Thursday, April 27, 2017

Sharing Passion and Ideas for a Better World: The Final Meeting of the 2017 Graduate Fellows with UNA-NCA Leadership

by Yulia Krylova, UNA-NCA Fellow

On April 24, UNA-NCA Fellows attended their last meeting during the 2017 Graduate Fellowship Program where we had a wonderful opportunity to meet former, current, and future Presidents of the UNA-NCA who shared their perspectives on how to be actively involved and contribute to making the UN stronger and more effective.

It is symbolic that for our final meeting the UNA Fellows gathered together at the Historical Home of Stewart R. Mottt. Mott purchased this house in 1974 to host various activities and projects of the Fund for Peace. Since that time, the house’s premises have been used by various nonprofit organizations for meetings, events and ceremonies. As its official website indicates, “given Stewart Mott’s philanthropic interests, it is not surprising that most of the regular occupants of 122 Maryland Avenue are progressive in nature.” On this particular day, UNA-NCA leaders shared their progressive ideas about the UN and a critical role that a new generation could play in making it stronger, more powerful and effective. At the beginning of this meeting, Hanna Hayden, Director of Membership and Programs, told us about the UNA Young Professionals Program. With more than 120 UNA-USA grassroots Chapters across the country, young professionals have a wide range of opportunities to contribute their efforts and energy to making a better world. 

In his presentation, Stephen F. Moseley, UNA-NCA President Elect, focused on the UN role under the current US leadership. Speaking about the impact of the new Administration on the UN’s work, Moseley observed that there are many serious concerns, including official statements diminishing the UN to just a club “for people to have a good time,” de-prioritizing human rights issues home and abroad, and the lack of reverence for existing principles and agreements regarding free and open trade. Yet, Moseley offered his optimistic perspective about the relations between the UN and the new Administration that will soon realize enormous benefits of the UN and multilateral cooperation on the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) for the US economy and society.  In this respect, Moseley called on all of us to participate in the process of advocacy for the UN and SDGs. In his words, “every citizen on Earth has a responsibility to help make SDGs a reality” in his own country and in our global community.

In her speech, Karen Mulhauser, former UNA-NCA President, stressed the importance of promoting the women’s agenda for the UN and supporting gender equality globally. She focused on two critical issues: the Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination (CEDAW) and the Women Peace and Security Resolution. CEDAW was adopted in 1979 and was ratified by all Member States, except for six countries, including the US, Iran, Somalia, Sudan, South Sudan, Tonga, and Palau. Mulhauser encouraged us to participate in the advocacy process at the municipal level in cities, counties, and towns across the US to adopt policies that implement principles of CEDAW. As Mulhauser’s article shows, several US cities that have already passed this legislature demonstrate its positive impact on gender equality at the local level.  Another important UN’s Resolution on Women Peace and Security was adopted by the Security Council in 2000 to mitigate the disproportionate impact of armed conflicts on women and to increase their role in peace negotiations. It is well-documented that women bring a stronger element of diplomacy and thinking about future generations to the process of peacebuilding activities and conflict prevention. In this respect, Mulhauser encouraged us to contribute to the work of the US Civil Society Working Group (CSWG) on Women, Peace and Security that was created in 2010 to support the US Government’s efforts in the adoption of a National Action Plan (NAP) focused on women.

Ed Elmendorf, who served as both President of the United Nations Association of the United States of America (UNA-USA) and President of its largest local Chapter of the National Capital Area, identified several lessons for Graduate Fellows concerning our roles in making a better world.  As one of the contributors to the recent book entitled The UN Association USA: A Little Known History of Advocacy and Action, he drew our attention to the fact that as members of the UNA, we are part of the organization with a very distinguished history. The UNA was founded in 1943, with two key goals to educate the public about the UN system and to encourage the active participation of the US in this organization. A huge amount of projects and programs within the UNA are based on volunteering. One prominent example is Eleanor Roosevelt who personally volunteered to advance the work of the UNA because she strongly believed in the role of the UN in promoting global peace and the importance of US leadership in this process.  Elmendorf lamented that often voices of some UN’s critics are stronger and more passionate than voices of its numerous supporters. In this respect, Elmendorf encouraged us to voice ourselves to support the UN and share our passion with other people. 

