes. In reality, CSE is a part of life skills training that implements gender equality practices, respecting others' differences, and expanding critical thinking skills.

U.S. Mission Discussion on Gender Equality: At this event it was great to hear an all female panel under the Trump administration. Although in many cases I found myself disagreeing with their politics, it was still refreshing to see women in such high levels of their departments such as the Department of Labor and USAID. One component of the entire week that resonated with me is that a diverse group of women must be represented in leadership. Often, there will be women in power that do not necessarily share my values or political beliefs, however they are just as much needed in order to truly reach gender parity in our government. 

Wednesday, March 14, 2018

Reflection of March 12th, 2018 

Finally, it’s the first official day of CSW! The culturally rich experience is not only at the United Nations; it’s everywhere we go. I am staying at a hotel relatively close to the United Nations, and even in the hotel lobby at breakfast, I can discuss women’s advocacy issues at a global level.  

Breakfast with an NGO leader from Liberia and attorney from Nigera

My first event of Monday was the CSW Orientation. The event gave a brief overview of the week, the history of CEDAW, the “Zero Draft” document (the outcome document of CSW that discusses agreed conclusions and solutions), and the sustainable goals of the United Nations. Before the start of orientation, I was able to speak with other groups from Australia and Romanian, who were also experiencing their first CSW adventure!

My second event was “Celebrating and Advancing Women's Political Participation,” which was hosted by the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland. I was excited for this event, especially with my work in politics and the engagement and empowerment of women leaders. The panel represented leaders from Canada, Malawi, the United Kingdom, and New Zealand. I learned more about different party systems, the oppression of women leaders (from past and current issues) and the influx that constitutional law to even social media has on of promoting women leaders. A common theme was to prioritize education in our homelands to encourage women leadership. Education may seem like an obvious solution towards the barrier of women in politics, but with efforts not harmonized in educating the power of women leaders, then, once again, we are left with obstacles. 

After the event, I had a conversation with the panelist from Malawi, Dr. Jessie Kabwila-Kapasula, who is an academic, feminist, educator and activist; her scholarship focuses on African feminism. I told Dr. Kabwila-Kapasula about the conditions of North Carolina, and the lack of women in political office. She was very insightful and compassionate with her support, and she stressed the importance of community engagement and education. Fun fact: Dr. Kabwila-Kapasula said North Carolina was on her list of places to visit! 

 Dr. Kabwila-Kapasula

Later, I attended “What Strategies for Rural Women’s and Girls’ empowerment?” which prioritized African women’s land rights. The panel applied the UN’s Sustainable Goals of advocacy/outreach, methodological guidelines, reporting processes, technical support, and quality control and global reporting. The panelist emphasized how these tactics will help measure changes in the legal framework for African women. Problems occurring for African women regarding legal issues (and these problems are also prevalent in North Carolina) are how they are consulted during an abstract stage or when it’s too late to engage in the legal process of their rights. It was impactful learning legal issues that are obstructing women’s access to knowledge, especially when the system is designed to engage and protect an educated democracy.

The last event I attended was “Intersecting Grassroots Radio to Reach Rural Women and Refugee Women” hosted by Women Graduates USA. This event parallels with my undergraduate focus on the interconnectivity of politics and communication, and the impact the two sectors play on social and policy change.  Half the panel focused on utilizing the power of smartphone “apps,” with providing additional services to refugee women. The other half focused on more straightforward means of mass communication. They highlighted the power of radio with giving a simplistic approach to educating refugee women.

Overall, each event gave me a deeper understanding of the problems occurring for women around the world, as well as the solutions to implementing change and encouraging women. There was no better way to start this CSW week.

First Day of CSW 62

(While this was written on March 12, it was published on March 13)

As I write this blog post, I am ending my first day at the Commission on the Status of Women. For years I have dreamt of the opportunity to come to the United Nations, to catch a glimpse of the General Assembly Hall, and to cross paths with global changemakers. Today, I was not only able to check off each of these goals, but to exceed them, as I was able to learn directly from these global changemakers, listen to multinational, multicultural, and multisectoral responses to global health challenges, and realize that I truly am meant to pursue a career in the global health policy sphere.

While this week has only just begun, the events that I attended today left an indelible impression on me as a health policy wonk as a gender equity advocate. One event that left such an impression was "The Voice of Rural Women for a Sustainable and Healthy Future." The opening remarks were given by Italy's Deputy Minister for Economic Development, Teresa Bellanova, and the Vice President of the Republic of Zambia, Madam Inonge Mutukwa Wina, setting the stage for a conversation about the vital importance of rural women in the agricultural sector and rural women's and girl's nutrition. We then heard from four rural female Italian farmers about the innovative strategies they use to operate their farms and the work they are doing to invest in the lives of the people that their farms touch. This event was important to contextualize the role of women in the agricultural sector and beyond that, their role in feeding and providing adequate nutrition to countries around the world. Not only are the majority of farmworkers in rural areas female, and women and girls are the most affected by malnutrition, but when women have more control over the household's financial resources, both themselves and their families are better nourished. Therefore, nations need to encourage their female farmers through better subsidies, increased access to land ownership, and allow them to participate in the political process on decisions related to agriculture.

