President's Blog from New York
The President has been at the United Nations in New York, attending the Commission on the Status of Women .
Monday 11th March
Today began gently with a CSW Alliance meeting at 9.15am and an opportunity to meet friends and associates and those with a similar mission. Events for the day were then shared and individual programmes decided. My first event was on “Women’s Peace and Security”. The panellists gave their experience of post conflict resolution either through legal systems or community action. I particularly wanted to go to this event as one of the speakers was from Cameroon. My diocese is linked with Bamenda Diocese in Cameroon and I have been in touch with the President of the Catholic Women’s Association. We met at WUCWO and I was aware that their country was in the middle of civil unrest. I asked the lady from the Cameroon to comment on a message I had received stating “Things are getting worse by day as the wickedness of the government increases. They have resorted to burning down hospitals, breaking into houses, and taking away our male children to unknown places.” We were told that the civil unrest began when the Anglophile part of the country wanted independence. Instead of having discussions and mediation the government responded with military action. Needless to say there was a counter attack and the violence escalated, each side blaming the other. I can now help Judith contact Sylvie so they can work together to find a peaceful solution.
The ladies from Libya gave a powerful account of how they had helped to restore some kind of order after the fall of Gaddafi. Although it is potentially a very rich country there are no unrestricted funds to enable community redevelopment. The women have had to help themselves. We could need their help and advice after Brexit!
My afternoon session was concerned with how issues around domestic violence were being addressed in New York and through the legal system. The lawyer from England was pleased to hear that NBCW are reissuing the booklet on “Raising Awareness of Domestic Abuse”. We hope that the new edition will be launched on the Day for Life in June.
The evening session was held at the UK mission. Government ministers explained the importance of achieving good outcomes at the end of the conference. We were told that some states were in danger of sabotaging the discussions by introducing misinterpretations of agreed conclusions. We are hoping for agreed conclusions with good outcomes on the family. The challenge will be how to make policies on the family which will be good for society.
Tuesday 12th March
At the morning briefing the delegates were encouraged to work with their country’s ministers keeping in mind the bigger picture to achieve women’s rights and human rights. There was discussion about the shrinking space for civil society.
In the morning I went to the Holy See Mission’s event on social protection systems and access to public services in the fight against human trafficking and modern slavery. The panellists demonstrated how poverty and lack of education were key factors leaving vulnerable people open to exploitation. More support from governments and NGOs is needed to overcome inequality and social justice. But the needs of survivors are complex and require professional treatment. Countries need to invest more in mental health services. Kevin Hyland stated that our world has lost its moral compass; a disposable culture now has disposable people. To the traffickers people are a commodity. We need to give voice to the voiceless to obtain justice for all.
In the afternoon our government officials organised a joint event with the Danish government “Happy healthy and safe; healthy relationships for young people.” The Danish minister compared sexuality education to learning to drive a car. In Denmark there are now fines for people who share photos online and on social media without permission. Our Gender Equalities Official explained that society is changing radically so complacency is not an option. The government was compelled to review the sex education programme in schools. New guidelines are being introduced with teaching on sexuality and relationships. A young girl guider extolled the virtue of informal education, but any education involving sensitive issues requires delivery by experts. The young people in the hall gave some very interesting comments; they asked about love and family.
At the Mission meeting this evening we discussed the effectiveness of CSW. Do women at home know about the work that is being done in New York on their behalf? You can write reports but do people read them? There is work to be done when we come home!
Wednesday 13th March 2019
Up at the crack of dawn to walk up to the Salvation Army HQ six for blocks away for 8.30am meeting. “How can faith-based groups work collaboratively in contributing to social protection of women facing religious persecution?” The event was launching The Global Gender Specific Religious Persecution 2019 Analysis produced by Open Doors International / World Watch Research Unit. The report highlights the existence of an intersection between violations of freedom of religion or belief and women’s rights. Women and girls from minority faiths are doubly vulnerable – subject to serious violations of their fundamental rights because of both their gender and religion. The analysis highlights how these violations of human rights not only impair or nullify the enjoyment of women of those rights but constitutes discrimination within the meaning of Article 1 of CEDAW. (I had just been present at the UK’s report to the CEDAW Committee!) The conclusion of the report is that we must lobby the UN CEDAW committee to take into account the double vulnerability of women and girls from religious minorities. Here is a link to the report if you want to read it for yourself:
The next event was at the UK Mission where a group of young women from the UK and the Commonwealth gave voice to their concerns. Alice was concerned about displaced persons especially child migrants. She said they needed to have access to education and for those who were traumatised, counselling and victim support. They need to have a voice.
Margot from Zambia had learned that money spent on social protection in her country was very small compared with how other aid was dispersed. Sarah had joined a group called “Get Loud” which was using all sorts of media to let young people tell their stories. This group hopes that by informing others of their realities they would be moved by compassion into action.
Rosario from Kenya told us of the lack of resources for rural women and girls; the digital divide between rural and communities; education is hampered by lack of resources, electricity and access to technology; she spoke of period poverty and unequal distribution of aid. She hoped that CSW would change the discourse.
In Lebanon there is legislation for equal pay but most of the work women do is low paid. Men have all the rights; after a divorce the man has custody of the children; in cases of domestic violence the women are afraid to leave the situation as they have no control of the finances. All of these young people are hoping that countries will keep their promise to abide by the statements they sign up to in the final conclusions. I did have to comment that some of their statement s could have been made by teenagers in deprived parts of Britain. They could look closer to home to find young people who needed help to escape from the ever widening poverty gap.