In their closing remarks, both Ambassador Donald Bliss (retired), current President of the UNA-NCA, and Tom Bradley, Vice President for Development, focused on advocacy, reforms, and leadership. Recognizing that US leadership is critical for the UN, they suggested that advocacy would become a central part of our mission. They also pointed to various ways to reform the UN and improve its work. They infused us with optimism that as future leaders, we can make the world a more peaceful and prosperous place to live. Summarizing the meeting, Laurence Peters, the Director of the UNA-NCA Graduate Fellowship Program, indicated that we have a profound responsibility to inspire other people and make them understand and feel our passion and commitment to the UN and our globally interdependent world. This is critically important because there is nothing more contagious than passion.

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Nothing for Women Without Women: Raising Voices for Change

By Hanna Hayden, UNA-NCA Director of Membership and Programs

Found on Page 4 of the Final Report on Women’s Economic Empowerment
On April 12th, the International Development Program at Johns Hopkins SAIS and the Georgetown Institute for Women, Peace and Security hosted a conversation with Dr. Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, Executive Director of UN Women.

Dr. Mlambo-Ngcuka, one of the most influential African woman leaders and a global champion for women and girls, discussed some of the leading barriers for women’s equality in an evolving international landscape. These include issues of gender equality in both the public and private spheres, and major factors both driving and stalling progress towards women’s economic empowerment. She also addressed thoughts on effective actions for change.

Dr. Jeni Klugman, Adjunct Lecturer of International Development at Johns Hopkins SAIS, and Managing Director of the Georgetown Institute for Women, Peace and Security facilitated the conversation.

The direction of this conversation was influenced by the 61st Commission on the Status of Women in March 2017 that focused on “Women’s Economic Empowerment in the Changing World of Work,” and the final report of the High Level Panel on Women’s Economic Empowerment, also released in March. Both the report, and the two weeks of CSW establish that significant progress has in fact been made since the 1995 Beijing Declaration, and gender equality is more present in international dialogue, but significant work remains.

The importance of continued work on gender equality is not just evidenced as it stands on its own as Goal 5 of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), but the successful inclusion and equality of women is central to each SDG. We cannot fight poverty, end hunger, or achieve peace and just societies without the inclusion of women. Reduced inequalities, good health, and economic growth require the engagement and success of women. If we are to make significant progress on the 2030 Agenda, we must use a gender lens, a gender-sensitive approach, to all of the work that we do.

Dr. Mlambo-Ngcuka stressed the universality of the SDGs and our approach to gender equity: “We don’t need to change women and girls to fit the world, we need to change the world to recognize that women and girls exist.”

Of course progress has been made since Beijing, but just because we’re talking about it doesn’t mean that we have achieved gender equality. The illusion of progress is and must be broken by the data that shine a light on continued inequalities. Progress towards gender equality must also remain universal, a key foundation of the SDGs. There is no way to ignore that only two countries don’t guarantee paid maternity leave – the US and Papua Guinea.

Other shameful facts on gender inequality include:
  • 155 countries have one or more discriminatory laws, preventing women from doing certain jobs or fulfilling contracts, lacking wage protections, containing discriminatory property, inheritance laws, and family laws.
  • Only 22.8 per cent of all national parliamentarians were women as of June 2016, a slow increase from 11.3 per cent in 1995 [UNWomen].
  • Globally, there are 38 States in which women account for less than 10 per cent of parliamentarians in single or lower houses, as of June 2016, including 4 chambers with no women at all [UNWomen].

So what can we do? Dr. Mlambo-Ngcuka and Dr. Klugman highlighted some actions and efforts we can make and some that have already seen positive contributions.

The use of data for name-and-shame campaigns has had a great deal of success, because no country benefits from being portrayed negatively on the world stage. Some countries have been pushed to action by reports demonstrating high rights of poverty and low rates of education for women and girls.

In July 2017, in a High Level Political Forum on Eradicating Poverty and Promoting Prosperity in a Changing World, 40 countries will voluntarily self-report on their progress on the SDGs, particularly on goals 1, 2, 3, 5, 9, and 14.

