For the second year members of our staff agreed to attend several of the many sessions taking place during the 59th year of the UN’s focus of meeting sponsored by CSW (Commission on the Status of Women). Hundreds of UN and parallel sessions in the NY community focused on the achievement in gender equality and empowerment of women since the Beijing Conference in 1995 “Beijing+20.”
Kathleen Kanet writes:
For several years our organization has been engaging education and conversations regarding sex trafficking. What part does gender equality and empowerment of women have to do with this issue? I attended two sessions devoted to legislative reform toward ending prostitution and human trafficking and one on women and men in partnership to end sexism and male domination. I also participated in a session of how the economy continues to leave millions of women in poverty and subject to exploitation
Two of the things I learned and accepted which surely suggest transformational thinking on our part:
—Prostitution is a violent act toward women. The Good Shepherd Sisters (International), sponsoring one of the sessions state that the prostitution of women and girls is a chronic form of gender violence that has been structurally embedded in societies over the centuries.
—Men as well as women are hurt by sexism (which is not over!) and need to work together to heal from this. This learning was the theme of the session by No Limits for Women, an organization dedicated to eliminating sexism throughout the world.”
Virginia Dorgan says:
“Reflecting on the session “Women and Men in Partnership to end Sexism and Male Domination”, I was very moved by the number of men present and involved. The session was examining incidences of male domination in the lives of men and women which permeate our society. There was no blame on the men because patriarchy is in the fabric of all modern cultures. The challenge is to halt it by reflecting on, acknowledging and freeing the hurts of both men and women from this injustice. I was profoundly impressed by the basic assumption that everyone is brilliant and not to be blamed for unkind, unjust behaviors but to be freed from them.”
Fiona Murray, our staff member’s experience was as follows:
“What grabbed me about both of the CSW events I attended, the No Limits for Women and when we hosted Ingrid from Le Menach Foundation, who presented to us her project called The Mary Initiative, here in the office were the cultural implications of being a women and how sexism affects different parts of the world differently. This is due in part to the perceptions and images of women in cultures. Even though each culture is different, we all experience similar oppression and socialization as women and as men, something discussed in the small group sessions at the No Limits for Women event.
Something that got re-affirmed for me at the No Limits for Women session was once again the perception of equality in America that many outside and even in America perceive. When talking to a young Syrian women, instead of answering the question in the ways we were supposed to, she aggressively asked me why we think women and men are not equal in America. I managed to convince her that in fact we are not treated equally, in part by pointing out the unequal pay, that women of color are disproportionately the poorest in the country, and by asking her if she had had the experience of being catcalled in NYC. At the same time though, this conversation humbled me as she began to explain the intense and much more visible sexism women in Syria face.
When we hosted Ingrid, I had mixed feelings about the perceptions of the Mary figure in different cultures. She is perceived as pure and virtuous, and what all women should strive for. Others interpreted her as a way to connect to women, specifically in the experience of childbirth. What Ingrid is attempting to accomplish is to promote dialogue between different cultures, particularly between Christians and Muslims. Though I believe Mary is a great forum to bring these two cultures together, I think those who were in dialogue need to be careful to make sure they are not perpetuating harmful images and perceptions of women.
Something I have taken away and reflected on greatly is just how prevalent sexism is in all cultures, and how our images and conceptions of women influence and encourage sexism.”
Maisha Maliha, another staff member, recollects her attendance at an event:
“The event I attended was “Young Women Ending Sexism with Young Men as Allies” March 9th.
We were asked to group up with another person to have “listening” sessions. This was done twice. The first time I was with an older woman and we discussed the question of “What is the earliest memory of you realizing that you are female?” I told her about my recollection of having my menses for the first time. The woman told me about her observation of her body finally developing as the moment she identified herself as female.
The second session was with a girl about my age, and we were to discuss “What is an action that you have taken against sexism in your life?” I talked about my coming to America and being to make a living for and by myself as definitely something that was liberating as a woman, since there are many girls in Bangladesh who never get that kind of freedom. Later on I also talked about how taking self-defense classes made me feel stronger mentally and physically. The girl on the other hand said how her relationship with her boyfriend made her more appreciative of her own femininity. Since she met her partner, she has cultivated more love for her own gender.
While it was a short and hurried session in my opinion, the best part of these session were being able to connect with individuals very intimately. These one-on-one candid conversations are rare to have for me nowadays.”