United Nations

People at CSW63

I've had the privilege of meeting and hearing a lot of amazing women speak over the past two weeks.  Here is a small snapshot of the people I've met...

Ann Mutave Kioko - Africa
Spoke about her Mother having to carry her on her back for miles when she was very sick to get her to the hospital. When they finally got there the hospital did not have all the medicines and supplies that she needed.  Her Mother says that she received miracle healing from God because if it was up to the hospital she surely would not have made it. Ann spoke about having to get her homework done as soon as she got home from school because they had no electricity so no option to do it after dark.  Ann spoke about CSW bringing her much hope but equally disappointment after the results and limited implementation each year. She spoke about needing grassroots women at the table at the UN not just government delegations because they don’t understand the real issues for women.
“We need fuller equipped health centres and schools, we need food, we need electricity.”

Favour Ikome - Cameroon
Grew up in Cameroon to a family from a humble background. Her parents separated when she was 5years old and her Dad moved away. Favour’s mother never liked her or treated her well, she called her a bastard and abused her mentally, emotionally and physically. Everything Favour did was wrong in her mother’s eyes. She grew up feeling rejected, unwanted and alone, constantly searching for identity and connection in all the wrong places. 
She worked hard at school and earned a full scholarship to Oral Roberts University in Tulsa, Oaklahoma. Even attending there she had to overcome her feelings of rejection because she was surrounded by students with histories of family attendance and loyalty to the university. Her story doesn’t end there though because she found God and she found her true identity in Christ and her life has been dependent on God ever since. She now uses her past experience to reach out to others who struggle with rejection and she runs an organisation called ‘Raising Esthers.’  
Dr Yvette Isaac - Egypt
Works all over the Middle East with her video camera interviewing women about their stories and experiences in war torn countries. It is not uncommon for her to be recording an interview whilst bombs are flying overhead. She is an incredible humble but powerful woman! Because of her work in ‘storytelling’ she is often invited to come and speak to governments and legislators all around the world. This has been effective when legislative debates hit a stand still - Dr Yvette comes in and puts the faces and stories - the WHO of the situations before them which brings perspective and renewed energy for the legislation they are trying to progress, often bringing resolution soon after. 
Rev Dionne Boissiere - Chaplain of the Church Centre for the United Nations
My new friend and Shero Rev. Boissière is the first woman of African Descent to hold the significant position of Chaplain of the Church Centre for the United Nations.  CCUN exists to expand the ecumenical community’s capacity and access to the United Nations in order to bring greater voice to the broad moral and ethical concerns of the church in international affairs, peacemaking and global advocacy.  As the chief steward of the CCUN, Rev. Boissière, ensures that the Church Center provides sacred space, worship, hospitality, community services and a forum for partners and civil society to engage in transformative education that seeks to empower and build the things that make for peace. The CCUN building is the home to over 50 denominational offices, religious and secular non-governmental organizations that are commissioned to liaison with U.N. officials and governmental delegates.  Rev Dionne is an incredible leader, includer, preacher and singer, and is a ball of energy and a whole lot of FUN.  We have so enjoyed spending time with her… and she has just agreed to come to New Zealand for BraveGirl conference 2020!!! Wahooo!