This work to enact change and develop protections on a legal level must simultaneously include a bottom-up approach that works to change the culture. While Malawi has banned the practice of female genital mutilation/cutting, the culture still supports it and the practice continues. Legal measures and protections must be in place at the government level, and the culture of discriminatory practices must be addressed on the local level with native leaders.

To make the most progress, we must talk to boys and girls about the importance of gender equality. Even when seemingly presented with the same opportunities, cultural norms and expectations get in the way of a young girl’s ability to succeed. Without including boys in the conversation, there is no interruption of the cycle of sexism and discriminatory practices that diminish women.

Globally, financial inclusion for women sits around 56% where in some countries it is in the single digits. The last few decades have shown the expansion and success of microcredit, and the prevalence of mobile networks significantly advances women’s economic empowerment. Access to digital technology, particularly through growing mobile banking, allows women more access to and control over their own finances, and spending for the household.

This is also a great opportunity for businesses and the private sector to invest in the informal economy. Companies that make even a small investment in women have seen a massive impact on their communities. In South Africa alone 23,000 women have been brought out of poverty through a strategic partnership between UN Women and Coca-Cola. Coca Cola’s endeavor to raise 5 million women out of poverty by 2020 (5By20) shows how the private sector can advance their bottom line while supporting gender equality and women’s economic empowerment.

Perhaps one of the largest areas where governments and the private sector need to step up is providing increased education and opportunities for women to move from the informal to the formal sector. Women make up the bulk of the informal economy and unpaid work, which is why women are the face of poverty. There’s a huge need for more training education, skill building, and entry points to renter the labor force. For women to achieve economic independence, we need to give second chances and alternative opportunities to women that face significant obstacles to financial freedom. For women who were married as children, have incomplete or no education, that left work to have children, who missed chances for promotions or where they were otherwise seen as a liability, governments and the private sector have the unique opportunity and responsibility to bring women back into the fold of the formal economy. According to UN Women, “If women played an identical role in labour markets to that of men, as much as US $28 trillion, or 26 per cent, could be added to the global annual Gross Domestic Product by 2025.”

It’s not just about employing women, but providing the infrastructure to support women through education, legal protections, economic empowerment, and political inclusion. There is established and growing evidence that women's leadership in political decision-making processes improves them. Women demonstrate political leadership by working across party lines through parliamentary women's caucuses - even in the most politically combative environments - and by championing issues of gender equality, such as the elimination of gender-based violence, parental leave and childcare, pensions, gender-equality laws and electoral reform [UNWomen].

It is unfair to put the burden of gender equality on those women who do rise to positions of power. We also need men that are in power to put forth a gender sensitive agenda and hold space for conversations of gender equality. Achieving gender equality requires that boys and men demonstrate zero tolerance for sexism. If men removed the glass, women wouldn't have to break through it.

At the end of the day, women are resilient, and will continue to organize for equality. Organizations of women in the informal sectors have the power (and have show that power) to influence governments and companies to work for change. It is the organization and agency of resilient women like Dr. Mlambo-Ngcuka that raise the voice and plight of women worldwide. 

UNA-NCA Donor Reception with Under-Secretary-General for Political Affairs, Ambassador Jeffrey D. Feltman

By Timothy Buensalido, UNA-NCA Program Assistant and Adarsh Mahesh, UNA-NCA Global Classrooms DC Program Assistant

From left to right, former UN Under-Secretary-General Lynn Pascoe with UNA-NCA President, Ambassador Donald T. Bliss (ret.), UNA-NCA Executive Director Paula Boland, and Current UN Under-Secretary-General Jeffrey Feltman on Friday, April 21.

UNA-NCA is proud and privileged to have had United Nations Under-Secretary-General for Political Affairs, Ambassador Jeffrey D. Feltman, as the keynote speaker during UNA-NCA’s Donor Reception last Friday, April 21. In his remarks, Ambassador Feltman emphasized the need for UNA-NCA and all other chapters to continue advocating, now more than ever. He focused his speech on the importance of the UN, and how, in spite of growing skepticism about world order, it is still a great place to invest especially during this time of political transition in the United States.

