NGO Global Women’s Forum Beijing +15, CSW 54, and Parallel Events

March 16, 2010

From February 27 through March 12, I attended the NGO Global Women’s Forum, Beijing + 15; the United Nations Commission on the Status of Women 54; and parallel events associated with the conference. The mission of the conference was to review implementation of the 1995 Beijing platform on women and girls.  More than a dozen AAUW members participated in the events through various international affiliations.

In my view, the central message of the events was that women are caught in a global ideological battle between tradition and modernity. In some Arab countries, women are hidden behind a veil and unable to leave home unaccompanied. In Western culture, young girls view sexual and violent images. Yet in the 21st century, a uniquely woman’s ideology will inspire social change.

In a U.N. Department of Public Information briefing, Professor Mustapha Tlili, founder of the Center for Dialogues at New York University, suggested that there are vast political and cultural differences between Arab countries. For example, “Tunisia, in 1956, enacted personal laws which gave women rights to political participation, education, and participation in diplomacy. Whereas, in Saudi Arabia, Sharia laws still prevent women from driving,” he said.

Yet despite this difference, women must empower themselves. “Women are the world’s last frontier of progress. Liberation is a great force to release a new energy and a new dynamism,” Tlili added.

However, tradition and progress need balance. In a discussion about Arab women, someone suggested that “significant change will tear the fabric of the society.” Perhaps resistance to change is driven by a fear of undermining the cultural framework that binds it together.

When Iranian and Latin American women questioned panelists, they took issue with capitalism and demanded reproductive rights and an end to violence against women. Panelist Marta Benevedar from El Salvador agreed that “the [Millennium Development Goals] are not being implemented.” While U.N. member states developed the MDGs, implementation lies with the local government.

On the other hand the African country representative was hopeful. Panelist Gertrude Mongella of Tanzania, president of the Pan-African Parliament said that “women are not invitees to this planet, we are members of the planet.” From her perspective, women are a force of nature that validates their existence.

Educating girls is the primary focus of empowering women. Virginia Ntombi Setshwaelo from Botswana, who is an officer at the African Union, stated, “Africa has progressed in primary education where it is free in most countries.”

Asma Khader, general coordinator of Sisterhood Global Institute in Jordan, agreed with the focus on education and added, “We need to educate women to present different interpretations of their religious studies.” Perhaps through education women will expand their spirituality.

The United States is reasserting its leadership role in human rights. Indeed, U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Susan Rice said, “Global women’s empowerment is the core pillar of U.S. policy.” One hopes this will lead to ratifying CEDAW during the current administration.

At these events, global women came together despite differences in attire, languages, and cultures, unified in promoting education, economic, and social justice. Yet progress will depend on women empowering themselves to implement the MDGs at the local level.

This post contributed by AAUW member Judi Polizzotti.

By:   |   March 16, 2010

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