Understanding the Structure of CSW63

Understanding the United Nations and the Commission has only been possible for me since being here and seeing it in action.  Before then I struggled to get my head around all the information and acronyms and events and and and…. it just goes on and on.  But I’ll have a crack at explaining it to you and we will see how we get on.
The Commission is actually a document that is finalized and AGREED on by all countries by the end of week 2.  It needs to be a 15 page document by the end of the 2 weeks however it starts off as over 100 pages! The task of the government delegations of the 193 member states is to discuss and negotiate all aspects of the document and get it down to 15 pages based around the theme which this year is; “Social Protection Systems, Access to Public Services and Sustainable Infrastructure for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women and Girls”
I can assure you this is no easy task as EVERY word, phrase and paragraph is negotiated and debated vigorously. These negotiations are closed to everyone except the government delegations, not even observers.  At the end of each day there is a new draft document available for the rest of us UN delegates to stay engaged in the process and see what progress has been made. There is also an NGO (non-government organisation) briefing every morning which is open to all UN delegates to explain and update on the negotiations and processes.
As a NZ representative on an NGO delegation we meet every evening with our own NGO representative on the NZ govt delegation.  Our representative this year is Hellen Swale who has been very generous in her accessibility to us and amazing in her ability to explain and keep us in the loop. Every night she goes through with us what has happened through the day (keeping confidential the information she can not share) and as an entire NGO NZ delegation we go through the changes made that day in the draft document, we then go through each of the paragraphs in the document coming up in the negotiations and make sure we emphasize to Hellen which words we want to fight to keep, things we might want to add and give general feedback on the events of the day.  We have learned from being here that not all countries NGO’s have this kind of access.  We are also very lucky to have a WHATSAPP link with Hellen in the negotiations throughout the day where she gives us live updates as much as she is able.  She might for example put out an urgent request for our thoughts on wording for something and we can all respond immediately from wherever we are in New York.  Amazing really!  Once the document is negotiated down to 15 pages and finalized then all countries sign it in agreement and it gets published publicly as the 63rd Commission on the Status of Women.
Alongside the government negotiations of the draft document over the 2 weeks there are events called SIDE EVENTS.  These side events are run on the UN grounds and are accessible to all delegates of CSW63 who have UN passes.  The events are run on specific topics under the overall theme and are hosted by governments, UN organisations, Human Rights Commissions and World Health Organisations to name a few.  A typical side event might include a hosting organisation and then involve a panel of experts or high level government or organisation officials who all speak for 5-7 minutes on the selected topic.  The host/moderator of the event might then ask the panel to speak to a couple of questions relating to the topic and then they open the floor for questions from anyone in the room.  Each side event runs for 1:15 hrs and is formal and strictly moderated.
Outside of the UN grounds in various locations there are PARALLEL events.  These events are run by NGO’s from around the world and are accessible to anyone who would like to attend.  These events celebrate the grassroots work, ideas, collaborations and experiences of the varied topics CSW63 and experiences of NGO’s around the world.  These events are a lot less formal but are truly outstanding as we hear the stories of the women who these agreements and this Commission document will directly affect, we hear the stories of the workers on the ground who will continue their tireless work in the implementation of the agreement and the Commission document. The hope of the NGO’s is also to lobby, advocate and impact the negotiations and the government delegations to what they want to see changed, developed or draw attention to. 

As a Faith-based organisation we are also able to be connected with 'Ecumenical Women' which hosts a worship service at the beginning of each day at the Church Centre of the United Nations (across the road from the UN grounds).  This has been a great opportunity for us to connect with Christian women from all over the world.  They are also the people that have pastorally cared for us New Zealanders after the events of the Christchurch terrorist attack.  It has been a special experience each morning to start our day praying and worshiping with these women before we go about our work at the UN.
Once I got my head around all things UN and CSW63 I have found it truly engaging and remarkable. 
The Commission document becomes a standard for which governments can be held to account on because it is an agreed document which they sign.  This then becomes a tool for advocacy groups, NGO’s, governments and anybody involved in bringing about change and progress on the issue of gender equality.

This is CSW63 according to my (novice) understanding! Let me know if you have any questions.
With love and courage,
xx Steph xx

Our UN experience of the Christchurch terrorist attack.

It’s so hard to be far away when something significant happens back home. For our New Zealand delegation at the UN at the Commission on the Status of Women this has been quite an experience. 
Doreen from Auckland was sitting on the UN grounds checking on a few messages before the start of another session when she became aware of what was going on in Christchurch. As the tears flowed a woman came and sat next to her and asked her where she was from, when Doreen looked up and responded “New Zealand” through more tears, the beautiful Muslim lady sitting next to her with tears in her eyes, grabbed her hand. For the next few moments they held hands and cried together at the United Nations, worlds apart but united in grief for the events taking place. 