To illustrate the significance of the United Nations to the United States, he summed up his points into 3 main categories: the UN being a public good, the alignment of UN and US interests, and the economic value of the UN.

On the point of the UN as a public good, Ambassador Feltman highlighted quantitative data to demonstrate the UN’s impact in the world and in the US. For example, last year alone the World Food Programme, the leading humanitarian organization fighting hunger worldwide, fed 80 million people and conducted anti-famine initiatives around the globe. As for combating diseases, UNICEF, the UN’s arm dedicated to providing humanitarian and developmental assistance to children and mothers, vaccinated 40% of the world’s population. These are just two of the many examples of UN agencies making a positive impact in the world by providing public goods and services. Each UN institution continues to strive to progress the world in the right direction, which led the Ambassador to ask “if the UN did not implement these initiatives, who will?” The thought of having the UN completely nonexistent seems downright unjust for a world where circumstance plays a significant role in the outcome of people’s lives. Would countries really go out of their way to help others in need? Would individual efforts have as much impact as the programs that we have today? We need these public goods that the UN provides. Otherwise, there is no telling where those people, those lives would be right now.

He continued by moving to his next point which was the alignment of the UN with US interests including national security. Ambassador Feltman made a simple yet striking statement that international security means national security. The United States Institute of Peace (USIP) estimates that the cost of conflict globally reaches beyond $13 trillion and it is reasonable to think that the cost would be a lot higher without the presence of the UN. The UN strives to keep the economic cost and human cost from getting out of hand, and the US is a key ally in this regard. Another interest to the US would be the capability to broaden the impact of multilateral UN sanctions on countries or organizations conducting illegal actions. Currently with a leadership seat in the UN Security Council, the United States has an influential role in the sanctioning of organizations and countries conducting internationally illegal activities, and can direct efforts on counter-terrorism.

To round up his points stressing the importance of the United Nations to the United States, he touched on the economic value the UN provides the US. For one, burden is shared amongst UN member states with regard to various global operations that impact US interests such as peacekeeping. The financial investment in a UN peacekeeper is just 1/8 of the cost of having a US soldier on the ground, or 12.5 cents to the $1. The United Nations also provides many direct benefits to the United States since the US is the top supplier of goods and services. Granted, the US is winning these through a competitive bidding process, however, it is important to note that this opportunity would not be possible without the UN. In 2015, the US won $1.6 billion in UN contracts alone while having more than 5,000 citizens employed by the UN, the most by any member state.

Ambassador Feltman also shared with the audience the current UN Secretary General’s priorities moving forward. First and foremost, he aims to continue and maintain the programs former Secretary General Ban Ki-moon put into motion such as the focus on the Sustainable Development Goals, the Paris Climate Treaty, and financing for development. On top of that foundation, by utilizing his experience as former United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees and Prime Minister of Portugal, he seeks to focus efforts on conflict prevention, security, and peacekeeping.

Lastly, Ambassador Feltman emphasized that in the event that the US exits the UN, other countries will quickly fill up the vacuum. Without the leadership and influence of United States, countries will be free to promote their own foreign policies and agendas which may not be beneficial to the US or the UN in the long run.

Regardless of how the current administration continues to operate, it is undeniable that the UN provides unparalleled value to the United States. We must stay the course and continue to show our leaders why we must support the United Nations and be at the forefront to lead it. Now more than ever, the United Nations needs us, but even more so – the world.

Thursday, April 20, 2017

UNA-NCA Young Professionals Spring Career Dinner

By Tselmegtsetseg Tsetsendelger, Director of Communications and Advocacy for UNA-NCA Young Professionals Program 

On Saturday, April 8th the Young Professionals of UNA-NCA held their bi-annual Career Dinner Series. The event started off with a reception at the United Nations Foundation where Robert Skinner, Director of the UN Information Center, was the keynote. Then the attendees of the evening left for their respective dinner. For this spring season, the Young Professionals had gathered career topics on the UN, Global Health, Sustainable Development, Communications and Advocacy, Refugees and Humanitarian Response, Gender and Advocacy, and International Law, Peace, and Security. Accomplished senior level and mid-career professionals present at the dinners included Sangeeta Rana, Foreign Affairs Officer at the U.S. Department of State, Lyric Thompson, Director of Policy and Advocacy at the International Center for Research on Women, and Dawn Calabia, Honorary Senior Advisor to Refugees International.

