What an amazing week we spent at the United Nations for the 57th Commission on the Status of Women and International Women’s Day. The theme of this year’s conference was “The Elimination and Prevention of all Forms of Violence Against Women and Girls”. We learned many valuable lessons during the week, not the least being, don’t wait until the last minute to decide to attend this conference. There are hundreds of NGOs that attend with the purpose of sharing knowledge, discussing issues and working together to find solutions. Panels and sessions fill quickly and the most popular become standing room only. It was pretty touch and go for us at first, but our friends at the UNDPI were tenacious and managed to get us into panel after amazing panel. To see the commitment first hand that so many people are making to change the lives of women and children was really inspirational. We sat (literally on the floor) to watch Kate Gilmore (Executive Director of the United Nations Population Fund) chair a panel that consisted of the first lady of El Salvador, a Minister for the Democratic Republic of Congo and a UN Special Representative on Sexual Violence in Conflict discuss Violence – Forms, Consequences and Interventions. Note to self in the future, take the hand held translation device when attending panels at the UN to make sure you can understand everything said by all panelists since they are from nearly every corner of the world. At the U.S. Mission to the United Nations, we heard first hand what the United States is doing to end violence against women from Bea Hanson the acting director of the United States Department of Justice’s Office on Violence Against Women. Had no idea we even had an office dedicated to this issue. Of course this was just prior to the renewal of the Violence Against Women Act so much of what was discussed centered on the importance of renewing and expanding this Act.
What made this experience so unique and special was the sheer diversity of the organizations participating. At the United Nations were high-ranking officials who represented the United Nations Population Fund, Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, UN Women, UNICEF and the U.S. Mission to the United Nations. These panels discussed in broad strokes the steps countries and member states should, and are taking, towards ending the violence. At the same time, NGOs were holding their own panels and events where the conversations were much more community based. To hear first hand from the people doing the work in the field was extremely helpful and allowed us to see how policy formed at the United Nations effects them in the field. We had the chance to see panels organized by the Women’s Learning Partnership, Women for Afghan Women, the United Nations Association of the United States and She’s My Sister Organization. Add a screening of the documentary “Girl Rising” and our week was almost complete.
The best was yet to come. The definite highlight of the week was attending the official UN Observance of International Women’s Day 2013 with the theme “A promise is a promise: Time for action to end violence against women”. This event was hosted by General Secretary Ban Ki-moon and UN Women Executive Director Michelle Bachelet. The new song “One Woman” in support of UN Women was debuted and received a standing ovation by everyone in the room! We were granted incredible access and must say a giant Thank You to Daniela, Jon and Carlos for making this week possible. Our association with the UN has been incredible and we are truly grateful for their continued faith in our project.