Report from IPJ Program Officer Jennifer Freeman
“My name is Leymah, and I’m a radical. I don’t care if you call yourself a ‘feminist,’ a ‘woman’s rights activist’ or a ‘humanitarian.’ If you believe in women’s human rights, we are working together. And there’s still too much work to be done.” Leymah Gbowee, Liberian activist and star of “Pray the Devil Back to Hell,” stands in front of a room of 70 men and women, hands raised, doing what she has become famous for: showing women their power in the ongoing campaign for equal human rights.
The annual U.N. Commission on the Status of Women (CSW), held for two weeks at U.N. Headquarters in New York, is about just that. From February 21 to 25, I’m here at CSW with IPJ Deputy Director Dee Aker, to learn from, link with and share the IPJ’s work with a wide variety of women representatives from around the globe. CSW provides a concentrated forum to hear from expert panels – from Muslim women and men addressing the marginalization of Muslim women in the United States and Iraq, to African women leaders launching landmark studies on financing U.N. Security Council Resolution 1325 and how to advance the prevention agenda of 1325 at the regional level in West, East and southern Africa.
Apart from the formal program of CSW, nongovernmental organizations can hold parallel sessions that are open to the public. Dee and I spoke to over 100 attendees at one such session to launch the final report from last year’s international working conference, “Precarious Progress: U.N. Resolutions on Women, Peace and Security.” Also on the panel were representatives from conference co-sponsors UN Women; the NGO Working Group on Women, Peace and Security; IANSA Women; and partners from the International Coalition for the Responsibility to Protect and U.N. Office for Disarmament Affairs.
Before returning to San Diego on Friday, we will also attend the official launch of UN Women, a milestone achievement that many activists at CSW have been lobbying for for years. UN Women is the first comprehensive agency to coordinate advancing gender equality and rights throughout the U.N. system.
But the sentiment among the gender activists is similar regarding UN Women as it is for many of the issues under discussion at CSW: Let us celebrate hard-won achievements, but don’t let this great accomplishment distract us from the work we all need to do to move forward.
Financial and political support are needed for activists and this new agency to succeed. Mass rapes continue in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Widows continue to be persecuted in Nepal. Women continue to tremble in fear of the violence that comes from within their own homes. Infants continue to be murdered throughout the world simply because they were born girls.
Fortunately, CSW shows us the incredible leadership that exists to address these issues. We need to continue to work together, across nations, generations, races and religions, to realize the most basic human rights for half the world’s population. There is still too much work to be done.