The keynote speech that Mr. Skinner gave, set the tone for the rest of the night. He emphasized to the audience, a mix of recent graduates, young professionals, and professionals looking to change fields, that they should always pursue their interests and reminded everyone that careers don’t ever really take a straight line, but rather curve with different experiences and moments. Then Mr. Skinner gave the audience a walkthrough of his own past jobs and the path his career took. Mr. Skinner ended his talk with a short Q&A session, which included talking about failure, UNIC, and working in challenging climates.

I had the opportunity to attend the Careers in the UN discussion, which was the largest of the seven dinners. By the end of the event, I felt more inspired and appreciative of the frank and supportive answers that the speakers provided. The Careers in the UN dinner included Mr. Skinner as well as Fernando Flores, Program Officer at UNHCR, and Felipe Munevar, Head of Office of UNOPS. The three gentlemen shared the current hiring climate of the UN and gave practical advice and specific suggestions for the attendees. I really appreciated how the conversation was honest, and the speakers tried to be as transparent as they could about the hiring process in their respective organizations.

I am a big fan of the YP Career Dinner Series, this was the fourth one that I attended and every time that I go, it has given me inspiration and ideas on what I can do in the international field. I look forwarding to expanding my knowledge further at the fall 2017 career dinner!

Thursday, April 6, 2017

Rome International Careers Festival: Where Past Lessons Informed New Challenges

By Nicole Bohannon, Global Classrooms DC (GCDC) Program Manager

Last month, I had the opportunity to attend the Rome International Careers Festival and participated in their Rome Model United Nations simulation. Around 2,000 undergraduates, masters’ students, and young professionals took part in the programs, and came from every corner of the globe.

The entire festival consisted of four simultaneous programs: the Rome Business Game, the Rome Press Game, the Careers Seminar, and, of course, RomeMUN. I chose to represent Colombia in the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) to discuss access to primary education and youth employment opportunities. I was even lucky enough to have an enthusiastic partner, Claudio, who had never done Model UN before, but ended up loving every minute of it!

For nine hours a day, for three and a half days, I worked with Claudio to use all the strategies I have helped weave into the Global Classrooms DC (GCDC) curriculum as an intern and as a Program Manager. I researched, wrote, made countless speeches, negotiated, and advocated what I believed would work the best to bring together an amazing coalition of people. There were low points in the conference when no one was listening or interested in collaboration. But then there were high points, like when I led the charge in merging two massive resolutions between the group I helped form and the opposing alliance.

By the end of the conference, we saw the unanimous passage of a resolution that included compromises on a wide variety of topics. We crafted ideas about adult educational programs and recommendations that supported vulnerable populations pursuing education at all levels, in addition to creating an expert investment consortium and an international teacher exchange program.

I was proud of what my partner, my colleagues, and I were able to accomplish. On top of it all, Claudio and I won the Best Delegation award, the top prize in Model UN!

The Rome MUN conference reminded me how many important Model UN skills I have developed since I first started in tenth grade at 15 years old. Back then, I couldn’t talk to a group of ten people, let alone a committee of over 200 people. What surprised me is that the same fears I had as a teenager still affect me. At this conference, I was nervous every time I stood up to make a speech, or approaching a hostile.

But what I learned over seven years of doing Model UN was how to overcome that fear and instead speak up or take that risk. I cared about the ideas and policies I was talking about, and I have learned how to not let fear stop me from doing what I think is right.

I hadn’t been to a conference in over two years before attending the Rome International Career Festival. But the lessons never faded away. Recognizing how much Model UN changed and challenged me meant far more than a Best Delegate award.