"All I could do was cry..and I cried...I cried on the shoulder of a stranger, whose arms were extended and offered me comfort in my time of deep sadness and unbelief. Her warm words flowed with sympathy as she gently held my hand to say we will get through this together as I gurgled out apologies for the devastating actions of one, in the land that is known for  diversity, peace and aroha, love, alofa, sarang, ofa…it's where I'm from, Aotearoa, it is my people but the single act of terror is not me, is not us.......her presence represented the 49 that were gone, her scarf covered her head, covered her neck but all I could see was the 49 beings, the 49 families of a community,  in my community, in our 
community.  There was only empathy in her face a sincere understanding..We had attended the gathering  of nations to voice equality and justice, we were here for the same cause and purpose.We found the answer in each other, allowing each other to be, in being together in a sisterly embrace with tears of sympathy, kindness, frustration and shame in the foyer of the United nations and although we could not explain and had no words, all we could do was cry....so we cried, we cried together."   Dedicated to Sumaya a pillar of strength.

Christine from Baptist Women NZ wrote,
 “Yesterday I attended a session at CSW on the Freedom of Religion. People shared stories of persecution for both Muslims and Christians throughout the world.  Naively, I didn't even think about NZ while I was listening to these statistics and stories.  Today, that naivety has had a rude awakening.
For Sally and me there would be no rest until we knew our children and family were safe back home after the lock-down at school. That meant a bedtime of 3:00am but even then not much sleep was had as we processed all that was happening in our beloved hometown. 
Our ecumenical women’s daily morning worship service lit candles and prayed for our city, our nation and our UN delegation. It was a beautiful thing to be supported by people from countries who know all to well what terrorist attacks feel like. Sally and I visited the 9/11 memorial on Saturday - it seemed fitting as we tried to make sense of everything. Then on Sunday when we attended church, New Zealand was prayed for which was moving for us, then when it was time to 'say hi to the neighbour' we met a lovely lady who noticed our accents and asked us where we were from, when we said New Zealand she immediately enveloped me in a hug because she simply had no words.  
Immediately following the attack the NZ delegation (especially our government delegates) were advised to remove anything that would visibly identify us as New Zealanders for our safety in the days following and for the remainder of our time in New York. A sombre reminder of how much on the world map we are now, but not for any reasons we want to be.

We still have a week to go here at the UN and it seems difficult for us to ‘go about our daily business’ of sessions and meetings, but all of a sudden the issues of social protection of our CSW63 theme have become all the more real to us. We understand on a deeper level and now we even have our own story to add. Lord have mercy.

Unpacking the theme of CSW...

This year the priority theme for CSW63 is:
“Social Protection Systems, Access to Public Services and Sustainable Infrastructure for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women and Girls”
As we go through the days and sessions of CSW I am understanding more and more the depth and breadth of the issue of Gender Equality.  
If you look at the theme and wonder what gender equality has to do with sustainable infrastructure then you are not alone - I wondered the same thing at the beginning, and then I began to listen as the theme has been unpacked over these last few days.
Here is what I am learning:
Every government in the world engages with its people through services and infrastructure, but unfortunately in most countries women's perspectives and voices aren’t represented in all areas of government, council policy and planning.
A lady we met from Papua New Guinea told us that there is no women in their national parliament and only one woman at lower level provincial government.  This lady and her countries SHERO's are trying to bring political change, however even if they can get a woman in the running for a position they have never made it past the first round of voting.  There is much to be done.
A couple of examples that have helped me understand gender equality and infrastructure are around transport:
In New Zealand - If road safety is a priority and the way to do that is to reduce speed limits - research shows that the main opposition to that is male European men over the age of 50 who want to be allowed to drive fast, interestingly though, these are also the demographics that sit on the transport councils making the decisions (policy) and also the demographic that write the opinion pieces in the newspaper columns (influence). This is what the research is telling us.  These demographics are the ones making decisions and informing policy about infrastructure that best suits their own needs.  THEREFORE we need more diversity at the table informing the discussion and making the decisions. Women travel differently to men and have different needs for infrastructure therefore gender equality is very relevant in this area.
We hear from countries in the pacific about governments targeting free healthcare for women which is a great public service, but if the woman don’t have access to transportation or it is not safe to travel to get to the medical treatment, then it means nothing.  
Gender Equality is important in infrastructure - to have a voice at the table and to enable integration with other targeted policies.