I was beginning to tire after lunch and nearly fell asleep in the afternoon event on peace and security. Three amazing women told their stories of helping to negotiate and mediate in situations to bring about a peaceful solution. It’s not rocket science but something that seems to be part of a woman’s nature. They all gave a message of the importance of listening to people to see what they needed. To impose solutions on them will result in failure. The rest of the good practice will have to go in the final report.
One more session to go before the evening catch up session at UK mission. “Women’s access to services in times of political uncertainty”. Speakers were sharing the experience of what is happening in Northern Ireland. Rather bleak I’m afraid so I’m going to stop here. Hopefully the dawn will bring the promise of a bright new day. We’ve been blessed with good weather so far. Just as well with all the walking I’ve had to do!
Thursday 14th March
Woke up to a gloriously sunny day. Pity to have to spend most of the day indoors. First call was to the UN building for the morning briefing. Lopa Banergee, Director Civil Society Division, UN Women, was invited to address the assembly on the way forward to CSW64 and Beijing +25. She first of all explained that preparations for these events had been ongoing for the past few years. Women must be included in policies and programs that affect them. CSW57 set new standards on gender equality by strengthening the statements about Violence Against Women (VAW). Since then it has been noticed that civil society space is shrinking but the achievements and progress made has been through the leadership and mobilisation of civil society. CSW62 mapped out those parts of the globe where discrimination and patriarchy still exist so that we can see the gaps in implementation and accountability. This year we are looking at how to make CSW more effective, so that in 2020 we can review the situation in order to have an agenda of accelerated work to achieve the SDGs by 2030.
The next event was “Every Woman Matters” Around the world women are more likely than men to experience poverty throughout their lives. The effects of gender inequalities and damaging social norms continue into older age. Yet the rights, experiences, and preferences of older women remain largely absent from the women’s economic empowerment agenda. Older women from Pakistan and Uganda shared their experiences and a panel of experts discussed the crucial role social protection plays in ensuring older women’s income security and economic empowerment.
After lunch (a cup of soup, some nuts, and a clementine) I met a young woman studying at Exeter University. She had invited me to respond to an interview which would help with the research project she was completing for her degree.
She is investigating whether some of the statements in the agreed conclusions were actually acted on in the countries which had signed off the CSW63 document. Fortunately, my answers will not be published. However, I did say that I thought the responsibility for ensuring the implementation of the statements lay as much with civil society as it did with governments.
The penultimate session of the day was the NBCW event “Faith, feminism and structural strategies for social protection” I didn’t make any notes here as I was one of the panellists sharing my life experience. We had a good discussion and came to the conclusion that even if you didn’t adhere to a particular religion, we could all live by the golden rule of treating other people as you would want to be treated yourself. “Do no harm” a Buddhist would say, but for a Christian that is not enough – you must always do good.
Friday 15th March
Nearly the end of the week but what have we achieved? At the morning briefing we were told the negotiations were going well. There is a strong commitment to the priority theme and the delegates are working in a collaborative spirit. So far so good – we wish! At the end of the report from the assembly NGOs were able to give comments and ask questions. A lady from Cameroon wants help with the peace process. If we could join all these parties together, perhaps they would make a difference.
I had registered to attend the Holy See’s event on “Access to public services in the fight against human trafficking and modern slavery.” Archbishop Bernadito Auza began by quoting SDG 5.4: “recognise and value unpaid care work and domestic work through the provision of public services, infrastructure, and social protection policies, and the promotion of shared responsibility”. He said it was fitting to run this event as for far too long unpaid work in the home has not been given the recognition and value it deserves, either in its importance in the economic development of society or the integral development of family members. Although the main theme of CSW63 is about social protection there is very little care and attention being given to the recognition and value accorded to unpaid work and care giving. The Secretary General noted that on average women do three times more unpaid care and domestic work than men. He lauded several countries which have “reduced recognised and redistributed” (3RS) this work to men and to social services.
Other UN documents seem to illustrate that the basic idea behind the “3R Strategy” is that such work is a yoke from which women should be freed as much as possible. The presumption is that a person’s work outside of the home is more worthwhile than inside the home. One of the speakers commented that care work is an expression of love and although hard it can bring great satisfaction. The transcript of the event can be seen at:
Click on events and go to CSW63.
By Friday afternoon I was feeling more than jaded but noticed an event advertised on mental health. It was just what I needed to end a busy week. We talk about mental conditions but not mental wellbeing. Many people go through a period of depression which makes it difficult to function. We may treat individuals, but there is a whole level of work to be done with the well-being of communities. There is a World Mental Health Day on October 10th and this year the theme is “preventing suicide”. In China older women no longer have a role but have become a burden to their family so may take their own life. Young people commit suicide as they are living in a world without hope. Mental health intersects with everything it is a human right and there is no health without mental health. We concluded that we need friendship, connectedness, optimism, resilience, and positive psychology (a term used for happiness in USA) to be “everyday strong.”
After a time of quiet meditation I was prepared for the final session of the day. We had a brief update on the negotiations with news that the facilitator is trying to move things along. We won’t be working over the weekend after all.
To see the agreed conclusions from CSW63-2019 go to