Tuesday, April 4, 2017

Non-governmental Stakeholder Review of Climate Change and Sustainable Development Agenda

By Pari Kasotia
Deputy Director of The Solar Foundation, a member of the UNA-NCA Chapter and an active participant of the UNA-NCA Sustainable Development Committee

On March 23, the President of the United Nations General Assembly convened a high-level event on Climate Change and the Sustainable Development Agenda in collaboration with the Secretariat of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). As part of the process, the United Nations-Non-Governmental Liaison-Services facilitated a stakeholder Selection Committee for the evaluation of civil society and social entrepreneur candidates for speaking roles. Pari Kasotia, Deputy Director of The Solar Foundation, a member of the UNA-NCA Chapter and an active participant of the UNA-NCA Sustainable Development Committee, was selected among a pool of highly qualified individuals by the President of the General Assembly and the Selection Committee to serve as the panelist for the afternoon session titled, “Implementing Solutions: Scaling up Implementations of the Paris Agreement and the SDGs”. Pari Kasotia shared the podium with highly influential dignitaries which included:

· Pei Liang, Negotiator, Department of Climate Change, National Development and Reform Commission, China
· Veronica Arias, Secretary of the Environment of the Metropolitan District of Quito
· Adnan Amin, Director-General, International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA)
· Markus Tacke, Chief Executive Officer, Siemens Wind Power
· Peter Wiklof, Chief Executive Officer, Alandsbanken Abp
· Elliott Harris, Assistant Secretary-General (UNEP)
· Robert Kirkpatrick, Director, UN Global Pulse
· Carla Mucavi, Director, Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO)

The opening session included remarks by the President of the 71st Session of the General, Assembly Mr. Peter Thomson who underlined the need for continued positive action and the need to bring them to scale to stave off the worst impacts of climate change. Secretary-General António Guterres also emphasized the need for leadership that is backed by substance to address the looming threats of climate change.

Pari’s remarks touched on the role of the federal government in setting the goals and the policy agenda to take action on climate change but underscored the equally important role of the state and local governments and the civil society to bring about effective change, citing examples of states in the US such as California and the northeastern states for trailblazing and establishing cap and trade systems. Pari gave examples of her organization, The Solar Foundation, which is working incessantly to reduce market barriers of the solar sector and build the workforce to take on the new jobs of today and tomorrow. Pari also emphasized the crucial role of the private sector in demanding change and providing innovative solutions. Companies in the US such as IKEA, Wal-Mart, Kohl’s and Whole Foods are staying true to their sustainability commitments and many African enterprises are implementing innovative solutions such as pay-as-you go solar services. Pari touched on the role of an active citizenry and civil society in demanding climate actions and holding their governments and other stakeholders accountable.

Pari concluded her remarks by emphasizing three key point: First, country governments and stakeholders should disseminate data which provides periodic updates on the progress being made. Second, countries need to establish baselines and benchmark any progress against those baselines. And last, governments, stakeholders, and civil society needs to provide transparency and accountability to their citizens to get them engaged and supportive in meeting the climate change agenda. 

Ending All Forms of Discrimination against Women: An Up Close Look in Annapolis, MD

By Kristen Hecht, Program Director, B.A. Rudolph Foundation

On April 1, 2017, the Annapolis Alumnae Chapter of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority convened a community forum on the Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination (CEDAW), an international treaty often referred to as the international bill of rights for women.

Representatives of Delta Sigma Theta introduced the program , provided background information on CEDAW, highlighted certain myths vs. facts of CEDAW, and stressed the point that the United States is one of only seven countries in the world that have not yet ratified CEDAW, including Iran and Sudan.

Following introductory remarks, keynote speaker U.S. Senator Ben Cardin (D-MD) discussed the importance of recognizing women’s rights, emphasizing, “How a country treats its women is a prime determinant of its success.” As Ranking Member of the Foreign Relations Committee, Senator Cardin explained the roles that the U.S. Senate and Foreign Relations Committee play in ratifying CEDAW. Ratification of the treaty requires support of two-thirds of the U.S. Senate, or 67 votes. And while the Senate Foreign Relations Committee voted in July 2002 to recommend ratification of CEDAW, the Treaty has never come before the full Senate for a vote. Senator Cardin also discussed his previous and continued support of equal payment and advancement of his women, including his sponsorship of S.J. Res 5 - a joint resolution that would remove the deadline for the ratification of the Equal Rights Amendment.

