Women

Commission on the Status of Women remains a global rallying point

In Brief: 

Ten years after the Beijing declaration, we still have far to go on actual representation of women at the highest levels of national and international leadership,”

--UN Deputy Secretary-General Louise Frechette

The high level of participation by nongovernmental organizations at the Commission on the Status of Women shows that it remains a global rallying point for women and men who care about the advancement of women.

UNITED NATIONS — Not far from the bright lights of Broadway, a little production with a big message played to a standing room only crowd in late February.

In a conference room across the street from United Nations, as part of a “side event” to the 50th annual session of the Commission on the Status of Women (CSW), about 100 people watched 16-year-old Anisa Fedaei portray the daughter of the cocoa farmer in a short play called “Playing the Game.”

“I am Patience from a developing country and I am 12 years old,” said Anisa. “I don't go to school because I help my mother. Our family lives in a small hut. My mother cannot own the land and cannot get credit.”

But now, “Patience” explains, thanks to the help of a local cooperative, they can invest in the farm and grow enough to trade.

“With the co-operative we can export to places all over the world,” she says. “Just think: our cocoa will be eaten by people everywhere in the world, my sisters can go to school as well as the boys, there will be money for the uniform, we can have shoes and maybe I can go to school too.”

Part of a workshop on “Women in Decision-making and Trade” co-sponsored by the National Alliance of Women's Organizations (NAWO), the Women's International League for Peace and Freedom (WILPF) and the Gender Expert Group on Trade (GEGT), the play sought to illustrate the interplay between cultural preconceptions, traditions, legislation, and globalization on markets affecting the lives of ordinary people working to survive.

The workshop highlighted both of the main themes of this year's CSW: the enhanced participation of women in development, and equal participation of women and men in decision-making processes.

It also reflected a high level of participation by nongovernmental organizations at the CSW, which has become something of a global rallying point for women and men who care about the advancement of women.

Held this year from 27 February-10 March 2006, the Commission drew some 1,500 representatives from more than 400 organizations.

“The Commission discovered very early in its establishment that allies were essential to the success of its mission,” said Rachel Mayanja, special adviser to the Secretary-General on Gender Issues and the Advancement of Women. “Thus the commission allied itself with civil society organizations — at its first session in 1947, it heard 12 women's organizations.”

This year, civil society groups organized more than 125 “side-events” — such as the workshop on trade mentioned above — during the Commission. In those meetings — and in the Commission itself — the focus was on the two main themes this year.

“Ten years after the Beijing declaration, we still have far to go on actual representation of women at the highest levels of national and international leadership,” said UN Deputy Secretary-General Louise Frechette at the opening of the 50th Session of the CSW. “That includes the United Nations itself, the Charter of which proclaims the equal rights of men and women.”

A common theme in many of the speeches and workshops was that while women had posted gains in terms of educational achievement, political representation and economic viability, the goal of gender equality remains elusive. Women continue to bear a disproportionate share of the burden of poverty and under-representation in political life, said a number of speakers.

Strong Bahá'í participation

Among the representatives of nongovernmental organizations at the CSW this year were some 21 Bahá'ís, representing the Bahá'í International Community and some 10 national Bahá'í communities.

Bahá'ís came from countries in five continents: Brazil , Australia , Canada , Germany , Japan , Sweden , Switzerland , Togo , the United Kingdom and the United States. The Bahá'í International Community delegation was composed of four people.

Bahá'ís sought to address the main themes of the Commission — women in decision-making and women in development — in various ways.

On 28 February, for example, the Bahá'í International Community hosted a luncheon for South African First Lady Zanele Mbeki at its offices in New York . More than 25 people attended, including representatives of the Mission of South Africa to the United Nations, the Mission of India to the United Nations, and various NGOs. Mrs. Mbeki spoke about a new program she has founded called South African Women in Dialogue (SAWID).

Bahá'ís also participated in or facilitated a number of the side events. For example, the workshop on trade described above was facilitated by Zarin Hainsworth, who not only represents the National Alliance of Women's Organizations in the United Kingdom, but also the Bahá'í community of the UK. As well, young Anisa Fedaei, who portrayed the daughter of the cocoa farmer in the workshop's play, is a Baha'i.

Many Bahá'í delegates came for the opportunities to network with other women's organizations and to meet with government delegates, in the hope of winning more support for policies that advance the status of women.

Kit Bigelow, director of external affairs for the Bahá'í community of the United States , said one focus for the US Bahá'í delegation was to promote ratification in the United States of the U.N. Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW).

“Our purpose in participating in the conference was to obtain useful knowledge and information to inform our advocacy work on the advancement of women in the United States,” said Ms. Bigelow.

“The role of the CEDAW in promoting both of these goals was underscored throughout the Commission, which assists our work in promoting the treaty's ratification in the United States,” said Ms. Bigelow.

“In addition, the knowledge shared on methods to promote women's participation in development will aid our work in advocating for full gender integration into government-based international development agencies in the United States,” said Ms. Bigelow.

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