"Women are Content Producers and Knowledge Sharers"- CSW in New York Day 1
Wow, what a day! So, Friday, February 25th, was the first day that I attended the UN Commission on the Status of Women 55th Session on (Gender, Education, Science & Technology and Employment). This event is taking place here in New York City between the weeks February 22 - March 4, 2011. For those of you who don't know this event brings together participants from UN Member States (45 representatives), other UN entities and women from accredited NGOs from all over the world.The theme of this year's two-week conference is, “Access and participation of women and girls in education, training, science and technology, including for the promotion of women’s equal access to full employment and decent work.”
Like many of you, even though I live in New York, the base of the United Nations, I had never been there. Sure I have heard of it but on the ground and within social justice movements the United Nations has a bad reputation and most of our work is holding protest at the embassy's or consulates of countries. However, about 5 years ago I wrote down 30 wishes for myself and one of them was to work at the United Nations. As a matter of fact, when I graduated last year with my MPH from Columbia University, the first thing I did was go online to the United Nations website and look for a job. Whats funny is that my only frame of reference was watching Angelina Jolie and other celebrities be ambassadors of the UN and I was like I want to do that someday.
So, here I am an ambassador alright,an ambassador for all of you who could not attend, an ambassador for all the small NGO's in New York who didn't even know it was happening and an ambassador for all the women in my community I work for who don't have a voice and cant be at the table. This couldn't have happened any other way. I am excited to be the eyes and ears for World Pulse at this event and use my press pass to get into events made for only a selected few. I have no expectations at this time since I have not attend an event here in the past but after this first day, I hope to get an experiential insight to the UN and its role so I can make an informed choice & analysis of how it may or may not benefit my local work and I hope to connect local struggles to global issues so I can hold accountability on a much bigger level and contextualize my work within an international perspective.
So here I am, its Friday, a rainy day in New York City. Its 5am in the morning and I am waking up to take the train to 42nd street, Grand Central and meet Zulma Miranda Ortiz, board member of World Pulse. I am dressed to impress as I don't know who I'm going to meet today. I arrive on time and meet Zulma at a small cafe two blocks from the UN where men in business attire come in and out getting coffee or tea on their way to work. I am excited to meet Zulma and figure out our agenda for the day. Today, we will be attending the 8am workshop called Re-strategising the Use of Media and ICTs for Empowering Women on the Ground, we will get our press passes and meet with Lois A. Herman from Women's United Nations Report Network (WUNRUN).
We have some time and Zulma briefs me on the History of the UN, its players, what to expect and some of the challenges women of color encounter when attending these events often dominated by men and mainstream institutions and NGO's. There are two things that she tells me that I want to share with you because its from this place and with this lens that I will share with you my journey over the next week at the UN events.
1. I will see that grassroots organizations , especially from New York City, do not have access to the event because there is no outreach by the UN to community based organizations or communities of color on the ground, and those that can like the big institutions and mainstream NGO's do not do outreach or leverage their capacity to bring in women on the ground.
To me this means that women in NY do not even know that it is happening and because access is only given to mainstream and big institutions the space becomes exclusive with only certain people, and often times the same players at the table. With tight security, lengthy and complicated registrations for ngo's to attend many do not get accepted and the amount of money and lack of funding for women limits attendance for the event from women on the ground in other countries.
2. While this is the UN I will also see that their definition of global does not include the global community of women that exists within the United States. So, many of the conversations will be about Africa and all other countries outside of the United States.
As i think about it, these are the same challenges that women of color are confronted with no matter where they go or what movement they are a part of, so, with that acknowledgment we put our coats on and head to our first workshop. While Zulma was surprised that there was no one in the elevator with us, I noticed the sterile entrance that had no welcoming presence or sign that said that this event was taking place. As a matter of fact, i didn't even know that I was in one of the UN Buildings where any workshops where taking place until Zulma told me.
We walked into the workshop and became part of a forty person room, including presenters and press. On the panel were women from Krgyzstan, Indonesia, China, and the Philippines presenting on the different ways they are combining their knowledge of women rights in their country with media and ICT tools as a way to empower young women. By the way ICT stands for Information Communication Technology. As you can see I started learning as soon as i sat down.
Although, the women on the panel came from different countries there were themes that remained the same through out their presentations;
1. Its not enough to just use media.
In many countries women have to get creative because they do not have electricity, don't have access to computers, cell phones etc and do not have any money to buy them either. In addition ,issues of safety have to be taken into consideration as there are laws where women who speak via any media get sentenced. Exclusiveness/inclusiveness also needs to be addressed as those that have dominate the media and those that do not remain voiceless and powerless.
2. Depending on the country or region the word media meant different things.
Media is all encompassing-- it included cellphones, the use of computers, bill boards, flyers, door knocking, face to face meetings, newsletters, bulletins attached to buses or cars, emails, face book etc
One story that bought these themes to life was a sister from Burma who got up at the end of the presentation and told us a story about a young women who committed suicide because she got her period and thought she was pregnant. She used this story to illustrate the importance that media would have on women in her community in the reproductive health movement. She was also excited to ask for support in creating documentaries as she hopes to use them to change policies in her country where documentaries can be used as evidence in court cases. This however, reminded me of how here in the US, media is actually being used to criminalize youth and people of color. There is a law within the school system and a department within the police that polices face book and anything that you share or write can be used against you in a court of law without your permission. All they have to do is print out the page and that will serve as evidence. Or how many people have lost their jobs, abuse on women has risen and more and more social justice activist and organizers are being targeted, punished and labeled as terrorist just with what they post about their movements or their voice on the internet. Additionally, while many will never understand why, there is a real digital divide here in the United States which confirms for me the need to go back to street outreach and door knocking.
The conversation of inter-generation dialogue and media sharing was at the forefront of this conversation as well. It was interesting as me and Zulma where previously talking about succession planning within movements and the riff between the younger and elder generations. The young women on the panel where defending themselves from elders who have said that the younger feminist are not doing anything, just partying and drinking. At the same time, the elders in the room where asking support from the younger generation to teach them how to use media as many of them do not know how to use current technology. While they both seemed to be at either end of the discussion, there was one thing that they both agreed on but didn't know how to do, the movement would be a lot stronger if they where both at the table getting inspired by what the other offered.
I left the conversation full and closer to understanding my role as a correspondent and how valuable and privileged I am to tell a story. I also watched Zulma distribute World Pulse magazines, outreach and promote the work that World Pulse is doing. Shadowing her for the rest of the afternoon supported me in learning how to be an advocate for World Pulse. We walked to get our press passes and met with Lois, an elder that has been in this movement for over 20 years. She too spoke about the generational gap and how young feminist are coming into the movement as idealist and then get quickly burnt out because there is no way to sustain their ideas, no funding or education.
In conclusion, the day has come to an end and we are looking forward to next week. I would like to also take this opportunity to gift you with a recommendation that rang clear for me at the end of the presentation, " be careful - you have to choose the best kind of media that is appropriate for your work and your community".
It is with a humble and open heart that I leave you with these words "young women are producers and creators, not just consumers".