Following Senator Cardin’s remarks, the forum was comprised of three panels on issues that affect women disproportionately: human trafficking, employment discrimination, and education discrimination.

On the topic of human trafficking, Dr. Renee G. Murrell, Victim Specialist of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), Baltimore Division, discussed services and support that the FBI provides to victims of crimes and methods it uses to combat human trafficking.

On the employment panel, Claudia J. Postell, Esq., Deputy Associate Commissioner of the Office of Civil Rights and Equal Opportunity, Betty Smith, Founder and CEO of SBK2 Leadership Consulting, LLC, and Kristen Hecht, Program Director of the B.A. Rudolph Foundation highlighted current challenges facing women in the workplace, norms and stereotypes that perpetuate inequalities, and legal protections that are in place at the national level. Kristen Hecht discussed ways that CEDAW can be implemented at the local level despite it not being ratified nationally. In particular, she mentioned the Cities for CEDAW initiative, its effective implementation in San Francisco and other cities across the country, and the work that United Nations Association of the National Capital Area (UNA-NCA) is doing to adopt CEDAW in DC.

On the topic of education discrimination, Aaron Dorsey, Senior Program/Policy Analyst at the National Education Association highlighted inequalities that exist in educational opportunity, particularly when demographics of underrepresented people are taken into consideration. These inequalities perpetuate a “school to prison pipeline,” which can be combatted when schools and educators engage the community to meet academic, emotional, and social needs of all students.

The forum was concluded by closing remarks from Nas I. Afi and Michelle Schoonmaker, Social Action and International Awareness Chairs of Delta Sigma Theta. 

Highlights from the 61st Session of the Commission on the Status of Women

By Yi Ren and Ana Lucia Ancheta, UNA-NCA Program Assistants

The Commission on the Status of Women (CSW) meets each year at the UN for two weeks in March. This year the theme was Women’s Economic Empowerment in the Changing World of Work. Each year, government representatives meet to share their countries' progress towards gender equality, and thousands of NGO leaders from all over the world meet simultaneously to share programs, projects, and successes around the theme.

On March 28th, UNA-NCA invited several panelists who attended CSW this year or in previous years to share their highlights from the wide range of sessions held at and around the UN. Panelists included Dr. Marisa O. Ensor from Georgetown University; Natko Gereš, Program Officer of Promundo; Karen Mulhauser, immediate past Chair of United Nations Association of the USA; and Kristen Hecht, Program Director of B.A. Rudolph Foundation. The moderator was Kimberly Weichel, Consultant with UN Women, UNA-NCA Advisory Council Chair, and Chair of the Alliance for Peacebuilding’s Women and Peacebuilding Affinity Group.

Dr. Marisa Ensor introduced the history of CSW and pointed out that only the achievement of gender equality could lead to the economic empowerment of women. From an academic perspective, she considered the CSW more informational than inspirational and spoke highly of the job Social Institutions and Gender Index (SIGI) and the World Bank did in terms of advocacy.

Karen Mulhauser said that the gender equality situation in DC is better than most other communities nationally, but it is not enforced by legislation. Citing the McKinsey Global Institute, she noted that $12 trillion could be added to global GDP by 2025 by advancing women's equality.

Natko Gereš, as a male participant in the CSW, emphasized the importance of raising men’s awareness of gender equality and helping them form the proper way to treat women. He introduced some of Promundo’s accomplishment in this field as well. Promundo has involved youth from over 22 countries to question harmful gender norms, and for men around the world to discuss the benefits of involved fatherhood and shared decision-making, and the broader costs of violence and exploitation.

Kristen Hecht illustrated the urgent problems facing women globally, such as the global wage gap, higher unemployment, violence against women, and unsound legal protection for pregnant women.  Meanwhile, opportunities are parallel with challenges. There are programs aimed at getting 1 million girls into STEM, providing some of the highest paying positions that would benefit a great number of girls.