Social Protection is also a huge issue with record highs of gender based violence in a lot of countries.  Our pacific sisters shared with us that it is increasing in their countries and it is difficult to take a man to court for gender based violence because you are not just facing the man (which is a big enough deal) but you take on his whole family and even the village, because the family structure is so strong in Pacific countries.  This is a big barrier to progress for our pacific women.
In Africa - girls are 3x more likely to contract HIV than boys.
In South America we hear stories of gender based violence on trains and buses, so women are unable to access public transport safely, which restricts them and is unempowering.
These are a couple of examples from story after story we have heard here about the need for governments and countries to engage with the issues of social protection for women and girls.
Gender Equality is important in social protection - to protect women and girls, to empower them to live their lives without unjust restriction, and to have a voice at the table making decisions and policies.

There is ALOT going on in my brain as I attend the sessions, talk with women, and try to understand and make sense of what is going on around me here at the UN.  If you want to ask a question or are interested in a particular topic then let me know through social media or email, and I will go to the sessions that address that, or talk to the people who are experts on the subject and see what I can do.  We are stronger together and I am here at the UN but am committed to bringing you with me! Let’s journey together.
With love and courage,
xx Steph xx

Day One

To be in New York and stand at the gates of the United Nations building with my access pass in hand is a pretty incredible moment for me.  The United Nations is a big deal and the massive amounts of security detail makes us feel the weight of that from the moment we arrive.  Governments and Prime Ministers are here, the 193 member states of the United Nations are represented and 9000 passionate feminists and activists are in attendance. We are only on day one and I have so much to tell you already!
I want to introduce you to a woman named Dina Nasser she is a medical professional in Palestine (Occupied Jerusalem) and their hospital is close to the border of Gaza.  She spoke to us at the Ecumenical Women's event about what life looks like for her and the women she serves.
Discrimination and access are massive issues for women in Jerusalem.  To get medical treatment for anything requires a long commute because they have to pass through so many checkpoints.  Often women just can’t get there at all and so there is a lot of later stage diagnosis for serious illnesses because of those access issues.
Then there are the people who are coming from Gaza who are living below the poverty line. The hospital is not just giving medical care but also needing to feed them and do all they can with the time they have to socially support them as they live in such hardship.
I learned from Dina that women under the age of 50 are mostly denied exit out of Gaza and so they can not access medical care in Palestine or even accompany their severely sick children.  Dina spoke about one woman in Gaza who gave birth to a baby who needed urgent medical care, the baby was granted exit by ambulance but the mother was not.  That baby was in the NICU for 3months.
These stories are pretty horrific for our sisters in Jerusalem.  Dina is a SHERO who works tirelessly to provide healthcare but also advocate for the rights of women in some pretty hard situations. I love that she is at the UN sharing her stories and fighting for the cause of the sisters in her country, I was humbled to hear her.
The quote of the day from Dina was “We have to have faith, but we have to live it."
Then we met Captain Paula Mendes from the Salvation Army is Brazil.
There is a lot going on in the undeveloped country of Brazil because of the hundreds of refugees coming to them from Venezuela every day.  Paula is part of the team on the ground working with the refugees camps helping to provide basic food, shelter, healthcare and education for the refugees.  She says a big issue for them is the protection of women and children from gender based violence, so they are working on getting laws created to protect women and initiatives like women only train carriages.  They have also created women only police desks in the depots because the men weren’t respectful or helpful or often didn’t believe the woman wanting to make a complaint. Paula reminds us at this gathering of Ecumenical women of the UN that nobody chooses to be a refugee, it takes a lot for someone to leave their country, it’s traumatic.   Something that struck me from Paula was when she spoke about looking around the refugee camp and seeing a lot of Government agencies, a lot of NGO’s (non-government organisations) but asking the question “where are the churches?”  Where are my brothers and sisters in Christ?
Paula’s quote of the day was “We cannot choose those we serve”
I was inspired by Paula and the work she does.
The more days we are here, the more I am beginning to understand the UN, the CSW (Commission on the status of women) and all the language and systems that go with this incredible opportunity I have.  I'm going to try and explain/unpack this in my next blog... after I get some sleep.


With love and courage,

xx Steph xx