As this week continues, I look forward to learning more about the role of women in fulfilling healthy lives, and the ways in which we can improve the health of rural women and girls through innovative and collaborative strategies.

Monday, March 12, 2018

CSW: "They Don't Stone a Tree That Does Not Have Fruits"

Speaking the Language of Women and Girls
Today was an incredible experience at the UN Commission on the Status of Women! Already I feel as if I am speaking another language, a language of women and girls worldwide. I have a pass that allows me in and out of the official UN building and I have had the opportunity to sit in meetings with global governmental leaders, elected officials, and non-governmental organizations (NGOs)! 

Celebrating and Advancing Women's Political Participation 
At a governmental event at the UN building, what is called side events at CSW, there was a great panel that discussed the political participation of women. The speakers spoke from their local experiences in the United Kingdom, Canada, Malawi, and New Zealand. 

Although I attended four different sessions today that were all impactful and important, I wanted to share about this event specifically because I find it to be the most influential to many of the issues we are facing in North Carolina. This discussion can very much influence how we work to continue the goals of Cities for CEDAW in North Carolina. The following notes are quotes, recommendations, and reflections from this event.

Barriers to the Political Field for Women
    • social media abuse deters women from political participation
    • women think they do not have the "look" or the "academic background" of a stereotypical politician
    • there's a low retention rate of female politicians
    • patriarchy leads women to believe that we are in competition with each other and that "we are each other's enemies."

Gender Equitable Approaches
    • male and female co-leadership approach should be the goal: this includes one man and one woman chairing all committees
    • gender balanced approach like the Green Party in New Zealand: where they have a type of quota for the number of women that run in their party; they now have 75% women in leadership in the party
    • create deliberate policies to increase women in politics

Memorable Quotes
"They don't stone a tree that does not have fruits."   -Representative from Malawi
The speaker was referring to how women are treated and abused in many countries. She said that this is a common saying in her country and it reminds her that women struggle because many men see the power, resilience, and resources that women have and are afraid of them.

"It's not real unless it's in the budget."  -Representative from UK
This speaker was discussing the steps that the UK is taking to consistently have a gender lens and he was sure to add that real change is written into policy and written explicitly in the budget as well! This influenced me as a fellow to ensure that when we speak with local officials about our gender analysis, we recommend that the gender equity changes they make are written line by line in the next budget so that WomenNC and constituents can hold them accountable.

"We shouldn't just ask 'what are women doing for women?'"  -Representative from Canada
This speaker was referring to the fact that men in office also represent women. It is not the sole purpose of women in government to only specialize on women's issues. Not only because they represent all constituents but also because many governments do not even have enough women to attempt to do that anyway. We must hold men accountable to women's rights while also jointly advocating for more women in elected and appointed representation.

Reflections: Indigenous Women Transforming Power

Today I attended MADRE's parallel event, "Indigenous Women Transforming Power." MADRE advocates for women's human rights by partnering with sister organization worldwide. I appreciate this model, because it centers marginalized women as the experts on their own experiences and communities. Yifat Susskind, executive director, moderated the panel, which contained Yasso Kanti Bhattachan of Nepal (Vice Chair of the National Indigenous Women's Forum and Thakali Indigenous),  Lucy Mulenkei of Kenya (leader of Indigenous Information Network and member of the Maasai community), Aminatu Samira of Cameroon (youth activist and member of the Mbororo Pastoralist community, and Rose Cunningham, a Miskito indigenous leader who is the first indigenous woman mayor of Waspam, Nicaragua (pictured below). 

Rose Cunningham, mayor of Waspam (Source)
Yifat began the event by asking those in the audience who felt that their community was under threat by the Trump administration to raise their hands. Looking around, almost everyone in front and behind me had a hand raised. She also described how indigenous women have more of a right to be skeptical about electoral politics than almost anyone, but that electoral politics are at least one site of power and one approach to advocacy. Yifat asked how we can resist our current material situation while being both protective and proactive. In other words, how can we protect those who are most threatened without letting our vision of a better future go by the wayside?

The panelists had some insights. Rose Cunningham spoke to the necessity of autonomy, both in a democratic sense, and for people as individuals. Lucy Mulenkei described how important it is for women simply to be able to assemble together, and spoke to the value of indigenous women's traditional knowledges. Aminatu Samira described the necessity of opportunities for personal development and education for youth. Yasso Bhatachan described education as the "main equipment of empowerment," and discussed an initiative for trilingual education so that indigenous youth could learn Nepalese, English, and their mother tongue.

In terms of my personal reflections, I found navigating the experience of trying to get limited translation resources quite profound, because about 30% of the event was in Spanish. The organizers actually ran out of translation equipment for the native English speakers. As a native English speaker, everything is usually tailored to my needs, and I thought it was meaningful to be in a space where that wasn't fully the case as just a small taste of what folks who speak English as a second language experience every day.