As an integral part of the global development agenda, the Sustainable Development Goals cannot be achieved without gender equality. The speakers and audience agreed that only when we work towards gender equality that the other goals will be achieved comprehensively. Gauging the progress of gender equity, through continued evaluations like CSW, will also be a sound mechanism to evaluate the status of global development.

Keeping It Real: Trump Plans to Cut Funding for Women’s Rights, What Can We Do to Stop It?

By Verka Jovanovic, UNA-NCA Fellow

In a world where child marriages are still a popular practice, where gender-based violence targeting predominantly women is too frequent and obvious to remain hidden behind closed doors, where women are still far from enjoying equality and equity in any sphere of public life, in that world, every woman, and man, who believes in the principles of gender equality and equity, can, and must find time for an additional duty:  the duty of advocacy for equality of all human beings regardless of how the society defines them by gender. We owe it to all the remarkable women in our lives.

     700 million women alive today were married as children.
     120 million girls worldwide (slightly more than 1 in 10) have experienced forced intercourse or other forced sexual acts at some point in their lives.
     200 million women and girls alive today have undergone female genital mutilation/cutting in 30 countries.
   70 per cent of women have experienced physical and/or sexual violence from an intimate partner in their lifetime.
     Women who have been physically or sexually abused by their partners are twice as likely to have an abortion, depression, HIV …[1]

…and the list goes on. Some of us, have chosen to shape our professions precisely to address these issues. As part of the UNA-NCA Graduate Fellows Program, we had the pleasure to discuss the dynamics of professional engagement of Ms. Lyric Thompson in combating the gravest issues affecting women and girls worldwide. Ms. Thompson is the Director of Policy and Advocacy at the International Center for Research on Women (ICRW). She is a passionate advocate for women’s rights both with the US Government and internationally.

March 31st, 2017 was a busy day for Ms. Thompson. She had just returned from the Capitol Hill, where she conducted one of her routine responsibilities - advocacy for continued funding for programs that  pursue greater gender equality by combating various issues that largely affect women and girls. Namely, as the Trump administration announced plans to reduce federal spending, funding for domestic violence programs such as Violence Against Women Act (VAWA), are under serious threat to be significantly reduced. If implemented, this funding reduction will be at the expense of providing vital resources to the victims of domestic violence, including safe shelter, legal services, transportation assistance, and child care.

Moreover, the new U.S. government leadership has planned not only to cut federal spending on internal structures and mechanisms for combating gender-based violence in the U.S., but also to reduce the funds that the U.S. has been devoting to the United Nations. Part of the U.N. funds is used to pursue global battles against gender inequality, against female genital mutilation, child marriages, and other discriminatory practices that violate basic human rights of women. The decision to cut funds normally allocated to the U.N., if implemented, would seriously affect gender equality programs and, consequently, impede achievement of the Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 5, which is aimed at “achieving gender equality and empowering all women and girls.” The U.N. would, consequently, have to perform under significantly lower capacities than planned in 2015, when the SDGs were set, making it harder for the goals to be achieved by 2030.

Nevertheless, despite active engagement of President Trump and his administration in proposing the budget cuts, the decision is not the President’s to make, argues Ms. Thompson. Any decision on reduction of funding of this type needs approval, or rejection by Congress. Voting on this matter is expected to take place in May 2017, when Congress will vote on the proposed budget for the upcoming year 2018. Consequently, advocacy is a tool that Ms. Thompson has been using to raise awareness on the Hill about the importance of continuous funding for global efforts pursuing the protection of girls’ and women’s well-being. Similarly, every U.S. citizen should put individual effort into fighting for the preservation of programs that keep women safer and healthier, thus contributing to a safer, healthier, and happier society as a whole.

If you are an American citizen, please take a minute and use the opportunity to tell the U.S. leadership that defunding U.N. would leave millions of women and girls without jobs and without protection from domestic and gender-based violence. Raise your voice for women and girls by contacting your Members of Congress, or by tweeting to them directly. Call the White House! Say out loud that you support women in their daily struggles for dignified life, free of violence and discrimination. Share with your friends on social networks how you have contributed to the protection of women’s rights and encourage them to do the same!